CRR archive album review by Eric Sandberg — Sting & Shaggy - 44/876
One of the more prescient moments in the mockumentary, "This Is Spinal Tap" occurs during the tour wrap party on an LA rooftop where David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls are discussing what they are going to do with all of their free time. There is talk of recording a collection ballads with the London Philharmonic and reviving that set aside musical adaptation of the life of Jack The Ripper ("You're a naughty one, Saucy Jack").
Are these ideas any more ridiculous than say, recording an album full of 16th century lute music? Is it any more un-self-aware than Elvis Costello, with a voice suited only for angry punk-pop, making an album with an opera singer or a master of pop standards?
One could argue that Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner (who still says, "Call me Sting", even though he is 66), following up from his mostly flat return to Rock (57th & 9th, 2016), is making a pilgrimage to his roots in making a reggae album.
One could also argue that the the Police only appropriated the rhythms and vocal phrasings of reggae in a punk setting, creating an exciting new genre. The format was completely abandoned by the making of 1983's Synchronicity, making the toleration of Stewart Copeland's snark while laying down his amazing steel rhythms, no longer necessary. Hence, Sting launched a highly successful solo career which essentially ended with the, devoid of a hum-able melody, release, Sacred Love (2003). Since then, fans have been subjected to fifteen years of 'trying things'.
In the opening, and title, track, which refers to the telephone country codes of England and Jamaica, Sting explains that the cold politics of his country have driven him to seek warmer climes, and Pop/Reggae maestro, Shaggy, is more than happy to receive him (and the boost his retirement fund will receive from this partnership).
The album itself is twelve tracks of pleasant, modern reggae/pop and not much more. This is a CD I will throw on at my next cocktail party and no one will notice it has been playing all night. Sting is not taking any musical risks here but he is taking the bold risk of pitting his thin, reedy voice against Shaggy's commanding baritone and authentic Caribbean inflection.
This folly is a lesson Sting has failed to learn from past experience. His attempt to star in a revival of Bertold Brecht's Threepenny Opera in 1989 was savaged by critics (who noted that his voice was "surprisingly thin" compared to his seasoned Broadway cast-mates) closed quickly. If I ask you to conjure up Sting's threesome with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart on 1993's "All for Love" in your head, is it Sting's voice you hear? Chances are you can only remember Bryan Adam's, and he's no Caruso himself.
Sting, like Elvis Costello, has a marvelous voice when it is wielded within the important musical world he created, but when importance becomes self-importance, artists like Sting and Elvis often tread into treacherous landscapes, garbed only in the emperor's new clothes. Oh, and I'll bet you my copy Raising Sand that 44/876 wins a Grammy.
CRR archive album review by Eric Sandberg — Derek Smalls - Smalls Change
It has been nearly a decade since the mighty Spinal Tap released their final (to date) album, Back From The Dead. Since then this rock and roll leviathan hath lain dormant. Rumors abound that the unholy triumvirate of Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls were last spied converging on Stonehenge (the real one) on the cusp of the Winter Solstice and have left the planet altogether.
This has turned out to be, to use modern vernacular, fake news, as one of the fabled 'three of throb' has alarmingly resurfaced. Yes, Derek Smalls is back, and he's older than ever!
Smalls has just dropped his second solo album, Smalls Change (meditations upon ageing) (BMG) Smalls' first album, It's a Smalls World, was purportedly released in 1975 and was quickly deleted (it is so deleted it's like it never actually existed).
Smalls fabled raven tresses are now as white as Dick Cheney, but that doesn't stop him from bringing the 4-string thunder on this grandiose collection of musings on life and misogyny.
And Smalls' status as an elder statesman of the the stalled career has attracted a veritable pantheon of his peers and misguided disciples to assist in his mission to melt your face, or at least your blancmange. Steve Lukather, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Chad Smith, Rick Wakeman, Judith Owen, David Crosby, Dweezil Zappa, Donald Fagen and a host of others (the end is listless) lend their immense talents to augment Small's limited ones.
