One of the more pleasant surprises for many people was 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger.
It was a different kind of superhero movie - one that took place during World War II (for the most part). Director Joe Jonston did a great job of capturing the look and feel of the 1940's while still giving the film modern sensibilities. It was very similar to his early 90's movie, The Rocketeer in that regard.
Fast forward three years (two years past the monumental Avengers movie) and you've got Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, living in modern America. He's still a fish out of water (and his stereo has 40's Big Band Jazz playing, as it should), but he's starting to acclimate himself to a brave new world. He's still an idealist, and the same reasons why he kept trying to get into the military as a scrawny 100 pound weakling still apply in his mind to what is right and what is wrong. He doesn't agree with SHIELD's plans to pro-actively take out threats to world security. Punishment before the crime is committed doesn't seem right to Steve. Freedom still means a lot to him.
Needless to say, there is plenty of action in The Winter Soldier (which could also have been called, "The Avengers 1.5"). This isn't a small movie. However, there are elements of 1970's style political thrillers present, as well as a bit of a mystery. This, like The First Avenger, is a well rounded movie with a lot going on.
One of the things going on is the appearance of The Winter Soldier, an assassin so effective and so elusive that many believed him to be just a myth. The identity of The Winter Soldier is probably pretty well known by now, but I'll avoid spoiling it just in case you don't know yet - but, needless to say, it does create further conflict for an already deeply conflicted Steve Rogers.
And as Steve Rogers Chris Evans has been, and continues to be, amazingly effective. A far cry from the brash, thoughtless, impulsive Johnny Storm that he played nearly a decade ago in a pair of Fantastic Four movies, Evans' Steve Rogers is thoughtful and mature. Wise beyond his years in the 1940s his wisdom is desperately needed in modern times, and Evans perfectly captures that. His performance isn't just seriousness and contemplation - he is (as he was in The Fantastic Four movies) excellent with the one liners. Evans has a great balance between the serious character drama and the lighthearted nature of fun comic book movies. A better Captain America would have been hard to find.
But the great performances don't stop there. Scarlett Johansson is a pleasure to watch as Natasha Romanoff, aka The Black Widow. Her charm is inescapable. Also very noteworthy in the cast is Robert Redford - yes THE Robert Redford - as SHIELD supreme commander, Alexander Pierce. Redford gives a standard Robert Redford performance. It's not Redford at his absolute best, but he isn't just phoning it in, either. Average Redford is better than most actors at their best, and that's the case here, and his presence alone gives the film a certain weight and gravitas that it couldn't have had with just another actor in the role. Kudos to Marvel for landing him!
Samuel L. Jackson is Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, which makes sense as the character was re-imagined in his image for Marvel's, "Ultimates," line of comics (a line where everything was started over from scratch and given a modern spin). Newcomer to the Marvel universe, Anthony Mackie, also brings a lot to the table as Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon. In the comics The Falcon was Captain America's partner in crimefighting for about a decade. In the movie he is a valuable asset as both a character and as an actor giving the cast a new dimension that wasn't seen in The First Avenger or The Avengers.
The story is more than solid. It is well thought out, and well scripted. The Winter Soldier really could be subtitled, "Avengers 1.5," because that's what it is, more or less. There is enough excitement to satisfy that crowd, and enough twists and turns to satisfy the skeptics.
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo (the Russo brothers) have done a great job of bringing not only a comic book to life, but of also adding elements of political intrigue and mystery to the comic book superhero action movie mix. The movie moves at a breakneck pace, but still finds time for solid character moments and plot development.
The Winter Soldier will end up being one of the highlights of 2014 at the movies. Don't miss it.
Last Edit: Apr 15, 2014 19:13:10 GMT -5 by Erik Rupp
Here's a great episode adapting an Isaac Asimov story. This one is about a time of galactic war, and how people behave under extreme stress and what they will do to be free.
From the far horizons of the unknown come transcribed tales of new dimensions in time and space. These are stories of the future. Adventures in which you'll live in a million, "Could be," years on a thousand, "May be," worlds. The National Broadcasting company in cooperation with Galaxy Science Fiction magazine presents...
X.. Minus... One...
Last Edit: Mar 22, 2014 3:40:56 GMT -5 by Erik Rupp
Better Days Comin’ is the hihgly anticipated WINGER brand new studio album!
Once again the band offers an exciting mixture of the melodic and commercial approach of the first 2 albums, which catapulted Winger in the Pop/Melodic Metal stardom, with the more technical and almost Progressive feel of such heavier albums as Pull or Karma. Better Days Comin' is the logical follow up to the critically acclaimed Karma, which was hailed as one of the band’s strongest releases ever.
Better Days Comin’ is the new record where the four band members: Kip Winger (ex Alice Cooper), Reb Beach (Whitesnake), Rod Morgenstein (Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse) and John Roth (Starship, Giant) shine with an incredible instrumental and vocal prowess at the service of superb Hard Rock songs with an uncanny sense of melody.
Look out for WINGER tour dates in the spring and summer in support of the new album!
WINGER: Kip Winger – lead vocal and bass Reb Beach – guitars John Roth – guitars Rod Morgenstein – drums
Here are links to samples for each of the songs...
