Archive for the ‘Album Reviews’ Category

OK, so I’m a little late posting my best albums list this year. But, I think I’ve only done this once or twice before, so it’s not an annual thing by any means. I always go in with the best intentions to share my favorite albums every year, but I ultimately put it on the back-burner and it never gets done. But alas, I’m wide awake and figured I might as well do something somewhat productive. And away we go…..

 

  1. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
  2. Faith No More, Sol Invictus
  3. Clutch, Psychic Warfare
  4. Blur, The Magic Whip
  5. Iron Maiden, The Book of Souls
  6. Marilyn Manson, The Pale Emperor
  7. Tech N9ne, Special Effects
  8. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Chasing Yesterday
  9. Wilco, Star Wars
  10. Drake, If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late
  11. Baroness, Purple
  12. A$AP Rocky, At.Long.Last
  13. Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
  14. Eagles of Death Metal, Zipper Down
  15. Highly Suspect, Mister Asylum
  16. Def Leppard, Def Leppard
  17. Dr. Dre, Compton
  18. Muse, Drones
  19. Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts, Blaster
  20. Cage the Elephant, Tell Me I’m Pretty
  21. The Dead Weather, Dodge and Burn
  22. Chris Cornell, Higher Truth
  23. Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Alone in the Universe
  24. The Darkness, Last of Our Kind
  25. Buckcherry, Rock N Roll

Let the flaming begin. I will try to post more on this blog, but hard to do with a demanding work schedule and a busy little 2-year-old to chase after. But stranger things have happened……

 

 

 

ledzep

If I was to build a Mount Rushmore of rock and roll, my Washington and Lincoln selections would be easy: The Beatles on one hand and Led Zeppelin on the other. The other two slots probably would change by my mood (Stones, the Who, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Guns N Roses, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Metallica, Oasis, Red Hot Chili Peppers and countless others would joggle for position). But always the Beatles, followed by the mighty Zep at the top.

As you can imagine, when Jimmy Page announced he was reissuing the entire canon last year with pristine upgraded sound for the digital age, I was thrilled. And as the campaign is now just past the midway point, I can tell you these reissues are well worth the investment.

Even if there wasn’t a bonus companion disc tacked to each issue (we’ll discuss the merits of those in a bit), the supreme upgrade in sound makes the reissues a must-buy for the devoted Zeppelin fan.

I didn’t really have a huge problem with the way they sounded before (Page had previously remastered the albums back in the 90s) but simply put, this classic music has never sounded better. And it’s not even close.

It feels like the band is right in the room with you, and you can hear nuances not detectable before. Masterful work by Page, as the project came to fruition when he listened to the catalogue on MP3 and decided his 90s remasters weren’t holding up to modern technology. He seemed to feel it made a juggernaut sound sterile, maybe even lifeless. No such problem now (and again, I never really had a problem with the old remasters, but can now say the new remasters blow them out of the water).

Which brings me to Physical Graffiti, re-released this week to coincide with the album’s 40th anniversary, almost to the date. Physical Graffiti has always been my favorite Zep album, much like The Beatles’ White Album tops my Fab Four list and Exile On Main Street is near the top of my Stones list. Double albums of your favorite artists? What’s not to love?

When the band recorded the album, they had eight blazing new tracks ready to go. Only problem was, the running time was a bit longer than an LP called for. So, instead of cutting a song or editing songs to make them fit, Page and company scoured their previous three records for quality outtakes. In other words, stuff left off the earlier releases. Among the leftovers were tracks like the pretty “Down by the Seaside,” recorded during the sessions for IV, but not really fitting with any of the tracks that went on that album. Another ‘oldie’ was the fun romp “Boogie with Stu,” a piano-driven boogie with Rolling Stones session man extraordinaire Ian Stewart. Another outtake which mysteriously didn’t make the cut of a previous record was the classic “Houses of the Holy.” I mean, this band was on such a hot streak, it didn’t have room for the title song of the previous record (1973’s Houses of the Holy).

