Category Archives: Music

Danzig Sings Elvis

danigelvisWhen it came time to make my 666th post on The Nostalgia Spot, I could not think of a more fitting subject than something Danzig related. I even delayed this post by a few days to make it work, but this is an occasion you only get to mark once so pardon my lateness.

Every time a new Danzig record comes around for the past ten years I’ve wondered if more will follow. The music industry has changed and it’s not as lucrative as it once was for many artists. Combine that with Glenn Danzig’s advancing age and there’s a natural curiosity about when he’ll call it quits. I don’t think career musicians necessarily ever stop, but I could definitely see a day come when Danzig no longer felt the need to deal with the usual hassle it is to record, master, and distribute a new collection of songs. And I think some of that wariness has already settled in since Danzig has just released its second covers record in five years.

Danzig Sings Elvis follows in the footsteps of 2015’s Skeletons only this time the focus is placed entirely on the works of Elvis Presley. Elvis is probably one of the most covered artists in history, so it’s fair to wonder if the world needs more Elvis covers, let alone an entire album of them by one artist. True to himself though, Glenn Danzig is making another album for Glenn Danzig. He has done what he wants when he wants. I’m sure there have been moments over the years where he has had to compromise here and there, but for the most part Danzig has always created the art he wants to create. That’s true of the music and also true of the comics and now films he’s done.

When Danzig released Skeletons in 2015, it included a cover of “Let Yourself Go,” a song made famous by Elvis. During the press for the record, Danzig mentioned he had recorded a number of Elvis tracks and decided they would be best served as a stand-alone release. It was originally floated as an EP, but over the years has grown to comprise 14 tracks. Now it’s common knowledge that Elvis wrote very little of the songs he’s famous for, so it should be noted this is a collection of covers done in the style of Elvis Presley and it’s his version that is influencing Danzig here. And like Skeletons, a lot of the songs here are lesser celebrated works. If you were expecting Danzig to cover “Jailhouse Rock” or “Burning Love” then you might be disappointed, though if you’re a Danzig fan you shouldn’t be surprised.

Danzig-TV-group

Danzig has made his affection for Elvis known for awhile especially in how he setup the Legacy TV Taping to resemble the Elvis comeback special.

Covers records are in general a tough thing to review and critique. So much of one’s enjoyment of a cover is dependent upon familiarity and expectation. If you love and are familiar with a popular version of a song and are presented with another take, you probably won’t like it as much as the version you already adore and may not even have a use for it. There are always exceptions, but they are few. And if you aren’t familiar with the source material, you still may not like the cover if it’s from an artist you like as chances are it’s different from what you’re used to. And then there are also the fanatics that are going to like a performance just because it’s from a familiar source. That’s not something unique to any fanbase as I encounter a great deal of Danzig fans that adore anything Danzig puts out. Just like there are a bunch of Metallica fans that insist their covers of Misfits songs are better than the originals.

Artists seem to turn to covers when they’re getting on in years. It even dawned on me as I was writing this that Glenn Danzig is around the same age Johnny Cash was when he started doing his covers albums with Rick Rubin which included the Glenn Danzig song “Thirteen.” The dedicated covers record where an artist covers just one other artist feels like a rarity. They can come with mixed emotions too as it can feel like one artist making money largely off of the work of another, even though that’s all factored into how royalties are paid out. One of the more distasteful examples was the Jorne Lande record that was entirely covers of Dio songs, which felt like it had been held back and primed for release to coincide with the singer’s death. It was something even Ronnie James Dio’s widow Wendy refused to comment on, though it was obvious she wasn’t pleased. With a record devoted strictly to Elvis songs, there’s no such baggage. It’s one artist basically covering a covers specialist, but it is still a bit of a hard sell. It’s obvious that Glenn Danzig likes Elvis and wanted to record his own versions of the songs he either likes best or just feels he has something to add to. It’s a bit of a financial gamble as Danzig is betting on his fanbase also liking Elvis to some degree. And while my own grandfather once said “Everyone likes Elvis,” when my grandmother asked if I didn’t mind them putting on one of his records, I think it’s likely the vast majority of Danzig fans are casual Elvis fans at best and likely are unfamiliar with the deep cuts presented here.

None of those concerns likely matter to Glenn Danzig though as we’ve firmly established this isn’t necessarily a record for Danzig fans. And what should be concerning to fans or anyone that listens to this record is simply the question of “Is it any good?” Skeletons is definitely one of the lesser Danzig albums, and since it is a covers record it was always going to be. The album suffers from a lack of spark as many of the covers were pretty straight forward, which was a bit unexpected. When Danzig released The Lost Tracks of Danzig in 2007, the artist had this to say in the liner notes when talking about the T Rex cover included on that set:

[…]my feeling on covers is unless you are bringing a new dimension to it, why bother? The original will always be better.

Worse than the feeling of redundancy was the uneven production on Skeletons in which some songs just sounded terrible. There were a handful of gems, for sure, but my enthusiasm towards that record (or lack thereof) certainly resulted in low expectations for Danzig Sings Elvis. In some respect, I suppose I should have had more reason to be optimistic since Elvis possessed a vocal style appropriate for Danzig to imitate. Danzig has already covered “Trouble” multiple times and the band’s take on “Let Yourself Go” was one of the better tracks from Skeletons.

I should state upfront that I am not a fan of Elvis. I do mostly agree with my grandfather’s sentiment and confess there are a number of Elvis tracks I’m fine with, though I can’t say any of them feel ripe for a Danzig cover. Of the many Elvis songs I have heard over the years, I think the only one Danzig picked that I would have selected too is “One Night.” The only other song I can think of that I would have liked to hear Danzig attempt is perhaps “Suspicious Minds” as it’s stylistically similar to “You and Me (Less Than Zero),” which already is basically a cover of “To Sir With Love.” As such, if I weren’t such a dedicated Danzig fan there’s no way I would have ever bought this record, let alone the multiple versions I indeed ended up purchasing.

danzig_band_2020

Drummer Joey Castillo returned to record drums on “Fever.”

The song selection here definitely trends towards Elvis’ softer side and not his rock n’ roll energy. In a vacuum, this is a style that suits Danzig as evidenced by songs like “Sistinas” and “Blood and Tears.” My concern when I saw this list though was that it might be too much. Danzig isn’t the most convincing vocalist when he tries to portray vulnerability. It works in small doses when the rest of the songs surrounded those moments contain his usual dose of dominance. For the band to essentially reverse that mix feels like a hard sell. I suppose it’s true to an Elvis release in which it sounds more like a collection of singles as opposed to a cohesive album, but that’s also not a format Danzig is known for. The one silver lining was the thought that maybe these quieter and simple tunes would help hide any production missteps. Skeletons didn’t sound great, but at least the questionable production on that one seemed to matter least on the closing ballad “Crying in the Rain.” That was as optimistic as I would allow myself to get though, since banking on just an overall improvement in the production values was a fool’s errand since that’s something that’s plagued Danzig releases for over a decade at this point.

elvis_witchcraft

The inspiration for the album cover art.

Before we dig into the music presented on this album, we should probably talk about the technical bits. The album cover with Glenn Danzig and the repeating “Elvis” (in case you were confused what artist he was covering) are a clear homage to the Elvis single for “Witchcraft.” Change the text and swap out The King for Danzig and there you have it. The personnel for the record is obviously Glenn Danzig on vocals, but he also plays drums on most of the tracks and guitar and bass where needed. Guitarist Tommy Victor is on-hand for some of the leads and returning Danzig drummer Joey Castillo played on “Fever.”

Ever since Glenn Danzig hooked up with label Cleopatra Records his material has been pretty easy to get ahold of. Considering the state of the world at release, you can’t walk into a store and buy this thing, but you have multiple options online. One can order directly from Cleopatra or via the Danzig storefront on eBay which also sells signed copies from time to time. Cleopatra also has a presence on bandcamp.com and you can order there as well. All bandcamp orders also feature a digital download so you get instant access. The album is also available on Amazon and probably several other online record stores. Two formats of the album are available:  CD and vinyl. If you’re ordering vinyl, you also get your pick of color between black, green, or pink with a special leopard print recently going up for pre-order. The artwork is the same on both. The vinyl is a gatefold release with some liner notes form Danzig on the inside. He talks about his love of Elvis and gives some thoughts on why he chose the specific songs here which is a nice touch. The CD is a cardboard sleeve with an inner sleeve to protect the actual disc. It too is a gatefold shape though so it basically looks like a mini version of the LP. If speed is important, and if you want the artist to get as much of the profits as possible, ordering directly from Cleopatra is probably best, though the album generally costs the same no matter where it’s ordered from. Cleopatra also ships media mail so nothing is particularly quick. I ordered both a vinyl (pink) and CD copy, one from bandcamp and one from Amazon. The CD from Amazon took the longest to arrive, while the vinyl came from Cleopatra directly. It was packaged fairly well, but one corner still got dinged. It’s the risk you take when ordering vinyl through the mail though.

danzig_elvis_cd

Interior of CD release with big brother behind it.

Leading up to the release, Danzig released a pair of singles digitally. First was “Always On My Mind” which was over four years ago and wasn’t technically a single release. Glenn Danzig just played it on the radio and posted it to YouTube (since deleted, likely because Cleopatra uploaded it as well). The second, “One Night,” was in the last month or so. “Always on My Mind” is a perfectly suitable cover of a much covered song. The production isn’t great, but it also doesn’t need to be and surprisingly it’s one of the tracks I like most on the finished record. “One Night” is a song I would have liked to hear Danzig perform 30 years ago. Unfortunately, it might be the worst song on the album. I guess if you like the single then that’s good news to you. The song makes liberal use of slapback echo on the vocals, which is totally fine for covering Elvis, but here it’s way overdone. The tempo of the vocals further distorts it, and the end result is more annoying than pleasant. Danzig’s vocals are also wooden and bored. I’m not sure what he was going for. The instrumentation backing it, a weakness of the record in general, is even more bland than the vocals. “One Night,” and a lot of Elvis ballads, are heavily dependent on the vocal track so when it doesn’t land there usually isn’t much left to pick up the slack.

elvis_white_suit

Before this COVID stuff cancelled basically all gatherings, Danzig was scheduled to perform a few dedicated Elvis shows. He best do them right and show up in proper Elvis attire.

