Wednesday, June 24, 2009
M - Yngwie J. Malmsteen - "Rising Force"
“I used to could listen for hours to records just for the guitar playing, but then I was dumb, because without an actual song or framework, its just somebody going doodly-doodly-doodly without rhyme or reason, and it bores me intensely (though I still own one Yngwie Malmsteen record, you’ll NEVER catch me actually listening to it).” – from my review of the Yardbirds’ “Roger the Engineer” record.
Whoops. Color me a fool.
So you know how I feel about flashy guitar players – no more needs to be said, though I’m sure I’ll end up saying it anyway.
Yngwie Malmsteen was THE hot new guitarist on the block in 1984-85. His calling card was speed: no one, and I mean NO ONE played faster than Yngwie. At a time when this kind of talent really seemed to matter, he not only sounded the part, but he looked it too: 21 years old, long hair, classic 80’s metal dude. Music magazines had this Swede plastered all over the place before his first solo record even came out (he first drew notice in the boring “Alcatrazz”). In interviews, he would position himself as the rightful heir of the musical throne of Bach, Paginnini, & Hendrix (though it’s obvious that he patterned himself after more recent players like Richie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Uli Jon Roth of the Scorpions.) At school, we’d look at pictures and wonder if his name was pronounced “yuh-NIG-wee” or “ING-wee” or “ING-vay” (the latter is correct). Finally the record came out. Yup, he sure was fast. Real fast. Faster than Van Halen, even. Problem was he couldn’t write. At all. No melodies, no lyrics, no nothing. But he played fast, alright. John became the Yngwie collector of the family: I think he bought the first 4 Yngwie records before losing interest. I never developed that interest myself, though I did have his picture on my wall for many years. He looked cooler than he sounded.
And how does it stack up today, you are asking yourself? Not well, matey. For one, it has the ABYSMAL sound of 80’s metal, especially the drums of ex-Jethro Tull member Barriemore Barlow (who happens to share my birthday – Virgos rule!) For another, as I mentioned, there’s not one memorable riff or melody on the whole record. You may as well listen to it with the sound off, because you’ll retain nothing. Lastly, his guitar playing…it IS superfast. Too fast. He plays 10 notes when 4 would suffice. There are endless descending and ascending runs – so many that you eventually tune them out, noticing only when he SLOWS DOWN (which isn’t too often). Seeing as he always claimed he was more than just another metal guitarist, (he is Yngwie “J.” Malmsteen, after all), he turns a Bach work into heavy metal drivel (this album came out around the same time Spinal Tap exposed so much of the rock & metal world for the sham it was, so it was passe upon release), has a harpsichord player on another song, and shows that he can play acoustic guitar and bass just as fast – yet for no real reason. A keyboard player appears on many of the cuts, sometimes dueling with Yngwie (sorry, Yngwie J.) on solos – hey buddy, I don’t care how fast YOU play, I didn’t buy this to hear fast keyboards, DUDE.) Plus there are two actual songs featuring vocalist Jeff Scott Soto, who must’ve been an old friend, because he has no business singing metal: on the first (“Now Your Ships Are Burned”), he sounds like a smoother James Hetfield of Metallica; on the second (“As Above, So Below”), he is the faceless metal singer that you imagine when you think of “generic”.
I despise Gene Simmons as a human being, but he made a really good point in the “Kiss Extreme Close-Up” video (he was burying Mark St. John, their third guitar player who became disabled & had to leave the band after recording one album with them): he stated that he would rather hear a simple hard chord whose sound almost breaks your ribs than to hear a million notes that just sounds like an angry bee – so annoying that you want to shoot that thing (and if Gene Simmons gets in the way of the bullet, all the better).
VERDICT: listening to this record is like driving through the Midwest (say, Kansas) at full speed. When you look out the windows, everything is rushing by so fast that you can’t focus on anything (not that there’s anything of interest to focus on). You just want to get through it as quickly as possible and move on to something else.
VIDEO: here’s Yngwie J doing his thing in Japan. They seem to like him, though people probably didn’t care too much for him on a flight to Toyko in 2002. Apparently, another passenger spilled water on him after he wouldn’t shut up, and, drunken and beligerant, he went off: (not safe for work). I like this clip much more than any of his music.