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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bon Jovi: This Left Feels Right

BON JOVI: THIS LEFT FEELS RIGHT (2003)

1) Livin' On A Prayer; 2) Bad Medicine; 3) It's My Life; 4) Lay Your Hands On Me; 5) You Give Love A Bad Name; 6) Bed Of Roses; 7) Everyday; 8) Born To Be My Baby; 9) Keep The Faith; 10) I'll Be There For You; 11) Always; 12) The Distance.

Oh my sweet Jesus. I get shivers all over trying to reconstruct, step by step, the abominable logic behind this album. Because the optimal reconstruction goes something like this:

«I (we) feel tremendously dissatisfied with myself (ourselves), the way the world thinks about me (us) and my (our) music. Yes, the superstardom, yes, the money, yes, the admiring fans, yes, the ability to make it onto the front cover of Rolling Stone without sarcasm. But does the world really get Bon Jovi? Does the world really feel the depth, really suck in all the potential concealed in those Bon Jovi songs? Can't it simply be that the world loves a steady rock'n'roll beat and loud distorted electric guitars? Could it be that the world dances like crazy to ʽLivin' On A Prayerʼ just because it is being seduced by the talkbox effects? What about the message? The bitter inner truth? The emotional angst? The religious connotations? That ain't a world livin' on a prayer — it's a world livin' on a talkbox and a chuggy bassline. No, really, it's high time that something should be done about this! So maybe we have cut our long hair and began dressing in T-shirts and wor­king class jackets — that ain't enough. Too superficial. Something from the heart!»

This Left Feels Right is a wicked affair — a complete deconstruction and reconstruction of most of the band's major hits in what could only be called «Heart-On-Sleeve Remixes». Not really «unplugged» as such (although many of the guitar parts are, indeed, acoustic), the album stakes it all on the «melodicity», «emotionality», and «spirituality» of these songs, as they are rearranged with soft, sometimes electronic, drumming, folk/country guitar overdubs, mellow keyboards, and almost angelic vocal harmonies (ʽLivin' On A Prayerʼ is reconceived as a Tommy/Gina duet with Mike d'Abo's daughter Olivia — curious that Jon was not able to find anybody of higher stature, but perhaps the addition of a superstar was thought of as incompatible with the «humble» ideo­logy of the project).

One has to admit that a lot of work went into the project: most of the time, the rearrangements are truly drastic, making the songs completely unrecognizable, especially the old-time rock hits like ʽBad Medicineʼ and ʽYou Give Love A Bad Nameʼ, both of which are redone as «country-blues-pop» numbers with slide guitars that either weep like George Harrison or go all swampy on us. The ballads, just by being ballads, stay closer to what they used to be, but with most of the elec­tricity going out of them, emphasis is also fully transferred onto the vocal harmonies.

The results are predictable: This Left Feels Right sets out to seduce you and leave you in a pool of sentimental tears, as the personal charisma of Jon Bon Jovi and the band's «heavenly» hooks climb into your brain and take control. If it works, it works; but with the overall triviality of the band's melodies and lyrics, if any of these songs made sense in the first place, it was only when they went over the top. Simply put, there is no other setting than its original drunken-swaggery hair-metal arrogance in which a song like ʽBad Medicineʼ would be acceptable. Whether you do it in this stripped-acoustic-bluesy manner, or whether you hire a full Wagnerian orchestra to per­form it, or whether you do an instrumental didgeridoo-only version, this left won't ever feel right to anybody who knows right from left.

Ultimately, This Left feels as if all the banality inherently present in Bon Jovi's work has been carefully distilled, filtered out, pressed, folded, and re-packaged for universal consumption. The basic hooks still remain (sometimes), but they have been stripped of their rocking power and relative fun quotient, and forcefully converted into «spiritual anthems». In other words — I could hardly think of a more stupid career move, that is, of course, if Bon Jovi's career ever had «musi­cally intelligent people» as part of its target audience. Much to people's honor, This Left Feels Right sold quite poorly, compared to the band's regular albums — still, the total number of sold copies is said to approximate something like a million and a half, and if this reflects the number of music buyers who are willing to take Jon Bon Jovi as their soul brother and spiritual guru, well, it may not be such a large figure, but still, walk carefully out there, and don't let just about any­body know that you, too, would award the record a thumbs down.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Boris: Amplifier Worship

BORIS: AMPLIFIER WORSHIP (1998)

1) Huge; 2) Ganbou-Ki; 3) Hama; 4) Kuruimizu; 5) Vomitself.

