Sunday, January 31, 2010

Monthly Re-Cap: January 2010


Well, here we are. The first month of 500 Days Of Singers comes to a close. Only 469 albums to go! So, why not take a look back on the month that was:


January 1st, 2010: #156: Paul’s Boutique- The Beastie Boys
Bottom line: Surprisingly great album. Just bought it on vinyl, in fact, and listened to it again last night while reading a book by Ray Kurzweil. Can’t tell you why I felt it was necessary to add what the book was.


January 2nd, 2010: #385: Pretzel Logic- Steely Dan
Bottom line: Kinda boring, and nothing stood out enough in any way to get on the list. It was recommended that this album be skipped and replaced with Van Halen’s 1984.


January 3rd, 2010: #128: Marquee Moon- Television
Bottom line: An album way ahead of it’s time, which to me was more historical than enjoyable, but still doesn’t receive as much credit as it should.


January 4th, 2010: #154: The Low End Theory- A Tribe Called Quest
Bottom line: The concept behind the album is better than the finished product, but some of the tracks are thoroughly enjoyable. Whether or not you enjoy it, you’re certain to appreciate it for what it is ad what it tried to do.

January 5th, 2010: #176: Rocks- Aerosmith
Bottom line: One of Aerosmith’s finest. A solid rock album well worth the listen.


January 6th, 2010: #280: Folk Singer- Muddy Waters
Bottom line: A great capture of a true artist, Folk Singer is a quintessential blues album. Sure, the historical significance to it alone would earn it’s place on the list, but it’s also a solid blues album.


January 7th, 2010: #29: Led Zeppelin- Led Zeppelin
Bottom line: An absolute classic from start to finish, and one of the finest debut albums to date. Pretty much required listening if you want to go on living in the modern world.


January 8th, 2010: #339: The Heart Of Saturday Night- Tom Waits
Bottom line: A good, consistent album, but on a list of the 500 Greatest, there are far more deserving albums. Waits is a good songwriter, but a far better one is 0-3 to Waits on this list. I replaced this album with the far more deserving The Songs Of Leonard Cohen.

January 9th, 2010: #471: Heaven Up Here- Echo & The Bunnymen
Bottom line: This album bored the shit out of me. It’s supporters, sad indie boys, already have The Cure and The Smiths (far better bands) on the list. There is absolutely nothing special about this album, so I switched it out for the entirely special major label debut of Sublime.

January 10th, 2010: #178: The Byrds’ Greatest Hits- The Byrds
Bottom line: Nick and I disagreed on the legitimacy of including a Greatest Hits on the list, and I was for it. The Byrds were a truly magical group, and each album was unique, so you needed one to sum up the Byrds career. Highly worth the listen.


January 11th, 2010: #241: Black Sabbath- Black Sabbath
Bottom line: One of the most influential albums of all time, and a true masterpiece. Truly a gift to listen to, haunting and heavy. Highly recommended.


January 12th, 2010: #96: Tommy- The Who
Bottom line: For whatever personal shit I had going on, I didn’t give Tommy the review it deserved. Tommy is one of the single greatest albums of all time. Truly a masterpiece. Listen to it, even if you’ve heard it a thousand times. You won’t regret it.


January 13th, 2010: #326: Disintegration- The Cure
Bottom line: I didn’t really like the album, but I appreciated it. Worth the listen just to feed the curiosity, but not an album I’ll ever listen to again.


January 14th, 2010: #144: Straight Outta Compton- N.W.A.
Bottom line: A great rap album, even if the actual message is a little lost. I can’t help think of Gangstalicious from The Boondocks, but that’s a story for another day. Should definitely be given a listen to those without a weak heart (and if your heart is so weak you can’t handle what you view as “obscene”, listen to it anyway and do the world a favor).


January 15th, 2010: #397: Raindogs- Tom Waits
Bottom line: A great album by Waits, with some of the finest songwriting of his career. In fact, I’m listening to it again as I type this. If you listen to nothing else from this blog, download “Time”.


January 16th, 2010: #118: Stand!- Sly And The Family Stone
Bottom line: While Nick vehemently disagreed, I thought this album was brilliant, so vibrant and full of life, and a great example of the exponentially talented Sly Stone at his peak.


January 17th, 2010: #8: London Calling- The Clash
Bottom line: Really good album. Not as good as people make it out to be, but really good nonetheless. Of course, listen to it, but don’t necessarily expect the second coming.


January 18th, 2010: #468: Elton John- Elton John
Bottom line: My apologies for this review being so short. I was getting adjusted to blogging on my own. It really is a very consistent debut. A solid album, and one anyone who is even remotely an Elton John fan should hear.

January 19th, 2010: #216: The Queen Is Dead- The Smiths
Oh, the day of the Swell Season concert. With Glen Hansard standing next to me on the sidewalk (yeah, that fucking happened) it’s hard to remember what I thought of the album. But it is a great Smiths album, possibly their best.


January 20th, 2010: #194: Transformer- Lou Reed
Bottom line: One of my favorite albums. Please give it the respect it deserves.


January 21st, 2010: #330: In The Jungle Groove- James Brown
Bottom line: One of the most pointless entries on this list. Only one track on here isn’t on Star Time, and I’m a fan of Mr. Brown, but it just didn’t deserve to be on this or any other Greatest list. I rightfully replaced it with Either/Or by Elliott Smith.


January 22nd, 2010: #359: Stankonia- Outkast
Bottom line: In a pre-Kanye world, I can understand why this album was so special. But Outkast is the Buddy Holly to Kanye’s Elvis. You can try and compare the two, but even die-hard Holly fans cencede the cultural and musical superiority of Elvis. I didn’t enjoy Stankonia, nor did I get what made it so special. Maybe that’s because I heard hip-hop get ten steps further ahead than Stankonia with Kanye’s debut “The College Dropout”, which is obviously what replaced Stankonia on my list.


January 23rd, 2010: #269: Some Girls- The Rolling Stones
Bottom line: Was still in a rush when writing that one. Some Girls is a great Stones album. Definitely give it a listen.


January 24th, 2010: #129: 40 Greatest Hits- Hank Williams
Bottom line: I had just found out about my best friend joining the army, and I apologize to Hank Williams for getting shafted by this fact. This album I a truly great portrait of earl American music, and it’s historical significance alone earns it a place on this list.


January 25th, 2010: #204: Dirty Mind- Prince
Bottom line: Pretty good. Not mind-blowing, but good, and a great insight into early Prince. Seems to find himself by the end. Any Prince fan oughta hear it.


January 26th, 2010: #499: Born Under A Bad Sign- Albert King
A truly great, often ignored blues album. King never gets the respect he deserves, and this is undoubtedly his best.


January 27th, 2010: #232: Mr. Tambourine Man- The Byrds
Bottom line: “This album is a fantastic portrait of the band in their early stages, and very much worth the listen.” I stand by what I said.


January 28th, 2010: #493: That’s The Way Of The World- Earth, Wind & Fire
Bottom line: Great tracks, but far too long. Coulda done for some trimming, but highly worth looking in to.


January 29th, 2010: #361: Substance- New Order
Bottom line: Still not sure if this is a better choice than Technique or Power, Corruption & Lies. In retrospect, maybe I’d have switched in Technique, but I leave it up to you. Listen to them all and decide.


January 30th, 2010: #54: Electric Ladyland- The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Bottom line: Genius from start to finish. One of the greatest albums of all time, and a true portrait of an artist at his peak.


January 31st, 2010: #492: Vitalogy- Pearl Jam
Bottom line: While inconsistent, and starting off poorly, Vitalogy reveals Vedder at his most vulnerable, and is worth the listen.