That single left my expectations all but cratered for the final release, but upon receiving it I was at least relieved to find it isn’t as bad as expected. I wouldn’t call Danzig Sings Elvis a great record, but it’s not a train-wreck. Most of these songs are slow, quiet, ballads so the album is an easy listening experience that totals roughly 39 minutes. The only real up-tempo numbers are “Baby Let’s Play House” and “When It Rains It Really Pours.” “Baby Let’s Play House” might be the only song that sounds obviously “Elvis” to those fans who are not familiar with The King. Danzig really goes for that rock-a-billy sound as he did many years ago on “American Nightmare.” It straddles the line between authentic and parody, and while it breaks up some of the monotony of the record, I’m left feeling glad Danzig didn’t go for more songs that sound like this. “When It Rains It Really Pours” has Glenn singing through a scowl. It’s interesting, but over in a blip as the song doesn’t even hit the 2 minute mark.

The slower tracks probably suit Danzig’s vocals more in this day and age. Most are fine, and while I feared it might be too much hearing Danzig go for so much melancholy I’ll say my fears there went unrealized. It’s interesting to hear Danzig croon and even go for the occasional falsetto like he does on “Pocket Full of Rainbows.” The only one that approached “One Night” in terms of dubiousness is probably “Love Me” where the vocals don’t complement the song much at all. The production is inconsistent from song to song, but with the quiet stuff it doesn’t matter as much. The guitar is often “just there,” and I don’t even notice much bass at all, save for “Fever” and “Baby Lets Play House.” Pretty much all of the guitar work is electric too, in case you were expecting more acoustic stuff on an Elvis covers record. Danzig did not bring in backing vocalists, which is probably for the better. There’s some parts where he recorded his own backing vocals, such as “Loving Arms,” and they’re kept fairly low in the mix. Basically, nothing stands up to challenge Danzig’s voice on any track.

dangsingselvisformats

If you want this record, at least you have options. And if it’s anything like other recent Danzig releases, you can expect a picture disc and maybe a swirled vinyl to follow.

The prevailing thought I keep coming back to when I listen to this record is, “does this need to exist?” And the answer should be an obvious “No.” That’s not a slam against it, it’s just the reality of any Elvis cover. Though it is disappointing that Danzig really didn’t find any place to add his own spin to any of these tracks, unless you count mediocre instrumentals as spin. The press release I saw from the label hyped up “Fever” as featuring some Danzig touch to it, but it’s just a straight cover. It’s not nearly as interesting as the many covers of that song that exist, and it’s a song I’ve never liked anyways so I don’t fault Danzig for not being able to make me like it any more. Perhaps more than any Danzig record before it, this is a record for Glenn Danzig. He’s covering one of his idols and I suspect he’s pretty happy with how it turned out so good for him. And I mean that sincerely. As a testament to that notion, 12 of the album’s 14 tracks are streaming for free right now on YouTube so anyone can go check it out. For myself as a Danzig fan, I’m not sure if there’s anything on this record I’ll feel compelled to return to. With Skeletons, there’s at least a track or two I might toss onto a hypothetical Danzig playlist (I say hypothetical because I’m an album man – fuck playlists), and I don’t know if I can say the same for any song on this record. The slow tempo and almost mournful performance on some tracks makes it an okay rainy day listen. Diehard Elvis fans will probably be more dismissive than I, while diehard Danzig fans will probably think it’s okay, which I guess makes it like every other covers record to come before it.

 

Top Tracks

  • Lonely Blue Boy
  • Pocket Full of Rainbows
  • Always On My Mind

Tool – “Fear Inoculum”

Tool-Fear-InoculumThe era of the compact disc is over. Over the years I’ve watched the CD section of my favorite “record stores” dwindle. The Newbury Comics in the middle of Boston once boasted row after row after row of the things. Three good-sized rooms filled with mostly CDs are now gone. All that’s left is a small section of mostly hits and a shelf for new releases which is lightly stocked. In its place is an endless supply of Funko Pops. Sure, I suppose it’s not all bad. I used to remark as a child how a store like Newbury Comics was pretty light on comics. That has changed too, and while I’d hesitate to call it a dedicated comic shop the section is certainly a lot larger than it was when I was a kid as comic franchises have taken over the world of cinema and thus have enjoyed a resurgence in print as well.

For the era of physical music media though, things look bleak. Vinyl has made a comeback, but it seems like that has peaked as the vinyl section is gradually shrinking as well. It’s much larger than the CD section (as well as the DVD and Blu Ray section, for that matter), but is unlikely to expand further. Big box retailers are basically getting out of music as well, and this has been an ongoing thing basically ever since MP3 became affordable and convenient. And now streaming services make it even easier than ever as precious hard drive space need not be reserved for music anymore.

When Guns N’ Roses released Chinese Democracy over ten years ago I thought we might see a fun, temporary, rise in the popularity of the physical album. My wishes were dashed as the public didn’t seem all that interested in the album over ten years in the making. Turns out, the real boost would come in 2019 thanks to prog-rockers Tool and their album Fear Inoculum.

Tool band

Tool fans have always seemed to take the band more seriously than its members.

It almost didn’t matter how Fear Inoculum turned out as just seeing the excitement over the release was entertaining enough. Record stores near me all pre-sold out in days, but still expected to have copies for the floor on release day, August 30. And those copies would disappear fast as well as midnight openings were held in celebration for this medium we all thought was dead. A quick trip to my local Target in the late morning hours revealed an empty space on the shelves where Tool’s latest once sat. People are excited to buy a CD again, something I thought would never be seen again.

We have Tool to thank for this momentary jolt of digital enthusiasm. Tool had not released a new album since 2006’s 10,000 Days. Fans had probably started to think the album was prophetic and that 10,000 days would have to pass before a new album would arrive. Lucky for them, it ended up only being 4,868 – not even half as many! No joke, it’s been a long wait and it’s good to finally have some new Tool to listen to in over a decade.

My introduction to Tool came via radio back in the 90s. The songs “Sober” and “Prison Sex” from the album Undertow were quite popular, but I didn’t really become a true fan until 1996’s Ænima. That was the first Tool album I owned and the first I fell in love with. It also is probably the first album I owned with a parental advisory sticker on the label. It was an exciting record to own in part due to the profanity and the somewhat obscene disc cover image of a man apparently pleasuring himself with his mouth. I got a lot of mileage out of that album and it’s one I still listen to today.

tool band modern

Tool is back, older and possibly wiser.

Following Ænima came Lateralus in 2001. A lot had changed for me in five years, but I was still a Tool fan. That album presented a band that was more introspective than before. Less aggressive, the album contained portions where Tool almost sounded like a jam band. Some of that had been hinted by the release of Salival in 2000, which was basically a mix of live cuts and b-sides meant to drive interest in the new album to follow. This was a Tool I still liked, but I never fell in love with Lateralus like I did Ænima. When 10,000 Days came in 2006, I was even less enamored with the band. I listened to that one infrequently, and actually preferred Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan’s work with A Perfect Circle to what was being done with Tool.

Tool has somewhat been off my radar ever since, partly due to my underwhelming reaction to 10,000 Days and also due to the band just not doing much since. There have been some tours, but news of a new album was often just a tease. Because of that, I stopped caring, and similar to how I feel about a new George R.R. Martin novel in 2019, I’m only going to pay attention when there’s an actual release date.

When that release date came, I came back. I was always going to be curious about whatever Tool did next. I know artists in general make very little off of streaming, so any album I have a true interest in I purchase. Tool was able to remind me almost right away that their releases are often different. Tool has always placed emphasis on the packaging for its releases, and Fear Inoculum is no exception. Check out this description for the debut version of the record:

A deluxe edition of the album will come with a full 4-inch HD screen (featuring an additional song called “Recusant Ad Infinitum”), a 2-watt speaker and a 36 page insert book.

What the fuck?! An HD screen in a CD release?! This thing sounded insane and I just had to see it for myself. No pre-release images of the packaging, aside from the cover, were released and I liked it that way. I wanted to be surprised when this thing showed up on my doorstep on August 30th.

img_0084

This is some kind of packaging.

The design of the album was done by Alex Grey, who has handled past Tool releases as well. The cover image looks fairly benign from a distance and even looks like something that would have come on a Windows 95 machine as one of the stock backgrounds to use. Once examined closer one notices the “scales” on this coiled image are actually eyeballs and what looked like a snake on webpages is actually a swirling vortex of eyes. It seems to be an obvious callback to Ænima and there will be visual nods in the album that are callbacks to other albums as well.

The actual packaging is a bit unremarkable at first glance. It arrived shrink-wrapped with a description on the shrink-wrap of the album. It’s basically an oversized digi-pack that’s taller than it is wide. It’s noticeably thicker, and when you open it up the screen is staring you in the face. The screen is around 2×3 and the video starts playing immediately. There are buttons below the screen beneath the cardboard and there are little visual “badges” to denote what they are. They turn the volume up and down and pause the video. On either side is artwork of this new creature that’s featured in the video who kind of looks like a combination between a scorpion and the pope. Inside the box is where the actual video player is stored and there’s an included mini USB cable in there to recharge it. The booklet is stored in the left panel and the CD on the right in its own dedicated slipcase which should help protect the CD.

 

As for the video itself, it’s basically Tool. It’s all CG and features the formation of this character as it goes through this setting of eyeballs in space, or something. It’s worth a watch, and I recommend watching it with a kid to hear their thoughts as that was pretty entertaining for me. It’s not particularly exciting though. The “song” attached to it is more of an atmospheric track. If it were on the album itself people would think of it as filler. The packaging ends up being more of a novelty than anything. It’s certainly unique, and I doubt we’ll see another album do the same, though some fans might be disappointed if they paid over 40 dollars for this thing. And since it sold out, some people are listing the album online for much more.

The physical version of the album comes with a free download, something that should be included with all physical albums these days (especially vinyl). For Tool, this also serves a dual purpose. The digital version and the CD version are actually different with the digital version boasting more tracks. That’s because a CD couldn’t hold all of the songs. When this happens, most bands release a double-album, but record labels hate that because it adds an additional cost to the physical version. Now considering Tool had enough pull to release a physical version of the album with an HD screen I’m sure the band could have added another CD, but then it would have required different packaging which was likely the main reason why the band decided to distribute it in this fashion.