Well, the band's second album is like an ocean of diversity compared to their first — which, of course, does not say much and could even be construed as a direct insult, because diversity is the last thing which Boris care about. Do not worry too much, though: the very first track (ʽHugeʼ), going on for nine minutes, basically sounds like a small handful of samples taken from the first albums of Black Sabbath and looped into an endless serpent-monster of a «composition». Ever wished, enchanted by Tony Iommi's tone, that any of the songs on Master Of Reality could go on forever and ever and ever, just pummeling and pummeling your senses with that merciless hellish roar? Your wish has been granted.

Somewhere around the middle of the second track, though, the band sort of wakes up and begins crawling out of its shell — the tempo picks up, the drums gain in complexity of pattern, and the guitar gains in color, adding some light to darkness and switching from a «psycho-metal» mood into «astral» mood, eventually quieting down and beginning to explore the benefits of subtlety. In fact, by the time we get to ʽKuruimizuʼ, Wata's multi-tracked guitars have been realigned to a «peaceful», «becalmed» way of droning, a lullaby-like mode of functioning where the listener is gently rocked to and fro in a cradle of softly gurgling guitars, suspended on a friendly, reliable bassline. Do not make the mistake of going to sleep, though, or the suitably titled ʽVomitselfʼ will wake you up with quite a bit of a nasty shock — the 17-minute «grand finale» that completes everything that ʽHugeʼ left promised, but unfulfilled, and does indeed sound like 17 minutes of a guitar that tries to «vomit itself». Not a pleasant experience, but if you let your ears get adjusted to this, the wildest of Jimi Hendrix improvisations will sound like Johann Strauss Jr. in compari­son. Always leave some space for heavy aural exercise, and you'll be war-trained in no time, ready to take on the sonics of the world like a real man.

Musically speaking, there is nothing whatsoever going on here that deserves specific attention: most of these feedback tricks and minimalistic guitar riffs had been in active use since the early 1970s. But since we're talking musical minimalism here, this is not relevant — what matters is that they take these little bits of Black Sabbath and Hawkwind and God knows who else, put them under the microscope, dissect them, recombine them, and stretch them out for miles and miles, assuming that it is only like that that one can really assess their true potential. Take ʽSweet Leafʼ, chop out everything but its main riff, slow it down a bit, then loop it for 15 minutes, and what you get is Boris. (Oh, they also have some screamed vocals here, but they are totally unne­cessary — every track here would work better without voices). Yes, I can actually see where it could make a certain sense.

On the positive side, there is a little less high-pitched metallic feedback here — only the last two minutes or so make my ears bleed, compared with about 15 minutes at the end of Absolutego, so you could say they are now taking it less heavy on the listeners. On the negative side, any attempt to compromise, even the slightest one, threatens to turn Boris from a bunch of weirdo iconoclasts into a bunch of boring wankers (who they are, deep down in essence, but the aggressively mini­malistic approach helps take the focus away from that fact). I have no idea which choice suits me better, but since I can hardly expect any particularly elevated emotional response to this band's brand of elastic psychedelia altogether, I am not exactly losing sleep over the issue.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Boomtown Rats: Mondo Bongo

THE BOOMTOWN RATS: MONDO BONGO (1981)

1) Mood Mambo; 2) Straight Up; 3) This Is My Room; 4) Another Piece Of Red; 5) Go Man Go; 6) Under Their Thumb... Is Under My Thumb; 7) Please Don't Go; 8) The Elephants Graveyard; 9) Banana Republic; 10) Don't Talk To Me; 11) Hurt Hurts; 12) Up All Night; 13) Cheerio.

Somewhere along the line, the Boomtown Rats just... lost it. The seams were showing already on The Fine Art Of Surfacing, but the big hit singles somehow wobbled the perspective and made the seams seem fuzzy enough to allow us to think that these were just temporary direction prob­lems. Not so with Mondo Bongo, which shares all the problems of its predecessor, but this time, without much compensation in the way of big hits: ʽBanana Republicʼ did chart high enough, yet it is obviously no ʽI Don't Like Mondaysʼ and definitely no ʽRat Trapʼ. In fact, it is a song that might as well have been done by UB40 — or a couple dozen more New Wave acts — and no­body would feel the difference.

