Album Reviews

Issue 2021-083: Books Special

Peter Braidis — On Track ... Asia: Every Album Every Song

Peter Braidis - On Track ... Asia: Every Album Every Song
Stefan Hennig

Sonicbond Publishing should be On Track with Barbara Cartland soon, with the amount of books they are currently publishing. It does not seem that a week goes by without another musical curiosity hitting the shelves. With the On Track series being a critical review of a particular subject's released work, these books will either appeal or they won't. I can't imagine someone with no interest in the chosen artist finding much to appeal. On the other hand, if a band has had a particular influence upon you, then it can be like discovering a pot of gold.

With this edition's subject being Asia, then I fit very neatly into the latter category. For myself, Asia were the first and greatest supergroup to exist. When the first publicity relating to this fusion of talents was announced, my appetite was well and truly wetted; then the self-titled album was released.

I remember vividly being taken aback. Not just by the absolute quality of the musical talent, but also it was the complete opposite of what I was expecting. It thoroughly exceeded my massive expectations. Who could imagine that four musicians, who we labelled as being in bands which were self-indulgent and stretching the musical form to its fullest with lavish, overblown solos and instrumental passages, could come together and produce such concise classics such as Heat Of The Moment and Only Time Will Tell. Then they went on to release Astra and continued to churn out more classics like Don't Cry and The Smile Has Left Your Eyes. These two albums were a soundtrack to my adolescence.

Author Peter Braidis is a fan of Asia, and this reflects clearly in the text. Unlike most of the previous On Track series that I have read, this volume goes further than just writing an essay on the individual songs. Peter includes quotes from the band members describing the writing process or providing anecdotes about were the ideas for the lyrics came from. This adds a feel that this is an essential purchase for all Asia fans, rather than something to add to the bookshelf of the completist.

My particular appreciation of Asia continued beyond the original line-up, and into the much-criticised John Payne era, and yes I liked a lot of the material from this period of the band. I think the Payne Downes collaboration worked very well, and is still evident currently with Downes' DBA project, and Payne's current band with Erik Norlander, the Dukes Of The Orient. Peter does not dismiss this period and writes with as much respect as when he writes about the classic line-up.

The book follows the well-known format that you will be familiar with if you have read one of these books or the regular reviews from the DPRP. A little bit of uniqueness, is the fact author Braidis includes some photos from his own personal collection. The book covers up to Asia's current incarnation, featuring Billy Sherwood and Ron Thal, even though they have not released any physical material, so is very conclusive.

So, for me, this is my favourite release from On Track series so far, and I can recommend it to any Asia fan, or fan of any of the band members. It will certainly take a prominent position on my bookshelf.

Per Nilsen — Iggy and The Stooges On Stage 1967 to 1974

Per Nilsen - Iggy and The Stooges On Stage 1967 to 1974
Stefan Hennig

The latest in the rapidly expanding library of music books from Sonicbond Publishing, is a bit of a diversion from their usual formats. The title pretty much describes exactly what the reader can expect, a chronological guide to all the live dates performed by Iggy And The Stooges from their formation in the late 60's, up to the band's break-up in 1974.

While not exactly progressive-related, the impact of Iggy Pop as a cultural icon cannot be ignored. While being generally considered an American punk band, their very early work would be described as experimental. Prior to gaining enough popularity to record their debut release, most of their early concerts were mostly musically free-form, and they did not play any real songs, and were heavily inspired by The Doors. This was about the time of excessive drug use, and the book has many wild stories pertaining to this. The stories in this book of Iggy's antics, suggest he should proudly wear the honour of wild man of Rock and Roll. Some of these stories make Ozzy Osbourne look like a hell-raising novice in comparison.

The stories contained within the book are the type that for me made rock music what I love, but unfortunately they now feel very much of times gone by, and we will never see the likes again of musicians such as Iggy. Having said that, Per Nilson's book will enable the memories of what Rock and Roll is really about. It was a way of life for many, which revolved around the music.

The book contains 16 pages (out of 160) of glossy pictures featuring live photos, the obligatory reproductions of album sleeves, and some memorabilia from the time. There are the occasional black and white pictures dotted throughout the rest of the book too.