#429: Vitalogy- Pearl Jam

Listened to: MP3

Opening with sounds which remind one of Bitches Brew and going into a song which sounds like a Strokes track, Pearl Jam starts off their third album immediately showing how it isn’t a god damn thing like the last two, which, is both a blessing and a shame. The more Motorhead-esque feel is nice, but the first two tracks lack the real grunge magic that was present on Ten. Ok, and track three sounds like a slow Motorhead. “Tremor Christ” finally takes us somewhere a little more unique, though it kinda sounds like Eddie went from trying to be Lemmy to trying to be a heavier Tom Waits. “Nothingman” is, thank god, a really good track. After four average tracks, Vedder bares his soul on this one, and the track’s sound, though not written by him, seems to foreshadow Vedder’s great solo achievement, the soundtrack to Into The Wild. “Whipping” comes in after that with a Hives vibe, but finally Eddie’s back to being Eddie. This is the evolution you hoped to see Pearl Jam go to. A real grunge-punk fusion. Hell, this track could come out today and work. Honestly, if you had cut three of the first four tracks you could really start this album off right. Hell, “Pry, To” is a minute long, but it’s still unique, and adds to the feel of the album, and isn’t trying to emulate anybody, god bless it. “Curduroy” is more complex than Ten era PJ, but still has that feel. It’s almost as if as the album progresses they’re finding their sound. I gotta be honest, I’m actually liking this album, other than the beginning. “Bugs” has been described as Tom Waits-esque, but I’m sure Nick Young, a die-hard Waits fan, will agree this track has nothing on Mr. Waits. The reviewer who said some of the experimental tracks don’t work was most assuredly referring to this one. Also, it makes me think of Shutter Island. I don’t know why, but now I wish Shutter Island would just come out already. “Satan’s Bed” sounds sorta like a good song, but kinda empty. It sounds like the demo to a really good Pearl Jam song, you know? Like, something’s missing.

“Better Man” is one of the best tracks on the album. See, what makes tracks like this and “Nothingman” great is that it comes from somewhere personal. The other day in my Advanced filmmaking class we asked my professor what we should write about, and he said “Write something true. That’s the only way to ensure you make something great is to write something true”. The same goes for music. Plus, for you youngins too small to remember, though the media would like to portray the sounds of R.E.M., Nirvana and Ten-age PJ as what 90’s radio sounded like, this was the true sound of the majority of 90’s radio. Though “Jeremy” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” are THE “Songs of the 90s”, this is what most of the songs from the 90’s sounded like. “Aye Davanita” is a fu little experiment. A bit of a throwaway, but it’s at least not emulating Waits or Motorhead. It’s its own original suckage, which is better than rip-off suckage.

“Immortality” is believed by many to be about the suicide of Kurt Cobain, and though Vedder denies it, it’s hard to believe him. This track is basically a direct lament of the loss of a love-hate partner in the musical world. Hell, Wikipedia points it our best. When Vedder described “Immortality”, he said:

“No, that was written when we were on tour in Atlanta. It's not about Kurt. Nothing on the album was written directly about Kurt, and I don't feel like talking about him, because it [might be seen] as exploitation. But I think there might be some things in the lyrics that you could read into and maybe will answer some questions or help you understand the pressures on someone who is on a parallel train…”

And then later said he and Kurt were on parallel trains. So if it’s not about Kurt, I wish it were. It would be a damn good eulogy.

The album ends with “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me”, the longest and most experimental track on the album. It kinda reminds me of the track “Suicide Underground”, which is the last track on The Virgin Suicides soundtrack, except the music on “Suicide Underground” is more enjoyable.

So, the album’s inconsistent, but good. Sure the experiments sometimes fail, but maybe all the experiments were their as a safety net for emotionally naked songs like “Better Man”, “Immortality”, and “Nothingman”. If those songs failed, Vedder could just write them off as failed experiments. As the late David Foster Wallace always lamented, it’s very difficult to be sincere in the modern world. Wallace’s sincerity safety net was through self-consciousness in his writing voice, and hiding behind post-modernism, while Vedder hid behind experimental suck fests like “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me” and “Bugs”. Thankfully, the three true tracks were well received, which gave Vedder the freedom to be himself, which I’m still thankful for. So, while it’s not the greatest, the album is worth a listen.



-Mike

See you guys tomorrow for the start of a new month, with #233: Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel. Now I’m off to say goodbye to my best friend. He ships out at noon today. I’ll miss you, buddy.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

#54: Electric Ladyland- The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Listened to: CD

The true sign of a Hendrix fan is if Electric Ladyland is their favorite album. The composition and creation of this album is just as enthralling and brilliant as the material itself, and that’s saying something. Opening with the ominous “…And The Gods Made Love” leading into the gorgeous falsetto of Jimi asking if we’ve “…ever been to Electric Ladyland?” After those soft, seductive tones, he does a musical 180, cutting into “Crosstown Traffic”, one of the greatest guitar riffs, and a sparkling advertisement for rough sex: “You tell me it’s alright/You don’t mind a little pain”. “Crosstown Traffic” is one of those amazing tracks you just wish you’d written, and it’s stunningly ahead-of-it’s-time utilization of stereo technology (you have to hear it to understand) is phenomenal.

Never one to shy from his roots, Hendrix gives a true blues performance on “Voodoo Chile”, tearing up every solo with the elegance and raw passion only he could channel. His vocals sound like a sexy Muddy Waters, and his playing is unlike anything else in the recorded world. Sue, mit’s 15 minutes long, but it’s an amazing 15 minutes that feels too short. The inclusion of applause seems so perfect it almost demands you clap as well. But in another 180, Hendrix oreded the album that the 15 minute blues jam be followed by “Little Miss Strange”, a two minute ditty written by bassist Noel Redding (even though Hendrix played most of the bass on this album). Is it just me, or does this remind you of “Simply Irresistible” by Robert Palmer? Not a lot, but I just feel a similarity. What makes this track impressive is that Hendrix manages to take what would normally be a throwaway track and makes something magical in his guitar work. “Long Hot Summer Night”, to me, is a track that really takes us from where we were (psychedelic) to where we would be (alt-rock). This could easily be a lost track from hair or a new Wilco track. “Come On”, the second of only three covers on the album, is a meticulously magical piece, “Gypsy Eyes” is simply perfect (though it better be. Reportedly Hendrix did 50 takes).

Rather than critique or comment on “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp”, I’ll simply say my funeral instructions demand this song be played as they bring my coffin in. Enough said there. “Rainy Day, Dream Away” has a real smooth, funky quality that showcases Hendrix’s budding new interests better than any track on the album. “1983...A Mermaid I Should Turn To Be” is one of his most lyrically adventurous, and the second longest track on the album, though it goes by so fast. “Moon, Turn the Tides...Gently Gently Away” is basically a bridge track, and “Still Raining, Still Dreaming” is a very satisfying place to lead. Hendrix solo is almost as frenetic as it’s sonic placement thanks to his continuous play with stereo layouts. “House Burning Down” has such a militaristic charge to it that it could be described as Hendrix’s most political tune (except maybe “Machine Gun”). But it is after this track we get to THE track. “All Along The Watchtower” is Hendrix’s biggest hit, his finest cover, bringing new audiences to him and it’s author, Bob Dylan, and proving to be so good that Dylan plays it Hendrix’s way now. This track is so rich and vibrant it tears up the very air the sound waves flal upon. Hearing this track for the first time is a moment most people never forget (I, for one, was in the 9th grade, and my then-band’s guitarist wanted to cover Voodoo Chile (slight Return), so he lent me this album. I was forever changed). Hendrix yelps out these lyrics with such a force, he from that moment forward owned that song. Only one other time has a cover song been so unanimously agreed upon as better that it overtakes the original (that being Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”).

The album ends on “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” a heavy motherfucker of a track, almost the summation of what true heavy metal has tried to do. This is undeniably a brilliant track, and highly underrated. I will spare you my 9th grade band’s cover of it. Hendrix’s playing is top-notch on this track, and it’s the perfect ending to a perfect album.

This is obviously Hendrix’s best, and to be honest, even #54 is too low a ranking for it. This is undeniably worth a listen for those who haven’t heard it yet. It will blow your mind. The sonic landscape is amazing, and the musicianship is unbeatable.

