Friday, December 17, 2010

#414: 20 All-Time Greatest Hits- James Brown



Listened to: CD

What the fuck?!?!?!?!?!?!?! Every track on this is on Star Time! This is worse than when I covered In The Jungle Groove! At least that has remixes! This is the same material, just less! This list ignored 1984 by Van Halen to give me the same material twice by James Brown? You gotta be shitting me!

Seriously, this is fucking ridiculous. EVERY TRACK FROM THIS IS ON STAR TIME! Why put this on the list? Do you have that much of a hard on for James Brown? For fuck’s sake, this even came out at the same time as Star Time! You can’t even use historical significance to justify this being on the list, especially when you rank it almost 300 slots lower than Star Time! Dear readers, if you’ve listened to Star Time, YOU’VE ALREADY HEARD THIS ALBUM!

So, you know I’m gonna sub this album out.

Would Replace With: American Idiot by Green Day

Yeah, some would say this album is over-rated or overplayed. Some (like myself) would say the aforementioned some should shut the fuck up. The simple fact is, like it or nhot, American Idiot is the album of the past decade. Sure, some say Kid A, but nobody outside of “indie” people have heard it. Some say “The blueprint” but nobody outside rap and “indie” people have hear that. This, everybody’s heard, and it represents the decade, a series of angry attacks on a president and a country with no real understanding of the issues being protested against. Personally, I think every song on this album is enjoyable to listen to on a teenaged level, and we all knew every lyric in high school. It was incredible to see a pop-punk band from the 90’s have the audacity to do a concept album, and one so spirited and fun. I’m sorry it’s not the droll whine of Thom Yorke, but god damn, American Idiot is a damn good time, and an undeniable classic, if for nothing but it’s impact. This album dominated in it’s day, and it still feels just like it did when it first came out, whatever that feeling is for you.

-Mike

Well, I’m agitated now. But tomorrow we go to a grossly underrated artist, #283: Five Leaves Left by Nick Drake. That oughta make me feel better. Fuck, I’m gonna be pissed for the entire day.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

#168: My Aim Is True- Elvis Costello

Listened to: MP3

Here it is, the debut of one of the most unique voices in music. A “punk” who played pop. A rock singer who couldn’t sing. Here, the man we on this blog met first on This Year’s Model can be heard as the world first heard him. So let’s dive on in, shall we?

The album kicks off on “Welcome To The Working Week”, a powerfully charged rock song with an intro reminiscent of a Buddy Holly track. Picture a Weezer without the tongue pressed firmly in cheek. This short little ditty smoothly transitions into “Miracle Man”, a swinging song in the same vain as the previous track, with lyrics that are classic Costello: “Don’t you know that walking on water won’t make me a miracle man.”.

The whole album takes on the feel of classic 50’s rock, even in it’s most popular track, the lamenting ballad “Alison”, and it’s a true joy to listen to, and not really to analyze. I know that sounds like a cop out, but let’s face it, no one’s reading this, and I’m kind of doing this for my own sanity (or deterioration of ), and while I can pick apart and pontificate on albums like the Slim Shady LP or Metallica, something like My Aim Is True is just a great collection of songs fitting a certain tone, and should be appreciated as such. Please listen and enjoy.

-Mike

Next, we take a look at #414: Greatest Hits by James Brown.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

#434: Outlandos d’Amour- The Police

Listened to: MP3
Ah. Finally, we enter the realm of one of the classic wordsmiths, Sting. The Police are one of those bands I keep forgetting I love, and Outlandos d’Amour contains a lot of the tracks that show why I love them. Tracks that have bleak lyrics set to upbeat, fun melodies (I try and do the same with my own music. Perhaps I fail, certainly compared to Sting, but regardless).

The album starts with “Next To You”, which may sound nothing like the Police you or I are used to, but believe it or not, this was their early sound. They considered themselves punk, and so you get this, what sounds like The Police covering a Bon Scott-era AC/DC track. It’s a fun track, but all the lyrical finesse I praised in the opening paragraph…yeah, just wait for the next one. “So Lonely” is a track by a suicidal Bob Marley, with happy reggae chords an beats, filled with lyrics like “Now no-one's knocked upon my door/For a thousand years, or more/All made up and nowhere to go/Welcome to this one man show/Just take a seat, they're always free/No surprise, no mystery/In this theatre that I call my soul/I always play the starring role, so lonely”. You can’t help but find yourself dancing to how lonely Sting is. No song this upbeat should be this bleak, and no white British guy should sound like he’s from Jamaica, and yet Sting and the boys make both of these work.

The next track is one of their most popular, “Roxanne”, the catchiest song about a hooker since Lou Reed. Though I can no longer hear this song without thinking of this:



let’s ignore that for a moment and focus on the song itself. It’s gonna one of the best simple guitar parts, a catchy hook, and don’t act like you don’t howl out the “Rooooooooooxanne” when you’re alone. Come on, admit it. It’s on a track like this, when the guitar, the bass, the drums all come together in pure mastery that you realize what a titanic force the Police were. They were all the masters of their instruments, and Sting somehow can be a geek (come on, he’s a skinny bookworm) and still be totally cool (take notes, Rivers Cuomo).

“Hole In My Life” takes on a jazzier feel, with backing vocals lifted from Sly & The Family Stone (I mean it feels that way, not that he actually lifts the vocals). It plays like a reject from Aimee Mann’s Magnolia soundtrack (am I the only one that hears “Momentum” in this?) and I mean that in the best way possible. We’re all used to listening to a classic album, and finding out the tracks we didn’t already know suck. But Outlandos doesn’t have that problem. It seems to me the unknown tracks could just as easily be Police classics as the radio staples. “Peanuts”, for example, is just as alive as the most upbeat Police track you can name, and ought to have gotten far more attention than it did, and hell, it probably would have if people didn’t forget it as soon as they heard the next track, the absolutely brilliant “Can’t Stand Losing You”.

The finest suicide note put to music after “God Only Knows”, “Can’t Stand Losing You” is another classic example of Police brilliance, blending the bleakest lyrics with he catchiest melody. You find yourself singing along with “But you’ll be sorry when I’m dead and all this guilt will be on your head” long before you process what you’re actually saying. “Truth Hits Everybody” might be some of Sting’ finest lyrics writing. The words read like a poem:
“Sleep lay behind me like a broken ocean
Strange waking dreams before my eyes unfold
You lay there sleeping like an open doorway
I stepped outside myself and felt so cold
Take a look at my new toy
It'll blow your head in two, oh boy”
Why this song isn’t higher praised in the pantheon of The Police is beyond me. I’ll go out and say this is, to me, the best track on the album. Its got a great hook, fun instrumentals, it’s got the punk roots blended with their new found late 70’s sensibility. Listen to the incorporation of bells and other unusual sounds, so subtle and yet they bring a whole new dimension to this simplistically gorgeous track.

“Born In The 50’s” is the kind of nostalgia track better left to Springsteen and McLean. The only under-whelming track on this album, while I love Sting’s vocals on this track, and the music isn’t terrible, it reads like a cheap knock-off of “We Didn’t Start The Fire”, and lacks Sting’s usual poetic voice, which only shines through on one line, “We freeze like statues on the pages of history”.

So, remember “In Every Dream Home A Heartache” on Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure? Remember what that was about? Well, spoiler alert, that’s what this song is about. What sounds like a simple, catchy love song can’t be that if you’ve paid attention to any Police music. The chorus cuts out and goes to a simple spoken word poem about purchasing a blow-up doll. This is one of the coolest tracks no one’s heard, like Tom Waits’ “What’s He Building In There?” for the pervy set, book ended by a typical catchy Police chorus. Any frustration I had at the cheap simplicity of “Born in the 50’s” is eradicated by the simple brilliance of this track.

The album ends on “Masoko Tanga”, a song that seems to predict the future, more experimental sound of The Police, with instrumentals that sound more Talking Heads than punk. Come on, the dude’s just chanting and doing Caribbean curses. There are no lyrics. He’s just playing, jamming with hi band like a great jazz man.

This album had ought to prove Sting is a master of his craft, creating both catchy poip like “Next To You” and “So Lonely” and branching out and experimenting with tracks like the final two. I have no qualms at all with it’s place on the list. Is it revolutionary? Well, maybe not, but it’s sure as hell great to listen to, and I encourage you to do just that. It’s one of the better way to kill a half hour.

-Mike

Next up we have #168: My Aim Is True by the one-of-a-kind Elvis Costello.

#131: Saturday Night Fever- Various Artists (but mostly the BeeGees)

Listened to: Vinyl
Love it or hate it, this album was Victor Frankenstein to disco. An annoying, short lived dance-craze was resurrected, stronger than before as soon as Travolta strolled down a Brooklyn sidewalk to “Stayin’ Alive”. The lyrics on most of these songs are dreadful, the music itself saccharinely sickening, and synthed into tomorrow. Yet it is pure pop mastery. Every track on this album could be a hit, and it’s a time capsule of the grossest side of the 70’s. Also, not gonna lie, once and a while it can be fun. Tracks like “Jive Talkin”, “A Fifth of Beethoven”, and “Boogie Shoes” are just the highlights of an album that knows what it does right and pushes it to the end. You can praise it or vilify it, but it IS disco. There’s no need for any other album on this list form the genre. This is disco, filtered down to the cream of the crop, even though most of the tracks are original compositions. I can’t sing it’s praises, because I for one never sniffed some coke, slapped on a white suit, and got wrapped up in the “Night Fever”, but I’ll keep this review short and sweet by saying that, if you’re open minded, this album will at least be for you what it is for me, an undeniably impressive achievement in a genre I could care less about. Give it a listen, it’s without a doubt a classic, even if it ain’t your jam.

-Mike

Next up, #434: Outlandos D'Amor by The Police. See ya there.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

#239: Let It Be- The Replacements

Listened to: MP3
Now, let me start off by saying I know nothing of The Replacements work. What attracts me to this album is the sheer ballsy-ness, the sheer audacity of naming their album “Let It Be”, simply to show that nothing is sacred, and The Beatles are just another band. These cats seem like true punk rock, in the sense of constantly spitting in the face of expectations, even within the punk scene. I mean, check this quote, their comments on how punks “thought that's what they were supposed to be standing for, like 'Anybody does what they want' and 'There are no rules' [...] But there were rules and you couldn't do that, and you had to be fast, and you had to wear black, and you couldn't wear a plaid shirt with flares ... So we'd play the DeFranco Family, that kind of shit, just to piss 'em off.”

