Archive for May, 2010

It’s been nine years since the last Stone Temple Pilots album (the uneven 2001 release, Shangri La De Da), as the band broke up and pursued other projects.
For lead singer Scott Weiland, that meant a stint in the hard rock supergroup Velvet Revolver (with three ex Guns N Roses members) and a decent solo album, along with his continued battle of staying sober (a big reason STP broke up in the first place). For the DeLeo brothers, they formed a decent but ultimately forgettable side project with the singer from Fuel (his name escapes me and I’m too lazy to go look it up) called Army of Anyone. As for drummer Eric Kretz, not quite sure of his whereabouts over the last nine years and again I’m too lazy to find out.
The boys from STP reunited in 2008 for a concert tour after Weiland’s unceremonious bouncing from Velvet Revolver. The reunion tour went well, so naturally the next step was to record new music together.
While the Pilots have never been critical darlings, I’ve always enjoyed them, so I was pretty excited to hear a new album from the guys. Weiland remains an excellent frontman, with a versatile voice which at times makes it sound like the group has a few lead singers.
And the DeLeo brothers have always written great hooks, although sometimes you find yourself playing a game of “guess the influence.”
On the new release, you hear mid 70s Aerosmith shining through on the excellent “Huckleberry Crumble,” which would have fit nicely on Get Your Wings, Toys in the Attic or Rocks (it has a definite Same Old Song and Dance feel). Lead single “Between the Lines” marks the band’s triumphant return and kicks off the overall positive vibe of the album, as Weiland, hopefully clean for awhile this time, sings the line “You always were my favorite drug, even when we used to take drugs.” And although I love the single, you can’t help but notice the middle section of the song sounds awfully similar to Nirvana’s Stay Away, but hey, STP was from that era so maybe they can get away with it.
There’s not a weak track on the album, as it shifts from old-school grunge of “Take a Load Off” and “Peacoat” to the beautiful balladry of the final two tracks, “Last Kiss on Mars” and “Maver.”
On “Last Kiss,” Weiland is a dead ringer for David Bowie in the verse lines, before drifting to more familiar voice when the chorus kicks in.
My favorite track on the album is “Dare if You Dare,” which has Beatlesque chord changes and tremendous vocals from Weiland, who really is in fine voice throughout the album.
Although a few songs have autobiographical lyrics alluding to Weiland’s drug problems (Between the Lines, Bagman), most of the album is written in more of a third-person perspective, and the music is quite upbeat and catchy throughout. It’s also more of a straight forward STP album, no stylistic detours which were especially present in albums like Purple, Tiny Music and No. 4. If I had to rank it with their other five albums, it would lie somewhere in the middle. I actually like it better than their breakthrough release Core, which was their biggest seller. Although I like a lot of songs on Core, there’s quite a bit of filler there as well, and it was really the only album where you really can say they were trying to sound like other grunge bands of the time. I like Purple and the vastly underrated No. 4 the best, so I’d put this one on par with another underrated gem, Tiny Music.
If you’re a fan of STP, you’ll love the disc. Even if you’re not, you should give it a try, because when you hear some of what’s being played on rock radio today (bands devoid of melody or personality), you appreciate these guys even more. They may not get the respect Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Alice In Chains have gotten over the years, but their fusion of classic rock sounds with their grunge counterparts has left a strong impression on me and many listeners. Just hope we hear a few more albums from them, but if not, this is a great sendoff.
Sod’s rating: ****

Other STP releases:
Core (1992): *** 1/2
Purple (1994): *****
Tiny Music….Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop (1996): ****
No. 4 (2000): **** 1/2
Shangri La De Da (2001): *** 1/2


