Archive for November, 2009

Music review: Creed, Full Circle

Posted: November 13, 2009 in Album Reviews

creed

It’s hard to believe, but at the turn of the century, Creed was perhaps the biggest rock band in the land.
With a charismatic frontman and talented lead guitarist pumping out anthems rooted in Christianity, Creed produced tunes many people could relate to.
I have to admit, Creed has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. When they were in their heyday, Creed was one of the few rock bands which received consistent play on Top 40 radio. Back then, radio (before the days of satellite radio I might add) consisted of boy band drivel like N’Sync and Backstreet Boys, a bevy of hip hop acts, teen pop like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. It was a bad time in general for music, rock in particular. The only other rock acts getting much attention were talentless nu-metal hacks like Limp Bizkit and post-grunge whiners like Staind.
Creed’s sound never was incredibly original, and lead singer Scott Stapp was often (and accurately) portrayed as an Eddie Vedder clone. Still, a few of their songs like “My Sacrifice,” “Higher,” “What If” and the overplayed but still good “With Arms Wide Open” have stuck with me over the years.
The band parted ways acrimoniously in 2002, mainly due to Stapp’s addictions. An infamous concert where he was wasted and barely coherent caused fans to sue the band, seemingly providing the final nail in the coffin for guitarist Mark Tremonti, a longtime friend of Stapp’s.
They went their separate ways, with Stapp eventually sobering up and releasing an utterly forgettable solo album, and the other members of the band joining Tremonti and new singer Myles Kennedy for a pair of medicore Alter Bridge albums.
Last year, Tremonti and Stapp worked out their differences and decided to reform the band. They went out on tour earlier this year and recorded a new album, called “Full Circle” (get it?)
The results of the reunion are surprisingly good. It’s probably the most consistent record the band has ever put out. There isn’t a bad song on it. One song in particular “Away in Silence” is one of the best tracks they’ve ever recorded, as Stapp deals with his personal demons as it pertained to his marriage, begging his wife to stay with the line “I’m not the man I used to be, I’ve changed”. “Overcome” and “Bread of Shame” are two of the heaviest songs Creed has ever laid down, and the title track has a bluesy feel not present on their previous work. There aren’t any surefire hit singles (although with the time between albums and the obvious change in the musical landscape, a hit would be hard to come by) but I don’t skip many tracks like I did on previous releases. Overall, a strong return to form.
The Sod rating: *** 1/2
Other Creed releases:
My Own Prison (1997) ***
Human Clay (1999) *** 1/2
Weathered (2001) ***

wolfmother

Wolfmother is a band behind its time, which isn’t really a bad thing. The Australian rockers seem to be stuck in a time warp, where the year is always 1971. They celebrate and mimic the sounds of classic rock legends like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath with huge riffs and the ever-present wail of frontman/guitarist/songwriter Andrew Stockdale.
The band’s second full-length album Cosmic Egg is a celebration of all things rock, and while they’re not incredibly original, they’re able to rock you just the same. And with a dearth of good rock bands these days, I’ll take a band that wishes it was opening for Jimi Hendrix.
The latest effort comes three years after the release of the band’s self-titled debut, and much has happened since then. Namely, Stockdale replaced the other members of the band with a completely new group, Axl Rose-style. You can’t really tell the difference because Stockdale is the star of the show, the band’s frontman and musical leader.
The band is tight, but the main difference between this record and the previous is a more consistent set of songs from Stockdale.
While the debut contained a couple memorable tracks like “Woman” and “Dimension,” it’s not a record I’ve revisted all too often.
From the opening bass-line of “California Queen” (which is somewhat reminiscent of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Around the World), the album has very few lulls and is filled with memorable moments. “Queen” and lead single “New Moon Rising” both have the Zep meets Sabbath vibe to it, as Stockdale’s voice often sounds like a cross between Robert Plant and Ozzy Osbourne, with a dash of Jack White and John Lennon sprinkled in for good measure.
“White Feather” has an especially White Stripesish vibe, with Stockdale’s vocal phrasing often coming very close to White’s. “Sun Dial” is the only track I’d call an overt lift, as the riff sounds like Black Sabbath’s “NIB” as played by Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and the chorus sounds much like “NIB” as well. It’s still a rocking track, but incredibly derivative.
Wolfmother try to stretch out on the Beatlesque ballad “In the Morning,” and Stockdale sounds like the leader of a prog rock band in the other ballad “Far Away.” Think of Yes on steroids and you have a decent estimation of that track, which is the better of the two ballads.
The title track and “Pilgrim” are a few more strong rockers, with the second track sounding like a cross between Zeppelin and Oasis.
The most original and perhaps best song is the album’s final track, “Violence of the Sun.” It clocks in around six minutes, giving the album an epic closer. It’s a slow building song, with a haunting keyboard riff kicking it off, with guitars slowly building in the mix. Stockdale gives his vocals a nice workout on this one, building into a shriek as the instruments blend together for an impressive crescendo. It’s here where you get a glimpse of a band that may one day rise above the level of deft imitator and become an actual innovator, but for now we’ll have to accept Wolfmother for what it is: a kick-ass karaoke classic rock band.