So, without further ado, let’s kick off this album, and see if their talent lives up to their attitude, shall we? We open on “I Will Dare”, a song featuring Peter Buck of R.E.M. on guitar, a fun, poppy song that I can bet went over real well with their hardcore fan base. The song’s title is in reference to their attitude, said Paul Westerberg. “We'll dare to flop [. . .] We'll dare to do anything.” I find it almost hard to believe this is 80’s music, mainly because it’s so daring in it’s simplicity and fun. Indie ass-clowns, you’re welcome. From one track, it’s already obvious that without this album, you’d have nothing. It’s like an upbeat Cure, or a more melodic Echo and the Bunnymen. “Favorite Thing” comes even more alive, showing there’s still a bit of punk in these guys, rocking out on a track that feels like a more dance-friendly Clash. Paul Westerberg lets out this epic yell towards the end of this track, and if by time you get to that part, if you aren’t pogo-ing, you’ve lost your sense of fun.

“We’re Comin’ Out” is pure punk joy. Frenetic, fun, wailing screams, and instrumentals that seem to bridge the gap between The Stooges and The Walkmen. The mid-point drop out to the snaps, however, changes the whole game. Right when you’re getting into the heavy riffs, they trip you up and show they’re more than just riffs with names. The song is without a doubt one of the most structurally innovative songs of it’s day, simply for proving the versatility of punk. If X is 80’s punk purity, The Replacements used this album to prove punk’s maturity. “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out”’s drum part can’t not remind listeners of The Clash, and I mean that in the best way possible, especially with a guitar part that far exceeds anything I can remember from The Clash.

“Androgynous” feels more like a Roxy Music track than anything else on the album, but it’s kind of grimly jangly. Like a peppy Tom Waits, especially when you read the lyrics. We’re 5 tracks in, and I’m a Replacements fan, folks, especially after the off-key piano ending. “Black Diamond” totally changes the mood, with The Replacements doing their interpretation of a song by none other than Kiss. Yeah, ‘cause that seems like an obvious combination. Now, ya’ll know I’m a big Kiss fan (Jones Beach 2010, baby!) but let me tell you, these cats do a fantastic cover. There’s a real power to it, especially Westerberg’s howling vocals. Of course, right after a powerful track like that, they toy with us again, moving into a mellow guitar intro to “Unsatisfied”, with jangling guitars like Johnny Marr. After this track, I’m sold that Paul Westerberg is a genius. Listen to those gritty wails as he howls out “I’m so…unsatisfied!”.

We move into upbeat turf again with “Seen Your Video”, an instrumental track (until the last 30 seconds), a first for punk music I believe (I could be wrong), especially one that feels so authentically punk (ok, with a bit of 80’s jangling). You can’t deny the innovation these guys display, going from the Miles-Davis-Clash hybrid of “Seen Your Video” to the New York Dolls-esque “Gary’s Got A Boner”, a passion fueled pure punk track. “Sixteen Blue” might be my favorite track so far, just because it’s the kind of track I’d want to use in a movie. I visualize kids dancing at a prom, you know like how every TV show and Filmmaker pretends their prom played awesome music like this instead of “Umbrella”. Though does anybody else notice Paul sounds kind of like Tom Petty on this track?

The album ends on “Answering Machine”, a track on which the vocal production Paul sounds so Pixies-esque I know what I’m listening to next, and it has my favorite lyrics on the album. “How do you say I miss you to/An answering machine?/How do you say good night to/An answering machine?/How do you say I'm lonely to/An answering machine?” By the end, the repeating “If you need help…” proves these men are brilliant.

All in all, I could not have expected an album as strikingly brilliant as this. This may be one of the golden calves of the Pitchfork.com set, but unlike some of their other “classics”, I totally dig this. #239 is far too low a number for something a sharp, exciting and diverse as this album, and it’s certainly worth not just one, but multiple listens.

-Mike

Next up, we tackle #131: Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, mostly by The BeeGees. See you there, whenever that is.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

#317: The Eminem Show- Eminem

Listened to: MP3
Ok, so it’s been a while, but let’s kick things off right with what some people argue to be Eminem’s best album, The Eminem Show. The album opens with the eerie tones of a soft piano, like a Danny Elfman score, on the first skit “Curtain Up”, and moves into one of Eminem’s most political and dark songs, “White America”. “America, hahaha, we love you, how many people are proud to be citizens of this beautiful/Country of ours, the stripes and the stars for the rights that men have died for to protect,/The women and men who have broke their neck's for the freedom of speech the United States/Government has sworn to uphold, or/(Yo', I want everybody to listen to the words of this song) so we're told…”. Clearly the demons that haunted Marshal so much on Marshall Mathers LP are still here, but from the get go, the album is much more cynical. While tackling the same subject as songs like “The Real Slim Shady”, except now he seems resigned to being vilified, rather than trying to defend himself. “I/ Could be one of your kids, white America, little Eric looks just like this, white America, Erica/Loves my shit, I go to TRL, look how many hugs I get…” From the clown prince of rap to the martyr Marshall, Em enters his third stage on this album, defeated but defiant nonetheless.

The second track, “Business”, features Em taking the bleak, dark tone from the first track and carrying it through to an attack on the rap industry of the time, playing he and Dre as a Batman and Robin taking on the Joker (Insane Clown Posse). Even if you’re not feeling the rhymes on these first two tracks, it’s impressive to note that all the songs of homicide and violence on Slim and Marshall, and yet in two tracks, with rarely a mention of bloodshed, this album takes on a far darker tone than either of those albums as a whole. The third track proves to be one of the most personal Em has ever done, “Cleanin’ Out My Closet”. All the pain that had been accrued in his lifetime, he spits it all out on this track. It’s bleak, hopeless, repentant, and even if he’s sarcastic when he says he “never meant to hurt” his mama, you can’t help but hear the apologetic tinge on this track that would later seep from albums like Relapse and more prominently Recovery. While not as catchy or fun as some of his more well known hits, “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” is one of his most intimate and finest tracks.

“Square Dance” opens with an accordion worthy of the band of corpses from Nightmare Before Christmas, and moves into one of Slim’s scariest tracks (seriously, listen to this with the lights out and try not to feel creeped out). Set aside the bleak, bizarre sounding chorus worthy of being on mixed in with “Revolution #9”, lyrics like:

“Oh yeah don't think I won't go there,/Go to the Beirut and do a show there/Yeah you laugh till your motherfuckin' ass gets drafted,/While you're at band camp thinkin' the crap can't happen,/Till you fuck around,/Get an anthrax napkin,/Inside a package wrapped in saran Wrap wrapping,/Open the plastic and then you stand back gasping,/Fuckin' assassins hijackin' Amtracks crashing,/All this terror America demands action,/Next thing you know you've got Uncle Sam's ass askin'/To join the army or what you'll do for there Navy.” are about as bleak as it can get in the post-9/11 world Em (and the rest of us) had inherited in 2003. “The Kiss (Skit)” finally has Em interjecting some humor into an overall somber album, and smoothly leads into “Soldier”, where finally Em’s rhythm become the focal point of the song, his violent, rapid fire spitting jutting out from the music (while I admire the earlier, more blended tracks, I kinda like the way Em’s rhymes can cut like a razor in the air when pulled from the beat, you know?). The fact is, though, that even this track, which rhythmically and beat-wise sounds like it could fit on any other album, is much more intricately produced. It’s one of the few rap albums I’ve heard to create a sounds cape, like Brain Eno’s another Green World if it were ghetto and grim. Listen to the marching, even the chimes towards the end. There’s a dark beauty to these tracks. The next track, “Sayin’ Goodbye To Hollwood” keeps that dark tone, even though it gets bouncier and lyrically has the feel of something off of Slim Shady LP. “Drips” is under whelming, considering the quality of every track before it. On another album, perhaps Slim, this would have been good, but mixed in with all these dark personal tracks, Obie Trice’s explicitly and unnecessarily specific sexual rap (seriously, it’s kinda terrible) just feels horribly out of place.

Of course, this brings us to the lead single off of the album, “Without Me”. Every Eminem album (besides Recovery) has one of these “time capsule” tracks. Em taking his Slim Shady persona to it’s clowniest, creating a classic video in sharp, brilliant color and zany, high speed antics. These are the tracks that every casual listener remembers, that we know all the words to, but that in the grand scheme of the album, don’t really fit with the tone. Watch this video:



Does this really fit with the album’s feel? The rest of the album (thus far, at least) feels like something more at home with Francis Bacon or Dariusz Wolski rather than this kind of wordplay and color.

But let’s set aside it’s lack of purpose in the album’s theme, and appreciate how fantastically catchy the track is. It’s without a doubt one of Em’s most memorable and most fun, and is definitely in the back of any of my generation’s minds, as we all knew “The FCC won’t let me be” etc. by heart. The next track is a skit, “Paul Rosenberg”, of our beloved Paul from the last album returning once again via phone call to inform Em to leave his guns at home. I guess it goes here as a way to sort of reduce the silliness a bit to lead into one of my favorite Eminem tracks, and indeed one of his most serious and biting, the Aerosmith sampling “Sing For The Moment”, featuring Perry and Tyler themselves.

The first time I heard this song was in 7th grade health class, when we studied the lyrics to this track (as well as “Civil War” by Guns N’ Roses because the teacher was chill like that) to discuss violence in the media. “In the land of the killers, a sinners mind is a sanctum” is really a line that strikes the listener, and makes them wonder if Em’s statement that he’s not very smart is in fact selling himself extremely short. One of the few rap songs I know that I’m certain has to be amazing live with a full band, “Sing For The Moment” is undeniably one of Em’s best, one of his most passionate and pointed, and definitely deserved a better video than it got. Plus, that Joe Perry guitar solo at the end just proves that man can tear it up in any genre.

“Superman” is sorta…bland. It’s an examination of his past relationships, but the misogyny oft complained about in Eminem songs is out on this track in full effect, and a lot stronger and seemingly more unnecessary. Yeah, this is one of those tracks I tend to skip over on this album. “Hailie’s Song” brings it all back, though, as Em analyzes his family life, it really lets the listener into Em’s emotional state. It’s mellow, somber and caring, plus it’s nice to hear him sing (he’s not that bad at all). Apparently he never performs it live, but he had ought to. It’s quite touching to hear him sing and rap with love about his daughter. Hailie has been mentioned on several tracks, but it seems like now on this track she’s no longer just a lyric, but a real part of his life.

After “Hailie’s Song”, we have the return of my favorite recurring character, “Steve Berman”. Em and Steve’s interactions are always a highlight for me, and this short segment involving Em shooting Steve (which is referenced later on Relapse) is a nice bit of fun before “When The Music Stops”, a dark track in keeping with the tone of the first half, as bouncing as “Square Dance” but far more intense and featuring some great guest rappers. “Say What You Say” brings in Em’s mentor Dr. Dre to join him for the track, and while it’s a decent enough beat, the track feels sort of empty when listened to in the grand scheme of the album, and is so forgettable I’m sure most people only listen to this track when putting on the CD and not having the energy to reach for skip. “Till I Collapse” switches of Dre for Nate Dogg, and as one can tell from the get go, is the superior track of the two. The stomp-clap combo (a la “We Will Rock You”) the fury from the rhymes Em spits, that soundscape I so praised at the start of the album, Nate’s perfect vocal hook, it all comes together here to create a brilliantly intense track that is often forgotten from this album but indeed deserves far more attention than it got.