You might think the combination of older and newer sessions might make for a jarring listen, yet the album flows wonderfully. The first disc shows the band at the peak of its hard rock powers. Kicking off with the killer “Custard Pie”, the album is off to a rip-roaring start. “The Rover” was another Houses of the Holy outtake, featuring an underrated riff, strong vocals and the always kick-ass drumming of the late, great John Bonham.

Speaking of Bonzo, he really brought the thunder on the next track “In My Time of Dying,” an 11-minute slow-burning, then suddenly fiery death blues, where a pleading Robert Plant begs Jesus for entrance into heaven. This one sends chills down the spine, from Plant’s wails, Bonham’s powerful fills and Page’s caterwauling guitar assault, it’s one of my favorite Zep tracks, and that’s saying something.

Side Two (of the original LP for all you kiddies out there) continues the assault, although “Houses of the Holy” is a much more upbeat number than Dying was. How this was left off the previous album, I’ll never know, but that album’s loss is Physical Graffiti’s gain. Up next is “Trampled Under Foot,” chosen as the single off the album in the U.S. You can see why. With bassist/multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones absolutely killing it on clavinet, this sounds like classic Stevie Wonder, but on a heavy dose of steroids. Raunchy Plant lyrics and vocals add to the procedings, which lead into Disc 1’s epic closer, “Kashmir.” One of the band’s signature songs, the mid-eastern flavor and instantly recognizable Page riff make this one a standard of classic rock radio.

Disc Two is less rocking, more introspective and experimental at times, but still outstanding.

Jone’s synthesizer provides the drone intro to “In the Light,” a multi-faceted composition with several key changes and tempo changes, yet always coherent. The instrumental “Bron-Yr-Aur” was a leftover from the 1970 sessions for Led Zeppelin III, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Fits better here than it would have on that album, which was loaded with acoustic pieces on Side 2. That leads us into the aforementioned “Down by the Seaside” which is about as pretty a ditty the band ever constructed. Almost sounds like a different band entirely, but the next track completely blows that one away. “Ten Years Gone” is a sorrowful tale of loss with heartfelt Plant vocals and the always amazing guitar work of Page making this perhaps my favorite Zep ballad.

The remainder of the album finds the band having a bit more fun, from the cheerful “Night Flight” to “Boogie With Stu” serving notice. There are also a few more riff-based rock powerhouses in “The Wanton Song” and “Sick Again” and the acoustic tongue-in-cheek blues of “Black Country Woman.” Not a bad song in the bunch and several stone-cold classics. One of my all-time favorite albums.

As for the bonus material, it’s kind of been hit or miss with these Zep reissues. I honestly think Page is saving the true gems for the reissue of 1982’s Coda, which was an odds and sods compilation to begin with (released two years after Bonham’s death). I mean, not too many people will be clamoring for a reissue of that one, so I’m betting he’s holding off some interesting material for the companion disk on that one. The bonus material for these classic albums hasn’t been bad, it just hasn’t been all that interesting either. What you often get are alternate mixes, with barely noticeable differences. One exception is “Everybody Makes it Through,” an early version of “In the Light” which has different lyrics and a completely different structure, while still boasting elements of what went on the official release. I actually prefer this version because it’s a bit more powerful (and also because “In the Light” wasn’t my favorite Zep tune to begin with, although still good of course). The alternate early version of “Sick Again” kicks ass, as in this early instrumental form, you really hear the major riffage going on. Overall, I’ve liked this companion disc more than the other albums (although the ones for II and III were pretty good, too), and I’m hoping for better outtakes to come in the final three releases (Presence, In Through the Out Door and Coda). Overall, this is a must have for any Zep fan or hard rock enthusiast.

Meet the Beatles (again!)

