Tag Archives: John Bonham

THE LAST OF OUR KIND by The Darkness

Let me get this out of the way: THE LAST OF OUR KIND is hands-down my favorite album to come out so far in 2015. Not that there’s been much really good rock music released this year. Still, even if there had a few more notable releases this year, I’m confident this album would still be a beacon of hope. The Darkness are back and better than they’ve ever been.If you like boisterous, 1970’s-style rock full of cocky-swagger that’s fun/catchy as hell…then The Darkness is your band. Many people, most people I’d wager, really only remember the band from their hit “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” from 2003’s PERMISSION TO LAND. To those people I say: get bigger record collections. Seriously. The band’s second album ONE WAY TICKET TO HELL…AND BACK was a staggeringly leap forward in my opinion. The songs were better, the hooks were way catchier than the first record, and lead singer Justin Hawkins amazing vocal prowess truly shined. The band then went through a period of darkness (pun intended) when Hawkins left the band and went into rehab.

This baby pilot has permission to land.

This baby pilot has permission to land.

But The Darkness returned in 2012 with their third album HOT CAKES. That record (you can read my review here) was another homerun for the band.  That they’ve never really let me down is both kind of amazing and little scary every time the band releases a new record. The turmoil surrounding them this go-round involved their drummer (I call this AC/DC Syndrome). First, long time drummer Ed Graham left the band in September 2014 and was replaced by Emily Dolan Davies (whom you can read about/ogle here). A lady drummer in The Darkness? How positively progressive! Alas, it wasn’t meant to be…and Emily left the band in April of this year citing a desire to work on “other projects.” So while Davies is on THE LAST OF OUR KIND, The Darkness have a new drummer in the form of Rufus Taylor. That’s right, the band that sound more than a little like Queen went out and got the son of Queen’s drummer to be in their band. So there was definitely some rock star shenanigans and/or drama surrounding the band while they were recording THE LAST OF OUR KIND. Does any of that make it onto the record? Nope, not in the slightest.

THE LAST OF OUR KIND opens with the sounds of the ocean and an old man reciting a poem about Vikings before the opening guitar riff of “Barbarian” hits. This is important because the album has a very strong Norse/Viking theme running throughout. Now while I wouldn’t go so far as to call THE LAST OF OUR KIND a concept album, there is a definite thread tying all the songs together. And that thread is kick-ass Norse warriors.“Barbarian” is pretty much The Darkness’ version of “The Immigrant Song.” Though whereas Led Zeppelin’s song is an ethereal chant, “Barbarian” is the rowing song of bloodthirsty men on their way to plunder foreign shores. While the first track conjures the spirit of the mighty Zep, the second track “Open Fire” definitely calls forth The Cult. It’s really just the guitar effect the band is using, but this has torpedoed many fans’ opinion of the song (which is the album’s second single). I’ll admit to being less-than-enthusiastic about the track the first few times I heard it, but it’s been growing on me (pun intended) the more I listen to it.

After this pic was snapped both the lady drummer AND the bird quit the band.

After this pic was snapped both the lady drummer AND the bird quit the band.

The album’s title track is probably the most Darkness-y track on the album. “The Last of Our Kind” is jam packed with Hawkin’s trademark faux-falsetto* and lyrical bravado. On the surface, the song is both a celebration and a lamentation about Norse warriors—but we all know that the song is also about The Darkness and their place in the modern rock scene. The track features some really great use of guitar harmonies that reminds me of Thin Lizzy. Not to let the ladies down, THE LAST OF OUR KIND also has a couple of really good love songs. For example,“Wheels of the Machine” which is a very cock-rock style love song featuring a lot of tough fire/burning imagery (tough love).  The song is notable for mentioning the object of Hawkins affections is named Sarah. This is important because the most kick-ass song on the entire record is “Sarah O’Sarah.” That song opens with some of the most propulsive guitar I’ve ever heard. I love big sloppy love songs and “Sarah O’Sarah” is pretty great. Lyrically it’s dopey (and again features lots of burning/fire references) but I like how vulnerable and straightforward the words are. Similarly, “Hammer & Tongs**” has a joyful we’re-back-together-and-that’s-how-it-should-be vibe that’s a refreshing change from most love songs in the arena rock genre/wheelhouse. Also, let me point out that this song again features really heavy usage of fire and burning imagery. Weird***.

