Monday, March 30, 2015

The Scorpions dig into the vaults on Return to Forever

Return to Forever is the latest release by German rock icons, The Scorpions. The record is a combination of both new songs and previously unfinished songs from various periods in the bands 50-year career. Not the heaviest of albums, but classic Scorpions all the way. Musically, the performance is strong as always. The chemistry is evident as current line-up has been together for over a decade. It's mind-boggling how well Klaus Meine’s voice has held up so well after a half century of recording and touring. Meine is joined, as always by co-founder and guitarist Rudolf Schenker, guitarist Matthias Jabs, drummer, James Kottak, and Pawel MaciwodaMaciwoda is still the "new guy", having joined the band in 2004.
The record kicks off with a pair of newly written songs, “Going Out With a Bang” and “We Built This House”. The latter being the stronger song of the pair. The sparse acoustic verse building to a driving melodic chorus is signature Scorpions all the way. With the exception of " Hard Rocking All Over the Place", which would have made a great opening track, this is about as heavy as this record gets. The rest of the tracks consist of mostly mid-tempo rockers and a heavy dose of signature Scorpions ballads. Fans looking for a heavy record ala 2004’s Unbreakable or 1993’s Face the Heat, will likely find themselves little let down. By contrast, this record is almost feels like a cross between 1996’s mellow, Pure Instinct, 2010’s Sting in the Tail.
The band has stated that many of these songs are older ideas that existed in various stages of completion, some have been tucked away in the vault for decades. Though the record lacks certain cohesion and is a bit ballad-heavy, the material is anything but filler. It’s great to see some of these songs finally see the light of day.
Songs like “Rock My Car”, “House of Cards”, “Rock And Roll Band”, and “Catch Your Luck and Play” have origins that can traced back to the 80’s.  All these tunes would fit right in on any classic Scorpions album of the time. “House of Cards” ranks up there with many of the best Scorpions ballads. It’s a shame this one didn't make it on an earlier album.  A lost gem for sure. “Catch Your Luck and Play”, originally written around the Savage Amusement era, thematically fits right in with “Passion Rules the Game”.

Highlights among the rest of the album include the "In Trance" sounding “Eye of Storm”, originally written for 2007’s Humanity: Hour 1, The country-tinged “Gypsy Life”, intended for 2001’s Acoustica, and "The Scratch".

The bonus tracks are as good or better than the rest of the album so, it's definitively worth while to pick up one of the versions that include them. Fans are not going to want to miss out on "Dancing in the Moonlight", "Who We Are", and “Delirious”. "The World We Used to Know" is the most interesting of the bonus tracks. Not a bad tune if you can get past the ELO-esque lead guitar. This one is as pop sounding as anything since 1999's experimental Eye to Eye.

There is no shortage of versions of this album. It can be had in Standard, Limited Edition Deluxe, iTunes, and Japanese editions, all with their own bonus material.  The record is also available on vinyl and box set version as well. 
Return to Forever track listings:
1 - Going Out with a Bang
2 - We Built This House
3 - Rock My Car
4 - House of Cards
5 - All for One
6 - Rock 'n' Roll Band
7 - Catch Your Luck and Play
8 - Rollin' Home
9 - Hard Rockin' the Place
10 - Eye of the Storm
11 - The Scratch
12 - Gypsy Life

Limited Deluxe Edition Bonus Tracks 

13 - The World We Used to Know
14 - Dancing with the Moonlight
15 - When the Truth Is a Lie
16 - Who We Are 

iTunes Bonus Track

17 Delirious 

Japanese Bonus Tracks

18 One and One Is Three

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Revolution Saints: A Great Album and a Missed Opportunity

When I first heard that Doug Aldrich (Lion, House of Lords, Huricane, Dio, Burning Rain, Whitesnake, Raiding the Rock Vault)Jack Blades (Night Ranger, Damn Yankees, Shaw/Blades) and Deen Castronovo (Hardline, Bad English, Journey) were joining forces and releasing a record under the name Revolution Saints, to say I was excited would be an understatement. Perhaps I was a bit too excited. Don't get me wrong, Revolution Saints self-titled debut is an excellent record. In my view, however, it could have been a whole lot better.
Let's start with the good. The songs, top to bottom are fantastic and the musicianship is superb. Doug Aldrich is an absolute beast, only someone made the bright decision to let his best solo languish as a bonus track on the deluxe version, but I'll get more into that later. Jack Blades is solid as a rock, but you'd never know what an great singer he is by listening to this record. Deen Castronovo delivers the vocals in amazing fashion. I was familiar with Deen from his work as a drummer with the likes of HardlineBad English and , of course, Journey, but after hearing him sing "Still They Ride" on Journey's "Live in Manila" DVD, I couldn't wait to hear more. Deen gets a shot at lead vocals on Neal Schon's most recent solo record, but he really delivers the goods on Revolution Saints. Arnel Pineda should be watching his back. I also like that Jason Becker has a co-write on "Dream On". Very cool.
Okay so if the album is so awesome, what didn't I like about it? Well, for starters, other than two Blades co-writes on "Turn Back Time" and "Dream On", there are no other writing credits for Blades, Aldrich or Castronovo. Knowing what good writers these guys are, it makes me believe the songs were written before they got involved. More like hired guns on a Alessandro Del Vecchio solo record (Del Vecchio has writing credit on all but one song on the record) than a band. It also bothers me that Neal Schon and Arnel Pineda from Journey were brought to guest on "You're Not Alone" (Pineda) and "Way To The Sun" (Schon). This feels forced and a bit contrived. To me, this no more than a marketing tactic designed to attract Journey fans in hopes of selling more records. While I understand the business side, when you have Aldrich and Castronovo, you don't need Schon and Pineda. The fact that Arnel Pineda has a lead vocal on this record and Jack Blades does not is mind-boggling. At least they were smart enough to record versions of these two songs with Aldrich and Castronovo, but you have to buy the deluxe version to get them. In addition to the extra tracks, the deluxe version also comes with a bonus DVD with a "making-of" documentary and videos for "Turn Back Time" and "Back On My Trail" so it's well worth the cost.
The bottom line is this really is a great record and I highly recommend picking it up (using Amazon link from the Decibel Geek page of course), but, in some ways, it's a missed opportunity. My hope is that these guys can find time to hit the road with this project and then get a chance to do a second record, one that they truly can collaborate on. No outside writers, no guest artists. As good as this record is, given the chance, these guys could make a follow-up that would blow this one out of the water.
Below is the track list. Solid front to back. Del Vecchio is a talented songwriter. Highlights are "Turn Back Time" (Blades co-write and co-lead vocal), "Way To The Sun" (Aldrich Version), and "In the Name Of The Father" (Deen at his absolute best).
Revolution Saints track listing:
01. Back On My Trail
02. Turn Back Time
03. You're Not Alone (feat. Arnel Pineda)
04. Locked Out Of Paradise
05. Way To The Sun (feat. Neal Schon)
06. Dream On
07. Don't Walk Away
08. Here Forever
09. Strangers To This Life
10. Better World 
11. How To Mend A Broken Heart
12. In The Name Of The Father (Fernando's Song)
Deluxe Edition Bonus Tracks
01. You Are Not Alone (Arnel Pineda version)
02. Way To The Sun (Doug Aldrich version)
03. You Are Not Alone (Deen Castronovo version)

For more information visit:

Official video for "Turn Back Time"