REVIEW: KISS – Creatures of the Night

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

In 1982, rock icons KISS were in a dire situation to say the least. Two years prior, original drummer Peter Criss had been fired for substance abuse issues and was replaced by Eric Carr. All the while, lead guitarist Ace Frehley was coping with drug and alcohol issues of his own and wanted little to do with the band. Actually, many shared Frehley’s sentiment. The band’s last album, Music from the Elder, was a complete commercial disaster. Initially promised a return to the band’s heavy roots, fans were instead treated to KISS’s attempt at a progressive rock-styled concept album, full of pretentious medieval imagery, orchestral arrangements, and Paul Stanley’s falsetto vocals. Upon first hearing the album, Frehley reportedly smashed the tape against the wall. In fact, the album was such a flop that the band, known primarily for their live shows, couldn’t manage to fund a tour to promote the LP. It was clear that something needed to be done.

The band went into the studio in July of 1982 with the intention of delivering on their promise of a return to a heavier sound. Ironically, Frehley, who pushed hardest for more hard rock/metal material, was absent for the entire recording process. Nevertheless, he appeared on the album cover and in a few promotional appearances before leaving the band, to be replaced by Vinnie Vincent. Vincent played on several songs on Creatures of the Night and previously worked as a staff writer for the rather un-metal TV shows Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi.

As an album, Creatures of the Night is arguably one of the best albums the band ever recorded. The production by producer Michael James Jackson (not that Michael Jackson) stands in a class by itself. Eric Carr’s drums are simply monstrous, with a large amount of reverb and some spirited playing by Carr. From a songwriting standpoint, almost every song on the album is strong. The band benefited from the assistance of some prolific outside writers, including Vincent and Canadian soft-rock star Bryan Adams. Adams’s contributions, “War Machine” and “Rock and Roll Hell,” stand about as far as imaginable from the material that one would associate with him. Both songs are dark, heavy, and are played with a loose, yet purposeful feel, with solid vocals delivered by bassist/vocalist/businessman/reality star Gene Simmons. Paul Stanley’s contributions to the album range from the scorching opening title track, the Zeppelin-influenced “Keep Me Comin,’” and the heartfelt, soulful ballad “I Still Love You,” which features Carr moving from the drum stool to the bass. The only weak spot on the album is “Danger, ” which screams filler. Otherwise, the album is a classic and a must-have for KISS fans.

As for the album’s economic success, it proved to be too little too late for the band. Both the album and the supporting tour were disappointments. The following year, KISS would remove their makeup and reveal their faces for the first time on MTV. The unmasking led to a second wave of popularity for the band, who would eventually reunite with Frehley and Criss (and their signature makeup) in 1996. Over three decades later, Creatures stands as a fan favorite album, with tracks such as “I Love It Loud,” “War Machine,” and the title track being played in concert to this day.

If you enjoyed reading this review, I’m sure you’ll enjoy my next post. Next week, a friend and I will be taking a look at a recent KISS project so bizarre, it took two of us to review it! Stay tuned!

We Are Harlot cancel Johnson City show

by Dylan Looney

Image courtesy of We Are Harlot on Twitter

Image courtesy of We Are Harlot on Twitter

Hard rockers We Are Harlot were forced to cancel their September 29 show at Capone’s. A little less than six hours before show time, the band’s official Twitter account posted, “We regret that our show tonight at Capones in JohnsonCity TN has been cancelled due to illness. But we are gonna make it up to you TN.” This comes much to the disappointment of would-be concert goers (including a certain music blogger and his roommate). However, Capone’s has stated, “All ticket purchases will be refunded to the card they were purchased with.”

As for the illness in question, Capone’s email to ticket buyers says that singer Danny Worsnop has injured his voice. Similar circumstances have happened before, with Worsnop having to undergo vocal cord surgery in 2012, back when he was lead vocalist for UK metalcore stars Asking Alexandria. I’d personally like to wish a quick recovery for Worsnop, and for We Are Harlot (as well as slated openers, South Carolina’s Alias for Now) to come “make it up” to us here in Johnson City soon.

