This site doesn't really do reviews as such, but after Blue Coupe's second CD, "Million Miles More", hit my doormat last week, I thought I'd make an exception...
This release had an interesting genesis - it was primarily funded by a Kickstarter-type pledging process - in their case, it was Indiegogo - with a number of "additional extras" you could opt for - the most interesting from my point of view being a set of demos on disk...
Another interesting feature was that they'd secured the services of renowned producer Jack Douglas to add his own spin on the Blue Coupe sound, and as if that wasn't enough, we next heard that Alice Cooper, Buck Dharma and Ross the Boss, amongst others, would be guesting on the CD.
Then we had to wait for what seemed forever as they embarked on the actual process of getting the disk finished and out to the waiting fans...
Well - the wait is obviously now over and I've spent the best part of the last week with this CD on repeat play and here are my thoughts on what I think is a rather superb release.
As of the time of writing, no lyrics have yet been published, and so I'm guessing at them some of the time - but Joe helpfully recently posted some footnotes about each song on J&A, so I'll quote those below to help give a better understanding of what they're about...
Joe Bouchard: "Blue Coupe took this one to the wall, it's much more developed than Tornado on the Tracks. I co-wrote 5 songs on this disk. On Tornado I wrote 1 and a half. When Jack Douglas got involved in making the album everything was ratcheted up a notch or two or three. We love Jack and we were under obligation to give him our best. I think that also encouraged Buck and Alice and others to get on board."
We curse the nomads as they're riding away
Arrows flying through the sky so dark and grey
The battle rages before the dawn
We feel the dragon's fire
Prophets Dukes and Nomads
And the strong will live but some fade away
Figures along the Highway
Joe Bouchard: "Prophets Dukes and Nomads was rewritten 3-4 times. The title comes from the three most famous upstate NY bands, Ronnie Dio and the Prophets, Wilmer Alexander Jr. and the Dukes from Geneva (prototype for Otis Day and the Knights in Animal House) and Ed Wool and the Nomads, popular Watertown NY band. But every set of lyrics that dealt with the actual bands was lame. Finally Dennis came up with some wacky lyrics about dragons, and flying through the sky and it all worked."
"Prophets Dukes and Nomads", is a pounding, thrusting swaggering opener and until I read Joe's notes, I thought it must have been about some Game of Thrones-type fantasy scenario, but now I find it's about those three bands Joe mentioned. However, even though I am now armed with that knowledge, I still don't get it...
Anyhoo... some great interweaving guitar on this one
"So far way when you called my phone
Said she'd make it worthwhile if I make it home
So look out world i'm gonna rattle your bones
So watch your ass baby, you're in the danger zone..."
Joe Bouchard: "Buck's guitar is very trebly but it's a good sound for him. Warren fixed it in the mix and the end result was ballsy. Those who bought the MMM demos premium from Indiegogo get to hear Don's guitar in the raw. Try playing those licks? Buck did a very tasty part that was accentuated in the mix for the verses and the solo is fine."
I'd already heard this taster clip Albert posted showing a part of the rehearsal for this song recorded by the security cameras at the studio:
Take this great relentless driving bass-line driven riff and add Buck Dharma into the mix and you get Hellfire Hurry - nope not sure what it's actually about, other than the opbvious - Joe's putting pedal to nitro-driven metal to "make it back, baby" and everybody better get out of his way...
So what's Buck like? Great, is the short answer - though he does seem to be slightly buried in the mix in places - I'd love to hear that raw mix Joe mentioned - maybe one day he'll post it someplace...
Interesting to see Buck making new music - I can only think the foundations for this were laid at the Better Buy show last year - and I see Buck also plays on "Eyeblinder", the latest release from Milwaukee band, The Lizardz...
Maybe he's getting a taste for actually creating music again, rather than just endlessly rehashing the BOC "hits" on the classic rock revisited casino/country fair circuit BOC seem locked into - it may be financially rewarding, but for creative artists, there's more to it than money...