-Mike

See you tomorrow for #492: Vitalogy by Pearl Jam

Listening Schedule for February 2010

2/1/10: #233: Bookends- Simon & Garfunkel
2/2/10: #41: Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols- The Sex Pistols
2/3/10: #92: 20 Golden Greats- Buddy Holly & The Crickets
2/4/10: #392: Willy And The Poor Boys- Creedence Clearwater Revival
2/5/10: #496: Destroyer- Kiss
2/6/10: #327: Jagged Little Pill- Alanis Morissette
2/7/10: #276: Anthology Of American Folk Music- Various Artists
2/8/10: #138: Rejuvenation- The Meters
2/9/10: #427: Presenting The Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica- The Ronettes
2/10/10: #193: Dookie- Green Day
2/11/10: #75: Led Zeppelin II- Led Zeppelin
2/12/10: #45: The Band- The Band
2/13/10: #419: Dummy- Portishead
2/14/10: #115: Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs
2/15/10: #262: Workingman’s Dead- The Grateful Dead
2/16/10: #480: Faith- George Michael
2/17/10: #98: This Year’s Model- Elvis Costello
2/18/10: #316: Rock Steady- No Doubt
2/19/10: #2: Pet Sounds- The Beach Boys
2/20/10: #256: The Velvet Rope- Janet Jackson
2/21/10: #157: Closer- Joy Division
2/22/10: #153: Moanin’ In The Moonlight- Howlin’ Wolf
2/23/10: #443: Live At The Harlem Square Club- Sam Cooke
2/24/10: #59: Meet The Beatles- The Beatles
2/25/10: #494: She’s So Unusual- Cyndi Lauper
2/26/10: #214: Bo Diddley/Go Bo Diddley- Bo Diddley
2/27/10: #382: More Songs About Buildings And Food- The Talking Heads
2/28/10: #170: Live At Leeds- The Who

#361: Substance- New Order


Sorry for the delay on this one. Came home to find my sis monopolizing the computer all day. No big.


Listened to: MP3


I’ve never been a huge fan of New Order. Their music’s good, but it’s basically Joy Division without Ian Curtis. And Joy Division was Ian Curtis. Come on, listen to “Everything’s Gone Green”. It sounds like it was for Ian, and he just died too soon to record it. “Ceremony” is the same way. I understand the importance to put a New Order album on there, but if it weren’t for “Bizarre Love Triangle”, the album wouldn’t pop out at all. Why not replace it with Technique or Power, Corruption, And Lies. I know this post is short, what can I say? 9am class. But I want to encourage you all to look up all three of these New Order albums: Substance, Technique, and Power Corruption & Lies. Then make your own decision. I’m gonna let this album stand, because while I much prefer Power…, I can see how this would be a better intro to New Order.


-Mike




See you guys tomorrow (aka later) for #54: Electric Ladyland by The Jimi Hendrix Experience.






Thursday, January 28, 2010

#493: That’s The Way Of The World- Earth, Wind, & Fire

Mike Natale:

Listened to: MP3

Oh, how I wish I could listen to “Shining Star” without thinking of Austin Powers: Goldmember. I could focus on the killer funky beat, the incredibly kickass guitar solo, or the terrific overall feel of the song, but no, all I see is Mike Myers dancing. But it’s the ability to transition from that real disco/funk opener into a Marvin Gaye-esque soul track like “That’s The Way Of The World” that makes this album, Earth, Wind & Fire’s best, really impressive. This song could either be a ballad or a slow dance, and that kind of versatile songwriting should be impressive in anyone’s book, even if you don’t like either form of music. Though, starting with “That’s The Way Of The World”, the album begins it’s display of “Songs that are really good but could be a hell of a lot shorter”. Look again at Shining Star. There’s a great song, great riff, etc. But they knew when to say when. Go over to “Happy Feelings”, and it’s like “Cool, this is a nice, smooth track” and then time goes by, and you start going “O…k. Can we get to the next cool track?” Seriously, I literally finished a crossword puzzle and read an article on the iPad before this track ended. It’s a great track, but it didn’t need to be 7 minutes long. “All About Love” becomes such ambient noise because of it’s length that I didn’t even realize the tracks had changed. It’s so frustrating, because these are great tracks that get lost in their own magnitude. It’s only that odd sound in the last minute of “All About Love” which sort of explains the length, and breaks the overall white noise that these overlong tracks become. Finally, “Yearnin’ Learnin’”, one of the funkiest track son the album, knows how long it should be. It may not be as musically satisfying as “Shining Star”, but at least it doesn’t get tediously long. “Reasons” is another track that makes me think of a movie, but this time there’s no laughter. This song is featured in Charles Burnett’s deeply moving Killer Of Sheep, and maybe it’s because of that fact, how well it works in the film, that I don’t terribly mind the 5 minute length. But the fact is, I have to set that aside. All these tracks are the soundtrack to a movie, specifically the album’s namesake. Within the film I’m sure they all work fine, but as a stand alone album, all the tracks except “Shining Star”, “Yearnin’ Learnin’” and the instrumental “Africano” are far too long.

This is not knock that songs themselves. Every track on this album is great, but they just need to be shortened. Look, in film school you learn that everybody needs and editor. James Cameron’s films are always way too long, and sometimes it would help if he were willing to lose a bit here or there, otherwise he risks losing some of the point of his films (albeit, those pointless films, like Avatar and Titanic, end up making more money than I will ever see). So, the songs could have benefited from trimming. It would have made them sharper and more vibrant. But this is still a great album, highly worth the attention.

-Mike

Well, see you guys late tomorrow (9 am class) for #361: Substance by New Order.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

#232: Mr. Tambourine Man- The Byrds


Mike Natale:

Out with my friend for the second-to-last time before he ships out last night, so I am substantially tired. Ergo my writing voice will suck. Sorry.

Listened to: MP3

There are some albums I like to shut my eyes and imagine what it was like to hear it the first time. Like, back when it came out, you know? I mean, can you imagine sitting there, listening to the first album by some new band called “The Byrds” and hearing those gorgeous harmonies on “Mr. Tambourine Man” and some new track called “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better”, which is the happiest break-up song ever written?

The third song, “Spanish Harlem Incident” is another Dylan track, which is mostly what the Byrds did. They made Dylan more accessible to your average listener who bitched about Bob’s voice. However, while I will concede that some of the depth gets lost in the prettiness, that’s some fucking great prettiness to get lost in. Hell, “You Won’t Have To Cry” and “Here Without You” have such enriched harmonies and seductively intriguing guitars that they could’ve been just as big hits if they were released as singles.

“The Bells Of Rhymney” is the first non-Dylan cover on the album (the credit belongs jointly to Pete Seeger and Idris Davies), and I’ll tell you the truth, I didn’t know it was a cover until I was writing this piece. Nor did I know George Harrison (notorious for lifting other people’s riffs and song ideas) used this riff for “If I Needed Someone”.

Now, I gotta step in here, and say in the interest of Nick Young, this album would piss him off. About half of the tracks on here are on the Greatest Hits. The only thing, to me, that separates this from the James Brown debacle is that these are not various compilations of the Byrds tracks rearranged. This is on here mainly for the historical significance of the Byrds’ extraordinarily sharp debut album, while their Greatest Hits is there for the significance of an album which compiled all the finest tracks of the Byrds, and album which itself played a huge part in some people’s lives. If there were two or three greatest hits on the list, I’d be pissed too, but I’ll let some repetition slide (But in the upcoming Star Time v. Greatest Hits of James Brown incident…wait and see).

