Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Sorry to have taken so long--It must've been a bitch while I was gone..."

…as the ol’ Kiss song goes.  Now's the time for you to "reacquaint yourself with my style"...

Again, my profoundest apologies for the lack of activity here, but I simply haven’t had the time or creative spark lately to put any blog entries together.  While my father’s death a month ago definitely sidetracked me, I’ve also been busy with another project that eats up a lot of my free time, so the blog unfortunately has been on the back burner of late.  But, it’s time to hop back in my armchair music critic saddle, and in the spirit of comebacks, I present to you a compilation of my favorite Comeback Albums of all-time.  This isn’t a ranking this time, just a nice little round-up in no particular order.

NOTE:  I've only included albums that are actually in my collection.  I’m sure there are other worthy candidates by folks like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Crosby Stills Nash and/or Neil Young, et al, but I don’t have enough of their stuff to properly comment on them.

Double Fantasy—JOHN LENNON & YOKO ONO (1980)  JL had spent the better part of five years playing daddy and househusband and just plain taking a well-deserved break from the limelight from late, ’75 through late, ‘80, all the while re-charging his creative batteries.  Since this was a collaborative effort with Yoko, I don’t really consider this a full-fledged comeback, per se, but it was close enough.  Also, this album has always been hard to judge on its true merits because of all the emotions associated with John’s senseless murder.  While John had traded in some of his edge for a more melodic and even nostalgic sound, his songs were very poignant and personal here, especially “Watching The Wheels”, “Woman” and “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”, the latter written for his young son, Sean.  “Cleanup Time” was an underrated cut, too.  I know JL would disagree, but I really could’ve done without Yoko’s songs on here, apart from maybe “Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him”—her voice just grates on me like fingernails on a blackboard and sitar music do.  One wonders how much better Double Fantasy would’ve been had it been called Single Fantasy and featured John exclusively.

Spirit Of The Wild—TED NUGENT (1995)  Oh, how the mighty had fallen!  Fifteen years earlier, The Nuge was at the top of the Rock ‘N’ Roll heap, but the ‘80s weren’t kind to Sweaty Teddy at all.  He got off on the wrong foot with the mediocre Scream Dream in 1980, and followed that with his putrid 1981 live album, Intensities In 10 Cities, which was inexplicably ranked #9 on the Guitar World Top 10 Live Albums list—uhhh, better lay off the cough syrup there, fellas.  Ted rebounded a bit when he switched labels from Epic to Atlantic in 1982 with Nugent, then a major malaise infected Nugent’s career, marked by constant personnel changes in his band and a string of mediocre-to-dreadful albums through the rest of the decade.  Things got so bad that Nugent was even willing to share the spotlight for once by joining forces with Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw to form Damn Yankees in 1989.  DY showed promise as a steady unit early on, but disbanded after only two albums in the early ‘90s, with Blades subsequently returning to Night Ranger, Shaw doing likewise with Styx, and Nugent going solo again.  Ted wisely reconvened with erstwhile lead singer/rhythm guitarist Derek St. Holmes in 1995 for Spirit Of The Wild, and the result was easily Nugent’s best LP since 1979’s State of Shock.  St. Holmes sounded great on “Heart And Soul” and the title track, and Ted was his old cocky self again on “Kiss My Ass”, even though it was a diatribe against liberals of all stripes.  However, I merely substitute Bill O’Reilly for Janet Reno while singing along to Ted’s little “roll call” at the end of the song, and we get along just fine.  “I Shoot Back” was another standout track, and the album also included a slightly-remixed version of his 1989 hunter’s anthem “Fred Bear”.  I’m not much of an outdoorsy-type, but it’s a cool song, all the same.  Sadly, all Nugent’s done since that album is be a moronic right-wing extremist bigot and talk out of his ass instead of with his guitar.  In the words of Fred Sanford, “I used to like you…dummy!”

