Try something right now:
Go on Google (or ANY search engine for that matter), and type in “Szuters review” or “Magna-Fi review”, zeroing in a particular album. Chances are you won’t find one, and that irritates the crap outta me. At least Metal Sucks was considerate enough to review the debut album of Magna-Fi:
But other than that, you probably won’t find much. C.J. and Mike don’t have a lot of interviews for you to hear (I’ve checked). It makes you wonder if Jun Senoue, Paul Gilbert and George Lynch are the only ones who can fish out real talent.
So I figured, I review musicians, why not write some of my own, having heard virtually every album they’ve released. I’m gonna mainly zero in on Mike and C.J Szuter.
So Here I go. I’ve heard six albums (one is technically an EP) and so I’m going to write about a lot these albums and what’s so great about them. The Szuter albums were HARD to get my hands on, because most of their fame in those days were in Japan (almost exclusively sold there), so here I go:
The Szuters (1996)
This album is one of the best ones that’s I’ve ever heard. Mike is on lead vocals, C.J on lead guitar/backing vocals. But regardless, these Power Pop-styled melodies are nothing short of exemplary. Mike and C.J did their homework, expressing true lyricism with a perfect flow of complexity and “slice-of-life”. The album tackles many themes, lyric-wise, such as relationships (Stay, If I Can’t Have You, Your Arms), frustration (America), and plain old memorable tracks of raw pop-inspired talent (Burlington, What Did I Do, Mr.Norton). Stretch Armstrong is a true winner; fantastic hooks, brilliant “Hey Jude”-styled finale. This album really shows you what to expect from the
Szuter-bros, and I’m sure it outdoes the alleged-brilliance of Outta The Blue, which I really look forward to buying. Unfortunately, there’s really no future for Power Pop melodies, even for ’90’s rockers. Even with the well thought through lyrics in tracks like America or High Above It, it’s a shame that this album could never compare to the semi-retarded musical expectations of a revamped industry (then) directed at cheap grunge riffs. JVC should be proud to have put this on the shelves.
American Pop (1998)
Despite being another Japan release (courtesy of JVC Japan), This album is a sign of maturity (the first of many) for the Szuters. The band compiles a series of hard hitters with soft beautiful ballads, even piano acoustics, rivaling the potential of Use Your Illusion. Black cloud, blue sky is a true Grade A piece, a runner up to the echo of emotional-based lyricism that would be more evident later on in their career. Song like Cigarette, Welcome to my mind, In greener fields, and Isabella show the bands versatility. It’s almost like they mirrored the philosophy of Freddie Mercury, never recycling the same formula. Tony Santorov is incredible on base, not resorting to cheap one note scales like the many pop rock posers, and the drumming of Johnny Fedevich makes him a real Deen Castronovo (or for the sake of Mike, a Bun E. Carlos). I’ll always love this album, albeit far from the best work of the Szuters. Also, the producer/saint in this scenario is none other than Paul Gilbert, so I guess there are SOME people who recognize real hardcore talent.
Last Band Standing (1998)
This is the only EP on the list, courtesy of Decompression Records. There are six songs on this track, but I strongly recommend a purchase. This EP is just a pioneer of the Magna-Fi sound later to come. This EP is definitely for people who are more into the hard rock sound, as the band almost sounds as though they’re making a melodic crossover. It’s truly a work of art. Funny how people rave over Nirvana’s lyrics of Angst that were represented in Nevermind, when most of the lyrics went sailing over most people’s air heads. Not so with this EP. Here, Mike and C.J use clear cut, down to earth slice-of-life lyrics to clearly express feelings of detest, anxiety, frustration, and everything in between. The lyrics of Farther Falling Star, matched with the ironic upbeat melody, almost comes across as a sublime representation of pretense. But the real genius is Different Today. The duet of Mike and C.J is just spectacular, complete with a string encore and lyrical craftsmanship that outdoes “Something In the Way”. Every track on this EP is definitely good for Hard Rock students and fans of music that actually have true meaning and structure to it, albeit versatile. And Mike was an amazing producer…
Not Quite At Budokan (1999/00)
See the bass player jumping behind Mike? That’s a great bass/guitarist named Craig Martini. Try him out some time.
