Sunday, February 28, 2010

#170: Live At Leeds- The Who

Listened to: Vinyl

Can I be frank with you folks? It is vile how little I write about The Who on this blog. Tommy was grossly underwritten, and considering my 5 hours worth of sleep, Live At Leeds is about to get the same treatment. But maybe that’s ok. Because maybe The Who, especially Live At Leeds, doesn’t need much “reviewing” from me. The Who speak for themselves. There’s an enchantment that overcomes me, and I like to think everyone else with any sense, whenever you hear the Who playing live (either on a recording or actually in concert, both of which I’ve had the pleasure of doing). And, I’ll say this with all sincerity, Live At Leeds is the greatest live album recorded, second only to At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers. These boys are at their concert peek here, and I only hope you can all experience the same magic I always feel when I set the needle down on the groove on this one. The Who don’t need my reviews. After a killer half-time show, a series of amazing albums, and some of the best songs in rock history, The Who speak for themselves.

Or, maybe that’s just a cheap excuse for being too tired to write a long review. Take it however you will.

-Mike

Well, tomorrow should be kind of fun maybe. It’s #377: CrazySexyCool by TLC.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

#382: More Songs About Buildings And Food- The Talking Heads

Listened to: MP3


From the beginning of “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel” (no relation to the Scorpions song “Send Me an Angel”), you get the same feeling that you most likely got from looking at the cover, which forms the Talking Heads out of close-up Polaroids, a feeling of “What the fuck did I just get myself into?”, because, let’s face it, this is some weird shit. Yet, strangely enjoyable. Byrne’s bizarre vocals throughout More Songs About Buildings And Food sound like if Klaus Nomi had had a baby with David Bowie. We move suddenly from “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel” into a jolt of “With Our Love”, another bizarre track that’s completely all over the place.


“The Good Thing” opens, well, normal sounding, which puts me on edge. Byrne has been going fucking nuts for the first two tracks, so a mumbled pop song just doesn’t seem to fit. Then we get to the chorus, with a choir of mismashed vocals (I know I typed mismashed. I meant that) picking up behind Byrne, and now we’re back to crazy town. “Warning Sign” is just…I don’t know, man. I gotta be honest. I like the Talking Heads, I do. I like Stop Making Sense and Remain In The Light, but I’m just not digging this album. I get why people who like this kinda music like it, I’m not taking it off the list, because its scope is impressive, but it’s just not for me. The only track I really like on it is “Take Me to The River”. The rest are just the predecessor to that whiney indie crap that’s soooooooooo drab. It’s a kind of fun album to listen to, but I can’t promise you you’ll even remember the last track once the next one comes on. I assure you, I have 7 hours of casting calls to do today, and throughout them, the only track I’ll be able to recall is “Take Me to The River”.


Look, there’s a place to comment on the post, please do. I’d love to see how many people agree with me, and how many disagree. It’s times like these I wish Nick was still doing this. He could offer some balanced rebuttal, since this music is his dig. Well, anyway, give it a listen, see what you think. It’s not terrible, but it’s not terribly memorable. Actually, if I were to switch this out…

Would Replace With: Fear Of Music by The Talking Heads


…it would just be for the Talking Heads’ far better album that’s not on the list, Fear Of Music. Fear Of Music integrates various musical styles (“I Zimbra” is one of the most out-there-ly brilliant compositions of Byrne’s career) and brilliant lyrical storytelling. Byrne drew much influence from The Threepenny Opera, and his hopeless yet gaily fun storytelling makes that abundantly clear. Fear Of Music is certainly one of the best collaborations between Byrne and Brian Eno, who had just begun working together on More Songs… and had by this point reached a comfort level to do truly great things. More Songs… may be about buildings and food, but Fear Of Music is about the life that takes place within them. Listen to both, see which you prefer, but I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me and several other critics, who all believe Fear Of Music to be the far better album.


-Mike


See you guys tomorrow. I’m very excited for this one. The first record I ever bought (as in LP) was a copy of #170: Live At Leeds by my favorite band of all time, The Who.

Friday, February 26, 2010

#214: Bo Diddley/Go Bo Diddley- Bo Diddley

Listened to: MP3

(I know this is short, but we just got a bitch of a snow storm, plus I gotta prep for auditions tomorrow)

From the opening track, you can sense this album is the foundation of rock and roll. The late Bo Diddley has his fingerprint on every album post-1960. It’s hard to pick this album apart track by track, because it’s not about the songs themselves. It’s that rush you feel while listening, that every guitarist and musician with even a hint of the blues in them felt, that inspires you to pick up the guitar and play. Sure, “I’m A Man” is one of the quintessential songs in the history of rock and roll, but every track on this album could be. Absolutely worth the listen. Know your roots, children.

