It’s the most frightening thing you’ll see this Halloween but Steel Panther release the follow-up to their major label debut this week – and we review and rate Balls Out right here!
Plus we deliver our verdict on new albums from Megadeth, Grand Design, Grand Illusion, Skinny Puppy, The Good The Bad, Kory Clarke and Black Widow.
Steel Panther – Balls Out (Universal)
It’s hard to imagine Steel Panther understanding the concept of second album syndrome, let alone suffering from its all too familiar side effects.
And yet hair metal’s answer to Spinal Tap have laboured long and hard to conjure a suitably comical follow-up to their hilarious Feel The Steel major label debut – only to fall disappointingly short.
Perhaps it was always too much to ask for the Panther to produce another dazzling array of ridiculously over-the-top songs underpinned by sexual innuendo and plain old sleaze.
Any innovative product immediately loses its initial appeal second time around but Balls Out is an often painful battle against progress. Stuck somewhere between staying true to themselves and breaking new ground, Steel Panther are starting to appear a little rusty.
Of course there are a number of laugh-out-loud highlights and Balls Out is worth buying for two very good reasons: the outrageous cover and its outstanding track. Just Like Tiger Woods will make the fallen sporting idol cringe – if he ever chances upon it – with the double entendre golfing references a stroke of creative genius.
If You Really, Really Love Me and the superb Gold Digging Whore boast all the trademarks of classic Panther and the Crue-esque I Like Drugs must be included in December’s setlist when the band tours with Tommy Lee and co. before Christmas.
But there’s little to like about 17 Girls In A Row, Critter or Weenie Ride – none of which would have been good enough for a Feel The Steel B-side. Just filler – as the Panther would say.
Incredibly funny when they first burst onto the scene there’s still a watertight case for going to see this very clever band live. But a patchy mix (what’s the point of Panther if you can’t make out every cheesy lyric?) makes for a below-par album. Where this band’s records are concerned the joke may already be well and truly over. SR
rushonrock rated: Balls Up 6/10
Grand Design – Idolizer (AOR Heaven)
If Steel Panther’s risqué lyrical content isn’t quite what you want or expect from a band with a tradition rooted in 80s hair metal, then welcome to the more acceptable alternative.
In effect Grand Design do what the Panther do but with a comparatively serious face on. Their devotion to Def Leppard, in particular, can veer towards blind hero worship – listen to OughtoGraugh for hard evidence of a band in thrall to the pop metal masters – but that’s no bad thing.
Grand Design wear their hair metal hearts on their sleeves and there’s no doubt they’ve nailed the sound which dominated MTV playlists in the late 80s.
Let’s Rawk The Night and Rock Back To The 80s don’t pretend to be anything other than tributes to classic Leppard, Scorpions, Europe and they’re instantly likeable as a result.
Vocalist Pelle Saether was born to front a soft rock act and the dual guitars of Peter Ledin and Dennis Vestman (you can’t imagine him wearing anything else) ape Collen and Clarke at their creative peak. Grand Design understand the blueprint for smile-on-your-face rock and Idolizer represents the perfect plan for world domination. SR
rushonrock rated: 10/10 Design Classic
Grand Illusion – Prince Of Paupers (AOR Heaven)
More Swedes and more glorious AOR as Grand Illusion build on 2010’s rushonrock rated 9/10 Brand New World album with a star-studded follow-up every bit as good as anything culled from their impressive back catalogue.
Steve Lukather, Greg Bisonette, Tim Pierce and Paul Buckmaster lead the charge of top notch hired hands drafted in to make this a memorable romp down mid 80s memory lane.
And if you’re into big licks, big choruses and an even bigger production then Prince Of Paupers is possibly the most perfect rock record you’ll hear all year.
From the belting Better Believe It to the exceptional Eyes Of Ice there’s a range and depth of material made for the reborn AOR market and guaranteed to widen Grand Illusion’s already considerable sphere of influence.
The dual vocals of Per Svensson and Peter Sundell are pitch perfect and it’s clear their relationship with founder member, multi-instrumentalist and driving force Anders Rydholm is stronger than ever.
Thirty-one years after Rydholm and Svensson showcased their credentials with Spartacus there appears to be some kind of sixth sense underpinning the duo’s best work to date. And it makes for a very special record indeed. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Princely Album
Skinny Puppy – HanDover (Synthetic Symphony)
They may well be the globally recognised founders of the electro-industrial genre but Skinny Puppy are far from the dog’s b******s if the frankly dull hanDover is anything to go by.
This is music (in the loosest sense) to slit your wrists to and the once feted Canadian troupe clearly lack the nous, ambition and clever touch of industrial rock’s new breed. Left behind, they could soon be left for dead.
To describe hanDover as dated would be overly complimentary. The sound doesn’t even come close to matching Puppy’s classic mid 80s output and this sounds very much like music for music’s sake.
Perhaps it’s in the live arena where the band responsible for the classic 1992 release Last Rights is best appreciated. It’s certainly not on this dog’s dinner of an album which only succeeds in dragging down the reputation of a seminal act once renowned for its groundbreaking approach.
If you are unfortunate enough to receive hanDover as an unexpected Christmas gift then keep the receipt. SR
rushonrock rated: 2/10 Puppy S**t
Kory Clarke – Opium Hotel II (Livewire/Cargo)
If variety is the spice of life then Warrior Soul frontman Korey Clarke must finally be living life to the full. Opium Hotel II – the follow-up to 2003’s critically acclaimed Opium Hotel – packs in so many aural twists and turns that it feels like you’re riding every mile of rock’s rich and varied freeway.