Steve Pilkington — Decades: Uriah Heep In The 1970s

Steve Pilkington - Decades: Uriah Heep In The 1970s
Theo Verstrael

In UK-based Sonicbond Publishers' catalogue, the emphasis lies on the On Track series, describing the entire discography of a band. Alongside this they are also developing the Decades series, in which the history of a band during a certain decade is described, including all releases from that decade. In this series two new volumes saw the light of day last winter that are interesting for proggies. They feature two rock bands originating just before the 1970s, that were, at least during some years, quite progressive in their songwriting: Uriah Heep and Alice Cooper.

Both bands can look back on an interesting, yet hectic, and sometimes tragic history that didn't prevent them from enduring: until today they tour and release new albums that are worth listening too, although the prog element has nearly completely vanished.

Back in the 1970s my first real concert was an Uriah Heep gig in Rotterdam during their Return To Fantasy tour. With a couple of teenage school friends, I enjoyed a fantastic show in a fully packed Ahoy (that is how I remember it). The volume was loud, the light show for newbies like us interesting, David Byron's vocals impressive (although not always right on tone) and the overall presence of a cannabis odour was overwhelming and unexpected. The only slight disappointment was the non-inclusion of Circle Of Hands that night, one of my all-time favourite Heep tracks; but for the rest it was just fantastic.

Still this gig also turned out to be the last time I gave them full attention. I had started to discover the so-called symphonic rock world, lured by the 1974 Barclay James Harvest album Everyone is Everybody Else. The next album Uriah Heep recorded after Return To Fantasy, High And Mighty, didn't help me to come back to them. Its nondescript collection of short songs didn't appeal to me at all. After this, I completely lost interest in them.

That lasted until the release of the Acoustically Driven set, on which they played with a string quartet. I really liked it. Subsequently I bought all the remastered versions of their 1970s classic albums and enjoyed them enormously again. That was why I was immediately interested in reviewing this volume, written by Steve Pilkington, for it features exactly the period for which I cherish this band.

This 144-page volume is densely packed with text on an A5 format with small margins. The cover shows the band in its classic line-up with Gary Thain (bass; passed away in 1975), Ken Hensley (keyboards, guitars, vocals; passed away 2020), David Byron (vocals; passed away 1985), Lee Kerslake (drums; passed away 2020) and Mick Box (guitars, still going strong).

The centre pages show some early (colour) photographs of Spice, one of the two bands from which Uriah Heep would emerge (the other one was The Gods), and of early Heep, provided by bass player on the first three albums Paul Newton. He also wrote the foreword in which he has some really kind words for the author and for the guys who form the band nowadays. Meanwhile he humbly admits that: “… memories of that time sometimes become hazy”. He doesn't attribute his haziness to taking in more than enough stimulants in that time but he may have forgotten that altogether. Furthermore there are live and promo photos, alongside the inevitable cover photos of the 13 (!) studio albums and that famous live double album they released in that decade. No wonder it was a hectic decade.

Uriah Heep started off in 1970, debuting with the Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble album that opened with one of their ultimate classics, Gypsy. Although it is not considered as one of their best albums, it has become world-famous by the written words of a female Rolling Stone reviewer, who stated that: “If this group makes it, I'll have to commit suicide". Well, Heep is more than 50 years later still among us, still attracting large audiences and still releasing interesting albums. So I guess they did "make it".

Original lead guitarist Mick Box keeps the flame burning and is widely acknowledged for that by Pilkington and his former bandmates.

Pilkington is a music journalist, editor and broadcaster, having written a couple of books on several hard rock bands such as Deep Purple. His experience as a writer pays off, as the text is extremely readable, concise and descriptive and the use of many quotes is effective and fitting. He has done a considerable amount of research (although he doesn't mention the fate of that unfortunate reviewer) and has spoken to three of the original members, of which two sadly passed away just after he had talked to them. Furthermore he has interviewed other members of the band.

It is quite remarkable that, given the dynamic history of the band and the tensions that went with them, hard feelings towards the band or to former members are almost absent. All involved seem to realise that they have been part of a special history and that things that may have stood between them, have become insignificant over time. That alone deserves our full respect. Pilkington himself adds to this, by writing critically but with great respect about all kinds of mayhem that occurred, especially involving Gary Thain and David Byron who were sent away because their behaviour couldn't be sustained any longer.

