Vince Neil: Tattoos & Tequila

RIYL: Mötley Crüe, Buckcherry, Steel Panther

Vince Neil has always been one of those frontmen that makes up for his lack of traditional singing talent with tons of style and swagger. Throughout the peak years of Mötley Crüe’s commercial success, his high-pitched vocal style served the band’s glammed-up take on hard rock well. Though the group still packs arenas, it’s obvious that all of the years of out-of-range screaming and squealing have taken its toll on Neil’s vocals. He was never the strongest live performer, but these days, listening to Vince live is like hearing a cat being tortured.

It’s no surprise that anticipation for a Vince Neil solo record isn’t all that high. But here we are – 15 years since his last full length record, 1995’s Carved in Stone – and the bleached blonde singer is back with Tattoos & Tequila, his third studio album. With that much of a gap between albums, you would expect the guy to come to the table with a lot of new material, but Tattoos & Tequila features nine covers and only two original songs. Things start off shaky with the title track, which is a weak attempt by Neil to attract Active Rock radio program directors. Written and produced by the usually reliable Marti Frederiksen, the track’s overly processed drum sound and stock stop-and-go riffs sound like something Hinder or Buckcherry would have relegated to B-side status. Luckily, things turn around on the next cut, a faithful version of Cheap Trick’s power pop standard “He’s a Whore.” Jeff Blando’s crunchy guitar tone is the perfect bed for the song’s sweetened melody lines and earworm of a chorus.


All of the cover songs were produced by Neil and Jack Blades (Night Ranger, Damn Yankees), and they do a stellar job of giving the vocals a pop sheen that recalls Mötley Crüe’s Elektra Records years. Anyone remotely familiar with Vince’s early influences won’t be shocked to see some of the artists he chose to cover here. The Sweet, Sex Pistols, and Scorpions are all represented on Tattoos & Tequila, and while nothing particularly new is done with them, they still make for a fun listening experience. The most shocking part is the strength of the less conventional hard rock material. Perhaps it was his co-producer’s experience from working on the wonderful covers album Influence from Shaw Blades — Jack Blades’ project with Styx guitarist-vocalist Tommy Shaw. Even when Vince takes on Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas,” the meat and potatoes arrangement and revved-up rhythm during the signature chorus, reinvents the song into a Sunset Strip-styled rocker.

Covers of Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain” keep close to their original ‘70s incarnations, but there’s something intriguing about listening to Neil’s snotty vocal delivery driving them. The other original song, also produced by Marti Fredericksen, was penned by Mötley’s bassist Nikki Sixx and is called “Another Bad Day.” It’s the kind of mid-tempo ballad that would have been massive on Dial MTV circa 1988. It’s also easily better than anything Neil or Sixx have put on an album in years.

So much for expectations. Who would have thought that a Vince Neil covers album would be this enjoyable? Even one out of the two original tracks is a keeper – and we all know how bad the songs they usually throw on these collections are. Now, we’re not saying that you should go out and catch a Vince solo show anytime soon – but if you dig old Crüe and the golden era of Aqua Net rock, Tattoos & Tequila would be a worthy addition to your CD collection. (ElevenSeven Music 2010)

Vince Neil MySpace page


21st Century Breakdown: The iDecade: Michael Fortes’ Ten “Best” Albums of the Aughts

As the aughts draw to a close… who cares? Seriously, who really does care? Does it mean the same to you as it does to me? I ask because this is what I see:

The span of time between the years 2000 and 2009 was like no decade that came before in that, given the rapid and ever more sophisticated advances in technology, we’ve been able to create our own very unique cultural experiences. There may be no “i” in “team” or “us” or “together,” but “i” creeped into our TV viewing experiences (TiVo), our telephones (the iPhone), our computers (how about the iMac?), and – most significantly – the way we listen to music (iTunes, the iPod, etc.), which is arguably where many of our personalized media experiences began in the first place. Which is great, on one level. If we only want to hear what we want to hear at the moment that we want, we can have that experience for relatively little money, at any time we please.

But on the other hand, what was threatening to become reality pretty much happened in the ’00s – we collectively eliminated the possibility of there ever being another Beatles, Elvis Presely or Michael Jackson, someone that most of us can all agree on. Given that Michael left us mid-way through the last year of the decade, we have effectively lost our last great pop culture figure, and even he was vulnerable to the pressures of our shape-shifting culture. The one album of all original material he released this decade (2001’s Invincible) was not only one of his poorest sellers, it also sucked way more often than it didn’t. Granted, we still have two Beatles left, but even Paul McCartney hasn’t been able to produce an album that could unite all of his old and young fans the way his work with the Beatles continues to do.

Which brings us to the album itself. It’s not completely dead, and will always have a place so long as musicians think of themselves as artists and still revel in the joy of creating a cohesive work of art. But let’s face it – fewer people are buying albums (on CD, that is – digital download sales and even sales of vinyl records continue to increase, though not nearly enough to offset the decline in CD purchases). And that translates to fewer people who can come together to agree on which ones are great, and which ones are best forgotten. And fewer people to care.