Permanent Vacation—AEROSMITH (1987)  Like Nugent, Aerosmith was also at the top of the Rock heap in the late ‘70s, but drugs and apathy derailed their career big-time after 1977’s Draw The Line.  Guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford both defected in the early ‘80s and were replaced by two nobodies for an album or two until singer Steven Tyler cleaned up his act (sort of, anyway).  The comeback was initiated with 1984’s Done With Mirrors (which featured a killer remake of Joe Perry’s solo tune “Let The Music Do The Talking”), and was completed with Permanent Vacation, an album that caught a lot of people by surprise.  It contained some cool under-the-radar stuff like “Simoriah”, “Heart’s Done Time” and an instrumental, “The Movie”, as well as yielding several huge hits, including “Rag Doll” and “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)”.  Unfortunately, the success of one hit, “Angel”, sent Aerosmith barreling down a bad path they have yet to return from—all their albums since then have contained one or more predictable sappy power ballads, thus rendering most of their output from the last 15 years or so to be almost unlistenable.

Lap Of Luxury—CHEAP TRICK (1988)  Ironically, Cheap Trick reached the pinnacle of their career with a power ballad long about the same time Aerosmith did with “Angel”, scoring their first and only #1 hit with “The Flame”.  The big difference here is “The Flame” is a far superior song, but also Trick found themselves pigeonholed by the song and found it impossible to duplicate its success.  Just as well, I prefer CT as a rockin’ band instead of balladeers anyway, and they found their mojo again on Luxury after a string of spotty releases throughout the ‘80s in the wake of 1979’s classic Dream Police album.  Lap also marked the return of bassist Tom Petersson from an extended absence.  This record was much more focused than the prior few, and while it had a slick ‘80s sheen to it, I’ve always been partial to it.  In addition to “Flame”, the album included a remake of Elvis’ “Don’t Be Cruel” that was a total hoot, as well as the weepy/bluesy “Ghost Town” (on which guitarist Rick Nielsen turns in a credible George Harrison impression in his lead solo) and “All We Need Is A Dream”, which would’ve slotted in perfectly on most any ‘80s teen romance flick.  The best track, however, was the Who-like closer, “All Wound Up”, featuring Petersson’s Entwistle-like rumbling bass and Nielsen’s Townshend-like crashing power chords throughout.

The Razor’s Edge—AC/DC (1991)  Angus and the boys spent most of the ‘80s in the shadow of their 1980 behemoth, Back In Black. Although their ‘80s albums had their moments now and then—namely “For Those About To Rock”, “Heatseeker”, “That’s The Way I Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll”, “Shake Your Foundations”, “This Means War” and “Flick Of The Switch”—AC/DC just couldn’t put together any really consistent albums until The Razor’s Edge.  I think the reason for this might be in part because late singer Bon Scott was a much better (and wittier) songwriter than his replacement, Brian Johnson.  Johnson’s voice had lost a lot of its high end by this point, too, but he sounded a lot better on this record than the previous few, and the material was much better this time round, like the radio hits “Thunderstruck” and “Moneytalks”, as well primo tracks like “Fire Your Guns”, "Rock Your Heart Out" and “Are You Ready?”.  They even threw in a yuletide tune, “Mistress For Christmas”.  It would be another 17 years before AC/DC made their next consistent CD, 2008’s Black Ice.

Heaven And Hell—BLACK SABBATH (1980)  Some hardcore Sabbath fans regard the post-Ozzy era as absolute heresy and totally dismiss Heaven And Hell altogether, but that’s just sour grapes more than anything from all the Osbourne sycophants.  His Ozz-ness had become more of a liability than an asset since about the time of 1975’s Sabotage album, and was booted from the band after 1978’s Never Say Die! (which actually had its moments here and there, IMHO), and was replaced by former Rainbow lead singer Ronnie James Dio.  H&H was a killer record, especially Side 1 (back when albums had sides, remember kids?), and came charging out of the gate with “Neon Knights”, one of my favorite metal tunes ever.  “Children Of The Sea”, “Lady Evil” and the title track filled out the rest of this splendid side, and Side 2’s “Die Young” didn’t suck, either.  Too bad the Sabs couldn’t maintain the momentum with the follow-up, Mob Rules, in 1981, which soon triggered the constant revolving door of Black Sabbath lead singers—Dio, Ian Gillan, Glenn Hughes, Tony Martin, Dio again, Rob Halford (for one gig, anyway), Tony Martin again, Ozzy again, Dio again, etc.

