Thursday, September 28, 2017

CAXI Sparkle in Victory Over South Australia

Unless you are from South Australia, the start of this season’s Australian domestic one day competition, the newly branded JLT Cup, could not have gone better. In a match that swayed one way and then the other, it was the kids from the Cricket Australia XI (CAXI) who managed to take the bull by the horns and win just their second match in this format. Of course there is a lot of inexperience in this team, and South Australia is missing up to five players from their best XI due to international duty and injury. The bonus for the CAXI was the availability of Beau Webster, who was overlooked for Tasmania’s squad, and Jackson Coleman, who despite his rising potential was not chosen in Victoria’s squad. Their influence in this match was enormous.

The CAXI won the toss and decided to try and exploit the early morning start, and this they did expertly. Coleman bowled at pace and hooping swing, taking out Weatherald and Ferguson with terrific deliveries. His opening partner was having more trouble trying to keep the ball on the cut surface, but he soon took out Carey. Cooper and Ross staged a recovery, but when Ross played a false shot to Pengelly and Cooper was run out to a wonderful direct hit at the bowlers end, SA was 5/51 and in all sorts of bother.

Enter Son of Boof Jake Lehmann and last year’s surprise packet Cameron Valente. Together they added 94 for the sixth wicket, before Valente and Mennie added another 84 for the seventh wicket. Lehmann’s 37 was serene, Mennie’s 43 his usual style, but it was Valente who made the big score. His 50 came from 105 deliveries, slow but steady in a dangerous position. From here though he exploded, with his second fifty coming off 31 deliveries, including 21 from his final six deliveries to bring up his century. Due to the good work of these three, South Australia reached 9/254 from their fifty overs. Coleman’s three spells gave him the excellent figures of 4/46 from his ten overs, while Beau Webster slowed the run rate in the middle overs, bowling ten overs of off spin for 0/25.

The late acceleration looked to have left the CAXI too much work to do in the chase for victory. Little did I know. The early loss of Bryant was a set back, but the combination of the inexperienced Jake carder and the more experienced Webster took it all in their stride and never looked back. Despite an early chance that was grassed off Carder, these two never looked in trouble. The weakened bowling attack was unable to do any damage on the placid surface. Carder made his first List A century before falling on 102, while Webster was dismissed trying to finish the game with one hit, having also made his first List A century in scoring 121. The CAXI won the match by 7 wickets with 19 balls remaining. It is hard to imagine Webster is still only 23 given he has played 28 first class matches. No doubt this innings will not only be a big statement to Tasmanian cricket but as a kickstart to getting his career back on track.

Monday, September 25, 2017

India Humming as Australia's Engine Falters Again

On reflection, everything that Australia wanted to happen leading up to the start of the 3rd ODI in this series went according to plan. Aaron Finch was declared fit to take his place and came in for Hilton Cartwright at the top of the order. Matthew Wade’s horror 2017 was called out again as he made way for part time keeper but more credentialed batsman Peter Handscomb. And for the first time this series, Australia got the chance to bat first and set a target that India would be unable to chase down. And India still won. Comfortably. It says much about the preparation and current status of the two teams.

Steve Smith has spoken often in recent times about the collapse or non-performance of parts of the Australian batting order. He wanted it to stop, or at least be rectified. One guesses that he will be disappointed again in his team’s finishing in this match. Between Dave Warner’s 42 (off 44 balls), his own 63 (71 balls) and Finch’s timely century on return to the team (124 off 125 balls), the top of the order had more or less done its job. Smith’s dismissal in the 42nd over left Australia 3/243 with 8 overs remaining, and the hope that the middle order could accelerate the total beyond 300. But it was not to be. Wickets fell consistently, meaning each new batsman had to try and get moving with no time to play themselves in. Maxwell (5 off 13), Head (4 off 6) and Handscomb (3 off 7) all fell, while Stoinis managed 26 not out from 27 deliveries. Only three boundaries came from the final eleven overs as India tightened the screws. Instead of posting a total around 320-330 which should have been a given with 12 overs to go when the score was 2/224, Australia only managed to add 69 runs in that time. They finished at 6/293, and it never looked enough.

India cruised. They barely got out of second gear. With their bowlers having done all the hard work in the last twenty overs of Australia’s innings, India’s batsmen could play with freedom knowing that the total was within them. The opening partnership of 139 from 21 overs pretty much put the match to bed. Even at 4/206 they were in front given they had 15 overs to score the required 88 runs, a doddle in modern day ODI’s. With Pandya, Pandey and Dhoni all hovering in the middle order for India they just don’t ever seem to be under pressure at the end of an innings, whether setting a target or chasing it down. On hard surfaces with small boundaries it must be difficult to find a way to either dismiss them or to tie them down. Especially here at home, the Indian team has the engine humming. Winning here by five wickets with more than two overs to spare showed up Australia’s deficient score. Had they made the 330 they should have they may still have lost, but it would really have gone down to the wire rather than the plodding victory it was.

India has now won all three matches, the first despite a shortened run chase for Australia due to rain, the second by setting a score and restricting Australia to less, and now by holding Australia to an average total and then chasing it down with ease. They have dominated all three games, and from here it would be a surprise if the selected and available Australian squad can win either of the two remaining matches. Surely both Faulkner and Zampa will get another chance now that the series is decided, and one suspects Wade will be returned the gloves in an effort to boost his confidence heading into the Australian summer. His position for November must seriously be questioned at this point nonetheless.

Australia has been outplayed, though with obvious absences especially in what would be considered a full strength bowling attack. Australia’s batting remains the problem, and should be the main talking point for selectors when they come to look at the ODI’s in Australia in January. At that time the next World Cup will be 18 months away, and they will have to start deciding what the make up of that squad is likely to be, and more problematically what the batting line up will be. If changes need to be made or considered, and the results here suggest they are required, then those changes will have to be made at that time. The next two games could be the most important of some of this teams players careers.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Foo Fighters Carpool Karaoke

India 2-0 Up as Australian Top Order Crumbles Again

It’s India’s backyard, and they are happy to make sure everyone knows it. There was no long term preparation by the Australians for this ODI series as there was for the Test series six months ago, and the team has come in cold compared to the Indians having been in a constant cricket cycle. So far it has showed, and last night’s loss exacerbated this. There was a massive advantage in batting first in the oppressive heat of the afternoon, with temperatures that rose above 40 degrees. By comparison, the relative cool of the evening gave the Indian bowlers a much better atmosphere in which to do their work. Essentially they again out played Australia and won convincingly against a team that has its firepower missing and its batting line-up in a confusing mess.