Yes, I know - money's nice too...
Spirits came up from the ground
They started dancing around
I was in serious trouble
When they did the skeleton shuffle
Joe Bouchard: "I sang the original vocal for Hallow's Grave so Alice's vocal was based on mine. But his is a million times better. He smacks that vocal upside the head and builds it to a whopping finale. The music was written by Albert, Dennis and I. That's my slide on the end. I play all the guitars. The lyrics were written by Dennis with some alterations by me. It was my idea to do "Stopped dead in my tracks... trapped like a rat". I even sang it as I imagined Alice would sing it, not knowing he'd sing it in the end. I love it."
Well this was a surprise when I first played it - they've only gone and got Alice Cooper to sing the main vocal!! How amazing is that?
So far as I know - which usually isn't very far - they were originally only trying to get Alice to do a backing vocal, but he suggested maybe he could do the main one instead... well that's what I heard - and if that's so, maybe it's a case of they were hoping he'd suggest that himself...?
The song is a dark but humorous whimsy - you can picture the video for this track in your mind's eye, with Alice being chased round a tree by a bunch of skeletons in the park at midnight... might be a shade outside Blue Coupe's budget, though...
I think this is the most unique sounding song on the CD - possibly because it was written by all three of them - and with Alice in mind - and that seemed to drag a bit more creativity out of them somehow - not that the other songs on here are in anyway lacking - it just makes this one different. It's almost like a piece of musical theatre...
On top of a pretty decent performance by Alice and the excellent backing vocals, there's also a great slide guitar solo bit by Joe - it's a really great collaborative effort all round, and I bet Alice loved the result...
I know I do...
She woke up in the morning in the light of a brand new day
The need for reassurance - she should find a better way
All the headlines screaming - you walk on dangerous ground
Coming to the conclusion - a change is coming down
Joe Bouchard: "Everybody Goes Insane. Another song that went through 3-4 rewrites. The chorus was given to me by a fan, David Scott, a songwriter from Scotland. Dennis didn't like the original verse so it's his verse with some changes by me. The music is all mine and I play all the guitars."
I just love this...
Superb vocal delivery from Joe, and this is nearly my favourite song off the record - it has a brilliant chorus, with fantastic backing vocals - though if they're to do justice to this song live, they're probably going to need to gig with Tish & Snooky as fixtures...
I also think this is the most accessible song on the CD - by which I mean, if you had to pick a song to play to someone who hadn't heard the band before and you wanted to impress them, then I think this would be the best song to choose.
If we're talking singles, this is the one to release...
Dunno who David Scott is, but I think he must be well chuffed...
When I'm sad - you chase the clouds away
And when I'm glad, you're like a spring bouquet
And when I lose direction, you help me find my way
Yeah - that's why I Stick Around
Joe Bouchard: "That is Albert playing the piano. It was his part completely. The harmonies are real, Albert sings a total Beach Boys part by himself with Tish and Snooky adding a few more parts. This song went through dozens of versions. The hardest part was getting Dennis to be satisfied with the vocal. (He's never satisfied.) I am not on this track at all. Albert plays the guitar and Dennis the bass. I did work on the song for two weeks programming my string arrangement. My strings were pretty cool IMHO but it didn't lay the best foundation for the vocal. In the end Jack Douglas suggested his string guy, Daniel Coe, redo my parts out in Hollywood. They don't call them Hollywood strings for nothing. It came out very smooth and Dennis was happy with the result."
This is a piano ballad written by and sung by Dennis, in which he promises his beloved that he'll always - forever - stick around because she loves him "up or down" - kinky devil!!
I actually like the opening piano bit the best - for me, it rather goes downhill after that - those lyrics just make me cringe, I'm afraid...
