Saturday, February 14, 2009

Musical Notes: Flying High To Sesame Street

Almost every day, I load up my MP3 player with two albums (or concerts) and listen to them through the day at work. I tend to run in themes - for instance, for several weeks, one of my two albums each day was by Larry Norman. I also expect to go into a Harry Nilsson phase soon, due mainly to having recently obtained the entire Harryties bootleg series .

One of my two albums one day last week was a tribute album called Flying High Again: The World's Greatest Tribute to Ozzy Osbourne, released in 2006. It follows the usual pattern for tribute albums in the hard rock / heavy metal genre - most of the songs are credited to a (reasonably) big-name vocalist with a (reasonably) big-name guitarist. For instance, the first track on this album is Mr. Crowley, performed by Tim "Ripper" Owens and Yngwie Malmsteen. Neither is a household name, but if you're a fan of hard rock you've probably heard of both of them.

Also like most of these tribute albums, the majority of the tracks are pretty much karaoke, with the arrangements not straying far from the original recordings. Since all the guitarists are veterans of the shred scene, the music is all perfectly fine but doesn't bring much new to the table. The vocals are where we get some interesting variations.

Most of the vocalists fall into one of two categories: high-pitched screamers the likes of which I thought had become extinct in the late eighties, or acid-gargling snarlers from the hardcore / death metal genre. The opening track shows Ripper Owens to be one of the former. After an intro that sounds carbon-copied from Ozzy's original, he begins the vocal by screaming the opening line an octave higher than Ozzy's version. If you're going to listen to this album at high volume, please extend the courtesy of providing any nearby dogs with earplugs first, and beware of bats showing up to investigate the frequencies.

For the first ten tracks of the album, it's a competent but forgettable karaoke night. It's interesting to hear Lita Ford perform Close My Eyes Forever live as a solo song (with a really lame joke at the start that she seems to regret as soon as she says it), and Dee Snider's rendition of Crazy Train with Jason Bonham on drums, but there's nothing on here that will make anyone forget Ozzy's original versions.

Until we get to the last two tracks, that is. I'm going to discuss them in reverse order.

The album closer, Goodbye To Romance performed by the Alex Skolnick Trio, is by far the greatest departure from the original arrangement, and an odd ending for the album. Knowing Skolnick from his work with Testament and his columns in guitar magazines, I had expected just another karaoke carbon copy. Instead, it's an instrumental jazz version that clocks in at over seven minutes. Skolnick turns on a distortion pedal for the last couple of minutes, but most of the song sounds like it could be played as background music in an upscale cocktail bar.

I don't mean that as an insult - this is lounge music, but it's very well-done lounge music, and fans of easy-listening jazz (I'm not one of them) would probably enjoy it. It seems an anticlimactic way to end such a loud and heavy album, but placing this track anywhere else in the sequence would probably have resulted in most listeners not hearing anything after it. It certainly would have been a disastrously atypical opener. In the final analysis, there was nowhere it could go except at the end.

The most interesting track, though, is number 11: Revelation (Mother Earth), performed by Novembers Doom (whose name sounds to me like a possessive but inexplicably does not include an apostrophe). On the day that I listened to this album, my second selection was a Rutles album. The Novembers Doom track (man, do I ever have a hard time not inserting an apostrophe into their name) was still the funniest thing I heard that day.

The lead vocal - well, most of it, but we'll get to that - is performed by a member of the low, growly death-metal school. However, it doesn't come off quite right in this song. The instrumental intro sounds pretty much like Ozzy's original, slow and soft. Then the vocal comes in, and sounds just like - I assure you I am not making this up - Cookie Monster.

Yes, this album includes an Ozzy track as performed by beloved Sesame Street character Cookie Monster. That alone makes it a must-hear. The vocal is so reminiscent of the beloved Muppet that I was surprised every time the first-person personal pronoun ("I") appeared in the lyrics. It sounded wrong, because everyone knows that Cookie (we're tight, I can call him that) has trouble with his pronouns and always says "me".

Then it gets better.

Around a minute and a half in, a second vocalist joins in. The line "Father of all creation..." is sung by what seems to be another celebrity impersonator. Actually, an impersonator of an impersonator. This second vocalist seems to have a thick eastern European accent. However, he doesn't sound quite like Arnold. Instead, he sounds like an Arnold imitator - Hans and Franz, or perhaps Ranier Wolfcastle.

The song continues for a couple more minutes, with Cookie and Ranier trading lines. To be honest, though, despite playing it several times, I never got to hear most of it because I was laughing too hard. Which got me odd looks from my co-workers, but I'm used to those.

If you're a fan of Ozzy, Sesame Street, or just weird stuff in general, you owe it to yourself to seek out this song. I tried to find somewhere to listen to it online for free, but all I could find (and get to work) were places like Amazon, where I could only get a short preview. That clip allows you to hear Cookie Monster, but ends before the duet with Ranier / Ahh-Nuld begins. More's the pity.

The real punchline came when I read a little bit about the band online. The death metal genre with its attendant snarly vocalists tends to be prevalent in northern European countries. Between Cookie Monster's vocal style and Ranier's accent, I was sure that Novembers Doom (must remember to go back and delete the apostrophe that my fingers refuse to omit on the first pass...) would be from Iceland, Finland, or Some-other-really-cold-place-Land.

They're from Illinois.

This song almost makes me want to embed the audio in this article so all my several visitors could hear at least a few seconds of the wonderful awfulness. However, two things prevent me from doing so.

Number one, I hate it when sites embed multimedia content. It's getting better now that it usually doesn't start up unless you explicitly ask it to by clicking a Play button. However, for most of the Internet's short history, sites that use multimedia content have usually started it automatically, clogging bandwidth, dragging your computer to a halt, and blasting you with something you probably didn't want to hear if your speakers were turned up. It'll take me a long time to warm up to embedded content because I've been thoroughly conditioned to hate it.

Second, I haven't the foggiest idea how.

If you're the criminal sort, there may be legally dubious places online where you could obtain this album for free. However, being a law-abiding blogger, I could never in good conscience suggest that anyone do so.

I could also never recommend that you could use a torrent client, like uTorrent, that allows you to only download the files you want and skip the rest.

Unless of course you live in a country where such things are legal, in which case have at it.

(Disclaimer: nothing on this blog should be taken as legal advice. The guy writing it may not even be a lawyer, for all you know. In the event that you are arrested and/or sued because you chose to do something that this blog said you shouldn't but you thought there was an implied nudge and/or wink, don't come around asking to borrow bail and/or settlement money.)

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of the cover of Flying High Again: The World's Greatest Tribute to Ozzy Osbourne - a tribute album that does not actually include a performance of its title track.

1 comment:

RebelAngel said...

I listened to the Amazon preview. You are right; it does sound like Cookie Monster. That is just weird.