In the same series four years ago, both sides scored 300+ with regularity when they went out to bat. Rohit Sharma scored 209 on his own in one match. So far that hasn’t been the case, and Australia’s cobbled-together bowling attack has done the job. Pat Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile have been superb, last night Kane Richardson was good and Marcus Stoinis has done the job of a good all-rounder. The spinners role on good wickets and small grounds has been thankless so far for Australia, though both Zampa and Agar would no doubt like a crack at bowling second on a wearing wicket. Keeping India to 252 when they appeared ready to mount a challenge at 3/186 off 35 overs was a superb effort. One that was unfortunately not matched by the batsmen. Kumar for India was magnificent, 6 overs taking 3/9 and ripping out both Australian openers was exactly what India wanted. Smith, Head and Maxwell tried to rebuild, but the damage was done each time a real partnership threatened. Smith’s dismissal at 5/138 was the end of any real chance, and a hat-trick from Kuldeep involving Wade, Agar and Cummins sealed the deal. Only Stoinis again could hold his head high, his innings of 62 not out off 65 balls holding the tail together being another important moment for him, not only in securing his place as the all-rounder in the ODI team, but in pushing his case for a Test spot at number 6 as the seam bowling all-rounder, possibly as early as in Brisbane in two months’ time. Australia’s demise for 202 was more than they deserved at 8/148.

Hilton Cartwright is being given plenty of international cricket away from the spotlight of the Australian media and public who are more interested in footy finals in September than ODI’s in India, whose only purpose is as a money spinner for Indian cricket. His dual failures at the top of the Australian order in the first two games will more or less go unnoticed by people in Australia, which is pretty much what the selectors want. By pumping game time into him away from home they are hoping that the experience he gains will be of benefit down the track when they bring him into the team for a fulltime shot at an all-rounders position. All of this seems unusual given that neither he nor Glenn Maxwell are being used at the bowling crease, nor indeed is Travis Head.

If these games actually meant anything, then surely as soon as Aaron Finch was injured they would have called for Usman Khawaja to replace him at the top of the order. And what the hell happened to Sam Haezlett who went to New Zealand in February and has disappeared again? Moises Henriques got two bats in the Champions Trophy, looked good until dismissed in both, and is discarded. Peter Handscomb HAS been brought over, and was still on the bench last night. The whole scenario appears a bit farcical. Are we seriously looking at the World Cup in two years’ time? Will a 5-0 drubbing in India be seen as acceptable because we’ll have had a look at our cricketers with a long term view of the future? The captain has only used five main bowlers in the two games so far, for the most part ignoring the bowling ability of Cartwright, Maxwell and Head. If this is the case, are these three mentioned good enough to hold their positions in the top five of Australia’s batting order? In the case of Travis Head, the answer is certainly yes. The other two? Well, would the top six for Australia look better as Warner, Khawaja, Smith, Handscomb, Head and Stoinis? Surely, unequivocally, the answer is yes.

Important or not, lacking meaning or not, coming home with a 5-0 defeat in this ODI series will deal Australia some serious damage coming into the home summer. In 2013 India won the seven match series 3-2 with two games abandoned, but Australia’s fight in that series gave it the confidence and form it needed leading into the Ashes series, which they then won 5-0. Mitchell Johnson and George Bailey forced their way into the Test team through their performances in that series, and we know how important their contributions were. Unless this team can fight back and find a way to win in an uninspiring ODI series, what would that result mean for the fight to regain the one trophy that Australians really care about.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Same Frailties Haunt Australia in Loss to India in 1st ODI

Having the opening ODI between India and Australia reduced to what was essentially a T20 chase for the Australian team after rain had almost washed the game out was never going to be an advantage for the visiting team, but the game had been lost by them long before it arrived after yet another superlative start was taken away from them by yet another middle order recovery. Which once again raises the spectre of what the Australian team has to do to close down these recoveries, and also forge one of their own in similar circumstances.

For Australia, the start couldn’t have been better. A fit-again-for-the-moment return for Nathan Coulter-Nile brought a wonderful burst of three wickets in seven deliveries, taking out Rahane (5), Kohli (0) and Pandey (0) to leave the hosts at 3/11. The mix of pace and swing and the willingness of the Indian batsmen to go hard at wide deliveries brought about their downfall. Even the recovery that followed was held in check, and when Marcus Stoinis underlined his increasing value to the team by snaring both the set batsmen, India was in trouble at 5/87 in the 22nd over, and should have been set up to be dismissed for around 200. Unfortunately, as has been a constant hiccup in Australia’s fortunes during 2017, the bowlers were unable to close out the innings and the middle order managed to firstly stabilise the innings and then tear it apart. Old and new combined in Pandya (83 off 66) smashing previously solid bowling all over the park, while Dhoni (79 from 88) played circumspectly. Finishing off with Kumar (32 not out), India to the delight of their supporters scored 2/194 off the remaining 28 overs and clocked in their fifty overs at 7/281 on a wicket that was skidding and staying low. It was somewhat surprising that only five bowlers were used by Australia, leaving Maxwell, Head and debutant Hilton Cartwright without an over. Perhaps it was a tactic to ensure the five front liners all got over under their belt, but as the final two partnerships developed it seemed a little strange not to try one of them as an option.

The rain came during the break, and by the time the ground staff had ensured the match would continue Australia had been left with a target of 164 off 21 overs, a tough enough ask in a normal T20 match of which Australia is not the best exponent. With the way the wicket was playing 282 would have been tough enough to chase off fifty overs, but the T20 scenario played right in to India’s hands. The mixture of spin and off-speed mediums by the Indians proved far too much for Australians who have been mostly dormant since the IPL. Warner (25), Maxwell (39) and the recalled James Faulkner (32 not out) were the only double figure scores, and they eventually fell to a 26 run D/L Method loss.

It will be interesting to see if Australia uses any other options for the second game. Peter Handscomb has been called into the squad to cover for the injured Aaron Finch, and could surely be brought in for Cartwright, allowing Travis Head to return to the top of the order. This would strengthen the batting, while also offering Ashton Agar a slot in the lower order would also improve the power. If the all-rounders are going to start at number 5 then there is a lot of pressure on that top four to make runs, while the bowlers need to find a way to stop the rot that is allowing opposing middle orders to recover time and time again.

Bob Holland: The Man Who Revived Leg Spin in Australia

I had already taught myself and was already bowling leg spin in junior cricket before the 1984/85 season, when the West Indies wiped Australia out in a succession of Test matches. But the selection of Bob Holland in the Test team and his subsequent success was the real catalyst to me casting aside all other forms of bowling and concentrating on the one art that I came to love.

