6 Top 40 Mainstream Rock Hits
Two themes run consistently through CRIMES OF PASSION the eighth album from BIG HEAD TODD AND THE MONSTERS--a love of rock and roll and the need to tell compelling, human stories.
The juxtaposition of riff-driven rockers against melodic ballads and diversity of styles from folk to funk reflects the band's career-long embrace of all types of music, while staying deeply rooted in rock and roll. MOHR's wide-ranging songwriting has always been seamless because the other two corners of the creative BHTM triad--bassist ROB SQUIRES and drummer BRIAN NEVIN--have an intuitive understanding of the music playing in MOHR's head. And they should. After all, the trio's played together since attending Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and forming BHTM in the late-1980s when they were students at the University of Colorado.
In those early days when the group was just starting to write their own songs (they were already well-known for their unpredictable palette of soul, blues and Johnny Cash covers as they were for their own original music), the band forged a lasting friendship that has endured and grown stronger.
Long before the digital era and the Internet age, BHTM were practicing the DIY ethic, and now, almost 20 years since forming as a trio, they're still walking their own path. The band launched its own independent label, Big Records, and released their first two albums, Another Mayberry (1987) and Midnight Radio (1990) to exploding local, regional and national acclaim, selling a then-unheard of 58,000 copies on their own. When Giant Records founder Irving Azoff saw them at an Aspen performance he signed them on the spot. The first Giant album Sister Sweetly was a platinum-selling smash featuring rousing rock radio hits such as "Broken Hearted Savior" and "Circle," the fan favorite "Bittersweet" and R&B-flavored "It's Alright." The disc's glossy production was the work of David Z, a Minneapolis colleague of Prince.
The next three albums showed the band's music continually evolving in spite of a contentious relationship with the label, which was anxious to duplicate Sister Sweetly's commercial success. However, BHTM insisted on going their own way with MOHR producing Stratagem (1994), a return to simpler production values. The next release, 1997's Beautiful World, solidified MOHR's ability to balance guitar rock and his penchant for soul and R&B music. It was produced by the Talking Head's Jerry Harrison and included a riveting collaboration with blues legend John Lee Hooker on Hooker's classic "Boom Boom."
In 1998, the band released Live Monsters, which has become a fan favorite and consistent seller. In 2001, Giant Records was dissolved and BHTM found themselves enjoying the freedom to return to their DIY roots. In 2002 they recorded and released Riviera, their first album of original music in four years, on their own Big Records label, placing three singles in the Top-20 at AAA radio.
And now, a re-invigorated BHTM have completed CRIMES OF PASSION, with some of their most compelling and passionate music to date under the Sanctuary imprint.
CRIMES OF PASSION opens with "Dirty Juice," a monster guitar riff song that leaps through stereo speakers like vintage Stones fronted by a growling John Lee Hooker. The haunting ballad "Beauty Queen" follows, telling the story of a beauty queen whose life never fulfills her promise. The plaintive chorus observes: "Love is a passionate crime/Where only the guilty survive/And the innocent, they fly away."
Throughout CRIMES OF PASSION, BHTM display an engaging balance of rockers and ballads. "Angela" is a gently-paced song about lovelorn heartbreak that showcases Mohr's soulful vocals while "Come On" pays tribute to the late-'60s, early-'70s sound of bluesy hard rock, with its spiraling guitar chords pumped up with keyboards played by TODD PARK MOHR (who also contributes the saxophone on "ICU"). Eslewhere, "Drought of 2013" has an acoustic foundation that gives it the feel of a timeless folk narrative, but then it turns into an ominous, psychedelic guitar soundscape.
Singer, songwriter and guitar-player MOHR says he's incorporated "anti-pop, old-school psychedelic elements" to keep the album's sound contemporary and the band on an ever-evolving course. "I like to call it Techno-Delta," he says. "Delta blues with synthesizers a.k.a. 'Dirty Juice,' 'Conquistador,' 'Come on' and 'Lost Child Astronaut.'" Once again, MOHR produced the band, dividing sessions between his solar-powered studio in the Colorado Mountains and Immersive Studio in Boulder.
"Todd has become an excellent producer through watching some very talented people we have worked with like Jerry Harrison, Karl Derfler, Andy Wallace, David Z, Tom Lord-Alge and others," says SQUIRES. "No outside producer has a clearer vision of what Todd is after in his writing, and therefore, he is the perfect person to produce our records."
The irresistible combination of catchy, rough-and-tumble rock, with the storytelling often describing dark themes, NEVIN explains, was Mohr's vision for the record. With MOHR at the helm, he says, "we had the freedom to produce very accessible hooks. Todd felt comfortable exploring the hooks and making it easier for the listener, because the darkness balances the pop."
Of course, MOHR's skillful production abilities take a back seat to his inspired guitar talents. With an aggressive, blues-influenced style and proficient musicality he's elevated himself beside many of the guitar greats he draws influence from. MOHR acknowledges this growing reputation, but adds, "I've never thought of myself as an instrumentalist, because I think the emphasis I have is more on composition--songwriting. The playing has to always be in the service of the song, so I'm more of a big picture guy when it comes to chops." Those chops are always in evidence on stage to devastating effect, though MOHR' personality remains reserved off stage.
It's obvious the trio loves playing live, and with more than 3500 live performances under their belts, BHTM have nurtured a fanatically loyal fan base. SQUIRES says: "We still consider ourselves at home on the road. This is where we have made our living, built our fan base and we still absolutely love it." He adds, "I feel very proud and fortunate to be releasing our eighth disc. The friendship amongst band members and the unbelievably strong support from our fans has allowed us to continue doing what we enjoy so much, despite the ups and downs of the music business."
NEVIN adds that the band's longevity is a blessing: "I never thought that we'd be lucky enough to keep doing this. It's still fun playing together."
MOHR admits he has matured as a songwriter, and explains the sound the band was after with CRIMES OF PASSION. "Lyrically, I've lost some of the sweetness and sentimentality that I had as a younger writer," he says. "Being young distorts some things. You make mistakes. Experience makes a person colder and more accurate, but also a better storyteller.
"As a songwriter, I try to tell as many different stories, in as many different ways as I can. 'Lost Child Astronaut' and 'Beauty Queen' are two of my favorite storytelling songs. Something between Dylan's 'Tangled up in Blue,' which I think is the greatest storytelling song ever, and Zeppelin's 'Kashmir' is what we were after: storytelling with atmosphere!"
It's clear that BIG HEAD TODD AND THE MONSTERS got what they were after with CRIMES OF PASSION.
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