Trash—ALICE COOPER (1990)  Big Al had been lost in the musical wilderness for well over a decade, and his career was all but dead by the late ‘80s.  Too much alcohol—not to mention playing golf with the likes of George Burns and hanging out with too many Hollywood-types—had dulled Alice’s senses and he lost his edge, big-time.  He totally wimped-out by the late ‘70s with mushy ballads like “You And Me”, “Only Women Bleed” and “How You Gonna See Me Now?” (the latter co-written by Bernie Taupin during his hiatus from working with Elton John), then AC dabbled in New Wave with 1980’s trippy “Clones (We’re All)” before gradually drifting back to his Hard Rock roots.  It took him a few albums to really hit his stride again, and Trash was an outstanding heavy metal slab that included the radio hits “Poison” and “House Of Fire”, along with a couple other gems like “Why Trust You?”, "Spark In The Dark" and “Bed Of Nails”.  The album received assists from Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Joan Jett and Steven Tyler, as well.

Perfect Strangers—DEEP PURPLE (1984)  Now here was a Rock ‘N’ Roll reunion that made you wanna say “What took you guys so long?!?”  It had been well over ten years since singer Ian Gillan left Deep Purple following their landmark live set Made In Japan, after which DP endured numerous lineup changes (only drummer Ian Paice has made the entire journey with the band) and by the late ‘70s, the group had disappeared altogether.  Sometime in late ’83, someone in the group said, “Whaddya reckon we do this again?” and I have a hunch that Gillan probably jumped at the chance to escape the mistake he’d made by joining Black Sabbath for the ill-fated Born Again album.  With old differences put aside and fences mended, the classic Deep Purple Mach II lineup consisting of the two Ians, bassist Roger Glover, keyboardist Jon Lord and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore reformed to produce one of the better albums of 1984, Perfect Strangers.  As “Rockline” radio host Bob Coburn proclaimed, “The reality turned out better than the fantasy.”  Other than technology, not much had changed sonically for the band in ten years, and it was almost as if they’d never split up in the first place.  “Knockin’ At Your Back Door” and the title track were radio hits, and I loved other cuts like “Nobody’s Home”, “Mean Streak” and “Not Responsible”.  The reunion lasted through another album, 1987’s The House Of Blue Light, which wasn’t a bad follow-up, but Gillan split the band again and was replaced by erstwhile Blackmore’s Rainbow singer Joe Lynn Turner in 1990.

Cycles—THE DOOBIE BROTHERS (1989)  In a similar “What took so long?” scenario, it was almost as if the Brothers Doobie had invented time travel, because if I didn’t know any better, I coulda swore it was 1974 all over again when I first heard this excellent (and very unappreciated) reunion album.  The Doobies broke up in the early ‘80s after singer Michael McDonald had neutered them into a wimpy Jazz/Fusion hybrid instead of a true Rock band, but original singer and co-founder Tom Johnston (who has a far more soulful voice than McDonald, IMO) decided he was ready to get back in the game in 1989.  TJ got back together with longtime stalwart guitarist Pat Simmons, bassist Tiran Porter, drummer John Harte and percussionist Bobby LaKind (who would die of cancer a couple years afterwards, sadly), and the result far exceeded my expectations.  While it’s true that the lead track and first single, “The Doctor”, was clearly a “China Grove” clone, the rest of the record had some really tasty stuff like “One Chain (Don’t Make No Prison)”, “Wrong Number”, “Too High A Price”, "Time Is Here And Gone" and a spiffy cover version of the Isley Bros.’ “Need A Little Taste Of Love”.  As with most reunion albums, however, the inertia didn’t last long once the novelty wore off, and the follow-up, 1991’s Brotherhood was pretty flat, for the most part.