Posted: February 7, 2014 in Album Reviews, Beatles

Image

Anyone who has spent a great deal of time with me knows I’m obsessed with the Beatles. Although I love a wide variety of music, there will never be another Beatles in my mind. My dad has always been a huge Beatles fan. He remembers vividly watching their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 and he was instantly hooked. He passed that love for all things Beatle to me basically from birth. He played Beatles records and 8-tracks (kids, you’ll have to google those terms!) all the time, and sang Beatles/Paul McCartney tunes whenever it was naptime. My dad would buy blank 8-tracks to make mix tapes from his records. I was 3 or 4 and I always wanted him to make me a mix tape, too. Half of mine would contain various kids songs (probably at the behest of my mom) and the other half would be Beatles tunes. I always liked the Beatles songs better (sorry, mom!). As years went by, the obsession just grew. Even though my dad had all the records, I wanted my own copies and by the time I was 10, I pretty much did (although I had now graduated to cassettes and CDs). I have bought their catalogue a few times over, buying everything again when they remastered it in 2009 in both the stereo and mono box sets. I’ve even got most of the American albums on CD (through the first half of their career, Capitol Records issued different albums in the United States than in Britain, including non-album singles and mixing and matching tracks from the original albums  to the disgust of the band). So as we celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the Beatles landing on our shores, I’d like to rank their 13 albums. Please note that all 13 albums are recommended. Give me the Beatles talking in the studio over anything released by Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and the endless cesspool of ineptitude that passes for popular music these days. Here’s to the days when bands actually played instruments and wrote timeless songs. And now, the album rankings:

 

1. The Beatles (White Album, 1968)
A bit of a controversial choice here, since these sessions are referenced as the beginning of the end for the band. In early 1968, the group convened in India to study transcendental meditation under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. While in India, the band wrote a wealth of material for their next album. By the time they got back to England, they had more than 30 songs ready to record. When they got to the studio, tensions began to mount. John Lennon had just left his wife for the conceptual artist Yoko Ono, and the pair were inseparable. Yoko’s presence in the studio didn’t sit well with the others, since nobody’s wife or girlfriend had ever spent an extended period of time in the studio while the group was recording. The fact she would make suggestions made things worse. But to blame the band’s breakup on Yoko is extremely short-sighted. There were other problems. George Harrison, who had played second fiddle to the dynamic Lennon-McCartney songwriting team, was becoming a prolific songwriter in his own right. Since he was usually allotted two songs per album (three on Revolver, four on the White Album), he began to feel creatively stifled, a situation which would lead to his temporary leaving of the band in early 1969 during the contentious Let It Be sessions. During the White Album sessions, the Beatles seemed more a group of four individuals at times than a band, and that’s because they often recorded tracks individually due to the sheer wealth of material and the deadline to produce the album. But I’ve always loved the White Album. Through the course of two discs, the Beatles tackle just about every style of music and do it well. You’ve got beautiful acoustic ditties like Mother Nature’s Son and Julia on one hand to the heavy-metal menace of Helter Skelter on the other. There’s a country tune penned by Ringo (his first-ever songwriting credit) in Don’t Pass Me By. The old-western, sitting in a saloon feel of Rocky Raccoon shares album space with the caterwauling Yer Blues. A doo-wop, slowed down version of Revolution (titled Revolution 1, since it was the take Lennon wanted to put out as a single before the others vetoed it, saying it was too slow, which led to the faster, classic heavy version issued as Hey Jude’s B-side) segues into the vaudeville/music hall leanings of Honey Pie. And there’s the controversial avant-garde sound collage Revolution 9, which some people hate, but I love (even though it scared the living hell out of me when I was a child) just because the band was pushing the boundaries of pop music as always. And I haven’t even mentioned one of my favorite tunes Dear Prudence yet. Over the years, some critics have opined the band should have made this a single disc, ripping it for it’s sprawl. But I tend to side with Paul McCartney who said during the Anthology series in the 90s ‘It sold, it’s the Beatles bloody White Album, shut up!’ Couldn’t have said it better myself.

2. Revolver (1966)

The album where the Beatles shed the lovable moptop image for good. Their most concise effort, and again, an eclectic one. The band was growing tired of touring (they’d stop for good in August 1966), partly because no one could hear them play and also because they were beginning to really stretch out in the studio. No touring would allow them to devote more time to experiment, and even though they hadn’t yet quit the road, Revolver is where you can really see them branching out. Harrison was now fully devoted to Indian music, taking lessons with sitar master Ravi Shankar. Harrison had introduced the sitar in Norwegian Wood the year before, but he brings a full-on Indian tune here in Love You To, one of three Harrison songs included (the biting commentary Taxman and the excellent I Want to Tell You are the others). McCartney had incorporated a string quartet for Yesterday in 1965, so he brought in a full-orchestra treatment for his classic Eleanor Rigby, one of the greatest tunes about loneliness ever written. Lennon was now into his LSD period, delivering mind-bending tunes like She Said, She Said and the trippy Tomorrow Never Knows, full with tape-loop effects and backwards guitar. The band completely on the top of their game here.