-Mike

Tomorrow will be #382: More Songs About Buildings And Food by The Talking Heads.

#494: She’s So Unusual- Cyndi Lauper

Listened to: CD

You know, in the 80’s, Madonna was all the rage, but as a kid growing up in the 90’s, which was when radio stations still played 80’s music, since apparently the 90’s only had good music once the people who made it either broke up or died, her sexuality was lost on me. Instead, I found Cyndi Lauper to be more enthralling. She was fun, bouncy, colorful, and like a 13-year-old with a record contract (way before 13-year-olds actually became recording stars). She’s So Unusual is her debut album, and god bless it, it still has the same attitude and effect it did when it first came out. You can love it or hate it, but you’re sure to feel something.

The album kicks up on “Money Changes Everything”, with Cyndi’s voice howling and yelping out like a neon Patti Smith. It’s hard to appreciate this album, it’s simplistic themes and little girl posturing, in an age where every radio station is blasting Miley Cyrus or the 50 other Disney starlets who all get albums, but this kicked open that door, for better or for worse. Except, the composition on this far exceeds today’s musical candy. Listen to that accordion. Is Selena Gomez gonna bust out any of that any time soon? I think not. Plus, our lovely Cyndi here knows how to mix the pretty (her melodies) with the gritty (her vocals).

Of course, the song we all remember from our youth (when we were too young to appreciate “Time After Time”, but don’t worry, I’ll get to that) is “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. Hell, a video with Capt. Lou? Can it get any better? And could this song be any more girly fun? Come on. This is still the go-to anthem for pillow fights and jumping around in an effeminate fashion, as far as I’ve been made aware (unfortunately, I do not know first hand. Nobody ever accepts my invitation for pillow fights and effeminate jumping). Seriously, though, this is a brilliant pop song, compositionally, and Cyndi capitalized on the “girl power” market before anybody even knew what a Spice Girl was.

Do you recognize “When You Were Mine”? For those who have been following this whole time, this track first appeared on Prince’s “Dirty Mind” album. Personally, I think Cyndi does it better. Plus, her lack of changing the genders in the song either implies a lesbian affair or a lover who went the other way. Either way, pretty brave for little miss “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”.

Now, for anyone who says Cyndi can’t sing, and that her songwriting sucks, she putsone of her masterpieces right here to throw you off. “Time After Time” is a gorgeous song, and it’s amazing that the first three bubble-gum tracks came from other people, and this beauty was co-written by Cyndi. The harmonies, the melody, the simplicity of it, it’s so moving, so charming. Hell, this song was so good, it was covered by Miles motherfucking Davis! And I love toward the end, where rather than continue to harmonize on the chorus, she goes into that high “I will be waiting!”. I wouldn’t change a second of this song, or a note out of Cyndi’s mouth. Say she can’t sing now. I fucking dare you.

If you’re looking for that same beauty in “She Bop”, shut your eyes and ears. People love this track, but I’m not too big on it. It’s not my style, but for fans of this style, it’s a great example. I still dig the reverb and synth for what they are, but it’s just not my dig. Sounds too much like…the 80’s….eugh. I mean, what I like about Cyndi is she’s so saccharine that it’s forgivable, it’s like so colorful it’s blinding, which makes it great. This is just standard 80’s fare.

“All Through The Night” is not, in fact, the Cole Porter song from the musical Anything Goes. They are two very different songs. This did not stop me from being over-confident, thinking they were the same, and not bothering to learn the other one in 11th grade, leading me to look like an ass at rehearsal when I sang Cyndi Lauper. This anecdote ought to be enough to show you the emotions I have toward this song.

“Witness” sounds more like The Clash than the Cyndi Lauper we’ve all come to believe in. Just listen to the bass (or bass-y synth in this case) or the guitars. This is a fun kinda track, nothing mind blowing, but shows Cyndi’s diversity in musical taste. It sounds as reggae as it does pop. Especially the drum only breakdown toward the end. “I’ll Kiss You” can be summed up best by the wikipedia entry “The song is a ska-influenced track that typifies Lauper's quirky songwriting from early in her career. With lighthearted lyrics it details a woman's quest to find the perfect love potion so that she can seduce her boyfriend. The B-side, "Witness", has a reggae feeling to it.” Yeah, suck it Gwen Stefani. You ain’t the First Lady of ska, it turns out.