Tango In The Night—FLEETWOOD MAC (1987)  The Fleetwoods never fully recovered from the monster that was Rumours in ’77, as the subsequent releases Tusk and Mirage paled in comparison, but this album probably came the closest to recapturing their former glory ten years later.  Tango yielded several hit singles, including “Big Love” (where it sounds like Stevie Nicks is burping in places), “Everywhere”, “Little Lies” and “Seven Wonders”.  “Little Lies” and my personal favorite track, “Isn’t It Midnight?”, may well have been Christine McVie’s best vocal performances ever, apart from “You Make Lovin’ Fun” from Rumours.  Lindsey Buckingham’s whispery “You & I” closed the album out, and offered a taste of his future 1992 solo album Out Of The Cradle.

Cloud Nine—GEORGE HARRISON (1987)  Don’t mean to pick on Brother George’s religious beliefs here, but I still think it’s fair to point out that his devotion to Hare Krishna teachings and Eastern enlightenment totally bogged down his solo career from the mid-‘70s onward, rendering many of his albums to be preachy and/or morose (not to mention downright boring) at times, thus it was so refreshing to hear the boy lighten up and put out some fun and cheerful music for a change on Cloud Nine, not to mention hearing his trademark slide guitar abounding once again.  “Got My Mind Set On You” ain’t much of a song, lyrically (to the point where Weird Al Yankovic later parodied it in “This Song’s Just Six Words Long”), but it was catchy and radio-friendly—a Harrison quality sorely lacking for nearly a decade.  “Devil’s Radio” was a minor hit too, as was the nostalgic “When We Was Fab” (on which Ringo Starr played the drums), and the album also received welcome assists from Elton John, Gary "Dream Weaver" Wright, Eric Clapton and ELO’s Jeff Lynne, who co-produced the album.  The latter collaboration led to even more fun with the Traveling Wilburys just one year later.

Heart—HEART (1985)  Like so many other popular ‘70s FM Rock bands, the Wilson sisters and Co. hit a rough stretch in the early ‘80s when New Wave took over following their ‘70s heyday, and Epic Records dropped them after the disappointing Passionworks LP in 1983.  Ann and Nancy kept longtime keyboardist Howard Leese, but jettisoned their old rhythm section in favor of ex-Spirit/Firefall bassist Mark Andes and ex-Montrose drummer Denny Carmassi and landed on their feet at Capitol Records.  Not much was expected out of them, but their self-titled album was not only one of the biggest surprises, but one of the biggest records period in 1985.  Working with producer Ron Nevison, who had previously engineered The Who’s Quadrophenia and would later produce albums by Ozzy Osbourne, Damn Yankees and Kiss, Heart came through big-time with a very slick-sounding effort that resulted in four Top 10 hit singles (“Never”, “These Dreams”, “What About Love” and “Nothin’ At All”) which were also aided and abetted by heavy rotation on the MTV.  As good as those songs were, the “B” stuff here was even better, like “The Wolf”, “Shell Shock”, “All Eyes” and my personal Heart favorite, “If Looks Could Kill”.  Ann and Nancy also kept the train a-rollin’ through their next two releases, Bad Animals (1987) and Brigade (1990) before the well finally dried up.

The One—ELTON JOHN (1992)  After doing seemingly no wrong in the mid-‘70s, the bottom finally fell out for Elton during the Disco era, with his nadir being when he actually tried doing disco—an ill-advised dance version of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” in 1979.  EJ gradually rebounded in the early ‘80s and regained some of his former glory with Jump Up (1982), Too Low For Zero (1983) and Breaking Hearts (1984).  From the mid-‘80s onward, however, that “cat named Hercules” fell into a comfortable rut wherein his albums all kinda sounded the same and he was churning out mediocrity.  Some LPs had their moments, and some sold better than others, but he and lyricist Bernie Taupin seemed fairly uninspired most of the time.  After taking a break for a couple years after 1989’s fairly bland Sleeping With The Past, the creative spark returned and the result was The One, on which Elton sounded fresher and more relevant than he had in probably 15 years.  The album opens with the nice combination of the seductive “Simple Life”, followed by the hit title track.  The twangy “Whitewash County” was a nifty change of pace for Elton, as was his duet with Eric Clapton on “Runaway Train”.  The album’s closer, the very moving “The Last Song”, all about a gay man reconciling with his estranged father while dying of AIDS, was John/Taupin’s most poignant song since 1982’s “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)”.  EJ’s next CD, 1995’s Made In England wasn’t too shabby, either.