Perhaps Geldof's sensitivity towards the world at large finally prevailed over his musical instinct, but Mondo Bongo feels like a ferociously intentional attempt to completely distance oneself from the «rock'n'roll mentality» that fueled the Rats' first couple of albums. Tribal African rhythms and cod-reggae almost totally replace guitar-based rock melodicity — and in those few spots where the band does not try to be «ethnic», this melodicity is replaced with trendy synth-pop. Most of it is done in good taste and with plenty of energy, yet somehow, most of it simply does not click. As a matter of fact, this album is just plain boring, I'm afraid.

Something like ʽMood Mamboʼ may seem sympathetic if any white kid attempt to sound like a bunch of nature-happy Africans seems sympathetic by definition — but it is difficult for me to grasp any other motivation behind the song, which just sounds like a bunch of congas and whoo­pees thrown together, and it doesn't help, either, that in the context of 1981 comparisons with Remain In Light are inescapable and clearly not in favor of Geldof and his boys, who have no understanding of how a proper synthesis of «world beats» and old-fashioned rock music should work. The results are neither too exciting, nor too funny, nor emotionally relevant in any way. They don't even sound «bongo crazy», those guys — just following a trend.

Songs like ʽStraight Upʼ are generally more successful, but putting the guitar out of the picture is not a good decision — the song is not catchy enough to be so completely governed by pianos and synthesizers, and neither is ʽGo Man Goʼ or anything else. There is a logical reason why history has been so much more benevolent to The Cars when they were doing it than The Boomtown Rats, and that reason is simple enough — The Cars paid more attention to the hooks and less attention to the seriousness of the message, whereas Geldof always try to inject «Meaning», with a capital M, into whatever he is doing. Fine and dandy, but these are goddamn pop songs, so where's the pop? (For the record — I happen to have the same problem with David Bowie quite often, but nowhere near this extent, for sure).

Case in point: Bob takes the Stones' classic ʽUnder My Thumbʼ, rearranges it as a modernistic electro-ska number, and replaces the song's original «misogynistic» lyrics with «social message», as the song becomes ʽUnder Their Thumbʼ and the «they» in question are... well, you know who they are. "Under their thumb / Kicked and beaten like an angry rabid dog". The reinvention is kinda fun, but also kinda self-contradictory and confusing: too happy-sounding to justify the mes­sage, too message-driven to justify the happy sound. By refusing to concentrate on one aspect over the other, Mondo Bongo becomes unsatisfactory either way.

The sole exception is the accidentally quite catchy ʽElephants Graveyardʼ, which shares the sty­listic makeup of all its brethren (a fast-paced keyboard-based song, almost bordering on ABBA-like Euro-pop — actually, more like Elvis Costello on the ABBA-influenced ʽOliver's Armyʼ) but redeems itself with an emotionally tugging chorus: the "you're guilty 'til proven guilty" line is surprisingly efficient, where, for once, I feel like we're riding on the same wave. Perhaps it is because of the plaintive-pleading intonation. Perhaps, come to think of it, one of Mondo's biggest flaws is not having any of those big-open songs where Geldof sings his heart out — everything is drowned in irony, but he does not know how to be properly ironic. On the other hand, I also prefer Bob Geldof in any of his aggressive moods rather than romantic ones — but on the third hand, Mondo Bongo could hardly be called an aggressive album, either, due to the already men­tioned lack of a properly attuned guitar sound.

In the end, the sacred heart of Mondo Bongo probably lies in the short piano piece ʽAnother Piece Of Redʼ, Geldof's passionate reflections on the disintegration of the British Empire, trig­gered by the news of the retirement of Rhodesia's Ian Smith. More of a leftist declaration than a «song» as such, it shows clearly that striving for good over evil was far more important for Bob than spending a lot of time in the world of notes, chords, and harmonies. Strictly formally, Mondo Bongo is a musical departure from — some might even say, an advance on — the Rats' previous sound; substantially, though, nobody really gave a damn. Which explains why the album could and should work, but does not.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Bonnie Raitt: Souls Alike

BONNIE RAITT: SOULS ALIKE (2005)

1) I Will Not Be Broken; 2) God Was In The Water; 3) Love On One Condition; 4) So Close; 5) Trinkets; 6) Crooked Crown; 7) Unnecessarily Mercenary; 8) I Don't Want Anything To Change; 9) Deep Water; 10) Two Lights In The Nighttime; 11) The Bed I Made.

