For my last You Pick It vote, I had a tie between Queensryche’s ‘Hear in the Now Frontier’ and with Saigon Kick’s ‘The Lizard’. Last week reviewed Queensryche and this week, as promised, we have Saigon Kick. Mike Ladano from MikeLadano.com agreed to tag team with me here and he is also reviewing this album so go check it out as it came out today as well. Go to Mike’s Lizard Review here.
Saigon Kick had a problem in 1992. Mis-labeling was their problem. Due to their massive power ballad hit, “Love is On the Way”, they got dumped in to the 80’s Glam Rock scene (or Hair Metal) when in fact, they were not even close to anything that sounded like that. People who bought this thinking it was the next Danger Danger, Trixter or maybe even Bon Jovi were surprised at what they heard. They weren’t Grunge either so they were a band that had no real marketable identity at the time. They were alternative, but to melodic for them and not metal enough for the glam. What a weird place to be. The timing sucked for them as well with the Glam scene dying at an alarmingly fast rate and Grunge taking over, just where did this band fit in the mold.
Saigon Kick’s sophomore album, ‘The Lizard’, was a diverse collection of rock songs that defied classification. The songs were so well crafted, so mature and unlike anything else at the time. The closest band I would say would be Extreme as they were also had a diverse, eclectic set of songs and because of their ballads also got lumped in to the Hair scene, unfairly as well I might add. The band was Matt Kramer (Vocals), Jason Bieler (Guitar, keyboard), Tom DeFile (Bass) and Phil Varone Drums). The bands second album saw Jason step up and produce the album and do most of the heavy lifting with the songwriting as he wrote all the music and had his hand in all but three of the songs on the lyrics. The album was released on June 2, 1992 and sold well, going to #1 on the Heatseekers Album Chart and #80 on the Billboard 200 chart. It did get certified Gold selling over 500,000 copies some time around 1996 though.
I was a fan of that ballad I mentioned earlier, but back in the day, I didn’t buy this album. I didn’t buy it until last year after I saw Jeff Scott Soto and Jason Bieler in concert together. They played mostly Saigon Kick songs and I had forgotten how great those songs were so I ran out and bought the band’s first three albums off Rock Candy. This version of the album has massive liner notes all new for this reissue and a bonus track. To top it off, thanks to the clout of The LeBrain Train show, I was able to snag Jason Bieler for an interview and Mike Ladano and I interviewed him for that show. It was a lot of fun and great diving in to his career.
Alright…You Picked It! This one was really close and we actually ended in a tie. That is right. Two artist got the same # of votes. The winner for this month’s picks ended up being Queensryche’s ‘Hear in the Now Frontier’ AND Saigon Kick’s ‘The Lizard’ and I am real excited about this fact. So, what we are going to do is review them both, but with a twist. First, we will review Queensryche’s ‘Hear in the Now Frontier’ and down the road, we will do Saigon Kick’s ‘The Lizard’ as someone out there has agreed to review it at the same time with me so I am taking him up on that offer. Here are the results.
Queensryche – ‘Hear in the Now Frontier’ – 5 votes
Saigon Kick – ‘The Lizard’ – 5 votes
Arcade – ‘Arcade’ – 4 votes
Collective Soul – ‘Collective Soul’ – 2 votes
Stryper – ‘Against the Law’ – Disqualified as I already reviewed that one…doh!!
Thanks to all for participating. The March choices will be up on Saturday! And the choices are all from my collection and the next one will all be more modern European Bands that never really made it in the States. Hopefully you can help me decide which one I should review.
QUEENSRYCHE – ‘HEAR IN THE NOW FRONTIER’ (1997):
Back around 1997, music was a sort of black hole for me. I was lost, wandering around trying to find something I liked and whenever bands from the 80’s put something out, I would get excited and grab it. As I did this one back in the day. Queensryche’s 6th studio album was ‘Hear in the Now Frontier’ and it was released on March 25, 1997 and I wasn’t one of the first to get it, but I did get it that year. The CD was no longer in my collection for some reason, and when I was out digging, I found it and saw the name of the song “Sign of the Times” and thought, I liked that song, let me get this as it was only about $3m. Man, did I over pay for this thing. Also, now I remember why it was no longer in my collection. This was my jumping off point for Queensryche and honestly, never have revisited anything that has come after. They completely lost me with this one.
