R.I.P. GWAR founder Dave Brockie/Oderus Urungus

The New York Daily News reported this morning GWAR founder and frontman Dave Brockie, who was better known as Oderus Urungus, was found dead at his Richmond home.  Police do not suspect foul play.  An autopsy will determine cause of death.

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Brockie, 50, came up with the idea of the satirical thrash metal band with fellow University of Virginia art students in 1984.  The band recorded its first album, Hell-O, on Metal Blade Records in 1988.  Its most recent album, Battle Maximus, was released September 2013.

BABYMETAL indication of new hardcore genre?

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Japan’s oddest super-girl band BABYMETAL is garnering a lot of attention from music fans and the media with more than 3.7 million views on YouTube of its Gimme Chocolate video and several articles in the press about the group’s growing phenomenon.  Is a trio of cutsy Japanese teens (Suzuka Nakamoto, 16; Moa Kikuchi Kawai, 14; and Yui Mizuno, 14) signing sugary sweet pop lyrics over surprisingly hardcore death metal a sign of Kawaii Metal coming of age, or are they just a novelty act that will be largely forgotten in the next few years?

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Dom Lawson of The Guardian newspaper in the U.K. is unsure, but opines that “BABYMETAL are as demented and perverse a pop confection as anything in living memory, and yet the whole thing is delivered with such vitality and verve that resistance is effectively futile.”

FRIDAY 5 ACROSS THE LIPS: Why Kiss isn’t Kiss Without Original Lineup

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Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons are preparing to kick off their 40th year as business partners with a 42-city tour with fellow aging rockers Def Leppard. Billed as the “Heroes 2014″ tour, Stanley and Simmons will again be joined onstage with contractors Tommy Thayer in the Spaceman role and Eric Singer performing as the Catman rather than original band mates Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, respectively.  Granted, I would probably see the show if they were to come to New Orleans (which they’re not) because the live Kiss experience is akin to going to the circus:  you know they’ll bring out trapeze artists, then the monkeys, then the tigers jumping through flaming hoops, and even the little friggin’ dog in a top hat and tutu walking around on a beach ball, then they’ll finish with the grand finale of an elephant train and hideous, evil clowns.  You know what you’re going to get going into “The Greatest Show on Earth” before you ever step foot under the big top.

Kiss Stage

It’s the same with Kiss.  You know the Demon will spit blood and breathe fire.  You know the Spaceman’s guitar will smoke while he’s kicking out a solo.  You know the Catman’s drums will rise a few stories in the air amid columns of fire and clouds of smoke.  And you know Paul Stanley will mince around like a famished fräulein at a sausage festival.

And you will love every second of it.

But you will love every second of it not because it’s something new and exciting.  No.  You will love it because it harkens back to the days when Kiss  and its four original members (Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, Stanley and Simmons) ruled the world.  Once that lineup began to disintegrate by the end of the ’70s/early ’80s, Kiss was never the same despite making hundreds of millions of dollars by selling lots of albums and essentially anything not nailed down (including, among other things, the Kiss Kondom, Kiss Kasket, Kiss Kremation Urn, and lots o’ Kiss Fine Art apparently suitable to hang alongside the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris) .

Without the four original painted freaks, Kiss is just another heavy metal band that would have likely died out in the ’90s.  New Kiss just can’t compare with Old Kiss.  Despite protestations from Simmons and Stanley, most people really don’t care about new Kiss anymore than they cared about New Coke.  They’d drink the New Coke if they absolutely had to get a sugar rush, but it just wasn’t the same as a satisfying swig of the original.

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Need proof?  Here’s five reasons why Kiss isn’t Kiss without the original lineup:

1.  Criss and Frehley made Kiss relevant again 

Simmons and Stanley made the business decision to take the makeup off and become another run-of-the-mill pop metal act following the departure of Criss and Frehley in the early ’80s.  There was waning interest in the group once the originals were gone and the new personas of Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent fizzled.  Fortunately for them, there was an appetite for pop metal in the ’80s with acts like Motley Crue, Poison, Cinderella, and other hair bands crowding the landscape.  Unmasked Kiss, now with new guitarist Mark St. John, slogged along with albums ranging from mediocre to mind-boggling awful.  They rode the coat tails of newer metal bands who could pull off the androgynous glam shtick much better. Not only was the music sub-par, but it also came with the horrifying images of Simmons, Stanley, and the rest wearing tight spandex and headbands looking like they’re about to start a Jazzercise class.

kiss2-6058836Holy hell!