The Sod rating: *** 1/2
Other Wolfmother release:
Wolfmother (2006) ** 1/2

Music review: Weezer, Raditude

Posted: November 5, 2009 in Album Reviews

weezer

There’s no denying the talent of Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo. His gift for melody is seemingly effortless. Cuomo has always been able to craft short pop ditties with huge rock hooks, mixed with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and clever lyrics. The first three Weezer albums (particularly the first two, the eponymous Blue Album and Pinkerton) were fantastic. The fourth, Maladroit, was pretty solid, while the last two, Make Believe and the Red Album were hit-and-miss affairs.
Which brings us to the band’s latest effort, Raditude, a pretty ridiculous title which also houses a few ridiculous but ultimately catchy tunes. A quick look at the song titles lets you know you’re not in for lyrical greatness, including leadoff single, the cheesy but infectious “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To”. The band certainly isn’t taking itself seriously here, or on tracks like “I’m Your Daddy,” “The Girl Got Hot” and one of the worst tracks the band has ever recorded, “Can’t Stop Partying”, an ode to clubbing featuring a mediocre rap from Lil’ Wayne, which happens to be the best part of the song. Maybe Cuomo is playing a little joke on his fans with songs like these. Maybe he’s pandering to pop radio for a Top 40 hit, or maybe he’s running out of fresh ideas. Don’t think that’s the case, since the other far-out experiment on the album, the Indian-tinged “Love Is the Answer,” complete with lovely singing from Indian singer Amrita Sen, fares much better. But the best songs here are the ones where we get a glimpse of the old Weezer, especially the melancholy “Put Me Back Together” and album closer “I Don’t Want to Let You Go.” Here, and on the aforementioned “Love is the Answer,” you actually hear human emotions coming through in the performances, which is a welcome change from some of the juvenile sentiments spouted elsewhere. I mean, do we really need to hear guys approaching their 40s singing about hanging out “In the Mall?”.
It sounds like I’m ripping the album here, but the truth is, I enjoyed it. There are hooks everywhere, even on some of the slighter material and the second half of the record, beginning with “Put Me Back Together” comes pretty close to classic Weezer. All told, it’s the best album the band has made since Maladroit. But as time goes on, it seems evident we’ll never get another Pinkerton….

The Sod rating: *** 1/2
“Raditude” track listing: 1. (If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To; 2. I’m Your Daddy; 3. The Girl Got Hot; 4. Can’t Stop Partying; 5. Put Me Back Together; 6. Trippin’ Down the Freeway; 7. Love is the Answer; 8. Let It All Hang Out; 9. In the Mall; 10. I Don’t Want to Let You Go.

Another small criticism and note: There’s a deluxe version of Raditude available, selling for $13.99. It’s got four extra songs, a few of which are said to be quite good. I paid for the regular version of the album, on sale for $9.99 at Best Buy. My gripe is, the album, like all Weezer albums, is done in a flash, slightly over 30 minutes in length. They easily could have squeezed four more songs onto the album. The live Nirvana album I reviewed earlier this week ran nearly 80 minutes and 24 songs long, selling for the same $9.99 I bought Raditude for. Seems like a money grab to me.

Other Weezer albums
Weezer (The Blue Album) *****
Pinkerton *****
Weezer (The Green Album) ****
Maladroit *** 1/2
Make Believe **
Weezer (The Red Album) ***