Other tracks worth mentioning are the arena-ready anthem “Conquerors”  and “Mudslide.” The former closes out the album and features bass player Frankie Poullian on lead vocals.“Conquerors” surprised me and makes me wonder what great albums we’re missing out on from a Poullain-fronted band. Meanwhile, “Mudslide” which is the only track co-written by Emily Dolan Davies,  has a nice Bonham-esque quality (read: steady, thumping drums). Man, it’s a bummer that Davies ended up leaving the band.

THE LAST OF OUR KIND is definitely a throwback to a bygone era. Back when rock bands (and their album sales) were much, much bigger. Though they aren’t nearly as popular as they were at the height of PERMISSION TO LAND’s initial success, The Darkness continue to bravely churn out records that are top-to-bottom fantastic. I can’t remember the last time I actually purchased an album—after hearing THE LAST OF OUR KIND I immediately hopped online and bought a physical copy. I also can’t recall the last time a band put out a record that I could listen to multiple times without skipping a track. And that brings me to my only complaint/quibble about THE LAST OF OUR KIND: it’s way to short. With only ten songs and a total running time of 41 minutes, the album feels like it’s over too quickly. So while there’s no fat on the album and I praise it for not having any skip-able tracks, I do feel bummed every time the final song “Conquerors” comes to a close. I guess if I had to pick between a good album that’s long and great one that’s a bit on the short-side, I’d pick the short one every time. So, here I am in June with my pick for album of the year: THE LAST OF OUR KIND.

 

 

 

 

 

 
*The first draft of this review (yes, I know could you imagine how terrible these posts are BEFORE I edit them?) referred to Hawkins’ vocal style as a “falsetto.” This apparently isn’t true. Though I really don’t understand why it isn’t, here is a tweet from the man himself:

Feel free to explain this to me in the comments.

Feel free to explain this to me in the comments.

**Hammer & Tongs is a euphemism generally meaning “energetically, enthusiastically, or with great vehemence.” So there ya go, you learn something new every day.

***I really didn’t notice just how much fire/burning/flame imagery THE LAST OF OUR KIND had until I sat down to write this review. Seriously: “Open Fire,””Wheels of the Machine,” “Sarah O’Sarah,” and “Hammer & Tongs” all do this. It’s almost like a lyrical tic. 

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Happy 66th Birthday John Bonham!

Today is John Bonham’s birthday! I don’t have very many traditions, but celebrating Bonham’s birthday is something I try to do every year.  Since I was a wee-lad I’ve been a Led Zeppelin fan, but I had kinda drifted away from the band until about a decade ago when I was driving to work and I heard “Moby Dick” on Alice Cooper’s radio show. Since that time, I’ve seen Jason Bonham’s band open for Heart and I’ve read four different books on Zep.

This past year, streaming music service Spotify put Led Zeppelin’s albums up for listening, which was nice because my CD copies are still packed away somewhere.  Bonham’s drumming is so damn good, it still manages to knock my socks off.  It’s sad that John succumbed to his vices and left his family (and the music listening public at large) behind at such a young age.

Take time out today and give “Moby Dick” a listen.

john-bonham-bbc-6-music

 

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Dancing Days Are Here Again: Led Zeppelin Now on Spotify

This week one of the biggest bands in rock history was added to Spotify.  Yes, friends Led Zeppelin is available to stream!  I worry that I talk about Spotify a bit too much, but it’s been a godsend for me.  The ability to stream a wide swath of popular music has allowed me to dig deeper than I would if I had to go out and buy CD’s.  I never was a fan of illegally downloading music, though I did dabble with that in the past.

Spotify may not pay artists the way traditional album sales would, but I’d argue that the exposure the service gives band is worth it’s weight in gold.  I may have slowed down my consumption of records, but more importantly I’m a fan of more artists, from more genres than ever before.

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Led Zeppelin being on Spotify makes me happy for two reasons.  Firstly, I just moved and all my CD’s are packed away in boxes.  Meaning I’ve been living a horrible Zep-free life. Now I can hop on my computer, or smartphone, and instantly be in Led Zeppelin nirvana. Secondly, having the band’s entire catalogue available at my fingertips will finally allow me to explore the band’s last two albums.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve never heard 1976’s PRESENCE or 1979’s swan song (pun intended) IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR.  Sure, I’ve heard a few cuts of each album on the radio, but I’ve never heard them all the way through.  It’s basically like I’ve got new Led Zeppelin to listen to!