“My Daddy’s Gone Crazy” is by far one of the most unsettling tracks on the album, because of his “touching” incorporation of Hailie (yeah, that’s his daughter’s voice). It’s such a fun track, and it’s nice to hear a girl whose gone through so much turmoil in her life having fun, and I guess this is Em’s answer to “Take Your Daughter To Work Day”, but the truth is I don’t know how great this track would be if Hailie wasn’t on on it. Yet she is, so I’ll admit it’s catchy and fun. This is the final track on the album not counting “Curtain Close”, and I gotta be honest, it’s a good way to end it.

The Eminem Show is undoubtedly one of his best, possibly his best (though personally I’m a little partial to Marshall Mathers LP). It’s got a dark tone and a serious purpose, it shows a maturing artist at the peak of his game, tackling all his problems in stride and producing some of his greatest hits (Em produced virtually the whole album). Nobody summarized this album better than Q Magazine (May, 2006), who said “His two first albums aired dirty laundry, then the world's most celebrated rapper examined life in the hall of mirrors he'd built for himself.” After this album, all of us eagerly awaited Encore, when Em would achieve even greater musical prowess and fill our radios with incredible tracks. And we certainly weren’t let down at all, right? Who didn’t love “Just Lose It”? Right? Right? Anyone? Yeah, it’s all downhill from here in his ouvre, kiddies.

The fact is, if you’re in any way a fan of rap, you probably have already heard this. If not, be sure to seek it out. It’s also by far Em’s most accessible album, so for those of you with weak stomach’s and virgin ears and you wanna get into Mr. Mather’s masterwork, this would be the place to start.

-Mike

Next up (who knows when that will be, though) is a drastic change of tone, #239: Let It Be by The Replacements.

Friday, September 10, 2010

#3: Revolver- The Beatles

Listened to: CD



The wikipedia article can sing this album’s praises and historical significances much better than I can, and I don’t feel like regurgitating facts for two pages. So I’ll just speak personally. When I first heard that infamous “1...2...3...4” I though “what did I just get myself in to?” (I was a freshman in high school, what do you want?) But as soon as “Taxman” begins, anyone listening knows how this sounds nothing like anything before or after. This is undoubtedly one of the finest studio achievements of any album, with The Beatles playing with sounds that ushered in a psychedelic era just as much as anything brewed by Owsley Stanley. “Taxman” is George Harrison’s compositional rant against his charges of tax evasion (he’d later us the same technique for “This Song” in his solo career). This brilliant electric rock opener is followed by one of Paul’s finest pieces, “Eleanor Rigby”, which for me is inseparable from the animated sequence from Yellow Submarine.



This song features some of the best harmonies the Beatles ever recorded, the orchestration is beautiful, and the way Paul laments never ceases to pull at every listener’s heart strings. But before you feel too sad, John charges in with his cheery, surreal sounding “I’m Only Sleeping”, where you can just tell he played that soundboard like an instrument, with all those twisted and reversed sounds decorating the instrumentation. “Love You To” is George’s second song on the album (normally he’d only get one or two, but fittingly since this is the most George-sounding album in general, he gets three on this one), and shows the heavy Indian-influence George was going through at the time, using a sitar as the primary instrument. Psychedelic, surreal, and fanciful, “Love You To” models itself not after American rock or British pop, but Eastern music, particularly the music of Ravi Shankar, who taught Harrison sitar. This extremely experimental song is followed up by one of the most traditional songs of the Beatles later career, so obviously, if it’s saccharinely poppy, you know it’s a McCartney special. “Here, There and Everywhere” is SO pop, so simple, so relaxed that I would anticipate somebody as hip and avant-garde as Lennon would despise it. However, Lennon adored it, declaring in in 1980 (in his famous Playboy interview shortly before his death) one of the Beatles best songs.

Of course, there’s pop, then there’s just absurd, childish fun. Cue Ringo Starr with “Yellow Submarine”, a silly little song about…well, a yellow submarine. And yes, yes I did hear Ringo sing this live. I am proud. Come on, it’s catchy and fun. Besides, it’s so absurd it just has to be embraced. Plus, when you’re about to be hit with the head-trip of “She Said, She Said”, just need to kick back in silly simplicity for a moment.

“She Said, She Said” might be my favorite track on the album. To me, the world always seems to bend and whirl when this track comes on, even when I’m not on acid. But really, that to me is why the song is special. It’s about loving a girl, and her love doesn’t get you high, it makes you trip. And that’s what I dig. Everybody wants a girl like heroin, coursing through their veins. I want one like acid, who’ll feed my head. And this track, for me, is all about that, and not some off-handed comment by Peter Fonda (I may be interpreting the song wrong, and if I am, don’t correct me. Allow me one of my favorite songs untainted by truth).

“Good Day Sunshine” is one of the most cheerful songs The Beatles have ever written. It’s pure pop….Yep, Paul did it. The harmonies are rich, the song is bouncy and fun, allowing you to recover from “She Said, She Said”. Plus, after many a listen, you really start to appreciate Ringo’s precision. Just sayin’. “And Your Bird Can Sing” is a return to The Beatles early-rock sound, but enhanced by a studio sound of psychedelia. It’s a highly underrated Beatles track, and when I first heard it, I remember thinking the double-guitar-melody was one of the coolest things ever. And I still do.

“For No One” is surprisingly springy for a song so lyrically bleak, and Paul’s voice lilts and lingers on notes with the gentility of a French Horn (like the one that comes in ever so briefly on this track). This one is another one of my favorites on this album, and one of those Beatles songs that, no matter how stripped down it is, is still brilliant. “Doctor Robert” is one of the best songs about a drug-dealer after “I’m Waiting For The Man”, and is a drug-fueled redo of the early Beatles sound on the verses, but that chorus, the organ-backed Church-choir-esque feel always sends chills down my spine. “I Want To Tell You” is the track everyone always forgets is on this album. It’s George’s last on the record, and his most conventional. It’s catchy, fun, and yet still a little mind-bending with the way Harrison swoops through the nights, seemingly drifting through a million thoughts all pouring from his brain through his lips.

“Got To Get You Into My Life” is a special song, in the sense that it might be the only song by The Beatles where I like a cover version better (Earth, Wind & Fire owned this baby). But this is a great track, a brilliant soul song from four white English guys. Plus, you gotta love the brass section, and the trippy guitar solo. The album closes with the most psychedelic and mind-bending track on the album, “Tomorrow Never Knows”. “trun off your mind, relax, and float down stream” could have been the slogan of the 60’s, and John went wild on this track, filling it with consciousness-expanding sounds that set you on edge in a twistedly beautiful soundscape. I mean, who the hell thinks to record their vocals through an organ amp? A genius, that’s who. And this track, hell this whole album, ought to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that’s what Mr. Lennon, and indeed The Beatles as a whole, were.

This album is a masterpiece from start to finish, and absolutely deserving of the #3 spot on this list. Some of the greatest songs ever written are on this album, and it expands your mind while feeding your soul. No one can argue this isn’t an absolutely flawless album, well, they can, but not well. It’s almost irrefutable that this is one of the great achievements in musical history, and an album that will be remembered for centuries, if we have any hope for the human race. You absolutely must, MUST listen to this album if you haven’t already. Pure genius from start to finish.

-Mike

Next up, a very different album, about as far from psychedelic as it can get, but from another artist whom I consider a genius, and one who may have defined his generation as these men defined theirs, for better or worse. Next up is #317: The Eminem Show by Eminem.

#357: Honky Chateau- Elton John

Listened to: MP3



So, the last time our little blog checked in on Elton John, he had just hit the scene, a fresh, young upstart singer songwriter. Now we get to see him make the transition into the Elton we know today on Honky Chateau, his first foray into what many consider a “rock” album, since John is finally accompanied by his back-up band, and decided to ditch the strings (for the most part). So let’s dive right in, shall we?

The album opens on an Elkton classic, the honky-tonk swing of “Honky Cat”, which is, according to wikipedia, “essentially about the illusion created by city life.” Now, I never picked up on that, but maybe I was distracted by the jangling piano hall feel, and the Elton-answer-to-rock, which on an autumn morning, rubbing your arms to fight off the chill, feels much better than Metallica-rock. Just saying. “Mellow” is one of the only two tracks to feature stings, and it’s just one violin, so Elton kept his idea of a rock album. The track’s feel is represented in it’s title, and it’s the type of ballad-ish track Elton often wrote in the 70’s. Laid back, but still possessing a bit of that Dr. John-esque pulse. From that we move on to the most cheerful suicide song ever (except maybe “Can’t stand Losing You”, but we’ll get into that later) “I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself”, Bernie and Elton’s mockery of teenage melodrama (and coming from a guy who works with teenagers, god bless ‘em for it). This is probably the only rock album I know that uses a tap dancer for an instrument, so even if you find the song and it’s subject distasteful, you’ve got to respect the use of “Legs” Larry Smith. I personally love the song, but I can see how it’s non-PC lack of sensibility could piss some folks off.

“Susie (Dramas)” is another honky-tonk Elton John song, a fun little track, but really just killing time before the true masterpiece of the album. “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Gonna Be A Long, Long Time)” is an undeniable classic. And I could say a million words about how great this song is, but whenever I here it, this is all I can picture:

Seriously, though, it’s a brilliant song, and Shatner does do his best to convey the meaning. While not everyone circles Mars in a huttle, everyone has had that feeling that some “job”, some minor thing they barely care for or understand, isolates them, pulls them away from their life. That cold, loveless feeling has hit us all at some time or other, and Elton and Bernie capture that perfectly on this track.

“Salvation” is a lightly orchestrated ballad that has all the elements of an Elton John hit, and had “Rocket Man”, “Honky Cat” and “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” not been on this album, this track probably would’ve been the lead single. However, it doesn’t hold a damn candle in the wind to any of those tracks (yeah, I know, Elton pun. Total win). Just sayin’. “Slave” starts off with an acoustic guitar intro (very uncommon for an Elton John song) and has the sound of an old Hank Williams country song. It’s a welcome departure from the typical style of Elton John, while still keeping enough of his distinct Elton-ness to make it fun. “Amy” is some more classic Elton rock that you can’t help but let it make you move a bit. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” is undoubtedly one of Elton & Bernie’s most beautiful songs, and I don’t just say that because it’s about my city. No, it’s the way Elton seemed to know exactly the right note for each word of Bernie’s lament of a New York City where rose trees never grow. The harmonies, the piano, the stripped down sense of simplicity and sadness, this is one of the highlights of Elton’s career, and a song this perfect found a perfect place in film history, in one of the most moving scenes in Almost Famous. If you listen to only one track off of this album (though you really should listen to it all), make it “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”. The album ends on “Hercules”, another guitar-intro-ed song that’s horribly under-whelming after the last track, but I guess it’s necessary to end the album on a somewhat upbeat note.