Ratings scale
***** Hall of Fame album
**** Perennial All-Star
*** Solid starter
** Benchwarmer
* Beer League softball player

nirvanalivereading

Nirvana’s most legendary live performance has finally seen the light of day with this week’s release of Live at Reading, both on DVD and CD.
I bought the CD Tuesday, temporarily delaying buying Weezer’s new disc in the process. After all, I’m a much bigger Nirvana fan than Weezer fan but that’s neither here nor there.
Nirvana already had two live albums, both released in the years immediately following Kurt Cobain’s suicide. The MTV Unplugged album came out a few months after he died and it was brilliant, showing the band was equally adept at toning things down to highlight the beauty of Cobain’s melodies as it was at completely tearing things up on stage. The second live disc, On the Muddy Banks of the Wishkaharrived a few years later, and although it was a fine live performance, it was a bit uneven as the songs were culled from several concerts spanning five years.
So now we finally get a full concert on disc, and it’s from their most bootlegged performance. Nirvana headlined the Reading Festival in England on August 30, 1992. In the days leading up to the show, rumors were swirling about the health of Cobain. There were stories of drug abuse and rumors the show wouldn’t go on.
Just as the show was ready to begin, Cobain was escorted onstage in a wheelchair, wearing a hospital gown and a long blond wig. He was helped to his feet and arrived at the microphone to utter a few lines from Bette Midler’s “The Rose” before collapsing to the ground. Bassist Krist Noveselic played along, telling the crowd “he’ll be alright, with the love of his family and friends” or something of that nature. It was all a joke, as Cobain rose to his feet and led the band into a ferocious version of “Breed” off their benchmark Nevermind, released the previous fall.
Although it was less than a year since that release, Nirvana were now full-fledged superstars, owning both sides of the Atlantic. They played 11 of the 12 songs off Nevermind, including an awesome version of “Lithium” where the crowd sings along with every word, much to the delight of the band. Drummer Dave Grohl would later call this a true highlight of the band’s career. The show offered plenty of highlights, including a killer version of “Aneurysm” off the yet-to-be released B-sides collection Incesticide, which came out that December. How “Aneurysm” was relegated to B-side status, I’ll never know, as it’s probably my favorite Nirvana tune. Other highlights include a version of “Sliver” (also off Incesticide), the tune written about Cobain’s days as a kid at his grandma’s house. Cobain laughs during the beginning of the song and then keeps shuffling his voice from one extreme to the other, almost as if he can’t decide what octave to sing it in. The best cuts from Nirvana’s debut album “Bleach” found their way on the set – “School,” “About a Girl”, “Negative Creep” and “Blew” as did a kick-ass version of “Spank Thru,” one of Cobain’s earliest tunes. Three songs from the yet-to-be released In Utero (which didn’t come out until fall of ’93) were performed, including a raging version of “Tourette’s.” There’s also a lovely take of “All Apologies,” then still in its skeletal form. Only one verse is done (with slightly different lyrics). That verse is repeated a few times and the “all and all is all we are” ending has been written, but it’s a wonderful version and a nice sneak-peak of a brilliant songwriter testing out his unfinished masterpiece on the road. The crowd loved it and so will you. The version of “Dumb” is the best I’ve heard the song sound, as I’ve never been a huge fan of that particular song for some reason. Here, it sounds awesome and fresh, and it benefits from not having the strings that were put on it for the album version. The band played two encores, dusting off a pair of punk covers “The Money Will Roll Right In: by Fang and “D7″ by the Wipers. Since I’d never heard either original, they truly sound like lost Nirvana tunes (a studio of D7 is included on the band’s excellent 2004 box set With the Lights Out”. The show ends with “Territorial Pissings” and as the song ends, Cobain plays “The Star Spangled Banner” Hendrix style as the band destroys their instruments on stage. Great stuff.
Each time I listen to Nirvana, thoughts of what might have been always come to the surface. What would the band’s next move been after the dire “In Utero?” The unplugged performances and demos from early 1994 like “Do Re Mi” show Cobain experimenting with his softer, Beatlesque melodic side. Cobain had just scratched the surface of his songwriting genius, it’s a shame drug abuse and depression overcame him at an early age. Still, in a very short period of time, the band left an indelible mark on rock, and for that, I’ll always be grateful.
“Live at Reading” rating: *****
“Live at Reading” track list: 1. Breed; 2. Drain You; 3. Aneurysm; 4. School; 5. Sliver; 6. In Bloom; 7. Come As You Are; 8. Lithium; 9. About a Girl; 10. Tourette’s; 11. Polly; 12. Lounge Act; 13. Smells Like Teen Spirit; 14. On a Plain; 15. Negative Creep; 16. Been a Son; 17. All Apologies; 18. Blew; 19. Dumb; 20. Stay Away; 21. Spank Thru; 22. The Money Will Roll Right In; 23. D-7; 24.Territorial Pissings.

Other Nirvana albums
Bleach (1989) ***
Nevermind (1991) *****
Incesticide (1992) ****
In Utero (1993) *****
Unplugged in New York (1994) *****
From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah (1996) ****
With the Lights Out (2004) **** 1/2