The conventional wisdom states that Grunge and Heavy Alternative music killed, "Hair Metal," after a decade of excess in the 80's. That's the conventional wisdom.
The facts are, of course, more complex than that, and far more interesting.
First off, there was no such thing as, "Hair Metal," in the 80's. Almost all bands in the 80's, regardless of genre, had big, overly styled, overly hairsprayed hair. It was part of the 80's - bigger was better. The only Metal bands that didn't go for the big hair were the Thrash or Speed Metal bands, and even a handful of those got caught up in the style of the day on occasion.
Second, the excess that most people think of when they think of 80's Metal is the Pop Metal scene, and rightly so - but that's not the only reason why Heavy Metal was not as hip at the very beginning of the 90's as it had been just five years earlier. There were other key factors that contributed to an overall view of Heavy Metal as a lesser genre. Less hip, and lesser in quality.
Well, let's start at the height of the Heavy Metal scene around 1984 or so.
Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and DIO were all riding high. All three of the early to mid 80's Metal Giants were on a run of high quality, big selling albums. Metallica was just starting to make some noise with their new album, Ride The Lightning. Motley Crue was still a great band in the middle of their Shout At The Devil tour. KISS had just made a miraculous comeback after being as UN-hip as they possibly could have been in 1980 and 1981. RATT was just breaking with a great album, and there were several other examples of a genre at the height of it's powers. Things couldn't possibly have been going better. And that's part of what would become the genre's problem four or five years later - things couldn't get any better than they were in 1984, and, well - they didn't.
Everything was going well for Hard Rock and Heavy Metal as a genre. Hugely successful albums, well attended arena tours, and a general high quality of music is what you'd hear more often than not from Hard Rock and Heavy Metal bands in 1984. Van Halen scored a huge hit with 1984. RATT came Out Of The Cellar and scored multi-Platinum sales (and deservedly so). Judas Priest scored another hit with Defenders of the Faith (a good album, not as good as it's predecessor, but still good enough to hold up well against some strong competition). DIO proved to become a huge arena attraction even to those who were The Last In Line thanks to the album of that title (which followed up an even better album, Holy Diver). Iron Maiden scored huge with Powerslave, and Metallica made a lot of noise with Ride The Lightning.
And that's only part of what was going on at that point in time. After going from strength to strength starting in 1980, Hard Rock and Heavy Metal as a genre seemed to be unstoppable.
But it almost was stopped. It was certainly slowed. How? Why? What changed to bring down a juggernaut?
The well documented answer of the proliferation of Pop Metal by some rather greedy and opportunistic major label record companies in the late 80's was clearly a part of it. A lot of albums that were released and promoted heavily didn't deserve the treatment. Several of those bands were of marginally good quality, while several others were pretty weak, but even if all of them were good the market became oversaturated, and a backlash was inevitable.
But that's just one cause of the downfall. There were others.
Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, DIO, Iron Maiden. Those were the big boys at the beginning and middle of the decade.
Black Sabbath dropped off first, following the departure of singer Ronnie James Dio. The albums released after his departure were all good, but the revolving door of musicians (eventually leaving guitarist Tony Iommi as the sole original member of the band) turned a lot of fans off. So much so that most Sabbath fans didn't even pay attention to the band after 1983. They didn't know or care that new Black Sabbath albums came out, even if the albums were good.
Judas Priest and Iron Maiden shared declines that were amost mirror images, although Judas Priest's was a little more dramatic. In 1986 both bands bought and extensively used guitar synthesizers on their new albums (Turbo for Judas Priest, and Somewhere In Time for Iron Maiden). Both bands came up with musical styles that were a little more mainstream and accessible than their previous albums. However, Judas Priest went farther than Maiden did, and toyed with Pop Metal a little. To make matters worse, Turbo was filled with cliche ridden songs that really seemed cheesy - even at the time. It's not a bad album, just not all that good, either, and following up two classic Priest albums like Screaming For Vengeance (1982) and Defenders of the Faith (1984) Turbo sounded weak all around. That turned off a lot of their fans.
Somewhere In Time, however, was still a very strong album for Iron Maiden, and few of their fans were turned off by the adjustment in musical direction. But the fact that there were, "Synths," on Somewhere In Time still rubbed some fans the wrong way (others really enjoyed the expanded musical palette that Maiden could draw from). But most Maiden fans saw Somewhere In Time as a step down from the Number of the Beat/Piece of Mind/Powerslave era.
DIO came out of the gate incredibly strong in 1983. Holy Diver is still considered to be one of the greatest straightforward, old school Heavy Metal albums of all time, and it's follow up The Last In Line was almost as good. They had nowhere to go but down. Sacred Heart (from 1985) also featured expanded use of keyboards, to the benefit of some of the songs on the album, but to the detriment of others. Overall, the album was strong, but a noticeable step down from it's two precessors. Dream Evil (1987) was darker, and more ominous (as well as being better than Sacred Heart), but it was also denser and more ponderous. It was a serious album, and it didn't find as big of an audience as DIO's first three studio albums. By 1990 when DIO had a totally new band line-up and they released Lock Up The Wolves, the musical quality dropped just a little more, and Ronnie himself chose to go with too many slow or slow-ish mid tempo songs, something his fanbase didn't like. The overall songwriting quality on the album was good, but, again, a step down from his previous albums. DIO, the band, was in musical decline, which led to sales declines.