“He’s So Unusual” typifies what I always respect in artists, and does it in the oddest way. I always respect artists who “know their roots”. Cyndi does, but not Patti Smith or Janis Joplin. Instead, she honors the individual who’s heavily influenced her, the woman for whom this song was first written, Betty Boop. Much love to Miss Lauper for her odd homage. Admit it, she’s cute.

The album closes on “Yeah Yeah”, which is a fun, upbeat number to close on, even if it sounds like a lost B-52’s track. It’s nice to listen to, though not one of the albums most stellar tracks. I like the way Cyndi sorta just blends that cute-sy voice from “He’s So Unusual” with the Patti-esque wailing.

Honestly, I like the hell out of this album. It’s fun to drive to, it’s fun to just let it all loose to, and it’s a great example of pop song crafting. Cyndi may have been singing about simple themes some times, and may have been putting on some really girly, poppy acts, but to me, it’s clear by this album that Cyndi is truly the mother of the “riot grrrl” movement, and god bless her for it. A world without Bikini Kill is a world I don’t want to live in. Except Cyndi had a sensitive side, as seen in “Time After Time” and the later release “True Colors”, and she really was a gifted songwriter. Though, now that I’m rolling with the thought of Cyndi doing riot grrrl stuff…can we get Cyndi and Kathleen Hannah in the same studio?

Long story short, definitely listen to this album. There is no way to completely hate it, no matter how opposed you are to all things pink and frilly. Here to prove that is my good friend, Tom Lorenzo (though he hates everything except one track).

-Mike

By the way, tomorrow is #214: Bo Diddley/Go Bo Diddley by…yeah.
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Tom Lorenzo:

Ok ladies and gents. I’m gonna keep this one a bit short and sweet. If you guys remember, I guest reviewed Led Zeppelin II a little while back. Well I’m back and this time, I am not fucking happy.

So Mickey recommended I review Cyndi Laupers “She’s So Unusual”. I figured, why the fuck not? I enjoyed reviewing Zeppelin II. I figured I may like reviewing other albums as well. But good god man, this album was excruciating to listen to.I’m gonna be up front. For the most part, I hate the 80’s. Some good movies have come from the 80’s, and my favorite band Metallica rose in the 80s. But good lord, I hate the popular music of the time. And I am here to say, this piece of shit album is too 80’s for its own good.

I can say, there is only one good song on this album. We’ll get to that in a bit. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was a big hit in its day. Wanna hear what I say to that? Fuck you people of the 80s. Almost every song on this album just comes off as amateurish. The lyrics were nothing to write home about, the beats are antiquated as shit. The only positive I can say is Lauper is a semi decent singer. What’s the good song you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. It is “Time After Time”. It didn’t have any stupid beats or synthesizers or shit. It doesn’t sound 80s at all. It’s a good ballad and I actually like it. Not because everything else was shit. This was really good and I’ll give some props for that. But not much and not for long.

So at the end of the day, I sure as shit wouldn’t recommend this to anyone unless they were my sworn enemy. It really blows my mind to think this was popular back in its time. I mean, what the fuck has happened to music? In my Dads day, popular music consisted of Led Zeppelin, The Who and The Rolling Stones. Then the 80s came and fucked everything up. But I’ll give the 80s three things. One, pop music was so shit, we had Metallica rise up and unleash hell. Two, it allowed rap to come about and change things. And three, it sure as shit is better than todays pop like Lady Gagonacock. When an album like this is popular, it really makes me fucking hate everyone. See you guys soon. I plan on reviewing Tom Waits’ “Mule Varitaions” next.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

#59: Meet The Beatles- The Beatles

Listened to: Vinyl

Can you imagine being a young kid in the early 60’s, putting on this record for the first time, and hearing the beginning to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” for the first time? It’d probably be more memorable than losing your virginity. We know Beatlemania as a part of history, but can you imagine looking at the cover of this record, and not knowing their names? This was it. The start. Where the rocket really picked up speed. Even though “Introducing…The Beatles” was the first album, legend now states this was the first album. And when the legend becomes truth, print the legend. So, now that we’ve covered the historical significance, I feel fully comfortable saying this album has also stood the test of time.

“I Wanna Hold Your Hand” is not only a landmark song, it’s still great. Anyone writing music today wishes, or should wish, they could come up with something as good. That clapping, the harmonies, everything, it’s utter perfection. I can’t think of a fraction of a thing that I would change on this song. To make it even better, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” is followed by one of my favorite Beatles songs, the hard-rock before there was hard-rock track “I Saw Her Standing There”. Hell, you can find vague traces of punk-rock in here if you listen hard. That yell of “1. 2. 3. 4!!!!!!” kick starts an upbeat piece of brilliance. To be honest, I don’t know how many people know what he means by “She was just 17”, but we all know that feeling. P.S., guys who say Ringo wasn’t that good a drummer, watch the way he does fills on this and goes right back into the beat seamlessly. Then you try. Yeah, fuck you, buddy.

