Wednesday, October 2, 2002 @ 1:35 PM
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Okay kids, time for a pop quiz. Break out your Crayolas and write down, as quickly as possible, all the female-fronted hard rock and metal bands you can. You have one minute, startinnnnnnng: now!
All done? Good! Give yourself some bonus points if you mentioned Princess Pang, Saraya, or Blacklace. Gotcha!
What it comes down to, I’ve decided, is the old Battle of the Sexes. I, the reviewer, find myself in a rather tough position, having agreed to review the new album by Germany’s premier Woman In Rock. I capitalized that because, as we all know, there really aren’t a whole lot of Women in Rock, and even fewer Women In Metal. Whether or not you see this as a good thing, it nevertheless makes it a little harder to review. If I give it a good rating, half the people out there in Rantersburg will say to themselves, “Heh, ol’ Kip gave her a good rating because she’s a chick, the ass-kisser!” And I should give Doro’s new one a bad review, all the ladies out there would snap their fingers and smirk to each other, “Just as we thought, another he-man woman-hater.” Goddammit, what’s a boy to do?!
Then, I hit upon a novel idea, one that still hasn’t occurred to lots of reviewers yet: why not just write what I think, and not what will please the PR people, or the Doro fans, or the misogynists among us who insist a girl can’t rock with the big boys. Yes! A crazy idea, but one that’s crazy enough that it just! might! work! This is the last time I’ll bring up Doro’s gender, as I’d like to judge the music for itself rather than the particular kind of private parts sported by its creator. Sound fair to you? Good!
Fortunately, I’m rescued from my tight spot, because, after finally sitting my skinny ass down and listening to Fight all the way through, I neither fervently love it to pieces nor hate it to death. Doro Pesch has on her side a very strong voice, good songwriting skills, interesting melodies, and a host of other musicians who are just jumping at the chance to guest on her albums. /p>
The first track, “Fight,” bursts forth with a propulsive groove and a monster chorus. Oh shit, I’m writing in Reviewerspeak, I’ve got to stop that! Anyway, “Fight” is one of the catchiest songs on the CD and an obvious choice for first single, if she chose to release one. It is followed up immediately by “Always Live to Win,” with an infectious yeah-yeah-yeah chanted chorus and exuberant spirit.
Okay, nice start, two great songs. Then we have the slower -- but not TOO slow --“Descent,” a much-vaunted and highly-anticipated duet with Type O Negative’s Peter Steele. Still got the crayons out? Well then color me impressed. The way Steele and Pesch harmonize, especially in the chorus, is damn near magical. Makes you wonder what sort of practicing they did. Oops, let me get my mind out of the gutter. No, really, it’s a great song, very moody and yearning, as you would expect with anything Peter Steele has his mitts in. Right up until the end, that is. What the hell happened there? The song just stops cold, as though the tape was cut with a razor blade. Well thanks for taking the time to fade it out, at the very least. But it’s a small thing and does little to detract from a fine song.
Speaking of fine songs, I hope you enjoyed the first three, because here is where we start to run into some problems. This could’ve been four in a row, except that “Salvaje,” features the first manifestation of what I like to call the Bianca Syndrome. No, Doro doesn’t let a drunk guy drive her home. What she DOES do is constantly reach for a certain high note that isn’t quite there. I have always thought Doro is a great singer, but she does NOT have a very high voice, and she seems to have forgotten this for a while. Hell, at first I thought this song sounded a LOT like Betty Blowtorch’s “I’m Ugly and I Don’t Know Why.” Same beat, same wood-block-tapping in the verses, it’s even the same elusive high note that Doro and Bianca were both stretching for. And I do mean stretch, as in throw-your-head-back-and-sing-real-loud stretch. Here is also where the vocal sound itself begins to get a bit muddy. Often times from here on out, she sounds like she’s not singing into the microphone, that it’s instead aimed at where her Adam’s apple would be, if she had one, which thank God she does not, or then I’d REALLY start to worry.
