Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pushking recruits some rock legends to make a big introduction

They have been around since 1994, and they are popular in Russia, but few people outside of their native country have ever heard of Pushking. With many albums in both Russian and English, it's about damn time this great band was introduced to the rest of the world.

The World as We Love It is quite an interesting concept. It brings together 18 of the band's hit songs, which have been re-recorded as duets with some big name musicians. I'm usually not a big fan of when bands re-record their well-known songs, but if rock gods like Paul Stanley and Alice Cooper believe in this band enough to work with them, I shall give them my full attention.

After a 15-second intro of the band singing the album's title, the first two tracks on The World as We Love It are "Nightrider" and "It'll Be OK"--featuring Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top. "Nightrider" is a hugely energetic rock song with a driving beat. The parts leading up to the chorus take on a funky groove that adds a little something extra, making it more interesting than your usual Speedracer driving song.

Gibbons hands over some of his guitar duties to Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme for "It'll Be OK," but he continues to lend his gruff voice (and beard!) to The World as We Love It. This track is quite a bit different than the previous one. The band slows things down, incorporating more a bluesy feel. The song feels heavier, despite the fact that it's not as "hard and fast" as the last one too. Gibbons' vocals combined with Bettencourt's superb guitar work almost gives this song a Black Label Society quality.

I was highly impressed with Gibbons' vocal intensity on his two tracks. He still sounds so young and energetic, and it's great to see that side of him shine through by him collaborating with a much younger band like Pushking. There is even a music video for "It'll Be OK" featuring Billy, Nuno, and Pushking rocking out and kicking ass together.

The following track is "Troubled Love" featuring Alice Cooper and guitarist Keri Kelli. From the very first "Oh yeah!" this song absolutely screams Alice Cooper! I wish he would release it on one of his own albums. This hard rocker with a catchy chorus about a psycho girlfriend is fun, and it won't stay out of your head.

The very next song, "Stranger's Song", reminded me of a late '80s/early '90s Alice Cooper ballad, and during my first listen, I was willing to bet that Alice had contributed to another song on The World as We Love It. By the second verse, however, I could tell that it actually wasn't The Coop lending providing the vocals to this particular track--it was prolific rock and blues singer John Lawton who is famous for his work with the band Uriah Heep. Regardless, the vocals are great, but the highlight of this slow, dramatic ballad is Steve Stevens' guitar solo. It's crisp, clean, and clear, and helps to further the drama and story of this song.

There are several ballads on this album--most which are great and then a couple of which sound a bit dated if not cheesy. I've always liked Nazareth, but their ex-vocalist Dan McCafferty was handed some sappy love songs to sing. He's a talented guy, so he does well with what he was given.

One ballad that really stands out among the rest is the epic "My Reflections After Seeing the Schindler's List Movie".  Steve Vai plays guitar on this track, but there is no guest vocalist on this one. Pushking's vocalist, songwriter, and leader, Konstantin "Koha" Shustarev is on his own for this this one. He has a gruff, powerful voice much like Billy F. Gibbons--except he has a sweet Russian accent, adding a different flavor.

While the title is cumbersome, the song is exactly about the title says, "My Reflections After Seeing the Schindler's List Movie". The track is reminiscent of a more serious, thought provoking "Winds of Change" by The Scorpions--without the whistling. Instead, this reflection on the dark side of humanity (and changing it for the better) contains a beautiful chorus sung in Hebrew. It's absolutely gorgeous, but also illustrate the seriousness of Schindler's List and the horrors inflicted upon the Jewish people.

My favorite and the final track from The World as We Love It is "Kukarracha." It is the grand all-star finale to Pushking's 18-song introduction to the world. It features Paul Stanley (also on "Cut the Wire"), Glenn Hughes (who makes several appearances), and Steve Lukather.

I love this song because A) Paul f'n Stanley sings on it, B) It makes me grin from ear-to-ear, and C) The vocal harmonies are killer.