“This Boy” is a nice slow dance track, and one that probably wouldn’t have been almost forgotten about, were I not packaged between the one-two punch of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” & “I Saw Her Standing There”, and the supercharged, and brilliantly harmonically back “It Won’t Be Long”, that I for one still think of Evan Rachel Wood when I hear it (fun cat: One of the actors we’re auditioning on Saturday was in Across The Universe). “All I’ve Gotta Do” switches from soft melody and heavy chorus (well, as heavy as it got in 1964) like some masterful attempt at the Pixies, except 10000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 times better, and far ahead of it‘s time. “All My Loving” is again an absolute classic. The guitars’ frenetic strumming only adds to the beauty of the multi-tracked melody. Listen to those “oooohs” on the background of the “All my lovin, I will send to you”, and tell me you don’t get chills.

“Don’t Bother Me” has a dark, mysterious feel to it that may not be a staple in the Beatles oeuvre, but it is an early George Harrison composition, and this oughta show you fresh off that there was something special about George. “Little Child” has one of my favorite harmonies on the line “I’m so sad and lonely”. Another song that gets forgotten next to the Beatles “hits”, but which could have been a hit in it’s own right. “Till There Was You” was originally from Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man, but Paul sings such a heartfelt rendition that my father spent his childhood believing it was a Beatles original. If that’s not a ringing endorsement for the song, I don’t know what is.

“Hold Me Tight” is another one that is inseparable from Across The Unversed to me, and in the best way, because it helps me better visualize what it would be like to be In a 60’s dance hall, blaring this track and just dancing. This is a great rocking track that I sincerely wish I wrote. The same goes for “I Wanna Be Your Man”, except now I’m thinking of A Hard Day’s Night. The frenetic dancing, the whole atmosphere had to have been amazing. The album ends on “Not A Second Time”, a great vocal track, whose melody goes into great, beautiful, and unexpected places, but never once falls short of great and right. Plus, that piano part is just genius. Actually, to conclude, the whole album is genius. In fact, this is an album that absolutely defines what should be the criteria for a Greatest Albums list. Historical significance (either influential on the culture as a whole or future musicians, in this case both) mixed with quality music. This album is most definitely worth listening to, over and over again. Hell, as soon s I’m finished typing this, I’m gonna start the album over again.

-Mike

Catch you guys tomorrow for #494: She’s So Unusual by Cyndi Lauper. And to avoid me being overly praising of the album, I brought in my good friend Tom Lorenzo to offer some alpha-male balance. Come back and check it out.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

#443: Live At The Harlem Square Club- Sam Cooke

Listened to: MP3

Now, before today, I will admit I was not familiar with Sam Cooke’s body of work. In fact, I believe it’s safe to say that anyone under 20 who was not raised to be, or became on their own, a die-hard soul music fan is not familiar with Sam Cooke. His name is not as house-hold-ish as Marvin Gaye or Otis Redding. But I have a personal disdain for Sam Cooke, and it’s no fault of his. When Rolling Stone ranked their “Greatest Singers”, Cooke came in fourth. Above Roger Daltrey, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, and basically any other singer you’ve ever heard of besides Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Elvis Presley. Now, those three I got. So maybe Elvis coulda gone as #1, but that aside, I’m sure I’m not the only one who said “Who the fuck is Sam Cooke, how does he beat out Robert Plant, Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey, and Jim Morrison, and most importantly, why does Rolling Stone have such a hard on for him?”. Well, gentle reader, I still do not know the answer, but I intend to attempt to discern it from what is considered to be his finest live album, Live At The Harlem Square Club. So, without further ado, let’s get to the album:

“Feel It” starts out with your typical live concert intro, then moves into Sam Cooke singing a swing-type track with a band that’s…is it just me or is the band a little off. The drums feel like their lagging, and it just sounds like the instruments are just playing horribly sloppy. By the end of the track, the band gets it together. I mean, every band needs to get into the groove at the start of their set (God knows we’ve had some awful opening number [I’m talking to you, our cover of That Thing You Do]), but on one of the 500 Greatest albums of all time?