The classic bands from earlier in the decade had lost much of their luster by the end of the 80's. Iron Maiden's 1990 tour supporting No Prayer for the Dying was less successful than their tours earlier in the decade. Their albums became less fan friendly (following Somewhere In Time with the equally good, but much less accessible, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and then the weaker quality of No Prayer for the Dying). The mighty juggernaut that Iron Maiden was just five years earlier was slowing down.
Judas Priest attempted to get back to basics with Ram It Down, and they came close to hitting the mark - but still missed. Yes, it was a significant improvement over Turbo, but it still wasn't as good as Defenders of the Faith, which itself wasn't as good as Screaming For Vengeance. Utilizing a drum machine, the album sounded mechanical and artificial, and some of the songs were excessively cheesy. Priest was also slowing down both in quality and success.
So with the big boys dropping the ball, who would pick it up?
More to come...
Last Edit: Mar 19, 2014 2:02:45 GMT -5 by Erik Rupp
Post by William L. Rupp on Mar 10, 2014 20:57:58 GMT -5
There once was a movie publicized with this pithy tag line. . . “If you liked World War II, you’ll love Hannibal Brooks.” Well, I can’t guarantee that if you liked World War II you will for sure love The Monuments Men, but I do not hesitate to recommend it to you.
We’ve all seen many, perhaps scores, of movies dealing with World War II. Some are based on actual incidents (The Longest Day), others are wholly fictional (The Guns of Navaronne). The Monuments Men is in the first category, a story of men assigned to rescue thousands of works of art stolen by the Nazis. The subject matter is unique among war movies, and therein lies its charm.
Now, if you are familiar with people such as Herman Goering, you will probably realize that many of them considered themselves to be connoisseurs of the arts. And, since the Third Reich was riding high, and furthermore, since their ethics were deficient, they saw no reason not to grab as many pieces of art as possible from subjugated populations, especially Jews.
Before seeing this movie I did know that art had been stolen by the Nazis. However, I did not realize that there was an organized effort by the western allies to track down and recover as many art objects as possible as the war was drawing to a close. Those men were, literally, known as The Monuments Men. This film makes it look as if there were only about 6 or 7 such persons assigned to the task. In reality over 300 men participated in the effort, mostly in Europe.
The Monuments Men was directed by and co-starred George Clooney. I have been somewhat lukewarm about him as an actor in the past, but he does a great job here. His fellow actors were also excellent, including, among others, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, and Cate Blanchet. If you have seen Downton Abbey, you will recognize Hugh Bonneville.
These art hunters were, according to this movie, at least, a varied lot. There were too old to fight in regular army roles, but their knowledge of art made them excellent choices for this project.
The story is episodic, opening with the recruitment of the team and its basic training. There is some humor there. We then follow the journeys of several groups of art hunters as they follow the advancing Allied forces across Europe in 1944 and 1945. But they don’t always exactly follow the U.S. and UK forces. In fact, they get a bit too close to the front, as you will see. And not without casualties.
Despite its episodic nature, the film will hold your attention. That is true especially near the end when the Monuments Men must beat the Soviets to a cache of stolen art. The Soviets were as eager to grab art treasures not their own as had been the Nazis earlier in the war.
If I were a history teacher, I could easily use this movie as the jumping off point for class discussions and projects dealing with many aspects of World War Two. On the other hand, if you are a mere movie-goer intent on enjoying a couple of hours, I think you will not be disappointed by The Monuments Men.
PS: A friend of mine, also a retired teacher, has read the book on which the movie was based. He saw the movie and liked it, declaring that it did a pretty good job of telling this little-known story from World War Two.
When it comes to radio drama there were dozens of truly great shows: Dragnet, Gunsmoke, Richard Diamond, X Minus One, The Six Shooter, and as part of that list Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar would have to be included.
Some might argue that the 1955/56 season of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar was actually the best radio drama of that era. I might actually be inclined to agree with that assessment. At the very least I'd say it's among the top five for sure. Why?
Well, after a year off (the show had run from January of 1949 until September of 1954 with three different actors playing the title role - Charles Russell, Edmond O'Brien, and John Lund), the show was completely retooled. Instead of the usual half hour format once a week, the show was slotted in for a fifteen minute mini-episode every weeknight. This gave the show over an hour of airtime for each episode (the episodes would run in five parts for a week long episode), and that gave the producer (Jack Johnstone, also the show's director) and the writing staff (which also occasionally included Johnstone) a chance to really flesh out both the characters and the plots. Suddenly, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar went from being an above average detective show to an outstanding dramatic show that happened to be about an insurance investigator. Bob Bailey became the new Johnny Dollar as the show reappeared on the airwaves in October, 1955, and a better actor for the role would have been impossible to find. Bailey had just come off a couple years in another radio detective show, Let George Do It, which was itself a good show. Edmond O'Brien may have been the best actor to play Johnny Dollar (he did win an Academy Award, after all), but Bob Bailey was arguably the best Johnny Dollar (an argument that he usually wins among old time radio fans).
