A plethora of album reviews, Part 1

Posted: September 29, 2010 in Album Reviews, Odds and Sods

I apologize to all two of my loyal fans for my recent lack of activity here in Blogland. The Mets are simply playing out the string, getting some young guys some playing time. Guys like Dillon Gee and Lucas Duda are making a case to be a part of the club’s future, so that’s nice to see. I’m working on my postseason Mets report cards, and as you can imagine, there will be very few A’s handed out. Anyway, enough about the Mess. Over the last month, I’ve bought several albums and wanted to share my thoughts on them…..

Linkin Park: A Thousand Suns

Ten years after the release of their debut, Hybrid Theory, Linkin Park is a very different band. More mature, definitely more willing to take risks, even if it means alienating some of their original fans. Of all the “rap-rock” bands, Linkin Park was the only one I really enjoyed , mainly because they had a gift for hooks and melodies rivals like Limp Bizkit simply couldn’t match.

Their latest release is by far their best, but it’s one that requires a few listens before you really get it. It’s a concept album, dealing with what the world would be like during a pending nuclear war. Pretty dire stuff, but the band seems re-energized throughout the album.

Chester Bennington abandons his raspy screams for the most part, singing brilliantly on songs that really resonate emotionally, like “Iridescent” and album closer “The Messenger.”

He and rapper/singer/producer Mike Shinoda’s voices blend perfectly on the multi-layered “Robot Boy” and “Waiting for the End.” Shinoda flexes some vocal muscle on the almost tribal “When They Come For Me”.

Six of the 15 tracks are intros/mood pieces, setting up the nine actual songs, so this is definitely an album that wouldn’t work shuffling on your CD player or IPod. Linkin Park set out to make a work of art, and while it isn’t a classic, it’s their best effort yet and proof they aren’t a one-trick pony.

Sod rating: ****
Download: The Catalyst, When They Come for Me, Robot Boy, Waiting for the End, The Messenger

Weezer: Hurley

For the first time since 2002’s Maladroit, Weezer has delivered a great album all the way through. The last three albums (Make Believe, Red Album, Raditude) each had their moments (especially the Red Album) but I ultimately felt a bit disappointed. They simply weren’t up to the lofty standards set earlier in the band’s career.

The 10 songs on Hurley (not counting the four bonus cuts on the deluxe edition) display Weezer at the top of their game. Rivers Cuomo, with the help of several outside writers, brings the heat on 10 tunes which are extremely catchy yet pack a nice emotional punch as well.

While Weezer has always been a band with a good sense of humor and fun, they have played that card a little too much recently (songs like Pork and Beans, I’m Your Daddy, The Girl Got Hot, Can’t Stop Partying were well constructed tunes but so ridiculous lyrically you almost slapped yourself for humming them). It was almost as if a Weezer parody band was performing the songs.

That’s not to say the new album isn’t fun. “Where’s My Sex” is basically a three-minute excuse to replace the word socks with sex a hundred times, and “Smart Girls” is a light-hearted, ultra-catchy tune about, well, smart girls.

The album’s bookends, “Memories” and “Time Flies”, are both auto-biographical. The leadoff track looks back fondly on all the hell the band raised in its early days, “back when Audioslave was still Rage” and on “Time Flies”, Cuomo addresses his own mortality, much like Paul McCartney did on his last album with the wonderful “End of the End.” Rivers is about 30 years younger than Paul, but still they each have a positive spin on things, knowing that when they’re gone, their tunes will live on.

Other highlights include “Trainwrecks,” a song packed with emotional resonance. “Run Away” is a song co-written by Ryan Adams and sounds like it could have fit nicely on Pinkerton. “Hang On” has an intro that sounds like it’s straight out of the Bruce Springsteen/E-Street Band playbook, a very retro like feel to it. All 10 songs are good, and the album grows on you with each listen.

For the first time in awhile, I was a bit disappointed with the deluxe edition of the album. Weezer is known for packing awesome B-sides onto their deluxe editions (some songs even better than the ones that made the albums) but not here. “All My Friends Are Insects” would be awesome to sing to your 3-year-old, as it’s a song about bugs. “Viva La Vida” is a pointless remake of the Coldplay song we’ve all heard 10 million times. I thought they’d at least re-arrange it and make it fun, give it a rockier feel, but it’s a note-for-note copy. The best of the bonus tunes is “I Wanna Be Something” which is just Rivers on his guitar, a la his home demo albums. “Represent” is a decent but ultimately forgettable rocker. So, for those that actually still buy cds (I think I’m the only person that falls into that category), buy the cheaper 10-song album and download “I Wanna Be Something.”

Sod rating: ****
Download: Memories, Trainwrecks, Run Away, Hang On, Time Flies

The Black Keys: Brothers

This album came out a few months ago, and I read all sorts of positive reviews. I had heard of the Black Keys but had never really checked them out. But the more I read about them, the more they seemed like a band I would like. And when I saw their latest album at Best Buy for $7.99, I pounced on it like a tiger on an unsuspecting zebra.

It’s awesome when you buy an album where you haven’t heard any of the songs or don’t know much about a band, yet you’re completely blown away by them. I’ve done this a few times, going off of positive reviews or word of mouth and just taking a chance. I’m proud to say I’m fully in the Black Keys’ camp now and will purchase their earlier releases.

And as a bonus, I got to see them live recently and didn’t even know they were playing. My wife and I went to a Kings of Leon show in West Palm Beach, and the Black Keys were the second of the two opening acts. I was stoked, and they played over half of “Brothers” in their 12-song set.

The Black Keys are a two-piece blues-based rock band, who mix elements of soul and funk to form a huge melting pot of awesomeness. The leadoff track “Everlasting Light” is one of my favorite songs released this year, with a groove that sounds a bit similar to T-Rex’s “Mambo Sun” from 1971 (an awesome song, check that one out too). Singer Dan Auerbach has a cool voice, able to tackle down and dirty blues in a deeper register. On “Everlasting Light” he breaks out the falsetto, and pulls it off magnificently.

The next song “Next Girl” is a bluesy kiss-off to an ex-girlfriend with the chorus of “My next girl will be nothing like my ex-girl, I made a mistake my friend, I’ll never do it again.” Other highlights include the soulful “Sinister Kid” and the slow grind of “Ten Cent Pistol.” There are a few filler tracks on the album. Had they cut the song lineup from 15 to say, 10 or 11, it would have been a much better listen. But still, the songs that are great should be played over and over.

Sod rating: **** 1/2
Download: Everlasting Light, Next Girl, Howlin For You, Sinister Kid, Unknown Brother, The Go Getter

So there you go, three four-star albums for your listening pleasure. I’ve got several more for you in my next installment, including the latest by B.O.B, Arcade Fire, Big Boi, Ozzy Osbourne and Soundgarden.

  1. I enjoy the music of The Black Keys but for whatever reason I find I like them best in small doses.

    When going through their back catalog, unless you just hate rap in which case don’t bother, check out their side project Blakroc.

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