Honky Chateau is a fantastic benchmark in Elton John’s career, and anybody who’s a fan of the most-popular sound of Elton John should give this album a spin, it’s the best of his pop-rock sound after Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It’s worth a listen.

-Mike

Next up, an absolute classic, one some consider THE greatest album, #3: Revolver by the legends, the greatest band of all time (at least VH1 got that right), The Beatles.

#252: Metallica- Metallica

Listened to: CD



The other day I was watching some special or other on VH1, and in reference to today’s band, one commentator said Metallica finished what Black Sabbath started.” And to be honest, I can’t really argue. Metallica rescued metal from the hair and glam of the 80’s, brought back the grit and darkness, and made metal something you could be completely unashamed to love again. Of course, they also caused the heavy metal plateau. No band has changed the game since Metallica, and nobody can beat them, at least not in their prime. Now while many argue that Master of Puppets is a superior album to this one, I like to relate them to the solo careers of the Beatles. Master being Paul’s and this album being John’s. While Paul’s solo career is more consistent, John’s low points are lower than Paul’s, and John’s high points are higher. I defy you to find any track on Master better and more anthemic than “Enter Sandman”. From the ominous guitar intro to the pounding drums and bass on the chorus, to James Hetfield’s signature voice tearing each note to shreds, this truly is one of the greatest metal songs, and indeed one of the greatest songs of all time. “Sad But True”, “Nothing Else Matters”, “Wherever I May Roam”, and the West-Side-Story-incorporating “Don’t Tread On Me” are all highlights on the album, and I may be alone in declaring “Of Wolf and Man” one of my favorite tracks. This baby is pure trash fury, and one of those albums that you replay again and again in the car, gunning it down the road, hearing your engine roar.



I keep my review brief only to ensure there’s room for a guest review but the bottom line is this is a true classic, and a staple of the genre. Truly dark, gritty metal at it’s finest, and on of the best albums of the 90’s. Listen and love.



-Mike



Well, below you’ll find our first guest spot in ages, from our good friend Tom Lorenzo (who last reviewed Cyndi Lauper. Boy has range.) Next up #357: Honky Chateau by Elton John. See you then.

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Tom Lorenzo:



Hello gang. Remember me? I reviewed a few albums a long time ago. Summer came and just whooped my ass in the whole caring about anything department. But I’m back with an album from one of my favorite bands, Metallica and their legendary album, “The Black Album”. For all you shitbirds that think “The Black Album” is Jay Z’s retirement album, start listening to music with guys playing an instrument and go past 1997 for some music. This is the real “Black Album”. Over 15 millions units sold, making it one of the highest selling albums of all time.



I just want to give a little backstory for the band and this album. Cliff Burton, the bands original recording bassist, died during the “Master of Puppets” tour and they hired Jason Newstead. They made “And Justice For All”, arguably their best album and toured for awhile until they 1991 when “The Black Album” came out. So people where anxiously awaiting this album for a while. And most people where happy. Some were not. Why? Because it’s a more commercial sound than Metallica has ever produced. We can blame this on new producer Bob Rock, the Bon Jovi guy. Now even though the music is more commercial, doesn’t mean it’s bad. Quite the contrary, some of their best and most famous music is here. But also some of their worst until “St Anger”.



Let’s just get the bad songs out of the way first. “Don’t Tread On Me” is just not up to snuff for Metallica. Hetfield doesn’t sound particularly into it, like he just needed to get another song on the album. Hammet goes through the motions as does Ulrich. And don’t even get me started on sampling from “West Side Story”. I know Metallica is a band that does things differently than any other heavy metal band, which is why they are my favorite band of all time. But there’s just shit you don’t do. And thats sampling from “West Side Story”.



“My Friend of Misery” is not bad per se. It’s just a derivative song by a band that has never been derivative. This is another song that gives this album a bad name. But almost deservedly so because this song just leaves me cold. Leaves most people cold. So does “The Struggle Within” that tries more than the other bad songs, but strikes out. It comes up swinging, but misses. Now these songs that I say are bad only seem bad because of the other songs that are on the album. Shit, the first song on the album is their “Stairway To Heaven”.



“Enter Sandman” is one hell of a song. Not just as a song, but as an entity. This song is so huge, one of the reasons this sold 15 million copies. Heavy metal fans alone couldn’t do that. Also that music video with the creepy old guy and the strobe lights with Metallica in them. This song kind of made the band the uber successes they are now. This song has one of those fucking riffs that just sticks with you and fucks your brain into remembering it. Hetfield just lets this song take him over. He goes from roaring like an animal to softly saying a prayer. It isn’t their best song. Not by a long shot. But it’s one of those songs man. It just works when it shouldn’t and it has stayed with the public. Does anybody remember a few years back the controversy about NY Met closer Billy Wagner using this song when he came out, even though people thought it’s NY Yankees closer Mariano Rivera’s? Yeah, a sports shit show because of a song.



“The God That Failed” is a song that I shouldn’t have liked, but I did. For one, it’s another personal song for James Hetfield. As a child, he was a christian scientist and watched his mother wither away and die from cancer. So he still has alot of problems with this. So he wrote this, a song about people just expecting God to help them with no effort on their part. I love songs like this because no other heavy metal band would work out demons like this on song. It’s a pretty good song, but without the meaning behind it, I’d like it a lot less. It’s musically very average. But Hetfield makes the song work.



“Holier Than Thou” is a good anthem like song. I could hear this song playing during a commercial when watching an NFL game. It’s loud and fast and just heavy. Nothing too deep about this song. It’s just solid heavy metal that the whole family can listen too. Everyone involved was definitely digging this song. It comes through the song. But it’s still nothing special. Just good. “Through The Never” and “Of Wolf and Man” are like this. Good heavy metal songs that the guys were digging, but with no meaning to it. Nothing’s going on. Just a space adventure of the sort (Never) and a song about a guy being a werewolf (duh). Now, we wrote about the songs that weren’t good and they songs that were but weren’t great (except Sandman. You gotta mention Sandman first). Now, onto the truly great songs that elevate this.



“Sad But True” is a fucking powerhouse of a song. This is one of, if not the heaviest song Metallica has ever recorded. Hammet’s guitar just takes it’s balls out and rubs it across your face. This song is fucking badass. I feel like this song is always used in football movies, or it’s covered or sampled by songs used in football movies. But that’s not why I love this song. I love this song, because to the untrained ear it’s just a heavy metal song. But listen. Really listen. It’s a song about a guy struggling with schizophrenia. That’s some heavy shit. Such a powerhouse of a song. Classic.



“Wherever I May Roam” is such a great song. It’s a heavy song that is about being a drifter. Just the life of a drifter. This is a very western feeling song, not in the instruments but in the lyrics. Very western, tying in with another song on this album. But the instruments here are nuts. Starting out with a sitar and going in to the booming guitar is just epic. Hetfield shows again why he is the king of American heavy metal, and in the pantheon of heavy metal singers in general. He can’t keep up with Dio or Dickinson, but he his own voice that has just dominated heavy metal since 1984. Kirk “The Ripper” Hammet earns his nickname here for throwing down some sick guitar here with a showstopping solo. Just an insane song, a heavy metal classic. The next two songs are two of the best on the album, two of the best Metallica has ever done. But it is also a hint that Metallica isn’t gonna be the same after this album.



“The Unforgiven” is a great fucking song. It’s a western song through and through, evidenced by the Ennio Morricone horn played in reverse at the beginning of the song. A song about a guy who has been hounded and hated on since birth. A man who they try to control but can’t. An unforgiven soul. Such an amazing song. These guys play/sing their hearts out even though this is one of the slower songs they’ve done. I love it. It’s also the first in a trilogy that continues on 1997’s “ReLoad” and ends on 2008’s “Death Magnetic”. Great shit here. Love it.



“Nothing Else Matters” is a controversial song. It’s a slow ballad from a heavy metal band and the hardcore fans flipped a shit. They were ok with “Fade To Black” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” because of the subject matter. But this song was a heavy metal ballad love song. The hardcore were pissed. But you know what? It’s a great fucking song. Hetfield wrote this for his then girlfriend, who he loved no matter how far apart they were. It has since become a staple at all Metallica concerts. As it should, since its great. But also because these guys are now in their 40s and need a break now and then. Now, in my “Led Zeppelin II” review, I said “Thank You” would be my wedding song. Well, thats choice number two. This song is number one. I love this song.



Now, this album is a classic. It’s sold over 15 million copies and has songs that live on. But it is their weakest album before they changed up their sound in 1996 on “Load”. I like “Load” and “ReLoad”, but you can’t lump them together. It’s their weakest because aside from the 5 classic songs (only 5, come on assholes get your shit together), the rest range from average to meh. I’d personally switch this album out with their 1988 masterpiece “And Justice For All” for being a better constructed, more well thought out and musically more layered sound. But on impact alone, “The Black Album” deserves this spot.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

#97: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan- Bob Dylan

Listened to: MP3Without a doubt, Dylan’s second album is the best of his folk-era (in other words, when he was Christian Bale). Acoustic music has rarely, if ever, been performed as well as here, a staple album of the 60’s protest era, with Dylan playing songs of his own composition that sound and feel like they’ve been part of the American songbook for decades prior.

The album opens with one of Dylan’s most popular tunes, the classic protest anthem “Blowin’ In The Wind”, a track brought to notoriety first by Peter, Paul & Mary, but in recent times credit for the song has returned to it’s deserved writer, and Dylan now receives full recognition for one of his many masterpieces. To hear the album kick off with that gentle strumming and Dylan’s nasally, compassionate, weary tone singing about how either obvious or intangible all the answers in the world are. “Blowin’ In The Wind” is undoubtedly one of the greatest American compositions, and it is incredible to see a 20-something kid who just wanted to be Woody Guthrie managed to siphon everything Woody had tried to do his whole life into one song. It’s a song you wish you wrote, and every time you hear it, you’re just glad somebody did. It speaks straight to the soul.

We move on to another classic for Dylan fans, “Girl From North Country”, a song with a feeling of tenderness and longing that to glance at the album cover (adorned by Dylan and Suze Rotolo wandering down a New York street) evokes such an emotional chill one can’t help but recall Dylan’s later work, Blood on the Tracks (but we’ll get to that when the time comes). Following this is one of Dylan’s most intense anti-war songs, the impassioned “Masters of War”. Imagine in a tense time in an overly Christian nation singing the line “Even Jesus could never forgive what you do”. The power and fury with which Dylan strums that guitar makes it sound as though he wrote a Metallica track long before their inception (don’t pretend like this wouldn’t make a mind-blowing metal song. Get on that, Rage Against The Machine). It’s hard to avoid flashes of wounded soldiers, be them from Vietnam or Iraq, flashing in your mind as you listen to Dylan declare that these masters of war are “not worth the blood that runs through your veins”. The fourth track is the first, and possibly only, track on the album that’s never heard off of this record. “Down The Highway” shows Dylan not really protesting or lamenting anything, but more talking about his “baby” in the traditional blues sense. This is the kind of song you could picture Dylan playing with two black blues men a la Marcus Carl Franklin in that Tombstone Blues sequence in I’m Not There. It’s a fine enough track for the flow of the album, and a good example of Dylan just being Dylan. Just playing around, and enjoying music for music’s sake.

