Saturday, July 24, 2021

Helloween - Pink Bubbles Go Ape (1991)

Even with the advance knowledge that Helloween had adopted a silly side with tracks like "Dr. Stein", I saw the cover and title for Pink Bubbles Go Ape and knew something must be wrong. A woman holding a fish in what looks like a hotel hallway? I don't really see any pink bubbles...or any apes, and the logo placement and the title font are butt fucking ugly. And then I saw it was Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis and all that highfalutin jazz, who have about a 50/50 rate of coming up with a very cool cover idea or pretentious rubbish for the rock world; this one falling into that latter category. The album was actually not too easy to get around my area, but I finally landed the cassette and was not happy with what I was seeing, and once I hit play, I wasn't terribly fond of what I was hearing either...

That little acoustic intro ditty title track is absolute nonsense, its boring and doesn't generate excitement whatsoever for what's coming, which is too bad, because at least with "Kids of the Century" you get a proper sounding Helloween track, with a strong and fresh sounding production, even if it lacks the really memorable hooks and chorus of the two Kiske-fronted albums before it. And putting aside the aesthetics of the whole affair, which are terrible, this is my chief complaint with Pink Bubbles Go Ape. The music here, even at its strongest, is simply not fit to lick the boots of Keeper of the Seven Keys, and for a band that was on the precipice of becoming ginormous, this was a colossal letdown and could have proven a career ender on many levels. I understand the group was starting to have some internal problems and the writing was on the wall, but that didn't exactly soften the blow when I was such a fan of that 1985-1988 period when they were among my champions. It doesn't lack for the metal, don't get me wrong, even though there's a little bit more of a hard rock influence coursing through cuts like "Back on the Streets", "Heavy Metal Hamsters" or "Goin' Home",  they still put the pedal to it.

In fact, if we cut off a lot of the chaff on Pink Bubbles Go Ape, we'd have a passable EP. I'd keep "Kids of the Century", and the surprisingly powerful "Someone's Crying" which maintains that anthemic Euro power metal quality we so loved, and then "Mankind" and "The Chance" would round it out, both of which are also fairly catchy and melodic. None of these is top flight Helloween, but it would have tided me over for a year or so. Maybe even combining it with the best from Chameleon, we might a solid but short album. Tunes like "Your Turn", "I'm Doin' Fine, Crazy Man", and "Number One" just don't cut it, even if the band is trying to show that they can spread their wings into even more accessible turf. And as outrageous as it might have been to have a new hit called "Heavy Metal Hamsters", the title of which is the only detail many people even remember about this album, it just doesn't deliver with that chorus, in which Kiske sounds like he's going limp. Kai would later pen "Rick & Famous" for Gamma Ray, which is a lyrically and musically a similar idea only 100x better. In fact, there are some parallels in a lot of the writing here to that first Gamma Ray album, but it's not as good.

This was actually a Chris Tsangarides production, sort of a legend in the hard rock/metal field, and I think he does a decent enough job of coming up with a sound that further modernized where the band was at on the last two. The details are all clear, from the bass lines to the drums and synths, and Kiske sounds pretty comparable to the prior outings. When I was younger, I remember thinking that at least it sounded pleasant coming out of the speakers, but the tunes were largely just a crushing disappointment. Even if you compare it to the reprinted, rarer material on The Best, The Rest, The Rare like "Save Us", which I got the same year, it comes up well short. The Death of Helloween Part I? We'll see...

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]

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