Jonstone had previously worked on The Six Shooter with James Stwart in the title role (aka Britt Ponsett), and that show was well known for being a little different than the usual Western radio show. That show, like the 1955/56 season of Johnny Dollar, was well known for it's outstanding drama (and, occasionally, some light comedy to go with the dramatics in the story). Johnstone's style carried over to Johnny Dollar extremely well, and the writing staff (which included John Dawson - aka E. Jack Neuman, Robert Ryf, and Les Crutchfield) was in perfect sync with Johnstone. It was lightning in a bottle - the right actor, producer/director/writer, and writing staff, as well as a phenomenal supporting cast (which often included the great, and very busy, Virginia Gregg, as well as the great, and just as busy, John Dehner). Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar had been elevated into greatness. With 75 minutes each week instead of 30 the plots were more intricate, and the cast of characters much larger. Johnny Dollar, himself, also became more well rounded and human. Every aspect of the show had been improved greatly, even the theme music. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar became not only better, but more popular than ever.
Fortunately for fans of classic radio drama, most of that season has survived intact (with only a couple of the 15 minute segments missing). But not only did the episodes survive intact, most surived in nearly FM quality sound.
Sadly, in late Fall of 1956 CBS decided to scrap their five night per week format that Johnny Dollar had been using, and the show reverted back to a 30 minute show once a week. It ran like that (continuing the elite quality as much as the 30 minute format would allow, with Bob Bailey still in the title role until 1960 when CBS moved all radio drama to New York City. Bailey, not wanting to leave Southern California, dropped out of the show and was replaced by Bob Readick, who was a decent, if undistinguished Johnny Dollar. For the final year of the show Mandel Kramer was, "The man with the action packed expense account, America's fabulous freelance insurance investigator," Yours truly, Johnny Dollar. Kramer was considered to be a slight upgrade from Readick, but he was no Bob Bailey.
Interestingly, the weakest (and most generic) of the Johnny Dollars was the first man in the role, Charles Russell. Russell wasn't bad at all, he just came across as a standard issue private eye. Edmond O'Brien brought more personality and flair to the role, and John Lund was almost as good, but it was Bob Bailey who really elevated Johnny Dollar into a great character.
But despite the fact that 12 of it's 13 years featured the show in a weekly, half hour format, it will always be the one year that the show ran for fifteen minutes every weeknight for which Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar will be remembered most.
Truly a great show.
Last Edit: Feb 27, 2014 9:02:47 GMT -5 by Erik Rupp
This was the first episode featuring Bob Bailey as Johnny Dollar and also the relaunch of the series after a year off. They changed the format of the show from a 30 minute show once a week to 15 minute episode every weeknight (five part episodes). The change resulted in, arguably, the best radio drama ever. By going to the 5 part episodes the writers were able to really flesh out both plots and characters, and Bob Bailey was ideal for the role.
Here is, "The McCormack Matter."
Last Edit: Feb 20, 2014 8:00:06 GMT -5 by Erik Rupp
He's been in a self imposed exile out of the spotlight for a rather long time. Too long.
But once he saw just how much his fans missed him and wanted him to return he wasted no time in putting a new band together and recording a new album. Actually, it was intended to be a new solo album with a different guest singer on each song, but once he was well into recording the album he decided to get a full time singer to sing half of the album and have the guests do the other half. That's a prospect for a lack of unity or cohesiveness on an album with tons of potential for disharmony when singer's styles don't mesh well one song after the other.
In this case his new singer is Darren 'D.J.' Smith, a former drummer. His struggles during the band's very first gig were well documented online, but he did improve significantly over the next couple of shows. But what really counts here is his ability in the studio, and in that environment he did a fine job. He may not be a great singer, but he's more than adequate. Is he as good as the late, great Ray Gillen? No. Not even close, really. But, to be fair, Gillen was a great singer and songwriter and a lot of singers fall short of that standard.
Jake's most unfortunate decision when it comes to the Red Dragon Cartel album is the use of producer Kevin Churko. Churko produced the last two Ozzy albums, arguably the worst albums in Ozzy's catalog. Now there is the Ozzy connection to Jake, of course, and Jake has said that he had been contacted previously about rejoining Ozzy's band (but turned down the offer). Does working with Ozzy's last producer signal a shift in Jake's attitude? He's indicated that he'd actually consider rejoining Ozzy IF Sharon updated the songwriting credits on Bark At The Moon to include Jake for all the work Jake put in to writing those songs. He doesn't even want money - just the recognition that he wrote much of that music. Fair enough.
But what about this album?
It's good. There are spots here and there that are very good, but there's nothing great here. The audio production is OK, but the guitar tone (something that had always been one of Jake's strengths) is not all that great. It's just OK. The guitar tone to open the song, "Deceived," is partucularly bad (and eq'd all wrong - totally thin and midrangey, sounding like it was recorded over the phone). The song itself is, thankfully, one of the very good tracks. Intentionally recreating the, "Bark At The Moon," (the song) style it may be the best on the album.