“All I Really Want To Do” is yet another Dylan cover, which I’ll concede is far better than the original (it’s rare I will say that about a Dylan cover. They usually suck.) “I Knew I’d Want To” and “It’s No Use” are, to me, even better tracks than some you can find on the greatest hits, and show how hard rock The Byrds could get (not much, but more than I expected). “Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe” is the most blah track on the album, a cover of an even more blah song by Jackie DeShannon. But then it goes to another “Greatest Hit”, “Chimes Of Freedom”, which is, other than Mr. Tambourine Man, their best Dylan cover. It takes a real hippie vibe to one of Dylan’s more somber protest songs, and the beauty of the tone now matches the intrinsic beauty of the lyrics. Ending the album on “We’ll Meet Again” by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles is a fascinatingly interesting call. It partially continues the anti-war vibe of “Chimes Of Freedom”, and is partially a goodbye to their fans (like, see you on the next album). Fun fact: This song was made famous by Vera Lynn. Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn? Remember how she said we would meet gain some sunny day?

So, look, sure, some of these tracks get repeated on the Greatest Hits, but it doesn’t just have one new track like the James Brown album. Plus every yet unheard track on this album is brilliant. This album is a fantastic portrait of the band in their early stages, and very much worth the listen.

-Mike

Thanks for dropping by. Tomorrow is #493: That’s The Way Of The World by Earth, Wind & Fire.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

#499: Born Under A Bad Sign- Albert King


Mike Natale:


Listened to: MP3


The first three notes may sound like it’s leading into “Take My Breath Away”, but instead it take you to one of the greatest blues songs of all time. “If it wasn’t for bad luck/I wouldn’t have no luck at all” is a lyric that generations of songwriters since have been trying to replicate, and King’s voice communicates that yearning without feeling forced. Most “praised” blues musicians are praised for their guitar playing (King is great, but he’s now Buddy Guy or B.B. King) and then when they sing, they just sing lyrics, without feeling them. King pulls the emotion out of every word, forgoing sometimes an intentionally bluesy sound in exchange for truly understanding what he sings.

Even though this was recorded in 1967, it sounds so much older, and that’s what makes it really special. All the modern techniques of blues, yet with that vintage feel. Just listen to “Kansas City”. The guitar sounds like Elvis, the brass sounds like Glenn Miller, and it all sounds like magic.


You think track 4 will be the Roy Orbison, bouncy-flouncy “Oh, Pretty Woman”, but you’d be wrong. Instead you get a badass bass riff, and the heaviest blues song I’ve ever come across that hasn’t been a Cream redo.


“Down Don’t Bother Me” has always bothered me, because King’s voice and guitar sound way too far away. It’s almost like the bassist mixed this track and got way too self-indulgent. Look, bass is nice, but I’m here for Albert. But all is restored on How Many More Times…I mean “The Hunter”. Yep, that’s right. Zeppelin ripped Mr. King off. But listen to that man’s voice warble. As the tracks fading out, it leaves you wishing it’s still continuing somewhere, and you can just find it.


“I Almost Lost My Mind” amazes me, because of all the people that recorded it, Cream wasn’t one of them. I mean, come on. This sounds like classic Cream. Albert does a good rendition, but not the best (which, in my opinion, was Blind John Davis), yet to be honest, he makes up for it by doing the absolute best performance of “Personal Manager” I’ve ever heard, so, you know, balances it out (for those of you who don’t get it, he co-wrote that one). “Personal Manager” is also the longest track on the album by a full minute, and is well worth it, since I think it’s King’s best solo on the entire album.


“Laundromat Blues” introduces a piano that, if it was on the album before, was highly understated. It’s a nice touch, adding more of a smoky gin-joint feel to the track. The echo on King’s voice also helps, and while he still sounds distant, now the effect works, as it makes him seem alone, even when surrounded by a band.


We then move on to a sultry saxophone, smooth piano, and the sexiest performance of “As Years Go Passing By” ever recorded, and close the album on “The Very Thought Of You”, showing that Albert can be as much a crooner as Sinatra or Dean Martin ever was (Ok, not Sinatra, but Dean Martin, sure). Tha last two tracks are he most unique, the most interesting choices, and the perfect way to close the album.


So, in conclusion, not only should Albert King’s Born Under A Bad Sign be on this list, it should be a shitload higher than second-to-last. Just listen, and you’ll agree.


-Mike


Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow for #232: Mr. Tambourine Man by The Byrds.

#204: Dirty Mind- Prince

Mike Natale:

Had trouble with the computer yesterday. So…two posts today. Just pretend this one was for yesterday.

Listened to: MP3

Well, you learn something new every day. Like today I learned that “When You Were Mine” is, In fact, not a Cyndi Lauper song, but is in fact a Prince song. Which makes much more sense, as it sounds more like one of his tracks. Still, it does have a different sound than the tracks that frame it on Dirty Mind, those being “Dirty Mind” and “Do It All Night”.

It’s been said that Dirty Mind is where Prince started to move away from disco-esque tracks that were shown on his debut, and was discovering what be his trademark sound and style. Tracks like “Gotta Broken Heart Again” make that clear, as it’s obvious he’s still unsure of how to sound, as this surely isn’t the Prince we’ve come to know and love.

Though, just as we’re thinking that, “Uptown” and “Head” get a little closer to that Prince. Sure, they’re still disco-y, but if they were just heavier, they’d be today’s Prince. Or ay least the Prince of the mid to late 80’s. Those drum beats, that wailing voice, just replace the heavy synths with heavier guitars, and this is vintage Prince.

“Head” also shows real hints of Prince’s real lyrical prowess, sexuality. Come on, it’s the story of a woman who’s gonna get married blowing some other guy. Score 0 for literature, but 1 for smut! (And for me, some days that’s a victory)

“Sister” apparently stirred up controversy as well, but I can’t for the life of me see why. “I was only 16 but I guess that's no excuse/My sister was 32, lovely, and loose/She don't wear no underwear/She says it only gets in her hair/And it's got a funny way of stoppin' the juice/My sister never made love to anyone else but me/She's the reason for my, uh, sexuality/She showed me where it's supposed to go/A blow job doesn't mean blow/Incest is everything it's said to be.” These lyrics are as wholesome and family friendly as it gets.

After yelping out “motherfucker” twice on “Sister”, he seems to try and top that on “Partyup”. In Prince’s musical evolution, he seems to realize yelling “fuck” every oher sentence isn’t gonna get you radio play. And lyrics like “You’re gonna have to fight your own damn war/’Cause we don’t wanna fight no more” prove that Prince oughta stay oughta politics, and stick to fucking.
The albums closer is the most Prince-ly track on the whole album. “Gotta Stop [Messin’ About]” sounds like and outtake from Purple Rain, for God’s sake. It’s almost like at the tail end of recording he went “Oh, wait, here it is. Here’s me!” Without a doubt, this is the best track on the album.

So, for anyone interested in the evolution of Prince, or anyone who wants to see the missing link between disco and the 80’s, this is well worth the listen.

-Mike

Well, see you tomorrow (or now) for #499: Born Under A Bad Sign, by the often ignored Albert King.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

#129: 40 Greatest Hits- Hank Williams

Listened to: CD

I’m sorry for being so brief. It’s a great collection, but it basically became white-noise. I found out that I was the last to find out about my best friend joining the army. A little distracted by this fact. But look up the album. It’s a very good portrait of early American music. I wish I had more to say, but I’m just sorta stunned today.

-Mike

Come back tomorrow for #204: Dirty Mind by Prince.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

#269: Some Girls- The Rolling Stones

Mike Natale:
Before I begin this piece, you are entitled, ad my readers, to understand it’s brevity. Last night, my best friend of many years, with whom I had been virtually inseperable for a majority of those years, announced to me and my family that he had joined the army, and that he was leaving for basic training on February 2nd. Naturally I was upset, and rather than allow these blog posts to become a soapbox on which I can immaturely rant about military propaganda (an issue it’s quite possible I’ll feel differently on after his 2 year term finishes out, and may in fact feel so differently I will regret using the term propaganda, as I should be clear is not a rational appraisal of the military’s advertisements, but instead a reflection of my current state of emotional disarray. I fully support the armed forces, but am distraught at the potentially permanent loss of my best friend) I have chosen to restrain myself and simply review albums. Yet, I am distracted, so I hope my readers will not mind if the next week or so of reviews are frank.

