Sunday, March 16, 2008

Finland's Northern Kings take on Radiohead's Creep and turn it into an instant classic

Towards the tail end of 2007, Finland put together four of their biggest hardcore metal rock vocalists in a heavy metal supergroup called the 'Northern Kings'.

They recorded the album 'Reborn' which featured their own metal versions of songs ranging from Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms, David Bowie's 'Ashes to Ashes', Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer', Tina Turner's 'We Don't Need Another Hero' (from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome) and Radiohead's 'Creep'.

On paper, the very idea of doing a metal album of cover songs sounded crazy, like some heavy metal cash-in or a metal version of an El Divo Greatest Hits album. Forget it. This is the polar opposite.

This could very well be, one of the best symphonic power metal albums of the last 20 years. It's a phenomenal achievement.

'Reborn' went Gold in Finland when it was originally released on 31st October 2007. The album will finally be released in the UK by Warner Music in June 2008.

Finland has always been into cutting edge heavy metal music, in particular, bizarre hardcore blood metal bands. The scene is very extreme and makes goth metal types seem power pop perfectionists on a shopping spree in their local shopping mall.

The Northern Kings are comprised of four vocalists, who are all frontmen of successful Finnish heavy metal bands. The band masterminded the idea of recording their own metal versions of an electic selection of 80's staples.

Unlike most bands who try to reproduce the sound and arrangements of the original songs, the Northern Kings have deconstructed the arrangements, by coming up with their own renditions, most of which is backed with metal guitars, a full symphonic orchestral backing, and electronic enhancements.

The four vocalists include Marco Hietala from the critically accliamed Finnish bands 'Nightwish' and 'Tarot', Tony Kakko from 'Sonata Arctica', JP Leppäluoto from 'Charon' and J Ahola from 'Teräsbetoni'. Each vocalist has his own trademark sound, including deep, satanic, operatic metal rock vocals. It's all-consuming and larger than life.

What blew me away is the sonic attack of the bands' take on each song. Any band who attempts to cover Radiohead's 'Creep', either has to be totally insane, or verging on sheer genius. Northern Kings make the song their own animal, and it sounds epic.

The general vibe on the album is to give the metal makeover a fully orchestrated backing (string section, the works), with some electronic noodling thrown in . The metal guitars are prevalent, but you can't help but dig the Norse God, Viking vibe of the band's renditions. It's not a gimmick, but it is very dramatic, very lush and grandoise sounding. However, what really makes the songs fly, are the incredible soaring vocals.

If you loved the way Guns'n'Roses recorded the big orchestral rendition of Wings' 'Live and Let Die', then 'Reborn' will repeatedly hit the mark.

A perfect example is the first single lifted from the album, 'We Don't Need Another Hero'. It makes Tina Turner's original version sound like a cover. The Northern Kings have done the impossible. They've re-invented the original songs and they've made them their own. Unlike most artists or bands who record a cover, the version is traditionally inferior and not a patch on the original.

I can't think of any other band who have taken a song like Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer' or Lionel Richie's 'Hello' and have given it a new lease of life.

The Northern Kings sound harder than Iron Maiden, sexier than Van Halen and more relevant than Metallica. Forget the hype. Potentially, this could be the new dawn for what ultimately could be Finland's heavy metal world takeover. And why not? The Soprano's ended their final episode with Don't Stop Believin', and the Northern Kings take a stab at it as their opening track to the 'Reborn' album. Coincidence?

Track Listing -

Don't Stop Believin'
We Don't Need Another Hero
Broken Wings
Rebel Yell
Ashes To Ashes
Fallen On Hard Times
I Just Died In Your Arms
Don't Bring Me Down
In The Air Tonight
Brothers In Arms

Northern Kings on MySpace -


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Lou Reed set to conquer Europe with 'Berlin'

Lou Reed returns to Europe this June to perform the entirety of his 1973 landmark album Berlin. The European dates will see Reed performing with a 30-piece ensemble including his rock band, a string section, a horn section, and a children's choir.

The Berlin tour is being hailed as a rare insight into one of music's greatest minds, a labour of love and an integral part of rock history. It's also the best concert that Reed has ever performed. I had the joy of catching the show in Brussels, Amsterdam and London last year, and audiences were blown away.

