Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Max Webster - Universal Juveniles

I can't help it. I'm fascinated with madness.

And it seems that every decade has it own; some whacked out mad genius whose brain has been wiped clean by some grey-matter devastating tsunami. A victim of too many free rides on the acid express.

But it's not just loonies were talking about. The world is full of those. No, these mad souls have prodigious talent, mad geniuses of instrument, voice and melody, and they're so far left of center that the whole fricking see-saw is in free fall.

From the 2000's, it's Buckethead (unless you believe wearing a KFC bucket on your head and believing your parents are chickens is normal). The 90's had that wacky genius of bass, Les Claypool and the Primus funksters. The 80's had the master-fried druid, Julian Cope. And for the seventies, while a case could certainly be made for Arthur Lee and his band Love, I'll nominate the loony prog rock of guitarist Kim Mitchell and his creation, Max Webster.

In particular, we're going to talk about Unviversal Juveniles, a beautiful encapsulation of the heaviness, progness and weirdness that came from the fertile minds of these Cannuck madmen. Try to get past the cover, with Mitchell's scarecrow body draped in the full-length yellow spandex bodysuit and dare if you will to venture into the far north of whacked-out rock.

But again, it's not just the madness that appeals to me, but the mixing of that not quite operating on normal speed brain with this freaking Mount Rushmore of talent. Just plop the disc in and dash right into "In the World of Giants," and the frenzied schizophrenic rush of guitar shredding that rips across the intro. The guy can play. Mitchell was in league with Yngwie Malmsteen while Yngwie was still learning how to hold a guitar pick. But what makes Max Webster so freakishly fun was their ability to sculpt Mitchell's mountain of craziness into some absolutely devastating heavy albums with layers of prog exploration and massive pop accessibility. Mitchell's shredding is firmly rooted in and around the melody and "In the World of Giants" is a giant of a song. Through it all, Mitchell's voice wails and grunts but is actually much more traditional than you might think by the oddball lyrics, usually contributed by lyricist Pye Dubois.

"Check" launches off the soundcheck intro, all 70's stadium metal, piercing leads, feedback and harmonics, with the rhythm section pounding away like mad accomplishes to Mitchell's escape from institutionalization. When Mitchell bellows out the lyrics, "You better bet/ that what you hear/ is what you hear," there's just no denying it. Thanks Kim for clarifying that for me.

"April in Toledo," with its funk/rock bass riff, changes pace just enough for a brief cool-down and contains the all time classic lyric of romantic distress, "She's hiding out at Lake Louise/Says she's taking a break from my face." "Juveniles Don't Stop," roars back the metal with the harmonic guitar lines and Mitchell's call for teenage rebellion. "There's no harm in leaving your mind wide open," Mitchell sings. "You're not the first to get it in the rear/Oh, we want to rock/so blow it out your ear."----um, yeah. Maybe the mind shouldn't be quite so wide open, Kim.

The centerpiece of the album is without a doubt "Battle Scar," a monumental, sci-fi rebellion epic. With a war drum beat pounding out the cry to arms, Max Webster teamed up with their long-time friends and 70's touring mates, Rush to take on this tale of a futuristic prison/slave camp revolt. And when I say Rush, I mean the whole band teamed up, as in two guitarists, two bass players and two drummers to plow through this riot of a song. After a dual lead bass intro, Mitchell and Geddy Lee team up to trade off vocal parts, and its immediately clear how much chemistry these two Canadian bands had developed over the years, and how much damn fun they had recording together. Far from simply phoning in his vocals, Geddy digs deep and belts out one of his all-time great vocal performances, his voice squeaking and shrieking with more passion than found on some of his own songs.

While the second half of the album does slow down a bit, quality songs like "Chalkers," with its funk vibe and the pop hooks of "Drive and Desire," keep the energy flowing clear to the end.

Universal Juveniles is a lost classic, a freakishly fun, oddball of an album of 70's metal and prog from one of the world's great lost madmen. With the hovering shadow of corporate rock hanging heavier than ever over the music industry, songs created only for the twenty second ringtone download, we could sure use Mitchell's unique brand of weirdness right now to wipe away the sterility of rock and bring back some long lost creativity.

Kim, where are you, my man? You've got a whole new generation of juveniles to lead on your freakish rebellion. Their minds are wide open and waiting.

What you hear is what you hear, indeed. Amen.


Buy here: Universal Juveniles

Kim Mitchell -


Elric said...

nice combination of technique and music.

The Peer said...

It's a good album, but IMO lacks the inventiveness and lightness of touch of some of their earlier albums, particularly Mutiny Up My Sleeve.

Shaddrack said...

A truly great,great band.

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