He wasn’t selected for Australia until he was 38 years old, and although his figures in his first two Tests were not exacting he had moments where he caused the Windies batsmen some confusion. The fifth Test of that series was one of those moments you don’t forget if you grew up in that period, when Australia was at its lowest ebb. 3-0 down, and lucky to draw the 4th Test, Australia gambled on Holland and Murray Bennett. Kepler Wessels scored 173 as Australia ground out 9/471 over two days. Then came the web. Haynes, Gomes, Richards, Lloyd, Marshall, Dujon. Six consecutive wickets between 2/72 and 8/160. Each batsman defeated by a mixture of spin, flight and guile. Even watching the highlights of that match today, watching Dutchy spinning that ball out of his hands, watching the dip and turn as it approaches the batsmen, it still brings back those feelings of euphoria I had on those joyous days at the end of December 1984 and the first days of 1985, as we finally beat the West Indies in a Test match. You can see the confusion in the batsmen, that they just wanted to hit him out of the attack, but time and again he beat them. 6/54 off 22 overs he finished with, and Allan Border gleefully enforced the follow on. In the second innings the Windies played him much more cautiously, and it was McDermott, Lawson and Bennett who made the inroads, but the leg spinner is supposed to get the tail, and Dutchy did that, finishing with 4/90, and a ten wicket match. The legspinner, the topspinner, the wrong ‘un and the flipper. Dutchy had them all, but it was his accuracy and his dip on the ball that caught my eye and had me in the backyard trying to reproduce it.

He went to England in 1985 where the home team ensured their seaming wickets gave him nothing, except the dryness of Lords, where he helped bowl Australia to its only victory on the tour with 5/68 in the second innings. He also took ten wickets the following season against New Zealand back at the SCG. They were his great moments in the baggy green, and perhaps only age and the huge increase in his workload began to negate his ability to take wickets, and he was eventually passed over to the next generation.

Bob Holland’s passing last night at the age of 70 to an aggressive brain cancer has taken one Newcastle’s most important and professional cricket coaches and passer-on of cricketing knowledge. At a time when the leg spin craft had been almost eradicated from Australian cricket in the pursuit of a fast bowling cartel to rival the West Indies, the art of leg spin was left behind. Through the intervention of the selection panel, led by Lawrie Sawle, Greg Chappell and Rick McCosker, Bob Holland was given the chance to play for Australia, and not only did he win games almost by his own hand on three occasions in that time, he brought back the magnificent art of leg spin bowling to Australia’s youth, and showed how wonderful and effective it could be. I’ve spent the last 35 years trying to understand it all, and now my nine year old son is carrying on that tradition.

Thanks for everything Dutchy. That Sydney Test will keep your memory alive forever.

Friday, September 15, 2017

AFL Finals Preview Week Two


Whoever loses tonight, its a disappointing season for 2017. Geelong hasn't always been the best looking team, but when you finish second after the preliminary rounds you don't expect to go out in straight sets. That's what faces them tonight. The final quarter collapse last week against Richmond for some reason has eliminated the fact that they were well within striking distance at three quarter time in a low scoring match. The coach will have them primed to start well this week. Sydney, last season's grand finalist, has recovered from 0-6 to get to this point and only lost to Hawthorn since that streak. Theirs has been a remarkable recovery, but if they were to lose this week they will feel it has been a lost season when they should have achieved more. The big danger for the Swans is that their streak has to end eventually and perhaps fate has decreed this is the time.
Much will revolve around Buddy Franklin and Pat Dangerfield. Franklin lit up the second quarter last week against Essendon, and Dangerfield's absence from the fourth quarter last week for Geelong revealed much. So who has the advantage? Sydney's amazing form, or Geelong's second placing. If this was at Kardinia Park Geelong would have the better advantage. Being at the MCG, perhaps it plays into the Swans hands. Honestly, toss a coin and go from there.
Geelong by 6.


Last week's matches revealed the current form of these two combatants. GWS was overwhelmed by Adelaide in their final, beaten by a better team full of confidence. The Giants have not had a good back half of the season, and have struggled to dominate teams they would feel they should have. On the other hand, West Coast overcame Adelaide in the final round, and against the odds, after the siren in extra time, found a way to get past Port Adelaide in a cracking match. Having to travel two weeks in a row may be draining, but the euphoria of those two victories, and the memory of having pushed GWS all the way in their match at Spotless only a few weeks ago will give the Eagles great belief they can push their season even further.
One wonders what influence the ins and outs for both teams will have. The veterans Sam Mitchell and Drew Petrie know how to win finals, while GWS have lost Shane Mumford and Jeremy Cameron for the season. The return of Steve Johnson for his last hurrah will be a benefit, but the Giants must get find a way to get their running game operating if they are to progress. The alarm bells are ringing for Giants supporters, and if the Eagles can get a lead of substance the pressure on the Giants may bring back bad memories of last September.
West Coast by 4

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

1030. Ozzy Osbourne / The Ultimate Sin. 1986. 5/5

By the time the mid-1980’s had rolled around, Ozzy Osbourne has already done just about everything there was to do in music. His storied past in outlandish behaviour was also well documented. Coming into 1986 he had three best-selling solo albums behind him and the music world at his feet. As with most of Ozzy’s albums during this decade (at least) there is the usual contention over who actually wrote the songs. At least here on The Ultimate Sin guitarist Jake E. Lee and oft-collaborator Bob Daisley have been given their dues. There’s little doubt that the pair of Lee and Daisley can write great songs. Apart from the great tracks on Bark at the Moon they write some cracking tunes here. The two videos released from the album show Ozzy in full 80’s regalia, in overblown sparkly coats and jewellery and that massively teased peroxided hair, but still singing up a storm no matter what the exterior was like.

The first side of the album I feel is underrated, and is often cited by those who aren’t as keen on the album as the reason why. I think it more than holds its own. It may not have any of the most revered Ozzy songs of his career on it, but neither are they the weakest. The self-titled opening track starts off with a thumping drum beat from Randy Castillo before the rhythmic bass and guitar riff kicks in. the tempo sticks to a solid beat, energised through the middle of the song by Jake’s solo. This moves straight into the guitar riffing beginning of “Secret Loser”, one of my favourite Ozzy tracks. The faster pace pulls you along in its wake, joining in as Ozzy serenades you with “Loser, I’m a secret loser!” The Lee solo is followed by a great piece in the middle of the song where Randy plays along on his toms with barely a ripple from the guitars while Ozzy sings over the top, only to crash back into the chorus through the guitar and bass riffing back in hard and heavy. Great stuff.
“Never Know Why” settles in the same tempo that most of the album resides in, with the heavy 2/4 beat on the drums allowing Ozzy to follow the tempo vocally over the top of the simple riff structure. It sounds simple enough and doesn’t require much effort, but is effective In that it allows the guitar solo to be hero of the song while the rhythm is prominent throughout. The anti-war song “Thank God for the Bomb” follows, and uses a similar technique in the middle of the song with the tom roll followed by the guitar solo, and is just as enjoyable. “Never” rounds out the first side of the album – and really, who was doing the titles of these songs? “Never Know Why” closely followed by “Never”? Isn’t that confusing?
The second half of the album is where the real money shots reside. It starts off with the excellent “Lightning Strikes” which is prefaced by a great entry guitar riff from Jake before Ozzy gives it all on vocals. This is a quintessential Ozzy song from the era, and anyone who has seen the video for it, with Ozzy in all his glory, will know it. The lyrics sum it all up as well, and that Jake solo in the middle is just fantastic. This is followed by what is arguably the best song on the album, “Killer of Giants”. The opening guitar, bass and keys sequence, followed by Ozzy’s perfect vocal for the lyrics, before crashing into the harder edge of the song itself, is one of the best moments in all of Ozzy’s solo material. The second anti-war song on the album also brings to notice the tension that was in the air around the world at this point in the decade.
“Fool Like You” and “Shot in the Dark” complete the album in style. “Fool Like You” was the perfect song for singing at fellow students back in high school when they questioned what you were doing and how you were going about it. One of the problems of being a heavy metal nerd, there were plenty of ‘cool’ people who wanted to have a go at you. I loved singing this song at them. Jake’s solo again is top shelf. “Shot in the Dark”, co-written by bass guitarist Phil Soussan, was the first single from the album and got regular airplay on music video programs. It is a great way to finish off the album.