“Chain Gang” is another upbeat kind of track, and now the band just sounds kind of…flat. This is a nice song, but I’m still not getting what makes this guy so special as a singer. As a songwriter, obviously these are very good tracks, but he just sounds like a raspy voiced singer. There are a lot of those. “Cupid” is a fantastic example of what soul music should be. It’s a gorgeous track, and the band even plays well on this one. But, it’s kind of like listening to Rod Stewart (now) sing it. Sure, maybe my desire for his singing to be amazing is based on his ranking on RS’s list, but so what? If you want “unbiased” reviews (aka, reviews that pretend that nothing at all has had any influence on how they feel about things) you can find a million of them on the web. I’m just wearing my bias on my sleeve.

The vocal riff he does at the beginning of “Medley: It's All Right/For Sentimental Reasons” is gorgeous, and then it stops, and he does some stage banter which nicely flows into the song. It’s nice to hear the crowd sing along and scream out to Sam, but I’m just not getting it. Fantastic songs, average singer. “Twistin’ The Night Away” is a classic, obviously, and apparently Cooke’s version is the definitive. I’m just not sure why.

How he ties his last track into the music of “Somebody Have Mercy” is something I could definitely learn from. Cooke has a spirit about him when he performs, that he really loves what he’s doing, the songs he’s singing, and every single person he’s singing for. “Bring It On Home To Me” is where the emotion really comes out. Cooke’s wail, his shrieks, they finally fit with what he’s saying. This is one powerful track, I’ll admit that. “Nothing Can Change This Love” is another fantastic example of Sam Cooke’s great compositional skill. The album ends on “Having A Party”, which is a fun little number to close a show on. Still not getting what make him this mind-blowing singer, but all in all it was a good show to listen to.

Look, as an example of the fourth greatest singer in rock history, this album sucks. But as a time capsule of early soul music, and a great energy live album, it really is very good. I’m sorry that may not have come across in this review, but I do want everyone to give it a chance. He may not be this earth-shattering singer, but as a songwriter and a performer, there’s a spark that’s undeniable. It deserves a place on THIS list. Fourth place on the singers? You know how I feel. What about you?

-Mike

Tomorrow is one I’m very excited for. The first Beatles album on our magical journey (and odds are the only one that won’t have 100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 guest writers for it), #59: Meet the Beatles.

Monday, February 22, 2010

#153: Moanin’ In The Moonlight- Howlin’ Wolf

Listened to: MP3

First off, Howlin’ Wolf is badass. The only songs I knew of his before this album were “Back Door Man” a la The Doors, and “Smokestack Lightning” a la Aerosmith. But today, in doing research, I learned that Howlin’ Wolf was 6’6” and 300 lbs. Why this intrigued me, I don’t know, but it made me highly excited for this album.

The opening track, “Moanin’ At Midnight” has this great, gravely force to it, and a harmonica part that’s just sublime. And this man’s voice, it’s like you took that shitty singing off of Trout Mask Replica and put it to good use. “How Many More Years” is a brilliant blues track, and Howlin’s voice is tailor made for it. “Smokestack Lightnin’” just goes to show how brillint a composer this man was. No complex chords changes, sweeping bridges, nothing. Just one riff played over and over again. With, of course, the vocal warbles and wails of the man himself, Howlin’ Wolf.

God, I can’t get over what a small-scale revelation this album is. I could go track by track, but it would just be ceaseless praise. Here is a man who WAS the blues. Everything about this album is genius. Every track is a sparkling example of blues mastery. I cannot recommend it enough.

-Mike

See you guys tomorrow for #443: Live At The Harlem Square Club (ooh, the first live album so far) by Sam Cooke.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

#157: Closer- Joy Division


Listened to: MP3 (Sadly, I don’t own it on CD or Vinyl)
 
Ever since I bought their greatest hits in F.Y.E. at 17, I have become, as they say in the move Control about the life of Ian Curtis, “…a firm believer in Joy Division.” Hell, when I saw Nick’s copy of Unknown Pleasures on vinyl, you would’ve thought I’d seen the face of god. Even my own stage performance takes on a lot of the habits I’ve observed from Ian Curtis.

That being said, there is an air of tragedy that looms around Closer, just as there is around Double Fantasy by John Lennon of L.A. Woman by The Doors. This was Joy Division’s final studio album (also only their second) before the death of Ian. This haunting album, with a cover almost as enigmatic as Unknown Pleasures, is a landmark in music, form a band that got much more appreciation in England then they did here.

The first track, “Atrocity Exhibition”, is named after the J.G. Ballard novel of the same title. Whereas Unknown Pleasures had a similar post-punk feel throughout, Closer’s first track begins with an African-esque drum beat, the guitar making wild, contorted growls, and Ian practically rapping, or reciting beat poetry, rather than his typical frenetic warbling. I can see Ian sitting back and saying “You like what we did before, huh? Well, fuck that!” For once, though, for me, the most impressive person on a Joy Division track isn’t Ian Curtis. It is instead Stephen Morris, for the drum beat that seems to overtake the song in the most glorious way. Amongst all the poetry and soundscape, the drums comes across clean and strong the entire time, and I’m loving it every second.

