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Monday, September 28, 2015

Shark Island returns...Kind of

I just discovered a true gem on Apple Music.

Back in 1989 I acquired a cassette copy of what will always be one of my favorite soundtrack albums, that of the soundtrack for Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Through it I was introduced to several new bands, the first of which was, of course, Big Pig, with their opening track "I Can't Break Away," which led me in turn to buy their album, Bonk, which subsequently stunned and impressed me with such great, heavily percussive, alternative(? I'm not sure there's a genre to describe Big Pig) tunes as "Big Hotel," "Hungry Town," "Devil's Song" and so many more.

That, in turn, led me to re-purchase that particular album on CD when the tape wore out. I also bought the followup CD years later. Not as good, but still managed a few good tracks. Great band. Sorry to know that they are not only defunct, but I can't really find anything substantial any one of them has gone on to do in the music industry.

But this entry is not about Big Pig.

This soundtrack also introduced me to Extreme. "Play with Me" was a blisteringly fast, melodic rock song that really blew me away. Their debut and sophomore albums were amazing and among my favorites of the era, and unlike Big Pig, they quickly found relative commercial success, but lost me along with that. Don't even get me started on Gary Cherone in Van Halen.

This post isn't about them either.

Tora Tora and Nelson both made solid appearances on the soundtrack as well (though the latter appeared as "Power Tool" due to a contract arrangement prior to their debut album release), as did a couple other even lesser-knowns. But it ain't about them either.

This is about Shark Island, one of the most underrated melodic hard rock bands of the late '80s. This group, along with Babylon A.D., has one of those non-success stories that kind of sickens me, because they were really good yet practically ignored, and I place the blame squarely on their labels. Both bands had incredible debut albums boasting a solid selection of songs with no filler, but suffered horribly from a lack of promotion and airplay.

Law of the Order was Shark Island's major label debut album, releasing the same year as the Bill & Ted soundtrack, as did Extreme's eponymous debut, and Tora Tora's Sneak Attack. It was a fantastic set of music, start to finish. Great riffs & catchy melodies abound, and Richard Black's vocals were spot-on throughout. This album should have been a huge success. It's a crying shame that Epic just let such genius material sit and rot.

FFWD>> to 2007, and I'm still listening to the album with some regularity. In August that year Shark Island released a new album. They'd apparently gotten most of the original band together to bring to fruition a bunch of old material and demos they'd had sitting around in the vault. This was exciting news. Unfortunately, the prospect was far more exciting than the final project.

Gathering of the Faithful is a great album title, and it makes a fan of the band think, "Wow, this is an album dedicated to me, one of the faithful who recognized the genius of the first album and waited faithfully for 18 years for an amazing followup. I'm finally gonna get my reward." Sadly, what you get when you play the album, no matter whether you're a fan or not, is a bunch of castoff material that shouldn't have made it to an actual album release. There's a reason they didn't record this stuff 15 years earlier. It kind of sucks. And, insult to injury, the production value sucks too. The band sounds like they haven't played together for almost two decades. Major disappointment.

Today I discovered on Apple Music that there's other Shark Island material out there as well. In 2004 an independent French label had the good sense to re-release Law of the Order in 2-disc format, adding a disc of live material recorded at the Whisky A Go Go in July 1989, five months after the release of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, when these guys were raring for takeoff after having slogged along and slowly built up a pretty decent following after 10 years on the L.A. rock scene.

Shark Island: Alive at the Whiskey - July 14, 1989 Bastille Day on iTunes

That disc is now available online. Though you'll shell out $60 or more for a secondhand mint-condition LP, you can now own a digital copy through iTunes for a mere 8 bucks. It's worth every penny. Even though most of the tracks are just live versions of the same material on Law of the Order, they are done with such energy and passion that each selection is given new life. If you happen to be a fan of this band looking for additional listening, I would recommend the live versions of the stuff you already know on Alive at the Whiskey long before I'd recommend the sloppy-seconds original material you'll find on Gathering of the Faithful.

There is kind of a heartbreaking moment buried in the glee I was feeling in enjoying this fantastic resurrected material. As the band finishes the final notes of "Get Some Strange" and they soak in the applause and cheers, singer Richard Black slips out of the rock star persona for a second and you get the sense that he suddenly truly noticed the crowd reaction and the fact that he was on this great stage with his band, getting major exposure on a really successful film soundtrack, and things were beginning to finally happen, that all their work was finally paying off. He shouts to the crowd, "Unbelievable!" Followed up with, seemingly more to himself, "My dreams have come true."

If only he had know how badly his record company was going to fuck him over. Such a waste.