DWELLING ON THE DARKSIDE, WE REVISIT MONDO GENERATOR IN THE FORM OF NICK OLIVERI’S DEATH ACOUSTIC!

The cover of the CD filled with the mellow (?) side of Nick Oliveri and his acoustic interpretations of Queens Of The Stone Age, Mondo Generator and Oliveri standards.  With a title like 'Death Acoustic', I am not sure how mellow these versions will be!  Cover photo courtesy Impedance Records.

The cover of the CD filled with the mellow (?) side of Nick Oliveri and his acoustic interpretations of Queens Of The Stone Age, Mondo Generator and Oliveri standards. With a title like ‘Death Acoustic’, I am not sure how mellow these versions will be! Cover photo courtesy Impedance Records.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This review was slated to come out right before the new year.  However, it was waylaid by a death in the family, specifically my mother.  Please, no condolences for the woman who said I’d never amount to anything and that I was a “no good, good for nothing”.  While your well wishes are greatly appreciated by me, her absentia is not worth the bandwidth.  But thank you for the kind thoughts in advance.  Back to business, and welcome to the new and improved BouleBlog!  We are out of our syndication deal and are now free to publish what we like when we like.  In the next few weeks you will see subtle changes to the content, and hopefully we will be able to execute some changes to the look of the page.  Thanks to all of our subjects of the blog since July of last year.  You were all important in maintaining a spot on the digital landscape for BouleBlog to inhabit.  Now for the review at hand:

It has been said that I am a forgiving soul.  Just recently I extended a journalistic olive branch to Todd Rundgren via my Facebook page Free Progressive (https://www.facebook.com/groups/FreeProgressive/) as I am not one to hold undeserved grudges.  I have been known to give people second chances that most assuredly didn’t deserve a first chance.  So on the heels of Mondo Generator’s last, less-than-stellar release Hell Comes To Your Heart, we take into account Nick Oliveri’s solo effort Death Acoustic.  I have high hopes as, you really can’t bury a vocal if, in fact, this disc is only an acoustic guitar and voice.

I know many fans are wondering, ‘wait a minute, isn’t he the bassist for acts like Queens Of The Stone Age, Kyuss, Kyuss Lives, The Dwarves, Mondo Generator, as well as the Desert Sessions’?  Die harders have seen the YouTube clips of Oliveri and Josh Homme playing acoustic guitars together.  Here is a clip of Oliveri doing one of the tracks from Death Acoustic, “I’m Gonna Leave You”:

If this is how the disc is going to sound, this will be a quickie review.  I notice in the liner notes, he lists only one additional guitarist so there won’t be ‘this instrument comes in here, this instrument comes in there’, etc.

In fact, this disc is a great opportunity for Oliveri to step out from behind the shadows of the likes of Homme, Blag Dhalia, John Garcia, Mark Lanegan and other front people/vocalists to whom he has been ‘second fiddle’.

This disc is also an opportunity to hear some of Oliveri’s writing without the over-production of recent Mondo Generator efforts, and some favorites like Queens Of The Stone Age’s “I’m Gonna Leave You” and an Oliveri standard “Unless I Can Kill” stripped to bare bones.

I might have to add an acoustic version of one of these songs into my own set list.  FUN!

With as much fanfare as there is production and pomp and circumstance on this disc, we will dig right in…

Our excursion into minimalist garage barrage starts off with “Start A Fight”.  I have seen Oliveri play a number of different acoustic guitars so I cannot tell what he is using from song to song.  The overall tone is slightly tinny, or to phrase it in more accepting or more politically correct (something Oliveri never concerns himself with) terms, the guitar’s EQ is rich with treble, yet has enough ‘oomph’ to represent the low end.  But perhaps the low end was not represented enough in the initial rough mixes as a bass comes in shortly before Oliveri’s vocal.

The arrangement for “Start A Fight” is Intro/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Verse extended to the end.  We’ll keep an eye on this to see if Oliveri learned anything from Dave Grohl.  Some of these songs were written before Oliveri worked with Grohl, so they may not.

Somehow, I am not surprised by the fact that I find Oliveri’s low, grumbly voice mixed down in the overall level among the multiple acoustic guitars, bass and other vocals.  Disappointed again.

The topic of the lyrics is easy to deduce, even just from the title.  This is a semi-Spanish themed (ok, read: vague hints of Flamenco) punk homage to fisticuffs.  The fiesta takes a break for a moment for Oliveri to tell us what we can do to/with ourselves, and then the music resumes in time for a speedy fade to take the song out.

The chords to “Invisible Like The Sky” snap right in and for a change, the vocal comes in at a listenable level, even with the distortion!  This is one of the songs that enforces what I said earlier about Oliveri displaying his songwriting acumen.  It also features some of the speediest acoustic playing I have heard since Megadeth started releasing acoustic versions of their tunes.  For a supposedly acoustic album, the bass is mighty thick on this track.  With an arrangement of Intro/Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Intro Bridge/Verse/Bridge Change/Bridge Change/Verse end with picked chord.  So much for formula.