“Isolation” is a hard track to hear now, because I can’t separate it form that scene in Closer, where Ian’s standing in the studio, staring at the girl, singing about how he’s alone. The song is danceable, yes, hence it’s mass appeal, but like any good Joy Division song, the lyrics can tear at your soul if you’ll only listen. I also want to add that Bernard Sumner’s keyboard part here is one of my favorites in any song. That fact that I can turn to the instrumentalists to point out great things on the album, not just Ian, ought to show you how great the album is, because finally all of Joy Division has come together to form the super group they were for a year.

“Passover” is a dark track with a looming, ghostly vibe. A song where you can feel the spirit of Ian Curtis over your shoulder every time it comes on. Listen to that guitar part. Johnny Marr, eat your fucking heart out (did I really just use that phrase? In my defense, Animaniacs was on last night, and Dot uses that a lot). That choppy, heavy sound on “Colony” could be danceable, head-bang-able, even fuckable, and that’s just what Joy Division was after, I’m sure.

I can’t tell you why the line “I always looked to you” strikes me as hard or as sharp as it does on the track “A Means To An End”, but it does. God damn it hits hard. “Heart And Soul” is special, if for no other reason than to hear Ian on the guitar. The bass has been sampled and repeated throughout the song, and that might be quite likely for the drums at the beginning as well. That echo on the vocals, if that doesn’t explain why I called the album haunting, I don’t know what will. “Twenty Four Hours” has a slight reverb on the bass that I’m in love with, plus Ian sounds great, crisp and clear on this track.

“The Eternal” has this ethereal grasp on your soul. That dark piano feel, it’s so emotively beautiful, it’s almost like Ian was recording his suicide note (and, indeed, perhaps he was). This deep, dark track recalls a murky sea, endless, hiding all that lies beneath, with a piercing dark blue that draws you close while scaring you away.

“Decades” has a cheap organ sound that I’m still not sure if it enhances or detracts from the song. It’s still a great track, but I might have preferred this track and “The Eternal were switched around.

This album may be Joy Division’s most fluid and possibly it’s best. It is highly worth the listen, and hopefully it will move you even a fraction of the amoun I has moved me over the years.

-Mike

See you guys tomorrow for #153: Moanin’ In The Moonlight by Howlin’ Wolf.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

#256: The Velvet Rope- Janet Jackson

Listened to: MP3

I’m not gonna lie, I was dreading this. I never liked any Jackson terribly much. But I’m listening to it as I type, and there’s an emotion here that’s just…raw….and…beautiful. Yeah, it’s beautiful. I can feel it even in the first track “Velvet Rope” (ok, technically “Interlude: Twisted Elegance” is the first track, but I’m talking about real songs). Apparently Janet suffered bouts of depression while working on this album, and this truly is a portrait of the artist as a young woman suffering. It’s enthralling to hear her voice calling out, trying so hard to be heard.

“You” seems to crawl out at you, and has this intense vibe that strikes at your core. There’s been speculation that Janet is singing about Michael on this track. She claims it’s about herself, but it’s so intense, so sharp, so biting that you just end up feeling like she’s singing about you. Great, great track.

The video for “Got ‘Til It’s Gone” is by Mark Romanek, aka I think it’s genius, and it’s incorporation of Joni Mitchell basically guarantees greatness. And that’s correct. It’s greatness. The “Speakerphone Interlude” is…interesting, and leads into “My Need”, which is a great, sultry song that sounds more like Portishead’s Dummy than the bob exposing chick I’d grown up knowing. “Go Deep” is…well, my father is here, and I’m a little embarrassed to have this track on, you dig? It’s that fucking sexual. “Free Xone” is a harsh attack on homophobia, and god bless Janet for doing it. In an era of hip-hop homophobia, it’s nice to see that music used to be more tolerant. The interlude that says “You don’t have to hold on to the pain to hold on to the memory” is almost as moving as the song that follows it. Look, the gay part of me happens to adore “Together Again” and I’m sure I’ll be listening to it again, with the straight part of me in the corner cringing. But this is a great song, and you all know it. Plus, it’s so moving when you realize what it’s about (click the link).

“Empty” is good, but a little annoying with that beat. It’s just getting on my nerves. “What About” has a real nice vibe, and I’m loving the guitar. That beauty I felt in the first track comes out in ten fold on this one, mixed with Alanis fury. Seriously, if you do nothing else, look up this track, it’s violent and beautiful. Plus vulgar as shit.

