Friday, January 18, 2013

Helloween - Pink Bubbles Go Ape (1991)

This may seem like a strange Helloween CD to begin my Musical Appreciation Blog with - I DO have almost all their albums, and this is generally rated amongst their worst.. However, this was the very first Helloween album I ever acquired. On cassette tape, no less.

Firstly, time for a brief history of my Musical Life. Back in my pre-teen years, I never much listened to music and when asked in school what music I liked, I replied "classical" because it was what my parents played. Along with Dire Straits and some other rockier numbers, and probably also Cat Stevens. However, as I grew into my teenage years, I began to crave friends, and the "cool" girls were listening to music, so like the sheep that I was, I followed them. Thus my first favourite bands were the boy band of the time - New Kids on the Block, and the abyssmal Vanilla Ice. Somehow, I ended up being lured into Poison (which the rebellious kids were listening to) and from there I took the rather sizeable leap into Heavy Metal. One of the first albums I ever bought was one of the "Speed Kills" series. Probably 5 or 6, IIRC. Then I acquired a collection entitled "Thrash the Wall". Released in 1990, it was an eclectic Roadrunner compilation, introducing me to the majesty of power metal in the form of Helloween's "Future World", Running Wild's "Raging Fire" and Rage's epic "Invisible Horizons". Also some pretty awesome tracks by Rochus, Paradox and King Diamond.

I was smitten. Something about the powerful chords spurred something in me, an energy that inspired me and well, it made me feel good. Like a drug, I suppose.

Anyhow, shortly afterwards I stumbled upon this cassette in a Nelson music store. Probably Everymans, although it may have been another one. The cover was weird - a woman dangling a fish over her open mouth and that may have drawn me in, along with the obscure title. I listened to it. Well, when I say "I listened to it", that was in fact a lie. I *thought* I was listening to it, but all I actually heard was REM who for some reason were being siphoned over the headphones, drowning out the very strange little opening ditty "Pink Bubbles Go Ape."

I bought it, popped it into my walkman, actually *heard* that strange little opening ditty and thought "what the heck have I just bought?" then "Kids of the Century" began and I was instantly hooked. It was like a drug, a drug that fed me happy emotions and made me feel glad to be alive.

So, that is why I have chosen to start my Hs with one of Helloween's least popular albums.
Because it may not be popular, but it's AWESOME, and it helped make me into the person I am today. Well, that might be stretching it a bit, I probably would have ended up okay either way, but I do think music helped shaped me, and by breaking out of the sheeplike following of pop music, I started to develop faith in myself as an individual.

This was Helloween's first album signed to a major, mainstream corporation - EMI (having broken their contract with Noise - and the repucussions of that - then they were were later dumped by EMI due to poor sales), it also lacked the guitar mastery of Kai Hansen, having instead the skillful fingerings of Roland Grapow. More commerically aimed, it lacks the intense vibes of the "Keeper" albums, but it is still a damned good album*.

Also, I had a major crush on Michael Kiske, the vocalist. He's going on mid-40s now, and not nearly as sweet-faced and innocent (looking), but ever since I've had a thing for cleft chins. Heh.

I also purchased the CD version - which, sadly, does not include the lyrics. Of course, I know this album very well indeed, but it would still be nice to have them clarified for me.

"Pink Bubbles Go Ape" is a weird little acoustic ditty, replacing the "traditional" one (or so) minute rousing intro track common in power metal albums. It's funny, and a little nonsensical - is he singing about champagne? But quickly merges in to the rather more rousing and powerful opening chords of "Kids of the Century". The video for this is worth watching, as it makes no sense, it's so delightfully random - forks? Flamingos? Fried eggs? Also, Kiske is quirky and cute and the guitarists are pretty funny too. The song itself is rockin' with quite depressing and almost sarcastic lyrics. Of course, they're the kids of the last century.

"Back on the Streets" is also pretty jolly heavy, with Kiske's golden voice ringing out loud and clear like a proud, operatic bell. I have never found a vocalist that can quite compare and I'm not sure if that's because he's just really good or due to the influence Helloween had on my formative years.

