The 5 Worst Albums of 2008

2008 was another banner year for new albums, bands from all different genres of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal released good albums this year and I was on the frontlines buying them up as they came out. There were definitely some bad ones too and I picked up a few of them over the course of the year also. Some releases were just plain bad, some were huge disappointments, some I just couldn’t stand…..so here is my list of The 5 Worst Albums of 2008:

#1

engelabsolutedesignEngel – Absolute Design

An easy choice for 2008′s worst album. This was supposed to be a combination of Industrial and Melodic Death Metal and all that came out of it was a Nu-Metal sound. Once I heard the trendy down-tuned guitars, the synth and the samples I knew I wouldn’t like it. Think Ozzfest bands like Linkin Park, Papa Roach & Korn minus the raps…..plain awful!

#2

bretmichaelsrockmyworldBret Michaels – Rock My World

This is not a “real” new album. Of the 12 tracks, only three were brand new songs, the rest came from previous Bret solo records. So why does it get inclusion here if it’s not a “real” album? That’s how it was advertised to the fans: a brand new album of new material! I’ll go officially on record saying that I like Poison, and I like Bret Michaels as a frontman, but to fleece the fans with false advertising can’t be forgiven. At least Gene Simmons tells us that he’s fleecing us! Musically, I can only take so much sad sack ‘Something To Believe In’ and ‘Unskinny Bop’ rehashing. If Bret went straight up Country he would be more credible.

#3

Don Dokken - Solitary (2008)Don Dokken – Solitary

The last time Don Dokken released a solo album we got the very good UP FROM THE ASHES (1990). On the eve of a new album by his main band, Dokken, Don decided to release this new solo record at his live solo shows and through his personal website. When you see the name Don Dokken on a CD, you know to expect melodic Hard Rock, this time around a nine song acoustic album that follows the “lost love” and “personal pain” themes. In all honesty, it’s a decent acoustic album. I placed it here for the sheer disappointment with the entire project, definitely not Don Dokken’s best work.

#4

Asia - Phoenix (2008)Asia – Phoenix

The Asia of the early ’80s had big hits with ‘Heat Of The Moment’, ‘Don’t Cry’ and ‘Only Time Will Tell’ because of their uptempo melodic hooks that made each song infectious. The opening track ‘Never Enough’ follows the same path but the band must have thought that was enough because every other song is either a ballad, mid-tempo, or a lengthy progressive number. The musicianship is great but there is no guitar…..well, it’s there somewhere. What could have been a huge Melodic Rock record ended up being a bore.

#5

queen_the_cosmos_rocks_album_coverQueen + Paul Rodgers – The Cosmos Rocks 

This is the first Queen album WITHOUT Freddie Mercury (R.I.P.). That should say it all. I understand that musicians need to play live and stay creative but sometimes releasing an album of new material isn’t the way to go. I saw the Queen + Paul Rodgers tour, it was phenomenal! Rodgers did his best to interpret and celebrate the Queen catalog and it worked…..live. The music on THE COSMOS ROCKS sounds forced, as if Roger Taylor and Brian May tried too hard to create the Queen sound. Or maybe they don’t know any better! An album that shouldn’t have been released, leave the Queen legacy alone. The only winner here was John Deacon.

Asia – Phoenix (2008)

Asia – Phoenix (2008, Froniters)

  1. Never Again
  2. Nothing’s Forever
  3. Heroine
  4. Sleeping Giant/Now Way Back/Reprise
  5. Alibis
  6. I Will Remember You
  7. Shadow Of A Doubt
  8. Parallel Worlds/Vortex/Déyà
  9. Wish I’d Known All Along
  10. Orchard Of Mines
  11. Over And Over
  12. An Extraordinary Life

Band Lineup:
John Wetton – Lead Vocals & Bass
Geoff Downes – Keyboards
Steve Howe – Electric, Acoustic, and Steel Guitars
Carl Palmer – Drums and Percussion

Produced by: Asia & Steve Rispin

Total Time = 1:04:52

Asia official website
Asia MySpace page
Frontiers Records

Back in 1982, I was a kid possessed by music: when I wasn’t listening to the radio, I was glued to this new TV channel that started on cable a few months earlier…MTV. I had already started down the Metal path but I got hooked to what was popular from listening to the local Rock stations. Add the amazing visuals and magic of music videos and even the most syrupy, candy-coated love song would become interesting. One day I heard this heavy guitar pour out the radio speaker and I took notice, it was Asia’s ‘Heat Of The Moment’. Then I started seeing the video almost every hour on MTV, the song was burned into my brain. I followed the band from ASIA (1982) to ALPHA (1983) but the Metal took over by the time ASTRA (1985) was released and both my interest, and the general public’s, in Asia disappeared. Twenty five years after the original lineup splintered, the original members of Asia Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, John Wetton, & Geoff Downes) have reunited to bring us PHOENIX.