Mets 10, Brewers 4

Posted: May 30, 2010 in Mets

This was a nice win, although it wasn’t quite as easy as the score would indicate. Many thanks to the Brewers awful bullpen for making this one a laugher.
Early on, the Mets had their typical problems cashing in on a bevy of opportunities. Brewers starter Randy Wolf was pretty bad today, yet allowed just two runs through five laborious innings in which he threw 110 pitches. The Mets lined into a pair of inning-ending double plays, or else Wolf’s pitching line would have been vastly different.
Still, the game was tied in the top of the sixth when the Brewers foolishly brought in over-the-hill Jeff Suppan. Luis Castillo rolled a two-run single up the middle to give the Mets a 4-2 lead, and they never trailed after that.
R.A. Dickey continues to get the job done, allowing four runs in seven innings. Rickie Weeks hit a pair of homers off the Dickster, or else his line would have been much better. Regardless, Dickey gave the Mets some needed innings after last night’s Fernando Nieve/Oliver Perez disaster. Angel Pagan blasted a two-run homer in the seventh and doubled in a four-run Mets ninth, and Jeff Francouer continued to show signs of breaking out of his slump with a 4-for-5 afternoon.
The Mets (26-25) move back over .500 and are in third place in the NL East, three games behind the Phillies. Atlanta has been on fire, and they’ve closed within a half-game. The Braves and Phillies meet in a series starting Monday. The Mets travel to San Diego, still looking for their first road series win of the season.

After teasing us with an outstanding homestand against two top-notch opponents, the Mets have come back to earth. In other words, they went on the road. Facing a Milwaukee Brewers team that had won four, count em, four games at home this season, the Mets have dropped back to back games in frustrating fashion. One day after Jerry “Clueless” Manuel lifted Johan Santana after eight shutout innings only to see the bullpen serve up a walkoff homer, Manuel inexplicably started Fernando Nieve, his most overworked bullpen pitcher. Nieve hasn’t been effective of late, so let’s reward him with a spot start. Great strategy. Sure enough, Nieve was rocked and worse yet, Oliver Perez came in out of the pen for some more punishment. Meanwhile, the guy that should have started the game (the guy that’s the most stretched out of any of the remaining bullpen pitchers) Raul Valdes, was nowhere to be found. Typical brainless managing by Jerry Manuel.
The Mets lose the game 8-6, with their bats going utterly silent for the last five innings. This against a Milwaukee bullpen that has struggled to get anyone out all year long. Mets try to avoid the sweep tomorrow, with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey taking the hill. Meanwhile, Roy Halladay tosses a perfect game. Looks like the Phillies have righted the ship….

Mets pick up shutout sweep

Posted: May 28, 2010 in Mets

Just felt good to type that. For once, the Mets clearly got the better of the three-time defending division champion Philadelphia Phillies.
The Mets also accomplished something they haven’t done since 1969, shut out a team in a three-game series.
The Phillies were in a hitting funk coming into the series. They leave New York wondering just what they have to do to score a run. This is a great offense, I’m sure it will get rolling soon, I’m just glad the Mets caught them in a series where I had a better chance of picking up an RBI than the Phillies did.
So now, as the Mets head on a six-game road trip, where they’re a pitiful 6-14, the question is can they sustain this momentum? And just how good is this team? They’ve had an eight-game winning streak and are currently on a five-game hot streak. But they’ve also had horrendous stretches (4-8 to start the year, a recent 3-12 skid) where they looked like one of the worst teams in the league. Getting Oliver Perez and John Maine out of the rotation was addition by subtraction, but how long can R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi pitch this well? I’m hoping they can keep it up, but still not convinced.
The Mets still have to prove they can win on the road, and it starts tonight against a lackluster Milwaukee Brewers team. Johan Santana matches up with Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo, so it should be a good game. If the Mets can go 4-2 on this trip, it would give the squad a world of confidence. But if they continue to falter on the road, they just may be what they are now – an o.k. but unspectacular team that will hover around .500 all year.
But at least they shut out the hated Phillies three games in a row. Hey, I’m trying to hang my hat on something here…..