“Bob Dylan’s Blues” opens with Dylan doing a spoken ramble about the song’s compositional origins, giving us an inkling of what it would have been like to see Dylan live in his prime. To me, this song is less about the melody than the harmonica playing, which on this track is some of the best he’s ever laid down. This song is melodically and structurally very similar to “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” from Bringing It All Back Home, except a little less fun since he doesn’t seem quite as stoned.

“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” is one of Dylan’s most under-rated protest songs. Dylan speaks apocalyptically about the disaster that faces us, be it a rain of nuclear fallout or lies and deceptions from the man in charge. The song keeps itself lyrically ambiguous, teling you “Watch out for something. I’m not gonna tell you what. Just keep your eyes open and be ready.” He’s not saying “We should be afraid” or “All hope is lost”, he’s just saying “Something bad’s coming, wake up!”. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” is essentially (get ready to watch 1,000 Dylan fans wanna shoot me) Bob’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”. It’s a lamenting song, the final words of a break-up, in this case Suze Rotolo abandoning Dylan to wander Italy. Dylan is a master of emotion, and he channels all his pain and suffering into the words “Don’t think twice, it’s alright.”. But think about it, acoustic guitar being plucked, the singer lamenting a lost love, half-resigned, half-bitter. You gotta admit I have a point. “Bob Dylan’s Dream” is a really old-school Dylan track, hearkening back strongly to his folk roots, as he talks about his days living on MacDougal Street with Wavy Gravy. “Oxford Town”, a two minute track, talks about the plight of an African American, a subject Dylan focused a lot of his music on. In this case, the subject is James Meredith, the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi.

“Talkin’ World War III Blues” is another classic Dylan protest song, this one in he “talkin’ blues” style of Woody Guthrie, where Dylan, more spoken than sung, chats humorously about the threat of nuclear annihilation. “Corrine, Corrina” is an old traditional song, the first and technically only non-Dylan song on the album. It’s a country-blues song on which Dylan pays tribute to his roots, and has a nice country swing that‘s a welcome change to the lonesome strumming Dylan does for the rest of the album. “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance” is a Henry Thomas song Dylan heavily reworked, a really upbeat track, the “You‘re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” of this album.. The album ends on an often ignored Dylan track, “I Shall Be Free”. This is a classic Dylan folk number, and a great way to close out an album of some of the best folk music ever composed.

The fact is this is a fantastic album, and a great time capsule of one of America’s finest poet’s in his folk-prime. This right here is American music. Every track on here belongs in the Americana songbook. It’s a brilliant album for anyone interested in classic American music. But if you can’t get past Dylan’s voice….never mind, if you can’t get past his voice, fuck off. Yeah, he’s a genius. Sorry he don’t sing like Rhianna.

-Mike

Next, we’ll go to a completely different era and sound, with #252: Metallica by…yeah.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

#424: King of the Delta Blues Singers, Vol. 2- Robert Johnson

Listened to: MP3

…Yeah. Look, Robert Johnson was one of the most innovative and important men in blues and rock and roll history. However, I fail to understand why this is on the list (as well as volume 1) when you might as well just make room for another classic album, and just do this.

Would Replace with: King of the Delta Blues Singers by Robert Johnson

This is the CD you can find almost anywhere when looking for the two albums recommended on RS’ list, and it has almost every track you could want by Robert Johnson. The history of rock as you know it starts here. Any great blues guitarist learned their licks off this album, compiling some of the greatest guitar playing from a guy who only lived to 27 (the original club member). Legend has it Johnson sold his soul to the devil to get his skills, and a track like “Hellhound On My Trail” makes you believe it. The album is a true classic, and since you can’t god damn find the original King of the Delta Blues volumes on CD, maybe it’s time to just embrace this mix of both. Robert Johnson’s recordings are totally worth the listen. I just find it convenient that they can be on one album.



-Mike

Next up, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan by...well...Bob...Dylan.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

#94: Bitches Brew- Miles Davis

Listened to: CDI’m gonna lay this out on the line. To go track by track and analyze jazz, especially Miles Davis, is a sin. I’ll simply say this album is a masterpiece, and essential for any fans of experimental jazz. For those not acquainted with jazz at all, this will certainly not be a spring board, but for those who truly dig jazz, this is a classic. Miles let’s all his inhibitions go on this track, laying down some of his most brilliant improvisations. Filled with rock rhythms, fantastic studio edits (like the intro to the album, edited 19 times), Miles revolutionized modern jazz. It’s like by the end of this album, Herbie Hancock was born. This album is what happens if a true genius is given full range. The first time I heard this record, it’s style repelled me. Now I consider it a master work.


I could compose an essay on how innovative it was, or pick it apart compositionally, but it possesses such a magic, a mastery, that I’d rather just encourage you to listen to it with an open mind, and fully appreciate it’s brilliance. But for once, I encourage you not to sit and listen, but rather to go out. Drive. Run. Whatever. Be active, and let Bitches be the soundtrack. Nothing’s better than driving through the mist while disc one plays, being the soundtrack to your visceral experience. I keep this review short not because I have nothing to say, but that Miles Davis music is like sex. The more talking there is, the less fun it is.



-Mike



Next up, #424: King Of The Delta Blues Singers, Vol. 2 by Robert Johnson.

#318: Back Stabbers- The O’Jays

Listened to: MP3I am unashamed to admit that before writing this, the only song I was familiar with on this album was “Love Train”, but Back Stabbers is considered to be the quintessential Philly soul album, and since this list has been a godsend when it comes to finding good music in genres I’m not too well acquainted with (soul, R&B, etc.), so I looked forward to giving The O’Jays a whirl. The album opens on “When The World’s At Peace”, a spirited, funky opener that takes no time setting the tone or the album, with full, rich instrumentation and a fantastic stereo mix (you really notice it on this album). I find myself looking at the run time of the track and being thankful it’s over 5 minutes long. For those of you listening while reading, don’t dare try saying you’re not dancing even a little bit to this track. I love the way the track fades out at the end, with that echo. The second track, the title one, keeps the rich, full feel from before, with a full orchestra and a vibe that makes it feel like it belongs on the Shaft soundtrack. It’s got a groove that’s unavoidable, and as I say that, I realize the whole album does, whether it be the slow, soulful “Who Am I” or the upbeat dance groove of “Love Train”, Back Stabbers truly is as spirited and full of life a soul album as you can get. I’m amazed at how rich and full the album feels. Certain parts just send shivers down your spine. I mean it when I call this album a masterpiece of producing, if nothing else. Definitely give it a listen.

-Mike

Next up, #94: Bitches Brew by the legendary Miles Davis.

#111: Court and Spark- Joni Mitchell

Listened to: MP3I remember first hearing Joni Mitchell’s voice and thinking “That’s the sound I’ve been looking for”. Joni has a gorgeous voice for folk music, and a gentle lilting tone. So you can imagine when she wanted to make an album that was heavily rock and jazz influenced, her producers must have been just filled with joy. But thankfully they had faith in Joni, and the world now has Court and Spark.

The album opens on the title track, a song that’s melody recalls the Blue-era Joni, but the instrumentation is much more full, with a rock drum beat and a almost music-hall sounding piano, making the track a good transition for folk-Joni fans to get into this new era. The next track is Joni’s biggest hit, “Help Me”, a fantastic old-school rock track with just the right twist of Joni’s spirit. This track could have been a Ronettes hit reworked by Ms. Mitchell, and it possesses such a life within it, especially during that “Didn’t it feel good?” bridge that evokes Marvin Gaye and the classic Motown feel. Is there any question why this is the track that brought Joni into the mainstream?

The next track, “Free Man In Paris”, written about famous producer David Geffen after a trip Joni and he took to Paris with the legendary Robbie Robertson and his brother, is like an all-star track. Not only is it one of Joni’s best tracks melodically, but it features David Crosby and Graham Nash on back-up vocals (yes, that IS why those harmonies sound so good) the Jose Feliciano on electric guitar. The drumbeat alone on this track should make it a classic, but every element comes together on this track, proving Joni with a full band is just as good as Joni with an acoustic. “People’s Parties” is a great track that sounds like an old-school Joni solo song that added a back-up band, and that back-up band is a perfect fit. Joni’s voice just floats above the music, reminding you that you don’t have to be howling to put soul into your music. A track like “Same Situation” seems to prove without a shadow of a doubt how much female singers today, ranging from the obvious Aimee Mann to I’ll-go-so-far-to-suggest Kelly Clarkson owe a debt to Joni. Sure, Aretha and Tina get all the credit, but look at the way Joni crafts her voice around each note. There’s passion without fury there. And it’s beautiful.

“Car On A Hill” features some gorgeous choral harmonies showing Joni was definitely having fun in the studio on this one. This track is a real Steely Dan-esque, laid-back rock track, and Joni pulls it off with flying colors. “Down To You” begins as a gentle piano ballad in the vein of classic Joni, which while not in keeping with the “new” image the album creates for her, is a nice departure. But slowly it builds with little flickers of other instruments coming in like fireflies on a summer evening. While other tracks may be more popular, I think “Down To You” is by far the album’s most ambitious track, and it succeeds in most if not all of it’s ambitions.

“Just Like This Train” has the same feel as “People’s Parties”, that idea of it being a classic Joni song with a band added, while “Raised On Robbery” is the exact opposite. You can’t imagine this track without the band behind it, especially when part of that band is part of The Band, since the electric guitar on this track is played by the legendary Robbie Robertson. Without a doubt, “Raised On Robbery” is the heaviest rock track on the album by a long shot, and must have been a shock to the system to any first time listener (I remember it sure as hell was to me), and yet Joni can do this track just as well as the softest, most lilting tracks on the album.

“Trouble Child” goes back to the Steely Dan vibe, and Joni does some of her best slides and really displays her vocal agility in a non-diva, non-irritating way. The album closes on “Twisted”, a Lambert, Hendricks & Ross track featuring, yes, you’re reading that right, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong doing the spoken bits. This is the jazziest song on the album, and shows Joni could have had a great future in this genre just as much as folk. Admit it, this track is practically perfect, and for a folk singer, it’s incredible. It just proves Joni has no label other than “genius”.
Bottom line, this album is fantastic, and a true insiration as to what a musician can achieve with an open mind and great taste. Totally worth the listen. I truly hope you guys enjoy it as much as I did.

-Mike

See you guys next for #318: Back Stabbers by the O’Jays

#433: Another Green World- Brian Eno

Listened to: MP3

Who’s super-psyched for primarily instrumental music from Brian Eno? So, ok, that sounds less fun than I think it’s gonna be. Look, if readers have been taught anything by this, it should be that preconceived notions about an album’s quality should be abandoned. So, set aside all your doubts, and open your mind as we move into Another Green World.