Ryan Adams Releases Cover of Taylor Swift’s Entire 1989 Album

by Dylan Looney

Photo by

Photo by

As I mentioned in my first-ever post for this blog, I never quite understood Taylor Swift’s blockbuster 1989. It seems that every female friend (and a few dudes, too) have this CD in their car and play it regularly. Released last December, it was the first album of 2014 to break into platinum status. To further highlight its significance, alt-country/garage-rock/whatever-feels-like-playing-this-week artist Ryan Adams has released his much-talked-about cover project of the entire album. It’s one thing to do a tongue-in-cheek acoustic cover of “Shake it Off” on YouTube, but Adams has covered this whole album, putting his own spin on each track.

Adams’ 1989 is a more somber, rootsy take on Swift’s album. He manages to turn “Welcome to New York” and “Style” into pure early 80s Springsteen tracks. In fact, you could say that about this whole album: it’s Ryan Adams does Springsteen does Taylor Swift. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. The raw instrumentation and Adams’s understated but emotional vocals help to reveal the depth in Swift’s lyrics, particularly in “Out of the Woods” and “I Wish You Would.” There’s some really solid production at work here, too. A tad of echo on every song gives it a live feel. However, at times, particularly towards the end of the album, the songs start to run together and fall into a murky puddle of depression for depression’s sake. While musically Adams’s work here is admirable, he could have afforded to take more cues from the original tracks and made some more of the tracks up-tempo to break the monotony. For Pete’s sake, he managed to make “Shake it Off” depressing.

I would recommend Ryan Adams’ 1989 for fans of the original who are looking to hear “Blank Space” or “Bad Blood,” but not the same way they’ve heard it a thousand times by now. If you’re looking to get into Ryan Adams, however, this should not be your starting point. For that, I would suggest Gold, Heartbreaker, and especially last year’s self-titled release, which has 1989’s awesome 80s production, but with more overall variety in the songs.

ALBUM REVIEW: Hollywood Vampires – Hollywood Vampires

by Dylan Looney

Photo by

Photo by

On paper, the Hollywood Vampires should be the greatest band of all time. To start with, there’s the three core members: Alice Cooper, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, and Jack Sparrow himself, Johnny Depp. Along for the ride are a list of guest stars that reads like rock’s proverbial “A-list:” Dave Grohl, Slash, AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, the Doors’ Robby Krieger, and Joe Walsh, not to mention a Beatle (Sir Paul McCartney) and the son of one (Zak Starkey, son of Ringo and current drummer for the Who). To top things off, legendary producer Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper, KISS, Pink Floyd) is behind the controls to produce this supergroup’s self-titled debut album. If rock and roll had an All-Star game, this very well could be the starting lineup.

Photo by Rolling Stone

Photo by Rolling Stone

The project started with Cooper and Depp as a tribute to Cooper’s ’70s drinking buddies, a loosely-knit organization of high-profile rock stars originally dubbed the Hollywood Vampires. Among the group were John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson, and many others. The album consists mostly of covers of Alice’s comrades, with a couple original songs co-written by Cooper, Depp, Ezrin, and others.  Lyrically, both originals also cover the subject of the original Hollywood Vampires. In “Raise the Dead,” Cooper sings, “A sudden quick demise/ So the body dies/But the music stays alive.” In the other original, “My Dead Drunk Friends,” Alice mourns the titular “friends” with the dark sense of humor that fans have come to expect from the man who brought us tracks like “Cold Ethyl” and “Dead Babies.” Cooper’s delivery and lyrics paired with a late-night sleazy swing and a pretty amusing bridge section (you’ll have to hear it for yourself) make this the superior track, as well as one of the best on this album altogether.

