Thor – Keep the Dogs Away
I try not to idolize my favorite entertainers. My girlfriend sells a lot of her art at conventions, and often there are rows of washed-up has-beens cluttering the con floor. I have no reason to talk to these people. Even if Lori Petty’s was cool in the made-for-TV film Bates Motel 25 years ago, it doesn’t mean I need to talk to her. What am I supposed to say anyway? Am I supposed to gush over Tank Girl or just blab about the current weather conditions in the immediate area? Both would have the same detachment. The best case scenario is I remember the interaction for the rest of my life and Lori goes home, gets wasted, fucks her husband, and gives two shits about everything.
Still, it’s impossible to not have an idol or two. There’s only one musician I can say I ever wanted to meet, and back in November, I got to live my dream. Canadian rock God Jon-Mikl Thor came to a small bar that was literally three blocks away from my house. To a small crowd of about twenty people, Thor played a then-new documentary, I Am Thor, and a whole concert.
It started out on a very intimate note. Thor and the mostly reunited ’80s lineup of his eponymous band took the stage for a short discussion with the audience. The band asked questions about Detroit, talked about their experience playing at the infamous Harpos years ago, and cracked jokes about each other. Thor and his band were baring themselves to the crowd, giving the rest of the night greater emotional resonance.
The documentary was phenomenal, especially for a Thor archaeologist like myself. Many new facts are initially discussed about the artist’s early career, my favorite being that Thor was drugged and kidnapped during his first major label contractual discussions. Halfway through, Thor’s mainstream rock career ends due to a bout with depression. The film fast forwards to 1998 as Thor attempts to make a big comeback. Everything after is like the ultimate outsider musician story, a wasteland in which rock ‘n’ roll draws no money and one eccentric man must build up his legacy without the aid of a top 40 hit.
After the film, Thor took the stage. This metal dude and I sung every word to almost all the tracks, and Thor even complimented my singing ability when he passed me the mic for a line in “Let the Blood Run Red”. Donning a variety of masks and wagging around a bunch of hammers, Thor blurted through all his ’80s classics and the title track from his 1977 debut Keep the Dogs Away.
This album’s about to be reissued by Cleopatra, a goth label that’s recently began reissuing some curios from the ’70s. Whether it’s worth picking up is more about what hard rock genres you can tolerate, as Thor and the gang didn’t really create a cohesive sound.
The album opens with a huge three-track wallop. “Keep the Dogs Away” is a straightforward Kiss-romp. With a brisk tempo and tons of cool guitar fills, Thor always notes that this track was his greatest hit, charting somewhere in Alaska. “Sleeping Giant” which drops the tempo to a lumbering singalong that could easily be re-written for an episode of Sesame Street, a greater compliment than you’ll ever know. The gritty power ballad “Catch a Tiger” finds Thor imitating Lou Reed’s sing-speak.
Onward, things start getting a little shaky. “I’m So Proud” has a terrible bluesy riff and “Tell Me Lies” is only saved by a cool double tracked solo. Things get better with “Military Matters”, a proto-Manowar track that probably would have sounded cooler without the goofy Spanish guitar riff that’s constantly playing. Psychedelia starts creeping in, with “Superhero” and “Wasted” featuring some weird lyrics and drugged out guitars. “Rosie” brings in some muscular power pop before “Thunder” closes the album with a constipated ’60s garage-psych sound.
There’s really too much going on for it to be deemed a classic. It sounds like the band copies Kiss the first half and adds this big Doors influence for the second, shifting from awesome and stupid to lame and stupid very quickly. Lyrical evidence: “sometimes I feel that I’m wasted/sometimes I feel that I’m wasted/sometimes I feel that I’m wasted/sometimes I feel that I’m wasted”.
The CD version of the reissue adds almost twenty other early tracks, including the awesomely glam Thor & The Imps tracks from 1975. An additional live show from 1980 will also be included, making it the best archive of pre-Only The Strong Thor you’ll get. I’m assuming it will be most of the footage from the An-Thor-logy set, but I’ll pick it up just in case.
So yeah, the concert ended and I had Thor sign everything I own. He was particularly excited to see a copy of Keep the Dogs Away. Was he glad to see that there was still some interest in the soon-to-be re-released album? Or was he mad that I won’t need to buy another copy? Either way, I’ll probably get one anyway.
Keep the Dogs Away original album: C+
Keep the Dogs Away deluxe: B+
I Am Thor documentary: B+
Thor concert: A-