This hard rocking song is a about really being into this woman, despite her quirks and peculiarity. It's catchy chorus of, "Ku-ku-ku-ku-ku-ku yeah/ Ku-ku-ku-ku-ra-cha" is a lot of fun, and you can definitely hear the performers having fun in the studio on this one.

The World as We Love It features a ton of great songs. The songs themselves, performed by Pushking and their famous friends, are the main focus of the album. It shows everyone outside of Russia how good Pusking, especially Koha, are at songwriting. However, I am curious to hear an album performed entirely by Pushking to find out what they alone sound like on an assortment of songs.

Bringing together the rock royalty--including Graham Bonnet, Joe Lynn Turer, Jorn Lande, Udo Dirkschneider, and Joe Bonamossa, among others--was a brilliant strategy employed by Pushking and the producers to attract some attention to this project. With a number of diverse songs whose sounds change with each collaborating artist, there is no reason why The World as We Love It shouldn't gain Pushking that much-deserved attention it deserves.

8 out of 10 stars


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mudvayne members work their magic on Nonpoint's latest release. Hellyeah!

Released in the U.S. last May, Miracle was unleashed on Australian audiences just this February as Nonpoint was gearing up to play the Soundwave Festival. For this newest album, Nonpoint has turned to Mudvayne and Hellyeah singer Chad Gray and guitarist Greg Tribbett to handle production duties. This team of Gray and Tribbett have heavily influenced Nonpoint to create a sound that is both unmistakable and undeniable.

Title track and lead single, "Miracle”, which features Gray as a guest vocalist, is lyrically about conflict and the "opponent" needing a miracle to save him from the fight. However, listeners wouldn't know this in the vocals, as Chad Gray and Nonpoint vocalist Elias Soriano sing together seamlessly--especially during the infectiously singable chorus. The opening riffs are pure no-nonsense hard rock, but the bridge leads back to Nonpoint's earlier nu-metal style.

"Frontlines”, which has been released as a single in The States, evokes an image of a battle. The steady beat that sneaks up in the song immediately takes listeners into a war--a violent inner struggle. This track begins slowly, with the vocals and guitars more delicate, but it gets more aggressive and intense as the battle goes on into the chorus.

While Miracle never completely slows down, it dabbles in some romance with "What You've Got for Me”. This song definitely isn't a ballad--the driving beat and bass line make that evident--but the chorus of "I wanna feel you, taste you, touch you”, is unbelievably sexy and shows a completely different side of Nonpoint's lyrics.

No stranger to cover songs, Nonpoint tackles Pantera's "5 Minutes Alone" on Miracle. On this track, the band's new guitarist Zach Broderick not only has to fill the shoes of his predecessor Andrew Goldman, he has to channel the "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott. He does very well achieving the former, but since few guitarists are as god-like as Dime, vocalist Soriano steps up to the plate to make this song as good as it is. The attitude of the frontman becomes the focus of the song for Nonpoint. Every time I listen to their take of "5 Minutes Alone”, I imagine a dynamic singer taking charge of a stage and completely owning a crowd of thousands with his swagger.

Closing out Miracle is the catchy "Lucky #13”. It's full of rock star attitude in its music and lyrics alike. This song is basically about being a Hell-raising maniac, and the lyrics contain imagery of a madman at the wheel of a dangerously fast car. The screaming guitar solo is quite impressive and a nice added bonus to such an overall fun song. When this song is over, don't think the fun stops there. There's a hidden track you don't want to miss!

Miracle is a solid album, and a huge part of its sound and feel was definitely cultivated by producers Chad Gray and Greg Tribbett of Mudvayne and Hellyeah. The record sounds like a more laid back, but still emotionally intense, version of something either of those bands would put out. Hellyeah's Stampede was one of my favourite albums of last year, and it is a great model for what hard rock should sound like--and the attitude it should convey--in this day and age. Nonpoint picked great producers who have really helped shape their sound and let them evolve from a nearly 15-year-old nu-metal band to a good hard rock band with wider appeal.