Listened to: MP3

I make no effort to hide the fact that I’m a huge Stones fan, and their first entry to the musical landscape with the addition of Ron Wood proves they kicked as much ass in a post-punk world as in the pre-hippie days.

“Miss You”, the albums opener, is a punk-blues blend that tears up the air each sound wave penetrates. At equal times soft ballad and heavy rock and roll wailing (with a pretty bitchin’ sax solo) this track is one of the Stones most popular, and a perfect way to open their triumphant return in 1978. “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” seems like a heavier take on the early sounds of, well, The Rolling Stones. “Some Girls” is one of those great tracks that takes on a whole new life live.



All in all, the album is solid. Other than the tracks I mentioned, the real stand outs (to me) are obviously “Beast Of Burden” and “Shattered”. I cannot recommend this album enough.

-Mike

Again, sorry for the brevity. See you tomorrow for #129: 40 Greatest Hits of Hank Williams.

Friday, January 22, 2010

#359: Stankonia- Outkast

Mike Natale:

Listened to: MP3

So, what is so special about this album? It’s kind of fun, but I’m not getting what makes it one of the 500 Greatest Albums. Is it…is it because they’re going fast? Isn’t it because of the funk influence?

What makes “We Luv Dez Hoez” unique? Really, some of the tracks on this album, like that one, are fucking awful. Really, look at these lyrics. Big Boi is like the Flava Flav half of Outkast. Look, Stankonia is a fun hip-hop/funk album. I enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong, but will this really stand the test of time? Well, maybe, but not like certain other rap albums that didn’t make this list. Admittedly, the album I’m going to switch for this came out after the list was written, but shit, that’s why we’re here. To correct and update. I think you’ll agree that this album is much more notable and prominent in the hip-hop world than Stankonia.

Would Replace with: The College Dropout by Kanye West

Not a single track on this album is as subjugating or offensively vulgar (it take a lot for me to be offended) as “We Luv Dez Hoes”, but that’s what makes this album a masterpiece. Kanye, before his stage leaping antics, crafted a rap album that had no falsity. Kanye bore his soul, and subsequently produced one of the greatest, truest rap albums to date. Half of Stankonia (the Big Boi half) is typical gangsta-rap lies, while only Andre 3000 dared to take on real social issues. But if Andre is the James Brown of hip-hop (taking on social issues without really talking about them) then Kanye is Marvin Gaye, and The College Dropout is his What’s Going On. Outkast’s best offering is the lackluster “Ms. Jackson”. Well, maybe not lackluster on it’s own, but compare it to the epic powerhouse that is “Jesus Walks”, and you’re sure to agree. Kanye may not rap about “Gangsta Shit”, but even the weakest tracks on The College Dropout are better than the strongest tracks on Stankonia. Outkast may have left a mark on hip-hop, but Kanye left a crater, and as pissed as I was about him interrupting Taylor (I have a crush, I’ll admit it), I await one of rap’s finest’s comeback.

-Mike

Well, see you tomorrow for #269: Some Girls by The Rolling Stones

Thursday, January 21, 2010

#330: In the Jungle Groove- James Brown

Mike Natale:

Listened to: MP3

Why is this on the list? For the track “I Got To Move”? Because that is the only track on this album that’s not on Star Time, the much higher ranked, 4-disc compilation of James Brown. Ok, so this album was the first release of Funky Drummer, but guess what? You get that on Star Time! I link to Wikipedia all the time, I know, just because it’s easy, but one sentence in it’s article ought to sum up the reason for this album’s existence. “Originally issued to capitalize on the popularity of Brown's music in hip hop circles at the time…” Here we go. There it is. This whole album is just a bunch of remixes and alternate takes. But I gotta tell you, I stand by Star Time. While I don’t agree with Nick that no compilations or greatest hits should be on the list, you should only need one per artist. This album is basically pointless.

This is not to rag on James Brown. He was a genius, and one of the greatest performers to ever live, but how about instead of giving me another set of studio takes, how about we put out more live material. Live At The Apollo is on of the greatest live albums ever, and the energy James had live could never be replicated in a studio. So why should I care about this? Don’t get me wrong., the music is fun, and some of Brown’s wailing is really on, but come on, really? Save yourself the 63 minutes, and just get a copy of Star Time. Sure it’s longer, but it’s much better. This album is a pointless exercise for completists and collectors. Star Time is more than enough, there was no reason at all for this.

Would Replace With: Either/Or by Elliott Smith





Yep, we’re going from a man who gets more than his fair share on the list (James Brown was the godfather of soul, and if this album yielded more than one track of new material, maybe it’d fly, but you can NOT put the same material on a list 3 times just because the track order is different) to a man who was criminally ignored by it. There is not a music person I talk to today who is unfamiliar with Elliott Smith, and Either/Or is arguably his best. The soft, singer-songwriter side of Elliott (a label he despised and would try desperately throughout his life to distance himself from) really shows on this album, from lamenting tracks like “Between The Bars” and “2:45 am” (the bitterest answer to “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning”) to the gorgeously understated love song of “Say Yes”. I truly wish I could have though of the lyrics “I’m in love with the word/Through the eyes of a girl/Who’s still around the morning after”. Elliott may not be a household name, but I’m not concerned with being the type I often mock, praising unheard of artists. Elliott’s a fairly well known individual (hell, he was nominated for an Oscar) and his music’s influence is obvious (“I Will Follow You Into The Dark” by Death Cab For Cutie sound less original now? It should). There is much more reason for Elliott to get a slot on this list than an exploitative rehashing of Mr. Brown’s legacy. Skip In The Jungle Groove, and give Either/Or a chance. I assure you my pick will stand the test of time much better.


-Mike
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Once again, Nick Young.

Sorry for the late entry, everyone. This is the last time I'll hesitate when it comes to popping in my skullcandy earbuds and giving a highly recommended album a deserving chance.

I'll admit it- I went into today's assignment thinking I was going to replace James Brown's 1986 compilation album "In The Jungle Groove." I even had the album in mind to replace it with (can anybody who witnessed the premiere of the DVD-exclusive "They Don't Care About Us" video who isn't Mike Natale tell me they haven't been on a reinvigorated Michael Jackson kick?). After listening to this pristine funk powerhouse of an album, however, I decided to skip over MJ's last great album (for now) and go straight to the source of his vicariously drawn pyrokinetic inner light. It might be hypocritical of me to say this, but I'm going to temporarily recall my scathing condemnation on "Greatest Hits" albums for the mighty James Brown. This is a very rare occasion for me, so I hope you understand how important this album has become on this soulful new day at the outset of a soulful new decade. It's a big fucking deal.

We really do need soul music in these harsh times. We need lovers with soul power to get us through the night. In order to accomplish this, "we got to let the girls [or lovers (depending on your preference)] know what they got to do for us!".

James Brown was fearless when it came to his carnal desires. He possessed the appealing self-conscious savviness in the way he carried himself (his oft parodied soulful strut) and in the way he effortlessly articulated his carnal desires. People wonder how Lady Gaga can be so explosively erotic in, well, basically everything she does. I guarantee you the sex appeal and desire to flaunt it is not so much channeled from has-been burn-outs like Madonna or Britney Spears as you might think. No, she has lasting appeal because she goes for sex-fueled ass-pumping greatness (like the late great James Brown), not material-girl mediocrity.

"Never get too confident," Brown excitedly warns us. It's possible to lose your thing. Just look at Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley. Brown doesn't seem capable of losing it (at least not on this album). Though his voice sounds modest and his advice playfully cautious, his voice is burning with nonpareil enthusiasm. His delicately savage jazz-fusion (-ish) style for me beats the Hell out of Sly and the Family Stone. I feel like I could get down to "Funky Drummer" any day of the week- and that's the [double] truth, Ruth!