At any rate, if you only had the physical CD you wouldn’t be missing much. The additional tracks are all filler tracks, a common trait for Tool albums. I’m the type of person that likes to listen to an album in the manner an artist presents it, but even I’m not particularly frustrated by the missing filler when I spin just the CD. Streaming versions of the album include the extra tracks, so that’s how most people will likely hear and experience the album. A vinyl version is rumored to be coming out in November and my assumption is it will mirror the CD version. Considering this is Tool though, it will likely require a unique packaging on its own so who knows? The vinyl version will likely necessitate a double vinyl anyway, so there might be enough space to add in some or all of the filler.

img_0109

That eyeball looks familiar…

That’s a lot of words on the packaging and presentation of the album and not many on the actual contents of the record, so just how good is this thing? Basically, if you like Tool post-Ænima then you’ll probably enjoy Fear Inoculum. It’s definitely an album that’s firmly in the realm of prog-rock as opposed to alternative or metal. Tool loves the concept of crescendo so expect a lot of songs to start quiet and gradually build to a climax. There’s a lot of use of quiet parts and ambiance, and perhaps more so than ever, Danny Carey’s drums are the backbone of the album. All of the other instruments, including the vocals, tend to surround the drums and serve as complementary instruments. I think a good litmus test for this record is if your favorite song off of Lateralus is “Reflection” then you’ll dig this record. If it was “Ticks & Leeches” well then you may be let down.

The title track was released earlier in August as the lead single for the album. I didn’t listen to it then as I prefer to hear a song in the context of the album. It’s like an extended intro for the record making it a bit of a bold choice as a single. A lot of the songs on the album are quite long with the shortest non instrumental track coming in at over ten minutes. Tool has always had success with longer compositions and is one of the few bands I can think of that had repeated success on radio with 6 minute singles. Even for Tool though, these songs are long, but rarely do they feel directionless. There is a jam band quality to some of them, but it’s always focused. There’s no noodling or anything like that and no one goes off on an extended solo trek.

 

Interestingly, the title track might be my least favorite. The album picks up from there and if not for the instrumental bits and the track “Culling Voices” then this entire album would almost function like a really long Tool song as it just keeps building and building. The most aggressive track is by far the CD closing number “7empest” (should it be pronounced as Tempest? Seven-empest? Your guess is as good as mine) which puts Maynard’s vocals upfront in the early portion of the song before giving way to the other instruments.

All of the performances on the record are above average and quite professional, a hallmark for the band. Maynard’s voice has remained strong over the years, though it often will be buried in effects. Justin Chancellor’s bass is as good as ever and he works in time with Carey’s drumming quite effectively. Adam Jones brings his restrained guitar work to the album with his trademarked low-toned riffs. There’s a few monsters on this record, but also some very familiar sounding riffs as well. It gives Fear Inoculum an almost encore-like feeling for the band. Considering how long it took to produce, it seems likely that this will be the band’s final album, though nothing is impossible. That celebratory effect makes it a fitting closer on an exceptional career.

Working against the album is definitely that long gestation period. There will be some who listen to this one and say “That’s it?” expecting something more. And if you never liked Tool this album won’t change your mind. Remove expectations from the equation though and I think most will find a very capable and enjoyable Tool release. I don’t know if it will be anyone’s favorite Tool album, aside from those who just played the other albums relentlessly and are excited for something new, but it would surprise me if it’s anyone’s least favorite as well. I need to revisit 10,000 Days to see where I rank this one amongst Tool’s catalog. My tastes have changed over the years and I might appreciate that record more now than I did in 2006. Ultimately, Tool delivered a good album here which makes it worth the wait as far as I’m concerned.

Tracklist (CD Version)

  1. Fear Inoculum
  2. Pneuma
  3. Invincible
  4. Descending
  5. Culling Voices
  6. Chocolate Chip Trip
  7. 7empest

Digital Version

  1. Fear Inoculum
  2. Pneuma
  3. Litanie contre la peur
  4. Invincible
  5. Legion Inoculate
  6. Descending
  7. Culling Voices
  8. Chocolate Chip Trip
  9. 7empest
  10. Mockingbeat

The Michael Jackson Post

leaving neverland

HBO’s new documentary has the world re-examining Michael Jackson nearly 10 years after his death.

I’ve been sitting on a Michael Jackson post for years. And lately, this blog has become a Batman blog. That’s partly because I suffered a recent injury to my right hand that necessitated surgery and it being immobilized. As you can probably guess, typing blog entries one-handed is a time-consuming and tedious process so it’s taken all of my time just to keep up with the weekly Batman entry. I also haven’t had much to say about other nostalgic topics, but now feels like a good time to finally make this entry.

Something I’ll never be able to explain to my kids is just how popular Michael Jackson was in the 1980s and into the early 90s. There’s been no comparison since and I don’t know if our current media landscape will even allow such a thing to happen again. When I was a kid, MTV sometimes felt like the Michael Jackson channel. Sometimes it literally way when the network would devote a weekend to just coverage of Jackson and playing his videos as well as videos by Janet Jackson and other Jackson-related artists. And it was all entertaining. His videos were usually great, the songs were catchy, and even people who claimed to not like him could often be seen tapping their feet or bobbing their head to his music.

And it wasn’t just MTV. Jackson was in commercials or featured in the news, often tabloids, and had a pretty big presence in the world at large. I remember seeing videos of people at concerts or that were just in his presence and sobbing. I couldn’t wrap my head around it and my mom would explain it as some people just get so excited they cry. Some would pass out, most would just scream, but it was so surreal to my adolescent brain.

weekend at michaels

I wanted to win one of these so bad as a kid, little did I know…

Things changed when Jackson purchased Neverland Ranch. Or at least, they seemed to. MTV would broadcast from there at times and you could see the carnival rides in the background and footage of Jackson walking around with a troupe of children getting cotton candy, going on rides, and heading to an on-premises movie theater. As a kid, I was so intensely jealous of the children I was seeing on television that got to hang out with Michael Jackson. I wanted to be one of those kids, but as an east coast dweller I had not a shot of ever going there so I could only watch and dream.

Michael Jackson came across like a big kid. He just wanted to hang out with other children because he apparently identified with them. He was the living embodiment of the famous Toys R Us jingle. To a fellow child, that was 100% understandable. To adults, it probably should have at least put them on guard. When the first allegations against Jackson surfaced in 1993, I watched the live broadcast of him describing in humiliating detail the ordeal he had to go through. He denied any wrong-doing, and his demeanor felt authentic to me. He came across like a kid accused of something he didn’t do. It’s something that happens to probably everybody at some point and it is an awful feeling. It’s when you learn as a child that sometimes the world isn’t a just place. Had I been an adult I don’t know if I would have felt different.

jackson super bowl

Jackson’s performance at Super Bowl XXVII was his last big showing before the allegations started to surface.

The backlash was surprisingly minimal. Jackson was so convincing that it seemed like most believed him. He was controlling the message though, and it was his face that was the sole public face related to the allegations. It was quite a brilliant strategy considering the victim was a child and would likely never make a public statement. The public was successfully swayed as the most common reaction seemed to be one of cynicism:  the accuser is trying to extort a famous artist. How could the man who organized “We Are the World” be a child predator? It seemed insane at the time, but hindsight probably doesn’t accurately portray that.

Those allegations were swept away. Jackson settled with the accusers, and once that happened they stopped cooperating with the investigation and no indictment took place. Jackson would then try and rehabilitate his image by marrying Lisa Marie Presley in 1994. To her credit, Presley has always maintained the relationship was real and pretty conventional, even claiming it was on and off for years after they divorced. From a modern lens it feels like a stunt including the famous kiss at the MTV Video Music Awards and the music video for “You Are Not Alone” (written by R. Kelly, another popular name for all the wrong reasons these days) which featured the couple nude.

Jackson’s star power diminished in the mid-90s. The music industry moved on without him and the wave of new pop artists made it hard for him to stand-out. His appearance had also changed so drastically by this point that he was nearly unrecognizable as the man who made “Thriller.” He had made millions upon millions, and it almost seemed like he just didn’t want to be a celebrity anymore, so he settled into a more private life in which he surrounded himself with children while also becoming a father for the first time.

By that point, I had grown out of any Michael Jackson obsession I had. My opinion of him had not really changed much, it was just over for me. And it had been for awhile. I would say my Jackson fandom spanned from 88-93 for the most part. I was there when “Scream” premiered on network television in 1995, but by then it was mostly out of curiosity. Somehow while just sitting in my dorm room on a rather boring night, I happened onto the television special Living with Michael Jackson. I watched as Jackson asked interviewer Martin Bashir what could be more beautiful than sharing your bed with someone you love? The answer was a response to if Jackson let children sleep with him. It was uncomfortable, even for someone who felt he had been wrongfully accused as I had, and yet I still wasn’t convinced.

neverland ranch

Neverland Ranch has taken on a sinister profile since Jackson’s death which is probably part of the reason why it’s still on the market.

More allegations followed almost immediately afterward. Jackson was arrested and this time charged with seven counts of child molestation. The really sick part was the accused was a cancer survivor and it was his disease that basically put him in contact with Jackson. The backlash this time since it went to trial was especially brutal, and not towards Jackson. The general public seemed convinced this was another money-grab. It wasn’t as one-sided as the 93 allegations, but it was a reminder that even absent the spotlight, Jackson was still a tremendous star. And he beat the charges. The acquittal came in June of 2005 after a lengthy process. Some blamed the testimony of the victim’s mother as the deciding factor, but had she been a perfect witness I’m still not convinced things would have turned out differently.

Following that trial Jackson basically went away, fleeing to Bahrain. For me, I was more open to the idea that something wasn’t right with what happened, but I found it easier to believe we were dealing with an extreme case of arrested development. Michael Jackson seemed like a 10-year-old at heart. He wanted to have fun and hang out with like-minded individuals. To him, another 10-year-old was more like a peer than a fellow 40-year-old. It would be easy to take advantage of that and exploit it for riches, or so I wanted to believe. In that, the portrayal of him on the television show South Park felt pretty much dead-on. Jackson was a kid at heart and therefore an irresponsible adult and maybe even a bad father.