“Every Time” is a song we’ve all heard on the radio, and on it’s own it sounds kind of sappy, but in the context of the album, it’s almost as beautiful as “Time” was on Tom Wait’s Raindogs. Though, admit, it does sound a little bit like a song from a Disney movie. Now, in her cover of “Tonight’s The Night” Janet Jackson proves that she can actually make a Rod Stewart song dirtier. Rod’s singing to a chick. Janet’s singing to a dude and the other chick who’s going to be in their threesome. Yeah, whether you find it hot or nauseating, it’s sure as hell effective. “I Get Lonely” is more standard fair, so I’m sure if this is your style, you’ll enjoy it. It does nothing for me, but I appreciate it.

The…uh… “Rope Burn” is….um…yeah. Wow. I feel like I need a cigarette after that.
“Anything” is a little less sex and a little more sexy. Seriously, I feel like Janet’s coming on to me now. The album closes with “Special”, which then abruptly ends, and since iTunes shows us there’s more to the track we wait. Eventually sound comes back in and we get a fun little track that closes out the album a great deal better than special would.

Let’s be real here, I sometimes get overly praising. But this album isn’t my style of music, and I thought it was great. That oughta say something. Janet, I was never a fan, but I can see why so many people are. Great, solid album.

-Mike

See you guys tomorrow for #157: Closer by Joy Division.

#2: Pet Sounds- The Beach Boys

Listened to: CD

Now, I could go on for two or three pages about how much I love Pet Sounds. I bought it in 9th grade at Best Buy and was immediately enthralled. Hell, it was my favorite album next to Tommy by The Who until I discovered Grace. It’s without a doubt the finest thing the Beach Boys ever produced, and deserves the accolades Rolling Stone gives it (ok, maybe not #2, but definitely top ten). But rather than m go on and on, I’ll just say I think this is a brilliant album, truly worth the listen, will change your life, etc. and hand it over to a girl for whom this album isn’t just a great record, it’s also in part her namesake. Plus, I read her review, and it kicks the ass of anything I could type.

-Mike
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Everybody please give a warm welcome to Carrie Ferrante

When I say “The Beach Boys”, what is the first thing that comes to mind? It’s inevitable. Surfing (despite the fact that only one of them- Dennis- was a surfer), cars, and pretty girls who may or may not be from California. Hey, those are my first associations too. But what if I said beauty? Despair? Existentialism? Yeah, I thought I’d lose you there.Well, the Beach Boys’ music certainly contains all of that. Paeans to sweet waves, bikini babes, winning pink slips with the grooviest car in town, and, oh yeah- deep depression, crushing pain, blinding hope, and the beauty of love. They don’t seem so well-rounded if you listen to their short hits compilation ’20 Good Vibrations’, but ‘Pet Sounds’ is unlike anything before it, and inspired much after it. Paul McCartney himself said that his basic reaction to listening to the album was pretty much, oh shit, how do we even top this? Yes, the Beatles themselves were baffled by the prospect of creating something better than this masterpiece. ‘Pet Sounds’ stands at number two on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums list, but perhaps it should be number one- simply because number one, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band’, graced the world the way it did because the Beatles were inspired directly by the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson’s incredible masterpiece.I keep coming back to that word. Masterpiece, masterpiece, masterpiece. I’ve been a victim of having to justify my love for the Boys all my life to friends who don’t listen to anything but modern music, weren’t introduced to it at a young age (like myself by my parents), or only know the Beach Boys for their big, big hits about sun and sand on the west coast. True, this album doesn’t contain some of my arguments for the Beach Boys (and mostly songwriter/genius/Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s) artistic gifts- the existentialist lullabye “’Til I Die”, the funky groove of “Good Vibrations”, the down-home soul of “The Trader”, and more, and more. But the album itself is the greatest argument for trying a band that on the outside seems one-dimensional, but on the inside contains infinite dimensions.

So blah, blah, I’m really building this up. Many people would disagree. Many people wouldn’t. But damn it, this is my review, and I really get to argue the case for this band that has touched my life with its music. So here goes.

The album begins with the glorious jolt of “Wouldn’t it Be Nice”. This song isn’t as deep as some others, but damn if it isn’t relatable. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice? Wouldn’t it be nice to just grow up, past that shitty teenagery and just get on with a life that is hoped for as wonderful? Wouldn’t it be nice to go to bed and wake up with the person you’ll be with for the rest of your life, the one that you can see in their eyes that your love and adoration is reciprocated? Of course life isn’t always like this, sometimes its nowhere close. Love doesn’t always last and sometime the future isn’t so beautifully bright. But…wouldn’t it be nice?