The question could well then be asked – why do I love this album so much when others will find its simplicity to be boring and uninteresting? It’s a fair question, and the answer will reside on the fact that I grew up with the album from the time of its release. It was one that my friends and I lived off, and it speaks as much about my youth as it does about whether the songs on the album sound simplistic or awesomely technical. The three musicians in Jake E. Lee, Bob Daisley and Randy Castillo are just terrific here, and it is somewhat of a pity that they didn’t collaborate and play together more. Music speaks to different people in different ways. I still find this as enjoyable and entertaining as I did thirty years ago.

Rating:  “If none of us believe in war, then can you tell me what the weapons are for?”  5/5

Monday, September 11, 2017

1029. Anthrax / Spreading the Disease. 1985. 5/5

Sometimes it is hard to believe that this album was “only” released in 1985, because it feels like it has been around for a lot longer than that. After the initial recording and release of their debut album Fistful of Metal, some tweaking to the band members brought in Joey Belladonna and Frankie Bello to replace Neil Turbin and Danny Lilker respectively. Both of these changes acted to smooth out the rough edges of the thrash metal roots of the band and brought a whole dimension both musically and vocally to the group without reneging on any of the aggression and power of the music. The result of this was brought forth on Spreading the Disease, an album that began the steady climb of Anthrax as metal powerhouse.

For many fans this is still an obscure album, one that they know but without certainty. They know the tunes but not necessarily the song titles. It has its share of songs that have become classic Anthrax tracks through the years, but mostly contains songs that have not been played live since the heady days of the 1980’s and are known best by those that had the album on its release.
There are two songs on the album that were written by the original song writing team of the first album, that being Turbin, Lilker and Scott Ian. They are “Armed and Dangerous” and “Gung-Ho”, which closes out the album. Both are of the same intensity of the songs on Fistful of Metal, with the furiousness of the guitars and drums extending through any time pattern that may be being kept. The difference in the quality of the songs probably comes down to better production, the instrumentation being more studied and the vocals of Joey, whose operatic-like range gives them a completely different sound to what they would have had with Turbin on vocals. “Armed and dangerous” has the slower clear guitar beginning that works its way up in tempo and heavy feel, and while the instrumentation speeds up Joey’s vocals soar along to carry the song perfectly. In “Gung-Ho” we have a song that is not denying its roots, starting off on fire with guitar and drums, and simply not slowing down for anyone. In some ways it’s amazing that Joey can even keep up, because the pace that is set by Charlie, Frankie, Scott and Dan is exhilarating. It is a perfect counterpoint to the material of the previous album. This song has all of the same aspects, but is matured, better defined and supported by a great voice.
The base of the album is still rooted in the thrash metal elements that the band grew up with. From the start in “A.I.R.” the hard hitting drums drive the song along with Joey’s soaring vocals proving the defining improvement of the band from debut album to sophomore release. “Lone Justice” continues on the same path, clicking along at a faster pace that continues to set the tone. “S.S.C. / Stand or Fall” starts off with a very Megadeth-ish guitar riff before bursting into a similarly speed metal pace with sing-along chorus set in place. “The Enemy” is at a more sedate pace for the most part of the song, before the finale comes signalled by Joey’s scream. As a more traditional heavy metal song it still works a treat. The second side of the album bursts to life with the track “Aftershock” that pummels away with the chanting back-ups and fierce guitar riffing throughout.
The two best known songs of the album are the single “Madhouse” and the classic “Medusa”. “Madhouse” had a video filmed for the song but was largely ignored by most music video programs at the time, but it remains one of the nest known of Anthrax’s early catalogue. “Medusa” settles into the perfect rhythm from the start, and is brought to life by Joey’s amazing vocals throughout. Funnily enough, the highest note of the song, the word “Medusa!” in the chorus is taken on by Frankie Bello on backing vocals. “Medusa” too remains as one of Anthrax’s best songs, producing the heavy emotional response that their best songs do.
The most noticeable difference between this album and the following albums is that from this point there was a lot of forceful backing vocal chanting coming from Scott Ian and Frank Bello in future albums that isn’t prevalent here at all. This is an album with songs that hold a typical pattern vocal wise. That was to change after this album, and it is still noticeable today that difference in the song patterns.

This is still an oft-forgotten gem amongst the Anthrax artillery. While the style of music that Anthrax produced continued to evolve over the coming albums, this is the one that perhaps best epitomises their thrash and speed metal roots while showcasing the great talent of all of the band members. Perhaps it isn’t considered in the same light as albums such as Among the Living, State of Euphoria and Persistence of Time but for me it is still a terrific album.

Rating:  “Evil witch cast her spell, seducing you, she’ll take you to the very depths of hell”.  5/5

Friday, September 8, 2017

1028. Motörhead / Under Cöver. 2017. 4/5

With the demise of most of the band, and most importantly Lemmy himself, there was going to be few opportunities to cash in on the Motörhead name going forward. This collection of cover songs, collected from the past 25 years, is not something new. Most fans of the band will either already own these songs on other publications or will have heard them at some time. It is a chance to bring them all together in one album, though in this age of digital music and playlist most could have done it themselves if the mood had hit them. But enough of this negative stuff. It is a Motörhead album after all.