There has been a regional resurgence in a nation-wide ice cream retail restaurant chain.  The next cut is named cheekily after this chain, “Dairy Queen”.  But the song is not about ice cream, or even taking tests in extra terrestrial franchises (a nod to Laurie Anderson there).  It’s more about a possible employee of DQ who likes to spread, well, “the toppings” around.

Octave notes over chords intro the track, and the lyrics are triple scooped with ice cream innuendo.  Ingenious.  But sometimes the innuendo is not veiled, as in the line “going down on every guy in town”.  Apparently sprinkles aren’t the only thing this gal is generous with…

While the lyrics are  amusing, the octaves seem to be electronically generated.  They are tinny on the harmony.  With iTunes taking over for live performance at many levels, playlists replacing DJs, midi replacing musicians, I guess any shortcut musicians take is acceptable in light of ever-decreasing scale for performances.  But that doesn’t mean Oliveri is playing it safe, or taking the easy, lazy, most comfortable means to an end.  Ever the adventurer, always at the frontier of ‘fuck off’, Oliveri is not afraid of letting those octaves and end harmonies push the envelopes of key and mode.  The arrangement here is Intro/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Verse/Rest (“down”)/Chorus/Break/Solo/Chorus (whispered)/Break/Verse/Chorus repeat to fade.

Since it’s ok for musicians to take short cuts such as midi, sampling, triggering, looping, I am taking a short cut on this track review.  The video linked above is the next track on the disc, “I’m Gonna Leave You” from (initially) Queens Of The Stone Age’s Songs For The Deaf (titled there simply as “Gonna Leave You”).  While the YouTube version above is really stripped down to voice and one guitar, the disc version from Death Acoustic has some embellishments.  For instance, the Death Acoustic version starts with a series of higher pitched notes and chords.  After the new intro, we go right into the familiar structure such as the one in the video.  Intro/Solo Verse/Verse/Bridge/Chorus/Verse/Bridge/Chorus/Staccato Solo Verse/Bridge/Chorus/Chorus slowed to end.

Because the Songs For The Deaf version had a modicum of success, the vocal is front and center.  Even the background vocals at the bridge and chorus are mixed with representation.  In fact, so much emphasis was placed on attracting attention to the lyrics, in spite of Oliveri’s seemingly gimmicky distortion of the vocals,  the melody is changed ever-so-slightly to give this version a touch of the fresh.  The acoustic guitar EQ is set in the Mid-High range.  There must be song inherent importance to this song as Oliveri has recorded versions with Queens in both English and Spanish, and it is an Oliveri standard at many shows as there are numerous versions on YouTube done full band and acoustically.  This might be that track I add to my set list as, from what I can see on the video, it is an easy song to play.  But then again, I had seen acoustic versions of other Oliveri classics like “Ode TO Clarissa” and “Millionaire”.  Tough choices for yours truly…

But Oliveri isn’t afraid to tackle the universal song topic of love.  He just prefers to take the topic, hold it upside-down by its ankles and shake all the lunch money out of its pockets.  “Love Has Passed Me By” springs right in with a hoppin’ arrangement, but that arrangement hops all over the vocal arrangement and gets it lost in the sauce (I’m having frustrating bouts of Déjà Vu with Hell Comes To Your Heart flashbacks).  Regardless of Oliveri’s vocal shyness, this track is a winner.  If you need to look up the review of Hell… please go ahead and go so as Oliveri takes a poke at his own troubled history with the second verse lyrics making a tongue-in-cheek reference to spousal abuse (a charge he has been falsely accused of twice) with the lyric line “…make you feel the pain I feel”.

A nice solo comes in after the second bridge, and flows into a series of sharply struck chords of the pattern, making for a nice tight staccato ending.  The overall arrangement is looking like Intro/Solo Verse/Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Solo Verse/Solo Chorus/Verse/Chorus end.

An easy chord pattern and a distorted vocal (Oliveri’s formula?) is “U Blow”.  The rhythm pattern is interesting with its slide chord and 16th note chords at the end of the riff.  The arrangement goes Intro/Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Solo/Verse/Chorus/Outro.   The more volume Oliveri emits in the lyrics, the more the vocal distorts, which makes me wish Oliveri  would include lyrics in the liner notes (there’s that Déjà vu again…).

Oliveri builds the dynamic into the solo by adding more instruments right before the solo starts.  The solo features hold chords under a nicely thought-out octave solo.   The last verse repeats the previous verse, and to accentuate the end he holds a build on those 16th note chords right into the sounds of a bomb explosion!  What a nut…  Oh, so the word blow in the title means explode, not a sex act, clever!  But they lyrical content deals with bands, so is he wanting to blow up acts as in set explosives under the stage?  Oliveri often evokes acts of vandalism, terrorism, and chaos.

Gotta love the guy!