It reminds me somewhat of "Mary Ann" off Billion Dollar Babies, where you get this piano-based ballad, and this whiney love-sick lyric in between Sick Things and I Love The Dead, and you're thinking, WTF!! But whereas Mary Ann arguably sort of rescues itself with the last (jokey) line, you don't get anything like that in this case. If it's tongue-in-cheek, then I've just plain missed it... to me, it's just full-on schmaltz to the end...
Actually, I've decided to reinterpret this song (probably inspired by Modern Love) into it being a non-reciprocal song written by a stalker to his victim - in which case, his promise to always stick around becomes less a promise and more a threat, with sinister overtones...
Evil Dennis...? Hmmm... maybe...
"In the nut house - they gave me a shock
They told me I was over you - but I guess not
This is Modern Love - And I'm putting in stalking time..."
Joe Bouchard: "Modern Love (Stalking Time) is another John Elwood Cook song. (John wrote Dark Boat from Jukebox in My Head and You (Like Vampires) from Tornado. He's an amazing songwriter.) Albert's arrangement, lots of sound effects and I love the lyric."
This song is crazy, mixed up, eclectic and disturbingly fun - and kicks some serious arse whilst it's about it...
It starts off with a Status Quo-esque "Caroline"-type boogie guitar followed by a superb wild theramin-sounding synthy riff - a bit like "Crazy Horses" meets the Beach Boys via a 50s sci-fi film - and then you get this delicious laid back Albert vocal that sucks you into his distorted worldview...
Great keyboards from Goldy McJohn in this one - I'm guessing the connection here came about from Albert's gigs with The Classic Rock All-stars (which includes Goldy) - the wild rave up bit in the middle reminded me of the live Dizbusters keys, for some reason... maybe the influence of Allen Lanier seeped into the matrix, somehow...
It just shows you the breadth of styles that John Elwood Cook is capable of writing in - though I suspect the band gave this a bit of a "treatment" - I'd LOVE to hear JEC's original demo version though, to compare it with...
This is a used car I'm driving
Better leave me alone
With the scars of the open road
I'm driving home
Afraid of myself
Joe Bouchard: "Another brilliant John Cook song. I didn't write the music or lyrics. This went through many rewrites. The harmonica was recorded on the Isle of Jersey backstage at the Opera House. Giles Robson is one of the most famous harp players in England. We had him improvise a quick part. No special set up, just blowing his harp into Dennis's laptop with a set of ear buds on. Harmonies by me and Tish and Snooky. "Rust over bone" my favorite lyric on the album."
Another great Joe vocal - it feels like something that could have appeared on "Tales from The Island" - and I LOVE the harmonica on this. I was astounded to read Joe's note about how this was recorded - who'd've thunk it? Just shows you what can be done with technology these days.
John Elwood Cook comes up with the goods again - albeit disturbing, brooding goods - with this song - and Blue Coupe do a terrific job with it.
By the way - here's a link to John Elwood Cook singing his own composition, and giving it the Johnny Cash treatment:
No vids have appeared on youTube yet of Blue Coupe doing any tracks from this record, but here's a clip of Joe singing this song from his solo show:
I've been known to paint a picture
That's the way I feel close to you
It's all I can do
I see your face in a vision
And recreate it with precision to
Share my supernatural love for you
Joe Bouchard: "Supernatural Love was co-written by Albert and Andy Shernoff. For Helen Wheels. I love the open feel on this one. Good vocal for Albert."
This is just su-bloody-perb - best Albert vocal so far and my favourite track on the whole record. It's deceptively simple, but it just sinks its hooks into you and will not leave.
There's a brilliant stacatto guitar lead from Joe that punctuates the fantastic backing harmonies of the chorus - in fact, I'd go so far as to say those backing vocals actually become the lead vocal in places.
All the way through this release, time and time again, you realise how much fuller, how much more interesting it makes the songs to have such a deeply rich sounding vocal soundscape.