Luckily for us, Doro stops yelling after this song and offers us the chilling and emotional “Undying.” Starting out with just a piano and Doro’s own fragile murmur, the song ever-so-slowly adds in some orchestration, and then finally explodes into the full band. This is the first of the many songs here that start out quietly but eventually get louder. Playing with dynamics, I believe it’s called. In any case, Doro does it, and a lot of it.
The next song of note is “Rock Before We Bleed.” Ah yes, a fist-pumping anthem to our favorite pastime. No, I mean that OTHER favorite pastime. This is one of those songs with crowd noise dubbed in at the beginning and end to simulate a “live” feel. Unnecessary, but brief. Doro shows off her range here, often exhibiting what I call the Gwen Stefani Effect. Remember the No Doubt song “Don’t Speak” from a few years ago, and how Gwen spent most of her time singing at the very top of her register, and seeming to strain a bit at it? Same deal here, but luckily, it’s only in the verses and we can enjoy the rest of the song.
Next comes a few more songs that start out slow and acoustic, and then add in the electric guitars and the yelling. More of that weird, muddy vocal effect. Why?! You get Nitpicker points if you noticed that in "Fight By Your Side,” Doro rhymes “together” with “forever.” Shit, she’s German, I won’t hold it against her. (Insert leering comment here. Hey, you said it!)
Oh yeah! Finally, another uptempo rocker. Finally! I was starting to wonder where they all had gone to. Jesus! Here we have “Chained.” Doro plays with the word in the chorus, does a few different things with it, all of them good. This is the song you’ve been waiting for, for the past twenty minutes or so. Top-notch!
The album closes with yet another slow number, “Hoffnung (Hope).” This one is sung at least partly in German, as the title implies. I would specify how much of it is in Deutsche (hey, it’s “doysh,” you sick puppies!), but the muddy vocal sound makes it difficult to discern. Well, it’s another slow one with quiet verses and a loud chorus, and some orchestration hovering in the background. It would be a nice, touching end to the album if there weren’t four or five other songs like it already on here.
If you get the DigiPak version of the CD, there’s also a bonus track tacked on a the end, called “Song For Me.” Since I’m a cheap bastard and try to bum promo copies wherever possible so I can continue spending my money on cheap booze and loose women, I don’t have it, but a friend does, and apparently, it’s another slow one that DOESN’T pick up, with even murkier sound that usual, and Doro pondering her mortality. “Who will sing a song for me when I’m gone?” she wants to know. Ah yes, what we all would like to know, but don’t want to ask. Who WILL sing a song for us when we make our grand exit? What will people REALLY say about us? …The DigiPak is also said to contain a couple of videos and a remix of "Always Live to Win.” Nice!
So what we have here is a potentially great album that is marred mainly by production. I understand this is the way Ms. Pesch wanted it to sound, but I have no idea why. Apparently she wanted an old-fashioned analog sound, and didn’t want it to sound as if she did all the work with Pro Tools. That goal is certainly achieved her, to the detriment of her vocals, I’m sorry to say. Many times, she seems to be using the Ian Astbury Technique, which is where you sing really loud and hope nobody notices the melody is stilted. When it comes to the guitars, she seems to favor a fuzzy wall-of-sound approach. I used to have an amp that sounded like this. Damn thing nearly caught fire one day, in fact. Doro also saw fit to leave in the little imperfections here, too. If you listen to the verses of “Sister Darkness,” you can hear what might nicely be described as a lack of tightness. The guitar seems to be trying to synchronize with the bass and isn’t having much luck. Well hell, if that’s the way she wanted it, who am I to find fault? There’s definitely something to be said for doing things your own way, no matter what some smart-ass reviewer might have to say about it. I’ll give her that, for sure.
Overall, this album is like so many others, in that when it’s on, it’s on fire! When it’s NOT on … well, the worst it ever gets is a tad boring. Hell, my DigiPak-waving pal actually LIKES the mellower songs. No accounting for taste, now is there?
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