There’s the punk-fuelled angst of America’s New C**t, the emotive balladeering of Masquerade Party and the epic soundscape of It’s My Time. You’d never expect to hear all three standout tunes on the same record and yet Clarke throws convention to the wind in his bid to make a career-defining record.
Yet this is far from easy listening as one of the finest singer songwriters of the past three decades dutifully disembowels corporate America with a familiar zeal.
Mixing those trademark uncompromising lyrics with uncomfortably raw sounds it’s almost as if Clarke wants to induce a sense of hatred, insecurity and anger in the listener. More often than not he succeeds.
This is the kind of record you wouldn’t play in front of the kids and you wouldn’t buy for your parents. But it’s an album that preaches individualism and urges caution at a time when the global economy is teetering on the brink. Clarke has never lacked confidence but Opium Hotel II, even by his standards, is a very brave statement indeed. SR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Kory Blimey
Black Widow – Sleeping With Demons (Cargo)
It’s 38 years since East Midlands occult progsters Black Widow released an album but Sleeping With Demons drops just in time for Halloween and does so with an almighty bang. This is a brilliantly wacky collection of crazy tunes creating barmy images and if it’s hardly going to give you the fright of your life then it’s perfect fodder for the spookiest time of the year.
Founder member Clive Jones has urged those intrigued enough to purchase Sleeping With Demons to listen to it with the lights down and the volume up. It’s sound advice and utterly necessary in order to truly appreciate the laugh-out-loud demonising fare that is Hail Satan, The Portal To Hell and Even The Devil Gets The Blues.
Back in the day Black Widow were lazily lumped in the same category as Black Sabbath but Sleeping With Demons proves the former are in a different league altogether. If the occult is a badge of honour for Jones and co. then it’s a badge that might peel off to reveal a cheeky smile and a nod of self-deprecation.
Sabbath were, on the whole, serious as f**k. Black Widow is more about black magic storytelling and anthemic rock pouting – it’s not exactly light-hearted but it’s not all focused doom and unrelenting gloom.
If you’re looking for a way to get the Halloween party started then Black Widow have the perfect answer. Forget the theme to Ghostbusters – Partytime For Demons deserves the most plays on this year’s fright night playlist. SR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Black Humour
Megadeth – Th1rt3en (Roadrunner)
There’s something strangely compelling about Th1rt3en that suggests Dave Mustaine could finally be on the brink of a new lucky streak.
Whether it’s down to time spent in the company of the other three members of the Big Four, or a realisation that much of Megadeth’s mouthwatering early work pre-empted a new breed of commercial thrash, this is an album which adds an ingredient missing from much of this band’s most recent output.
For a start Mustaine has tweaked that trademark nasal tone to sound more appealing than at any stage of his long and colourful career. For far too long now his often irritating vocal style has polarised metal fans and done nothing for the consistent quality of Megadeth’s outstanding music. Th1rt3en marks a change of tack and a tactful change.
We The People and Guns, Drugs & Money are two instant classics – more hard rock than classic thrash – with Mustaine in magnificent form. The latter segues into the old school thrash riff that underpins the punchy Never Dead and by now we’re into the meat of a record which is unrelenting in its pursuit of excellence.
There might have been a time when Megadeth fans feared their favourite band didn’t have another album like this in its locker. But perhaps the greatest tribute to be paid to Th1rt3en is that it comfortably overshadows Metallica’s Death Magnetic and even edges out Anthrax’s ‘comeback’ record Worship Music.
These days the Big Four must be judged against the Big Four. And as of October 2011 Megadeth have edged to the top of the thrash tree. SR
rushonrock rated: 10/10 Mega Return To Form
The Good The Bad – From 018 To 033
The Good The Bad return with a second offering of deliciously dirty soundtrack music. Put yourself in the setting of a modern wild western and prepare to allow these great Danes take you for a bumpy ride on horseback through interesting musical ravines.
With just one track weighing over the four-minute mark and 16 of them filling the record, this is an instrumental effort that is easier to listen to than first anticipated. It’s suave, classy, retro and unashamed of it.
The Who and The Kinks are two huge influences in the bad-boy soundtrack that is From 018 To 033. It works better than you would initially anticipate especially since the three-piece constitute of two guitarists and a drummer. But for the potential lack of members, The Good The Bad have a hazy rock n’ roll charm that carries them throughout the 35-minutes of this record.
028 has a catchy, bouncing percussion that is shrouded with a some cool minimalist picking. It creates a 60s spy-drama vibe – if there were a remake of The Saint, this would be the new soundtrack to compliment it.
Final track 033 is the longest on the album and a veritable hurrah to continue the soundtrack sentiment, but this time introduce flamenco acoustic guitar that would please any fan of the Rodrigo y Gabriella style. It would be the most impressive attempt if it weren’t for a hidden, unaccredited 17th song that utilises some beautiful church organ, latina-styled trumpets and rough garrage riffing – all pulled off with a charismatic attitude.
It’s evidence of their confidence and proof of potential – and that’s exciting. CR
rushonrock rated: 7/10
This week’s reviewers: Simon Rushworth, Calum Robson.