We then take a bit of a rest with the inspirational "Number One", the opening chords of which still cause my heart to soar and me to crank up the volume. Even my mother liked this song (she also liked "Mama I'm Coming Home by Ozzy Osbourne, so she has reasonable taste, but only for ballads). The motto is a good one, if a little in your face:
"Now it's time for happiness, stay hard and trust your fate. Don't forget you're something else, you'll never be too late."
A good positive impression to make on the negatively-inclined, hopeless teenager that I once was.

"Heavy Metal Hamsters" is just plain silly. I find it highly amusing, but I'm not sure all of the band agree. It was written by Weikath, and is related to their dealings with Noise records, intended as a B side and not supposed to make the final cut on this CD. Oops. I kinda like it, but some of the fans treated it with outrage, as it was a little too quirky and fluffy (literally, I mean rodents?) for the hard-arsed metal fan.

As you will have realised by now, I am not a hard-arsed metal fan, and like a little quirk in my music.

"Goin' Home" is a good solid song, with roaring guitars, strong riffs and golden vocals. It's about being on the road, touring (with the band), and finally being able to go home. I suspect a lot of people consider the rock n' roll lifestyle to be amazing, but from all reports that I gather, it's damned hard work. It's a business, and it's exhausting, and you've got to keep those vocal chords polished, and your guitar fingers flexed and then, finally, you might get to go home.

"Someone's Crying" is another heavier number, getting off to a rather loud start with pounding drums and racing guitars.

I love "Mankind" with its bold beginning. Helloween have always been fond of epic songs, and this would be this albums equivalent, unlike earlier (and later) albums however, this one is a more real-world lyrically than the fantastical bombastic-ness of the majestic "Keeper of the Seven Keys" - which is one of my all time favourite Helloween songs. The chorus is symphonic and glorious.

"I'm Doin' Fine, Crazy Man," with its random, nonsensical lyrics is fun to sing along with, but not a great song by Helloween standards. It makes no real sense and seems to lack something.

The following song, "The Chance", despite being the only song on this album that the band actually  seems to likes and still performs, is pretty standard fare. The chorus is catchy enough, the guitars energetic, but it doesn't seem to quite inspire much in me.

I much prefer the much loathed ballad "Your Turn", in which Kiske's voice totally dominates with its energy and vibrancy, with a hint of longing. Sure, he makes mention of Mickey Mouse. Sure, that's not very metal. Who f**king cares? It's a beautiful song and it deserves better credit.

I think this is where I differ from the majority of Helloween's rabid fans - the let's-pretend-it-doesn't-exist follow-up CD to this one, "Chameleon" is one of my favourites. And the only one of their most recent (as in, this century) albums I actually like is the rather criticised "Unarmed" which in my opinion was pure GENIUS.

People say this album is not that great, that the creative genius left with Kai Hansen, but having listened to this album and Gamma Ray's first back-to-back, I would have to say - this one strikes me as being the closer to speed metal. Not that I really consider Helloween even marginly close to the raucous controlled chaos of speed metal. Also, they don't sound very power metal anymore - not when you consider now the multi-layered orchaestras and symphonies that make up modern day power metal. The evolution of metal makes for an interesting study indeed.

I would say that the only flaw with this album - aside from its quirkiness that turns the true-blue metallers away, is that it lacks the vibrancy and energy of the "Keeper" albums. It feels more polished, and possibly a wee bit sterile. It just lacks the dynamite - and I think that is partly because it came in after some massive upheaval amongst the band - the Noise legal issues, the inability to release a CD in the USA for two years, personality clashes between Kiske and Weiki (the follow-up "Chameleon" very much feels like a Kiske drive album) and essentially they've switched the innocent playfulness of the "Keeper" days for a more mature, more commercial endeavour. An endeavour, which possibly for the best, failed to make them big in the mainstream. So saying, it's still HEAVY and catchy and, well, I love it and I'm going to give it a jolly solid 9/10.

* Better than the bollocks they've come up with recently, in absence of both Kiske and Hansen.

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