Creatures Of The Night—KISS (1982)  I covered this one already in my Kiss album countdown last year, so I won’t belabor the point here.  After futzing around for five years with solo albums (two good, two not-so-good), two lightweight Pop-ish records and a bizarre concept album that even the band didn’t fully understand, Kiss finally emerged from their self-inflicted fog-machine haze and put out a fresh slab of crunchy Heavy Metal.  It’s even more amazing that this album was as good as it was when you consider that Kiss didn’t even have an official lead guitarist while it was recorded.

No Guts, No Glory—MOLLY HATCHET (1983)  Molly Hatchet was poised to replace Lynyrd Skynyrd as the top Southern Rock band by virtue of their outstanding first two albums—Molly Hatchet (1978) and Flirtin’ With Disaster (1979)—but internal squabbling led to singer Danny Joe Brown’s departure from the band (NOT his ongoing problems with diabetes, as their “official” story went).  Brown was replaced in 1980 by the rotund Jimmy Farrar, who wasn’t a bad singer at all, but just not quite right for the Hatchet sound—he’d have been a better fit for someone like, say, Marshall Tucker Band.  And apart from “Beatin’ The Odds”, “Sailor”, “Bloody Reunion” and a cover of C.C.R.’s “Penthouse Pauper”, the two albums MH recorded with Farrar (Beatin’ The Odds and Take No Prisoners) were forgettable.  Thus, the band and Danny Joe “buried the hatchet”, you might say, and he returned for ‘83’s sadly overlooked and underrated set, No Guts…No Glory, my favorite Hatchet album of all.  The “Free Bird” clone “Fall Of The Peacemakers” was the album’s centerpiece, sandwiched between hard-rockin’ cuts like “It Just Doesn’t Matter”, “Ain’t Even Close”, “What’s It Gonna Take?” (the story of my love-life) and “Under The Gun”.  No Guts… sold poorly, causing the band to panic by adding keyboards and horns and such on their next album, 1984’s The Deed Is Done, which wasn’t nearly as satisfying.

Long Distance Voyager—THE MOODY BLUES (1981)  The Moodies came back from their prolonged absence following their ‘60s/’70s halcyon days seemingly from out of nowhere with this one.  Citing burnout and exhaustion, the band ceased touring and making records after 1972’s Seventh Sojourn, Justin Hayward and John Lodge hooked up again in ’75 for their highly-regarded Blue Jays album, and the full group reunited in ’78 for Octave, but keyboardist Mike Pinder’s heart just wasn’t in the band anymore, so he left halfway through the sessions and was eventually replaced by synthesizer whiz Patrick Moraz.  While not nearly as atmospheric and deep as the output from the Moody Blues’ glory days, LDV did have some good stuff like the hits “The Voice” and “Gemini Dream”, along with Lodge’s “Talking Out Of Turn” and Ray Thomas’ “Veteran Cosmic Rocker”.  While the Moody Blues' '80s material didn't even come close to the quality of those first seven albums, it was still nice to have them back.

Orgasmatron--MOTÖRHEAD (1986)  After their initial run of success from 1978-82, Motörhead went through some personnel changes and record company hassles in the mid-‘80s.  Original guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke left the band to form Fastway, and was replaced by ex-Thin Lizzy axeman Brian Robertson for one album, the flaccid Another Perfect Day in 1983.  “Robbo” fit in about as well as I would at an Osmond family reunion, so Uncle Lemmy sacked him and opted to replace him with two lead guitarists, Phil Campbell and Mick Burston, better known as “Würzel”.  Original drummer “Philthy Animal” Taylor also left in 1984 and was replaced by ex-Saxon skinsman Pete Gill.  Following the greatest hits package No Remorse that featured four all-new tracks to fulfill their obligation to Bronze Records, Motörhead eventually landed on GWR in 1986 and unleashed Orgasmatron, which was my introduction to this wonderfully raunchy band.  In spite of the some rather murky production, all nine tracks on this beast are killers, especially “Deaf Forever”, “Dr. Rock”, “Mean Machine” and “Ridin’ With The Driver”.  Without Motörhead, there would be no Metallica, so how come Lemmy and the boys aren’t in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame?