Lou Reed: 'Berlin' 2008 European Tour:

Monday June 23 - Cork Marquee
Tuesday June 24 - Belfast Waterfront
Wednesday June 25 - Edinburgh Playhouse
Thursday June 26 - Notthingham Royal Centre
Sunday 29th June - Paris Salle Pleyel
Monday June 30 - London Royal Albert Hall
Thursday July 3 - Munich Philharmonie
Sunday July 6 - Hamburg CCH – Congress Centrum
Monday July 7 - Copenhagen Opera House
Wednesday July 9 - Stockholm Annexet
Monday July 14 - Warsaw Sala Kongresowa
Wednesday July 16 - Brussels Bozar
Tuesday July 22 - Madrid Conde Duque
Friday July 25 - Girona Portaferrada Festival
Saturday July 26 - Benidorm Bullring

The European tour starts June 23rd in Cork, followed by dates in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Belgium and Spain.

Due to popular demand for this prestigious show, Berlin will make a special return visit to London, Brussels and Paris. In addition to playing Poland for the very first time, Reed will also be annoucing dates in Estonia and Latvia; two Eastern European countries that Reed has never played before.

Reed will perform three dates in the UK, including the prestigious London Royal Albert Hall on June 30th. He will also perform 'Berlin' at the Edinburgh Playhouse on June 25th, followed by the Nottingham Opera House on June 26th.

Tickets for all three UK concerts are now on sale by calling the ticket hotline on 08444 775 775, 0870 405 0448, or by booking online from (with the exception of the Edinburgh Playhouse concert on 25th June, where tickets can be purchased by calling 0844 847 2269,

The Financial Times' Ludovic Hunter-Tilney called the Berlin concert; "A vindication on an epic scale… Berlin places Reed's natural austerity in a setting that blazes with musical excess and invention."

"Reed can't hide the pride he feels that Berlin is finally being hailed as a long lost masterpiece, wrote Paul Morley of the Sunday Telegraph. "He strolls off stage looking as if he always knew that one day he would be feted a devastating master."

The 2008 'Berlin' European Tour follows the 2007 European tour, which, in turn, followed Berlin's original world premiere at St. Anne's Warehouse in New York City, December 2006 - the same venue where Reed first performed the Andy Warhol inspired Songs For Drella with John Cale in 1990.

When Lou Reed's album Berlin was originally released in 1973, it was a shock to critics and fans that had just seen Reed reaffirmed as a rock visionary with the runaway success of Transformer, which included the runaway Top 20 hit Walk on the Wild Side.

Instead of producing an album that enhanced his reputation as glam-rock innovator, Reed immersed himself in a highly ambitious, emotionally charged, psychologically exhausting, and utterly compelling work. Berlin was a dark concept album about drifting, tormented addicts in love, broken hearted and willfully disabled ex-pats, plotting their own downfalls in the barren outskirts of a divided city in turmoil.

The New York Times called the album "one of the strongest, most original rock records in years." Rolling Stone named it, "the Sgt. Pepper of the 70s."

The same magazine—among many others—attacked Reed for the work: "There are certain records that are so patently offensive that one wishes to take some kind of physical vengeance on the artists that perpetrate them. Reed's only excuse for this performance…can only be that this was his last shot at a once-promising career." Reed never performed Berlin live.

Thirty-three years after the release of the album, Reed launched the world premiere of an electrifying theatrical concert version of Berlin at St. Anne's Warehouse, New York City (December 14-17, 2006), followed by three performances at Australia's Sydney Festival (January 18-20, 2006). The Berlin song cycle was performed live in its entirety. Reed and his band were accompanied by a string and horn section and a children's choir, amounting to a 35-piece ensemble.

As in the making of the original album, the forthcoming 2008 European tour will see Reed l collaborating with an all-star creative team including musical direction by the original producer, Bob Ezrin—who produced the Berlin album, and record producer Hal Willner, whose most recent works include the Leonard Cohen tribute concert I'm Your Man (now a theatrically released documentary film and an album on Verve Forecast) and Lucinda Williams.

Similarly to last year's 'Berlin' European tour, and before that, the New York and Sydney concerts, the forthcoming 2008 Berlin European concerts will be directed and set designed by Reed's friend, the renowned painter and film director Julian Schnabel (recently Academy Award nominated Best Director for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).