As we already know, 1993 was a very busy year for Jeff Scott Soto. He jumped from the Talisman ‘Genesis’ recordings straight in to the Axel Rudi Pell’s ‘The Ballads’ recordings and then had to fly to Japan to do a set of shows for Talisman. Not to mention the Takara album and even the Biker Mice from Mars soundtrack. It was a whirlwind. And then around February of 1994, an album of the Japanese gigs was released called ‘Five Out of Five (Live in Japan)’.
The original release of this album was called ‘Five out of Five’. The reissue I have from 2004 is a double CD that includes their album ‘Life’ (which we will review soon) and this one now titled ‘5 Out of 5’. It is strange the album is called ‘5 out of 5’ because there are only 4 members in the band at this time. So, what is with the ‘5’? Easy, Marcel Jacobs thought it would be funny. At first you think, how is that funny, but if you read Kerrang magazine, that is how they do their ratings ‘5 out of 5’ or ‘4 out of 5’, you get the idea. Marcel thought if it ended up being mentioned or reviewed in Kerrang, it would already read Talisman ‘5 out of 5’. Pretty clever!! Thanks to Frnak Tunny and Ronny Hahn’s Jeff Scott Soto Biography for that little nugget.
Talisman’s debut did quite well in Sweden, but for Jeff Scott Soto, it was only viewed it at the time as a side project as he was busy with his band Eyes. The band Eyes was frustrating for him so he left to work on a new band Slam. Marcel Jacob still kept Talisman alive. However, the label went belly up and Jason signed with Warner Sweden. With Jeff gone, Jason Bieler left to focus on Saigon Kick and everyone else left, Marcel needed a band. After much searching, he found 19 year old guitarist extraordinaire, Fredrik Akesson. Then shortly thereafter, he ran in to an old grade school pal, Matti Alfonzetti, who would join as the singer. They wrote and put some demos together for the label.
However, there was some management change at the label and they didn’t care about the success of the debut album as it wasn’t their baby so Marcel packed shop and left. They shopped the album around and after six months of nothing, Matti decided to leave and pursue other things. Marcel was not deterred and kept shopping the demo around without a singer. Finally Dino Records was interested in the band with one big catch. They wanted Jeff back on vocals. They knew about the success of their debut with Jeff and they loved that sound. That wasn’t a terrible thing for Marcel. Marcel decided to reach out to Jeff and catch up. And within 3 weeks of that call, the two were together again in the studio to record the next Talisman album. Why did Jeff join so quickly, well…the Eyes were done in his eyes and his band Slam was going nowhere as every door had been slammed in their face so what choice did he have. None really and we are all the better for it.
Talisman at this point was Marcel Jacob, Jeff Scott Soto and Fredrik Akesson (now in Opeth) and so they had enough players with just the three of them and they got to work. They didn’t have a drummer anymore as Jakob Samuel left to focus on finding a band where he could be singer so Marcel handled all the drumming through a machine as well as the bass work. They recorded the album in December 1992 and on July 7, 1993, the album was released. It actually got some international interest and not just in Sweden. A Japanese edition was done with a bonus track. My version is not either the original or the Japanese Edition. I have the 2003 Re-Issue that was a double CD. The original album with the Japanese Bonus Track, plus a Bonus CD full of demos and alternate mixes. You even get the songs that were sung by Matti Alfonzetti which for a collector is a pretty cool score.
“Time After Time” kicks off the album and it was a song developed during a sound check while on tour for the debut album. Marcel was playing around with it and took it back to the hotel and turned it in to a song with Jeff adding lyrics and vocals later. The song kicks off with some finger picking and then a funky bass groove and then BAM!! It explodes in to a heavy rock track that blows your head off as your mind tries to wrap around the greatness. Jacob’s bass is front and center laying down a nasty funked up groove and the riffs by this 19 year old virtuoso player a recipe for a masterpiece. Soto’s vocals are powerful and yet so melodic and the chorus is catchy and slick and pure bliss. What a way to kick off the album.
Next up is “Comin’ Home” which was actually the first song written for the album and is about finding that perfect place that is a part of you as much as you are a part of it. The combo of Jacob and Akesson are the new dynamic duo of bass and guitar. Together they lay waste to all that hears them. It is a smorgasbord to the senses. This stadium sized anthem is loud and features metal riffs while maintaining that melodic sound with Sotos smooth vocals. Check out the solo as Akesson shows what he is made of with this one. You do get Jakob Samuels on the backing vocals so he wasn’t totally gone yet.