 

3. Rubber Soul (1965)

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Beatles’ career is how far they came during a short period of time. Their early singles (She Loves You, Please Please Me, I Want to Hold Your Hand, etc.) exuded an effervescent charm and real knack for hooks, but they were love songs lyrically, mainly dealing with boy-girl relationships. In late 1964, that began to change with songs like No Reply and I’m a Loser off Beatles for Sale, as the band delved into more mature subject matter. That’s completely evident on Rubber Soul, or what many refer to as the Beatles’ folk album (although that’s stating it way too simply). Here, Lennon churns out the standard ‘In My Life,’ reminiscing about the people and places that were important to him. McCartney’s love songs now had a bit of bite to them, as ‘You Won’t See Me’ and ‘I’m Looking Through You’ chronicle the problems he was having with girlfriend Jame Asher. The previously mentioned ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown)’ not only introduced the sitar to rock music, but told a story about an affair Lennon was having at the time, except in this tale, he burns the woman’s house down at the end of it. Even deep album cuts like ‘Run for Your Life’ and the Ringo-led ‘What Goes On’ are executed with aplomb. 

 

4. Abbey Road (1969)

Oh, what a sendoff! The Beatles were falling apart at the seams in 1969, plagued by money issues caused by their ill-advised company, Apple, and personality issues. Their previous attempts at recording an album that year sat on the shelf because nobody wanted to deal with the endless reels of tape and what they viewed as uninspired performances (those sessions would later come out as Let It Be in 1970, the last album the band released but not the last one it recorded). Somehow, maybe because they didn’t want to go out on such a whimper, the Beatles put aside their differences enough to come up with a grand closing statement. Abbey Road qualifies as perhaps their most polished effort. The vocals are immaculate (especially on breathtaking tracks like ‘Because’ and ‘Sun King’), showing the three-part harmony of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison at the absolute peak of its powers. Harrison again showed he was being under-utilized by delivering the classics ‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes the Sun.’ Ringo contributed his second Beatles track, ‘Octopus’ Garden’ and McCartney showed his pop craftsmanship by putting together the brilliant closing medley on Side Two from fragments of songs the band had lying around the last two years. Lennon gave the album a proper kick-off with the swampy blues of ‘Come Together.’ He also contributed the pleading ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy), a song with simplistic lyrics but gut-wrenching vocals, and an almost apocalyptic guitar/synthesizer workout at the end. McCartney deals with some of the money problems the band was having at the time with ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ and also brings to mind old 50s rock with ‘Oh Darling.’ And the ending statement “And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make’ is such an awesome line and should have been the final words the band sang. Instead, that came in the form of ‘Her Majesty’, a 23-second snippet taken out of the Side 2 medley but accidentally spliced at the end of the tape. When the band heard it, they decided to leave it because it sounded cool. Oh, those Beatles.

 

5. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

For many, this is the crown jewel in the Beatles’ catalogue. Now free from the rigors of touring, the Beatles had ample studio time and they used it wisely here, crafting a psychedelic pop masterpiece and the soundtrack for the Summer of Love. It’s often called rock’s first concept album, although as Lennon would later admit, the concept doesn’t really go anywhere beyond the first two songs and a reprise of the title track later. Nevertheless, it feels like a grand statement or thematic concept, as the songs blended seamlessly and the entire work seems connected somehow, even if it’s not lyrically. Lennon was in a bit of a songwriting slump volume-wise, but oh did he make up for it in quality. The psychedelic trip ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ contained some of his most far-out and vivid imagery, while the album closer ‘A Day in the Life’ is quite simply one of the greatest pop achievements of all time. McCartney came up with the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ theme and song as an idea to dress the band up as a different group (hence the colorful band outfits and the mustaches they had grown during the time), and the elaborate artwork featuring many of the band’s heroes was ahead of its time. 

