The Rabbit Hole, Vol. 4: Finns!!!

The definition of a Rabbit Hole is similar to this: Used to refer to a bizarre, confusing, or nonsensical situation or environment, typically one from which it is difficult to extricate oneself.

While listening to music doesn’t seem like something bizarre or confusing, what I do can often be nonsensical and difficult to get myself out of, so I think it fits many of the treks I do through the Tidal streaming service. This series should be no different.

What I’m simply planning on doing with this series is having someone recommend a starting record, listening to that on Tidal and then using the “Similar Artists” algorithm to go down the rabbit hole and see what records it leads me to. The trek will continue until I hit an album that is either A) so great that there’s no reason to move forward, B) so bad that it derails me or C) feels like a natural end point. In the end, we’ll see how the records hold up and how solid the connections are.

So, to begin:

  • Lordi – Killection

So I wasn’t intending on starting a Rabbit Hole volume with Lordi in the least bit but this is the crazy shit that I end up getting into. So this Lordi record just came out on January 31st, 2020 and it’s um, unique. If you don’t know Lordi, they are a heavy metal band from Finland that wear masks and horror outfits on stage that lead singer, Mr. Lordi makes himself for each band member. Back in 2006, these fuckers unexpectedly won the yearly Eurovision Song Contest which Finns normally place either last or very close to it every year with some of the cheesiest shit you’d ever hear. Yet somehow these guys came on stage with their masks and hard rock and took the thing. It’s kind of like Jethro Tell winning the metal Grammy. So here we are in 2020, they are on their 10th record and on what can only be described as a “unique” concept record. This is supposedly a fake compilation of hits and Lordi recorded new songs as they would have sounded had the band existed from the early 70s to mid-90s before they existed. So you get stuff like the the Rob Zombie clone and odd “Shake the Baby Silent” followed by “Like a Bee to the Honey” an early 80s track with a bunch of horns, written back in the day by GD Paul Stanley and never released by Kiss, so um, Lordi got it. There’s lo-fi 70s rock (“Blow My Fuse”) 90s power metal (“I Dug A Hole in the Yard For You”) a track that sounds just like “Looks that Kill” by Motley Crue (“Up to No Good”) and seriously, motherfucking disco (“Zombimbo”). It’s not in any chronological order and there’s interludes from a fake DJ that are incredibly fucking bad, so it’s a really odd listen. That said, I’ve never heard of anything close to this concept – so honestly, good for Mr. Lordi for trying something and well, there’s some talent there that the band can play so many different styles on one disc. I have no idea what the market for this album is. I gather, no one. But hey, kudos buddy. No one ever did this before and no one will ever do this again.

So how does this turn into a Rabbit Hole? Well, I asked my pal Chris Dick (who you might recognize from his writing for Decibel Magazine and a bunch of great liner notes for metal bands) if he had heard the record and well, in no uncertain terms he told me to never ask him that again and proceeded to assault my ears with random links to youtube videos of what he just kept referring to as “Finns!!!”

So, down the “Finns!!!” Rabbit Hole we go.

  • Fredi – Parhaat päältaä2

Fredi (born Matti Kalevi Siitonen) was in the Eurovision song contest for a few years back in the late 60s and finished 11th in 1976 for his song “Pump Pump” at which point he looked like Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid. There’s a lot of fucking songs on this album so I take it to be a “Greatest Hits” of some sort but I don’t speak Finnish, so who the fuck knows. But the whole thing sounds like soft rock from the 60’s and 70s, maybe Finnish, maybe Air Supply with a flamenco song thrown in for good measure. But honestly, not as bad as I expected or maybe even wanted it to be. Watch the whole fucking video. Don’t cheat yourself out of this one.

  • Riki Sorsa – Desert of Love

That led to the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest participant, Riki Sorsa. He competed with a Finnish Reggae song (not a typo) and finished 16th that year out of 20 contestants. While I couldn’t find an album with that song on it, I did find Desert of Love, released in 1982, in English. His first four records were in English and then he released some in Finnish and some in Swedish. Desert of Love was his second album and actually is pretty good. Someone must have thought he had some crossover appeal to the US market because this record came out on Sony in the US. The disc feels like some kind of cross between Marshall Crenshaw and Billy Joel overall and fits right in with the sound of 1982. Now the bar in this rabbit hole has been raised.

  • Kirka – R.O.C.K.