There's a little less tepid funk and wishy-washy adult contemporary on Souls Alike than on Sil­ver Lining — and a little bit more blues and jazz; consequently, it marks a (at least temporary) return to Dullsville from Offensivetown. There might even be a small handful of relatively decent songs for those who normally despise all forms of «soft rock». The problem is, 2005 is not the kind of year where anybody could have a «change of heart» concerning anything that might be done by the likes of Bonnie Raitt, and a detailed discussion of any such album could only be of interest to hardcore fans with a penchant for distinguishing between the «fifty shades of grey».

Not addressing that category, we shall keep it very brief here. Randall Bramblett's ʽGod Was In The Waterʼ is a pretty good song — dark, unsettling country-blues, well adorned here with bitter­ly, but rather unsentimentally weeping organs, wah-wahs, and swampy slides, and even the lyrics are good, finding a fresh angle for the old perspective: "God was in the water that day... / Castin' out a line to the darkness / Castin' out a line but no one's biting". And Bonnie's bitterish vocal tone is practically perfect for this particular setting.

Emory Joseph's ʽTrinketsʼ is another standout: introspective nostalgia without the obligatory sappiness, sort of a «talking blues» (at times, coming close to «rapping blues») with a bit of musi­cal muscle, not particularly catchy, but each of Bonnie's bitter dry "when I was a kid..." verses has a whiff of intrigue. I mean, with a little bit of imagination you could see Lou Reed doing a song like this, and it's a rare Bonnie Raitt song that allows you to cast such a projection. Nicely fluent piano and slide dialog in the outro, too.

Finally, there is Jon Cleary's ʽUnnecessarily Mercenaryʼ, a sly, but big-hearted New Orleanian romp that could actually benefit from a brass section — but the well-worded chorus remains memorable even without any extra support. Cleary himself plays the piano solo, and he pretty much owns the song (as well as any other song here where he is prominent enough), being a well schooled disciple of the Professor Longhair / Dr. John school of Mardi Gras Keyboards. As usual, just a tad more energy and wildness couldn't have hurt, but it's still fun.

The rest is hardly worth a mention — blues and ballads, gently rippling through the air without generating much excitement. The trip-hop beats on ʽDeep Waterʼ are an intentional «modernis­tic» nod that fails for that exact reason (do it because it's good, not because it's a special gesture that puts a chronological seal on the album). The final number, ʽThe Bed I Madeʼ, is a moody jazz ballad written by David Batteau where Bonnie tries to be Madeleine Peyroux, but she doesn't have the voice or the knack for it — so at least there's more going on here than on ʽWounded Heartʼ, but it is still a very (appropriately) sleepy conclusion for an overall sleepy album. So just borrow ʽGod Was In The Waterʼ for your «Contemporary Roots-Rock Nuggets» compilation and ʽUnnecessarily Mercenaryʼ for your «New Orleans Lives!» compilation and feel free to forget the rest if you feel like forgetting the rest.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Booker T. & The M.G.'s: Doin' Our Thing

BOOKER T. & THE M.G.'s: DOIN' OUR THING (1968)

1) I Can Dig It; 2) Expressway (To Your Heart); 3) Doin' Our Thing; 4) You Don't Love Me; 5) Never My Love; 6) The Exodus Song; 7) The Beat Goes On; 8) Ode To Billie Joe; 9) Blue On Green; 10) You Keep Me Hanging On; 11) Let's Go Get Stoned.

Okay, try as I might, it is really hard to get excited about anything on here. For the first time, a Booker T. album does not accompany a hit single — or a non-hit single — actually, there were no singles whatsoever from this album, almost as if in recognition of the increased role of the LP in popular life and culture. Unfortunately, the recognition does not translate to the music-making: like before, the record consists of short instrumentals, either made on the spot by the M.G.'s or interpreting other people's achievements.

The covered material is kinda lame for 1968, ranging from The Soul Survivors (a very pedantic organ recreation of the melodic structure of ʽExpressway To Your Heartʼ) to Sonny & Cher (a very pedantic organ recreation of the melodic structure of ʽThe Beat Goes Onʼ). The major high­light is probably the tight, snappy, mean and lean cover of ʽYou Don't Love Meʼ, a blues-rock tune whose overall catchiness and conciseness was much appreciated at the time — of course, in a matter of a couple of years all other versions would be rendered obsolete with the Allman Bro­thers appropriating the tune, and Cropper's guitar solo here looking like a student work next to the flashing duels of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts.