The first single off the album and a classic Talisman song is “Mysterious (This Time It’s Serious)” and it keeps the party going. If this song would’ve come out 3 years earlier you would have an instant and massive radio (and MTV) hit. This Chic inspired song has some fun and funk that pays homage to them while still being a pure hard rock song. Jeff’s vocals soar and he has never sounded better. Talisman is the biggest showcase of the stellarness that is Jeff’s vocals. I think I’m making up words.
“If You Could Only Be My Friend” brings some more hot, sizzling, funky goodness. I guess when the main songwriter is the bass player, bass will be heavy in the songs and Talisman is certainly that. Marcel’s playing is so recognizable the minute I hear it, I know who it is. How many bass players can do that? This song is his showcase. The song is rick, textured and full of layers of goodness. Soto tackles the vocals with the veracity of those bass line. That chorus seeps into your ears and sets up shop to be sung long after the song is over. The guitar solo, with the heavy bass thumping along, slays and the album.
The bass keeps going straight into “All or Nothing” that explodes with a force that will shake the walls and rattle the floors. The lightning tempo will get you moving for sure. It is 100 mph rock frenzy as all the songs have been so far. The solo is a back and forth for the Bass and the Guitar before the Guitar solo knocks it out of the park. This 19 year old is a pure powerhouse and a major shredder. There is no time to catch your breath as it is pounding one song after the other. And Amen to that brother!!!
Then things finally slow down with the first ballad “All I Want”. The song is piano based which starts off with just the piano and Soto on vocals. The piano is actually played by Jeff’s girlfriend at the time Julie Greaux (Billy Idol & Axel Rudi Pell). The band comes kicking in and adds the power to the ballad. The song is quite nice with the emotive vocals that immerse you into the song. You have the obligatory solo and everything you want in a power ballad. It is a nice time to slow it down so you could catch your breath.
The next one opens with a bass solo accompanied by a heavy pounding bass drum. “U Done Me Wrong” kicks off the back half of the album as the first had started with power and energy. When these boys rock, the kick some major ass. The song follows the same formula as the rest and as a result works just fine. Jakob is back on backing vocals for this one too.
“I’ll Set Your House On Fire” is another rocker and this time the guitar riffs are nasty and a little gritty. There is a stylistic change, a more deliberate pacing, a darker tone and a heavier groove. The sound is crisp and clean and the guitar solo is short and sweet. Jeff’s vocals aren’t as sweeping and smooth as he adds some grit and gives a more serious delivery brings us one a really cool song.
Another rocker with “Give Me A Sign” was originally a Matti song that they tweaked the lyrics so Jeff could make it his own and he did. Not as heavy as prior songs, still a rocker though. Bumped up against the first half of the album shows the song is still good, but not as strong as the first half songs. Jeff’s vocals are melodic and strong, but the song itself is a little dull compared to the others. The saving grace is the guitar work by this kid at the end. It is stellar. But I still wouldn’t skip it.
More funky goodness comes with “Lovechild”. Marcel lays down some magic with those bass lines. Jeff turns the vocals into another melodic party. This one is a slower rocker with as not as much power, but more power than a ballad. It sounds like three guys playing and having fun making sound it so effortlessly and easy. When Frederik lays down that solo and has Marcel chugging along, it is fantastic. A great deep cut.
The dramatic, orchestrated keyboard opening of “Long Way To Go” is over-the-top goodness. The song then kicks in as the true rocker it is. Jeff’s vocals are on point and he delivers another great performance and just slays that short chorus with a scream of the song title. Another great solo and there are a lot of those. To think he was only around 19….crazy. Julie is also on this one but as backing vocals. What I like about this song is how different it sounds then a lot of the songs on here. I don’t know if it was a last minute add, but I am glad they did. It is great way to go out. Except not the end of the re-issue as we get a bonus track.
The Japanese Edition of the album had a Bad Company cover thanks in large part to Marcel who was getting in to Paul Rodgers at the time and loved this song. Jeff handles is beautifully as he can morph his vocals to fit almost any style and he takes this one and delivers an authentic Bad Company performance of the song with “Run With the Pack”. Okay his verses are pure Jeff, but I like the way he tackles the chorus with that deeper tone. It is great.