The one thing that Jake made clear was that he wanted this to be a modern album, and overall that is what he achieved. Unfortunately, songs like, "Shout It Out," while taking old school riffs and combining them with modern production and vocal stylings, fall short of the standards that Jake set back in the 80's.
The good? "Feeder," (featuring Cheap Trick's Robin Zander and Tom Peterson) is another very good track. "Wasted," (featuring original Iron Maiden vocalist Paul Di'anno) is also really good, with a down and dirty Hard Rock/Metal hybrid style (and a good vocal from Di'anno). "War Machine," is a VERY Black Sabbath-esque kind of song. (Is Jake really auditioning for the Ozzy gig here?) This one sounds like something that could have been included on Black Sabbath's 13 album. "Redeem Me," (featuring Sass Jordan) is a good soulful Hard Rock song. And the Best Buy exclusive bonus track, "American Dream," is an above average track on the album (making that the version to buy).
Noteworthy is the solo paino instrumental, "Exquisite Tenderness," which was the first song Jake ever wrote. It's nice, and, amazingly, it actually fits in with the rest of the songs on the album fairly well.
As for the rest of the album? Mediocre to OK at best. Utterly skippable at worst.
But the most important thing here is that Jake is back, and is getting his playing and songwriting chops back in shape. Next time out we could be in for something special. This time out we didn't get that something special, but got something hopeful instead.
Last Edit: Feb 20, 2014 0:06:08 GMT -5 by Erik Rupp
Aria PE Anniversary Les Paul style guitar (slightly thinner and lighter than a Les Paul, but still with plenty of heft). Beautiful quilt maple top with abalone binding and inlays. The guitar is loaded witha DiMarzio Tone Zone pickup in the bridge position (fantastic pickup). The action is set low and it plays and sounds great. It comes with a hard shell case, too.
This model, like all Aria PE models, features their unique heel-less design, making access to the (normally) hard to reach frets a lot easier. This is a great set-neck guitar with a mahogany body and maple top. It's got the classic Les Paul sound with greater fret access - and at about 1/4 the cost of a Les Paul Standard.
A Washburn Idol WI-64DL, similar in tone to a Les Paul, with similar body styling, but also similar to an SG (thinner than a Les Paul, but a little thicker than an SG), it also has a slight hint of Telecaster in the body styling as well.
Few bands find a way to retun to truly classic form the way Stryper has with their new album, No More Hell To Pay.
No More Hell To Pay is a great Stryper album. Whether or not you like Stryper is almost irrelevant - they have made one of the best albums of their career more than a quarter century after their commercial peak. That's noteworthy.
Their last all new studio album, Murder By Pride, was a very, very good album, and among their best, but this album significantly raises the bar from that one. Michael Sweet, Robert Sweet, Oz Fox, and Tim Gaines (the entire original line-up) made it a point to come up with an album that sounds like classic Stryper plopped down into 2013. Take the 1985 version of the band and transport them in time to 2013 and No More Hell To Pay is what you'd get. It's the classic early Stryper sound with just a slight nod to what is current.
"Revelation," is a majestic opening song, one loaded with both the typical Stryper vocal melodies & harmonies and some fairly heavy guitars. This is a great song, period. Michael Sweet's voice sounding almost exactly like it did in the mid 80's (he's lost maybe the top note or two on the high end of his range, but other than that he sounds almost exactly like he did back then - with a slightly richer quality to his voice), and the rest of the band sounds like they haven't missed a beat over the last twenty five plus years.
The title track which follows is just as good. The twin lead guitar harmonies between Michael Sweet and Oz Fox still sound great, and despite the fact that this is the second mid tempo song in a row the album feels like it's opening with a ton of power to go along with the powerful melodies.
And then comes the fast, uptempo track. "Saved By Love," is nothing short of great when it comes to melodic Metal. Michael Sweet's vocals are particularly powerful here, and his gritty near screeching in the chorus is powerfully effective. "Saved By Love," is definitely one of the album's highlights (of which there are several). But after this track things get interesting.
Stryper covering the Doobie Brothers? Yes, that's what's up next, and it's the obvious song for Stryper to cover - "Jesus Is Just Alright." It's a radical reworking, and from a Pop Metal standpoint it's appropriate, but, unfortunately, they strip all the looser 70's California Rock elements out of it. Gone are most of the, "Doo doo do doo do doo's," and in their place is a tighter arrangement that focuses on power and energy as much as melody. About halfway through there is a Hammond organ present, which brings things a little closer to the early 70's roots of the song, but that is short lived. It's not at all bad, it's just lacking in the looser swing and laid back vibe of the Doobies' original version.
"The One," is a power ballad, but it is fairly moody and dynamic. It's not the saccharine sweet ballad that Stryper was known for writing in the 80's. Not bad. Pretty darned good for a power ballad, really.
Fortunately, they get back to the heavier side of things with a full on Heavy Metal track in, "Legacy." This is a song firmly rooted in 1985. You can hear bands like Loudness and Malice echoing in this track as much as Stryper's own 80's output (particularly the Soldiers Under Command era). It's upbeat and has a nasty attitude. It's not a great track, but it is a very good one and it sounds really good in context of the album as a whole.