Another remarkable feature he writes about, is the dominant role throughout this decade of producer and manager Gerry Bron. He can be considered the sixth member of the band, influencing and sometime manipulating the band or some of its members into directions he thought were best. That didn't always work out well and contributed to line-up changes that may not have been necessary. Bron was one of the driving forces behind the departure of Thain as their bass player, as well as of their unique frontman David Byron, who had too much of a drinking problem to be allowed to stay on, and also of Kerslake as their drummer because their characters didn't match. Ultimately Hensley also left out of frustration with the situation in the band and things were not quite happy for some time. The book rounds up this rather dark period in the last chapter in a more than satisfying way due to the personal interviews the author has had with all those involved.

The recording of so many studio albums and touring intensively and globally all these years, laid a heavy burden on the band. That is clearly illustrated throughout the book. It is hard to imagine under what pressure these guys were working; something tat makes the quality of their classic albums even more impressive, at least until Return To Fantasy.

Pilkington is not very harsh on them, nor does he think that all that was recorded was good. He has mild, sometimes sharp, criticism on the music, the covers and/or the production. He also illustrates that he is not alone in his criticism, which gives this volume much credibility. Most of his criticism is focused on the second half of that decade, something I full recognise.

For proggies their first six albums are the most interesting, ranging from 1970 to 1975. They contain the classic epics July Morning, Magician's Birthday, Circle Of Hands, Paradise/The Spell, The Pilgrim and, of course, Salisbury, one of the first and, in my opinion, best attempts to merge a classic orchestra with hard rock. Other tracks were more or less straightforward rock songs or ballads which gave these albums their value as varied musical endeavours.

Wonderworld was the first of the AOR-albums and although its successor Return To Fantasy was a good step towards prog again, probably thanks to Thain's replacement John Wetton, the band choose to explore the rock side further, never to return to prog. That makes the second half of the book somewhat less interesting for me. But as the dynamics continue, and as towards the end it all turns out for the right for those who survived, then it remains a highly enjoyable book.

It was thus a real pleasure to read this book and to re-live this period of time. It brought back vivid memories of playing Salisbury over and over again, simply because it is such a fabulous track. It also reminded me of that first gig, and of the fine people with whom I attended it. And of course it made me play those classic records again. So this book accomplished everything it was written for, thus a high rating is a no-brainer. It is good, it is cheap and it is very informative; for those who liked Heep's music, there's no reason whatsoever to neglect this volume.

GD Praetorious — Babysitting A Band On The Rocks

GD Praetorious - Babysitting A Band On The Rocks
Mark Hughes

During the late 1970s and early 1980s Gregg Praetorious was a concert producer and promoter in the Long Island area of the USA. During this relatively brief time he was involved with over 200 shows involving some major bands of the era, most frequently Aerosmith and Van Halen. This book recalls various incidents that Praetorious was witness to, or even participated in, as part of his various roles during this period.

Obviously, as an American, his perspective is entirely tempered by what was happening musically in the US at the time. The importance he places on the various bands he worked with, is of course very US-centric. Although the cover name-checks some large musical names, the bands were largely not at the peak of their success at the time. Aerosmith were hardly one of 'the biggest bands in the world' during this period, being mired by addictions and dependencies and being without founding guitarist Joe Perry. Van Halen were past their international prime and outside of the USA, the other bands were either basically unknown (e.g. Zebra, Kix) or largely considered to be something of a joke; Twisted Sister being the prime candidate here. I doubt if any non-Americans would agree that their songs We're Not Gonna Take It and I Wanna Rock are: " eternally relevant as Queen's stadium standards We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions". There are also several cultural references that will fly over the heads of non-US residents.

By and large the book is more a history of the author's time within the music business, relaying various incidents that are hardly earth-shattering or spectacularly controversial. The adventures with Jethro Tull and Keith Richards stated on the cover, consist entirely of one brief interaction with Ian Anderson (whose behaviour is less than exemplary) and an unexpected evening in the company of Keith Richards (who comes over as cool in real life as he does in the press and in his excellent autobiography).

There is of course nothing wrong with this, and as far as memoirs go it is nice enough as long as one isn't expecting backstage tales of debauchery or extravagant egomania, although to be fair there are enough egocentric moments to reinforce the stereotypes. The hyperbole from previous reviews of this book, is largely just that as I neither found the content "sizzling" or "a treasure trove", but that may just be me.