Opening track ‘Never Again’ brings the early ’80s back with an uptempo song with beautiful interplay between Downes’ keys and Howe’s guitar. John Wetton sounds like he hasn’t aged at all in 25 years, his voice is melodic perfection despite years of substance abuse and health problems. ‘Never Again’ has that uplifting hook that the band is well-known for but it is a bit subdued when compared to big hits from the past ‘Heat Of The Moment’ & ‘Only Time Will Tell’. Keeping the melodic tradition alive is ‘Nothing’s Forever’, a mid-tempo song that is well done but is too Lite Rock for me. It has that mid-tempo balladry thing going with grand orchestrated keyboard textures and sedated background vocals but not a lot of guitar. It’s in there…..somewhere…..found around the solo break when Howe shows up with a neat and clean quick offering. ‘Heroine’ is PHOENIX’s first proper ballad and it sounds like it came straight from the early ’80s and the top of the charts. Very well done with a melodic beauty that Asia was known for back in their younger days.

The band starts to flex their Progressive muscles a little with the three part epic ‘Sleeping Giant/No Way Back/Reprise’. Part one is a keyboard rich instrumental that has a very big sound kind of like those opening keys to ‘Only Time Will Tell’ from back in the day. Part two is the song proper ‘No Way Back’ that sounds like typical Asia with bigger background vocals, again, just like the old days. What the song would benefit from is a harder guitar or at least a more prominent and ballsy guitar. So far on this record, that seems to be the problem for me, the guitar is too subdued and clean. Anyway, Part 3 (‘Reprise’) quickly extends the instrumental. Asia starts to show what made them an ’80s success with ‘Alibis’, an uptempo track that mirrors ‘Never Again’ in quality and pace. Definitely one of the best songs on the album chock full of great vocal melodies and big sounding harmonies and Mr. Howe shows up with a decent, albeit very clean sounding, solo. The second solo break has quick interplay between Downes’ keys and Howe’s guitar, something old Asia did well. Everything slows down at the end for an extended jam and it’s a little disappointing because it seems like the band found that old spark.

Proper ballad #2 floats in with ‘I Will Remember You’ and, even though it’s a very good Pop love song, it just seems like it’s too much already. ‘Heroine’ was just on two songs previous and this song is almost exact. I guess I’m just not digging the laid back approach that seems to permeate the entire record and a ballad just doesn’t satisfy. A fine vocal from Wetton again though. ‘Shadow Of A Doubt’ picks the pace up again but is too keyboard lite Pop. There is a really good melody line there but nothing really stands out and keeps my attention. Another triple threat epic from the band with ‘Parallel Worlds/Vortex/Deya’ and it really seems like more of the same. ‘Parallel Worlds’ is another Wetton ballad with a solid vocal, ‘Vortex’ is an instrumental with a beautiful acoustic guitar and some quick Palmer power on the kit, ‘Deya’ is just an extension of ‘Vortex’. I’ve listened to this record enough times to know when to hit the <skip> button because the instrumental passages are nice but are taking away from the actual proper song. Both epics are heavy on instrumentals but one has to ask why they are necessary especially when both three-parters are just over 8 minutes each!

‘Wish I’d Known All Along’ is more clean, subdued Pop…..’Orchard Of Mines’ is another safe pomp ballad that has some interesting keyboard orchestrations and a choir effect…..’Over And Over’ is another mid-tempo song bordering on a ballad that benefits from the piano more than the keyboard even though both are present. Palmer has a couple of flashes but remains subdued and Howe comes in with a couple of quick simple flashes. Honestly, you’ve already heard ‘Over And Over’, well, over and over on PHOENIX. The album mercifully ends with ‘An Extraordinary Life’, an autobiographical song by John Wetton that is basically a chronicle of his difficult journey over the last 25 years. After all the slow songs, the uptempo beat of this Wetton showcase is very welcome. I would put this in the same league with ‘Nothing’s Forever’ as far as tempo but this could easily be transported back to ’82 or ’83 with it’s big layered harmonies.

Bottom Line:
PHOENIX is an album that you would expect Asia to make: solid musicianship and songwriting alongside excellent production. Every song is full of melody, beautiful instrumentals, and superb lead vocals. What is missing is the big bombastic hooks that Asia made their name with in the early ’80s. There are flashes of that brilliance in each song but I found myself waiting for that defining moment each time and being disappointed except for a few songs. Maybe age and time has taken that drive away from these guys? First question is: where is Steve Howe? Second question is: where is Carl Palmer? I know that they play on the album, I can hear them, but their presence is so subdued and powerless that it makes you wonder if Wetton and Downes could have just put this out as their previous incarnations: Wetton/Downes or Icon. If you are looking for the big time sound of ‘Heat Of The Moment’, ‘Don’t Cry’, or ‘Only Time Will Tell’ then you are listening to the wrong album. If you want contemporary melodic pop rock with an ’80s AOR sensibility, then this is for you. For me, too “lite Rock” and not enough rockers. Best part of this album is John Wetton’s timeless vocals.

Songs I enjoyed: ‘Never Again’, ‘Nothing’s Forever’, ‘An Extraordinary Life’, ‘Alibis’

CD Scavenger Hunt – Catching up a third time!

All the CDs that I have bought online have finally arrived so I can finally put up a much delayed Hunt! One CD that I won on Ebay March 24th finally arrived just this week! I also went to the record store Tuesday for a couple of new releases that escaped me…..