So then Kirka actually finished 9th in the 1984 Eurovision contest and already had 13 light rock albums sung in Finnish, under his belt. The song that he performed for that was called “Hengaillaan” which was a light, fun, but pretty shitty early 80’s style pop song. Then of course, two years later, this guy decides to become a rock artist, releasing R.O.C.K. and singing in English. I guess with the success of Eurovision, many of these artists recorded in English afterwards, I supposed to try to get global play. And once again, like Riki Sorsa above, this could have been much worse. Featuring covers of “School’s Out” (Alice Cooper) and “Born to be Wild” (Steppenwolf) it was actually the originals which were decent enough to keep my interest. In fact, “Strangers in the Night” could pass for heavy metal. After this, he released another rock album in English called The Spell, then went back to lighter music in Finnish and Swedish, I think. I mean, I’m not going to listen to them to find out.

  • Catcat- Parhaat

From there we jump ahead to the 1994 contestant, Catcat. Catcat was a sister duo made up of Katja and Virpi Kätkä that released a handful of albums starting in the mid-90s through 2001. I think this is a hits collection that I’m listening to as it varies between light 90s pop and eurodance throughout the disc. The previous couple artists were interesting at least. These ladies are a third rate Ace of Base. Not much exciting here. This video is also gold. I have no idea what those background dancers are dancing to for much of the song but it can’t be this tune at all. And those dresses/lingerie/whatever they are. My lord.

  • Jari Sillanpää – Kaikkien aikojen parhaat

This guy was the Eurovision song contestant in 2004 where he finished 14th. I had to jump 10 fucking years in this contest from Catcat because frankly, the Finns never progressed past 1994 in their choices of songs. This guy doesn’t exactly break the mold either, creating Schlager music, which Wikipedia tells me is, “either sweet, sentimental ballads with a simple, catchy melody or light pop tunes.” So again, fucking Air Supply. But really after listening, this is Air Supply mixed with Ricky Martin!

  • Hanna Pakarinen – Love in a Million Shades

Once Lordi hit the Eurovision contest in 2006, Finland started getting way more interesting in the contest. They progressed out of the 90s finally and into the 00s and the following year Hanna Pakarinin was the contestant representing the country. She performed a song called “Leave Me Alone” – with rock guitars, the group wearing all black everything and she had that hot, goth, Amy Lee type look. The music wasn’t very dark though – more of a pop rock sound but at least sounding like she belonged in music at that time. Love in a Million Shades is the one album I could find on Tidal from that era and was released in 2009 on RCA in Finland. Apparently this album derailed her career as this was her first album in four tries that didn’t go gold in her homeland and only sold 7,000 copies. I have no idea why of course, as this this is a rabbit hole trek with artists that I know nothing at all about but the album itself is pretty solid, mixed with pop-rock tunes and sweet ballads that very well could have been on US radio if the album had made it over to the states.

  • Teräsbetoni – Myrskyntuoja

In 2008, the Finns!!! went back to heavy metal to try to recapture some of that 2006 magic in the content and well, Teräsbetoni finished 22nd. Let’s face it, Lordi kind of sucks but they put on a fucking spectacle, so after that, isn’t all metal that follows kind of tame? But I give it to them for trying and also for putting metal in a show like this in the first place. They competed with a song called “Missä miehet ratsastaa” which actually is on this record. This was their third of four records in their short career but win or lose (and mostly lose) in the Eurovision Song Contest, just the exposure itself got people paying attention, even if only for a hot minute. This album went to #1 in Finland and is actually very good. The Wikipedia page says they were influenced by Manowar which is never a good thing to read but these guys at least knew how to play their instruments. This is a solid Power Metal album from start to finish, very typical of the genre.

  • Krista Siegfrids – Ding Dong!

And now that we’ve got some metal back out of the way, we go back to beautiful Finns!!! instead. Krista Siegfrids is actually a TV star in Finland and has just one album, the fantastically titled Ding Dong! from back in 2013. She finished 24th in the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest with her single “Marry Me.” Although she kind of looked like a 17-year old Avril Lavigne on the cover of the album, she was actually 28 at the time of the recording. Though not fake punk like Avril was at the start of her career, there’s certainly a bit of that feel to the record but more so, Siegfrids sounded a lot like Ke$ha. Snotty, fun, #nofucksgiven dance-pop. I haven’t had a lot of chance to say it over the years but I love Kesha. So, this album is right up my alley and it’s damn good, in fact it’s going to easily be my favorite one in this rabbit hole. It’s even funny to hear a Donald Trump reference in her song “Money.”

And with that, I’m crawling out of the rabbit hole on this one. I’m confident that nothing I listen to from this point forward is going to match the quality of the Krista Siegfreds record, so let’s call this chapter closed.