Of the originals, one would expect the opening track to be the most precious one, but in all actu­ality, ʽI Can Dig Itʼ just sounds like a merry warm-up for better things to come — the tempo is rousing, the organ and guitar solos are friendly, but hardly worth memorizing on their own. Too bad that the better things never really come: all over the place, it seems like the band is going through the motions, or perhaps just stupidly sticks to the old guns in defiance of all the wonder­ful musical progress going on in 1968.

In the end, the only positive effect the album had on me was to remind me that ʽLet's Go Get Stonedʼ, when you take Ray Charles and/or Joe Cocker out of it, is simply ʽNobody Loves You When You're Down And Outʼ — not such a big surprise, but you do keep forgetting how easy it is for a song to com­pletely change face with just a «motivation shift». Other than that, this is just Booker T. & the M.G.'s «doin' their thing» and not giving a damn about anything else. As usual, it all sounds cool, but already sort of «retro-cool» by the standards of 1968.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Boston: Third Stage

BOSTON: THIRD STAGE (1986)

1) Amanda; 2) We're Ready; 3) The Launch; 4) Cool The Engines; 5) My Destination; 6) A New World; 7) To Be A Man; 8) I Think I Like It; 9) Can'tcha Say / Still In Love; 10) Hollyann.

With all his perfectionism, delayism, disrespect for deadlines, and contempt for record labels, Tom Scholz ended up waiting for the most uncomfortable time to release Boston's third album — 1986, the Doom Year for Classic Rockers (just to remind you, Alice Cooper's Constrictor and Chicago 18 came out in the exact same month). Not that this should have derailed Scholz, who rarely trusted anybody's nose but his own: yes, you can sense that the Eighties are upon us from the production, but Scholz himself was responsible for the production in many ways, not the least of which was his own self-designed Rockman guitar processor.

So the bad news about Third Stage is not really its year of release, but rather the stylistic choice of its maker. As some of the old guys, such as second guitarist Barry Goudreau and bass player Fran Sheehan, eventually quit because they couldn't take the waiting any more, Scholz began sliding further and further into lyricism and sentimentality — the typical song on Third Stage is not a revved-up power-pop-rocker, but rather a heartfelt ballad, power or no power. In the place of ʽMore Than A Feelingʼ and ʽDon't Look Backʼ, songs that had an aura of cheapness but could still be a great way to kick-start your day, we now have ʽAmandaʼ — a song that must have per­manently ruined the life of every single Amanda on US soil. Just imagine yourself being a 12-year or so old girl called Amanda in 1986 and having to walk to school while all the radio stations for miles around blast "I'm gonna take you by surprise and make you realize, Amanda..."... oh, the horror. Hope they all hid in the basements while the heat was on.

Not only ʽAmandaʼ, though, but just about every other of these ballads is almost unbelievably lame — without the thunderous riff-blasts of his rockers, Scholz is reduced on the spot to pom­pous schlock where even the trademark Boston guitar tones do not redeem the material that rides on exhausted balladeering clichés all the way through. ʽMy Destinationʼ, ʽTo Be A Manʼ, ʽHolly­annʼ — I am not even sure I can properly distinguish one from the other. The only good thing about them is the band's stubborn reluctance to use synthesizers or strings, which does give them a Boston-exclusive flavor. But the contrast between the primitively uninventive melodies and the immense atmospheric pomp is just too much to bear.

Unfortunately, the few rockers on the record do not redeem the situation. The album's loudest and brawniest track, ʽCool The Enginesʼ (formally the last part of a space-related trilogy), is a glam extravaganza, with Brad Delp screaming his head off and Scholz getting to play Zeus the Thun­derer. Is it my fault, though, that the final result sounds stylistically similar to Aerosmith's ʽLove In An Elevatorʼ? With the same overloud, sleazy guitar assault as everything gets driven to ele­ven? Hilariously, even if Scholz never wanted to make a pop-metal anthem, he unintentionally produced one along the same stylistic lines as Aerosmith or Bon Jovi in their big hair days. I ad­mit that it is catchy — but it is also rather silly, adding this «macho» edge to their cosmic music (yes, I know that «cooling the engines» is just a metaphor, but I don't even want to remember explicitly what for). At least ʽI Think I Like Itʼ manages to combine the album's lyrical sensitivity with a strong, but delicate pop-rock rhythm, and arguably comes out as the best track and the only one that I can currently imagine myself wanting to revisit.