So no disrespect to the boy who never grew up, I just can't allow myself to not give credit where credit is most definitely due. Michael Jackson was like a self-denying embryo born from James Brown's soul (meaning that what he grew up into was most certainly NOT James Brown). It's well understood that Jackson could channel the immortal Mr. Brown essentially from the day he learned to speak, but had he embraced Brown's undeniably more 'normal' lifestyle (I use that term very broadly), he could have absorbed the man's raw sexuality without shocking the world time and time again.

Can you get a witness, you ask? You have one right here, Mr. Brown. You've proved to me with songs like "Get Up, Get Into It & Get Involved," I Got To Move," and most puzzlingly, "Hot Pants" (never thought I'd be typing that I like those two words side by side) that you deserve to be on this list. If anybody would like to recommend a more deserving James Brown album, then by all means please do so. I'm open to any and all suggestions.
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Well, thanks for reading. I’d elaborate more on Either/Or, but it’s my first day back to class, and I’m rushing my ass out the door as we speak. Just listen to the fucking thing, you’ll see what I mean. Well, see you tomorrow for #359: Stankonia by Outkast. Which should be fun but a briefer review, as I have a 9 am class tomorrow. Hopefully we should have a return from our resident hip-hop expert to make up for it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

#194: Transformer- Lou Reed

Mike Natale:

Listened to: CD

“Who has touched and who has dabbled/ Here in the city of shows”

You know, it’s fitting that today’s album should be Lou Reed’s Transformer. After walking the streets of the new Giuliani-fied, Disney-ed Manhattan to go to Radio City to see The Swell Season perform (a truly magnificent experience, by the way), listening to Reed’s portrait of my city in the 70’s is an eye-re-opener. A mix of nonsensical lyrics and Waits-esque depictions of the New York high and low life, Reed’s masterpiece seems to be the musical version of Midnight Cowboy.

“Vicious” kicks the album off with instrumentals that say “This is rock and roll” and a voice saying “This is art”, a vibe immediately crushed with masterful force by “Andy’s Chest”, which is a mellow, child-like ditty that causes you to question what the deep meaning is to what is essentially nonsense. It is after two fun but not-terribly special tracks that we get to “Perfect Day”, which to all fans of Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting takes on a whole new meaning. The song seems to have bittersweet lyrics, which to the untrained ear seem simplistic, while those of us who are trained to be sad discover the lamenting hidden behind the hope. “Hangin’ ‘Round”, the next track, is fun, but I recommend seeking out the much more enjoyable, far less over-produced acoustic demo available on the 30th Anniversary CD.

Of course, this brings us to everyone’s favorite track on the album, the theme song/indictment of the hipsters and whores of all-holy Manhattan, “Walk On The Wild Side”. Another reason that the album was fitting today is that last night, during one of the early songs in the set, Glen Hansard had the audience perform the “Doo do do do doo do do doo”s during one of his songs simply by saying “And the colored girls go”. This is not only a sign of Hansard’s command on his audience, but Lou Reed’s command on american airwaves with a song that probably wouldn’t even get past standards today (they cencor the second verse, but will play songs with the lyrics “Call me Mr. Flintstone/ I can make your bed rock” by some under-educated assholes. Let’s protect the innocence of the children. If a body catch a body coming through the rye). I truly wish I could capture the magic of hearing this track for the first time, but I gotta be honest with you, I got home at 3am this morning. I shouldn’t even be awake now.

I’m not terribly big on the tracks "Make Up", "Satellite of Love", or "Wagon Wheel”, though they do add to the overall ambience of the album. It is the two three tracks that get eerily mystical and brilliant. Yeah, I just described “New York Telephone Conversation” as mystical. They posses a vibe of a dying vaudeville act, a clown with melting make-up on the streets of a city who pass him by without a glance. I began this piece with my favorite line from the album, which I believes sums the entire album up, and it is from “New York Telephone Conversation”. “I’m So Free” seems like an answer to Tommy’s “I’m Free”, but from the perspective of someone who got free and discovered there was nowhere to go. Of course, the eerie end track “Goodnight Ladies” seems to be more a funeral dirge then an end of the night anthem, and perhaps that’s what Lou Reed wanted. Here is a figure lost in the shuffle of New York’s nightlife, and even his death is nothing more than a vaudevillian goodnight.

-Mike
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Please welcome back, once again, Nick Young.

Nick Young:



The key to appreciating Lou Reed or anything he did with the Velvets is taking his music with a grain of salt. Solo Reed in the 1970's almost never took himself seriously. He would deflect questions from the press with the dexterity of a great Dylan imitator, and this was all thanks to his vicious sense of humor. When asked why he sang about drugs, he answered, "I think the Gov't. is plotting against me." There are laughs in the audience. Somehow I do not believe everybody found this funny. Some people just don't have the ability to take things lightly. Sadly, those are the people who lash out against Reed's music. They will never see the fun in his lyrics.
Reed himself was not very professional when it came to the structure of his music. If something was out of tune for a performance or a recording, he just went with it. It went with the label the press stamped upon him- that his music was 'gutter rock.'

(Interviewer) Would it be right to call your music gutter rock?
(Reed) Gutter rock? Oh yeah.

I'm sure he was plenty proud of that remark. His 1974 effort, "Transformer," captures all of the Andy Warhol throwaway glam at its absolute finest. "Vicious" is an emancipating anthem for the all of the lovesick and romantically downtrodden people of the world, more specifically those living in NYC. According to Reed the song was inspired by Andy Warhol (see imbedded video), who came up with the classic opening lyric, "you're so vicious, you hit me with a flower." In just nine short words he surmised everything wicked and elegant about his music. He would do it again in the chorus of the fifth track when he wooed us with, "Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side.".

." Yes, the album is funny, but then if you're me you usually find something sad in just about anything you listen to. I didn't find it in the decadent, dispassionate strut of "Andy's Chest,", but I could hear it the tonally confused power ballad "Perfect Day," which finds Reed muttering "I thought I was someone else, someone good," before ascending into a highly expressive chorus. Somehow Reed finds a way to make his music affective without ever really emoting. His dry, caustic delivery is probably his greatest strength. This is probably why his music mixes with taking drugs so effortlessly.

Drugs "leave your problems alone," just as the song says, but only while you're on them.
Other album highlights include the jittery, T.V. obsessed, FOTC-esque ballad "Satellite Of Love," and the comical album closers "New York Telephone Conversation," and "Goodnight Ladies."

These tracks act as bookends, providing just the balance the album needs to make an indelible impression.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

#216: The Queen Is Dead- The Smiths

Mike Natale:

Listened to: CD

I should warn you all, this post will be short. I have to rush, as I have a lot of things to do today before I head into Manhattan to see The Swell Season in concert. To be honest, I find it fitting that the album would be The Smiths, as I feel the same honesty from Hansard as I do Morrisey, and I wish I had time to elaborate on that. Eh, fuck it, they have 3 more albums on the list for me to do that.
 


It was Halloween, senior year. We were flipping stations on the radio, me in my John Lennon costume next to my Yoko, Eve, and Fat Albert. It was then I heard a familiar voice on the radio, singing a song I’d never heard before. I was entranced. Could my favorite singer, who ominously drowned in 1997, have really sung the lyrics “The sea, it wants to take me”? He had, in fact, as the radio host later stated “That was a new posthumous release from the late Jeff Buckley, performing a cover of The Smiths’ ‘I Know It’s Over’.”

It was then I was convinced I had to track down that song. I bought the Buckley album it came from, the 45 they released to promote the aforementioned album, and, one day while buying an array of CDs at Borders, the original Smiths album it came from. I had heard of The Smiths, but they just struck me as more whiney musicians for indie-loving loners to praise on blogs…such…as…the one…I’m about…to praise them…on…my god, what have I become?