Although many of these stars were presumably tricked into working for free, no expense was spared in the making of this album as several of the tracks are given added heft by the Hungarian Studio Orchestra, who just happened to be on holiday in Swansea when producer (and former Tap sideman), C.J. Vanston, bumped into them whilst out for a lime creme.
The end result is an album teeming with grandeur, power and puns. Songs like "Butt Call", "Gummin' The Gash" (wait...what?), "She Puts The Bitch In Obituary" and the pseudo-epic, "When Men Did Rock" are sure to take their place on the bottom shelf in the annals of British Metal fatigue.
Smalls Change (meditations upon ageing) is a must-have, unless you don't really need it
CRR archive interview by Eric Sandberg — Marq Torien of The BulletBoys
BulletBoys shot out of Los Angeles and onto the charts with their self-titled debut album in 1988. Originally composed of former members of Ratt and King Kobra, the band has undergone lineup changes that rival Yes, but the one constant in the band has been the irrepressible singer/guitarist Marq Torien.
Torien is a triple threat: he's got pipes that can shred vinyl siding at 50 paces, guitar chops that have caused many to have their jaws accidentally stepped on, and he has onstage charisma and moves that leave all the ladies (and maybe some guys) swooning.
Now, in the 30th year since the band's debut, BulletBoys have released their latest record, From Out of the Skies. I spoke with Marq about the album during a brief break from touring.
Eric: You won't remember this, but I met you outside The Rose (music venue in Pasadena, CA) late last year. What I remember most about the meeting, was how excited you were about this new album, From Out of the Skies and, now that the album is out, I can understand why. It's a terrific record. You said it was gonna be different, and it is.
Marq: Absolutely. It's definitely painting with some broad strokes.
Eric: It starts off with what BulletBoys fans expect: three future rock classics in "Apocolypto", "D-Evil" and "From Out of the Skies", which, by the way, is one catchy song, it's always stuck in my head.
Marq: It does that to me too still (laughs).
Eric: Then you have "Hi Fi Drive By" a mid-tempo rocker with some R&B/Pop flourishes. And then there's the acoustic ballad "Losing End". That song sounds very personal.
Marq: This record is dedicated to the underdogs who never win, and this is one of those songs that is very difficult to write. When you are being extremely honest with your lyrics and your poetry, it's like you're going to another place. I have never been able to be that honest in a song before. We caught some magic with that one. It came out even better than I thought it would. We saturated it with percussion instruments; congas, claves and other bits, which gave it a Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 kind of vibe. I grew up with Jazz. Not to be redundant, but we did try to paint with a broad brush and we took a lot of risks with this record. It was really time for us to do something that was out of the box, yet still congruent with our sound.
The love we've been getting for this record has really been blowing our minds. It's been a real humbling experience and yet a gratifying one because we worked so diligently on this record as a band.
Eric: You recorded this album at Dave Grohl's 606 studios. Did you use the Neve 7080, the famous Sound City console?
Marq: Yes. It was just magical, an unbelievable experience. I thank God that we were blessed with the opportunity to record there. Dave Grohl and the whole team there were so loving and sweet to us. It was an out of this world experience for me. I love Dave Grohl with all my heart.
Eric: This is your first release for Frontiers Music. They seem like a terrific organization, with a stable of classic artists as well as newer bands. How has that been going?
Marq: It's been awesome. They gave us the opportunity to put out something diverse. Hats off to them for allowing us to continue what we started with Elefante' into From Out of the Skies and the reinvention of this band that's been going on for the last nine years, which is finally coming to fruition for us. I'm nothing but gracious and thankful for that opportunity.
Eric: Speaking of diversity, talk to me about "P.R.A.B.
Marq: Well the song that was originally going to flow out of the punk rock of "What Cha Don't" was a cover of The Temptations "Get Ready" which is one of my all-time favortite songs. That ended up being a bonus track for the Japanese release. Listening to P.R.A.B. now, I really like how it flows out of "What Cha Don't" with the funkiness and the punk rock going right into a groove thing. We've always had a bit of a groove with our guitar-driven music. We recorded a lot of different types songs for this album and I just like the way that sequence worked out.