As for the covers, most of the material ranges from decent to above-average treatments of classic songs. You can feel the respect Cooper, Depp, Perry, and Co. have for the original artists and songs here. Some of the highlights are an excellent rendition of the Faces’ “Itchycoo Park” and a medley of the Doors’ “Five to One” and “Break on Through (to the Other Side),” featuring the Doors’ guitarist Robby Krieger. Other interesting moments include a slowed down cover of “Whole Lotta Love,” with Brian Johnson’s raunchy, piercing vocals used for full effect and a harmonica solo by Cooper. Johnson also makes an appearance on a medley of Alice’s “School’s Out” and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2.” It should be noted that Ezrin produced both the albums that the songs originally appear on. Hearing Brian Johnson sing something from one of my favorite albums of all time, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, made me very happy and certainly caught my attention when the track was first released. The album includes a cover of Badfinger’s “Come and Get It,” featuring the song’s writer, Paul McCartney, who supplies bass and some primal vocals to compliment Alice’s more melodic singing. This is quite the role reversal from what the typical fan might expect, and it works amazingly. Another cool touch is a spoken word intro from Bram Stoker’s Dracula by the late Christopher Lee, recorded shortly before the acting great’s death earlier this year.

At its heart, Hollywood Vampires shows Alice paying tribute to his past in a way only he can. Along the way, it shows how a few aging rock legends still have plenty of fuel in their tanks. We also see Depp, who pursued a music career before getting into acting, showing that he’s more than just a pretty-boy celebrity with a musical vanity project. Hollywood Vampires is a must-have for hardcore followers of Cooper or Depp, and I would recommend that any fans of guitar rock at least give the album a listen on Spotify.

Billboard Top 10 Review

by Dylan Looney

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 07: Recording artist Abel Tesfaye of The Weeknd performs onstage at Lucian Grainge's 2015 Artist Showcase Presented by American Airlines and Citi on February 7, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rachel Murray/WireImage)

LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 07: Recording artist Abel Tesfaye of The Weeknd performs onstage at Lucian Grainge’s 2015 Artist Showcase Presented by American Airlines and Citi on February 7, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rachel Murray/WireImage)

Roughly seven months ago, I posted this blog’s first entry, in which I reviewed the top ten songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In the relatively short time since, the pop music landscape has changed rather drastically. As a matter of fact, none of the artists I previously reviewed are currently taking up space in the top ten. Naturally, it seems that it’s time for another look at the Billboard Top Ten.

1. “Can’t Feel My Face”- The Weeknd

Okay, this is a little embarrassing, but let me start off by asking this: Am I the only one who initially thought The Weeknd was a band and not just one person? Anyway, the Canadian singer’s ode to facial numbness sits on top of the charts this week. The infectious track owes much to the influence of a certain Mr. Jackson. One could almost imagine the King of Pop releasing it if he were around today. Overall, it’s a fun, danceable number that’s a little more clever than the average R&B track.

My Score: 4/5

2. “Cheerleader”- OMI

This reggae-infused single has been called the song of the summer and I just don’t get it. Honestly, I find the song rather grating. Sure, the horns and aforementioned Jamaican instrumentation are nice touches, but the song just falls flat and lands pretty close to being downright annoying. Despite the title, “Cheerleader” sounds less like a pep rally and more like Sean Kingston with a head-cold.

My Score: 1/5

3. “Watch Me”- Silentó

From the long and storied tradition of tracks such as “The Cha-Cha Slide,” Soulja Boy’s “Crank Dat,” and of course, the “Stanky Leg,” comes another hip-hop dance fad up through popular culture. What makes this one a little different is that its artist, Silentó, is also Ricky Lamar Hawk, a 17-year-old high school senior from Stone Mountain, GA. Being so young, it would be interesting to see if there’s more to him than just whipping and nae-naeing. Silly as the song is (it’s really just a series of dance cues), the kid’s already got more hits than any of us had in high school.

My Score: 1.5/5

4. “The Hills”- The Weeknd

This week’s second entry by Mr. Totally-Not-a-Band is cut from a different mold than “Can’t Feel My Face.” Weeknd sings a dark melody over a stripped back, hip-hop style beat.  While this keeps the song from being totally generic, and it’s nice to see a diversity of styles from the same artist, the song’s lack of energy and emotion make it pale in comparison to Weeknd’s number one hit.