 

OK, I’ve been at this an hour and a half. My wife is getting antsy so I’m going to do the rest of the albums in a rapid-fire capsule form:

6. A Hard Day’s Night (1964): The first Beatles album to contain no cover songs, and it’s brilliant. Many songs featured on the band’s first film (of the same name), including the title track and ‘Can’t Buy Me Love. Other key tracks: If I Fell, And I Love Her, I’ll Be Back (ah the whole damn thing).

7. Magical Mystery Tour (1967): Title of band’s ill-fated U.K. TV special and the first critical backlash they ever received (for the show, not the album). The music here is phenomenal, although it’s a hodgepodge effort. The first side featured songs from the film, and the second side rounded up their non-Pepper singles of 1967. But my oh my were those singles awesome. Key tracks: Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane, The Fool On the Hill, I Am the Walrus

8. Help! (1965): A transitional album and also the last one to feature cover songs. Still, the songs from the Beatles’ second film are awesome, especially the title track and Ticket To Ride. The non-soundtrack side is also great, featuring Yesterday. Other key tracks: You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, The Night Before, It’s Only Love

9. With the Beatles (1963): The album Meet the Beatles, Capitol’s first U.S. release, was based on. Only thing is, Meet the Beatles was superior (only time this really happened) due to the inclusion of the classic single I Want to Hold Your Hand/This Boy and I Saw Her Standing There. Still, With the Beatles contains an outstanding collection of cover songs and originals. Key tracks: It Won’t Be Long, All My Loving, Money (That’s What I Want), You Really Gotta Hold on Me

10. Please Please Me (1963): The Beatles’ opening salvo. The product of a monumental 12-hour recording session, in which the band replicated their club set under the helpful guidance of producer George Martin (can’t believe I haven’t mentioned his genius yet). Key tracks: Please Please Me, Twist and Shout, I Saw Her Standing There

11. Let it Be (1970): Lennon and Harrison brought uber-producer Phil Spector in to clean up the early 1969 tracks, sessions which were being filmed in the hopes of showing the Beatles getting their act together to produce a live show. The live show’s location couldn’t be agreed upon, and with tensions coming to a boil (Harrison left the band temporarily), they decided to film a short show on the Apple Records rooftop, their final live performance. During those sessions, the Beatles wanted to ‘get back’ to their roots, meaning no overdubs and takes recorded live. By bringing in Spector, who put orchestral and choral flourishes to tracks like ‘The Long and Winding Road’ and ‘Across the Universe’, this didn’t happen. And McCartney was pissed. He announced his departure from the band a month before this was released. Key tracks: Two of Us, Dig a Pony, I’ve Got a Feeling, Let it Be, Across the Universe

12. Beatles for Sale (1964): The originals here are first-rate early Beatles, with Lennon especially showing songwriting growth in tunes like No Reply, I’m a Loser and Baby’s in Black. Just gets a bit bogged down with covers, as the band’s relentless touring and promotional schedule that year caused a dip in songwriting productivity. Other key tracks: Every Little Thing, What You’re Doing, I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party, Eight Days a Week

13. Yellow Submarine (1969): Album really should be credited to Beatles and George Martin, as the first side collects songs from the band’s animated film and the second side featured soundtrack offerings orchestrated by Martin. Of the six band songs, only four were new (Yellow Submarine and All You Need is Love were previously released). These tracks were basically holdovers from previous sessions, but the Beatles’ scraps were still more interesting than others’ best efforts. Harrison’s psychedelic showcase ‘It’s All Too Much’ is the best of that group. Other key tracks: Hey Bulldog, All Together Now

 

And here’s a few others to check out:

Anthology 1, Anthology 2, Anthology 3 (1995-96): The three double-disc volumes of Beatles outtakes released in conjunction with the documentary of the same name. Anthology 1 and Anthology 2 contained the ‘reunion’ tracks Free As a Bird and Real Love, as the three surviving Beatles cleaned up old Lennon demos provided by Yoko and released them as singles to promote the project. They’re actually quite good and would be even better today, as technology has advanced where Lennon’s vocals could be further cleaned up. But the outtakes throughout this collection are fascinating, showing the Beatles tinkered with songs’ arrangements constantly. And while they always picked the best one, early versions are pretty damn entertaining.