If you had any fear this album wasn’t gonna be some interesting, fun compositional brilliance, the opening track “Sky Saw” should set you straight. From Eno’s free form lyrics to the distorted sliding notes, the opening song sets the tone for an album that’s genius should be recognized from the outset (despite being panned by some critics in it’s early days). Each track s a unique soundscape, with Eno using notes to create an impressionist painting on your ears. The album cover does a lot to set the tone of the album. This is the kind of album that should be accompanied by Rothkos or Magrittes. It’s true modern art, without being pretentious. Each track, from the fun, colorful, upbeat “St. Elmo’s Fire” to the bleak, damp, brooding Francis-Bacon-esque “In Dark Trees”, Eno crafts universes of sound that exist within these tracks, and the instrumentals conjure more images in the mind than even the finest poet’s lyrics.


There is not a track out of place on this album. It is a masterpiece to whom modern day bands like Grandaddy and Sigur Ros owe a remarkable debt. This is an album to lay down on the stereo, turn of the lights, lie back and dream. The world Brian Eno builds within your mind will shine so beautifully you’ll never want the album to end. Definitely worth a listen.


-Mike


Next up, #111: Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Monthly Recap: “March 2010”

Here’s a really delayed re-cap the albums that were allotted for March 2010 (though some reviews were a tad delayed).


March 1st, 2010: #337: CrazySexyCool- TLC
Bottom line: A solid R&B album, a great time capsule from the 90’s. The only downside is Waterfalls is the best track by a long shot.


March 2nd, 2010: #220: New Orleans Piano- Professor Longhair
Bottom line: “In conclusion, though, definitely look this album up, readers. If this is truly the sound of New Orleans, then I sure as hell know where I’m headed as soon as I get some money.”

March 3rd, 2010: #416: The Mule Variations- Tom Waits
Bottom line: Without a doubt Waits’ darkest and most brooding album. So good I bought the vinyl. The highlight of course is “Take It With Me” for those who don’t enjoy Waits more experimental music, but the album is truly a classic and should rank much higher.


March 4th, 2010: #298: Master of Reality- Black Sabbath
Bottom line: A solid album from one of the masters of metal. Worth the listen.


March 5th, 2010: #473: A Rush Of Blood To The Head- Coldplay
Bottom line: “Compositionally set-off by the September 11th attacks, Martin really comes into his own on this album, and it shows. I’m sure most of you have already dismissed Coldplay, but I encourage you to give this album a spin, and open your minds. You’ll find you like it more than you’d like to admit. From start to finish a classic.”


March 6th, 2010: #147: Dreams To Remember: The Otis Redding Anthology- Otis Redding
Bottom line: Totally unnecessary. There is no reason for two Otis Redding compilations on this list. So many truly classic albums were ignored to make room for a compilation of tracks that are mostly on other albums on the list. Otis wasn’t Christ, despite how RS treats him. This album was replaced by a true neglected classic, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco.


March 7th, 2010: #286: Los Angeles- X
Bottom line: Possibly the best punk album of the 80’s. A brilliant debut from a band that should have conquered the world.


March 8th, 2010: #338: Cheap Thrills- Big Brother And The Holding Company
Bottom line: Some of Janis Joplin’s finest work. Her vocals set the air ablaze, and she truly left Big Brother with a bang. A classic of 60’s rock. For any chick serious about rock, the past two days (March 7th and 8th 2010) should have been viewed as a lesson.


March 9th, 2010: #121: Moby Grape- Moby Grape
Bottom line: “Essentially this album is a summary of what the San Francisco 60’s sound was. It’s the best things about The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and The Byrds all put together. However, this album lacks the significance or following of any.” Replaced it with a truly brilliant album, The Sounds of India by Ravi Shankar.


March 10th, 2010: #444: Criminal Minded- Boogie Down Productions
Bottom line: Despite the very convincing argument by josh, I found this album lacking any truly special spark, and though it should be replaced by the much more landmark album Endtroducing…DJ Shadow.


March 11th, 2010: #177: One Nation Under Groove- Funkadelic
Bottom line: “Overall, this album is highly worth looking in to. Give it a listen one day, it’s only a half an hour or so, and I promise you, you won’t be bored.”


March 12th, 2010: #273: The Slim Shady LP- Eminem
Bottom line: “Eminem established a whole unforgettable personae on this album, while crafting instant classics like “My Name Is” and “Guilty Conscience”, proving that you can make it in rap by not taking yourself seriously at all. I recommend this album highly, if for nothing else than to get a time capsule of the decade in which I came of age, and if you dislike songs about violence, or songs with obscene language, well…grow some balls. This album is a classic, and I’m pretty sure will stand the test of time.”


March 13th, 2010: #498: Tres Hombres- ZZ Top
Bottom line: One of ZZ Top’s best, if for nothing but La Grange, and a great album for any guitar enthusiast.


March 14th, 2010: #408: Time Out Of Mind- Bob Dylan
Bottom line: “It’s criminal that this album is ranked so low on this list, as to me, it really is one of the best of Dylan’s career. He started a new chapter in his life, and even if this is the only highlight, it’s a fantastic place to end. Seriously, get this album, it’s highly worth the purchase.”


March 15th, 2010: #62: Achtung Baby- U2
Bottom line: A true classic that everyone should hear at some point in their lives. U2 at possibly their best.


March 16th, 2010: #360: Siamese Dream- Smashing Pumpkins
Bottom line: “Siamese Dream definitely deserves a place on the list. It’s one of the most daring hard-rock albums of the 90’s, and perhaps of all time, and Corgan’s sense of composition, especially incorporating orchestral instruments, cannot be rivaled. Please give this one a listen.”

March 17th, 2010: #445: Rum, Sodomy, and The Lash- The Pogues
Bottom line: A great album, unique and full of life. Also great to drink to. Just sayin’.

March 18th, 2010: #74: Otis Blue- Otis Redding
Bottom line: “Without a doubt, Otis blue is one of the greatest albums ever recorded, a landmark in soul and music in general, and should be ranked even higher than 74.” A true staple of soul music.


March 19th, 2010: #394: For Your Pleasure- Roxy Music
Bottom line: “This was an incredible album to experience, and it is ranked criminally low. Everyone should give this album a listen, it’s highly worth it, and I look forward to more Roxy Music to come.”


March 20th, 2010: #44: Horses- Patti Smith
Bottom line: “I’m not going to tell you to listen to this album. Rather, I’m demanding any serious reader of this blog go out and buy it. You’ll be a far better person for it. Horses is one of the greatest albums of all time, and no human being should go without hearing it.”


March 21st, 2010: #363: Ray Of Light- Madonna
Bottom line: “So, yeah, I’m unashamed to admit that Ray Of Light is a great album, integrating electronic dance music without getting repetitive or annoying. Madonna proves on this album she’s more than just a pop singer, that she is a truly gifted and talented artist. I recommend giving this album a listen, you might be surprised how current it still feels, despite being 10 years old.”


March 22nd, 2010: #172: Every Picture Tells A Story- Rod Stewart
Bottom line: “Personally, I don’t get it. It’s a good album, but I don’t think it’s great or mind-blowing. However, it’s clearly culturally significant, and when compiling a “Greatest” list, it’s got to be different than a “Favorites” list, and if this album is as significant as all it’s supporters seem to think, and it’s not unbearable (it’s actually quite enjoyable on the third or fourth listen) then it deserves to stay. However, I’m not buying it being #175.”


March 23rd, 2010: #435: To Bring You My Love- PJ Harvey
Bottom line: “To Bring You My Love is the type of album one should aspire to make. It’s craftsmanship is flawless, it’s compositions and performances incredible, and it all works as a cohesive piece of music. Harvey on this album created not just a phenomenal collection of songs, but a remarkable simplistic symphony. I cannot reach out of the computer screen and force you to listen to this, but know that I would if I could.”


March 24th, 2010: #105: Rocket To Russia- The Ramones
Bottom line: The review was really brief, but Rocket To Russia is a great punk album infused with surfer influences and furious spirit. Totally worth checking out if you’ve already heard and loved the Ramones’ debut album.


March 25th, 2010: #464: The Blueprint- Jay-Z
Bottom line: “It’s an undeniably enjoyable album, and the portrait of a truly gifted artist at his best, and it brought a little light to a New York ravaged with tragedy (it came out on 9/11). I recommend it highly to anyone looking for a good album for a long ass drive with the windows all the way down and the bass all the way up” I’ll now go so far as to say one of the greatest rap albums of all time.


March 26th, 2010: #325: Slowhand by Eric Clapton
Bottom line: “I truly and deeply recommend this album. If you go on looking for heavy rock and roll, you’ll be let down, but if you want to put on a record with some of the best guitar playing of all time, and don’t mind it being gentle and smooth, then you can’t do better than this.”


March 27th, 2010: #219: Loveless- My Bloody Valentine
Bottom line: “It’s not my cup of tea, though I will admit certain tracks, like “When You Sleep” and “I Only Said” were enjoyable. Maybe I’ll get Nick Young to come back and explain the album’s greatness better, but for now, let me say it’s worth listening to for the significance, if not so much the music.”


March 28th, 2010: #405: Rid of Me- PJ Harvey
Bottom line: “So, in conclusion, Rid Of Me is another great album by PJ Harvey that I recommend, however, I would choose To Bring You My Love or Stores From The City, Stories From The Sea over it.”


March 29th, 2010: #69: Superfly- Curtis Mayfield
Bottom line: “Look no further than Super Fly for funk that works at it’s best. I absolutely recommend this album.” Truly one of the all-time great film soundtracks.


March 30th, 2010: #315: Surfer Rosa- The Pixies
Bottom line: “Surfer Rosa is a genius album, and maybe some folks won’t dig it, but if I’ve turned at least one person on to these guys, I’ve done my job on this blog. So give Surfer Rosa a listen. I don’t think you’ll regret it.”


March 31st, 2010: #83: I Never Loved A Man The Way Love You- Aretha Franklin
Bottom line: “This album contains some of the greatest soul songs ever composed, and performed by one of the greatest and most influential soul singers to ever live. It’s virtually flawless, and THE definitive Aretha album. This is a shining example of a gifted performer at her peak. For those who only see Aretha as the woman with the funny things on her head at various ceremonies, do yourself a favor and look this one up. A true classic."