The rest of the story is that Michael Jackson’s expensive lifestyle caught up with him. He hadn’t made a new album in years and no longer toured. He was broke, so in order to satisfy various creditors he announced a comeback tour titled This Is It. It would be both a comeback and a farewell, and during the lead-up to it he would pass away. Jackson was still a big enough star in 2009 that when I was walking through Boston Common with a friend I got a text message from my best friend that Jackson was dead. I stopped walking to read it. To my knowledge, my best friend and I had never had a meaningful conversation about Michael Jackson, but like me he lived through his height. We all loved him as kids, and his death felt like a big deal. I went home and watched coverage of his death all night. I picked up magazines and newspapers that featured it and watched a bunch of music videos I hadn’t seen in years. I even purchased some music. It was surreal. I watched his memorial service on television, and when his daughter Paris bid him goodbye it affected me.

jackson time

Of course I bought this.

Ever since Michael Jackson died I wondered if more allegations would surface. I even wondered if some of the accusers would recant. It was mostly quiet, but his estate was sued in 2013 over more allegations, but it didn’t receive a ton of press. The accusers, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, had previously helped Jackson beat those 2003 charges and earn an acquittal back in 2005. For them to claim otherwise seemed odd, but in actuality it’s really not odd for abuse victims to remain loyal. Especially when that abuse occurs to a child.

You may have heard about a documentary called Leaving Neverland by now. It just aired this past weekend on HBO and was the target of Jackson’s estate which is suing HBO for airing it. It tells the story of Robson and Safechuck, whose suit is still under appeal, and the abuse they suffered at the hands of Michael Jackson. In a post MeToo world, these victims seem to finally be getting a fair shake. As a society, we’ve been encouraged over the past few years to believe victims. Some are liars, but the vast majority are not. They deserve to be heard. Robson and Safechuck were not compensated for Leaving Neverland nor were they for the follow-up media. Sure, they may eventually profit if their suit prevails or they strike a book deal, but for now these are two people trying to make peace with what happened nearly 30 years ago. Leaving Neverland is a painful, uncomforable, watch, whether you’re prepared to believe them or not. Fellow abuse survivors should probably not watch it, because it’s raw, and there’s a lot of hurt to go around that may be triggering.

In the wake of the documentary some radio stations have decided to stop playing Michael Jackson’s music. As of right now, the various streaming services out there seem to be holding serve, but it would not be a surprise to see things change very quickly. The biggest move so far has been by The Simpsons. Creators Matt Groening and James L. Brooks along with current showrunner Al Jean issued a statement saying the season 3 premiere “Stark Raving Dad,” which features guest work by Jackson, will no longer be shown. It will be removed from the FXX channel rotation and the streaming service Simpsons World. They even took the extra step of saying it won’t be on any future physical media release. As of right now, I don’t think there are any plans to re-issue the season 3 DVD, but it will be interesting if the series ever gets some massive collected works release down the road when it wraps up (which may never happen anyways).

leaving neverland cast

Together with director Dan Reed, Wade Robson and James Safechuck are shedding light on the uncomfortable truth about Michael Jackson.

As for me, I can no longer ignore or dismiss what Michael Jackson has been accused of. Too many allegations have surfaced. Even after his death, more details about the 93 case were unveiled that are pretty damning. I now believe this man’s sickness went beyond just thinking he was a child, far beyond. He may have been a brilliant artist, but he was also a terrible monster and that can’t be ignored or forgiven. Because he was such a huge star, he still has plenty of defenders, but I’m not one of them. I couldn’t put it any better than Wesley Morris did for The New York Times who wrote a painfully honest reaction to Leaving Neverland and what it means for the fan in him. I don’t know what this means for my relationship with his music. A part of me think it’s timeless and nothing can take away from its magic completely, but I do know that right now it’s not something I’m interested in exploring. I’ll figure that out some day. For now, I’m content to live a Jackson-free life.


Dec. 24 – Ren & Stimpy’s Crock O’ Christmas

crock o xmas

Released by Sony Wonder on September 21, 1993

In 2018, it feels like the novelty music genre is mostly dead. Back in the day when radio was the primary vehicle for delivering new music the novelty song had a place. Usually they would be part of commutes or morning shows when producers thought a laugh was in order. I know where I grew up the local rock station had the Free-ride Funnies in the late afternoon when novelty tracks would be played along with stand-up routines and prank calls. Weird Al had a place on MTV along with other novelty acts and songs (remember Green Jelly’s rendition of The Three Little Pigs?) that would be played along with more “legitimate” music. As such, novelty albums were more popular though I feel like the general experience with novelty albums was hearing a funny song on the radio, buying the record, then kind of regretting it. Even some Weird Al albums couldn’t shake that feeling.

It should come as no surprise, or maybe a little surprise, that The Ren & Stimpy Show got in on the novelty Christmas album game when it released Ren & Stimpy’s Crock O’ Christmas in 1993. This album arrived during the height of Ren and Stimpy’s popularity and after the departure of series creator Jon K. It was the second album attributed to the dog and cat duo following You Eediot! which was released just a month prior. That album contained mostly music from the show, while this one was all new.

yak shaving day canoe

A brief bit from the show called Yak Shaving Day is the originator for all of this extra content.

The album is called Crock O’ Christmas, but it’s not really about Christmas and is instead about the fictional holiday of Yaksmas, which was referenced in a prior episode. Many of the songs are parodies of popular Christmas songs and usually just reading the title will clue you in on what the song is going to parody. As the voice of both Ren and Stimpy, Billy West is called upon to do the heavy-lifting in both singing and speaking roles. Bob Camp illustrated the cover which depicts Stinky Wizzleteats and the Gilded Yak piloting Stinky’s sausage cart while Ren and Stimpy pull it dressed as reindeer. This album is a precursor to the “Scooter for Yaksmas” episode, which we covered last year, and a lot of the lore for the holiday found in that episode originates here. Bob Camp and Jim Gomez provided the lyrics for most of the music while the whole thing was overseen by Vanessa Coffey and Charlie Brissette.

Since the format of this advent calendar styled journey through Christmas media is to provide a synopsis and walk the reader through the episode, we might as well just go with a song by song breakdown of this interesting piece of largely forgotten media.

crock sony reverse

The reverse cover for the original release.

The first track is “Fleck the Walls,” and it’s to the tune of “Deck the Halls” as Stimpy and Ren introduce the listener to Yaksmas Eve. They talk about flecking the walls with dirty diapers and detail the events of Yaksmas Eve such as filling your uncle’s boots with coleslaw, wearing rubber nipples, and licking up shaving scum left behind by the Gilded Yak. It’s quite gross, but par for the course with The Ren & Stimpy Show which really started to double-down on the gross aspects of the characters during the Games Animation era.

The second track is “Cat Hairballs” which is a parody of “Jingle Bells.” It’s basically Stimpy bragging about the wonders of his hairballs and how useful they are. Ren chimes in he has had enough hairballs which provokes Stimpy into coming up with more uses for them like making cigars and underwear from them. Gross. They then venture to their neighbor’s house to sing for them, and because the guy who lives there owes Ren five bucks. They encounter the husband and wife (Cheryl Chase) and wish them a Merry Cobbday so we apparently have two holidays to celebrate. They then are introduced to a goat, who is the pet I suppose of the neighbors. The husband then confesses he’s depressed because he never gets what he wants for Yaksmas. When Ren asks what it is he wants, he replies “a hairy chest.”

kid rhino crock

The album was re-released in 97 with re-arranged artwork.

This takes us into song three, “We Wish You a Hairy Chestwig” (“We Wish You a Merry Christmas”) as Ren and Stimpy wish a chestwig for their neighbor. Shelly Williams takes over as the wife as the duo sing with Ren and Stimpy (Billy West is the husband) about wishing for a chestwig. It’s the most simple of the parodies so far and not very disgusting, just silly. At the end of the song they find themselves at The West Pole which is where Stinky Wizzleteats lives. They knock on the door and meet the old man, but find he’s not too kind. He demands Ren act like a dog then calls for his wife to get his dog wallopin’ 2×4. When Ren explains they want to sing him a Yaksmas carol, he calls for his dog wallopin’ guitar.

This takes us into the next song, “It’s a Wizzleteats Kind of Christmas” which is an original tune. It explains Stinky’s role in the holiday introducing us to his sausage cart and detailing the traditions of the holiday including falling down the stairs and eating pre-chewed gum. It will be recycled for the Yaksmas episode of the show and it’s amusing enough and it’s nice to have some added visuals in that case. When Stimpy finishes the song, Stinky gives him some praise then goes into a song of his own about a chicken getting eaten by giant worms. It seems to unnerve Stimpy and the two slip away deciding to go to the mall.

That’s where our next song takes place, “We’re Going Shopping” which is another original song, though it’s pretty dialogue heavy. Stimpy has dragged Ren to the mall and is a compulsive shopper. We also get a circus midget joke which is a reference to the fire chief from the show; a joke that hasn’t ages well. Ren doesn’t want to shop and complains about his feet hurting while Stimpy tries to sell him on a glass diaper pale (“You can not only do your duty, you can see it too!”), but he’s not interested. The song ends with them arriving at the Royal Order of Yaks where Stimpy explains how the Gilded Yaks are selected to pilot the enchanted canoes on Yaksmas Eve.

kid rhino crock reverse

Back cover of the 97 re-release.

This leads into “Yak Shaving Day,” where the characters sing about, what else, Yak Shaving Day. If you saw the bit in the show then you know what to expect. It might be the most basic song so far and least entertaining. It’s also an original tune. It ends with Ren and Stimpy back home to welcome Stinky (the fart, not to be confused with Stinky Wizzleteats) and his bride Cora from “Son of Stimpy.” Stinky and Stimpy then recount how they spent their first Christmas after thumbing through a photo album which brings us to…

“What is Christmas?” where Stimpy and Stinky basically refresh us on the events from Stinky’s debut episode. The song (another original) is actually rather sweet, even if it’s about a cat’s affection for its fart. Because it’s actually executed quite well as a sentimental track, it’s not very funny. The humor really needs the visuals of Stimpy hugging his fart cloud to work. Interestingly, our characters are now openly singing about celebrating Christmas making this whole holiday season really confusing

That song ends with dialogue about Stimpy introducing All Cobb’s Eve. It apparently coincides with Yaksmas Eve and it’s a custom from Stimpy’s native Gibberland. He then sings “Cobb to the World” (“Joy to the World”) detailing how Wilbur Cobb visits you in the night to pass out on your lawn (a trait that will be given to Stinky Wizzleteats later). The song describes Wilbur Cobb, a character from the show, in all of his gruesome glory. It’s all about how his body parts fall off with some other old man traits described as grossly as possible. The parody nature of the song limits it, but it gets its message across. Meat, corn, and cheese logs are apparently all part of this “holiday’s” celebration.

wilbur cobb

Wilbur Cobb is the subject of his own holiday, though it may be one only celebrated by Stimpy.