Live at the BBC, Volumes 1 and 2 (1994, 2013): Since there are no live Beatles albums in print (1977’s Live at the Hollywood Bowl was never put out on CD), this is about the close we can get to hearing the band recorded live. From 1962 to 1965, the Beatles recorded a series of shows for British Broadcasting, taping many songs they never put down in the studio, including oodles of rock covers from the 50s.

Meet the Beatles! (1964): The album that started it all for the Beatles in America. A bastardized version of their November 1963 release With the Beatles, this was one case where the American version was better. Only one cover here, and the inclusion of the I Want to Hold Your Hand single makes this one essential listening (as all Beatle recordings are).
Past Masters Volumes 1 and 2 (1988): A collection of all the tracks released during the band’s career but not included on the official British albums, i.e. singles and B-sides. If you included this in the album rankings, it would place in the top five easily with presence of great singles like Day Tripper, Hey Jude, Paperback Writer, Lady Madonna, etc.

 

inutero

It’s hard to believe 20 years have passed since the release of Nirvana’s third and final studio album, In Utero.
When the album was originally released in September 1993, I was a freshman at Bloomsburg University. The music scene back then was so much better than it is today, but that makes me come off as a crotchety old man.
But back in 1993, rock bands (I refuse to call them grunge bands because what the hell is grunge really?) like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains ruled the music world and MTV (remember when MTV played music videos?). Today the landscape is dominated by pop schlock generated by talentless hacks like Justin Beiber, Katy Perry and the like. Today, folksy tunesmiths like Mumford and Sons and poppy bands like Fun and Imagine Dragons are what is considered rock (not ripping on these artists, but they don’t overtly rock). At least those bands play instruments, but I find myself longing for times when the pop landscape was much more diverse than it is now.
When Nirvana hit it big with 1991’s Nevermind, Michael Jackson still ruled the charts and rap was in its early stages as a viable music medium (and much fresher than most of the rap churned out today). Hard rocking bands like Guns N Roses and Metallica were at the peak of their powers, but Nirvana was something else to behold.
They rocked hard, but maintained their punk sensibilities. Kurt Cobain was the anti-rock rock star, which ultimately contributed to his demise.
Nevermind, and namely its lead single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” launched the band into the stratosphere. Cobain suddenly became the spokesperson for his generation, a role he never seemed all too comfortable with.
When it came time to record a follow-up to Nevermind, the band set out to shed some of its mainstream audience gained with the shiny Nevermind. The music was darker, louder and certainly not as “radio friendly.” One of the best examples of this came in a track called “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”, a title so intentionally ironic. This wasn’t radio-friendly at all, but still gained a big audience nonetheless.
In Utero has always been my favorite Nirvana album. The way it shifts from noisy screamers like “Scentless Apprentice”, “Milk It” and “Tourette’s” to the more quiet “Dumb” and brilliant closer “All Apologies” shows a band really coming into its own. It’s a shame Cobain committed suicide a mere 7 months after it’s release, as the band certainly had plenty of gems left up its sleeve.
For the 20th anniversary edition, original producer Steve Albini remastered the album, and it sounds wonderful. Included on the first disc are album B-sides “Marigold” and “Moist Vagina.” “Marigold” was the only Nirvana tune written and sung by Dave Grohl, and it’s a lovely little acoustic tune. “Moist Vagina” is awesome, with Cobain mumbling the lyrics “She has a moist vagina, I particularly enjoy the circumference” under heavy guitars. Turns out, the song really isn’t about chicks at all, as Cobain screams the chorus “Marijuana” throughout the song. Also included are the two tracks from the era given to compilation albums, “Sappy” and “I Hate Myself and Want to Die.” “Sappy” was given to the excellent No Alternative compilation album, and was formerly known as “Verse Chorus Verse” before another tune, recorded in the Nevermind era, was released under that name on 2004’s With the Lights Out box set. “I Hate Myself and Want to Die” was reportedly Cobain’s original choice for the album title (meant as a joke at the time, but thank God the album didn’t get called that given the events that followed), and here the song opens with a funny snippet of Dave Grohl talking about a porno.
On the second disc, a remixed version (by Albini) is included where you can here subtle differences to the songs. “Serve the Servants” has an entirely different guitar solo. The cello is largely excised from “Dumb” The guitar counter melody to “Very Ape” is much more prominent, and the “all in all is all we are” lyrics are brought up in the mix on “All Apologies.” It creates a fresh take on a classic album.
They simply don’t make albums like In Utero anymore.