Saints Of The Underground – Love The Sin, Hate The Sinner (2008) – $10: I had to go buy this because I wanted to hear if this project would be like the Contraband supergroup back in 1991. I also wanted to hear if this was going to be a train wreck because Jani Lane’s reputation over the last few years has been less than stellar. I’ve given this album a few spins this week and so far it’s a decent listen. I’m hoping for a more critical review soon.

Asia – Phoenix (2008) – $13: After reading all the mixed reviews online, I decided to wait a week to buy it and come to my own conclusion. The local shop had at least 10 copies and Best Buy down the street was also well stocked, so the promotion has gone well for a week. People can actually get the album. I paid a few dollars more by purchasing at my local shop rather than Best Buy because I always support local record stores. Haven’t given this a spin but a review will happen when I do.

Whitesnake – Good To Be Bad (2008) – $10: I pre-ordered this CD through Amazon about 3 weeks ago and it came Wednesday, one day after release. When I went to the local record store, there were dozens of copies available with promotional posters all over the store. The promotional blitz is there, just like the new Asia, so the album is available. I’ve been spending a lot of time with this album and I like it…..that’s my quick review, a real review to follow soon.

Y&T – Musically Incorrect (1995) – $10.51: There is a current reissue just released by the band called INCORRECT SPECIES (2008) that is a special 2 disc set of this album and ENDANGERED SPECIES (1997). The label this was released on (DeRock) went out of business a long time ago so the reissue from the band is long overdue. I always prefer the original releases and I passed on this when it first came out. Haven’t seen it in the used bins lately so Ebay was the place. This transaction was a major saga: the seller was within 50 miles of me but there was some confusion with the payment instructions. A dispute was filed with Ebay by the seller but my check was deposited…..I could go on and on but the bottom line is that is took a month for me to get my CD from a seller that lives about an hour away!

Y&T – Endangered Species (1997) - $8: Another Ebay purchase to complete some of my Y&T collection. Like I mentioned above, the new reissue of this album with MUSICALLY INCORRECT (1995), titled INCORRECT SPECIES (2008), was a major reason I had to buy this right away. I prefer the original issue and I used to see this in bargain bins everywhere. Unfortunately, the supply has dried up even on Ebay. This auction came a week after four other auction for this CD completed all over $10. I ended up being the only bidder at $3 but the shipping was $5…..highway robbery! Still it cost less than buying it new when it came out and the CD was mint.

UFO – The Best OF UFO ’74-’83 (2008) – $11.26: Another UFO compilation? Yes but this time a lot of the versions of songs are the 7″ single edits rather than the proper album tracks. This was released last week but I passed on it at the record store, especially at the $15 sale price! So I bought this based on the remastering and the 7″ single versions AND that this CD is from a seller that I do a lot of business with on Ebay so I knew the CD would be mint when I got it.

Current Playlist

Most of the CDs I’ve been listening to are up for review but I also decided to give a few oldies a spin…..

Lana Lane – Red Planet Boulevard (2007): I am kicking myself for not buying this when it came out in late 2007. If I did, this album would have easily made my Top 15 Albums of 2007. I think I have spun this CD more in the last two weeks than any album I’ve bought since the beginning of the year. It is going to be a staple on my playlist for more than a few weeks.

Testament – The Formation Of Damnation (2008): The label was nice enough to send me a copy to review but I would have been more than happy to buy my own copy. I’ve only had a few spins but I like what I hear so far.

Pharaoh – Be Gone (2008): I’ve been enjoying the latest Pharaoh album for a couple of weeks now and I should have a review soon. BE GONE is released in Europe later this week.

Asia – Phoenix (2008): Bought this today but I only had a quick listen in the car on the way home from the record store. Every year there are controversial albums, this year one of them is Asia’s PHOENIX. I have read a lot of reviews and it’s considered either a return to form or very boring and bland, there has been no middle ground.

Saints Of The Underground – Love The Sin, Hate The Sinner (2008): I heard about this “supergroup” toward the end of 2006 but I really didn’t think it would see the light of day. I picked this up with the Asia album and I gave it a spin while I walked the dog today. I’ll review this soon.

W.A.S.P. – The Last Command (1985): My favorite W.A.S.P. album. I never get tired of it except for maybe ‘Blind In Texas’ because it’s always on VH-1 Classic. ‘Fistful Of Diamonds’ is a great song, so is ‘Widowmaker’…..classic W.A.S.P.!

KISS – Animalize (1984): KISS is my favorite band but I know the songs so well that I don’t bother to listen to them that often. For some reason, I had to hear ‘Get All You Can Take’ so I listened to the whole album rather than skip to the song. ANIMALIZE is a solid KISS record, probably their best until 1992′s REVENGE…..there’s more to the album than ‘Heaven’s On Fire’ but that is still a great tune.

Saxon – Denim And Leather (1981): “Denim and leather, brought us all together”…..no truer words are spoken! Pure NWOBHM and classic Saxon with tracks like ‘Play It Loud’, ‘Princess Of The Night’, the title cut and ‘Never Surrender’. The band still revolves five of the songs here in and out of their current setlist.