It is not to say that Praetorious' book is not worthy of reading. He comes across as a likeable and resourceful chap who did his best with situations whose origins were largely beyond his control, and his writing is clear and structured, although he looses marks for spelling John Wetton's name wrong and simply crediting him as a member of King Crimson. But by all accounts it seems as if his wife's story may have provided more insights into the more dubious workings of the music industry, and it is a shame that they hadn't collaborated and produced their joint memoirs. Overall it was a fairly easy read, with some interesting anecdotes, and the Pink Floyd story was excellent!

Chris Sutton — Decades: Alice Cooper In The 1970s

Chris Sutton - Decades: Alice Cooper In The 1970s
Theo Verstrael

Some years ago, my 70s school class organised a reunion, because we had all turned 50. To celebrate that, one of the organisers compiled a CD with album tracks from the six-year period that we spent together at that school, aptly entitled School's Out. Of course that legendary song was the opener of the compilation. The odd thing is that hardly anyone in that school class liked Alice Cooper's music; except me. I owned most of the first albums, the photos decorated my room at home, as well as my paper agenda. I was both fascinated by the music, the character and the horror of the band, while at the same time I really didn't want to attend a show because I expected that to be too gruesome for my taste!

Well, times have changed.

Three years ago, my son called me to invite me to attend an Alice Cooper gig in Tilburg in the Netherlands. He had seen the present band once before and although he is an ardent heavy metal fan, he liked their show. Of course I didn't hesitate for a moment, for I could bear to see the theatrical side of the show now and I wanted to experience it myself.

So we went together to this gig and had a great time watching the 70-year old Alice doing what he has been doing since the 70s: fronting a great band, singing, acting, being decapitated and becoming alive again. To our surprise, he also genuinely paid tribute to musical friends we've lost over the years, which was moving. The only downside was that the fire engine brigade was called to the venue because the show produced huge amounts of smoke, giving the false impression that the building was on fire. We in the audience never noticed this by the way!

The emphasis in that show was on his most successful decade, the 1970s. All those successes are extensively described in Alice Cooper In The 1970s, a recently published volume in the Sonicbond Publishers Decades series. The book is written by Chris Sutton who has been a fan of the band since 1972 and who has writing experience in the museum world, being manager of Smethwick Heritage Centre Museum, and as a play author. This book is his first on the music scene and I think he has enjoyed himself.

He has made contact with original members of the legendary 1970s line-up: Michael Bruce (guitars, keyboards), Dennis Dunaway (bass) and Neil Smith (drums). Apparently Vincent Furnier, whom we came to know as Alice Cooper over the years, wasn't interviewed, although the relationship with his former band mates is fully restored. Why he hasn't responded to Sutton's request is not mentioned alas. But what he does mention is the pride and eagerness those three members felt when Sutton asked them about this period; that had never been done before. The only other member of that legendary line-up, guitarist Glen Buxton, died in 1997.

The information from the band members is the real asset for this volume. It enabled the author to include personal and unique quotes and supplied him with much inside information on their touring experiences in those hectic years. Because this band brought about quite a few scandals, as a result of their spectacular but also quite horrific stage shows, with different kinds of execution and torture explicitly shown, these details are a very nice read.

This band also started off as a school band and released two rather mediocre albums, Pretties For You in 1969 and Easy Action in 1970. I owned these albums and remember them vaguely as I didn't like the music at all. To my surprise Sutton is very positive about them, so let's assume it is a matter of taste, although both albums failed to make a lasting impression on the music world.

Things really started with their third album, 1971's Love It To Death which contained their first big hit I'm Eighteen, to be followed what is considered as their best release, Killer from that same year. That particular album was also their most progressive, including the epic Halo Of Flies (once a big hit in The Netherlands in spite of its eight-minute length), the title track and the threatening Desperado.

Two more legendary albums followed, School's Out in 1972 and the best-selling Billion Dollar Babies in 1973, all containing smash hits but also full of hints towards progressive music (just listen to Grand Finale, I Love The Dead or Hello Hoorah).

Until this point all is going well for the band and Sutton's description reflects that accurately, including the immense pressure that continuous touring and recording, as well as all the uproar in the press, laid upon the band. Tensions are briefly mentioned, which is a logical consequence of the fact that all involved were clearly at their creative peak. He regularly hints on problems with Buxton in the writing process of the albums but without clarifying what these problems were, which starts to become quite annoying. He also points out the influence of producer Bob Ezrin during this period, as well as the growing involvement in the recording process of musicians other than the band members, among which are the legendary guitarist duo Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner. Why those musicians were invited to collaborate is not described and leaves the reader puzzled, as the band had already proven their musical quality more than enough. Why the author didn't asked this of the band members, remains a mystery to me.