Bottomline: tech savviness is one thing, understanding of how to juice up an already catchy hook is another thing, and a good sense of taste and measure is the little devil whose absence can mess you up even if you got the other two quite right. With Third Stage, Scholz shows us one and one thing only — namely, that he himself does not seem to quite understand what it is that used to make him so good. Yes, there are quite a few things in common between ʽMore Than A Feelingʼ and ʽAmandaʼ, but there is also a wide gap. For Scholz, what really matters is what they have in common. For myself — and I hope to be speaking for quite a few other people, too — what really matters is the gap, and I hate this particular gap. Thumbs down with a vengeance, even if, on the whole, this is quite far from the worst record of 1986.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Blind Guardian: Beyond The Red Mirror

BLIND GUARDIAN: BEYOND THE RED MIRROR (2015)

1) The Ninth Wave; 2) Twilight Of The Gods; 3) Prophecies; 4) At The Edge Of Time; 5) Ashes Of Eternity; 6) The Holy Grail; 7) The Throne; 8) Sacred Mind; 9) Miracle Machine; 10) Grand Parade.

Now look, this isn't even funny any more. Not only have they already used the word «beyond» in at least one of their album titles and the word «mirror» in at least several of their songs ("mirror mirror on the wall..."), but I think that every word and idiomatic combination in these titles, if not in the entire lyrics, had already been commissioned by our fantasy friends sometime in the past. Unsurprisingly, pretty much the same can be said about the music. And it took them, what, a whole five years? To come up with an album that, maybe more than anything they did in their career, sounds like a barely noticeable rearrangement of the same jigsaw puzzle?..

At the very, very least, they could have followed up on the success of ʽSacred Worldsʼ and ʽWheel Of Timeʼ, two tracks where the mix of guitar metal and orchestration seemed to open up a whole new world of possibilities to explore and exploit. But with Beyond The Red Mirror, it's as if those two songs were never written — as if they admitted to themselves that this was a failed experiment. What happened? Did the money run out? No, it did not, because there is an orchestra here — in fact, there are two: Hungarian Studio Orchestra Budapest and FILMHarmonic Orches­tra Prague (the latter is the same one that was used for ʽSacred Worldsʼ). Did they commission research on fanboard opinions, and come to the conclusion that use of the orchestra was «lame» and that it «sissified» their sound or something?

I have no idea, but the fact is, that we are generally back to square here: vocals, guitars, key­boards, pound pound pound, stern martial chorus of Elven warriors who prefer their battles over their ladies, everything mega-powerful, ultra-melodic, algorithmically predictable, and immedi­ately forgettable. If there is at least a shadow of some new idea here, it is the use of a baroque choir on the introduction to ʽThe Ninth Waveʼ — I think that previously, all of the harmonies were done by the band members themselves, but here they went for a fuller approach. Not that the use of such choirs in metal should come as a surprise, either, and with the song itself so unremar­kable on the whole, the stern religious harmonies hardly add any awesomeness.

According to what my ears tell me, this album does not contain a single memorable riff or a single truly impressive vocal chorus. The reasons for this could be technical: for instance, when they finally get to ʽGrand Paradeʼ, obviously intended as a grand finale, the chorus is completely ruined by flat production where the vocals, the orches­tration, and the choir merge together in a muffled, sloppy mush that feels completely mechanical and soulless, neither tragic nor joyful nor endowed with any emotion, just big-big-big. So, perhaps, bad production and dynamic overcom­pression are to blame. But this hardly settles things: even without the poor production, this is a sleepwalker's album, riding along on years and decades of accumulated experience and professio­nalism and not a drop of actual inspiration.

But then, who cares? I have seen so many rave re­views by newly fascinated fans that it is quite clear — they can remake the same record fifty more times and still not worry about their not-particularly-demanding fanbase. And I really al­most literally mean «remake the same record»: this here regurgitation is worse than yer basic AC/DC, because at least with the Young brothers, it is the riffs that count, and every time they set out to make a new album, they know they have to present some new «skeletal structures» (and if there are too many recycled riffs on an AC/DC album, it is by definition an unsatisfactory AC/DC album) — whereas with these Blind Guardian records, the denseness of the arrangements, the orchestrations, Hansi's mammoth vocals all mask the «skeletal structure» and make it look insignificant next to the overall style of the presentation. And that style never changes. And these are the rules of the game, I know, but I also know that not every metal band is necessarily supposed to abide by these rules, and if you do not know how to bend them or at least how to make them serve a good purpose, too bad. Thumbs down.