Reed will be joined onstage by friends and favorite collaborators including original Berlin album guitarist Steve Hunter, Mike Rathke (guitar), bandleader Rupert Christie (keyboards), Fernando Saunders (bass, vocals), Rob Wasserman (stand-up bass), Tony 'Thunder' Smith (drums), brass and strings arranged by Hal Willner, featuring the London Metropolitan Orchestra and the New London Children's Choir.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Was (Not Was) all-star line-up on new album BOO!

You have to hand it to Don and David Was; they've got the funky, jazz-fusion soul brother vibe down pat. Their new album, BOO!, is their first studio album since 1992. Simply put, it's a mindblower.

The minute you slap the CD on, out pops a the funky soul workout "Semi Interesting Week", complete with soul backing vocals, guitar and a cooler-than-now horn section. You begin to ask yourself, "The only other band who can pull this kind of funky stuff off, is Steely Dan, but even the Dan is too clinical sounding when it comes to the dirty raw sound of Was (Not Was)."

Second track which I like to refer to as the 'hit single' is like a throwback to Booker T. and the MGs or the Temptations. "It's A Mircale" is like a wake up call to the authentic Detroit sould of yesteryear, horns a pumping, great vocals from Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens. Suddenly they sing the lyric, "Who broke the fucking TV?" You don't say?

Third track, "Your Luck Won't Last", is quite possibly the most cynical song title of the year. It's the kind of shit Prince should be churning out. It's like a cross between Cameo's "Word Up" and something off the "Sign O' The Times" album. Retro modern, funky, electro wah-wah heavy LA cool. Was (Not Was) reign supreme.

The band show their true feathers with another colour when the fourth track hits the speakers. "From the Head to the Heart" is the only ballad "There's a story in the paper about a young boy laying dead. He tried stealing a TV set, when he should have been in bed."

It's like a merry-go-round New Seekers vibe, lots of piano and strings. The perfect chill out track after you return from an expensive restaurant with bad service and lots of ugly people staring at each other. This track reminds me of something from Paul Anderson's "Magnolia" movie. This song will make you cry 96 tears in the motor city.

Track 5, "Big Black Hole" brings you back to familiar Was territory, all rhtyhm and blues, funky soul and smoky jazz lounge nightmares. Very laid back, cool, funky, something familiar and comforting. Very cinematic. Was (Not Was) like to think big screen. Popcorn for everyone.

Track 6, "Needletooth" is the bands experimental robotic, futuristic tour de force. It's wack. Time signatures all over the place. 2 minutes and 14 seconds of anything goes. This is eccentric Was (Not Was). No Was album would be the same without a track like this. Hilarious fun, completely pointless and essential.

Track 7, "Forget Everything" - 5 minutes and 16 seconds of big kick drum beats, Hammond organ, sexy horn section, choppy rhythm guitar, a salute to the late James Brown, a return to chest pounding funk. Yabba Dabba Doo. The soul review just pulled into town, and guess what? It has a sense of humour.

This album makes Donald Fagen's "Morph the Cat" sound like James Blunt with a hangover. Jazzers will love this track. Losers in your local bar will lose their minds to it.

Track 8, Sweet Pea Atkinson belts out "Crazy Water", a staple Was (Not Was) R&B workout. Sings Sweat Pea, "The Senator's son and the President's daughter, all came to town for that crazy water." Not sure if that's a baritone sax or a trumpet pumping out, but it sounds like a Mississippi soul picnic jam. Is there no stopping the Was army?

Track 9 - it's probably the best track on the album, and for good reason. Not only does it have the best song title, "Mr. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore", but the track is co-written by non-other than Bob Dylan, David Was and Don Was. It's reminiscent to something from an Ike and Tina Turner concert, when Tina actually meant something. Great drums and superlative wah-wah guitar. Martin Scorcese must be digging this song. It's no surprise that Kris Kristofferson appears on the closing track on the album.

Which brings us to Track 10, "Green Pills in the Dresser", a bluesy C&W, Mexican heatwave of a song. Says Kristofferson, "He says Hitler's a hero, and that God is a giraffe." It's stunning, momentous and the perfect way to end an album.

David and Don Was have worked with a list of artists which reads like a Who's Who of rock. They've collaborated with stars such as The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop, Elton John and Brian Wilson. Now, as artists in their own right, "BOO!" will put Was (Not Was) back on the scene as one of music's true innovators. They have the knack of effortlessly mixing soul, R&B, funk, blues, pop, rock and electronica into a melting pot of originality.

BOO! is a magnificent achievement.