Even with this band, you would have to be hard pressed to believe that some of the songs that they perform here they could pull off in a manner that befits the original. Probably the best case in point is the first song on the disc, Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law”. There is no way Lemmy is going to match Rob in the vocal range. But what the band does, as it so often does, is make this into a quite serviceable hard rock song, with a slower but perfectly formed tempo, and the vocals dominating over the top. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but you can believe it is a simplified song done simply and well. The same applies with the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen”, where Mikkey Dee’s metronomic drumming takes centre stage, once again keeping a perfect tempo that Lemmy and Phil Campbell perfectly complement the song. It takes the furiously crazy original version and turns it into a perfectly good hard rock song with almost no effort whatsoever. Terrific. It’s a tougher gig taking on a David Bowie song, in a lot of ways but mostly vocally, but that doesn’t stop the trio taking on his “Heroes”. But the technique is used again, disposing of much of the 1970’s antiquity of the song and using the solid base of the Motörhead sound to recreate the song in their image. Okay, so maybe this doesn’t work as well as the first two songs, but this version does grow on you in time. That Lemmy and David passed away within two weeks of each other is perhaps the saddest part of all.
Rainbow’s “Starstruck” was recorded for the Ronnie James Dio tribute album Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life, and features Saxon’s Biff Byford on lead vocals. This is a rollicking version of the original track, with Lemmy providing the back-up vocals during the chorus. Neither is an RJD on vocals but it is a fun version all the same. Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever” comes from the March ör Die album, and has never been a favourite of mine. I don’t particularly like the song which makes it hard to like this version at all. Then come two Rolling Stones favourites, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Sympathy For the Devil”. Both are done faithfully to the original versions though with that Motörhead twang.
“Hellraiser” has always been a fan favourite. Co-written by Lemmy with Zakk Wylde and Ozzy Osbourne, both did versions on their respective albums, March ör Die and No More Tears. Motörhead’s version is both different enough and original enough to hold its own against Ozzy’s version, and was also on the Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth - Movie Soundtrack. Both The Ramones cover of “Rockaway Beach” and the Twisted Sister cover “Shoot ‘Em Down” are serviceable without being anything but what they claim. The star attraction is the cover of Metallica’s “Whiplash”. What Motörhead did here with this cover was brilliant. They literally turned it into a Motörhead song, completed with Lemmy’s recognisable bass run and the changing of the lyrics in the final verse. It is a masterpiece and rivals the original version for magnificence. This is the one song every fan must hear if they haven’t because it truly defines who Motörhead is.

As with all albums that are full of cover versions of other bands’ songs, this is an interest piece, and your interest will wane over time. A week perhaps, or a month. Eventually you will want to go back to hearing the original versions of these songs, and this album will return to your collection and sit there for a very long time before it sees the light of day again. As a curiosity this is fine. As a long-term listener, it is not going to last in the end.

Rating:  “Never stop, never quit, we are Motörhead”.   4/5

NRL Finals Preview Week One

Apparently the NRL finals kick off tonight, which surely is just a four week long give-us-your-money festival before Melbourne is confirmed as the Premiers. Can anyone seriously see them not winning? Or given the season as it has progressed, found another team that deserves to be named as Premiers in front of them? Anyway, thoughts as below.

In recent weeks the Roosters have gotten themselves out of predicaments that could have been costly. They scored in the 77th minute to get over the Titans last week, they got a leg over from the referee to kick a penalty goal in the 80th minute to defeat the Sharks the week before, and scored in the 72nd minute to get past the Tigers. They pushed the Storm all the way in a 16-13 loss but were belted by the Sea Eagles. You can say that they have been persistent rather than spectacular. The Broncos, apart from their two losses against the Eels, have been tough. They don’t get the home final here, but that hasn’t always been a concern for them. Do you regard the Roosters form as shaky or gritty? Have the Broncos wins been against opponents on the downward spiral? The form on both sides is unreliable. Go with the gut. 
Broncos by 6

The Storm has been relentless this season after last season’s disappointment at the final bell on Grand Final Day. Billy Slater’s return has improved the team, along with Cameron Munster’s escalating talent. The forward pack keeps doing its job. It appears a foregone conclusion they will be victorious again. The Eels have had a terrific season, and Brad Arthur has done a magnificent job in keeping the team focused and in bringing on the individuals in the team. If their defense can have an on day then their attack is as good as any team. If the barn doors are swinging it could be a blow out. The best case for the Eels is having no injuries at the end of the match. 
Storm by 16.

Their match up last week at Brookvale is not a great form guide. I mean, how often have the Panthers travelled down from the mountains to beat Manly at home? And who can possibly work out these two teams form lines anyway? Manly has lost to Canterbury and the Tigers but flogged the Roosters. Penrith lost to the Dragons and Manly in the final two rounds but were solid before that. Does either side have an advantage at the SFS? Does Trent Barrett have the cattle to force a win? Are the Panthers in the right head space to go forward? Who the hell knows. Unless finals footy throws up an upset both teams should have been vanquished by next weekend anyway. This match gives the winner a slim chance of moving past next week. 
Sea Eagles by 4.

From the moment Jonathan Thurston was injured it has been an uphill battle for the Cowboys. It’s the same old story in general, no Thurston no Cowboys. They haven’t looked the same dominant force since, and scraped their way into the finals by the skin of their teeth. Coming up against the reigning premiers in this match, is there anyone who really believes they can get up and win? The Sharks have had a tough time in their premiership defense, but all is not lost yet. Their experience from last year will give them belief that they can still be there on Grand Final Day. Assuming they win this match, whoever their opponent is next weekend will not be imbued with overconfidence. The Sharks are the only real danger of going deep in the final campaign from the bottom four of the finalists. 
Sharks by 18.

Australian Victory is Nathan Lyon's Coming of Age

It is difficult to get a true perspective on what yesterday’s Test victory for Australia really means. Many would say that Australia should have won this Test as easily as it did, as it should have a superiority over the still-developing Bangladesh team that could be brought to the fore as it was in taking victory on the fourth afternoon. Others will point to the team’s poor performance on sub-continent wickets and their loss in the 1st Test and suggest that to come back after that was a wonderful effort. It is hard to please everyone or to get a real line on what the win means for Australian cricket – a great victory and reward for hard work in these conditions, or barely managed reparations for the poor loss in the previous Test. Make up your own mind on that one.

Australia wasted eleven balls and ten minutes of their day batting on at 9/377, all of which may or may not have worked in their favour. No further runs were added, but it kept the Bangladesh opening batsmen antsy as to when they would have to come out and face the music. Sometimes this kind of mental play works, and given what happened during the remainder of the first session you would have to say that it ended up working in Australia’s favour.

It was no surprise to see Cummins and Lyon opening the bowling, and once again it was Cummins who forced the issue with his pace and bounce on the dead Chittagong surface. This time however he was rewarded for his efforts, getting Sarkar to edge to Renshaw for the first wicket. Soon enough it was O’Keefe who came on to replace him, and he and Lyon were given the bulk of the bowling to do. O’Keefe was much better in this innings, with the bowling he had to do in the first innings obviously offsetting his long break from competitive cricket. He looked more menacing and played the perfect foil for Lyon at the other end who was now in his zone. Either side of the drinks break Bangladesh lost 4/11 off seven overs, crashing to 5/43 and real trouble. Lyon out-thought Tamim, Imrul and Shakib, erasing any thoughts they had of repeating their 1st Test heroics. O’Keefe took care of Nasir in the same way, and the air of the Test match had turned completely.

Now Australia had to overcome their constant problem with the middle order, and find a way to break through its resistance which they had shown they had trouble doing. Again Mushfiqur and Shabbir resisted, getting to lunch unbroken and pushing on afterwards. It was Pat Cummins who again made the vital breakthrough, after 86 runs had been added for the loss of Shabbir’s wicket. Cummins bowled the perfect ball in the corridor, taking the edge of the stubborn Mushfiqur’s bat and ensuring Bangladesh’s final batting hope was on his way. Another 19 overs of resistance came from the final three wickets before they were dislodged, but it was Cummins wicket that meant Australia would not be chasing a 150 run lead. Bangladesh’s dismissal for 157 would have been exceptionally disappointing for them, as a chase of anything over 150 would not only have been difficult, but brought the game closer to a rain interruption on the fifth day as well.