Mets 8, Phillies 0

Posted: May 25, 2010 in Mets

The Mets returned to the .500 mark with an impressive 8-0 win over their nemesis in the NL East, the Philadelphia Phillies.
Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey tossed six shutout innings, escaping several bases loaded jams, including one with no outs in the second, which really was the turning point in the game. With the Mets up 1-0, Dickey took a line shot off the bat of Ryan Howard. He shook it off, remained in the game, but promptly gave up singles to Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez to load the bases. Dickey calmly induced a 1-2-3 double play from Carlos Ruiz and after a walk to Juan Castro, Dickey fanned opposing pitcher Jamie Moyer to end the threat. He wriggled his way out of another bases loaded threat in the third when Ibanez lined out to short. From there, he cruised, and the Mets’ offense kept adding runs off Moyer and the dregs of the Phils’ pen (David Herndon, Nelson Figueroa). Jose Reyes had another nice game and seems to finally be coming around. He had three hits, stole two bases and scored three times. Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur each knocked in a pair, pinch-hitter Chris Carter delivered an RBI single and relief pitcher Raul Valdes (now hitting .571) even contributed an RBI double and run off former Met Figueroa.
The Mets are now 23-23, four games back in the NL East. And while this win certainly feels good for Mets fans, I can’t help but remember the last series these two teams played earlier this month. The Mets won the opener 9-1 and were blown out the next two games. That really sent them on their May skid, so it would be nice to take this series and at the very least gain a game in the standings. A sweep sure would be nice, but series wins are a must (some decent play on the road is also a must). The teams meet again Wednesday, with Hisanori Takahashi taking on Joe Blanton.

Time for a break from the “Fire Jerry Manuel Watch” to tell you about the recent re-release of the Rolling Stones’ classic double album “Exile on Main Street,” which is probably why favorite Stones album, much like The Beatles’ White Album is my favorite if I had to choose one from the Fab Four.
Just like the White Album, “Exile” is a sprawling affair, running the gamut of musical styles yet flowing together perfectly. You’ve got the Stones playing the blues (Shake Your Hips, Stop Breaking Down, Ventilator Blues), gospel (I Just Want to See His Face, Shine A Light), and country rock (Sweet Virginia, Torn and Frayed, Loving Cup). There’s the fast, almost punk-like pace of “Rip This Joint” and the beautiful majesty of one of their best singles of all time, “Tumbling Dice.”
From the opening drug-fueled, hazy “Rocks Off” to the kick-ass rocking finale “Soul Survivor,” this is the Rolling Stones at their peak. “Exile” was the final album of a four-record winning streak which has rarely been approached in rock history (only the Beatles and Bob Dylan had runs of consistent perfection like this).
In the new deluxe edition, the album has been remastered and has never sounded better. The horns and guitars just jump out of the speakers, like you’re there with the Stones in the room. Tracks like “All Down the Line” sound so much better now, you can really hear all the instruments so much more clearly.
But everyone knows how great “Exile” is. It’s on several “Best of All-Time” lists. The sound upgrade is awesome, but the real reason to purchase this set lies in the second disc of unearthed outtakes.
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards didn’t think there was a whole lot left in the vaults, since it was a double album. They soon discovered there was much more than they thought, although some songs were lacking vocals or needed some guitar overdubs. So Jagger and Richards headed back in the studio to augment a few of the tracks, even bringing in old guitarist Mick Taylor (who was in the band during the recording of Exile) to add guitar overdubs, making the new additions all the more authentic.
Some may quibble with adding a 66-year-old Jagger’s voice to early 70s Stones tracks, and you can certainly tell which songs were overdubbed. But it’s not as if Jagger can’t sing anymore, and the truth is, I’d much rather they did it this way than leave these tracks unused as some are quite good. So, in some ways, the second disc of this set is a new and old Stones album at the same time.
I’ve decided to give you a taste of each of the bonus tracks, even including my own personal ratings of them:

1. Pass the Wine (Sophia Loren): This was an odd choice to lead off the bonus disc, as its easily the worst track included. The Stones are in fine form musically here, but this is definitely one of the tracks Jagger added vocal overdubs. The fact that its the modern day Jagger singing here isn’t the problem. The melody just doesn’t go anywhere, and the track wears out its welcome for me, running a bit too long. The music is funky, but the vocals are generic. 5/10