Anyway, when I decided to listen to the album, realized that either I had turned into the indie-loving loner I had so despised, or I had misjudged The Smiths, and a lot of me is banking on the latter of the two (after all, if I was an indie-loving loner, I wouldn‘t hate Sonic Youth, but more on that at a later time). Starting with a quip from 60’s cinema, a passion of Morrissey’s, we head into a very bass-heavy, too-rock-for-80’s music rock track entitled “The Queen Is Dead (Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty)”. Of course, this track depresses me a tad for personal reasons. There was a girl who I knew, and we were so in sync mentally that I could just tell what she’d think of things without her even being there, and every time I hear this track, when it gets to the line “So, I broke into the palace/With a sponge and a rusty spanner/She said : "Eh, I know you, and you cannot sing"/I said : "That's nothing - you should hear me play pian-er" I could hear her giggling and saying “Oh, that’s lame.”

Only a few of these tracks are forgettable (Frankly Mister Shankly/Vicar In A Tutu/Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others), and even those have some nice poetry, but where this album really shines is it’s tragic ballade ring tracks like Never Had No One Ever, the Wee Small Hours for the emo-set. “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” and “Bigmouth Strikes Again” have a guitar sound that reminds me of Crazy On You, and are even more fun than that for lacking that sometimes grating wailing of Heart. As I love john Keats, W.B. Yeats, and Oscar Wilde, “Cemetery Gates” could be the crappiest song ever and I’d still enjoy it (it is, in fact, nothing special) but it does remind me of “Here's Where the Story Ends” by The Sundays, and there’s nothing I can say about “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” that can’t be said on one million (500) Days Of Summer fan-sites better than I would, except that I truly wish I had written the lyrics “To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die”.

Without a doubt, though, the finest track on the album is the one that drew me to it. “I Know It’s Over” has some of the most beautiful lyrics and melody combinations of heard since Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (with which it shares chord structure and progression). The lyrics: "If you're so funny/Then why are you on your own tonight?/And if you're so clever/Then why are you on your own tonight?/If you're so very entertaining/Then why are you on your own tonight?/If you're so very good-looking/Why do you sleep alone tonight?/I know …/'Cause tonight is just like any other night/That's why you're on your own tonight/With your triumphs and your charms/While they're in each other's arms..."*

have such a power and potency to them that they alone almost justify when Jeff buckley declared that everything from the 80’s was shit “…except The Smiths”.

-Mike

*Lovingly reprinted without permission from Morrissey.
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Everyone, please welcome back Nick Young, who has chosen to guest spot on albums of his choosing rather than throw his life away on a silly internet endeavor that about 2 people read on a regular basis. I, however, will continue doing this daily to stave off the desire to leap off the roof. So, without further ado, here’s Nick Young.

Nick Young:



How can an album sound punk without once attempting to be punk?

Upon first listen there's something transformative and tragic about The Smith's third studio album, "The Queen Is Dead." There's something beautiful about Morrissey's ability to emote without ever raising his voice above a polite melody. Melancholy genius actually bombards you so consistently on "The Queen Is Dead" you find yourself at odds keeping up with it. Frankly, the album is quite intimidating upon first listen. Paradoxically, there's also something brilliantly welcoming about the LP's jangly guitars and woozy vocals leading us into musical kingdom come. If I haven't caught your interest by now, just know that we wouldn't have "(500)Days of Summer" or "(500) Days of Singers" without it.

The first eighteen seconds of the opening cut, "The Queen Is Dead," sound like the death of a Disney song. First an indistinct voice that sounds like a zombified Disney cartoon informs us that life is basically bullshit. "I don't bless them," the voice croaks, disregarding everyone in the world in four blunt words. Here is where the egg of life cracks and falls apart for anyone caught in the maelstrom of Morrissey’s crooning intonation. "Farewell to this land's cheerless marshes," he drunkenly salutes (as if he's actually escaping somehow). His words drip with bitterness. The lyric, "No one talks about castration," turns weakness and feelings of inferiority into art. The verse that follows speaks volumes:

We can go for a walk where it's quiet and dry
And talk about precious things
Like love and law and poverty
Oh, these are the things that kill me

"Frankly, Mr. Shankly" (fame, fame, fatal fame) is lyrically flawless. Any starry-eyed Indie-rocker can relate to the yearning in the lyric "I want to live and I want to love." Who doesn't want those things? "I Know It's Over" is so fucking tragic that I think it really can only be heard when you're alone. I'm almost positive that the song won't play if there's another person in the room. "Oh mother I can hear the soil falling over my head," Morrissey tearlessly laments as the cold hand of death escorts him across the river Styx inside his mind.

And do we really have to go over why "Never Had No One Ever" is significant to my, er, well, basically everybody's love life (somewhere along the line)? I mean come on! If you can't relate to these lyrics, then you've never truly felt alone before:

When you walk without ease
On the streets where you were raised...
I had a really bad dream
It lasted 20 years, 7 months, and 27 days
And I know that, I know that
I never had no one ever

-Nick
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Well, tomorrow will be #194: Transformer by Lou Reed. Hopefully it’ll be up before 2 pm, but come on, guys, I have the Swell Season concert tonight. My ass is gonna Falling Slowly well into the night.

Monday, January 18, 2010

#468: Elton John- Elton John

Nick Young has left the blog.

Listened to: CD

I got this album for Christmas one year on CD, because since a young age, I had worn down the grooves so bad on this record that it was unplayable. Every year I spend New Year’s Eve crying, taking swigs of my drink, and listening to Elton John. These personal confessions come out so I can once again where my bias on my sleeve before I declare this portrait of the artist as a young man to be truly a gift.

It opens with the legendary “Your Song”, which may in fact be the greatest love song ever committed to record. With it’s lyrical and musical simplicity, it’s gorgeous melody, and it’s heartfelt sentiment, I can’t think of too many sensible songwriters who don’t wish they’d written this track. Besides, if it wasn’t for this song, a lot fewer middle-school girls would have crushes on Ewan McGregor.

The Baroque feeling of “I Need You To Turn To”, which could as easily by a traditional track covered by Simon & Garfunkel, is so soft, so emotional, so smooth that it’s amazing this track never went further than I did.

“Take Me to The Pilot” seems to be the best indication of where John would go later in his career, and also the best demonstration of what makes him unique. Sure, he could be the soft-voiced balladeer, but it’s his ability to be a howling, piano-playing Johnny Rotten that really makes Elton a one of a kind talent.

“No Shoe Strings On Louise” decides to show Elton as not just balladeer and rocker, but country crooner…and doesn’t succeed quite as well as we’d hope. Meanwhile, the criminally ignored “First Episode At Hienton” is song so soft you almost can’t understand Elton for half of the song, and yet you can just feel the suffering pulling at your heart. You’re not sure what he’s lamenting, but god damn if it isn’t the saddest story you’ve half-heard.

“Sixty Years On”, with it’s instrumental majesty, sees a much better rendition on Elton’s “Live In Australia” album (an album omitted from Rolling Stone’s list…why? Oh, so they could fit another Otis Redding Anthology), but is still a beautiful example of 70’s Elton, before he got too caught up in the type of sad-ish rock tracks like the albums next track, “Border Song”, which is a real gospel track (which is apparent by the gospel backing choir). Border Song is fun, but for me is too easy. Gospel isn’t a challenging style to pull emotion from. It’s inherently sad. To manipulate emotion with a gospel song isn’t as impressive as to compose a real heart-wrenching ballad.

The rest of these tracks are just as beautiful, just as intricate, and just as masterful. But I was at this awesome joint last night and got to witness musicians much better than myself tear shit up till well into the night. So, you’ll forgive if I cut this short and say “Listen to this album”. You can thank me later.

-Mike

See you guys tomorrow for #216: The Queen Is Dead by The Smiths

Sunday, January 17, 2010

#8: London Calling- The Clash

Mike Natale:

Listened to: CD

Here’s where I become a little sad. It’s nostalgia time, everybody. You see, whenever I was sad, whenever the world was getting me down, I’d go on over to the Tower Records on Sunrise Highway and buy a CD in their $7.99 bin. Seriously, you would not believe how many great albums (I based my unlearned opinions on what the Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albumsbook they had on their podium said) were in that bin: Blood On The Tracks, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, Sticky Fingers, Blue Train. But what started it all was London Calling by The Clash. Bought with money given to me by my grandmother (who has since passed) in congratulations for my winning at the shot putt at my day-before’s track meet (in the 7th grade, before I abandoned athletics for music), this album was a game-changer for me, and I was truly convinced that this album was one of the 10 greatest albums ever.
I’ve since grown up, and learned how wrong I was. London Calling is still a great album, and is in frequent rotation on my stereo, but top 10? Really?