After that lesson on All Cobb’s Eve, Ren just wants to go to bed, but Stimpy reminds him they have somewhere to be. It’s Muddy Mudskipper’s Holiday Hop, which is the subject of “Happy Holiday Hop,” a fun little rockabilly jam. Ren and Stimpy aren’t on the guest list, but they politely ask to crash the party while singing about Muddy. It’s not a direct parody of anything, but it’s pretty generic 50’s rock in its presentation which makes it probably the most danceable of the album so far. It’s just about a party so there isn’t anything gross. If you wanted to add a track from this album to a generic Christmas mix, this is probably the song you’d go for.

Our next song is “I Hate Christmas” where Ren acts more like the Ren we know from the show as he confesses his disdain for all of this holiday stuff. He does it after Stimpy goes to bed who recounts all of their Yaksmas Eve activities thus far before doing so. He playfully asks Ren if he’ll be joining him in bed, a some-what subtle gay joke. Ren says he’s going to “tickle the ivories” instead which is a metaphor for playing the piano I had never heard before and is rather clever. Ren’s song starts off kind of mopey, then he gets angry, as it turns into more of a lounge type of song. He particularly hates Christmas music, which is deliberately ironic, I presume. It’s the most relatable track so far if you find yourself getting run down by the holiday.

Our penultimate track is the “The Twelve Days of Yaksmas,” and I assume you can figure out what it is a parody of. It begins with Ren getting a package in the mail (“Wow, that’s the biggest package I’ve ever seen!”) from Ignoramia, home to cousin Sven. The song is them going through the package of gifts from Sven which is mostly gross stuff:  jars of spit, used bandages, golden hairballs, etc. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is quite possibly the worst of the traditional Christmas songs and it’s pretty annoying. They manage to run through it in about 4 minutes, so this isn’t too bad, but it still over-stays its welcome.

Our final track is “Decorate Yourself,” another original tune. The title is rather self-explanatory. It’s basically a rock ballad and comes in at over 5 minutes making it the longest song on the album. It has some silly lines, but isn’t very gross and the prior forty minutes of sillier stuff dampen the comedy element of the song. It mostly feels like putting a bow on the whole album. It ends with the duo saying goodbye to the audience as Stimpy tries to wish a happy holiday for every made-up holiday they cited on this album as well as some new ones prompting Ren to just tell him to shut up so they can leave. An appropriate ending for a Ren and Stimpy production.

So you want to get a novelty Christmas album to spin at your party this year? This would probably work out all right if your audience is familiar with The Ren & Stimpy Show. It’s more childish in its humor than other novelty albums, so it might only work on nostalgia really. If you’re counting on it being a memorable part of your holiday then you may be let down. As a little supplement to the show and its other holiday episodes, it’s kind of fun. If my kids ever get into the show I’ll probably try this on them and see what they think, though it is somewhat handicapped by the fact that the show skews a bit older than this probably would.

crock o promo

An interview disk was distributed with the promo version of the album.

The album was first released by Sony on its Sony Wonder label. The production is actually really well done and there’s a band, choir, and orchestra utilized. Some talented people put some time into the compositions and it shows. The lyrics could be better as there is perhaps too much that is just nonsensical. A 90s trait of Nicktoons was just to make something like cheese funny all by itself, when it never really was in the first place. It’s a tactic that works on kids (just watch the show All That which is almost entirely what I call unhumor that somehow worked on children of the era) but less so on older audiences. The booklet is pretty nice and includes original art on the cover as well as stills from the show inside. It’s festive, and there are lyrics printed inside as well along with transcripts of the character dialogue. West does a nice job with what he’s given and his level of performance is on par with the producers and musicians who participated. The album was re-released by Kid Rhino in 1997. It features some cosmetic differences like re-arranged artwork and a different layout for the booklet, though content wise it’s the same. I’d say the presentation is a bit louder visually, though not necessarily better or worse.

If you want to hear Ren & Stimpy’s Crock O’ Christmas in 2018 your best bet is to just head to eBay. There the CD version of the album will only set you back a few bucks with the Kid Rhino re-release apparently commanding a bit more money. There is a cassette version as well if you want to go that route. If you consider yourself a big fan of the show and you like Christmas then I think this is probably worth a look considering it’s relatively cheap to acquire. If a Christmas album by Ren and Stimpy sounds like something you would not like then you should probably trust your instincts there. You can hear most of this stuff on YouTube if you’re just curious and not eager to add any physical media to your Ren & Stimpy collection. If you’re expecting this to be the funniest Christmas album you’ve ever heard, then once again you may be let down. It’s just okay, but very much in the spirit of the show which makes it charming for fans.


Chinese Democracy Revisited

chinese democracy

After a lenghty development process, Chinese Democracy was released on November 23, 2008.

Quite possibly the most interesting and fascinating rock album released in my lifetime is Chinese Democracy by Guns N’ Roses, released ten years ago today. This was an album of mythic proportions. It was in some state of genesis for parts of 15 years and I think come the mid-2000s most probably assumed it was musical vaporware and would never see the light of day.

To comprehend the magnitude of Chinese Democracy you need to take a trip back to 1991. That year, Guns N’ Roses released its true sophomore effort and follow-up to the debut Appetite for Destruction with the double-album Use Your Illusion. The band was on-top of the rock world thanks to the success of Appetite. It combined good tunes with big personalities, none bigger than frontman Axl Rose. The band invited controversy, or at least Axl did, and was pretty upfront about its destructive lifestyle. The title of their first album wasn’t something that just sounded cool, it was basically their lifestyle. As a result, record company Geffen was quite fearful that the band would crash and burn before they could milk it for all it was worth. This is all detailed quite well in Watch You Bleed, the unauthorised biography of the band by Stephen Davis. Geffen would repeatedly try to get the band into the studio, and fast-tracked the follow-up EP Lies in 1988 just to keep the cash flowing. Use Your Illusion would basically turn into Axl’s vanity project, wanting to do something bigger than Appetite. His affinity for Elton John was front and center in the many long ballads contained on those two albums and the accompanying music videos were lavish and expensive. The albums were a major commercial success, even if they were quite inferior to what came before.

Following the release of Use Your Illusion, the band would embark on a massive, global tour where apparently things deteriorated between Axl and his band mates with some claiming Axl forced them all to sign over the rights to the band to him before a gig in Rio (a claim Axl denies). Members were dropping, but the most recognizable personalities of Rose and guitarist Slash were still holding things together, albeit barely. Following the heavy touring, the band would work on and release a covers album in 1993, The Spaghetti Incident?. It wasn’t particularly good, though few cover albums are, but still managed to sell over 6 million copies. Things would further fall apart following the recording of another cover, this one of “Sympathy for the Devil” for the Interview With a Vampire soundtrack. Axl supposedly mixed it behind the band’s back and Slash was disgusted with how it turned out (I personally find it kind of interesting), but he still soldiered on but eventually left the band in 1996. Bassist Duff McKagan would eventually follow Slash out the door in 1997. At the time he stated the band had studios rented for the better part of three years and yet no songs to show for it.

gnr uyi tour

In the early 90s, Guns N’ Roses was on top of the rock world.

By 1998, the band was practically unrecognizable. Axl Rose was the only member left from the early days, and keyboardist Dizzy Reed was the only other holdover from the Use Your Illusion albums. It was at this point the band seemed to get serious about writing and recording new music and Geffen even offered the band a bonus of a million dollars if it could complete the record by 1999. That obviously didn’t happen, but by then one song was unveiled along with the eventual album’s title. That song, “Oh My God” was included on the End of Days soundtrack and was not met with much enthusiasm. It was basically an industrial rock song and few nice things were said of it. This was also the era in which Rose really started talking up the album claiming he had enough material for a whole trilogy of albums. He even played some demo versions of songs for Rolling Stone and there was some momentum for the album, and yet nothing would come for many years.

The band’s first unveiling with this new lineup ended up as a surprise appearance at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards. Despite a warm reception, the band kind of floundered through a brief set that included renditions of classics “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City” sandwiched around a new song, “Madagascar.” Rose particularly sounded awful, unable to really unleash his screech and compensating by just singing comically high. Still, the band suggested the album was close with guitarist Robin Finck even throwing out a date of Summer 2003, but that obviously didn’t happen.

vma appearance

The band’s surprise appearance during the 2002 VMAs may have done more harm than good.

Guns N’ Roses, possibly in need of a cash infusion, returned to touring in late 2002. This likely stalled production on Chinese Democracy, but not enough to justify missing that release window by five years. During the touring, fans did get to hear early versions of songs that would make the album, but the reception wasn’t warm. Leaks would follow over the ensuing years, some resulting in legal action by Geffen and the band, and the New York Times would report in 2005 that production costs had now topped 13 million dollars, an incredible sum for an album that still was years away.

Eventually, the album would see the light of day. On November 23, 2008, Chinese Democracy was unleashed. It’s hard to say what the level of enthusiasm was at that point. Because the costs for Geffen were so astronomical, the label went to great lengths to try to make as much of its money back as possible. It negotiated exclusive deals for songs with movie studios and video game makers. “If The World” would run during the closing credits of Body of Lies while “Shackler’s Revenge” was included with Rock Band 2. Best Buy secured an exclusive agreement to sell the album in its stores, including CD versions and an LP.  The title track was debuted on Opie and Anthony’s show before being distributed to other radio stations while “Better” was released as a promo single as well. To drum up enthusiasm for the record, fans could stream it for free three days before release. Perhaps most infamously, was the Dr. Pepper promotion. Early that year, Dr. Pepper openly promised free cans of its signature soda if the album was released in 2008. The roll-out of coupons for individuals looking to take advantage of the promotion was botched, with Dr. Pepper’s website becoming overloaded. The band even threatened a lawsuit over the whole thing and accused Dr. Pepper of tarnishing the album’s release leading to lower than expected sales. Rose would later claim he had nothing to do with the threat of litigation and considered it a non-issue.

buckethead

Buckethead was probably the band’s most famous member outside of Rose during the interim period between albums, though by the time it was released Buckethead had left the band.