7 1/2 out of 10 stars

Warner Music Australia/Riot Entertainment

Thursday, September 08, 2011

White Collar Lies are spreading from the Emerald Isle

Irish rockers Kopek may have been together for nearly a decade, but this trio have only recently released their debut album to the masses.

White Collar Lies is a diverse album that contains elements of hard rock, blues, alternative, and just about every shade in between. It definitely sounds like a fresh modern rock record, but its edgy '60s/'70s retro feel makes it all the more interesting.

Kopek unleash the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll right from the start.  Opener "Cocaine Chest Pains" just happens to be one of the album's more gutsy hard rock tracks. As the title suggests, the song is about cocaine, and it compares being addicted to falling in love with a woman. The lyrics seem to take a dismal view of the drug use, but the chorus along with the beat make this song quite catchy regardless. It's filled with heavy, distorted guitar riffs that give the song a raw vintage sound that's present through most of the album.

Kopek immediately slows down with their next song, title track "White Collar Lies." Compared to the in-your-face "Cocaine Chest Pains," it's not what I'd call a hard rocker. It is politically charged, heavy on emotion, and perhaps it would feel more at home on alt rock radio.

Even though this band calls Ireland home, I still feel like this song has a universal theme that resonates with me as someone from another country. Corruption, greed, economic collapse, unrest, and war are universal themes. The title "White Collar Lies" is a pretty good way to sum up that frustration with government and big business, no matter what corner of the world you're in.

It actually took awhile for this song to grow on me. At first, I found it to be kind of whiny and repetitive. I'm not big on political or "save the world" songs, and if I wanted to hear one, I'd gladly listen to something by Ireland's established rockers, U2. On further listens, I discovered a certain beauty in it--especially in Daniel Jordan's vocals. In the chorus, and the even more so in the bridge as the song escalates, Jordan gains intensity and sings with a heartbreaking plea.

My absolute favorite song from White Collar Lies is "Fever." It's one of the rockers, but its bluesy rhythm really gives it it's personality. This track is incredibly sexy, especially when it builds up to the chorus. Each time I hear "I bet your dying to show me Everything that you know I just can’t keep my hands off You give me fever," I wish I could be at a concert dancing with the hot rocker guy next to me.

The acoustic track "Sub Human" incorporates something you don't find every day in rock music--the didgeridoo. You read that right... I said didgeridoo. Oddly enough though, it works, and it works well. The instrument serves as the underlying hum to the acoustic guitar and vocals. The dark lyrics aren't political like those of "White Collar Lies," but they do vividly illustrate the hate and hypocrisy that exists in the world.

"Bring It on Home" retro rock style channels the Rolling Stones on steroids. (Which is an odd concept once you think about it, because steroids are probably the only drug Mick and Keith didn't indulge in during their heyday. Look how skinny those guys still are... they did a lot of stuff, but probably not the 'roids.)

This track's heavy bass line is something straight out of a danceable late '70s/early '80s Stones song. The vocal acrobatics really add something special to it too. Daniel Jordan beautifully accents certain lyrics with his airy falsetto but still maintains his gritty rocker composure through much of the song. The falsetto was a nice reminder of Justin Hawkins, the lead singer for one of my favorite, but unfortunately defunct bands, The Darkness.

Kopek's raw rock 'n' roll energy is intense enough for the serious subject matter that is offered in abundance on White Collar Lies, but they still know how to have fun with their lively, dance-worthy tracks. I thoroughly enjoyed this album, and I can't wait to hear what will come next from this band. As a fan of other "retro rockers"--those who overtly pay homage to their classic rock idols, I'm excited to see another band do this well and keep a unique identity in the process.

8 out of 10 stars

Red Label/Sony Music Australia