Friday, 29 October 2010

Rattlesnakes Of Sunset Strip

1980's Los Angeles spawned a slew of great rock/metal bands, from thrash metal to hard rock. It must have been a f**king amazing scene to have been mixed up in if you had the good fortune to live there at the time.
Even before rock music claimed it, Sunset Strip had been a gltzy, glamorous place in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. There was the 'Gardens Of Allah' apartments where writers including Dorothy Parker and F.Scott Fitzgerald had lived. Make no mistake, the Strip has been the favoured haunt of many artists. One could say it was a cradle of creativity when it was in its prime.
But lets go to the 80's when rock and metal was king. If you were in a band, Sunset Strip was THE place to get noticed and make a name for yourself. Everyone from Van Halen to Guns N' Roses strutted their stuff there and hung out but for me, a young 10 year old living on the other side of the world in Wales, one band stood out. One group grabbed my attention with their wild image (which I thought was utterly beautiful) and rock/metal/punky sound and that was the awesome Motley Crue.
It must be said I loved them as soon as I clapped eyes on them, which would have been after the release of Shout At The Devil in 1983. I bought it on cassette (Cd's were a way off) and it was the cover design that first pulled me in. The flames behind Mick Mars, Nikki's wild hair underlined by those now famous thick, black lines under his eyes, Tommy staring defiantly like he was on a mission and Vince with his blonde good looks resembling a rock n' roll angel come to preach the virtues of sin. And it only got better once you pressed PLAY. I remember sitting up way past bedtime on school nights, listening to Shout At The Devil back to back on a Walkman (they were new then too) and playing 'air drums' while sitting up in bed in the dark. It a wonder I awoke for school at all.

Kickstarted my rebel heart

By the time Theatre Of Pain was released in '85 I was a total Crue head, filling my school books with scrawls of glittery pentagrams and Motley song titles. Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Kiss and Ozzy were there too of course but these dudes from Los Angeles filled with hedonistic attitudes and dangerous 'recreational pursuits' moved into a space in my heart that they occupy to this day. In hindsight I was a pretty wreckless, bratty kid myself so its little wonder they clicked with me and as I myself went on to live a life near the edge Motley were the perfect soundtrack.
Come to think about it the band released a few albums at important times of my life; the awesome Girls, Girls, Girls arrived in 1987 just as I was leaving school and 1989's Dr. Feelgood when I entered into my first 'serious' relationship with a girl. By then I was a huge fan, almost to the point of obssession. (Motley Crue and Slayer will always be the biggest bands in my life. Different sounds, same F**K You aggression.) I could draw Motley tee shirt designs using free hand and without looking at the picture. I knew them all by heart.
The bands debut offering, Too Fast For Love, I got around the same time I picked up Dr. Feelgood because it was such a hard record to get hold of back then in this tiny part of Wales. You had to go to shops which sold imported records and be grateful when your favourite band turned up.

Photobucket Number ONE...erm SIXX!

Nevertheless I must be honest in this piece and while my love for the band has never really left me, my enthusiasm did wane and for a few years I did take time out from their music. In 1993 I (along with everyone else) was swept away from the hard rock scene when Nirvana almost single handedly reshaped music. Grunge was in, rock was out and to be fair it was a refreshing blast. So the Crue's 1994 self titled album 'Motley Crue' slid by without me paying it the slightest bit of attention. Ditto to Generation Swine in 1997 and 2000's New Tattoo. I had gone back to my more heavy leanings and bands like Slayer, Pantera, Cannibal Corpse and Crowbar. I don't think I ever read news about Motley Crue or read a story about them during these times (the internet back then not being as popular as now.) They simply slipped off my radar as far as their new stuff was concerned, but of course I still played the early albums.
It wasn't until 2007 (maybe 2006) that my love was rekindled for the Crue. By this time I had moved in to my new house with my wife and we set up a regular internet connection, enabling me to catch up on the recent news and gossip of artists I had grown up listening to. Naturally Motley were one of the first I checked out.
The internet is a Godsend for music fans when I look back to how fans of yesteryear got their information. Now it only takes a few clicks and one is supplied with everything you need to know in a few seconds. And man was I glad to discover that not only were Motley Crue still going (none of them had died yet shock!) but they were still releasing music. From then on my old love resurfaced and I was a re-addicted Crue head!
Online I found out about Nikki's other projects like Brides Of Destruction and the brilliant Sixx A.M. (should being in TWO cool bands be allowed?) and best of all the new Motley Crue album, Saints Of Los Angeles, in 2008. And what a record thats is! There were a few old metal/rock/whatever artists who released CDs in 2008 which managed to recapture the energy and enthusiasm of days of old and Vince and co. were definately among them. Saints went back to being what the Crue are all about; sleazy riffs, balls out attitude, cute imagery and full on rock n' roll. They went back to being the band I remember sitting up all night in the dark air drumming to. They were simply Motley f**king Crue ~ the beast that never dies.
Someone really ought to make 'em Saints.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