2. Plundered My Soul:
The song they picked as a pre-album single, and it’s a great one. Again, Jagger added vocals here but this time, his performance is spot-on. It’s a surging mid-tempo ballad, with heartfelt lyrics and excellent playing from the Stones, circa 1972. It might just be their best single in nearly 30 years, although 1989’s “Mixed Emotions” was pretty damn good. 10/10

3. I’m Not Signifying: This one seems to be completely vintage Stones, and it’s a song that’s been heavily bootlegged under the title “I Ain’t Lying”. It’s a bluesy track with great performances all around, but I can see why it was left off. Too many similar types of songs on the album. Still, a solid effort. 8/10

4. Following the River:
Another of the “new” old tracks, and it was picked as the second single on the project. It’s decent, but it feels like it belongs on a Jagger solo album, not on a Stones release. The background vocals and Jagger’s dramatic delivery give you the impression that they were going for another “Let it Loose” or “Shine a Light” but it ultimately falls a little short. 6/10

5. Dancing in the Light:
This is more like it. An upbeat, jaunty countrified rocker, with strong performances all around. One thing you notice listening to both the remastered Exile album and the outtakes disc is what an incredible drummer Charlie Watts is. In fact, Mick Jagger said the one thing they didn’t have to update on any track was the drums because they were “perfect.” This would have been a strong choice for a single, much more interesting than “River.” 9/10

6. So Divine (Aladdin Story): Another title that has been kicked around on the bootleg circuit for years. Not sure if Jagger updated the vocals here, it sounds like a vintage track. The opening guitar passage sounds like the long-lost brother to “Paint it Black” and it’s probably my favorite, along with “Plundered” of all the “new” tracks. Love the vocals, guitars, drums, everything is perfect here. 10/10

7. Loving Cup (alternate version):
An earlier, slower version of the classic Exile track, I love the ramshackle feel here. The guys seem to be still learning their parts, but the performances are inspired throughout. In some ways, I prefer this rough early version (reportedly recorded in 1969) to the much more polished final version. Still deciding on which one I like more, but it’s great to have this version. 10/10

8. Soul Survivor (alternate version): A different take on one of my favorite songs on the album. The music is very similar, kicking ass all the way through. But it’s Keith Richards singing, not Mick Jagger. It seems Keith is searching for a melody and kind of tossing out lyrics on the spot, but it’s very enjoyable, especially since he tosses out a few “fuck its” to fill in for the unfinished lyrics. Not as good as the final version, but cool nevertheless. 8/10

9. Good Time Women: At first, you think this is another long-lost track until you get 15-20 seconds in and hear some familiar melodies and chord progressions. It’s an earlier, faster take on what would later become the classic “Tumbling Dice.” I really enjoy it here in its infant state, with completely different lyrics and tempo. Again, the Stones made the right choice by going in a different direction, but this version stands on its own. 9/10

10. Title 5: Apparently discovered on a tape simply titled “1969,” here’s an odd little instrumental jam. If you believe it, the song sounds even older than 1969, like it could almost be a mid 60’s garage jam, very similar to Booker T and the MGs or the Beatles’ instrumental “12 Bar Original” but better. At under two minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome like some instrumentals, making it a cool closer for the bonus disc. 8/10

So there you have it, a track-by-track look at the “lost” disc. In short, any Stones fan has to buy this deluxe edition. If you’re unfamiliar with the Stones other than a few songs, I recommend the single-disc Exile remaster. But the nice thing about the outtakes disc is it doesn’t really feel like one. It stands on its own and is a welcome addition to their great catalog.