While Cummins 2/27 contain the two vital breakthroughs and also heralded the culmination of his wonderful return to Test cricket in 2017, it was Nathan Lyon who gained all of the plaudits, and with good cause. He bowled almost unchanged through the final innings, his 33 overs bringing forth the figures of 6/60, and match figures of 13/154, a remarkable achievement. What he had begun in India he had completed here, finally becoming the spin bowler Australia needed, who could not only hold up a team on the rampage, but bowl his team to victory in the second half of a Test match, especially when conditions were suited to him. Despite already having over 260 Test wickets, you would expect that it is 2017 that will prove to be the turning point for Lyon as a spin bowler. He now looks to know what is required to win Tests for his country, and while no one expects him to be Shane Warne in this regard, he now has the experience and the know-how to hopefully do it on a regular basis.

Not even Australia’s harshest critics would have believed they couldn’t get the 86 runs they required for victory, but it was important they didn’t make too many trips along the way. Warner went early pushing hard, while both Renshaw and Smith looked to impose themselves and get the game over as quickly as possible. Both fell to injudicious strokes which would have disappointed them, but it was their positive play that kept the runs ticking over. In the long run, it will have done both Handscomb and Maxwell good to have been together to knock off the required runs for victory. Again they were positive in their play which was better than nervous prodding towards a small target.

So the series is drawn 1-1, and while Australia will rue falling 20 runs short in Mirpir which cost them a series victory, that victory will be of more benefit to Bangladesh cricket than a victory to Australia would have been to them. It has opened up the possibility of Bangladesh now being able to compete on a larger scale in Test cricket around the world, and has also shown the talent that their squad has. For Australia, the experience gained against spin bowling in spin friendly conditions that they have faced both here and in India for players like Renshaw, Handscomb and Maxwell will be of enormous benefit in the years to come. Now, they need to return home and get some much needed practice on their home wickets in preparation for the festival of cricket that is the Ashes which begins in a few short weeks.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

AFL Finals Preview Week One

For what it is worth, here are my thoughts on the AFL finals starting tonight.

The Crows have shown some vulnerable holes in the closing weeks of the preliminary rounds, giving up a 50 point lead to Collingwood before drawing the game on the bell at the MCG, and losing at home to Sydney despite a massive free kick advantage, before losing in the final round to West Coast in Perth. The week off might be the best thing that happened to them. GWS aren’t the same team as last year when they entered the finals with momentum. The thrashing at the hands of Geelong was preceded by hard fought and unconvincing wins over West Coast and Fremantle at home. They also would have appreciated the week off. If GWS was to get up and defeat the minor premiers in front of 50,000 crazy fans at Adelaide Oval it would be one of the upsets of the season. 
Adelaide by 24.

Will they get 90,000 to this match at the MCG? It deserves that kind of crowd. Geelong have been anything but title contenders this season, and yet finished second by rights of their thrashing of the young gun GWS team. They’ve had gritty victories over Collingwood and the Tigers as well as being belted by Sydney. Richmond is riding a wave of emotion and their supporter base is baying for victory. They’ve won six of their last seven matches, only losing in the clash with their semi-final opponents. If the game is anything like their last encounter, it will be close if nothing else. Richmond will never have a better chance to progress to a preliminary final, while Geelong will be driven by Pat Dangerfield to the final siren. Perhaps the match result lays in his hands. 
Geelong by 16.

If John Worsfold isn’t high on the list of candidates for Coach of the Year there is something wrong. What he has done with Essendon over the last two years is nothing short of a miracle. They lost by a point to Sydney in Round 14 at the SCG. Since then they have played only one team that finished in the top eight, a loss to Adelaide. Sydney’s run is well documented, losing their first six games, and losing only two others after that. They are twice the team at the SCG than they are anywhere else, and they have had a mixture of hard and soft games leading in. You can praise Essendon’s toughness to get here, and they won’t lie down in a final, but if they win this match it would be a bigger boilover than Gold Coast making the finals next season. 
Sydney by 30.

There may not be a harder fought game this weekend than this clash. Port won their last three games after being obliterated in the Derby Game, and also won the clash against West Coast at Domain in Round 16 by a handy margin. They’ve had a couple of great escapes this season, and if Boak, Gray and Ryder are on song they can be dominant. West Coast had to do it the hard way to get here, but while they just can’t seem to get the job done in Melbourne have proven they can win in Adelaide. How effective their elder statesmen can be may well be the deciding factor. 
Port Adelaide by 6.

Test of Resolve to Find a Winner

The rains finally arrived on day 3, delaying the start of play until after lunch and only allowing 54 overs to be bowled for the entire day. It showed the Australians the dire position they are in having lost the 1st Test of the series and the problems they face in trying to force a result here in the 2nd Test in order to draw the series and save some face in the contest. Though their position at the conclusion of the day is better than how they started the day, it was probably not as good as they thought it may have been at one point of the afternoon.

One wonders just what may have happened had the run out of Handscomb not have happened. With Warner on strike and on 99, Handscomb was doing everything in power to get that single. When Warner was slow in saying no, having already taken a step down the wicket, Handscomb was stranded if the throw from Shakib was a direct hit. It was. Run out for 82 with a second Test century beckoning, Australia’s position at the end of the day would likely have been far more advanced than it ended up being.

Warner’s (eventual) century was a triumph, and the chance he had offered early the previous day proved costly for Bangladesh. His dismissal for 123 with the score at 298 now left the questions on Australia’s all-round resistance to be answered. How far could the likes of Maxwell, Cartwright, Wade and Agar take the lead before they perished? The answer was, not far. Cartwright looked comfortable enough for 18 before being undone. Wade managed to hold on for half an hour before being pinned again LBW, this time by the left arm quick Mustafizur. Agar again looked good before being bowled by Shakib. Maxwell curbed his aggression, batting for over two hours for his 38 before edging behind. It was an innings again where he showed he can handle the craft of Test batting, but needs to find a way to turn starts into bigger scores.

At the conclusion of the day, Australia was 9/377, a lead of 75. The fourth day will be an intriguing one if the rain can stay away. Bangladesh will be looking to establish a lead of 200 plus in order to put the pressure on the Australians in the fourth innings. The Australians will be looking to take quick multiple wickets, hoping to keep any lead to a manageable chase of 100-150. Chasing this and avoiding any possible washout will be an interest Test of resolve.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

1027. Lita Ford / Lita. 1988. 4/5

The 1980’s was where I grew up. It contained all of my teenage years and it was where I discovered heavy metal and the bands that became my lifeblood. It was a wonderful part of my growing up, enjoying finding new bands and new albums, and getting the most out of them. Of all of those bands and albums I discovered in that decade, it is difficult to pin down now, all those years later, what it was that attracted me to this album. There is every chance there were many factors, but surely only two are the real reasons. It was either the fact that Lita did a duet on this album with Ozzy Osbourne and I just had to hear what that was like… or more likely it was the music video for “Kiss Me Deadly” that drew in the hormones and sucked me into the abyss.