All aboard yelled a man in a suit of black
The heavy locomotive blew steam across the track
It was the strangest fare that girl had ever bought
A one-way ticket on the train of thought
Joe Bouchard: "Train of Thought. Dennis words, my music. Doors? Actually when I wrote the demo I was thinking Doors, but it ended up more piano and I dropped the organ. Reminds me of House of the Rising Sun. "One foot on the platform, one foot on the train"... Ah the video for this one: Three undertakers in long black coats, doing the Stroll, at the old train station. Say no more."
Another great track (pun intended) - a rolling, majestic beat that picks you up and sweeps you along in its wake - this one is a real grower. There are other tracks on this CD that grab your initial attention more quickly, but once you've given the whole disk a good few plays, this is one that really starts to stick its head up above the papapet...
"Train of Thought" also contains a particularly deliciously sumptious guitar solo from Joe - and I love the woo-hoo train whistle backing vocals that run through it as a sub-current in the mix.
I was digging out the back of the house and a friend called round and I had this track blasting away - hey - when I listen to Blue Coupe, so do the neighbours - anyway, as the bit that goes "Tickets yelled the man in the suit of black, she gave hers to him and he handed it back" was playing, my mate asked "What's this - is this The Eels?". I obviously told him to sod off, but later when I listened to it in isolation, I could understand what he was talking about - it certain has that whole "E" vibe going on...
We started out young boys
Now the road's getting long
But wherever you're cheering
We'll be playin' our songs
Joe Bouchard: "Ain't Dead. Dennis's lyrics, Albert's music. Albert's lead vocal. Lead guitar by Ross the Boss. Arena rock about not being too far over the hill. A bit of fun, and works well onstage."
Although this is a fairly decent song, for me, the track is not one of the strongest offerings on the CD - though they do give it a fair degree of welly... one thing though - I've actually heard live versions of "Ain't Dead", and it works much better in that live, raw context, I think.
ActuallyI can tell it's not one of my favourites by two-tell tale pieces of evidence:
Nearly forgot to mention - Albert roped in his old guitar mercenary pal from the Brain Surgeons, Ross The Boss, to play lead guitar on this track, and I have to tell you, it ain't bad in any water!!
I'm traveling my way
Where I can be on my own
I'm taking my chances
Far out in the danger zone
Joe Bouchard: "Albert's song written with his buddy Mark Barkan (Pretty Flamingo etc.) I sing this. It was fun and easy. I play the organ too. Can't be too greasy! Live guitar lead from the drum tracking session, don't fix it, if it ain't broke."
This one starts off with a bobbing bass-line with a chiming guitar chord - very minimalist - and you're thinking "is this Siouxie & The Banshees or someone like that?"... and then the organ gently slides in and then we hit the meat...
Turns out it's a standard rocker with an interesting, understated chorus. Just like with "Ain't Dead", I bet this is great live...
Must admit to being confused by the guy in the song - his whole point is to be on his own, doing things his way - I'd have thought he'd more like "Don't ride with me - leave me alone"... then again, maybe he wanted to split the petrol expenses and divide up the driving duties so he could get some rest...?
Also - I was just wondering - where is this "Danger Zone", anyway? I noticed that the "Hellfire Hurry" guy was driving through it also earlier in the CD... must be a popular spot...
A menacing wolf is howlin' under the pale moonlight
Ridin' on the Devil's Highway
Dark demolition derby
Fires burnin' out in the night
Ridin' on the Devil's Highway
Joe Bouchard: "Dennis's song completely, music and lyrics. I changed the key to C minor to make the vocal stand out. I love it. Lots of popping parts. It is already included in the soundtrack to the movie "The Short History of Decay" to be released soon."
Is this a cowbell I see before me? No, that's the next song...
There's a lot driving and riding on highways on this CD, that's for sure... but no "Danger Zones" on this one - which is odd - that'd be just the sort of Zone you'd expect to see on the Devil's Highway...
This is actually a decent, rocking tune and Joe really rasps that vocal out - he probably needed some soothing throat lozenges after singing this one, and there are great backing vox once more. They make so much difference, so far as I'm concerned.