Tidal Catalog #31: LL Cool J

Introduction: For those of you that have stumbled across this website and are interested in reading about my trek through the universe of the Tidal streaming service, let me tell you a bit about what I did. Back in 2016 I thought it would be kind of cool to listen to an artist’s catalog from start to finish and rank them from best to worst. After all, who doesn’t like a good list? I thought I might do a few of them and see what happened, hoping it would introduce me to records that were foreign to me in the arsenal of an artist I was familiar with. I also thought that it would be pretty cool to get out of the “one off” mode of listening to a new record, years after the previous one, in order to get a true sense of how the artist matured over time. Fast forward to June of 2019 and 250 catalogs later, I ended the trek. I posted these all on Facebook over the years as they were completed but I’m going to move them all over here, starting with #1, in order to expand them out a bit more. Facebook doesn’t exactly allow for too many details.

As with all my catalogs, to be considered in the ranking, an album has to meet certain criteria:

  • The artist must actually perform on 80% of the tracks (soundtrack and rap provision)
  • No compilations of previous released material will be included.
  • However, compilations of previously recorded material will be included if they are remixes, bonus tracks, outtakes… mostly music that hasn’t been part of a main release before.
  • The album must have been released officially and within the realm of the label that the artist would have been on at the time or official releases posthumously (normally applies to a slew of live records)
  • Any EPs must contain new new music and be relevant to the catalog, not be more like a single with a b-side or two.
  • Entrance Point: LL Cool J was hard as hell and was one of my favorite rappers growing up. I was very familiar with everything through 1993’s 14 Shots to the Dome and then my tastes shifted and I lost track of him for a while. And I say “was” hard as hell because by the time the mid-90s rolled around, he had lost most of his edge, which I think is why I moved on at the time.

All albums ranked on a 10 point scale:

  • Radio (10)

It’s hard to deny that Radio is one of the best rap albums of all time. This was the debut full length from James Todd Smith and the first full length album out on Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons’ Def Jam label and it’s a pioneering record. The raw, street level beats punctuated with scratching from DJ Cut Creator made this album sound like nothing else at the time and certainly paved the way for an even bigger record you might have heard of, called Licensed To Ill from the Beastie Boys. If you only know LL from recent acting gigs, it would seem odd to call him one of the greatest rappers ever but to that, I would ask you to go back and listen to this album. LL was a such a great writer of rhymes, very descriptive in his story telling and focused in his subjects. And right from the start you get two the staples of LL lyrics; A) You lame and LL’s the G.O.A.T. (“You Can’t Dance” and “That’s A Lie” and B) Your man ain’t good enough for you, but LL will make sure to treat you right and make no mistake, at the end of the night, we will be bangin’ (“I Can Give You More” and “I Want You”). LL was the true pioneer of the hip-hop love song. Mid-tempo beats down to straight ballads where he wants the girl to know how special she but at the same time, make no mistake, she’ll be gettin’ it on all night. This type of song would kind of prove to be his downfall in the end but right here at the start, it’s brilliant. And let’s not forget that he led with the great opener, “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” and then released the brilliant “Rock the Bells” which on the album version contained no bells at all. If you want to hear them, you have to get the B-Side to the single which is the 7+ minute original cut and has bells everywhere. In all my catalogs, this surely was one of the easiest calls to make for the top spot.

  • Mama Said Knock You Out (9.5)

Although there’s no real way for me to verify this, I believe that I’ve listened to Mama Said Knock You Out more than any other rap album ever. And that’s mostly due to my HS buddy, Ed. I would pretty much go over to Ed’s house every day and when it wasn’t covered in snow, we’d be in his driveway shooting hoops. Then one day LL released this beast and it was game on. Our goal for as many days as I can remember was to rap all the lyrics to the title track perfectly. Now I don’t have much of a memory, so I don’t know if we did this all the time or not – or if we even ever got it right – or frankly if I’m making all of this shit up but I’m gonna have to have Ed confirm since I say it literally every time this album or song is brought up. To this day, the album is still a monster though, so good that the title track was only the 4th single, which is kind of insane since it’s stood the test of time. “The Boomin’ System” “Around the Way Girl” and the remix of “Jingling Baby” are tunes that I could go back to any day of the week and enjoy. And while he had been known to toss a random food reference in a song now and then, you have “Milky Cereal” which has a new cereal reference pretty much every line. With some people this would be cheesy. But it’s right in LL’s wheelhouse. The only reason Mama Says Knock You Out doesn’t get a full 10 from me is that there’s a section up front with “Murdergram” and “Cheesy Rat Blues” where LL seems to try too much to be hard and it doesn’t work as well as it should. But this is one of those records that gets higher ranks from me for the nostalgia factor as well, which is something I didn’t do a lot in these catalogs.