This was the first album I heard or owned of Lita Ford. I had vague knowledge of her time with The Runaways at the time, and that she had been mixed in with Joan Jett in those days. Everyone in the world knew Joan Jett from her “I Love Rock and Roll” hit a few years before, but Lita hadn’t had as much publicity in that time. Aside from the factors already mentioned, I had also read that Lita had collaborated in a failed project with Tony Iommi, so there were enough ties to the music I was listening to at the time to back up my purchasing of Lita. There was a fascination with hearing what a female guitar player and singer could produce, given that most of the music that I had been exposed to at that time was long haired male bands.
From the outset, the album settles into the genre that was making waves at the time, the hair metal sugar rock that was being proliferated by bands such as Bon Jovi, Poison, Ratt and others. It would probably border on soft metal, but Lita’s guitar and vocals keep it above that, showing off a flair that keeps the energy high and the momentum flowing. There is the usual proliferation of soft metal ballads of course, but for the most part they are done in a way that makes them enjoyable more than cringe worthy. This all comes as a matter of taste of course. If you come into this album thinking it is going to be highbrow lyrically and bombastic musically then you are in the wrong frame of mind. If you come into it openly realising that you are getting a genre that is forever going to be stuck in its era then you are a much better chance of enjoying it.
Most of the songs here are still able to swing their thing. The groove of “Back to the Cave” still drags you in from the outset, while the Lemmy Kilminster-penned “Can’t Catch Me” might be repetitive lyrically but it has the higher velocity tempo that picks up the pace of the album nicely. “Kiss Me Deadly” is the song that for me is synonymous with Lita’s career. It is upbeat, fun and allows Lita to show the best of her wares, singing at high volume and giving us a taste of her guitar skills over the top of the probably-too-prevalent keyboards in the mix. “Falling In and Out of Love” is surprisingly catchy given its obvious motivation. I still surprise myself when I find myself singing along to the song. The second side starts with the hard drumming and emotive “Fatal Passion” which again sets the right tone. “Broken Dreams” sets the template for the band Vixen that appeared at this time. It could have come straight from their debut album.
On the other side, “Blueberry” feels far too melodramatic both musically and vocally to get behind. I understand the motivation behind it and like the fact that it tries to get darker but overall I think it holds up the album. So too “Under the Gun”, which drops the tempo back a couple of notches and goes for the serious side of the music. Again both these songs are ok but not on the top shelf of the album.
The final song is the duet with Lita and Ozzy Osbourne. “Close My Eyes Forever” is no doubt the crossover song that encouraged many to at least give this album a try. It is very much a power ballad, and both Lita and Ozzy combine well within the song, topped off by a good solo from Lita as well. The video, along with the one for “Kiss Me Deadly”, got heavy rotation on music video programs at the time and no doubt drove the sales of the album. I wonder how many of those that bought the album on the back of this song actually listened to the album more than half a dozen times?

I have no problem in admitting that most of the reasons I still like this album is because I bought it upon its release, and it reminds me of those times and all the good things that happened then. And yes, I had the poster of Lita on the wall of my bedroom. Having had a couple of days of this album on constant rotation, I still find it so easy to listen to, and I find that I enjoy it now more than I really expected to. While Lita’s other albums of those days are ok without being great, this one still has the hooks that the commercially-friendly writing and recording afforded it. The Osbourne touch, both managerially and musically, is a helpful asset. I still enjoy this as much as any hair metal album of the era, which is the key. If you don’t enjoy that era of music, then this isn’t for you.

Rating:  “Late for my job and the traffic is bad, had to borrow ten bucks from my old man”.   4/5

Australia's Big Guns Wrestle Their Way Back

The tide has turned towards Australia ever so slightly after the second day’s play in the 2nd Test in Chittagong, but in the back of everyone’s mind are two major points. Firstly, despite Australia’s excellent batting on Day 2, the chance of a collapse from the remaining all-rounders in the batting line up means that there is still no guarantee that they will be able to negotiate a lead on the first innings. Secondly, the weather forecast continues to look bleak, and Australia will need to act quickly if it is to extricate itself from a first series loss to Bangladesh.

Australia’s bowlers toiled hard in the early warmth, and though another 52 runs was added by the Bangladesh team with those final four wickets, at least it appeared that the wicket wasn’t playing too many tricks giving the batsmen some hope that they could make a stand. Pat Cummins was a warhorse, powering through 22 overs on an unresponsive wicket, and although he didn’t pick up a wicket he was threatening all the time. Steve O’Keefe toiled hard but was obviously under-prepared, with good reason. Agar looked the better of the two, and his two wickets were continued reward for his improving efforts. As it turned out, it was Dave Warner’s direct hit run out of Miraz that hastened the end.

The evolution of Nathan Lyon as Australia’s spinner could well reach its zenith on this tour. Australia has been waiting for Lyon to fulfil his role for years. Not as constant match winner and magician such that Shane Warne was, but to be the leader when the conditions suited the spinners, and to lead by taking wickets. He opened the bowling here on Day One, but wasn’t brought on until the eighth over of the morning on Day Two, and broke through Rahim with his second ball. When the dust had settled, Lyon had figures of 7/94 off 36.2 overs, the second best innings analysis of his career, and he had kept Australia in this Test. Again it was the pace at which he bowled at which impressed. It was much more varied than it has been in the past, and while critics such as myself would still insist that he is bowling too fast in general, the variation he showed here helped to bring forth those wickets. It was impressive stuff from the man who has been knighted as the country’s number one spin option.

That Australia from this point dominated the day’s play is perhaps not remarkable but surprising. It spoke as much about the surface as it did the application of Australia’s premier batsmen. Matt Renshaw was dreadfully unlucky, an inside edge to a glance that nine times out of ten flies wide enough of the keeper to go to the boundary on this occasion was taken magnificently by Mushfiqur to bring about his downfall. Renshaw so far in his short career doesn’t appear to have enjoyed much of the good side of luck. Perhaps his time will come soon.

After lunch though, Australia’s senior batsmen stood tall and played wonderfully. Warner carried on from Mirpir and soon had all of the commentators amazed at his slow scoring pace. The difference was not that he was scoring slowly, but that he was positive with each stroke he played, even if it was only a defensive push. There was no stabbing at the ball, there was no push forward with a hesitant bat. He waited for the discipline of the Bangladesh bowlers to falter and he then played the shot required. He had found his way to play against this bowling in these conditions, and now he was taking full advantage of it. By stumps he had reached 88 not out, and it was a landmark innings that was perhaps even better than his century last week. By contrast the skipper played as he always does, with a flourish. Despite his outlandish style he does make batting look easy when he is on song. He got to 50 with relative ease, so much so that it was a surprise to everyone when he missed a straight ball and was bowled. He would have been kicking himself, because it looked a forgone conclusion that he was going to make Bangladesh pay.