#104: Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music- Ray Charles

Listened to: MP3Considered by many to be Ray Charles’ finest album, I looked forward to finding out why Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music is so revered. It doesn’t contain of Charles’ well-known hits, so the average CD-shopper would probably dismiss it. Indeed, were I not aware of the album’s significance, I’d only pick it up to hear Charles’ take on “Bye Bye Love”, a song All That Jazz has made into one of my favorites. I’m happy to report, by the way, that on that track, and most of the others on this album, Charles fails to disappoint. It’s undeniable that Ray Charles had one of the most soulful voices in musical history. He felt everything he sang, and every word and note had some special meaning to him. Even on a more gentle track like “You Don’t Know Me”, a song Charles made popular though not on of his own, each note possesses that raspy genius. I typically hate those old backing vocal sounds from Elvis tracks and stuff from that era, but on this track, Charles just seems to float above it all. This track is a time capsule whose contents are still fresh upon opening. “Half As Much” is a country track that Charles turns into a Sinatra-style swing tune. It’s amazing to see how much creative control Charles exercised over this album, considering his race and the time period. It’s a testament to what a one of a kind talent the man was. The sax solo in “Half As Much” alone makes the track worth a listen.

“I Love You So Much” is a decent song made so much better by Ray’s jazz style crooning. He’s considered a pioneer of R&B and soul, but tracks like this show you how he could do any genre of music. Charles was a true master of music. “Just A Little Lovin’ (Will Go A Long Way)” brings in that soul you’ve been hearing so much about, even though on this track Ray sounds kinda like that Bill from School House Rock. “Born To Lose” is the first track on the album that kind of under-whelms me. This track, while good, lacks the spark of the other songs. There’s not nearly as much life in this one as the others. But, hey, 1 “eh” track for 5 amazing ones? I can deal.


The second side of the album eases into “Worried Mind”, another ballad that seems to possess a little more soul than the previous track. If nothing else, one has to appreciate the piano solo. “It Makes No Difference Now” keeps the same tone as “Worried Mind” but the pacing picks up a bit. Yeah, that’s all I have to say. The second half of the album doesn’t start out with the same great kick as the first side. Yet another slow ballad, “You Win Again” is…nice…but Christ what I wouldn’t give for “What’d I Say” right now. The first side of the album had such variety. And each track on side 2 is good, it’s just…bleak. This album is still brilliant, a guaranteed classic, and rightfully deserves it’s place on this list. But…I could really use some R&B. Hell, not even Ray’s R&B. I’ll take Jamie Foxx (the other Ray Charles)’s shitty auto-tuned R&B. “Careless Love” is a traditional song Charles adds a swing to and gets a little closer to an upbeat track. This track is another song that’s ok, but made much better by Ray’s vocal styling. It’s still far too slow, though. Is ONE more swinging tune too much to ask? At the time, this music was groundbreaking, and deserves respect. Now, however, some of it just fall flat.


“I Can’t Stop Loving You”, a country track Charles makes his own, picks it up a bit, with a lively string section, but it’s still sorta...dragging. I’m not gonna lie, after a whole album side of slow, you may spend this whole tracking half enjoying Ray’s voice, and half waiting for the Hank Williams classic “Hey Good Lookin’” knowing (or at least hoping) that will be somewhat upbeat. And finally, after an album side of slowness, we finally get the rocking Ray I’ve come to love. There’s his spirit, his energy, his sense of rhythm and soul. Finished with his tracks of weeping, Ray rocks out and sets your soul afire for the final 2 minutes of the album.


Ray proved many things with this album. 1) Great R&B doesn’t need 20 minute obnoxious vocal riffs (I’m talking to you American Idol), 2) Great music is great music, an a country classic can become a soul staple in the right hands, 3) An incredible album in 1962 can still be an incredible album today, and 4) Ray Charles is a legend. And after this album, I shouldn’t have to explain why any further.


By the way, if you enjoyed this album as much as I did, be sure to pick up the CD re-release with the three bonus tracks. “You Are My Sunshine” alone is worth it.


Bottom line: Definitely give it a listen. Sure, the second half drags a bit, but this right here is a true classic, and the best album Ray Charles ever put out. It should be a staple of anyone’s record collection. Yes, I said record. I’m off to o buy the vinyl later today.


-Mike


Next up, a total change of tone. #433: Another Green World by Brian Eno.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

#311: MTV Unplugged In New York- Nirvana

Listened to: CD

The final words of the iconic Kurt Cobain are truly haunting ones, whether those last words are his infamous suicide note or this, the final album by Nirvana, the soundtrack to MTV Unplugged In New York. Though it’s hard to listen to this album and separate it from the tragedy surrounding it, or the poignant visuals of Kurt surrounded by candles and lilies, the album, in it’s own right, is brilliant. Comprised mostly of acoustic arrangements of lesser-known Nirvana tracks (the album opens with Kurt describing “About A Girl” as “off our first album. Most people don’t own it.”) and covers (the most memorable of these being David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” and a chillingly lingering “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”), Unplugged proves Nirvana was one of the great bands of the 90’s, and indeed in rock history. The use of acoustic (if at times amplified and distorted) instruments showcases Cobain’s songwriting talents, and his howling yawps during songs like “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” makes you miss a man you may not been have been alive to know.

It is unfair to review an album like this so briefly, but the truth is there is nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. The album is worshipped by most critics, and tracks of it are staples on alternative radio. Most of these tracks are so ingrained in my memory and my life that to try and explain why this album is a classic is like trying to explain why eating is good. Haunting is the word I keep going back to, but to listen to a man bear his soul like that on record, to know that he crafted a funeral on stage and eulogized himself, you can’t avoid feeling the shivers down your spine.

When I write long reviews, it’s my attempt to convince you that these albums are worth their place on the list. But simply listen to the track “Pennyroyal Tea”, and you’ll see I need make no further argument. This album is a true classic worth not only listening to but owning.

-Mike

Next up, #104: Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music by Ray Charles.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

#483: Life After Death- The Notorious B.I.G.

Listened to: MP3


After seeing a small white boy walk past me yesterday wearing a Life After Death t-shirt, I felt it was high time I got back in the game. One of the quintessential rappers of the genre, Biggie Smalls, only released one album in his lifetime, the classic Ready To Die. Life After Death was intended to be his stellar follow-up, a double album featuring some of the biggest rappers in the game, among them Puff Daddy, Nas and Jay-Z, but Biggie was tragically shot two weeks before it’s release. It’s almost universally agreed that this is the album that solidified Biggie as a legend in the field, sparked a movement to more radio-friendly sounds in gangsta rap, and proved to be one of the most significant albums in rap history.
I can’t think of a better album to come back on.


The album begins with the intro “Life After Death (Intro)” which samples Biggie’s own “Suicidal Thoughts” (off of Ready to Die). It’s a reminder of how old rap albums used to be, with a sense of fun (The “Previously on…”) and a sense of drama (The soulful music and the ambulance sounds). The intro is also sadly ominous, starting the whole album on the idea of Big’s passing. The sound of “Biggie”s heart beat ceasing leads into the beat for the first song on the album, “Somebody’s Gotta Die”, a revenge track . “Somebody’s gotta die, if you go then I go.” is a chorus that keeps no secrets about Big’s philosophy on whether or not to turn the other cheek. A point of interest for anyone unfamiliar with the song is Notorious B.I.G.’s declaration of his desire to make this shooting as, well, as safe as a shooting can get. “See niggas like you do ten year bids/Miss the niggas they want/And murder innocent kids/Not I/One niggas in my eye/That's Jason/Ain't no slugs gonna be wasted”. See, a conscientious killer.


Now, I apologize for the length, but as we approach the track “Hypnotize”, I went to my usual source of fun facts, Wikipedia, and before someone changes it, I felt I should repost the synopsis of the song, as whoever wrote it earns my ultimate respect. So, without further ado, Wikipedia’s synopsis for “Hypnotize, the Grammy-nominated first single (I‘ll only ad that it samples on of my favorite Pink Floyd songs, “Young Lust”):


“The song begins with a narrator who is ill; generally in a worse way than other black men whom do not think their defecation possess an odor, pink alligators and residents of Detroit. However, the narrator wishes nothing but good tidings for the ruffians of Brooklyn.
Amongst his friends, if they display no characteristic of mental illness, the narrator states his willingness to be around them most evenings.


Mental illness plagues our narrator. He appears to suffer to schizophrenia. Early in the tale, he refers to himself as “Poppa.” “Poppa” has always worked well in a crowd, demonstrating little social awkwardness. He states he’s possessed these traits since he was a child, when he often wore Underroos brand undergarments. “Poppa” is affable, and chooses not to engage in fisticuffs with people that may disagree with him, deciding instead to turn the other cheek to their slanderous comments.


“Poppa” is also desirable by the women in the neighborhood, who will approach to two young gentlemen in the story, stating a desire to fornicate with them. The young gentlemen are “Poppa” aka Christopher Wallace and his associate Sean Combs, referred to in this instance as “Puff”, a shortened appellation of his self-applied nickname “Puff Daddy.” Mr. Wallace analogizes his friendship with Mr. Combs to the partnership of David Michael Starsky and Kenneth “Hutch” Hutchison. The fictitious duo were made popular by the eponymous police officer drama aired on ABC from 1975 – 1979.


Should Mr. Wallace discharge three rounds of ammunition at one’s cherry red BMW M-3 automobile?


Other male siblings of the narrator have been putting on a pantomime show recently, involving an elaborate visual display without speaking. Mr. Wallace on the other hand is more inclined to be vocal, and wishes to do so with his peers, a group that includes people of Cuban descent who are religious. Mr. Wallace carries with him a weapon, routinely asking those in close proximity if they would the relieve him of the burden of this firearm. If so, then said persons should display the firearm in a rather ostentatious manner. This trait and others form the common behavioral patterns of Mr. Wallace’s neighborhood, and he is well aware of it.


In addition to his bouts with multiple personality disorder, our narrator—now called “Biggie” by a chorus of unnamed females—appears to have vision problems, and thus is unable to witness the success of his hypnosis upon the women in this entourage. The women postulate Mr. Wallace’s hypnotic success is most closely correlated to his outsized personality, which in turns leads him to a very lucrative position relative to his peers.


Mr. Wallace is a keen observer of the high-end women’s fashion of the time and has noticed women—referred to in this instance by a derogatory name given to females that are employed as prostitutes— in different parts of the country have an affinity for specific brands. According to Mr. Wallace, women in New York primarily wear DKNY, a brand made popular by Donna Karin. However, women in Miami and Washington, D.C. have stated a preference for Versace, at the time being headed up by the late Gianni Versace. The women residing in Philadelphia seems to have a desired to accumulate more wealth in addition for their likes of Moschino fashions, according to the observations of Mr. Wallace. Universally accepted and purchased by women who possess a derriere is clothing made by Coogi.


Mr. Wallace now has a question for the audience. He would like to know who among us is really excrement. The reason for his question is the homosexual behavior of his male siblings. This is not the case for our narrator’s alter ego Frank White, a reference to the Christopher Walken character in the 1990 movie “King of New York.” Our narrator in his persona of Mr. White drives a Lexus LX 450, with tinted windows. Said vehicle is well suited for discrete encounters with the opposite sex, says Mr. White, aka Mr. Wallace, aka “Poppa,” aka “Biggie.”
In general, Mr. Wallace notices most of the people who belong to an organized crime syndicate prefer to save their inquires until after the discharge of a firearm.