Kiss no longer stood out.  They continued to sell albums, but at a much slower pace.  Instead of hitting platinum status in a few weeks, albums now took years to get to gold.  They were on the verge of oblivion when MTV threw them a lifeline by having them on the successful ’90s series Unplugged with one caveat:  the show would only go on if Criss and Frehley were a part of it.  No original Kiss, no spot on the wildly successful music show.  Simmons and Stanley swallowed their pride and brought the two cast-aside members on the show following a set by their current lineup at the time.

People freaked out.  Fan reaction to Criss and Frehley at the Unplugged show was so positive that, in 1996, the original lineup of Kiss reunited, with all four original members together for the first time since 1980. Excitement reached fever pitch with the original lineup appeared with Tupac Shakur at the 38th Annual Grammy Awards:

What followed was the top grossing tour for 1996-1997, and audiences larger than back in their ’70s heyday.  This was only accomplished when the original four put the makeup back on and hit the road.  Thanks to Criss and Frehley, Kiss was relevant again.

2.  Use of the original makeup designs

If latter-day Kiss is new and improved, why are they wearing the classic makeup?  Simply because the personas after the departure of Frehley and Criss just didn’t bring the same draw.  The two less-than-successful roll outs of new makeup, Eric Carr’s “Fox” and Vinnie Vincent’s “Ankh Warrior” (what the hell is that supposed to mean?), are largely forgettable and somewhat laughable.

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Forgettable                                         Laughable

Stanley and Simmons loved Eric Carr, whose untimely death in 1991 of heart cancer and brain hemorrhaging was a tragedy.  Despite how much they loved Carr over Criss, the fans don’t quite reciprocate, which is why Kiss will never bring back Carr’s Fox makeup.  Vincent’s makeup, like his tenure with the band, is just too weird to take seriously.

3.  ’70s Kiss was a completely different act from ’80s Kiss

The original Kiss were superheroes inspiring millions of rebellious teens to pick up guitars.  Subsequent Kiss in the 1980s were super funny inspiring lots of comedians to zing one-liners.  Judge for yourself:

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OH YEAH!
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Oy vey…

4. Play That Funky Music, Painted White Boys

During the most recent tour in 2013, the songs Kiss played the most were:

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

Notice something? Six of the ten songs are from the original days, and one had three of the four originals. Only three of the songs are from the post-Simmons/Stanley/Criss/Frehley years. If New Kiss is better as Simmons and Stanley contend, why are they performing 60 to 70 percent of their top ten songs from the Old Kiss era?  Because Kiss has become a cover band of its former glory days.

5.  The Darren Factor 

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You know an impostor when you see one.  Need we say more?

 

 

FRIDAY 5 ACROSS THE LIPS: 180-Degree Covers

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This week Friday 5 Across the Lips looks at five original songs and the covers of those tunes that took a lot of artistic license.  

1. “Enter Sandman”  

Enter Sandman,” Metallica’s classic wall of sound from their self-titled 1991 album, is a dark, brooding, and slightly disturbing song about the childhood horrors of drifting to slumber; however, it becomes an ebullient big-band extravaganza in the hands of the squeaky clean Pat Boone.  You can almost see Metallica plotting with the monsters under the bed in the original; in the cover, you know Boone is leading them in a big, splashy dance number.

