Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: Tora Tora "Bombs Away" "Miss B Haven" "Before and After"

Tora Tora, one of the neglected "hair bands" of the late 80s and early 90s, have put out three "new" records of previously unreleased material. You may remember this band from their minor hits "Phantom Rider", "Walkin' Shoes", and "Faith Healer". They were one of my favorites of the day and I was always hoping we would hear from them again. Anthony Corder's voice is towards the higher end of the vocal spectrum, similar to Slaughter, but not so screechy. His tone suits the music well and he has excellent control of his voice. The musicianship in Tora Tora has always been impressive compared to the others that crowded this genre, and they frequently incorporated a healthy dose of blues into their brand of hard rock that helped make them stand out. After two terrific albums, "Surprise Attack" (1989) and "Wild America" (1992), Tora Tora dropped off the face of the earth. The band did record a third album in 1994 called "Revolution Day", but it never saw the light of day due to label restructuring.

The three records below come courtesy of a new label, FnA Records. From their website: "FnA Records, LLC. formed in 2009 to bring Rockers and Metalheads some of the best unreleased and hard-to-find music from the 80's and early 90's. We are also a label that allows you, the fans to bring us music that you remember from 'Back In The Day', and to have it professionally released."

"Bombs Away"

To the credit of FnA Records, these releases certainly do 'take you back' in time. "Bombs Away" features eleven demo tracks written during the "Surprise Attack" sessions. Being demos, the sound quality is pretty bad - FnA Records claims to have cleaned things up to produce a listenable product, but there is still significance tape hiss and an unpolished sound throughout. Tape imperfections abound and sound is sometimes panned to one speaker, all of which really distracts from the music. If you can get past this, there are a few noteworthy power ballads on "Bombs Away", such as "When The Wind Blows" and "Tonite (version 2)", and a handful of rockers like "Bringing Me Down" and "Lost In Paradise", but some of these tracks probably would have been bombs indeed.

"Miss B. Haven"

To me, "Wild America" was a quantum leap ahead of "Surprise Attack" - the band really hit their stride here and was simply in the zone. Not surprisingly, this batch of 13 leftovers recorded during the "Wild America" sessions contain a lot of standouts. "Wild America" could have been a double record - in 1992, it seems Tora Tora could crank out endless radio-friendly rockers. Despite being of demo quality, the hooks and catchy riffs jump right out at you. Highlights include "Take It As You Like It", "Ain't Nothin' To It", "Bite the Bullet", and "Serious". Loaded with thunderous rockers that are so infectious, you are willing to overlook the shortcomings of the sound quality on this one.

"Before and After"

This one is a bit unique in that it contains some of the band's earliest material from 1987 and some of their demos from the never released 1994 album. The first five tracks are from the EP "To Rock To Roll", the band's indie release made prior to being signed. It is a cool glimpse into the history of the band, but something that only the most hardcore fan will appreciate. It is kind of like a museum exhibit - once you've seen it, there's not much point in going back again. These songs suffer from tape limitations and sound very tinny, and several of these are on "Surprise Attack" in much better form. There is one ballad here, "Time On The Edge", that is very good - I am surprised it was not included on "Surprise Attack". The final four tracks are demos from "Revolution Day", which would have been their third major label record if Kurt Cobain and company hadn't radically altered the musical landscape. Unfortunately, after hearing these lackluster songs, I am a bit more sympathetic to A&M for not wanting to go forward with such a record.

Summary: I'd recommend these three records if you just can't get enough Tora Tora. With some notable exceptions, these tracks were left off the main releases for good reason - they are not the cream of the crop. I'd also argue that FnA Records was pretty lazy about doing the job right. The artwork is almost laughable, looking like something an amateur graphics artist would pluck out of the heavy metal clipart gallery. It also took them over 3 weeks to ship the overpriced CDs out to me. As mentioned, the worst deficiency is the disappointing sound quality. I understand most of these are demos that they "cleaned" up, but they cleaned them up as well as a 7 year old claims to have cleaned his room. I can't recommend these records for the casual fan - if you want to get acquainted with Tora Tora, start with "Wild America". You'll dig Tora Tora if you like Tesla, Slaughter, or Kix. If you want to try one of these three, "Miss B. Haven" is your best bet.

iPOD worthy:
"Bombs Away": 3, 4, 8
"Miss B. Haven": 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 9
"Before and After": 0

Tora Tora on MySpace. Official site. FnA Records.

1 comment:

a rocker from the 80's said...

Tora Tora were never a "hair band".The term "hair band" was a term coined 'after the fact' by some wunderkind suit well after the genre declined.TT was a straight up hard rock group period.Why some of the bands embrace that term is vomit inducing.