Now, I will say this: This is my favorite album OVERALL of everything Mike and C.J have ever released in their bands history, but all bias aside, this album is the greatest track list of pop hits that America (technically Japan) can ever experience. The Szuters end on century and open the next with brilliant song writing, even more catchy riffs courtesy of C.J, and a perfect lyrical structure that goes 10x beyond the work of American Pop (HANDS DOWN). Anyone trying to find the ultimate fusion of pop and hard rock, and looks elsewhere, doesn’t know what they’re missing. The band seems to join forces to become the new darlings of Rock N Roll. Songs like “Anti Christ Theme”, The Eyes That Never Lie, and the awe-inspiring Never There are a give away to what this album really is. It’s no holds barred. It’s a total emotional out pour. It’s the only way to end the century with a bang. Even with a new lineup, Craig doesn’t slow the band down, he just makes the songs even better, despite the fact that Pop isn’t really his thing. An amazing album. There’s only one regret though: They’re still NOT QUITE AT BUDOKAN.
Magna-Fi – Burn Out The Stars (2002)
The opening song, Where Did We Go Wrong, says it all. Genius. The Szuters finally crack the surface with this smash single:
The pop inspired lyrics and a sound so hard it might as well be metal. Mike finally belts out the title lines at the end of C.J’s power riffs, and now you know Magna-Fi (named so because no one could pronounce “Szuter”) is in the big[ger] leagues.
The band, as I said before, never recycles the same formula, so in this case, the lyrics are more oriented towards breakups. “When I Leave You” is a perfect break up anthem, a show-no-mercy power ballad with such a relative plain for your everyday music listener. “This Life”,“Seconds, Minutes, Hours” and “Drown” is almost like a return to the “Last Band Standing Roots”, where Mike sings of frustration faced not only by unstable relationships, but also with the music industry. C.J also has his best guitar expertise in “Hate This Life”, “Down In It” and “Beautiful”, being the unshakable backbone of the bands melodic delivery. Unfortunately, when he made his exit from the band, it was like Brian Welch leaving KoRn or Tracii Guns leaving L.A. Guns; he took the melodic power with him…
And so the journey ends. Christian Brady replaces C.J. on guitar (but at least we got an incredible album and EP from C.J with the Pop power that we love, which I recently reviewed), and as a result, this album is my least favorite of Magna-Fi’s decade long escapade. Still, Mike’s lyrical gift s expressed again, and the tone is much darker than Burn Out The Stars. These new songs are more of angst (When I’m Awake, Fall From Grace), Failure (Dream Denied Destroyed), and Recovery (Save Me). I will say this: I do like the solid structure of the album’s themes, never straying away onto something outlandish or simply “more catchy”. But Save Me is a brilliant encore, almost like a positive parallel for Master of Puppets or Mr.Brownstone (or maybe even You Were Right). With or without C.J (I say with), this album is still one of the greatest I’ve ever heard overall, definitely Gold Worthy.
So there you have it. Short but down to point reviews on the rock band that was doomed from the start. Can’t find Szuter reviews? Here they are. This band is the Romeo and Juliet of Rock And Roll history, believe it or not. Fortunately, unlike Guns N’ Roses, the band didn’t implode; it was attacked like the twin towers. By whom? Simple. By an industry that’s more concerned with catchy riffs (CHEAP, CATCHY RIFFS), party-themed music and electronic special effects that eradicate any need for true lyricism is the true demand of simple minded music consumers of today. If it doesn’t sell-out (suck the tit of the music industry as John LeCompt from We Are The Fallen put it), or have an electronic, house, or whatever-the-trend-is-at-the-time ring to it, then you’re pretty much screwed. Bands with great potential are considered outdated and obsolete, and they quickly vanish from the charts if they ever end up there at all. CJ Szuter has an incredible album called CJ1, and as for Mike… He’s just shy of pulling an Izzy Stradlin (He’s done work with Paul Gilbert, the Blue Man Group, Sin City Sinners, Vegas Limit,
and the eccentric Rock N Roll Rebels cover band). Still, who knows, maybe people will demount the beast of ignorance and come to appreciate the true elements of what made the Szuters great, before we all sing the Cinderella ballad “Don’t Know What You Got (‘Til It’s Gone)”.
Hopefully I’ll find out what became of Mike Szuter…