Some Girls (1978)/Voodoo Lounge (1994)—THE ROLLING STONES  After several middling studio albums and a totally lifeless double-live release in the mid-‘70s, Mick and Keith and Co. put out their best album in years with Some Girls.  Like Kiss and Cheap Trick after them, the Stones dabbled in disco a bit with “Miss You”, but it somehow worked anyway.  They also dabbled in old-school R&B with a nice remake of the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination”.  They also even dabbled in C&W with the hilarious sing-along, “Far Away Eyes”.  And rest of the album was classic Stones, with the venerable favorites “Beast Of Burden”, “When The Whip Comes Down” and “Shattered”.  Several more mediocre-to-average studio albums and a couple more crappy live albums ensued throughout the ‘80s before the Stones put together another truly consistent set, Voodoo Lounge in ’94. Voodoo most definitely was not doo-doo, as virtually all 15 tracks were quite sturdy, especially for a band this long in the tooth.  The standouts of the lot were “Love Is Strong”, “You Got Me Rockin’”, “Sparks Will Fly”, “I Go Wild” and the weepy “Out Of Tears”, but they saved the best cut for last, the Chuck Berry-esque “Mean Disposition”, wherein Keith Richards was shredding licks that even Chuck would be impressed with.  Something tells me that this was probably the last really good record the Stones will ever make.

Tug Of War—PAUL McCARTNEY (1982)  Big Macca fell into a slump in the late ‘70s after the highly-successful Wings At The Speed Of Sound, putting out a couple clunkers (London Town and Back To The Egg) before finally clipping Wings for good and going back to being a solo act.  1980’s McCartney II was so-so, but apart from the insipid “Ebony And Ivory” duet with Stevie Wonder, Paul was born-again hard on Tug Of War.  Another duet with Wonder, the funky “What’s That You’re Doing?”, was a lot tastier, as was Paul’s duet with the late Carl Perkins on “Get It”.  Come to think of it, wouldn’t Perkins have made an excellent replacement for Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys?  Anyway, “Take It Away” sounded like vintage McCartney, and “Ballroom Dancing” was another fun track, and Paul was back to making music that was worthy of his legacy.  Pity it didn’t last, because he fell right back into the same old rut in ’83 with Pipes Of Peace, featuring another insipid duet, “Say, Say, Say” with Michael Jackson.  Oy!

Degüello—Z.Z. TOP (1979)  After a dandy six-year run, that Little Ol’ Band From Texas took a break following 1977’s Tejas! album and pretty much disappeared for almost three years.  Back in those days, it was rare (and risky) for any band to go more than a year between album releases, for fear of losing their audience. Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill apparently became allergic to razors of any kind during their hiatus and grew the trademark beards that served to re-invent the band’s image, while the guy named (Frank) Beard decided he didn’t want to look like those two polecats and simply maintained his moustache instead.  Meantime, Z.Z. Top picked up where they left off with a potent little platter filled with classics like “Cheap Sunglasses”, “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide”, “Manic Mechanic”, a remake of Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You”, and the bluesy “A Fool For Your Stockings”.  Another fun track was “She Loves My Automobile” which featured saxophones for the first time on a Z.Z. Top record.  Not wanting to hire outside musicians, Billy, Dusty and Frank actually learned to play the saxes themselves.  While they didn’t give the guys in Chicago (the band) anything to fear, the “Lone Wolf Horns” were certainly serviceable.  Degüello also set the table for Z.Z. Top to dominate the early ‘80s on Rock radio, and was followed by three more classic albums, El Loco, Eliminator and Afterburner.  Have mercy, Miss Percy!