SIDE NOTE: On Weeknd’s Wikipedia page, his genre is only listed as “PBR&B.” This refers to the recent indie R&B movement, which, much like Pabst Blue Ribbon, has become popular with the hipster crowd. I find this hilarious.

My Score: 3/5

5. “Lean On”- Major Lazer & DJ Snake Featuring MØ

DJ Snake, the man behind the last year’s “Turn Down for What” has teamed up with EDM group Major Lazer for another attempt at the success of “Turn Down.” While the music itself bears little resemblance to his collaboration with Lil Jon, I can’t help but hear a very similar effect used in both tracks. Danish singer MØ delivers a strong vocal, giving the song a much warmer, more human feel than most typical EDM fare.

My Score 3.5/5

6. “Good for You”- Selena Gomez feat. A$AP Rocky

Hey look, it’s another former Disney Channel star trying to be all edgy and grown up! With her “Good for You,” the ex-Wizard of Waverly Place tries to put even more distance between herself and her old image. In short, the song is bland, uninspired, and shows Gomez trying too hard to come across as sexy and mature. A$AP Rocky could have saved this song, but his weak performance does the exact opposite.

My Score: 1.5/5

7. “679”- Fetty Wap feat. Remy Boyz

New Jersey rapper Fetty Wap (who, according to Microsoft Word spell check, should be named “Fatty Warp”) has suddenly made his way into the mainstream in the last year or so. This collaboration with Remy Boyz is pretty much standard hip-hop. All the usual tropes are here: autotune, lyrics about drugs, women, and partying, etc. While riddled with clichés, “679” handles them relatively well, employing some simple but effective hooks to keep things from being too stale.

My Score: 2.5/5

8. “Locked Away”- R. City feat. Adam Levine

Like I said earlier, none of the artists I reviewed in my last Top Ten review are on this week’s charts. However, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine does appear in both, although this time he appears as a solo artist, singing the hook for this single from hip-hop/pop duo R. City (the R stands for “Rock,” by the way. I hear you can see seven states from there). The group, composed of two brothers from the U.S. Virgin Islands, is no stranger to chart success. They’ve had a hand in writing such hits as Iyaz’s “Replay” and the Pussycat Dolls’ “When I Grow Up.” For their first appearance on the charts as performers, they deliver a strong single that manages to be both reflective and emotional lyrically while keeping some level of energy and fun. The brothers and Levine mesh together well and create certainly one of the more soulful releases on the charts at the moment.

My Score: 3.5/5

9. “Trap Queen”- Fetty Wap

Fetty Wap is the second artist this week with two entries in the Top Ten. “Trap Queen,” Fetty’s ode to the girlfriend of a drug dealer, helped break him into the mainstream. While the beat is solid and the hook is catchy, the production is so drenched in autotune it’s comical. The song, much like the rest of Fetty Wap’s material, revels in rap music stereotypes. If this were a country song, it would be one about drinking because your wife left you and stole your truck.

My Score: 2/5

10. “Fight Song”- Rachel Platten

The success of “Fight Song” should be used as an example of how to gain publicity for music through television. Every time I hear Platten’s breakthrough single, I see either the trailer for CBS’s new Supergirl series or that commercial with the businesswoman driving her Ford SUV through New York City. In an interview with Idolator, Platten herself admits the song’s appearance in Pretty Little Liars helped catapult the song to success. It makes sense that it’s so prevalent in TV and movies; the song seems made for training montages. It could essentially be an estrogen-infused “Eye of the Tiger” or “Danger Zone” with a powerful vocal from Platten and an instantly memorable chorus.