Sod rating: *****

Image

For his first official solo album in six years (2008’s excellent The Fireman album doesn’t quite count), Paul McCartney enlisted the help of four producers with the hopes of finding the right one.

Turns out, the former Beatle enjoyed working with them all. Two of the producers have Beatles connections, or at least their dads do. Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George, and Ethan Johns, son of Glyn (who worked on the ill-fated Let it Be project) lend support, as do Paul Epworth (Adele) and Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Bruno Mars).

Working with younger collaborators seems to have lit a spark under Sir Paul, as his new album (aptly titled New) continues McCartney’s late-period renaissance (which began with 1997’s excellent Flaming Pie)

The album contains a variety ofu musical styles from the straight-ahead Strokes-like rocker Save Us to the almost Penny Lane like title track (complete with harpsichord), there is much here to like.

Queenie Eye contains a throw everything at the kitchen sink psychedelic vibe, complete with a mid-song breakdown which sounds like it was lifted from another song entirely. It’s marvelous, showing McCartney is still adventurous at age 71.

One of the more reflective pieces on the album is Early Days, where McCartney recalls his pre-Beatle days with John Lennon, where they were looking for anyone to listen to their music. He also takes issue for the many Beatle scribes over the years who claim to know everything about the band’s history but “weren’t where it was at.”

On My Way to Work shows off McCartney’s storytelling ability, as he sings about “riding on a big green bus” and watching the people as waits arrive at work. Again, it takes the listener back to a time before McCartney was one of the most recognizable faces on the planet.

There are interesting stylistic detours and modern production flourishes included on tracks like Road, which has an almost trancelike feel to it (it would have fit nicely on the aforementioned Fireman album) and even features a xylophone quite prominently.

Everybody Out There and I Can Bet should fit quite well into Paul’s arena set, with easy to sing along choruses and a huge rock sound.

The bonus tracks on the deluxe edition aren’t mere filler. Turned Out almost sounds like a lost George Harrison track, while Get Me Out of Here shows off Paul as a 1920s bluesman.

New is a refreshing batch of McCartney tunes, growing on the listener with every spin.

Sod rating: *****

 

aerosmith
It’s been 11 long years since Aerosmith last released an album of original material, and much has happened to the band in that time.

Infighting nearly led to the group’s demise after frontman Steven Tyler was rumored to have fallen off the wagon (and fallen off the stage in a 2009 concert). Tyler eventually landed on American Idol as a judge, and for a time, the band was supposedly auditioning other singers.

Somehow, some way, they put aside their differences and finally began work on the follow-up to 2001’s Just Push Play (they did release an excellent album of blues covers in 2004 called Honkin on Bobo). I got excited when I found out Jack Douglas was co-producing the album, as he was behind the boards for their greatest 70s triumphs Toys in the Attic and Rocks.

The band promised a return to their to their roots, and in some spots on the album, they deliver on that promise.

However, Music from Another Dimension tells the tale of two bands – one led by guitarist Joe Perry and the other led by Tyler.

Perry still wants to rock, and the band does just that on album highlights like “Love XXX,” “Oh Yeah,” “Out Goes the Lights,” “Street Jesus” and “Freedom Fighter (which Perry takes lead vocals on.”

Tyler, like he has been doingsince 1993’s Get a Grip, shows an over-tendency to reach for the heartstrings. Quite simply, there are way too many ballads on the 15-track standard version of the album. (The 19-track deluxe version has yet another ballad). And many of these ballads are schmaltzy and interchangeable. “Can’t Stop Loving You” is a ballad with country princess Carrie Underwood, and while it’s ok for that genre, it doesn’t fit as an Aerosmith song and is an obvious attempt at crossover success. “We All Fall Down” and “What Could Have Been Love” are two more faceless ballads, with the first written by Diane Warren (who is responsible for Aerosmith’s worst-ever song I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, also inexplicably the band’s only No. 1 hit).