And then the Soldiers Under Command go, "Marching Into Battle." Make no mistake, that title intentially referenced their first full album. While the song has it's roots in that album, it is a tad darker and heavier than anything from their 1985 release. The verses and bridges are excellent, but the chorus is merely good. A great chorus can rescue a weak verse, but the reverse is not true. The chorus here isn't really weak as much as it just, well - is. It's OK. As a whole, the song is good, but with a better chorus it could have been great.
But if it's great that you want (and we all do) then look no further than the next track, "Te Amo." WOW. This is classic Stryper all the way. Upbeat, exciting, melodic, and powerful, this is another of the album's highlights.
At this point I would be remiss if I didn't mention just how well the entire band plays on No More Hell To Pay. The lead guitar work is fantastic, and Robert Sweet and Tim Gaines are absolutely locked in as a rhythm unit. The entire band sounds like a young, hungry bunch of musicians, not a bunch of guys in their early 50's.
The hits just keep on coming with, "Sticks And Stones," a mid tempo stomper that finds a great blend between big melodic (almost Poppy) choruses and thunderously heavy drums & guitars. Great stuff.
The naysayers will be surprised at how Stryper has turned, "Water Into Wine," on this album. This song is another of the mid tempo tracks, and again it's got a big chorus - a great big chorus. It's hard not to smile once you get to this point of the album if you've been a fan of any of Stryper's previous albums. Even if you haven't been a fan this may very well be the album that changes your mind about the band (in a good way). This song grooves along really nicely (there's almost a bit of funk in that groove), which makes this yet another of the album's highlights.
"Sympathy." With an song like this on an album like this they won't need any. It's another very mid 80's sounding song, and like the other songs on this album that sound like they're from that era it is very well written and delivered with conviction. This would have been a hugely popular song in 1986, but in 2013 it's likely going to just be a favorite among their remaining fanbase. Still, with album sales the way they are now that's just a reality. Even so, this is a great song and deserves to be heard by a wider audience than it is likely to get.
By the time we get to the album's final track it's clear that Stryper has a, "Renewed," energy to go along with their passion for the type of music that they play. This is a band that sounds like they're having fun. "Renewed," is an uptempo song with a ton of that renewed energy and it just sounds great from top to bottom. This is really good stuff.
The only possible flaw through the album is the snare drum sound. It's passable, but less than great. The guitars, bass, and the toms & kick drums all sound great, but the snare sound is merely OK. Having done some studio recording I know how hard it can be to get a top notch snare sound, but I have to think that they could have done better than this. Oh, well - the album is killer and being overly critical of this snare drum sound is really just nit picking. I've heard a lot worse.
Their last all new studio album, Murder By Pride, was a very good Stryper album, but No More Hell To Pay is a great Stryper album. And the more I think about it the more I think that this may very well be their best album ever. How's that for the pleasant musical surprise of 2013?
Last Edit: Nov 9, 2013 11:48:37 GMT -5 by Erik Rupp
All of the above applies to the first full movie pairing of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Escape Plan.
Now, had this pairing taken place in the late 80's or early 90's it would have been a huge deal and a massive blockbuster. That, however, was 20+ years ago, and both of these action stars are well past their primes, which is likely why Escape Plan hasn't exactly set the box office on fire. On the other hand, they both can still deliver the goods, even in their mid 60's, and they both get a chance to shine here.
No, no one is going to nominate them for Academy Awards for their performances in this movie, but both are solid from an acting perspective (very solid, and Arnold even gives a good, nuanced performance). From an action perspective? They definitely still have that presence and the needed physicality to pull off action scenes.
The story is fairly simple. Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a security specialist who breaks out of prisons for a living. He is able to find the weak links in the security for most prisons he tests. It is an ability that has made him a fairly wealthy man. It is also an ability that brings a C.I.A. representative to his company looking to verify the security of a brand new, "Escape proof," prison that holds some of the worlds most dangerous people. Off the records and outside of any one country's jurisdiction, of course.
When he gets there things fall apart. He has been sent in under an alias, and as the prison answers to no specific government (it is privately contracted) he finds himself trapped with no way out. His evacuation code is laughed at and he is told that he will spend the rest of his life there. At this point Schwarzenegger's character of Emil Rottmayer befriends him and becomes his one trusted ally as both of them work together to come up with an escape plan.
Despite the fact that the movie features two of the biggest action stars of all time this isn't a pure action movie. This is also a fairly good prison drama with a solid supporting cast including Jesus Christ himself, Jim Caviezel, as the warden, and the great Sam Neill as the prison doctor. The dramatic aspects of this movie work well, with solid motivation for most of the characters involved.
But let's not kid ourselves - people want to see action from these guys, and on that count the movie delivers. There are a few good fight scenes, and a slam-bang finale, so it is a good combination - good action and good drama in a well written and directed movie.
After the first batch of reviews came in I was expecting to be entertained, but not super impressed. Walking out of the theater I was actually quite impressed. Escape Plan is a very good movie, and had it been released in 1991 or 1992 it would have been a huge hit and even gotten some good reviews. But in 2013? There's too much of the, "Been there, seen that," mentality among many critics for them to actually be able to enjoy the movie as much as they could if they hadn't seen the last 20 years worth of action movies (including several from Stallone and Schwarzenegger).
