Heavy without the metal. Some Great Reward was released when I was a mere 15 years old and had only just started my musical journey. While my high school peers into Depeche Mode and MuchMusic were going apeshit over “People Are People” and “Master And Servant”, I discovered the bizarre closing track, “Blasphemous Rumours”. It was so different from the music in my primordial music “collection” and what I was being pummelled with via Top 40 rock radio, thus I was drawn in by the song’s epic weirdness. It was unlike anything I had ever heard; I still remember listening to the song through my father’s billion dollar Marantz headphones, feeling the darkness of the track in my bones while the percussive violence made my head swim. Even the song arrangement itself is twisted, casting traditional songwriting structure to the wind.
I loved Dave Gahan’s voice (I still do) and there was something about the way he sang “Blasphemous Rumours” that was hypnotic. And the lyrics….. jeez. The chorus is probably one of the most brutal things I’ve heard if I sit here and think about it, and Gahan’s almost happy delivery is a wonderful contrast to the dark dark dark subject matter. As someone who dabbles in writing lyrics I can only dream of writing something as brilliant as that. I’m convinced that being Depeche Mode fan is one of the reasons I was drawn to the dark / gothic side of metal as I started to branch out from Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, thrash royalty and the hair bands. I also know I’m in good company as far as being a Depeche Mode fan, as many metal fans / artists I’ve spoke to over the years have expressed appreciation for what Gahan / Gore / Fletcher / Wilder accomplished in their early years.
And, like The Cure catalogue, there are certain Depeche Mode songs that should never be covered. “Blasphemous Rumours” is at the very top of that list.
“I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours But I think that God’s got a sick sense of humour And when I die I expect to find him laughing.”
I discovered Saigon Kick quite by accident, through a rock magazine (I forget which one it was) that came with a split 45 featuring “What Do You Do” on Side A; no idea who was on Side B. As a punk fan I was immediately hooked, and I picked up the album the next day as it had just been released. Fact is I love this album to death and I could write a 5-page essay on everything that’s right about it; this one and follow-up The Lizard are two of my favourite records of all time. From the Middle Eastern vibe of opener “New World” to The Cult-isms of “Love Of God” and ‘”ICU” to the Brit-punk vibe running all the way through…. man, it never gets boring. But “My Life”… that song takes the cake and leaves you wondering what the hell just happened.
Ten songs into what is a wonderfully obnoxious listen comes a song I – and nobody else – could have anticipated going in. From the get-go it sounds like The Beatles have joined the party as Saigom Kick turn out music suitable for a Sesame Street soundtrack. It’s entirely too happy by half, but the groove, the vocals, the over-the-top chorus… somehow it all makes sense for a band that clearly had no interest in catering to the hair band scene they were (unfortunately) lumped in with. But that isn’t even the best part. Nope. It is the iconic, mindblowing KAZOO SOLO in the middle of it all that binds everything together, making you realize (a) only a special kind of creative madness could come up with this, and (b) there is no fucking way you cannot like this song.
The album is artistic chemistry at its best. “My Life” is one of the most original songs I’ve ever heard. Love it.
Helloween is one of the building blocks of my metal persona, and my permanent residency in the pumpkin patch truly started with “Save Us”. I have no idea why I missed out on Keeper Of The Seven Keys: Part I, released in 1987 – because this love affair would have begun a year earlier – but I suspect it had to do with many (not all) European metal artists having limited exposure on the Canadian market if a major league label wasn’t involved. In any case, mega-hit “I Want Out” was making the rounds on Toronto’s / Canada’s video channels and pushed me to buy the album, but when Side 2 of the cassette I’d purchased for my car kicked in I was floored. “Eagle Fly Free” and “Dr. Stein” had impressed me, “I Want Out” was a no-brainer, but “Save Us”…. it grabbed me by the balls and wouldn’t let go.
The guitar shred was over the top – making me a Kai Hansen fan for life – and as a huge Queensrÿche fan who worshipped Geoff Tate as a vocal god thanks to Rage For Order and Operation: Mindcrime, hearing Michael Kiske storm in and lay waste to everything in his path with those high-end vocals was a religious experience. I still remember sitting in the Warden Woods parking lot after work with the song blasting from my pimped JBL speakers, thinking “Who the hell is Judas Priest?” And it’s mindblowing to hear Kiske sing just with just as much power if not more some 30 years later, with no loss of vocal range.
Interestingly, I found out only recently later that “Save Us” never appeared on the original vinyl LP release of Keeper II, but only on the CD version as a bonus track. It did, however, appear on the cassette tape version, which is odd but fortunate for me.
And, in 2016, Hansen performed the song live with Visions Of Atlantis singer Clémentine Delauney sharing lead vocals, and damn, they killed it. Unexpected, but brilliant.
Y&T have been around since the ’70s and continue
to tour to this day, and Contagious – released in 1987 – is by no means their
best album. Two songs that have always stood out for me are the title track and
“Eyes Of A Stranger”, but it’s the instrumental outro of “I’ll
Cry For You” that blew my mind the first time I heard it. All these years
later, it makes my world stop for not quite three minutes as I allow myself to
be immersed by some of most emotional guitar playing I’ve ever heard.
The strange thing about this for me is that this was
the time when I was dividing my time between the onslaught of hair bands like
Ratt, Mötley Crüe, and W.A.S.P., heavier acts like Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Judas
Priest, and discovering bands like Helloween and Warlock. Instrumental music
beyond Rush classic “YYZ” didn’t really interest me.
Even now, instrumental music generally runs hot and cold with me. It either captures my attention and digs its hooks into me as any good song does, or it bores me to tears with overblown technical wankery. There has to be something about a piece that make me feel something or take me somewhere. “I’ll Cry For You” is one man, Dave Meniketti, playing from his heart and getting deep into yours. That’s probably the best way I can describe it. The only thing better is hearing / seeing Meniketti play the track live, because he tacks on an extra couple minutes of beautiful playing.