Another night, another disappointment. The Mets let another winnable game get away, falling to the Washington Nationals 5-3 in a contest where Angel Pagan hit an inside the park homer and started a triple play. Still couldn’t win.
Tonight’s loss is pinned squarely on the Mets’ idiotic manager Jerry Manuel. Why this guy still has a job is beyond me. Same with hitting coach Howard Johnson and pitching coach Dan Warthen. These guys just aren’t cutting it. Tonight, with the game tied and rubber-armed knuckleballer R.A. Dickey on the hill, Manuel inexplicably lifted him for a pinch hitter in the seventh with a man on first and nobody out. He sends up pinch-hitter Alex Cora to get this, lay down a sacrifice bunt. With Dickey pitching well and only at 96 pitches to that point, why didn’t genius Manuel just let Dickey put down the bunt. The Nationals had the bottom of the order due up and the Mets’ bullpen has been overextended all year. Cora got the bunt down, but the Mets did nothing after that and worst of all, Dickey was out of the game.
Then, if that move wasn’t bad enough, Manuel’s pitching choices in the seventh were curious, to say the least. He started off with Raul Valdez to face Roger Bernadina. Fine, lefty on lefty. Bernadina doubles down the left field line, taking third on a grounder by Ian Desmond. Now, here is where I have another major problem. The Nats send Mike Morse up as a pinch-hitter. With better lefty hitters like Adam Kennedy and Willie Harris on the bench, Jerry decides it’s time to bring in Fernando “Everyday” Nieve into the game, playing right into Nationals manager Jim Riggleman’s hands. He counters with Kennedy, who lifts the go-ahead sacrifice fly and Jerry proceeds to watch as Nieve (who has been awful lately) walks Nyjer Morgan, gives up an RBI triple to Cristian Guzman and an RBI single to Ryan Zimmerman. Ballgame. Terrible managing, but it’s what I’ve come to expect from Jerry.
I’m beginning to accept the fact that this year’s Mets team just isn’t very good. They’ve been competitive in just about every game, but can’t get the key hits when they need them. That said, they’ve literally had a few wins flushed down the drain by Manuel’s awful managing. Jeff Wilpon and Omar Minaya missed a golden opportunity this week to fire everyone. Now, with series against the Yankees and Phillies looming, it’s going to get even uglier. When does football season start again?

David Wright is completely lost

Posted: May 18, 2010 in Mets

I’ve always been a big fan of David Wright. From the moment he came up in 2004, there was excitement and it seemed the 21-year-old had limitless potential.
He produced big seasons early in his career, making you think once he hit the prime years of 27-31, he’d be a megastar capable of carrying a team.
The young David Wright is no more. And although he is only 27, one can’t help but think we may have already seen his best seasons. I’m hoping I’m wrong, but there are plenty of negative signs. Wright used to be a clutch hitter, a quality two-strike hitter able to take the ball to the opposite field with authority.
Sure, he struck out like any young hitter, but he kept it in a manageable range (around 115). Last year, his power completely disappeared (10 homers) and while he still hit for a decent average, the strikeouts inexplicably came up to 140. This year, he’s on pace to shatter that mark and right now, he’s a threat to match Mark Reynolds’ all-time record of 223, set just last year. No lie, that’s how much Wright is swinging and missing right now.
It seems he’s got to be ahead in the count to do any damage (his power is back on the upswing with eight homers) and while he still has a strong on-base percentage, he’s quickly morphing into an all-or-nothing hitter or a three results type of guy (walk, HR, strikeout) along the lines of Adam Dunn.
One thing I’d do if I was in the Mets’ front office is fire hitting coach Howard Johnson immediately. I’m not naive, I know Wright’s problems can’t be solely pinned on a hitting coach, but it’s no secret Wright has regressed under HoJo’s watch. And if he hasn’t helped Wright find the solution by now, he’s clearly part of the problem.
I’d bring in a hitting coach that can help him shorten his swing, focus on taking the ball to the opposite field and not worry about hitting homers. He’s killing the team with strikeouts in big spots, tonight was another perfect illustration of how bad Wright looks. He had a chance with a runner on third and one out in the ninth to bring the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly, but you just knew a strikeout was coming against former Met Billy Wagner. And once the count got to 1-2, it was all over. Definite strikeout whenever he gets to two strikes. And if that wasn’t bad enough (he struck out three times overall), the Braves scored the winning run on a Wright throwing error. Ouch.
He needs a day off and will probably get one in the upcoming Nationals series. He’s got to get back to the player we used to know. If he doesn’t, not only are the Mets in deep trouble this year, but in coming seasons as well.

