Things get a bit heavy this week as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new releases from punk survivor Billy Idol, guitar slinger Slash, mask enthusiasts Slipknot and the Metal grandfather Ozzy Osbourne.
New Album by an Old Artist
Billy Idol:Kings & Queens of the Underground
Hands up if you thought Billy Idol was dead.
Yep, me too. Some sort of motorcycle accident, I thought. Shortly after he did that cameo in The Wedding Singer with Adam Sandler.
But it seems that I (and maybe you, I can’t really see your hands) was wrong. Billy Idol is not only not dead, he is positively alive and has just released a new album!
Accompanied by longtime guitarist Steve Stevens, Idol returns with a bang on Kings & Queens of the Underground.
For an artist who has been making music since the 1970s (Idol briefly joined Siouxie and the Banshees before forming Generation X in 1977) the music on this album sounds remarkably fresh, a cross between modern heavy rock and the pop-punk that Idol made during his heyday.
Standout tracks include the brooding One Breath Away and the retro-feel Postcards from the Past, and while every song on the album isn’t exactly a winner (particularly the title track) this is far from a mere nostalgia trip.
Even first single Can’t Break Me Down has grown on me after a rocky start — Idol just seems to be enjoying himself so much that it’s hard not to enjoy.
Kings & Queens is Idol’s first album since 2005’s Devil’s Playground, which in turn was 12 years after 1993’s Cyberpunk.
This relaxed release schedule was partly driven by Idol’s disagreements with record company EMI and partly by a desire to spend more time with his family. Either way, the result is a lot better than a Billy Idol album in 2014 has any right to be.
Best tracks: One Breath Away, Postcards from the Past, Can’t Break Me Down
Sample lyric: ‘I laughed at all the signs, they say that speed will kill ya.’ (Bitter Pill)
Verdict: 8/10 — surprising, I know.
New Album by an Old Artist
Slash featuring Myles Kennedy: World on Fire
Once upon a time, there was a band called Guns N’ Roses, led by the charismatic duo of Axl Rose on vocals and Slash on guitar.
From the release of landmark album Appetite for Destruction in 1987 to the comically-delayed farce of Chinese Democracy, GNR are arguably one of the most influential metal bands of all time.
For those who stopped listening to GNR around the time that Axl Rose disappeared up his own arse, Slash actually left the group in 1993 after the release of Use Your Illusion 1 & 2. This double release was cynically marketed as two separate albums sold at full price rather than the ‘double album packed with filler’ that it really was.
It’s safe to say Slash leaving the band marked the start of a steady decline in both output and quality — but he was off to greener pastures.
Known to his parents as Saul Hudson, Slash developed a highly recognisable playing style typified by the riff from Sweet Child of Mine.
This style would carry Slash through the shortlived Slash’s Snakepit and the supergroup Velvet Revolver; no matter who was singing, you could tell that these were Slash songs.
In 2010, Slash released his first solo album — a self-titled effort featuring an extensive list guests including Ozzy Osbourne, Adam Levine, Dave Grohl and Lemmy Kilminster.
Also featuring on two tracks was Alter Bridge vocalist Myles Kennedy, who would go on to tour with Slash in support of the album. The musical partnership was so strong that the two teamed up, and Kennedy returns as vocalist on World on Fire, accompanied by backing band The Conspirators.
Musically, World on Fire is pretty much what you’d expect from a Slash album — lots of soaring guitars and insanely catchy riffs, all held together by the strong rock voice of Myles Kennedy. There isn’t anything here that reinvents the wheel, but if you’re looking for a solid hard rock album you could do worse.
Best tracks: World On Fire, Wicked Stone, Automatic Overdrive
Sample lyric: ‘From the mountain I fell, into the depths of hell.’ (Wicked Stone)
Verdict: 7/10 — better than anything that Guns ‘n Roses have done since the early nineties
Album I Expect to Suck
Ozzy Osbourne: Memoirs of a Madman
Depending on your point of reference, Ozzy Osbourne is either one of the greatest metal frontmen of all time, or a befuddled old man too drug-addled to realise that his best days are long behind him.
As ever, the truth lies somewhere in between…
Born John Michael Osbourne in 1948, Ozzy rose to fame as the singer of seminal metal band Black Sabbath, before he was fired in 1979 for excessive substance abuse. Rather than cleaning up, Ozzy recruited something of a supergroup (including Quiet Riot guitarist Randy Rhodes) and released albums The Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman.
When Rhodes was killed in 1982 in a particularly stupid bit of tomfoolery (his light plane ran into Ozzy’s tour bus after repeated low passes) Ozzy released a couple of half-hearted albums including a bunch of Black Sabbath covers.
It wasn’t until he discovered young guitarist Zakk Wylde and reunited with Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler that Ozzy got back on track, releasing No Rest For the Wicked and No More Tears, featuring the hit Mama I’m Coming Home.
Memoirs of a Madman is essentially a Best Of package — if you conveniently forget all of the music Ozzy made with Black Sabbath.
This is not to say that the music is bad, but songs tend to blend into one another and there are few truly standout tracks.
Last but not least, I strongly recommend skipping the version of Changes that Ozzy recorded with oxygen-thief daughter Kelly Osbourne — it’s exactly as bad as you’d expect.
Best tracks: Crazy Train, Bark at the Moon, Mama I’m Coming Home
Sample lyric: ‘I’ve listened to preachers, I’ve listened to fools.’ (Crazy Train)
Verdict: 5/10 — gets progressively worse as Ozzy loses the plot
Ch-check It Out…
Slipknot: .5: The Gray Chapter
Slipknot are a group of talented musicians who play very loud, very fast music.
What differentiates Slipknot from their contemporaries is their choice of on-stage attire — the seven-member band all wear matching jumpsuits and horror influenced masks. Depending on who you believe, this is either a marketing gimmick or an effort to make people focus on the music rather than the personalities of the band.
After forming in Des Moines, Iowa in 1995, Slipknot have walked somewhat of a rocky path, losing multiple band members along the way (most recently founding drummer Joey Jordison) and repeatedly going on hiatus due to tensions within the band.
The Gray Chapter was named in honour of bassist Paul Gray, who died of a drug overdose in 2010. As a result, there is a pervading layer of sadness that runs through the album, although this is often buried beneath mountains of anger and contempt.
Sonically, The Gray Chapter starts with a sense of menace and impending doom with XIX, before bursting into life with the caustic Sarcastrophe. The band then proceed to tear through the next twelve songs like an angry beast, pausing only to pour scorn on sycophants and the closed-minded through tracks like Skeptic and The Negative One.
If you’re a fan of heavy music, it’s worth giving this album a listen — although, fair warning that this is not an album for fans of Anne Murray (unless you have seriously diverse tastes).
Best tracks: Skeptic, The Devil in I, The One That Kills the Least
Sample lyric: ‘I never follow and I never make apologies.’ (The Negative One)
Verdict: 6/10 — ideal for Slipknot fans and people who like angry music
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