Having said all that, in conjunction with our End of Decade series, I present to you my picks for ten best albums of the decade, in no particular order. These are albums that, for one reason or another, connected me to many, many different people over the past ten years, all of whom mean something to me. Maybe you’re one of them, or maybe you will be someday.

Doves – Lost Souls (2000)
Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R (2000)
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (2008)
M. Ward – The Transfiguration of Vincent (2003)
Brian Wilson – Smile (2004)
The Gutter Twins – Saturnalia (2008)
Beck – Sea Change (2002)
Ambulance LTD – LP (2004)
Erykah Badu – Mama’s Gun (2000)
Herbie Hancock – River: The Joni Letters (2007)


Elvis Presley: Elvis 75 – Good Rockin’ Tonight

RIYL: 1950s rockabilly, 1960s pop, 1970s country, rock history in general

In honor of Elvis’ 75th birthday – we won’t get into whether he is “the late Elvis” or still rockin’ in the wilds of Michigan – Legacy’s issuing a bunch of records, this one being first up and coinciding with a Graceland bash. In a word, it’s great stuff, a career-spanning retrospective that covers the gamut of the good, bad and ugly from rock’s first real icon, its undisputed King. Elvis diehards probably have most of the 100 tracks spanning the almost 25 years of his recorded career, from the 1953 “My Happiness” demo to Moody Blue tracks; probably only the most manic completists among longtime fans will nibble at this.

For the rest of us, however, it puts Presley’s work in context: There’s no denying the power of Young Elvis, who had an incredible combination of talent, charisma, and the stones to fuse music from black R&B records, gospel, redneck bluegrass, and loud guitars. When he walked into the Memphis Sun Studios and hooked up with label impresario Sam Phillips in 1954 to put down his brilliant first sides, he was just a singer who loved all the music he heard from both sides of the tracks and just didn’t particularly care what people would think if he did. Maybe I’m alone in this opinion, but I believe that all the stuff that came after – the politics, the goofy Graceland stuff, the Army, the movies, the drugs, the Comeback, stuffing his sweaty and overweight frame into sequined Vegas costumes, and finally, the overdose, were not of his doing but caused by external forces he endured, albeit willingly at times. The early songs still sound fresh and crisp: “Mystery Train,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Jailhouse Rock.” A powderkeg of testosterone and unbridled joy. Rock, undistilled. Then comes the ballads, the country, the gospel stuff…the brutal “Suspicion.” It’s all here, along with the 2002 techno remix of “A Little Less Conversation.”

Listening to this end to end, it’s bizarre to hear Elvis’ transformation from the white-hot beginning to the dying embers of a career when he finally ingested that deadly cocktail of prescription drugs. At first, he synthesized all these at-the-time disparate musical influences to create such musical magic. By the mid-1970s, however, he was clinging desperately to country, sounding like a second-rate Hank Jr. knockoff at best (who himself was a poor Xerox of his daddy). Elvis ended up the ghost of his 1950s and early-’60s heyday, barely recognizable and subject to all the ridicule that’s followed his 1977 death. The moral of the story? Elvis wasn’t larger than life; he was just another rock star, human after all. But just like the NFL has good quarterbacks and bad, as far as rock stars go, Elvis was no Kyle Orton; he was Brett Favre, the greatest statistical player – unstoppable at first but maybe should have called it quits before his career turned into a circus. If you’ve never dug Elvis seriously, check out this box. There’s a lot more going on here than Jay Leno punch lines. When he was on top of his game, he wrote rock history with a gorgeously powerful voice and a beguiling smile. This box remembers that part, best. (Sony/Legacy, 2009).


Jace Everett: Red Revelations

Jace Everett is billed as a singer/songwriter, and he is one, yes. But since singer/songwriter has become a genre that usually implies a single person with a guitar or piano, it’s probably more accurate to just call Everett a rocker in the Americana vein. Everett is best known for being the dude behind the song “Bad Things,” which is the opening theme for HBO’s “True Blood” (and this album’s closing track), so the guy already had somewhat of a launching pad for his career. Which brings us to Everett’s new (and third) album, Red Revelations, a serviceable collection of tube amplifier- and Fender guitar-charged rock songs. At various times, Everett channels Elvis and Johnny Cash and Mellencamp and Springsteen, but most closely resembles Chris Isaak, and while the songs are rocking and entertaining enough, it’s not likely that you’re going to be humming most of them a few minutes later. And Everett also drops into that Elvis “Thank you, thank you very much” lower register a bit too often than he needs to. Regardless, there are a few standouts, like the upbeat “More to Life (Cmon, Cmon),” which has gang harmonies that give the track a Huey Lewis & the News feel, and “Little Black Dress,” which features some pretty slick guitar work. (Weston Boys 2009)

Jace Everett MySpace Page