When Chinese Democracy was finally in the hands of fans curious to hear it, it came packaged with a rather thick booklet. So many cooks were in the kitchen here, many no longer even with the band. Of them, the most famous was likely guitarist Buckethead who didn’t hang around long enough to see release. Twelve separate musicians received credits in the personnel department with five additional guest musicians credited (most famously, Sebastian Bach who performed backing vocals on “Sorry”). The 14 track album ran for over 70 minutes, and it’s almost impossible to know how old some of the tracks are. It’s a rather fascinating album for this reason, and perhaps one day Rose will open up about the production process and be able to provide track lists for each year recording was ongoing. It certainly would make for an interesting documentary.

As for the album itself, while the initial sales may have disappointed (it debuted at number 3 on the Billboard 200) it has since been certified platinum. Critics seemed largely complimentary of the release, even if it was tempered somewhat. Perhaps the biggest proponents of the album were Axl’s former band mates with almost all of them offering a positive assessment of the record.

dr pepper promotion

Chinese Democracy’s release cost Dr. Pepper a few bucks and maybe some PR damage as well.

In revisiting the album I still largely hold the same opinion now as I did back in 2008. It’s both a satisfying and disappointing release. The disappointment comes in that this isn’t some over-the-top sound, nor is it a giant dumpster fire. I think some people were hoping for a disaster, and what they got is a pretty decent record, though not one anyone is likely to proclaim as an all-time great. What I do find really interesting about the album is that its best moments are what many people disliked about Use Your Illusion. This is an Axl Rose record and Axl Rose likes ballads, so there’s no shortage here. The last three songs are long, slow, pieces and are also among the best moments for the record. When it tries to be hard and heavy, it has its greatest stumbles. The title track is a fairly straight-forward rock track, satisfying, though not spectacular. “Shackler’s Revenge” and “Better” follow a similar path, though to not as great an effect.

The album stumbles following its first ballad, the quite competent and satisfying “Street of Dreams.” “If the World” goes for a bit of a jam sound and it sounds way over-produced. It’s more an idea than a fully realized song. The next two, “There Was a Time” and “Catcher in the Rye,” are fine, but sound way too similar to each other. It’s puzzling to see them placed back to back. “Catcher in the Rye” also goes for a melancholy sound that feels stale and a touch corny. It’s not helped by the subject matter of the song, which feels like well-trod territory. “Scraped” is where the album bottoms out, a noisy, directionless song with Rose’s worst vocal performance. “Riad N’ the Bedouins” feels like the unofficial beginning of the album’s second act. It’s a rocker that’s delivered with true ferocity. It’s probably the heaviest song on the album and it contains some classic Rose gusto with lines like, “I don’t give a fuck ’bout them ’cause I am cra-zay!” What momentum the album finds with the song though is wasted on “Sorry,” just a snoozefest of a track. “I.R.S” is more a mid-tempo rocker, and it’s fine. Axl’s vocals are probably as close to classic Axl as you’re going to hear on this one. The trio of ballads that round things out follow. “Madagascar” is another over-produced mess, though it debuts a new “voice” for Rose in which he goes with a weathered, low, sound. The song is interwoven with clips of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech as well as the same soundbite from Cool Hand Luke that was previously used at the beginning of “Civil War.” “This I love” is a gentle ballad with a great melody and vocal performance by Rose, while “Prostitute” is similar, but it has a bigger end.

axl and bach

Fellow rocker Sebastian Bach was a source of news on the album leading up to its release. He also guested on the track “Sorry.”

Despite my dislike for some songs on this one, I do still find it compelling enough to listen to the album the whole way through. It is not and never will be my favorite GNR album, but I’m torn on if I like this more than I do the individual Use Your Illusion albums. Those two were a mess stuffed full of filler material. I think if I were to cut Use Your Illusion down to a single album, it would be better than Chinese Democracy, but it is a fun discussion. Appetite for Destruction will likely always be the band’s best album and one that really defines its sound. It’s not just the best album in the band’s discography, it’s one of the ten best rock albums of all time. No one, even back in 1991, expected the band to top it only to supplement it with more worthwhile content.

GNR reunion

After years of saying it would never happen, Slash and Axl finally reconciled and re-joined the band, along with McKagan, in 2016.

Following Chinese Democracy, Guns N’ Roses has been quiet on the new release front. Rose did claim around 2014 that more material was on the way, but it’s been rather quiet. The band put out a remastered version of Appetite for Destruction instead, and former band mates Slash and Duff are back with Rose. Supposedly, there are dozens of unfinished songs leftover from the Chinese Democracy sessions so it’s possible that some day Geffen will put them out looking to just make a little money off of them, if they can. If GNR is to remain a nostalgic act I suppose few will mind, though longtime fans are probably curious to hear what a new album with Slash and McKagan back in the fold would sound like. Regardless of how the album ultimately turned out, Chinese Democracy will always be remembered as the white whale of rock albums. The incredibly long and dramatic production time was perhaps more fun to follow than the album was to listen to. There’s a part of me that wished it continued, though I know that’s a retroactive feeling as at the time I was more than ready for the whole thing to have an end. I think ten years later the album is still worth a look and how much you enjoy it largely depends on your expectations. If you’re looking for another Appetite or even another Use Your Illusion, you’ll be let down. If you just want a textured rock record with a modern sound, then I think there’s something to like here.


Samhain – The Ultimate Song Ranking

samhain headerIt had to happen, no? After ranking all of the songs puts out by the Glenn Danzig-fronted Misfits last Halloween to ranking every song put out by Danzig in celebration of the band’s 30th anniversary, only Samhain remained. The middle child of Glenn Danzig’s bands, Samhain has always been the most overlooked and least appreciated. This is largely due to the band only really existing for about 3 years, barely giving it time to develop its own sound. Predictably, the band sounds like a mash-up of The Misfits and early Danzig as this was basically Glenn Danzig going solo.

As a result of Samhain existing for such a brief period, the volume of songs with the Samhain branding total far fewer than the other two bands. The band had 36 recordings including instrumentals and oddities like “Initium.” Since it’s such a low total relative to the other bands I am forgoing any sort of rules with this ranking. All songs are being ranked individually. The only recordings not considered are the live versions from Samhain’s lone live album. This means I am including covers (most of which are Glenn Danzig covering himself anyway), and there’s even two versions of one song. All of the Samhain releases are long out of print, but I’m sure there are other means of hearing these songs if you don’t want to pay after-market rates. So let’s get down to it and celebrate the festival of Samhain by ranking the works of Samhain:

36. Misery Tomb (Unholy Passion) – Let’s start with the dubious one, the worst Samhain track. This one comes with an asterisk as it’s not really a song and more a collection of noises. Not on the original release of Unholy Passion, “Misery Tomb” is just the vocal wails and effects from that EP’s closing track “I Am Misery” isolated all by itself. It would have made more sense as a CD hidden track which is usually the realm for oddities such as this, but instead it was stuck among the regular songs.

35. Unbridled (November-Coming-Fire) – Given what I said about the first entry, “Unbridled” can be considered my true pick for worst Samhain song. Most of that is due to the terrible production on the track. The vocals are buried in the mix and the sound is so low it sounds way out of place among the better mastered tracks. The music accompanying it does have a playful malevolence to it that is kind of interesting, but the limitations of the band keep it from progressing into anything worthwhile making this track feel incomplete.

initium

Initium was the band’s debut album, and some would say its best.

34. Initium (Initium) – Most of what I said about “Misery Tomb” applies to “Initium.” The only difference is this one is an intro to the band’s first album, and judged on that merit, it’s effective. As a piece of music, it’s just some wind effects with Glenn speaking over it. The lyrics are pretty campy, but it’s fine for what it is.

33. Birthright (November-Coming-Fire) – “Birthright” is the misstep of side 1 on Samhain III. While the other tracks prioritize melody over intensity, this one mostly forgoes that. Like “Unbridled” the production on the vocals also leaves something to be desired. Perhaps if it had a hook in its chorus it would have worked out better.

32. Night Chill (Final Descent) – The instrumental intro for Samhain’s posthumous LP, Final Descent, feels a bit weak compared with the intro on the prior album, but by itself it’s suitable. As its name implies, it’s more a chilling piece of music and it possesses a spooky vibe, for lack of a better term. In short, it accomplishes what it needs to.

31. Macabre (Initium) – This is a track that is distinct for its lack of melody. The beat is rather mischievous, with that malevolent Samhain guitar tone, but the vocals feel isolated. It’s just Glenn screaming nonsense. The imagery is violent, and the song basically has no hooks, but one gets the impression that it’s not supposed to. Raw and intense, you probably either like that about it or you don’t.

30. Lords of the Left Hand (Final Descent) – This one sounds more like a Danzig song. It’s a slow tempo number with an apocalyptic vibe. It could have been snuck onto the first Danzig record without feeling too out of place. This is the original version, and it’s a song I’ve never had particularly strong feelings for. If Final Descent were a true full-length LP this would have been fine as filler, but when forced to stand out it feels a bit lacking.

samhain band

There’s not a lot of Samhain band shots out there, since the band existed for such a short time.

29. Kiss of Steel (November-Coming-Fire) – Bizarre given the subject matter, “Kiss of Steel” is that old school up-tempo punk song with the Samhain bells and whistles. It’s a song about car wrecks, so it’s violent and fits in with the rest of the album given that aspect, though it still seems like a mundane subject for Samhain. It’s brief and relentless though and does possess plenty of hooks.

28. Trouble (Final Descent) – Glenn Danzig and the band’s first attempt at an Elvis cover, this one was originally released on the version of Final Descent included with the Samhain Box Set. It’s similar to what the band Danzig would record, but with less polish. The vocal track sounds like it was done in one take which gives it a raw authenticity. There’s swagger here, perhaps more so than the Danzig version. It’s pretty cool to hear, and even though it lacks some of that Samhain goth vibe, it mostly sounds like what you would expect given what the Danzig version turned out like.