So the bottom line is merely this - Escape Plan is a very good movie. It's got good (not great, but good) drama and some good action scenes. What more can you realistically ask for from these guys?
Last Edit: Oct 27, 2013 21:01:58 GMT -5 by Erik Rupp
In 1982 it seemed to insiders as if Thin Lizzy might hang it up.
Their album sales were declining a little, and among those in the know it was clear that Thin Lizzy main man Phil Lynott had a serious drug and alcohol problem (which he did, and which would ultimately contribute to his premature death in early 1986). Lesser known was guitarist Scott Gorham's own drug and alcohol problems. Gorham knew that they were both headed for a big crash and burn if they didn't get off the tour/record/tour/record cycle, so he tried to convince Lynott to put an end to the band, at least for a while.
Lynott agreed to call it a day for Thin Lizzy - but not until they did one final album and tour. Lynott had several new songs already written and he wanted to release them. Gorham agreed to one final go round, but that was it.
In working on the new album it was clear from the beginning (right after the previous tour, actually) that guitarist Snowy White wasn't a perfect fit for the band. He was OK, but not quite the right guy for the job. Not like Brian Robertson and Gary Moore had been. Thin Lizzy needed a new guitar player, but Phil had someone in mind.
John Sykes had worked with Phil in the studio on a song long before Lynott and Gorham had agreed to the final album and tour, and Lynott really liked what he heard from Sykes.
When Sykes came in to audtion for the band it was clear that he was the perfect guy for the job. Sykes was a huge Thin Lizzy fan, and he brought a renewed energy to the band that reinvigorated everyone. He also brought a heavier sound to the band, giving them an edge that they hadn't had in years. He had the energy and passion of Brian Robertson, the technical skills of Gary Moore, and a heavier style than anyone had ever brought to Lizzy previously.
While the writing for what would become Thunder and Lightning was almost completed, Lynott heard Sykes playing a riff in the studio that he just loved. Within 20 minutes the framework for, "Cold Sweat," had been worked out. It would go on to become the album's signature song. The writing for the album was complete.
Chris Tsangarides was brought back to produce the album (he had co-produced and engineered their previous album, Renegade), and he tapped in to Sykes more Heavy Metal style when it came to the album's production. This wasn't Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden, but the sound was heavier than anything fans had ever heard from Thin Lizzy, and (for the most part) they loved it. The album does sound very good for an album recorded in late 1982.
But what makes Thunder and Lightning (the album) so special is the songs. Phil Lynott was writing like he had something to prove. He had renewed vigor and an enthusiasm for the music that hadn't been heard since Bad Reputation back in '77, and nowhere is that more evident than on the frantic title track that opens the album.
"Thunder and Lightning," (the song) is a blistering slice of early 80's Heavy Metal played with reckless abandon. Co-written by Lynott and Lizzy drummer Brian Downey, "Thunder and Lightning," threatens to get out of control and stumble all over it's face every second of the way, but, somehow, just barely manages to stay upright. Lynott spits out the lyrics at such a rapid fire pace that they are barely distinguishable, but like the song staying in control, his delivery is articulated just well enough to be understandable - and entertaining as hell! Thin Lizzy had been reborn!
Following such a wild song is always tricky, but Lynott and company managed to find just the right song in, "This Is The One." Brian Downey pounds out the beat with the snare on all four beats in each bar, giving the song a pulsing, almost march like beat. While the song isn't as fast or frantic as the album opener it isn't much less heavy. It's loaded with good riffs and great vocal melodies - and some nice leads traded off between Sykes and Gorham. At this point it was clear - Thin Lizzy was relevant again. The boys really were back in town!
Now, anyone who has followed Thin Lizzy or owned more than one of their albums knows that Lizzy isn't just a Hard Rock band. Thin Lizzy dabbled in lots of different styles, and a great example of that is the haunting and beautiful, "The Sun Goes Down." This is a fairly mellow song with Downey relatively gently hitting rim shots and playing some well placed, tasteful kick drum to propel it forward with a fairly quick, but gentle, pace. This song takes elements of Rock, Blues, and 70's Adult Contemporary and combines them in a smooth blend that works amazingly well. This is a truly great song that transcends both genres and time.
And then the album goes to hell.
Not musically, but topically as but Phil gets religiously philosophical on, "The Holy War," pitting God against Satan in a battle for humanity's collective soul. Again, Lizzy sounds heavy, but melodic (as was typical throughout their career when they got heavy), and the song is very tasteful. The beat is almost funky and the riffs are tasteful. This is another great song that was a concert highlight on tour.
And then we get to what was Side 2, Song 1 - "Cold Sweat." This was the song that came out of that riff that John Sykes was playing in the studio that Phil liked so much. It is the best song on the album, and one of the 5 or 6 best songs of Lizzy's entire career. It is a powerful old school Heavy Metal song with a ton of melody and flair. The riff follows a similar pattern (same notes, too) as the riffs for, "Jailbreak," and the previous album's, "Hollywood (Down On Your Luck)," but somehow manages not to be a full on rip-off of those previous songs. One can only wonder how good a full album co-written by Lynott and Sykes (with further input from Gorham, Downey, and keyboard player Darren Wharton) could have been had Lynott not died.