Instead Mr. Wallace is here to sing songs of verse set against a syncopated beat about topics such as marijuana, females, mammary glands, brassieres, sexual encounters with multiple partners simultaneously and fornication in an automobile.


Despite his obvious wealth and privilege and a hedonistic lifestyle, Mr. Wallace will still leave one on the pavement. He also has excellent fiscal discipline as he does not have a mortgage on his condominium nor does he owe any money on his main mode of transportation, his automobile.
Mr. Wallace now finds himself in some unspecified legal difficulties and must appear at arraignment. While in the court, he asks his attorney to pass a note to the plaintiff, which reads: “Your daughter’s tied up in a Brooklyn basement.” This rather bizarre legal maneuver was successful. As the legal proceedings advanced from arraignment to trial, the jury in Mr. Wallace’s case has reached a verdict of “not guilty.” Mr. Wallace will now be able to save his money for more leisurely pursuits, until such time as one of his male siblings can reach him.


Again, the women in the narrator’s repertoire inquire about Mr. Wallace’s poor vision. One may speculate that his lack of vision is related to glaucoma, a degenerative eye condition, which some doctors will prescribe marijuana to help alleviate pain. The women in the entourage, however, are still under a hypnotic trance induced by Mr. Wallace’s personality and wealth.


Mr. Wallace’s wealth allows him to accumulate many of the trappings of a millionaire lifestyle. He consumes escargot and drives an automobile that has a maximum speed of 160 miles per hour. In the event said automobile is involved in an accident, Mr. Wallace has the means to purchase a newer version, rather than filing a claim with an insurance company, paying the necessary deductible and waiting for the automobile to be repaired. Often times, repaired vehicles have a lower resell value. The time involved might also slow down the daily activity of his associates, which are quite busy, often times, the group is on the “run run run,” a reference to The Crystals’ song of 1963.


By this point, the narrator is aware that audience is feeling under the weather. One potential cause of the general malaise may be witnessing Mr. Wallace’s prolific sexual activity. Once he engages in conversation a woman, he’ll give her a writing instrument, provide her a phone number to call and arrange for an encounter at 10 pm. Said encounter results in fornication upon a Persian rug. Later, Mr. Wallace will sodomize the unnamed female at her place of employment, ejaculating into her anus, while not speaking. Other times, Mr. Wallace will vocalize his request that said female disrobe in an unhurried fashion. Once undressed, Mr. Wallace will engage in a sexual fantasy involving a Star Wars Episode IV fetish. His penis is the color one would expect an African-American’s penis to be.


The tale concludes with the narrator roaming about the neighborhood, collecting debts. For some debtees he suspects may have funds in a secure location, he’ll kindly request they reveal the location of their lock box.


All of this is rather remarkable considering Mr. Wallace has been unable to see for some time. Yet, his powers of hypnosis are strong. The women in his support troupe continue to testify to his remarkable hypnotic feats.”


We then move on to “Kick In The Door”, featuring The Madd Rapper (In one of my favorite what-I-hope-is-a-joke-jokes {you have to at least spend a second confused} on the album), in Biggie’s full-on attack on Nas, Ghostface Killa, and basically any other rapper who’s gotten “too big for their britches”, which is the term I’ll go with unless there’s a way I can sound even whiter. This track has one of my favorite beats on the album, a hip-hop modification of “I Put A Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. It’s well known that Biggie was a big influence on Eminem, and that fact is obvious on a track like this. The beat, the rhythm, it’s clear Shady learned his attack moves from one of the masters. After “Kick In The Door” is the ever-eloquent “Fuck You Tonight” featuring R. Kelly, and I promise not to make any piss jokes while we talk about this track, so…let’s just move on. Though I will say for the record, only R. Kelly could make “You must be used to me spending’/ All that winin and dinin/Well I’m fuckin you tonight” sound like sweet talk.


“Last Day” features The Lox, a hip-hop group featuring Jadakiss and two other guys whose names you’ll forget immediately after reading this, which is a shame, ‘cause these guys have a great flow. The track as whole features a dark, eerie tone, sending shivers down your spine hearing the hook talk of living till their last day, and knowing Big’s last day occurred before the world even hear this track. It’s points like this on the album you have to imagine what it was like buying this album upon it’s release, and having it first sink in that he was gone. This track also features one of my favorite Biggie lines “You still apoligizin, analyzin, my size and your size and/realizin, a fist fight would be asinine/You just pop wines I must pop nines/Genuine steel piece, nozzle in your grill piece”.


The next track, “I Love The Dough” features Angela Winbush, and none other than HOVA himself, not to mention a synth playing “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” by Rod Stewart. Sadly, while the beat is good, this track is under whelming. You come to expect more when two titans come together. Even if it’s not as memorable as “California Love” by Pac and Dre, it should at least be a sick cut, like “Renegade” with Jay and Em. Instead, you get a bland hook, dull rhymes, and a passionless Jay-Z. Biggie can be laid-back in his rhymes and make it sound sly, but someone like Jay-Z just sounds lazy if he’s not spitting fire. Luckily, the next track finds Big matched with somebody in his same chill style (a laid back delivery in the vein of Erik B. and Rakim) in “What’s Beef?” featuring Puff Daddy. The track may seem like another gangsta rap call-out, but at heart it’s a stark and brooding rumination on the world of hip-hop beefs and rivalries, as two men in the heart of the game sit back, resigned to the darkness of their chaotic kingdom. After a brief interlude (“The B.I.G. Interlude”) Puff rejoins Biggie on the track everyone remembers off the album.


The Grammy nominated (and should have been Grammy winner if it weren‘t for Puff‘s tribute to Bigge) “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” is undoubtedly one of the most famous, most popular, and most influential songs in the history of rap music. The song’s theme is apparent in the title, but it’s the unique soundscape of the track, it’s use of Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out”, it’s funk-infused bass line, it’s undeniable dance-appeal that allowed it to have mainstream appeal without lyrically losing any of it’s gangsta edge. Many have written in many ways about the negative impact of wealth and fame on their lives, especially in music, it being the theme of albums by such extremes as Eminem and Lady Gaga) but no piece of art has proven more anthemic of the idea then “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems”. Biggie’s rhymes seem to move with an ease and agility on this track, as if he knew this would be the track to stand out in his legacy.


That track is followed up by the more generic rap track “Niggas Bleed”, and perhaps it’s a better track than I give it credit for, but anybody who’s read my reviews before will know how I feel when a truly remarkable track is followed by a bland one. It’s got a good flow, and after the first minute it begins to grow on you, it’s almost operatic sense of drama escalating as the gunshot sounds and laughs come in, and after you;ve forgotten the feelings you;ve gotten from “Mo’ Money…” you starty to really enjoy the track, including the sense of humor displayed in the ending. Disc 1 ends with “I Got A Story To Tell”, a track about Big’s favorite activities, “beatin’ up niggas and fuckin’ hoes”. This track also features one of the numerous references to the number 112 (Another song mentions room 112, and I’d point the rest out for you, but why not play lyrical Where’s Waldo?).


Disc 2 opens with “Notorious Thugs”, and I’ll be honest, them saying “Biggie” gets grating after the first 10 seconds. The track features Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and has Biggie spitting one of the fastest flows I’ve ever heard him utter. If nothing else, this track has to be applauded for the normally chill Notorious B.I.G.’s lyrical agility, not to mention the fire spit by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony on the second verse. This track is a great example of word acrobatics, and for any readers with the attitude of “anybody can rap, it takes no skill”, I dare you to try and lay down a track like this. Get back to me on that.


Up next is “Miss U” featuring 112, which opens with Biggie telling a story of a “nigga” that “just got moked out”, and the song is dedicated to “all the niggas that died in the struggle”. The track is a somber story, not of people dying, but of the people who lost someone they love. “Damn, they lost a brother - they mother lost a son/Fuck, why my nigga couldn't stay in NY?/I'm a thug, but I swear for three days I cried/I look in the sky and ask God why/Can't look his baby girls in the eye/Damn I miss you .” The second verse, where Big tells the tale of “Drew” is heart wrenching as well, but it isn’t until the end that you realize this track is also an unintentional apology to all those loved ones Big himself was leaving behind.


Lil’ Kim, who is featured on my favorite skit on Ready to Die, comes in to lay down some rhymes on “Another”, a track that sounds like an 80’s club-hit, you know, until you hear the lyrics. It’s fun track, and totally undercuts the beauty of “Miss U”, which might have been Biggie’s goal, not wanting to get too emotional all at once. Listen to Lil’ Kim’s verse on this song, and maybe a lot of you will revise that attitude that women can’t rap (despite the undeniable patriarchy of the industry, Kim held a good rep in the field until that whole prison and Dancing With The Stars thing). Though it should be noted Biggie couldn’t sing for shit.


“Going Back To Cali” is partly Biggie’s reflection on the east coast/west coast beef going on that ultimately resulted in he and 2Pac’s untimely demise. “If I got to choose a coast I got to choose the East/I live out there, so don't go there/But that don't mean a nigga can't rest in the West.” He admits to only having a beef with “those that violate me” and seems to be trying to bridge the gap between the two sides. Who knows what effect this track may have had, had it come out before those bullets were fired. “Ten Crack Commandments” is an interesting track from a sociological perspective if no other, as B.I.G. lays out ten rules for selling crack, such as never telling anyone how much money you’ve accrued and “Keep your family and business completely separated”. Musically, the track is nothing special, but as a window into the world of crack dealers and the life, this track is invaluable.


“Playa Hater” is a track that probably should have as much substance as the instrumentation alludes, but instead it’s an empty little joke Biggie warbles through. The track is followed by the equally under whelming “Nasty Boys”, which is just an irritating 5 minute waiting period before “Sky’s The Limit”, one of the best tracks on the album. Much like “Juicy” on Ready To Die, “Sky’s The Limit” features Biggie chronicling his upbringing. Fun fact: Spike Jonze directed the music video. Ok, maybe that’s only cool to me. Following up “Sky’s The Limit” is “The World Is Filled…”, which again suffers from being a bland track following a great one. However, the next track, “My Downfall” featuring rap forefather DMC, is one that can’t be missed, if just to hear two eras of hip-hop come together.


The final two tracks on the album really close it out right. First, “The Long Kiss Goodnight” has a great little piano thing going on while Big spits sick, violent rhymes, and the final track “You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)” is not only a terrifyingly ominous ending, but it features a collaboration with his widow, the lovely Faith Evans. The track is as somber a goodbye as Biggie could offer us, and a dark, misty conclusion to the posthumous masterpiece that is Life After Death.


Bottom line, listen to Ready To Die before this to get a real feel for the talent and potential that was Biggie. But for any rap fan, this album’s essential.


Next album up, one of my favs, another great artist of the 90‘s final album, #311: Unplugged in New York by Nirvana.