27. Moribund (Unholy Passion) – If you missed the goth texture on the previous song, then you’ll be pleased to know it’s captured here. “Moribund” is sort of Samhain by the numbers. It’s got a bit of a punk thing going on, there’s some added keyboard effects, and it’s fairly catchy. It’s just a little boring compared to the better songs that follow this mold and it’s probably harmed by the fact that its chorus is just the song’s title repeated over and over.

26. Lords of the Left Hand (2nd Version) (Final Descent) – Released with the Samhain Box Set, this version of “Lords of the Left Hand” is much faster. While the original is more methodical, this one is relentless and I think it suits the song’s subject matter better as a result. As a song not deemed worthy of release initially, there is an unfinished vibe to it, but the rawness of the recording is kind of charming as well.

final descent

Final Descent was the 1990 posthumous album from Samhain. It was the only Samhain album to not receive a vinyl release.

25. The Birthing (Final Descent) – Kind of a paradox, as a song called “The Birthing” is essentially all about “The End.” This one has a fun and unique song structure that makes it stand out. Glenn gives a great vocal performance, proving that he’s learned a thing or two since disbanding Samhain, making this one sound a bit more like a Danzig song as opposed to a Samhain one.

24. Death…In Its Arms (Final Descent) – A slow tempo jam kind-of song. It’s another Final Descent track that sounds more like an idea than a realized song. It also sounds halfway between Samhain and Danzig. What is here though is fine, and there’s a groove to this one that helps it stand out. There’s a vocal melody utilized by Glenn here that’s also unique to this song. In short, it doesn’t sound like anything that came before it, or since.

23. Human Pony Girl (November-Coming-Fire) – According to former bassist Eerie Von, when Glenn embarked on writing for Samhain he deliberately wanted to bring in more sexual themes to his lyrics. He had some growing pains and some of the stuff sounds forced or corny, but come Samhain III he seemed more confident. “Human Pony Girl” is one such song and if you like songs about Glenn bare-backing some woman then this one is for you. It’s kind of menacing, and Glenn’s delivery hints at violence without overtly stating anything truly violent. It’s a bit odd as a closer for the album, but I’ve met some female fans who really dig this one.

samhain metallica

The boys of Metallica were fans of the band. James Hetfield would end up singing on the Danzig version of “Possession.”

22. Possession (Final Descent) – Another early version of a song that would appear on the first Danzig record, “Possession” is a rough, slightly faster, version of what ended up being released. It’s not unlike “Twist of Cain” in that regard, which is still to come on our list. The lo-fi recording gives the song a gritty quality that I think suits it rather well though I still prefer the Danzig version.

21. He-Who-Can-Not-Be-Named (Initium) – Like “Moribund,” this is another Samhain by the numbers kind of track. It adds this “whoa” track that would probably sound rather funny if isolated from the song, but works with it and gives the song its own flair. It’s a catchy track and Glenn’s vocal delivery rises in intensity throughout the song giving it a satisfying climax. While “Moribund” felt like perfectly fine filler, this one is elevated above that rank.

20. Halloween II (November-Coming-Fire) – Our first Samhain version of a Misfits song. Samhain was actually pretty adept at taking what was old and making it better. “Halloween II” from The Misfits was a moody kind of track, more of a gimmick than true song, but Samhain adds more guitar and a new groove that really pulls everything together. Glenn went for more of a chant quality with the original recording, but here there’s a distinct vocal melody and he practically shouts the verse at the listener. It gives the song a new dimension, a new intensity, and ultimately makes this my preferred version of the song.

19. Diabolos ’88 (November-Coming-Fire) – Samhain’s best instrumental song, “Diablos ’88” is the lead-off track to Samhain III and it’s really punky and fun. It has a lot of Samhain’s trademarked added texture effects with chimes and chants. It’s very up-tempo and probably could have worked as a song with lyrics if Glenn had so desired, but even as an instrumental, it’s pretty damn great.

18. Twist of Cain (Final Descent) – The other soon-to-be Danzig track included on the Final Descent re-issue, “Twist of Cain” has the impossible task of living up to one of Danzig’s most classic tunes. Naturally, it can’t match that band’s rendition, but it is pretty cool to hear in this unrefined, raw, form. Glenn practically growls the chorus and sounds more menacing here than he will with Danzig. All these years later, it would be kind of cool to see if the band could pull-off a similar live version of this song after years of playing it the Danzig way as I think this version would work really well in that setting.

17. The Shift (Initium) – “The Shift” is a slow, brooding, track that’s over before it can really get going, but what it does accomplish in its brief run time is pretty cool. Like a lot of the songs from this album “The Shift” feels like a horror film made song. It’s overshadowed a bit by the songs that follow it on Initium, but shouldn’t be overlooked because of that.

unholy passion

The Unholy Passion EP was the band’s second release. Start to finish, it might be the band’s tightest release.

16. The Hungry End (Unholy Passion) – This one kicks off with an unsettling, frantic, yet simple, guitar riff. As Glenn comes into the picture he’s screaming about a baby in a meat slicer, his voice straining above the piercing sounds of the guitar. There’s a rawness to the vocal delivery, as if it was done in a single take, and the song relents when it gets to a fairly melodious and tastefully delivered chorus. It’s a really neat, and unique, song amongst the Samhain catalog and it really drives home how, even though the band wasn’t really much more talented than The Misfits, Glenn was better at utilizing what this band could do to craft its songs.

15. Black Dream (Initium) – “Black Dream” is a fairly no-frills punk track, an early example of Glenn Danzig trying to incorporate some sex into his lyrics. It doesn’t quite reach the mark in that regard, but what is here is a very catchy punk song that could have come from The Misfits had Glenn chosen to do so. The only thing that makes it sound like a Samhain song is the minimal use of keys to accentuate some of the bass during the chorus.

14. November’s Fire (November-Coming-Fire) – Raise your hand if you sometimes forget this song is called “November’s Fire” and not “November-Coming-Fire” like the album and chorus would lead you to believe. I know I do. It’s obviously not important, and I think it’s still safe to consider this the title track of Samhain III despite the slight difference in naming. This one follows “Halloween II” on the album and logically seems to be about the festival of Samhain as it references fires and the month of November. It’s catchy, with a fun guitar hook. The chorus has a gallop quality to it in the drumming which is pretty unique for Glenn Danzig songs. It can safely be considered one of the band’s signature songs.

13. Horror Biz (Initium) – A new take on The Misfits classic “Horror Business.” This one emphasizes the drumming of Steve Zing and utilizes a more deliberate vocal melody while somewhat downplaying the guitar in comparison with the original. The slightly improved production makes Glenn’s lyrics easier to decipher, including the final line of the song which is mostly unintelligible in the Misfits version. It’s also slightly slower, sacrificing some of that speed and intensity for a more refined groove. Unlike “Halloween II,” I don’t prefer this version to the original, but I do appreciate it. There’s room for two and that chorus will never not be fun to sing along to.

samhain iii

I’ve encountered many fans who consider Samhain’s third release, and last while together, the band’s best.

12. Mother of Mercy (November-Coming-Fire) – This one is perhaps the most famous Samhain song due to its inclusion in the Metallica version of Guitar Hero. It’s obviously a favorite of Hetfield’s and with good reason. It seems to be about giving one’s self up to an older dominatrix, or at least submitting to an older woman. It almost doesn’t matter, as like any good Misfits/Samhain song it really leans into some nice, catchy, hooks that render the song’s subject matter practically moot. This one was apparently also a favorite of Glenn’s as Danzig would keep it in its set list for a few years after Samhain’s demise. It’s not a particularly fast or slow song, but there’s something undeniably fun about that chorus, “We all want our time in Hell.”

11. All Murder, All Guts, All Fun (Initium) – This is another Samhain song that could have easily been a Misfits recording. It’s very punk in nature, uptempo, catchy, and the lyrics are deliberately offensive in order to garner attention (presumably). It’s also graphic, like a lot of Misfits stuff. To make it feel like Samhain has moved beyond The Misfits though there’s a bridge that would be atypical for a Misfits cut. And even though the song slows down for that bridge it still manages to remain catchy, in particular the “Do-you-do-you ree-ah-lize…” conjuring visions of the 50s in some respect. It’s a fun, juvenile, song though that’s rightfully played at every Samhain show.

10. I Am Misery (Unholy Passion) – Perhaps Samhain’s most ambitious song, this one gives up some of the catchy aspects of Samhain’s best, but incorporates perhaps Glenn’s best lyrics. The voice of the song is misery personified, and it’s rather effectual. It moves between being uptempo and mid and there’s plenty of layering and textures added. A great way to kick off Samhain’s Top 10.

9. Samhain (Initium) – The band’s title track, and the only Glenn Danzig band to have such a thing. It’s a great way to introduce the listener to what Samhain is all about. The lyrics are clearly inspired by the actual holiday. It’s very brief, but it works so well. It’s got enough attitude and atmosphere to make it sounds kind of dangerous. It feels minimalist, but it’s so catchy. And when it ends it leaves you wanting more which is the mark of a good song. ‘Tis the night to laugh at Death, indeed.

8. All Hell (Unholy Passion) – The last of The Misfits covers, “All Hell” is a new version of “All Hell Breaks Loose” and it basically kicks ass. Gun to my head, I probably would take this over The Misfits version, but I love both. Like “Horror Biz,” the drums are really emphasized here and the vocal melody is altered for a more deliberate delivery. The way the song is structured really suits this style and adds to the rising intensity the song tries to build up to. The better production also doesn’t hurt in separating it from its predecessor.

final descent CD

Early versions of Final Descent contained the Unholy Passion EP tacked-on the round things out. It wasn’t until the E-Magine reissue that the early Danzig demos were added.

7. Unholy Passion (Unholy Passion) – If someone asks me what Samhain sounds like relative to Glenn Danzig’s more popular bands, this is a song I would point them towards. It’s a mid-tempo track that starts off with a simple bass line and then gradually layers upon that before breaking into the full song. It has all of the atmosphere it needs which is why the EP from which its taken doesn’t need an instrumental lead-in, this accomplishes that task while also delivering a full-fledged and terrific song. There’s a distance in the vocals that adds a haunting quality to the song, and also covers up some goofy lyrics. And as the song states repeatedly; it’s unholy.

