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Max Webster – Universal Juveniles

Max Webster Universal Juveniles

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in the 9th grade, walking through the high school cafeteria looking for a place to devour my fries with gravy. I passed by one of the cool kids, who happened to be blasting “In The World Of Giants” on his ghetto blaster. Of course, I was stunned by what I heard and thought “what the hell is that?”. The next day I was off to the record store.

“Universal Juveniles” turned out to be the last album recorded by Max Webster. Led by Kim Mitchel (guitar and vocals) Max was a band that followed no rules. They seemed to do whatever they wanted musically and didn’t seem to care what anyone thought. And that’s what made them so cool. On the 4 studio albums they released before U.J., Kim certainly made us aware that he was a stellar guitarist, but on this album he comes out guns-a-blazing, slaying everyone in his path. I spent many nights in front of the record player, slowing down the RPMs trying to figure out exactly what was going on – I’m still trying.

“In The World Of Giants” opens with a ripping lick that grabs your attention immediately and sets the vibe for the whole album. This is an up tempo rocker that leaves you exhausted by the time it’s over. Without question, the song features Kim’s most adventurous guitar playing. The solo is simply ferocious. He relentlessly blasts across the fingerboard, pouncing on every note available (yeah, yeah, i can hear the guitar snobs out there saying that it ain’t all about speed – well, today it is!). All joking aside, Kim Mitchell proves here that speed and feeling can certainly co-exist.

The next tune is “Check”. I’m reminded here about the unique guitar tone on this record. I’m not sure what’s going on with the effects, but I like it. It sounds like there’s a mild blend of flanger on the lead guitars. In any case, there are some fine licks throughout this song. The solo’s intro line is very cool and a little weird – if anyone out there can lift it, I would love to learn it. 

It’s not my intention to go over every song, but it sure is tempting. “April In Toledo” (you gotta love the titles) has one of my favourite lyrics ever: “She’s taking a break, from my face”. Ha Ha. There’s something very different from Kim is this song. Although he could be using a volume pedal to create those “swells”, my guess is that he’s got his right-hand pinky finger wrapped around the volume knob. Great phrasing too.

“Drive and Desire” has to be one of my favourite songs EVER. I love the rhythm guitar during the verses, I love the vocal performance and, of course, I love the the solo! It sounds like it was worked out and orchestrated in advance, but I’ll bet that it was improvised on the spot.

“Blur River Liquor Shine” is beautiful; rich with acoustic guitars and piano, almost begging for some lap-steel. This solo is one that I taught myself as a kid, jamming along with the record over and over, trying to get every nuance just right. One of these days I’ll nail it.

The album closes with “Cry Out Your Life”. They do that thing where the band fades out while the lead guitar stays up in the mix, and then they bring the band back in. There’s that awesome guitar tone again, and Kim Mitchell is just “going for it”. I’m sure I’ve driven the staff at The Guitar World nuts on many occasions, playing these licks during product demos in the shop.

Those of us who grew up listening to Max Webster were very lucky. The band never really became an international success, and therefore never received any recognition outside of southern Ontario (although I know that Paul Gilbert is a big fan). So let me say a big thanks to Kim Mitchell for being such a great inspiration to myself and many other guitar players out there. Do yourself a favour and grab a copy of Universal Juveniles. It will do one of 2 things for you – it will either make you want to pick up your guitar and play, or it’ll make you want to throw it down the stairs – haha.

Thank for reading.

Next Month: “Kiss Or Kill” by ENDEVERAFTER

  1. I am not sure what you mean by no recognition outside of southern Ontario. I am from the suburbs of Dallas, Texas and me and all my musician friends were into Max big time. Yes, we only found them through our love of Rush, but we found them none the less. I, myself, became a HUGE Max fan and had (still have) all their records. I saw them open for Rush on the Moving Pictures tour and I was hooked. I still remember marveling at the groove to Waterline at that show. UJ spent a lot of time on my turntable and I got to know every nook and cranny. Your review is spot on but I can’t believe you didn’t even mention Battlescar. While does not boast a screaming solo, the whole of that song is one of the most powerful things I have ever heard. It’s just so HEAVY. And that false ending where it almost dies out and then it comes screaming back, “Feel the way I feel!!!!” Man – that would make Satan turn tail and run away.
    Anyway, nice to see a review of one of my favorite bands that too few people know about. Thanks.

  2. Well, they did get some recognition here in Germany from me and my friends. One of my favorite albums ever. Thanks for this great post

  3. they had us hooked here in Chicago as well. You had to search through the “imports” to find them but that was well worth it. I got back to see Kim up north this past summer after not seeing him for many years and it was everything I hoped it would be.

  4. dude, you missed Battlescar…2 full bands in the studio, no less than RUSH and MW. How could you miss that?

  5. Fans in Norway too.

  6. One of my favorite albums of all time and some great guitar work by Kim. The solo on April In Toledo was done using an Electro Harmonix Micro Synth pedal.

  7. I was lucky enough to work at Phase One Studios then. AT that time I was a runner. I remember going into the control room to either deliver
    Or take a lunch order when Rush and Max were running down Battlescar. Both bands live in the studio! Itwas awesome! I sat on the couch in
    front of the console under the huge JBL monitors and heard a take. Neil’s Tom were panned Left to Canter and Gary’s from center to right. Neil would start the fill on the left and Gary would finish it from Center to right. To be sitting in the center and hear and watch them was something I’ll never forget. DId I mention that I was positioned 6′ behind Neil on the other side of the glass!! WHen the vocals went down they were also overdubbed together, with Geddy and Kim facing each other. Great memory!

    • WOW! That’s an amazing account of the actual scene. What a memory that must be!

  8. Many here in Maine in the U S of Ache admire the abilities of Kim Mitchell… amazing player no doubt! Saw Max with RUSH in May of 1977 and it was absolutely inspirational.Also saw Kim solo at The Metro in Boston during the Patio Lanterns tour…with Kim Like right there and I’ll NEVER forget how easily he did the intro for In The World Of Giants, flawless. I have always wondered why Max was not huge. Kim kicks ass!

  9. I was fortunate to see Max Webster at least four times between 1978 and 1980 in venues ranging from the old C.N.E. Stadium where they opened for Brand X and Genesis, on the Wind and Wuthering tour in July ’78, to a small town Lion’s Hall with maybe 100 or 200 other people in October ’79! The other two were both at the Roxy Theatre in Barrie ON, the first one on 4/20/80. The other was exactly 8 months later on 12/20/80 (I still have all the ticket stubs). I think the April ’80 show was the one that was simulcast on CITY TV and CHUM FM. It’s on YT! (or was last I knew) I’ve been a fan since the first time I heard them and it’s good to know they are known far and wide, by a few people anyway.

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