Peter Handscomb, in much the same boat as his fellow Adelaide debutante Renshaw, hasn’t had much luck in his career to date. He has looked comfortable all the way through India and here as well, but each start was followed by a disappointing dismissal. He showed his true grit today, refusing to budge and refusing to be taken down. He waited on the ball as is his habit and he flicked and punched into gaps with ease. As the temperature soared into the 40’s, his health began to crumble, but not his resolve. Through cramps and vomiting he remained, bringing back memories of Dean Jones in India in 1986. Today the Victorian youngster stood firm, and when he made it to stumps on 69 not out it would have been to the applause of his dressing room. His second sub-continent half century may yet become his first sub-continent century.

Australia stands at 2/225, still 80 runs behind the Bangladesh first innings, and with much work to do. Beyond the two men at the crease Australia has no specialist batsmen, only namesake all-rounders who are looking to push their case for the future of the Test careers. Day 3 would be as good a day as any to prove they are worthy of consideration in Australia is to gain a position of strength in their efforts to win the 2nd Test.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Bangladesh Escape Again to Control 2nd Test

Not for the first time in recent memory, the Australian cricket team got itself into a position of some superiority on the first day of the 2nd Test against Bangladesh, and then somehow managed to allow it to slip from its grasp once again. Perhaps the damage isn’t so bad that it cannot be retrieved, but with an excessive amount of rain expected to come in the back end of this Test match, being smack in the middle of the monsoon season, Bangladesh will feel a lot more safe in trying to wrap up their first ever Test series victory against Australia than the Australians will feel on attempting to level it.

The Australians had done most of the hard work in reducing Bangladesh to 5/117 in the 47th over, removing the dangers of Tamim (9) and Shakib (24) in the process. One more wicket and the tail would be exposed, and a total surely of no more than 170 looked in the offing. Nathan Lyon had been superb, picking up the first four wickets, all to LBWs. Once again though, the bowling attack found the second half of the day more taxing, and their ability to strike was compounded. The lion-hearted Pat Cummins was forced to do the pace work on his own and despite his endeavours he was unable to find a way through. The recalled Steve O’Keefe was steady, but after a six month layoff from cricket and the batsmen not taking any overt chances, he was nullified as well. It left the trio of Mushfiqur (62 not out), Sabbir (66) and Nasir (19 not out) to bat through the remainder of the day, and finish at 6/253, and holding the strength of the game in their hands.

So what is the pattern here for Australia? It all happened in the 1st Test, and again Bangladesh had been allowed to escape their clutches. Certainly, one wonders on the usefulness of the two all-rounders chosen in Glenn Maxwell and Hilton Cartwright. Together they bowled a total of nine overs, a tenth of the ninety bowled for the day. Given that Cartwright had been chosen as a medium pace option to support Pat Cummins, and Smith chose to open the bowling with Lyon anyway, it makes you wonder about the sense in choosing him above specialist batsmen Usman Khawaja, no matter what his form may be like. The jury will probably be out until Cartwright bats, but both he and Maxwell would need to score some runs in order to justify their continued presence in the Test team with little or no form behind them.

The second day of the Test will be all important. If Bangladesh can get away to a score of 350 then considering the rain that is forecast they could well be almost safe. If Australia can dismiss them for under 300 and their faltering batting line up can find a way to manufacture a total, then their cause of trying to level the series may not yet be gone.

Monday, September 4, 2017

1026. Serious Black / Magic. 2017. 3/5

It is somewhat out of the ordinary in this day and age for a band to be releasing new albums in consecutive years. Probably not so much from new young bands, whose first album comes out based on material they have been gigging around for years, and suddenly they find they have a mountain of songs they want to get down and get out to the masses. That was the ‘old’ way which rarely seems to reproduce itself in the current music industry. Such then is the surprise about Serious Black’s output since their formation in 2014, ostensibly a combination of musicians from several backgrounds and bands coming together to do some new material. With Magic the band has released their third album in as many years.

There is nothing ground breaking here. They aren’t reinventing the wheel of the power metal genre in any way. But I do think it is fun. I have had this on fairly constant rotation for the past week since its release, and I haven’t tired of it, which has happened to countless other albums of bands I have picked up along the years in this same musical category. Granted, there are times when I think I am listening to the same song over and over again such can be the similarity of the song structure or keyboard riff of vocal properties involved. Like I said, this isn’t the stuff that is meant to create the Next Big Thing in music. But it is harmless enough, and everything fits together nicely. The rhythm section of the wonderful Alex Holzwarth on drums, Mario Lochert on bass and Jan Vacik on keyboards provide the solid base on which the songs are formed. Any album that Alex plays on is automatically better for his presence, the crispness and perfection of his drumming is always a highlight. The dual guitars of Bob Katsionis and Dominik Sebastian are given their freedom to both harmonise together and then have their place with various solo spots throughout the songs, all of which are impressive enough to keep the songs heading in the right direction. Urban Breed’s vocals emit all of the right moves without being extraordinary, but they suit the songs the way they have been written.
So what is it that makes this album what it is? I know it has been bagged in some quarters of the reviews I have read, with some of those people feeling it is either selling out of too childish or without any template to make it a serious album (no pun intended). I would certainly say that if you don’t have a penchant for power metal then you will have trouble finding anything in this release, because not only does it have this in spades, but it also hails back in some way to the hair metal designs of the 1980’s scene, with touches of Europe and Def Leppard and Dokken and other such bands throughout. It’s not an acquired taste as such, more of an album that if you have a certain range of influences you will be able to get the most out of it. Without that correct range of musical tastes it will probably not appeal to you at all.
For what it is worth, I like this album. Since the first time I played it, I enjoyed it. I can have it on in the background to whatever I am doing, and I enjoy having it on. And I think that is where both the beauty and the problem of the album lies. Those going into it looking for majesty and brilliance of the highest levels are listening to the wrong album. This isn’t what this is purporting to be. And I think it is the kind of album that you either like immediately or dismiss immediately, because if it doesn’t catch you on those first couple of listens you are going to cast it aside and go looking for the next album in line. For me, I enjoyed it immediately, for all of those power metal basics that you either love or hate. Apart from Alex’s drumming, the guitar riffs are good, the solos are generally excellent and Breed’s vocals do their job. At an hour in length it is probably a bit long, exacerbated by the similarity of the tracks, and perhaps a more 1980’s album length of 45 minutes would have been appropriate.

In the long run, if you are looking for the next power packed album along the lines of Gamma Ray or Helloween, then you won’t find that here. On the other hand, if you are looking for an album that keeps you entertained for an hour while you are driving the car or at work or in the garden, then this should fit the bill. You might move on to those other bands rather quickly after listening to this, but listening to this won’t be a disappointment if you accept it for what it is.

Rating:  “Tell me now, am I taking it too far?”  3/5