It's just got that feeling, especially at the end when everything cuts out and you've just got that bass and the funky rhythm guitar. It's kind of my homage to James Brown and Michael Jackson.
Eric: It's funny you say that, because my favorite Michael Jackson track is "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" which resolves in a similar way. This song reminded me of that.
Marq: MMMM! Thank you, brother! That's the feeling we were going for! We'll be doing that one live. To be able to pull something like that up on stage is just stupid rad.
Eric: I saw you live for the first time only a couple of years ago, sandwiched in with some old Sunset strip bands that only sounded halfway decent when I was in the bathroom, and I was totally blown away by your performance. I thought, "Where have I been?!" You're like the James Brown of hard rock!
Marq: I've heard that a couple of times. Sometimes they call me the Metal Michael Jackson. I'm like, "Whaaat!? (laughter)
Eric: On that note, I just read something in a recent interview you did that you are developing a side project which is going all in on a Dance/R & B type of musical review?
Marq: Yes. It's something I'm really excited about, but it's probably something I don't want to get too much into here because that's a whole other interview. I kinda let the cat fly out of the bag and it turned into a news flash. I was, like, "You've gotta be kidding me! But I've been talking with Father Badass (Jessie Hughes, Eagles of Death Metal) about him helping me out with this, along with my 'brother', who I love with all my heart, Davey Jo Catching (guitarist, producer & EODM touring member). I've been saying to them that I really want to do something on that tip for years.
I've been known for years for making hard rock and metal but, for all intents and purposes I really should have gone into a hard funk and R&B type of music, with an LA edge to it. I just never got a chance to walk through those doors. And now, with no fear, musically and the way the musical climate is today, I think it would be really cool to do something like that. I want to put something together that's kind of like a new Sly & The Family Stone, with heart and love and for the passion of it. It's a musicality people haven't heard, probably, in a while.
I want it to be a super tight band. I probably won't be playing guitar on it, I'll just be fronting it (as a singer). I've already started writing music for it. It's going to be rad. I've got so much going on with BulletBoys, I haven't yet been able to get deep into the change of life ingredients for it, but I have taken steps. I'm already getting a lot of positive feedback and excitement for this project.
Eric: The way you described this project before, as an event, where people would dress up and come ready to dance, reminds me of the Washington D.C. music scene known as Go Go Music. Are you familiar at all with that scene?
Marq: I'm vaguely aware of it.
Eric: It's a very vibrant underground music scene centered around big Funk and R&B music events where people show up, dressed to the nines, and have a great old time. There is a DC photographer named Chip Py who has done a great job documenting that scene. In some ways it sounds like what you're going for.
Marq: Yeah. I want it to be a proper show. I want people to come dressed up, bring their beautiful ladies and feel like they're part of a throwback, yet in-the-now type of experience. I want to reach back into that world of those musical predecessors and bring it with a Los Angeles flair. I wanna get people out and dancing to some Funk, Punk, Rock and Roll! Something uplifting.
Eric: That is something I look forward to. So what is in the immediate future for Marq Torien and BulletBoys?
Marq: Well, we just got back from a 14-day tour of the U.K. that was just amazing, and we're about to go down to Australia. We're looking forward to that, it's our first time there. Then we're off on our spring tour for a month and then we've got a couple festivals we're going to play in the summertime, all in support of the record.
Heading into September, I can now announce for the first time that we are very gracious and honored to accept, and have just inked a deal with Live Nation, for the three month Live Nation, Hair Nation tour, featuring BulletBoys, Jack Russell's Great White and Enuff Z'Nuff!
There will be different bands opening up these shows but I am very excited and very thankful to Live Nation. We are going to be playing some great venues on this tour. We're going to be out there all year, and all next year, supporting this record, so touring is going to be a constant, bringing music and love and compassion to everybody we can get a hold of.
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.