My Score: 3/5

Switchfoot, Colony House Deliver at ETSU Fall Concert

by Dylan Looney

August 29, 2015 - Johnson City, Tennessee - CPA Backyard: (Left to Right) Switchfoot's Jon Foreman, Drew Shirley, & Jerome Fontamillas Image Credit: Dakota Hamilton

August 29, 2015 – Johnson City, Tennessee – CPA Backyard: (Left to Right) Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman, Drew Shirley, & Jerome Fontamillas Image Credit: Dakota Hamilton

The Fall 2015 semester was set off right with an energetic show by Californian alt-rock group Switchfoot. The opener, Colony House, was a pleasant surprise, with an energetic performance that highlighted excellent vocal harmonies and guitar interplay, all against a backdrop of down-to-earth indie rock. The group hails from right here in East Tennessee and contains two sons of Christian music star Steven Curtis Chapman as members. The last song in their set, which I later found out is titled “2:20,” was an impressive and unexpected change of pace with the rest of their music. The song’s heavy blues riffing certainly got a few heads banging. Other highlights of their set included “Took Me by Surprise” and “This Beautiful Life,” both of which showed the band’s more human take on indie rock. It should also be noted that I caught Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman sneaking to the side of the stage to take some pictures of Colony House’s set, which I imagine can be found somewhere on social media.

Just as the sun began to set, casting a lovely orange-pink aura over the CPA field, Colony House finished their set with the aforementioned “2:20.” The tension in the crowd rose and exploded as Switchfoot took the stage and launched into the hard-rocking “Stars.” Second in their set was “Meant to Live.” I personally found it strange that they played one of their biggest hits so early on the set. Nevertheless, I could hear the crowd all around me singing along to every line. Altogether, Switchfoot’s performance was filled with an uplifting spirit and energy. Foreman even ventured out into the crowd during one song, coming within inches of a certain music blogger we know. The group proved to be full of surprises that night, pulling out an excellent cover of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” as well as covering Lorde’s “Royals;” Foreman informed the crowd that it was the first time they’ve played “Royals” live.  I also noticed how well the band’s older, more guitar-heavy, material blended with the newer songs on the setlist. After a couple tracks of hard-riffing guitars, the band transitioned well into their more recent and more relaxed fare. The crowd even got a couple songs for an encore, ending the night with “Where I Belong.” As we dispersed back into our cars and dorm rooms, it was certain that Switchfoot’s concert was a huge hit.

Switchfoot has wrapped up their tour and are now back in the studio to work on their tenth album.

Review of Switchfoot’s The Edge of the Earth

by Dylan Looney



Alt-rockers Switchfoot, known for their crossover hits like “Meant to Live” and “Dare You to Move,” will be performing this Saturday here at ETSU. To celebrate, I’ll be taking a look at their most recent release, last year’s seven-track EP, The Edge of the Earth. Coming just eight months after the release of their album/documentary, Fading West, the EP contains one previously released track, also titled “Fading West.” Strangely enough, the song wasn’t on the album of the same name, but it was featured as a bonus track on their 2013 EP, which was named, you guessed it, Fading West. To many, this may seem strange until they learn that The Edge of the Earth consists of unreleased material from Fading West. Led Zeppelin did something very similar with their track “Houses of the Holy,” which was left off the album of the same name but was used later for Physical Graffiti.

The EP opens with the previously mentioned “Fading West,” in which the laid-back garage rock vibe mixes with strings to create a downright Beatle-esque track, and a catchy one at that. The second track, “Against the Voices,” is another strong number with the clever use of vocal effects in the beginning. I presume this is to represent the “voices” which frontman John Foreman is singing about. I particularly like the lyrics in this song, such as “’Cause everybody knows/The hardest war to fight/Is a fight to be yourself/When the voices try to turn you into someone else.” Up next is “Skin and Bones,” a darker song that comes across like something from Nine Inch Nails. The next two songs are “What it Costs” and “Slow Down My Heartbeat,” both of which have a strong U2 influence. Of the two, “What it Costs” is the stronger track overall, with nice touches of acoustic guitars and an emotional vocal from Foreman. Although the band has distanced itself from the Christian music scene, the lyrics in “Liberty” are pretty clearly addressing the Man Upstairs. Lastly, we come to the title track, “The Edge of the Earth.” The song’s instrumentation, which includes mandolins, shows Switchfoot following the ever-growing Americana trend in alternative rock. The song also has an excellent vocal performance by Foreman, whose range is much higher than is shown throughout most of the EP. All in all, Edge shows an established band tipping their hats to their California surfer roots while still being willing to experiment, and aging much more gracefully than many of their 2000s post-grunge peers.