Time After Time – Keeper
Comin’ Home – Keeper
Mysterious (This Time It’s Serious) – Keeper
If U Would Only Be My Friend – Keeper
All or Nothing – Keeper
All I Want – Keeper
U Done Me Wrong – Keeper
I’ll Set Your House on Fire – Keeper
Give Me A Sign – Keeper(1/2 Point)
Lovechild – Keeper
Long Way To Go – Keeper
Run With the Pack (Bad Company Cover) – Keeper
The Track Listing is 11.5 out of 12 or 96% which is almost flawless. But let’s be honest, this album is flawless. It is the perfect vehicle to highlight Jeff Scott’s vocals as this is his wheelhouse in style I like him the best. Fredrik Akesson is only 19 and he nails every note and solo perfectly. For a band that does this style of music, you need a gunslinger and they found it. Marcel’s bass playing might be one of my favorite things of Talisman. I love how prominent he is in the sound and he is the main songwriter along with Jeff. This is as close to perfect as you can get. My Overall Score is easily 5.0 out of 5.0 Starsand might be the best thing they ever did…I said might be.
The 2003 Reissue had a bonus disc of demos and rare cuts from the band and it is pretty great. It kicks off an early cut of “Time After Time” which is a rough mix and and a little more raw which is kind of nice. It is definitely not finished production wise and I like the feel of it. Then we get “Comin’ Home” which again, not finished so a little rougher around the edges but you can hear the magic of this one. “U Done Me Wrong” still has the bass solo opener, but the bass drum is weak and awful, probably a cheap drum machine place holder. Once the song kicks in it is back to what you know. “Give Me A Sign” is next and wasn’t my favorite song on the album, and still not here either. It still not a bad song, but weaker in comparison.
Then we get the Matti Alfonzetti sung songs. First up is “Fighting For Your Life” which is the original title of “All or Nothing”. Matti has a great voice and I do like this early version of the song. They completely redid the lyrics and Matti’s song writing credit with the studio album. Musically it is basically the same. This is a very rough demo and not produced very well (thus a demo I guess). It does have the energy of the final version though. Cool track though I see why the label wanted Jeff. Then we get his version of “Time After Time”. and I think it sounds great. Basically same song with re-worked lyrics as again, no Matti writing credit on the final version like their is with this one. I’m guessing he didn’t write the chorus cause that is no different. Strange. “Give Me A Sign” is back again with Matti and again, same song, reworked lyrics. The next Matti sung song is “Angel” which Talisman never actually recorded for a studio album because it was written by only Matti. It was released on a Bam Bam Boys album and a Matti solo album I believe. It is a cool song. “Lovechild” which is like the others, rough different lyrics.
The last song is a song called “Rainbow’s End” which is a rare Talisman holy grail type song. It was recorded with Thomas Vikstrom on vocals. Thomas was lead singer of a band called Horny Strings. He recorded some demos with Marcel, but little interest was ever gained on them. The song is a great hard rock song with a great solo by someone. Marcel’s bass work is prominent as you’d expect. This is a cool treasure. The last track is a video that can be played on your PC. It is for the song “Mysterious (This Time It’s Serious)” and a great piece to have as well all on one spot (and you can see the video earlier on in the post).
I’m not going to rate the Bonus disc because it is demos and not quite fair. But as a collector this is 100% cool!! And worth every penny to grab this if you see it. I hope you enjoyed this long run through the album. Thanks for hanging around this long.
If you follow this site at all, you know I am a massive Jeff Scott Soto fan and I am in the early stages of a Jeff Scott Soto Series where I am reviewing all of his albums in my collection. We are looking at over 70 reviews when all is said and done. I would love the opportunity to interview him, but that hasn’t happened yet. However, I did get to meet him. Jeff Scott Soto was in town with Jason Bieler (you know him, he is from Saigon Kick and wrote their massive hit “Love is On the Way”) and I bought tickets, of course. I also splurged and the the VIP package which got me in to the sound check and a Q&A.
Soto/Bieler played at a venue in NODA called The Evening Muse. A really small place and it holds about 300 people and it was packed which was great to see. I got there a little early as the VIP event started at 6pm. While I was walking from my car to the venue, I was crossing the street and who was coming the other way, Jeff and Jason. I realized it while they were passing me and Jason saw me do a double take and he said hello! It was cool. Then, while waiting in line, they came back from walking around NODA and while Jeff went in to get ready, Jason Bieler hung out and shook every one’s hand in line and talked for a few minutes.