Original by Metallica (1991)

Cover by Pat Boone (1997)

2. “Black Diamond”

Recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Kiss has built a four-decade career on face paint, pyrotechnics, and straight-forward hard rock songs that has influenced a few generations of rockers worldwide to pick up guitars and follow suit.  The band has had a strong following in Japan since its early days that included a young musician named  Yoshiki Hayashi whom Kiss inspired to start his own metal band, X Japan.  Gene Simmons tapped Yoshiki to cover the song “I” from the universally ridiculed 1981 concept album Music From The Elder for the 1995 Kiss tribute album Kiss My Ass.  Yoshiki wisely distanced himself from that groaner and instead created a hauntingly beautiful classical arrangement of “Black Diamond” from Kiss’ 1974 debut album for the American Symphony Orchestra.  The resulting collaboration has been the only memorable contribution to the otherwise forgotten tribute album.

Original by Kiss (1974)

Cover by Yoshiki Hayashi and the American Symphony Orchestra (1995)

3. “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”

Blues rocker Rod Stewart was another disco casualty in the late ’70s as the dance genre infected the airwaves with its predictable beats and cliched sexually-charged themes when he released “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” on his 1978 album Blondes Have More Fun. In an effort to salvage Stewart’s rock cred, co-writer Duane Hitchings defended the song by claiming Stewart was actually spoofing the disco lifestyle.  Legions of disco fans might say otherwise as the disco classic hit number one on many dance lists and stayed there for many weeks.  A true spoof of the song’s disco lifestyle came 15 years later when the industrial supergroup Revolting Cocks came up with a much seedier version.  Its ironically blase hardcore delivery of Chris Connelly’s monotone vocals over Al Jorgensen’s grinding synth work sleazed up Stewart’s notion of a one-night stand being sweet, innocent disco fun.

Original by Rod Stewart (1978)

Cover by Revolting Cocks (1993)

4. “Hurt”

Cover songs rarely eclipse the original, but it happened with Johnny Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nails exceptional song “Hurt.”  Cash was nearing the end of his life when he recorded the song and he knew it; his once mighty bass-baritone voice that made us believe he shot a man in Reno just to watch him die now strained with age, uncertainty, and loneliness.  Those he loved and the world he once ruled were gone.  All that was left was a vulnerable elderly man ruminating about a life that went way too fast.

Songwriter and NIN frontman Trent Reznor himself was moved by the cover.  In a 2004 article in Alternative Press, Reznor said, “I pop the video in, and wow… Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore… It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure.”

Original by Nine Inch Nails (1994)

Cover by Johnny Cash (2002)

5. “Superstar”

The biggest hit of the Carpenters‘ career was actually itself a cover, which many erroneously believe was originally recorded by the brother/sister duo.  Written in 1969 by Bonnie BramlettLeon Russell and Delaney Bramlett, it was given the working title “The Groupie Song,” before being renamed “Groupie (Superstar)” when recorded by Delaney & Bonnie and Friends Featuring Eric Clapton.  The somewhat creepy story of star obsession didn’t catch on even when it was later covered by acts such as Joe Cocker, Bette Midler, Cher, and Vicki Carr. It wasn’t until Karen Carpenter’s sweet, innocent voice brought to life the tragedy of the naive groupie’s empty, unrequited love.

The Carpenters had a legion of fans for several decades, but the most unlike were the art-noise indie icons Sonic Youth.  They recorded a gripping post-punk dirge for the late-Karen Carpenter, “Tunic (A Song for Karen)” on their 1990 album Goo that caught the attention of producers of the 1994 tribute album If I Were A Carpenter.  Most of the covers in the album featured top alternative rock bands of the day presenting rather straightforward renditions of Carpenters hits; however, the Sonic Youth contribution stood out with the group’s signature feedback guitar work and Thurston Moore’s throaty, whispering vocals that underscored a feeling of defeat and desperation.

While indie fans loved this version of the song that was later used in the soundtrack for the 2007 movie Juno, Richard Carpenter didn’t share the enthusiasm.  In a 2009 interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Carpenter said, “At least when it comes to something like this, I will say I don’t care for it but I don’t understand it. So, I’m not going to say it’s good or it’s bad. I’m just going to say I don’t care for it.”

The Carpenters version (1971)

Cover by Sonic Youth (1994)