When Grave Robbing Became Cool

Way back in 1996 (seems further back than what it actually is) game developers Core Design and publishers Eidos Interactive released a videogame on the Playstation, that would catapult the games heroine into the stratosphere and make her an icon. Never before had a game character been a household name. (Well okay there was Mario but he didn't have some of the worlds most beautiful women playing him.)
The game im preparing the drum rolls for is of course Tomb Raider, starring wealthy (we say 'posh' around here) adventurer Lara Croft. And I will not do what everyone else does and say a bustier, prettier and more kissable version of Indiana Jones. So ignore that last sentence.
Tomb Raider is only just 'retro' but rest assured, it IS retro. I remember first playing a demo of this, courtesy of some Playstation magazine, and being blown away by the water pools. I played the heck out of that demo, usually swimming, before finally getting my mitts on the full game proper.
And what a game it was! Nice visuals (aside from Lara's conical breasts) short but sweet cut scenes with a combination of action and quirky puzzles. The sheer size of some levels (especially the Sphinx level) were enough to make your jaw hit the floor.

Crofty does her bit for wildlife conservation

The story revolves around recovery of the Scion, something which has phenomenal power, as is typical in these adventure games. Lara travels to Peru, Greece and Egypt in an attempt to stop the games antagonist Jacqueline Natla securing it for herself. I can't remember another game before Tomb Raider that did so much globe trotting and so it was a refreshing experience having different types of terrain to explore and cull the wildlife (see above pic.)
The puzzles were sometimes straightforward and ofen frustrating but having recently replayed the game, some of the ideas were cool. Like in Greece on the St Francis' Folly level, there are four puzzles (Thor, Neptune, Damocles, Atlas) to solve to obtain keys and each one were nicely thought out and satisfying to solve.
Having said that, I must admit the puzzles were used too often in later games, requiring to solve one even to open a single door which quickly became irritating. Especially when Lara had a shotgun which one would think was capable of opening even the stubbornest of doors! On Miss Crofts first outing though things were new and players didn't notice the puzzle hungry doors (or I didn't anyway.)
The only big gripe I have about Tomb Raider was the way you saved the game; you couldn't unless you bumped into a blue diamond save crystal but these were awfully placed and gamers could usually find two within 10 minutes, then not find another for half an hour. And in the Coliseum part there is a save crystal almost at the end of the level! Why?
Anyway thats enough whining, Core Design fixed the save problem in further installments and in such a groundbreaking title I find it rather petty of me to pick out little faults so onto the good stuff which there are aplenty.
The most obvious WOW Factor came for many in the early Lost Valley level. There Lara is merrily weaving her way through rock clusters, not a care in the world as she picks off ravenous wolves like they were mere bugs. You think to yourself 'well this is all rather nice,' as you scramble down a craggy ledge to get to the valley floor. Then it happens. Two velociraptors come charging from the ferns, intent on making a Crofty supper. And before you can finish saying 'dinosaurs! WTF??' You're gunning them down, sending the lizards back to extinction. But its not over, oh no.
There is silence, two dead raptors lay at your booted feet. You proceed with a renewed caution, scanning the trees for more angry dinos. Less than a quarter of the way across the valley floor you spot muddy prints. Giant lizardy clawprints. Suddenly orchestral music kicks in, the doom laden kind that spells TROUBLE and there he is. Heading straight for Lara is a huge Tyrannosaurus Rex, jaws as big a Land Rover! It really is a great moment in videogaming for me and the fright meter is easily up there with the dogs smashing through a window in Resident Evil.

Photobucket Run Lara! Run!

Another stand out moment is the Egypt level as I said above when you discover the Sphinx. Its massive and really hit home just how good the original Playstation was. I had never seen as large a level anywhere before and Core Design were at the top of their game. Its still impressive even today.
I could go on and on about how great a game Tomb Raider is/was but nothing I can write will beat actually playing it again so do yourself a favour and fire it up for old times sake. This title is very popular at car boot sales (in my area anyway) and you can grab a copy for a £1. Gamestation sells it cheaply too so might be worth checking them out.

Thursday, 14 October 2010


Much like previous metal bands mentioned here, Motorhead definately need no introduction. (And the author is well aware that Lemmy would hate his band being described as 'metal' but there you go.) They formed in 1975 after Lemmy was booted out of Hawkwind for 'doing the wrong type of drugs,' as he has put it. The bands first monicker was going to be Bastard but figuring televiosion appearances would be very limited they changed it to Motorhead after a song Lemmy had written for Hawkwind.
The band are regarded as part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, eventhough they predate the thing, but nobody could deny their contribution to hard rock over the years. From 1979/80's 'Bomber' and 'Ace Of Spades' to more recent great albums like 'Inferno' 'Kiss Of Death' and 'Motorizer', Motorhead have left a trail of ringing ears and banged heads in their noisy wake.