By the way - I looked up the subject of this song as I remembered that there was a feature on it on "QI" a while back. I got confused initially when I found myself reading about the Roman road from London to Bath - apparently, the eastern portion between Londinium and Silchester is known as the Devil's Highway. Didn't know Dennis was interested in the Roman occupation of Britain. Oh, hang on, wrong one...
I think Dennis means US Route 491 - which is a renumbering of US Route 666, renamed because, amongst other reasons, it was believed to be cursed because of the belief by some that 666 is the Number of the Beast.
What QI pointed out is that 666 isn't the number of the beast - that comes from a mis-translation of the apparently oldest existing fragment of Revelation which gives the number as 616.
Gotta crazy beat that's on my brain
It's angry and it's loud
Come on people ease my pain
Grab a cowbell now
Joe Bouchard: "Everybody's favorite party song, More Cowbell..."
Not my cup of tea, I'm afraid. It's obviously intended to be a fun number, a bit of a larf... it'd probably be fine to maybe do it live every now and then, but as a studio offering, it sticks out like a sore thumb on this CD, and I just have to skip it everytime...
The thing with jokes is - they're OK the first time round... the second time you hear it, you might give it a weary smile, but, after the third time, your attention starts to wander...
Million Miles More is a wonderfully confident record - it's a great mixture of styles and contains some great songs.
The fact that you have three different vocalists (and that's not including Alice Cooper) is a massive plus also - it's a bit like BOC in that respect, and everyone will have their own favourite.
Also I've got to mention the backing vocals on this one are just superb - not just from the band but also Tish & Snooky - and add a layer of polish to the whole endeavour.
I love the collaborative nature of this record also - a number of different musicians were recorded in a number of diverse and disparate locations, and they all bring something different - literally - to the mix
This record throws up in stark relief the dilemma that is Blue Coupe. Like BDS before them, their outer shell was an Alice/BOC covers band with an inner core of brimming creativity straining to burst out with new material, but so constrained by audience expectations - and their own promotional stance of "we're two-thirds BOC, one third ACG" - that they must feel like they're COMPELLED to trot out DFTR and Schools Out etc at the live gigs.
It's a difficult circle to square - they obviously feel the need to trade on their past to promote their future, but how do they - at the same time - break out from that and show that they're not JUST a bloody covers band...? Calling themselves "Blue Coupe" didn't help...
I mentioned this dilemma on BOC-L recently and Albert replied:
Albert Bouchard: "You've pretty much nailed it as for our conundrum. OTOH nobody's put a gun to our head and demanded that we do DFTR and School's Out. We like to do those songs because we feel we do them (AS THEY DESERVE to be done;-)). The Brain Surgeons only played DFTR a dozen times then dropped it because it just wasn't coming out right.
It's easier said than done not to trade on one's past, just ask Dave Brock. Besides as musicians we are who we are and we like what we like. Some of that is doing experimental things but some of the similarity is due to our physical limitations, things like fast twitch fibers and vocal ranges for example.
I have a bunch of demos that are very different from what people expect of me. A ton of sappy ballads, jazzy instrumentals, and techno grooves and maybe some day I'll release my own completely confounding solo record but for now I'm happy trying to find my creativity with the help of my two favorite collaborators."
Listening to this new record, I can't help feeling that this material is so strong that's it's about time Blue Coupe threw off the shackles of those previous expectations and limitations and stood up proudly and just played their own material from now on.
They get such a full sound on this new record that it's going to be difficult to recreate live - in my opinion, they need to recruit a mate who can handle some fill-in rhythm guitar, or maybe a keyboardist for onstage shows to help do justice to this material.
I hear what Albert says in that quote above, but - for me - playing all those early BOC/ACG songs just diminishes the band - it grounds them in the past and frankly, these guys are better than that.
This record is testimony to that. Please check it out