The fullest arrangement on the disc so far belongs to “Hybrid Moments”.  Layers of vocals, lots of guitars, other filler instruments make me think this is the intended single of the disc.  Not that Oliveri prescribes to the “I need to have a radio-friendly single on the disc or I may as well not release it’.  He is more of the school of thought ‘I have this idea for a disc, I’m gonna put it out with Mondo Generator, or solo, or somehow, but in one form or another, I’m putting it out there and A&R people can kiss my ass’.

The arrangement runs along the lines of Verse/Bridge/Chorus/Verse/Bridge/Chorus/Verse/Bridge/Chorus/ Chorus end.  While simple, remember, we are looking at the potential single here.  Gotta keep it simple for the masses.

Near the end, all the strumming instruments are pulled down in the mix so you hear the sustained delayed electric guitar (so much for Death ACOUSTIC) holding drone notes, which add a lot of the depth this track displays.

Next up is an Oliveri standard remade for acoustic.  Originally appearing on Mondo Generator’s astounding album Cocaine Rodeo, “Unless I Can Kill” is a tough conversion to acoustic, and he did it no favors by distorting the vocals and doubling them.  If I weren’t familiar with them from the earlier version, I would not have recognized or understood them worth a damn.  He messed with perfection and came up short this time.  Not necessarily the best choice of song to put a 12-string acoustic guitar into, what is this, ELO?  To add insult to injury he ends the track with the word ‘you’ in perfect, undistorted harmony.

Sigh…

Another strike against this track is, it is compact of arrangement.  Intro/Verse/Chorus/Verse/Bridge/Hold Break/Chorus/Chorus end.

“Follow Me” contributes another big arrangement (so much for this disc being voice and acoustic, stripped down production) for a topic Oliveri likes to interject this and other Oliveri tracks, high school (see “Jr. High Love” from Mondo Generator’s A Drug Problem That Never Existed).  The basic gist about this track is telling someone to stick with him after high school, despite what his school counselor told him, he knew he was going somewhere.  This time my Déjà Vu is harkening me back to everything my departed maternal parent said about me.

But Oliveri believes so much in the protagonist of this song, there are no gimmicky vocal effects to cloud the lyrical idea.  Perhaps the nicest solo of the disc is in this track, just before the chorus fade out.

The arrangement follows this short formula; Intro/Verse/Chorus/Verse/Bridge/Solo/

Death Acoustic ends with a GG Allin song, (with alterations/revisions by Oliveri) “Outlaw Scumfuc”.  Oliveri makes this song his own.  Even if he had not changed some of the elements in this song, this is one of those tracks written by someone else that makes you think it was written for Oliveri.

Part of the production angle was to make it sound like this was played live in a club, by the outlaw Oliveri about the outlaw Oliveri.  He modified it to make it sound more autobiographical.  Remarkable how he adapted it to his self-denigrating personal view.  But the humor and inner denigration as well as the internal personal loathing make it worth the price of the disc, never mind the convincing performance Oliveri delivers in his personal put-downs.  Everything else is bonus, gravy, icing on the cake of self loathing.

Adding to the illusion of a live performance, the tempo escalates near the end, making the track sound like Oliveri is in a rush to beat up every member of the invisible audience.  Then get back on stage to “…sing all these songs about bitches…”.

Alin wrote this with a pretty interesting arrangement.  There are a series of three verses in each set.  It would go Verse/Verse/Verse/Chorus/Verse/Verse/Verse/Chorus/Verse/Verse/Verse/Chorus/Verse.  For the last set of three verses, the tempo speeds up at each line, getting faster and faster.  The last chorus features doubled, overlapping vocals.

In summary, despite some of the lyrics being buried in a surprise  avalanche of additional instruments (many being electric on an album with the word ‘acoustic’ in the title), not only would I recommend this disc, but I went on to order a disc with a mutt line-up of Mondo Generator (including Dave Grohl) titled Dog Food which also has ‘acoustic’ versions of Oliveri penned tunes.  So stay tuned for that review.

In the meantime, keep your gaze fixed right here as we start to remodel BouleBlog to include more posts per time period, different topics not exclusive to music, and musical instrument reviews done on video!  Instruments like a custom shop Epiphone silverburst SG400 guitar, the Tama Bill Bruford BB146 snare drum (compared to two different sized, hand hammered metal Tama snare drums) as well as some other instruments, effects, and studio miscellany.  But the most compelling of the new aspects to the blog has to be the influx of new, unsigned bands submitting their work for review.  An original act that I used to fill-in on drums for, The Illustrious Red Bulb Band, based out of Hellertown PA.  We are also looking forward to reviewing (after much consternation from the syndication) a tremendous free-form progressive act Random Touch.  They bum me out because I just got turned on to them and they disbanded three albums later.  But that is no reason not to try to get them some posthumous publicity and press.

But there are some things, lurking in the wings, I cannot talk about them not because of some private designation, but because they are still in the stage of negotiation.  Let’s just say if these talks are done correctly, you will be seeing more of me directly!

We’ll be right back quickly with some new shit!  Thanks for sticking by us with all the changes.  But I can say with little to no hesitation, the best is yet to come!

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