A few years back, my local Best Buy had a mega-sale on Led Zeppelin albums and I snapped up everything up to PHYSICAL GRAFFITI.  Why did I stop there?  Well, even though the CD’s were dirt cheap, Mrs. Defending Axl Rose isn’t the biggest fan of my expansive CD collection…so I stopped where everyone said the band stopped being good. But as I sit here, typing this listening to IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR, I can assuredly tell you that Led Zeppelin were good all the way to the bitter end.  Would I have had this epiphany without a streaming music service in my life?  Probably, though it would have taken me years to work my way back to Zeppelin.   If you’ve never fully explored the Led Zeppelin catalogue or if you’re an old-fan like me who haven’t listened to them in years, take some time and explore the band on Spotify.

My Top 10 Led Zeppelin Tracks (1969-1975)

1.  “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” off LED ZEPPELIN III.  This is my all-time favorite Zeppelin song.  I love the homespun feel of this song, it’s like a campfire song…Led Zeppelin-style.

2. “Living Loving Maid [She’s Just  A Woman]” off LED ZEPPELIN II.  Repeat after me: love the riff.  Killer, killer riff.

3. “The Ocean” off HOUSES OF THE HOLY.  Have Robert Plant’s super-high vocals ever been higher?  Every time I go to a concert and look back on the swell of faces I think of Plant singing to his “ocean.”

4.  “Going To California” off LED ZEPPELIN IV.  The entire fourth LED ZEPPELIN album is amazing (everyone knows that) but if I had to pick one song that I love the most from that record it would be “Going to California.”  While the rest of the album rages, this song is the quite eye of the hurricane.  The song gets bonus points for being about Joni Mitchell.

5. “Kashmir” off PHYSICAL GRAFFITI.  A wonderfully weird, and powerfully heavy track.  It’s a shame that most kids know it as “that Puff Daddy song.”  *Shudder*

6.  “Communication Breakdown” off LED ZEPPELIN.   The first Led Zeppelin album is more blues-oriented than most people discovering the band after that fact might expect. But while Zeppelin might have pioneered hard rock/heavy metal, they really were just bluesmen.  “Communication Breakdown” is a wonderful fusion of blues and hard rock the band would later use to dominate the world.

7.  “Immigrant Song” off LED ZEPPELIN III.  Elves and hobbits are nice, but it’s when Zeppelin sing about Vikings that my heart soars.  Truly this song is the hammer of the gods.  

8. “Hey Hey What Can I Do” B-Side to “Immigrant Song.”  This is probably the least-known song on this list (and not currently available on Spotify) but man, do I love it.

9.  “D’yer Mak’er” off HOUSES OF THE HOLY.  Funky.  This song is funky.  It also features a great vocal performance from Page.  Took me many years to learn that this song pokes fun of the way British people say “Jamaica.”  Which of course explains the reggae-ish vibe the song has.

10.   “Moby Dick” off LED ZEPPELIN II.  Come to Led Zeppelin for the killer Jimmy Page riffs and the stellar Robert Plant vocals…stay for John Bonham’s drumming.  Why on Earth don’t more drummers try to sound like Bonham?  He’s the greatest rock drummer of all time.  Period.  The song starts with some fun guitar licks and then devolves into an extended drum solo.  The genesis of the tune is that it began as something used during the live shows to give the rest of the band a break.  “Moby Dick” on record is over 4 minutes long, but Bonham would sometimes play a ten minute version live.

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METAL MONDAY: Weedeater’s Awesome JASON THE DRAGON!

North Carolina’s metal-dudes Weedeater do not mess around. Their fourth album, their epic album JASON THE DRAGON was delayed in 2010 when their lead singer, “Dixie” Dave Collins accidentally shot his big toe off…with a shotgun.  Thank God Collins was able to pull himself together to record again, because JASON THE DRAGON is the kind of album the world needs.  Metal is dominated by bands that are loud, in-your-face, and angry but often have no underlying spirit.  I love music that grooves besides just assaulting the ears with sheer bombast, and Weedeater is all about groove. Their music is a slow-burn of aggression; it feels more complex and mature.