  • Bigger and Deffer (9)

The only other complete classic in the catalog, Bigger and Deffer (BAD) is another one that has stood the test of time. BAD only had two hit singles but it was those singles that made him a bonafied superstar. LL leads the album off with “I’m Bad” which has a sound that had really never been heard before and a stunningly tight flow. But the song that put LL over the top was “I Need Love” – the very first commercially successful rap love song. Here’s this big dude with huge muscles, showing vulnerability in a rap song. As I mentioned in the blurb for Radio, in the long run he went to the sensitive love song one too many times and that hurt him but at this point, we all ate this up, especially women. I don’t know if this is where the lip-licking started but it’s unfortunately impossible to get a sweaty, muscular, lip-licking LL Cool J out of my mind forever. It was just so much a part of his personality that it was everywhere back in the day. And make no mistake, it’s not a novelty – but a great fucking song and still is to this day. But the reason the album only had two hits was almost certainly because there was no track that could follow “I Need Love” as a single. They tried their DJ song, “Go Cut Creator Go” which is great on its own but not really a single. BAD does contain one of my favorite LL non singles on it, “The Breakthrough” which is one of his best rhymes of all time. Part of what helped LL back in this early period too, was the fact that he switched up producers. This record was produced by the L.A. Posse instead of Rick Rubin, which ensured that he would still be BAD but not completely recreate the first album. Give the credit to LL for writing fantastic rhymes but changing producers from album to album throughout his career means that from one album to the next the sound at least didn’t get stale.

  • Authentic (7.5)
  • Exit 13 (7.5)
  • The DEFinition (6.5)
  • G.O.A.T. (6)
  • Walking with a Panther (6)
  • 10 (6)
  • Phenomenon (6)

So LL calls himself the G.O.A.T. and he has enough hits to not completely dismiss that notion, though in reality, he had three classic and pioneering records in his first four and some major hits off the other one of the four (Walking with a Panther). After Mama Said Knock You Out, it started going downhill for LL. Every album he has put out has some great tunes on it but they also have plenty of tracks that are throwaways, which makes everything from 1993 to say 2008 a bit maddening for a fan and kind of kills the notion that he’s the greatest of all time. I stopped here in the trek to write this album up though because the title track is my favorite LL Cool J song of all time. Maybe a bit odd but there’s something about “Phenomenon” that always gets me as hype as I can be. But with this record, he fell into the same trap that 9 million other rappers did – way too many guests. LL made great records with no one but his lone self rapping and this record is filled with other major artists that take the spotlight away from him too often. “Candy” is the type of song that I feel like LL simply had to make at this point in his career. Not a ballad but a mid-tempo love song and now with singing on it, courtesy of Ricky Bell and Ralph Tresvant. It’s not necessarily a bad song but one that feels forced rather than just carefree like his early material. Although overall I like Trackmasters as producers, its their songs that are the weakest on the album. The aforementioned “Candy” “Nobody Can Freak You” w/ Keith Sweat and “Father” which samples George Michael’s “Father Figure.” That’s not to say everything is bad outside of the title track. I always welcome the legendary Busta Rhymes on any track and he makes “Starsky & Hutch” into a great one. It’s just not consistent enough nor has enough LL on it to get a higher rating.

  • Todd Smith (5.5)
  • Mr. Smith (5)
  • 14 Shots to the Dome (4)

Thinking back, it seems impossible that LL could have followed up Mama Said Knock You Out with an album this bad, but it happened. This is the first album from him that didn’t sound like he was setting the trends, rather than following. Right from the first track, “How I’m Comin'” LL is rapping angry rather than smooth or street. And the second track, “Buckin’ Em Down” sounds very much like a Cypress Hill song. There’s a strong element of an attempt at West Coast Gangsta Rap here – and I say “attempt” because this just wasn’t LL’s strength. You may remember this album for the hit “Back Seat (of My Jeep)” and there are other songs like “Stand Behind Your Man” that find him doing what you would have expected. But those moments are few and far between and mixed with songs that completely clashed with each other. And of course, there’s one of the worst song titles of all time on 14 Shots – the single “Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag Getting Crushed by Buildings” which is some reference to sex that I still don’t quite get and have never heard any human being say outside of this context. I can’t say that he never recovered from this record as the next album (Mr. Smith) contained both “Hey Lover” and “Doin’ It” which will be played until the end of time but this one certainly took him off the untouchable perch he had been on previously.

  • Summary: 13 albums, Average 6.8

Bonus content: I live right down the street from the Bollman Hat factory, which probably means nothing to you. But a few months ago, I learned that they create hats under the Kangol brand, which of course is the brand that LL wore all the time back in the day. So I went to the factory outlet store and in there was a vintage black Kangol cap. And well, how could I resist. Word to the mutha.