The powerful beating riff on the title track is what draws you on. This is one of those compositions every artist ought to wish they wrote (Hell, we know Bruce does). It’s criticism of the 70’s culture of consumption, it’s fear of nuclear holocaust, it’s howling yelps echoing down just to terrify and alert. This is truly The Clash’s finest track, and one of the bet things the punk-rock movement ever produced (and I’m a punk at heart, so I know what I’m saying here).
It’s a bit downhill from here. The darkness and power in London Calling seems to get lost in tracks like “Brand New Cadillac” and “Jimmy Jazz”. “Hateful” gets a little more fun, but maybe only because I’m a musical theatre fan, and get these images of cheap 20’s choreography set to this track. “Rudie Can’t Fail” has more of a reggae feel, which I can appreciate, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it.

“Spanish Bombs” is about the Spanish Civil War, in which millions…millions of…zzzzzzzzzzz… I’m sorry, I stopped giving a shit a while ago. These are kinda fun tracks, but nothing quite as stand out and special as London Calling at this point. “The Right Profile” gets more fun, as it opens with a guitar riff that’s unavoidably great, and lyrics I’ve never been able to decipher other than “That’s Montgomery Clift, honey!”.Yet this is still one of my favorite tracks on the album. Maybe it’s just the incorporation of brass instruments in punk rock.

Lost In The Supermarket”, a song that one of my favorites, Ben Folds, eventually covered, is one of the finest songs about the suckiness of suburban life that I’ve had the fortune to hear in my time. “I wasn’t born so much as I fell out” is a feeling I’m sure many have felt from time to time. It amazes me, though, that I so enjoy an album where the only tracks I’ll listen to on their own are this, the title, and the closer, which we’ll get to later.

The rest of the tracks, with the exception of “Guns of Brixton” are nothing that really lit me up until the last track, the 80’s bubble-gum pop-esque “Train In Vain”, a song my mother was convinced was by Wham!. Now, you may be wondering what makes this album so great if it’s so inconsistent, and not jam-packed with the hits other albums have. Well, I’ll tell you. Give it another listen. Look the diversity, the variety, the sheer scope of this album, musically and thematically. The grandiose scale this album possesses transcends punk-rock and moves into the realm of true compositional genius. Rarely has an album covered so many topics and styles, and even more rarely done them all well, if no all colossal hits. I maintain that the beginning and end tracks are the albums best, but that’s probably why they were put that way. Finally, an album not only gives us variety, but is smart enough to realize it’s own best moments.

So, do I agree that this is one of the greatest albums? Yes. Top 10? No. If it were a Top 10 of album covers, yes, but not album content. However, if you haven’t listened to this album yet, and you decide not to listen to it now, don’t read nay more of my posts, as I want nothing to do with you.

-Mike
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(Nick’s piece)
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Well, swing on by tomorrow for #468: Elton John- Elton John. And please enjoy our special piece below on album covers.

Special #1: Nick's Album Covers

And here's Nick's Top 20:

Around the World in a Day by Prince

Sure, it’s pretty well established that most of Prince’s album’s kick some serious androgynous ass. However, no one album does this better than the highly influential “Around the World in a Day.” I’m convinced that without this album, there wouldn’t be the funky, sexually-disturbed (borderline schizophrenic) psychedelic twee-pop landmark “Skeletal Lamping.” I believe David Barnes, brother of the gleefully lovesick of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes, has been highly influenced by this album’s artwork.
Between The Buttons by The Rolling Stones

Can anybody look at this cover and not think of “The Royal Tenenbaums?” Jesus, isn’t its iconic use in that film enough to justify this decision?

Black Sheep Boy by Okkervil River

Okkervil River is a stellar band. From their humble beginnings, they’ve had great album art as well. Watch this video.

Dangerously In Love by Beyonce

Nothing says “sex me” better than the cover of Beyonce’s “Dangerously In Love.” It perfectly captures the sex appeal of the highlight, “Crazy In Love.”

Embryonic by The Flaming Lips

For anybody that knows me, this one should be fairly obvious. I’m just about as obsessed with Wayne Coyne as I am with Tom Waits.

Friend & Foe by Menomena

Just ask my friend Nikhil. This album cover is mesmerizing. If you buy it, you’ll see just how intricate it really is (it comes in layers).

Kid A by Radiohead

I thought this one might require a little explaining. It helps to take a look at these two Wikipedia pages, which explain the origins of the packaging’s goosebump-inducing album art.

Loveless by My Bloody Valentine

This image actually sounds like the music. Very rarely can you capture the sound of shoegaze in an image, but it occasionally does happen.

Midnite Vultures by Beck

What’s better: “Midnite Vultures”or “Odelay?” Honestly, who gives a fuck anymore? I personally prefer the album art of “Midnite Vultures” to “Odelay’s,” but both covers are hella tight. (How’s that for an unnecessary blast from the past?).

More Songs About Buildings And Food by Talking Heads

More on this one later.
Mr. Beast by Mogwai

Desolate. Alien. Intimate. As it is with the best of Radiohead’s work, these are words that come to mind when I look at the vinyl packaging for Mogwai’s Mr. Beast. It’s certainly not better than “Loveless,” as Creation Records head Alan McGee claimed, but it is pretty damn harrowing to listen to.

The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars by David Bowie

Bloody brilliant! That’s all I really have to say for this album. Oh, and am I the only one who gets a laugh from the K. West sign directly behind ‘Ziggy’ there?


Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band / Cripple Crow – The Beatles / Devendra Banhart

Sgt. Pepper’s album art is arguably one of the most iconic covers of all time. I felt like I had to squeeze “Cripple Crow” in there just because it’s the indie rock “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”


Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’re Vanished / Person Pitch by Avey Tare & Panda Bear

Animal Collective’s album art is always inspiring. Its member’s solo works / collaborations are no exception. Get the vinyl release of “Person Pitch” and you’ll really be in for a treat.

St. Elsewhere by Gnarls Barkley

The album art is infinitely better than the crummy album itself. Not only does it stir up images of Beck’s “Midnite Vultures” (see #7), but it perfectly captures the feeling of the album’s best track: the soulful fuzz-ballad “Crazy.”


Thriller by Michael Jackson

With the album cover for “Thriller” and a, ahem, ‘tiny’ contribution from a brilliant marketing campaign, Michael Jackson took over Pop music. It’s still perhaps the greatest album cover of all time, even after all the weirdness.


Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band

Sure, it’s debatable whether this album should be on our list at all (I’m well aware that Mike positively despises it). Still, you can’t deny that album art is hilarious.


Velvet Underground & Nico

Yeah.

Watch Me Fall by Jay Reatard

It was unfathomably difficult for me to choose between this album cover and “Blood Visions.” However, in light (or lack of light) of Reatard’s recent death, I think this album cover is even more chilling.

Young Machete by Blood Brothers

What? You don’t find this image appealing? You find their music offensive?! Get blown!
 
Honorable Mentions:
Freedom of Choice by Devo
Acorn Master by Dan Deacon
It’s Blitz by Yeah Yeah Yeah’s
Remain In Light by Talking Heads
Cassadega (purchased CD) by Bright Eyes
Kala by M.I.A.
Pussy by Lords of Acid
Lovehunters by Whitesnake
Satanic Panic In The Attic by Of Montreal
Bitches Brew by Miles Davis
Whipped Cream & Other Delights by Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Band
Rapper’s Delight by Dan The Automator
Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses
Dead Kennedies (Take your pick)
Rocket to Russia by The Ramones