Don’t look so smug Smaug.

Weedeater occupy the sub-genere of metal known as sludge, which I seem to have an unhealthy love for.  The sounds are dark, gloomy, and akin to a slow beating with a blunt object.  “Turkey Warlock” is the epitome of this slow descent into madness, with it’s Black Sabbath-like chugging guitar and scratchy vocals.  The song ends with a single held-note that bleeds into the next song, the titula “Jason…the Dragon.”  I absolutely love this song.  It’s about a dragon, name Jason…but more than that, it’s heavy but has a nice, steady groove.  Weedeater is rock slow and steady and are unapologetic about it.

The southern/bayou-sounding “Palms of Opium” sounds like the sort of laid-back country-jam ZZ Top used to be known for.  It’s a refreshing blast of cold water on their fire of metal, and creates a surprising shade of complexity over JASON THE DRAGON that belies their chosen genre.  Likewise, the John Bonham-esque “March of the Biploar Bear” offers up an entertaining (albeit brief) interlude.

The best song on the album though, is “Homecoming” which is full of really interesting guitar work and home to the album’s most memorable riff.  JASON THE DRAGON then ends with a frogs ‘n banjo song “Whisky Creek,” which similar to “Palms of Opium” reminds us of the bands backwoods roots.  There’s something awesome about a hillbilly metal band, hearing it is like scratching an itch you didn’t even know you had.

Bravo, Weedeater! Please stop shooting yourself and make another album ASAP.

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Happy Birthday John Bonham

Today is John Bonham’s birthday! I don’t have very many traditions, but celebrating Bonham’s birthday is something I try to do every year.  Since I was a wee-lad I’ve been a Led Zeppelin fan, but I had kinda drifted away from the band until about 8 years ago when I was driving to work and I heard “Moby Dick” on the radio.  Being an instrumental, I had kinda overlooked “Moby Dick” in favor of the catchier, guitar-centric Zeppelin songs.  For some reason, hearing “Moby Dick” that night was like a revelation, and helped jumpstart my love of Led Zeppelin.  Like most people, I grew up thinking that Jimmy Page WAS Led Zeppelin, and while Zep certainly is Page’s band…it was Bonham and his drumming that made them truly special.  Over the years I’ve seen a lot of drummers, but nobody touches “Bonzo” (as Bonham was often called). It’s no secret that the way Bonham achieved his famous sound was by beating the ever-loving-shit out of his drums, but Bonham was more than just a burly oaf who wailed on the drums.  The man was a force of nature, he played with a massive amount of intensity yes, but he also had a raw/spontaneous nature about his drumming that can only be described as “organic.”  Every note seemed both thought-out and done entirely on instinct, and his ability to do that is the true secret of his genius.

John Bonham brought drumming into the rock ‘n roll spotlight.  Before hearing Bonham, I did not really consider drums.  Sure, w’d all miss them if they weren’t there….but drums were usually mixed way down prior to Zeppelin.  In fact, one of Zeppelin’s major contributions to rock music was how they recorded their drums.  Rather than record Bonham in a small, closed off little room (thus limiting the scale/scope of his thunderous sound), Zeppelin recorded Bonham’s drum parts in large, high-ceilinged rooms (even using a stairwell). Before I heard “Moby Dick” I the idea of a drum-solo (let alone an entire song that’s basically just the drums) seemed ridiculous. The only other famous drum-centric song that I could think of was “Wipeout,” which is more novelty than anything else.  “Moby Dick” is an epic masterpiece.  I’ve read accounts of Bonham playing this song for nearly 40 minutes during some of Zeppelin’s tours–the man had stamina (could you drum for 40 minutes straight?).

Earlier this month, I saw a symphonic tribute to Led Zeppelin put on by the St. Louis Symphony and a rock band led by singer Randy Jackson (of the band Zebra).  The show was pretty good, and the drummer did an admirable job covering “Moby Dick,” but even with an entire symphony, that tribute band couldn’t match Bonham’s volume and intensity.  Bonham was a notorious partier, who lived a larger-than-life existence and ultimately he paid the ultimate price.  And while he was a bit of a weirdo, he also loved his son and his friends.  And in the end, that’s enough for me.

Today is John Bonham day, celebrate by listening to some Led Zeppelin and have a pint for John.

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