The Complete Handbook of Songwriting

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The Ultras weren't trying to be another Spinal Tap, but the Los Angeles band delivered its pop-metal/hard rock with so much humor and irony, The Complete Handbook of Songwriting does end up sounding like a parody of 1970s and 1980s hair bands. Even if tracks like "Galactic Kid," "Solar System," and "Tramp on the Road" didn't have amusing lyrics, the very sound of lead singer Alistarr Liddell's voice would make this six-song mini-album seem tongue-in-cheek. The colorful Liddell sings with a bratty, irreverent sneer -- one that is mindful of 1980s headbangers like Ratt, Mötley Crüe, and Quiet Riot, but also owes something to punk. Liddell was the perfect lead singer for the Ultras, and he is quite entertaining whether he is belting out Ultras originals or helping the band put a pop-metal spin on Paul Simon's early-1970s hit "Kodachromme." If you're going to record a cover, it's best to bring something new or different to the tune -- otherwise, what's the point? And, to their credit, the Ultras' "Kodachromme" remake is a major departure from Simon's famous version. Unfortunately, the Ultras never got very far commercially; many pop-metal and hard rock fans have never even heard of the obscure foursome. But The Complete Handbook of Songwriting is worth searching for if you want to hear a good example of pop-metal laughing at itself.

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