While most of these memorable songs on their successful records were collaborative efforts, with all members of the band participating in the song writing, it was suddenly over with the band. After the release of the rather disappointing Muscle Of Love in 1973 and the very successful Greatest Hits in 1974, the band went on a hiatus to regain some energy after those hectic years.

Within the band, the possibilities of solo projects was discussed, apparently not being aware that Furnier, who already was considered by the press and audience to be the real Alice Cooper, had broken away from the band to continue on his own under that name with, amongst others, Wagner and Hunter. The reasons for this drastic decision are not given at all in the book, while this chain of events must have been an enormous shock for the other band members. Here the editor should have given Sutton more guidance, as he almost omits the most important thing that happened to this band. He simply describes it as just another event resulting in “that there would be no reunion with the original band for many years”. How unsatisfactory!

While the band members disappeared, Furnier succeeded in pursuing a successful solo career although he would never match the success of his former 1970s albums. His first solo album, Welcome To My Nightmare, already contained a huge hit with the symphonic ballad Only Women Bleed, a very attractive song recorded with a full symphony orchestra. However, it is also a song in a totally different musical territory than he had ever done before with the band. Maybe that was the reason he wanted to go on as a solo artist? That question immediately popped up in my mind, but again Sutton doesn't give information of that kind. He writes extensively about the intriguing recording process of that particular song but in my opinion forgets to see the wider picture.

That omission is also felt when things start to turn for the better. In 1997 there was a partial reunion with Bruce and Smith for two American radio shows in which they proved to still have that special energy between them. A couple of days later Buxton suddenly passed away. That didn't prevent the former band members including Dunaway to play together on more occasions, and in 2011 they even reunited with Furnier on his Welcome To My Nightmare #2 album. Since then the remaining members played together on more Alice Cooper albums, which is very nice. But why this proved to be possible after all that had happened, is again not clarified.

All in all this is a nice book helping to relive historic times. But it is also a rather unsatisfying book as Sutton proves to be foremost a big fan, instead of being the journalist who writes critically but fair. Therefore this book is not the in-depth review it should have been, but rather a fanzine about this crazy and by times quite genial band. For fans, this is must-have, for those who foremost want to know more about the history in the context of their releases, the book omits too much detail to fulfil that goal. Yet it's a good guide for those fine old records again.

Andrew Wild — Decades: Fleetwood Mac In The 1970s

Andrew Wild - Decades: Fleetwood Mac In The 1970s
Geoff Feakes

This is the fourth book in the Decades series from Sonicbond. The author Andrew Wild has already written several books for Sonicbond, examining the works of such diverse acts as Queen, The Beatles, Dire Straits and Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Here, he concentrates on the 1970s (a favourite period for many of the Sonicbond authors) when Fleetwood Mac had their greatest success. Like many writers and commentators, he highlights the stark contrast between the British blues-rock band, led by guitarist Peter Green, that started the decade, and the Americanised, hit-making machine that released Rumours in 1977.

Wild covers a good deal of ground, including the band's formation, faltering progress, and its rise to prominence following a relocation to Los Angeles in 1974. The California gold- (and platinum) rush couldn't last forever and although the hits continued, the post 1970s albums were more sporadic and Fleetwood Mac slowly fragmented. Wild has clearly done his homework and leaves no stone unturned, although it's only the Rumours and Tusk albums where he provides a track-by-track analysis. The book does include the usual 16-page colour section however.

My only reservation is the number of extracts from previously published reviews and interviews that proliferate the book. This has been a feature of Wild's previous books, although not to the extent here, where the quotes vastly outweigh his own comments. A single article from Rolling Stone magazine in 1974 for example occupies no less than three pages. For the most part they do aid the narrative flow, although I could have happily lived without the constant references to the band members' love lives, especially Stevie Nicks.

Fleetwood Mac In The 1970s is another worthy addition to Sonicbond's catalogue which I found to be a mostly enjoyable and enlightening read. Although the author doesn't disguise his admiration for the Rumours album and line-up, his enthusiasm for the band's earlier recordings and personnel are clearly documented. In short, whether you prefer the Peter Green period or the Lindsey Buckingham era, or indeed the four years in between, you will find much to appreciate within the book's 160 pages.

Album Reviews