Sometimes referred to as Jack White’s third band, The Dead Weather came together just last year and already have been quite prolific.
They released their excellent debut album Horehound, toured and reconvened to record a second album, releasing it within a year of their first. Not bad these days, when bands often take years in between recordings.
But Jack White is cut from a different cloth, putting out music at a breakneck pace, much like artists did in the 60s and 70s.
All three of White’s bands are outstanding, but I find myself really getting into the Dead Weather. White serves as the drummer in the Dead Weather, also teaming up with Alison Mosshart on vocals. Rounding out the band are Raconteurs bassist Jack Lawrence and Queens of the Stone Age multinstrumentalist Dean Fertita on lead guitar.
The latest effort again mixes down and dirty blues with some Led Zeppelin-like flourishes, an album that sounds both modern and classic at the same time.
The first half of the album contains the singles “Blue Blood Blues” and “Die by the Drop” and both are excellent, probably the most developed songs on the album. Mosshart and White trade lyrical barbs on “Drop,” singing “I’ll take you for worse or better” and “I’ll make you feel worse or better” with plenty of venom.
Some of the songs feel a little underwritten, but that’s fine because the performances are always top-notch. In fact, it often feels like the band came up with the songs on the spot and put them to tape, giving the album a sort of spontaneous feel. “I’m Mad” especially has this feel, with Mosshart chanting “I’m Mad” several times and adding a devious laugh each time.
The album literally flies by, clocking in at just over 35 minutes. Most of the songs are less than three minutes long, and the album flows extremely well, with many tracks blending in seamlessly, like you’re listening to an extended medley/jam session.
The Dead Weather have delivered another keeper, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the band can do in the future. They haven’t yet delivered a classic album, but with the talent on hand, I’m sure it’s coming.

Sod rating: ****

Marlins 7, Mets 2

Posted: May 14, 2010 in Mets

All you need to know about tonight’s game is Oliver Perez was terrible. Again.
The $36 million bust is just awful right now, and he’s killing the Mets. Tonight, he again failed to get out of the fourth inning, giving up all seven runs and four homers (two by Dan Uggla). The guy must be removed from the rotation and since they probably can’t send him to the minors without his consent, I guess you just bury him in the bullpen and make him a long relief guy, although he won’t nearly be as effective as Hisanori Takahashi (a candidate to replace Perez in the rotation) has been. I wish the Mets could outright cut the guy, but his ridiculous contract will prevent them from doing it. Perez is now 0-3 with an ERA approaching 6, and really has only given the Mets two strong starts this year. Three or four of his outings have been unmitigated disasters in which the quality bullpen (already getting way too many innings) has been taxed. The Mets really need a starter who can eat up some innings and there could be one such option at Triple-A. R.A. Dickey, who is the very definition of journeyman, is a former first-round pick of the Rangers who started throwing a knuckleball a few years ago due to several injuries. He hasn’t had much success (although he pitched well for a stretch last year as the Twins’ longman in the pen) but he is sucking up innings big time at Buffalo. His ERA is sitting around 2.20 and he’s gone at least eight innings in all but two starts. That’s the type of arm I’d like as the number 5 starter. Even if he gets hit, he may give the Mets valuable innings and save the bullpen from time to time, something Perez struggles to do even on his best days.
Tonight, the bullpen again did a great job, although the game was over due to Perez’ atrocious start and the Mets’ silent bats. Raul Valdez, Manny Acosta and Jenrry Mejia combined for 4 2/3 scoreless innings.
The Mets are now 18-18, four games out of first, tied with the Marlins for third place in the NL East. The Mets are just one game in front of the last place Braves, who are starting to get their act together. Nearly all of the goodwill and ground that was made up during the eight-game winning streak has pretty much evaporated. Tomorrow, John Maine tries to keep the Mets from dropping below .500 when he takes on lefty Nate Robertson. My wife and I will be there, hope the Mets offense will show up as well.