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