"Someday She Is Going To Hit Back," is a song that, at the time, sounded somewhat futuristic with it's slightly unusual, multi-layerd vocal parts and keyboard use. Some of the chord and note progressions used also sounded a little unusual (fairly Progressive Rock based) and that made it sound potentially futuristic, too. As it turned out, Hard Rock and Heavy Metal didn't go in that direction, but the song was still ahead of it's time. And it's very good, too.
Lizzy gets back to basics with, "Baby Please Don't Go," a song that that sounds like it could have had it's roots in the writing sessions for the Jailbreak album. Had a more primitively produced version of this song been included on Jailbreak it would have fit right in and been one of the album's highlights. It's that good, and that classic sounding. The song bounces along (to a degree), not unlike, "The Boys Are Back In Town." Fans of the Brian Robertson era of Lizzy loved this song, and with good reason.
There is a very slight New Wave flavor to, "Bad Habits," that ties it firmly into the early 80's, and it is a song that sounds like an obvious follow up to the Renegade album. The use of delay on Phil's vocal's is very effective, and the song is infectious even if it isn't as good as some of the other songs on the album (it's a solid album track that holds up well, just not as good as most of the other songs).
Then things get eerie. Prophetically eerie. Phil sings to his mother of his dying from a heart attack and a drug overdose on, "Heart Attack." The song is supposed to be about heartbreak from a breakup, but some of the lyrics are telling. Phil seemed to know that he was headed for a bad end, but was unable to get off that path. The fact that the song is so damned good makes it that much more poignant. We're listening to a man sing about his death three and a half years before it would happen, and the cause of his real life death would be eerily similar to what we hear in the song. It's a little creepy now (and really has been ever since Phil died in early 1986), but it's so good that it is too compelling to pass up.
Musically, Thunder and Lightning is a great album - one of Lizzy's best. It is a must have album for anyone who likes Thin Lizzy at all.
And the Deluxe Edition is the must have version of the album.
The bonus disc features (oddly) six songs from the previous tour with Snowy White, but as the performances and recording quality are so good that doesn't really matter. We get spirited live performances of, "Angel of Death," "Don't Believe a Word," "Emerald," "Killer On The Loose," "The Boys Are Back In Town," and, "Hollywood (Down On Your Luck)," and these live versions are very, very compelling as well as entertaining.
But the real highlight of Disc 2 are the demos for ALL of the songs on Thunder and Lightning. Most feature full vocals, some feature verse and bridge vocals, and, but in the case of, "Someday She's Going To Hit Back," it is just the instrumental base of the song.
The other selling point for the Deluxe Edition is the fact that the album has been remastered. The original Japanese CD release of Thunder and Lightning was fairly good for the time, but it doesn't have the impact that good (non-brickwalled) modern remastering jobs have. In fact, on that version of the CD the song, "Cold Sweat," is overly muddy and sounds pretty bad.
Subsequent mastering jobs were better, even on, "Cold Sweat," but this one is different.
Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham remastered the Deluxe Edition in 2011, and their remastering job is a noticeable improvement on most of the songs, but on a couple they really botched it.
"The Holy War," sounds a little harsher in the midrange frequencies (and lacks enough bottom end to compensate at all), and, "Cold Sweat," sounds like a mediocre demo. "Cold Sweat," on this release is all mids and lacks a solid bottom end. It sounds cardboardy and lacks not only the bottom end, but good highs, too. It sounds like the final mix of the song was played through a little 15 watt practice amp and sent to tape from there. I don't know how they thought that this sounded better than previous versions (the mastering of the song on the UK CD single for, "Dedication," was much, much better), but in any case they failed miserably on this track - the best track on the album.
Still, this is a must have version of the album for the other reasons I noted above, and it's probably best to have it as a companion CD to a previous version.
The Original Songs - 4.75/5
The Remastering - 3.5/5
The Bonus Disc - 5/5
Last Edit: Oct 26, 2013 14:39:15 GMT -5 by Erik Rupp
My Top Five Bond's : 1) LIVE & LET DIE - My first Bond. Favorite theme song. J.W. Pepper. Baron Samedi. Albert the dirty great big crocodile. 2) LICENSE TO KILL - Bond on the revenge trail. Dalton was criminally underrated. 3) CASINO ROYALE - As close to Fleming's Bond as we're likely to get. When Craig got the carpet beater treatment, I was wincing. 4) Skyfall- A villain to rank up with the greats like Blofeld, Goldfinger & Dr No. We learn more about M & 007's pasts. 5) GOLDENEYE - Debut Of Brosnan. Rogue agent Vs Top Agent. Brilliant theme song.
I agree with you, Erik. The only time I actually liked Simon Pegg's character was in the final half hour. When he appeared as the water drinking protector of the robots, I cheered. Nick Frost stole the show in my opinion. Have to put 'WE' a distant third after SHAUN & HOT FUZZ. Hope the extras are good & plenty on the DVD & BLU-RAY.