The image on a gazillion tee shirts

Confession time; I used to dislike Motorhead. True, this hardcore, born for devilhorns and metal; this passionate, dyed in the studded denim, headbanger DID NOT LIKE one of THE most heavy metal-est bands known to mankind! I actually looked down on them like some toffee nosed brat and thought of their music as a mess played by scruffy buffoons. (I thought the exact same thing of the Sex Pistols but I wasn't far wrong in that assumption.)
It wasn't until 2005 that I folded away my haughty attitude towards Motorhead and bought a Best Of double CD in HMV. And was blown away! True I had always begrudgingly loved 'Ace Of Spades' (who would'nt?) and the brilliant 'Killed By Death' but the sheer ferocity and razor melodies of songs like 'Rock n' Roll' and 'Shine' were a revelation to my then 34 year old self. So much so that I immediately set about collecting all of the bands albums on CD and loving every whisky soaked riff.
Looking back to my teenage years (and those of my 20s) I can't believe how foolish I was in ignoring Motorhead. To realise how important the band are to heavy metal, it was like someone into more mainstream music shrugging off David Bowie's albums as being not any good, which would be incredibly stupid. To think how I would happily listen to the likes of Poison and Cinderella while sticking two fingers up at Lemmy and co. makes me cringe with embarrassment.
I can only hope that the Metal Gods are a forgiving bunch and take my dedication to all things metal/rock for almost 30 years into account should there be a divine judgement. Motorhead are a truly great band and if you listen through their early works like 'Orgasmatron' you'll notice how the music is timeless and never on any given track sound out-dated or stale.
There are very few bands around like this. Bands with staying power who keep it real with their fans. Bands where putting on a fantastic show and releasing a solid record are the most important things to offer. In short, Motorhead have not crawled up into their posteriors and decided they are bigger than the music which a lot of other bands seem fond of doing. (No names but there are a few in the rock world who this is certainly true of I am sad to report.)
Motorhead are amazing live. The band is reputedly louder than a 747 plane taking off and its not hard to believe that this claim is NOT an idle boast when they suddenly kick off onstage like some ravenous, rock n' roll hellhound bent on carnage. You don't get the fancy theatrics of other acts but you DO get full on attitude, honesty and great rock music in abundance.
Motorhead - a founding stone of British Heavy Metal and a band with very few equals. Go party with Dr. Rock !!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Street Fighting Man

In 1987 games publishers Capcom released the now mega successful Street Fighter game into arcades. By 1992 they ported it onto the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and the game became an instant hit among gamers making it one of the developers biggest ever sellers.
Everybody has played something of the Street Fighter series (it has about a million versions) and most of us are still scarred by that awful movie featuring Kylie Minogue and Jean Claude Van Damme. *shudders* But is it truly the class act we think it is? Or has there been too much praise heaped upon it? After spending another night on Street Fighter IV on the Xbox 360 last night, I tend to lean more to the latter. (And no, there are no wasps in my pants and im NOT on the wrong end of a hangover.)
Now don't send me to the scaffold just yet because im not utterly dismissing the game. (Only a dolt would do that.) Street Fighter II was the first game I rushed out and bought for my SNES and I spent many happy hours, biting my opponents on the head/shoulders. (Guess who I always picked? Hint in photo below.) So im not trying to antagonise Street Fighter fans here, or rubbish it to hell. I like the game, I do.

Hey Sumo dude! Fancy a dance?

It was only that when playing Street Fighter IV I came to the conclusion that I like Tekken and Soul Calibur more. Sure the games have always looked great, and on the 360 SF IV looks really luscious, but for me there is a spark missing from Street Fighter that the previously mentioned beat 'em ups have in abundance. Ive tried to figure it out but the answer has eluded me thus far. Its not the characters thats for sure. You really cannot fail with an electric wild man and rubber limbed shaman in the cast. (However M. Bison has got to be one of the most boring game baddies there is.)
Perhaps its the 'pick up and play' nature of Tekken that wins me over. I feel as if I can fight with relative ease using Marshal Law but need to memorise ten button combinations to get anywhere with Ruy or Ken. It all seems so fiddly to me. So many combinations that it takes away the fun aspect of it. Sure Tekken has it share of kung fu manouvres but I seem to get my head around the moves more. And Soul Calibur is simplicity in itself despite having a glut of scenarios.
Like ive said, im not knocking Street Fighter, but for me it belongs in the group of beat 'em ups that require more dedication than I am able to summon.