6. To Walk the Night (November-Coming-Fire) – This might be Samhain’s slowest song. I’ve never actually measured it, but it’s the closest to a traditional ballad the band recorded. It possesses a somber tone with an understated, but effective, vocal performance from Glenn Danzig. It’s easy listening, which makes it stand out. It’s a personal favorite of mine.

5. Descent (Final Descent) – Final Descent was basically an encore for Samhain. It’s not a bad release either, though I do rank it behind the other three Samhain releases. The songs are worth hearing, but the only one that ever struck me as special is “Descent.” It likely benefits from being recorded essentially by the band Danzig and it contains the best production of any Samhain track. Danzig’s vocals are awesome and intense, and I wish this song received more love from the band during the various reunions that have taken place over the years.

4. The Howl (Initium) – Another moody little horror cut, “The Howl” is a fan-favorite song. I love Glenn’s vocal performance, and the slow gallop of the drums thumps along driving the tempo. It’s a fun horror story, that probably predictable given the song’s title, turns into a series of howls to close it out. Seeing the band perform this one live covered in blood is about as “Samhain” as it gets.

3. In My Grip (November-Coming-Fire) – A power fantasy made song, Glenn Danzig has always had the ability to take what looks corny on paper and turn into something convincing in song. The nature of this song makes for an easy comparison to the Danzig song “Left Hand Black” since it contains similar themes. I love the uneasiness the verse’s guitar creates which leads to the explosive chorus. A great way to kick-off what many feel is the band’s best album.

danzig blood

Glenn Danzig’s affection for Samhain has led to multiple reunions over the years where he once again covers himself in blood to perform.

2. Let the Day Being (November-Coming-Fire) – The companion track to “To Walk the Night,” which leads into this one on the album. “Let the Day Begin” is the polar opposite – uptempo, catchy, and a whole lot of fun. A reckoning is falling upon the world ushering in a new age with fire and fury that will spare no one. It’s uncompromising in its lyrics, which if perhaps given a higher profile would prove controversial, but since this is Samhain it gets to fly under the radar. The song is anchored by its chorus which is perhaps the catchiest one produced by Samhain. Just go and try to get it out of your head.

And the winner is…

Archangel (Initium) – The signature Samhain song, the best of the best. I wrestled with what should be number one since I primarily consider Samhain a punk band and punk bands tend to write fast songs. “Archangel” is not fast, and it’s the band’s longest song at that. Nothing else in the band’s catalogue really sounds like it, but it’s arguably the band’s most complete song. It’s a song that could not have been recorded by The Misfits, and likely wouldn’t sound like this if Danzig had recorded it too. It’s distinctly Samhain. It has an extra bass track that would necessitate Glenn to pick-up an axe himself for live performances, something he rarely ever does. The production is just lo-fi enough to give it a haunting quality and Glenn deftly maneuvers his voice through the song knowing when to croon and when to howl. The song is paced well and the outro it possesses is just another way it separates itself from the rest of the band’s catalogue. It’s a natural show closer, and ultimately my pick for Samhain’s best song.

 

There you have it, all of the Samhain songs ranked. It wasn’t the endeavor that ranking the Danzig songs was, but it was a lot of fun revisiting these songs I’ve listened to so many times during the course of my life. I hope your Happy Halloween has led into a Scintillating Samhain. And just because the holiday has passed doesn’t mean you can’t still listen to Samhain. As far as I’m concerned, it’s always in season.


Danzig – Lyrics of the Left Hand Vol. II

danziglyricsv2Consider this a book-end to the coverage of Danzig’s 30th anniversary from a couple of weeks back. During my write-up for that, a celebration of all of Danzig’s original songs, I made a comment about one entry in particular (“Halo Goddess Bone”) where I mentioned how it would be neat to know just what Glenn is saying. I openly hoped it would be included on the then upcoming Hidden Lyrics of the Left Hand Volume II, which was slated for release in August. Well, that volume is now available and wouldn’t you know, “Halo Goddess Bone” was indeed included.

Lyrics of the Left Hand Vol. II is the follow-up to Hidden Lyrics of the Left Hand, which arrived almost 10 years ago. It’s a Verotik issue, Glenn Danzig’s publishing company that typically specializes in erotic-horror type comics, and both are illustrated by Simon Bisley, who has been an artist in the comic’s industry for decades and has also made numerous contributions to Danzig releases over the years, most famously the cover for Thrall: Demonsweatlive. The impetus for the original release was simply to get a bunch of lyrics into the hands of the fans. During Danzig’s career with The Misfits, his releases seldom contained lyrics and the actual content of those songs has been debated amongst fans for years. Samhain only produced lyrics for its first and third releases, and even the band Danzig omitted lyrics from later releases as well as anything that was limited to an EP or single. 2007’s The Lost Tracks of Danzig only added to the amount of songs without lyrics, so there was plenty of material to fill a comic, if so desired. Danzig’s approach ended up being a bit less ambitious. He handpicked songs from all three bands and then had Bisley do a black and white illustration for each song. Basically, you open the soft-bound book and you have an image on the left and the words on the right.

Hidden Lyrics of the Left Hand may have been smaller in scope than fans wanted, but it was still appreciated. It wasn’t printed in huge numbers, nor was it so limited that fans had a hard time getting it and Verotik still prints small batches for release at concerts and to sell through its eBay store. The presiding feeling on that initial release was a thirst for more. Fans tend to want to know everything, and so long as there are no official lyrics for even a single song they’ll keep asking for it. A second volume seemed like a no-brainer, but it still took several years to happen, and it underwent a pretty significant change as well.

SimonBisley

Artist Simon Bisley has been a frequent collaborator with Danzig for decades.

I think I pre-ordered the new book back in April or May. At the time, it was titled Hidden Lyrics of the Left Hand Vol. II. I purchased it through an online comic book store that ended up pre-selling out and hasn’t bothered to restock the item or take further orders. By the time it was released, the title had changed to simply Lyrics of the Left Hand Vol. II, and that’s because this time out the book contains the lyrics for songs that were previously unavailable but also some that were. It’s a bit disappointing, as I don’t need another source for the lyrics to “Killer Wolf,” especially when there are so many songs still outstanding. The counter-argument to that is you’re getting a piece of art to go with those lyrics, but no disrespect to the work of Simon Bisley, I’m primarily interested in this for the lyrics. The full list of songs included is below:

  • Last Ride
  • Black Laden Crown
  • Devil on Hwy 9
  • But a Nightmare
  • Skull Forrest
  • 1,000 Devils Reign
  • i Luciferi
  • Black Mass
  • Halo Goddess Bone
  • Killer Wolf
  • Her Black Wings
  • Am I Demon
  • November’s Fire
  • I Am Misery
  • Archangel
  • Devilock
  • Bloodfeast
  • Braineaters
  • Halloween
  • London Dungeon
  • Who Killed Marilyn?
  • Come Back

The book begins with a little foreword by Glenn Danzig that summarizes how the book came to be. The text is gray on black and kind of fuzzy, but the font size is large enough that it’s not too hard to read. For the actual lyrics, the font is in white which is a much better choice. As for the lyrics themselves, it’s not surprising to see a lot of later day Danzig material since those booklets either skipped some songs or excluded them entirely (in the case of the most recent album). I noticed only a typo or two. The cover is cardstock and glossy and the black pages do have that tendency to acquire fingerprints, but all in all, it looks quite nice.

verotik samples

Verotik released a few promotional images ahead of the book’s release.

As for the actual illustrations, your enjoyment of them will likely vary from song to song. A lot are a duplicative of each other as several contain one, or all, of the following: breasts, demons, a Danzig caricature, skulls. The illustration for “Last Ride” is just the cover art for the single, and “November’s Fire” is basically a reinterpretation of the cover art to Samhain III. My least favorite might be “i Luciferi” which is just a Glenn caricature with a flaming hand – it’s a bit dull. “Halo Goddess Bone” is also just a feminine skeleton that also happens to have huge breasts, despite having no flesh anywhere else, which looks more silly than sexy. All of the illustrations are done in black and white, and some have more of a sketch quality than others. I personally like that look, but if you’re into full-color illustrations then you might be let down.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are some that are pretty neat and it’s a shame they couldn’t be leveraged for a single release or something. “Devil on Hwy 9” is kind of funny in that it’s a demonic character just giving the finger to a cop. There’s a subtle, really nice, horizon in background of the image that almost gets lost. It’s the rare humorous image. The picture for “Halloween” is almost wickedly cute. It features a Bisley version of the Jack-o-lantern from the single cover with a burning, hanging, body in the foreground. Three little trick-or-treaters are looking on and one is a Misfits ghost, a Samhain ghost, and a little Danzig demon. “I Am Misery” doesn’t really fit with my interpretation of the lyrics at all, but the image is still pretty cool. It’s a girl (Death? Misery?) spreading open a cloak and inside are the faces of various killers and tyrants from history. “Who Killed Marilyn?” includes a depiction of the famous crime scene with the Kennedy brothers looking on. I don’t want to run through too many of them since the surprise is part of the enjoyment, but those ones stuck out the most. “1,000 Devils Reign” was also pretty damn cool and is probably the busiest of the Bisley illustrations.

With a release like this, you probably know if you’re going to get it or not at the moment you find out it exists. For hardcore fans of Glenn Danzig’s music, it’s practically essential. The MSRP is $24.95, though I found it for sale for $19.99. Getting it is a bit of challenge as I don’t know of many places selling it outside of Verotik’s eBay store. Their copies seem to go up for sale every other day and usually sell out. They’ve mostly been selling signed copies as well, which is cool if you want Danzig’s signature on your book, but less cool if you don’t want to pay an extra $15 for such a thing. I’m not sure if they put up unsigned copies for MSRP. Some of their proceeds do go to charity, so that’s pretty cool. Comparing this release with the first, which I never did a write-up on, I would say it’s of the same quality. I’m not sure which has the better illustrations, but they’re comparable. This one is less exciting since several of the songs have had their lyrics released in the past, but at least there are a few here that I personally have wanted lyrics to (in particular; “Halo…”, “Devilock,” and “I Am Misery”). If you’re a fan and want these lyrics, get it. If you never cared about the lyrics to the songs anyway, then I’m surprised you read this far.

 

 


%d bloggers like this: