Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Are Re-Recording Packages Cheesy?

It's starting to become vogue and I don't like it. I'm talking about heritage bands feeling the need to gyp their fans with pointless re-recording discs.

It started innocuously enough with recent albums by Kiss, Journey and Foreigner. In those cases, each band slipped in a bonus disc of re-recordings by their current personnel, obviously not the original troupe who'd first laid down those cuts. Wal Mart was usually the sponsor of these multi-pack releases which, happily, also contained a live album or a live DVD to give buyers a pretty good deal. Three discs for twelve to fifteen bucks. Wot a bargain, so long as you recognized what you were getting. The live DVD with Kiss' Sonic Boom is probably the best of the bonus bunch, even if their re-recordings disc of vintage years tunes featuring Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer instead of Peter Criss and Ace Frehley is, well...insulting.

Then you have brand new releases from well-known bands lacking the proper clauses in their contracts enabling them to release brand new full-length material. Instead, they return to the old catalog and redo them with their existing stables, almost always a mix of original players and hired guns. Recently Styx unleashed the utterly pointless Regeneration Volume I & II. Bad enough they tried to pawn this collection of redos and two cover songs without Dennis DeYoung (whom we know will never return), but to make it look like a major league, comphrehensive anthology in two volumes that hardly fill out either of their maxed CD spaces? Sorry, but that's weak.

No offense to Tommy Shaw and JY, who pick up the main vocal duties on Regeneration Volume I & II. They do a respectable job, but neither are DeYoung...save for "Renegade," which is haunting in its vocal accuracy. Musically, the current lineup of Styx nails the tunes exactly as you remember them, minus a click or two off the original beat. "The Grand Illusion," "Blue Collar Man," "Miss America," "Come Sail Away," "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)," "Crystal Ball" are all there, but no "Babe" or "Mr. Roboto" (Styx's biggest commercial hits) if you're curious.

Seriously, though, you'd do better with the 1995 comp, Styx Greatest Hits if you're only looking for the hits instead of Styx's dramatic and progressive full lengths. Nobody really needs to hear Styx cover Damn Yankees' "High Enough" and "Coming of Age," which you get on Regeneration. Double lame.

There was a stretch of time in the seventies when most of the fifties and early sixties rock 'n rollers, doo wop and soul acts re-recorded their best-known hits for low price (and low value) greatest hits packages that I consider mega swindles. Everyone from The Platters to Jerry Lee Lewis to even the true king of rock 'n roll, Chuck Berry, released limp dicked re-recordings albums.

You'd figure history had learned its lesson. Save for the undiscriminating listener seduced by the five dollar sticker in a clearance bin, most people know to steer the hell away from those drecky re-recording packages. You'd figure.

Another recent example is Kingdom Come's Rendered Waters, which is essentially vocalist Lenny Wolf with a new band hoisting eight of the band's past catalog. At least he cared enough to record three new tracks for Rendered Waters and they're quite good, actually. Even the re-recordings are pretty spiffy considering they have a new verve, a new kick, a bit more amplitude and less Zeppelin to them. Wolf tread the fine line between good taste heraldry and bold-faced huckstering. Cheers to Wolf in that respect, and I thank the man for a damned fine interview last year in support of Rendered Waters.

In general, I give acoustic hits albums a pass if they're done well and not just recordings of old comrades getting drunk in the studio and jamming out without realizing the record button is on. John Lennon's Acoustic is a worthy endeavor since there's revelation of deeper rubber soul within his stripped, mano-y-guitarra cadence. Then you have bands who issue covers albums and rare is it the all-covers album which actually rules. Slayer's Undisputed Attitude, Johnny Cash's American Recordings series and the Ramones' Acid Eaters come to mind on the positive side.

Regeneration, though? I don't wish to quibble (particularly since my copy was sent to me for free), but this goes beyond the intent of connecting with future generations and reconnecting with old demographics who want more than "Too Much Time On My Hands" on classic rock radio. Styx are fooling themselves but not too many of their fans. Better to just hit the summer festival circuit and prosper if they don't want to let it end.

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