Those three songs come in the middle of the album, and drag the momentum down significantly. The album gets off to a strong six-song start with mostly rockers (the ballad “Tell Me” is one of the better ballads, probably because it is written by bassist Tom Hamilton and had no outside help from professional hitmakers, lowering its cheese quotient exponentially). But once you get to track 7 (What Could Have Been Love), the album slides into a streak of alternating gratingly weepy ballads with quality rockers. If anything, these ballads should have been spaced out better, but 2-3 songs could have been eliminated and this would have been a much stronger set. The album’s flow is a big problem throughout, as the two songs sung by Perry (Freedom Fighter and Something) are lumped closely together at the end, between yet two more ballads (Closer and the tearjerker Another Last Goodbye, which is much better than the middle trio of faceless schmaltz).

The four songs on the deluxe edition vary in quality. “Shakey Ground” is an old R&B cover, and Aerosmith shows its funky side, which is very fun and interesting. “Over the Mountain” is written and sung by Hamilton, and quite frankly, would have been better if Tyler handled the vocals. “Oasis in the Night” is a pleasing mid-tempo ballad written and sung by Perry, while “Sunny Side of Love” is a slight but solid Tyler ballad (certainly better than a few that made the actual album).

The album shows Aerosmith still has plenty of musical talent, but they could use better editing skills. This could have been a true return to form if cut to 10-12 songs. Instead, it’s an uneven hodgepodge of a record that doesn’t quite flow. But, I’ll take this over no Aerosmith at all.

Sod rating: ***

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted on the trusty old blog, but what better time to break my silence then now, with the release of Soundgarden’s first album in 16 years.
King Animal arrived in stores Tuesday, and let me tell you, it didn’t disappoint me in any way, shape or form.
Many comeback albums have the feel of a thrown-together cash grab, a usually crappy facsimile of glory days, easily discarded and forgotten about.
Not with these alt-rock godfathers, who sound as fresh now as they did when they disbanded in 1997. And boy, how I’ve missed them.
In this current musical landscape of MP3s, silly mindless teenybopper pop and lackluster hip hop, it’s nice to hear a mighty guitar sound again.
The procedings get off to a smashing start with a clear statement of purpose. “Been Away Too Long” is about as apt a leadoff track/single for a band that has indeed been away too long. It’s a fast-paced re-introduction to the band, and the next 12 tracks give you what you love about the band – amazing, sludgy, heavy guitars (courtesy of the vastly underrated Kim Thayil), bizarre time signatures, the always reliable wail of singer Chris Cornell, the kick-ass drumming of Matt Cameron, and the relentless bass playing of Ben Shepherd.
While I enjoyed much of Cornell’s work with Audioslave and some of his solo outings, he truly works best in this band. Because all four members have songwriting chops and exhilarating musical ideas, a Soundgarden album is never dull.
From the full-guitar assault of “Non-State Actor” to the Eastern-flavored “Thousand Days Before” to the hauntingly gorgeous “Bones of Birds,” there is everything here that make Soundgarden a great band.
And while there is killer material throughout, I believe they saved the most interesting work at the end. The final three-song block of “Worse Dreams,” “Eyelid’s Mouth” and “Rowing” leave you desperately wanting more.
“Rowing” is one of the more unique songs in the band’s catalogue, as the drums have an almost Dust Brothers or Beck-like feel in the production value. It’s a slow-burning number with heartfelt vocals and an awesome bass line from Shepherd. It builds in intensity to a full-guitar swirl and as it fades, you’re ready to play the album again front to back.
It’s also a group of songs that get better every listen, as you hear some things you didn’t quite get the first time you listen to it.
It’s so good to hear from these guys again, and I hope it’s the beginning of a late-career renaissance for the band. The music world certainly needs Soundgarden. Thanks for returning boys.

Sod rating: **** 1/2