The next song is “You Still Believe in Me”. This is truly an argument for their musical beauty and lovely harmonies. The Boys get made fun of a lot for the falsettos and the “pretty music”, but well, I’d take this over an auto-tuned pop princess or a sampled beat any day. These guys had fucking VOICES- they didn’t need over-producing, they didn’t even need guitar solos or killer drums. I listen to these guys and I miss the music of the voice so lost in my generation of musicians. With rap, hip-hop, dance music, and of course autotune, the beauty a voice can create has been somewhat forgotten or shifted to the backburner. And that’s a shame. The song itself is a thank you to the one that has stood by even through fights, worry, and the not-so-good times. It’s a song we don’t always hear, as things usually jump from good to just bad. But a thank you…that’s different. Also, sweet cameo by the kiddy bike horn. Brian Wilson must’ve been on some glorious crack.

“That’s Not Me” is an example of why sometimes the lyrics in their music can be ignored because of the, again, “pretty music”. This song is about fear and loneliness, but that can be lost under the harmonies and generally more cheerful-sounding music. It’s not the deepest nor the best written of their songs- “city” rhymes with “pretty”, etc etc. But it still propels the album ahead.

Next is “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)”, the first truly slow song of the album. This album isn’t all pep and upbeatness. I’ll admit this isn’t my favorite song of theirs, but I still can appreciate Brian Wilson’s mastery of music. I don’t think he gets enough credit as a musical auteur. If McCartney, Lennon, Dylan, Jagger, etc. get the recognition, by all means he should too. I saw him perform the newer album “Smile” in concert, and man, I was freaking impressed.

Alright, so I really love “I’m Waiting for the Day”. It was a song that I somewhat ignored back in the day, but as I started listening to their whole albums more, it was gems like this that leapt out at me. It starts off a little slower, with some really lovely lyrics- “I’m waiting for the day when you can love again.” And forget it, that driving drumbeat WILL be stuck in your head the whole day after you hear it. It’s just so fun, and paired with the (flute? yeah?) its just a cool little tune. There’s such understated, shy romance here: “I guess I’m saying you’re the only one.” Plus, can anyone really not relate to falling for some beautiful mess and knowing you’ll have to wait for their trust and love, but eventually, when it comes, nothing can top it? Or being the one on the other side, scared to put yourself out there again, but knowing that this person may be the one to prove all your beliefs wrong? No? Then fuck you, you haven’t lived a life.

“Let’s Go Away For Awhile” is one of the couple of instrumentals on the album. I’m not big on jamming or things like that. I’m a song-and-lyrics kinda girl. So instrumentals can be a jolt after the bopping sweetness of the songs before. Still, again, gotta appreciate the artistry. It sounds like more than an instrumental, like there is a song being sung underneath the surface. You feel with it almost as much as a lyrical song.

After that is the soultastic “Sloop John B”. It’s my understanding that this song isn’t necessarily original, and that the subject matter is part of a few other folk songs passed from generations on. But it’s of course the definitive version. It’s silly, and obviously folky, with lyrics about being upset someone ate your corn and sailing on the ocean. Maybe I’m not doing it justice. But this is the perfect song about the waning days of a vacation gone wrong, and honestly, it belongs on any Independence Day playlist.

“God Only Knows” may literally be the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. Surely one of the top three love songs, ever. Bold statement, but really, if the Beach Boys had released nothing but this song, they’d still be remembered. The lyrics are incredible. They sum up so much so quickly. It may have a sad tinge: “If you should ever leave me, well life would still go one believe me. But the world could show nothing to me, so what good would living do me?” You could read that as suicide as quickly as Sting’s insistent depression in “Can’t Stand Losing You”. But if you only look at the surface, you haven’t scratched anything at all. It’s about loving someone that’s become such a part of your world that there’d be a hole there if they weren’t. It’s about finding someone to fill the void in life, the void of something missing, and not wanting to lose them. Before finding that person it’s easy to laugh and cry and live life, but after them, after them it feels like that has reason. And that’s what this song is about.

Following up is “I Know There’s An Answer”. This song kind of pales in comparison to the perfection of “God Only Knows”, but there’s a good mix of mellow and poppy here. The lyrics aren’t the best of the best- Wilson/Mike Love have a habit of once in awhile resorting to simple rhymes that can be a little jarring compared to other songs. But it’s listenable. Everything on this album, no matter what, is listenable. And taken as a whole every song is better.The thing about “Here Today” and the Beach Boys in general is that, while they’re more known for songs about falling for cute girls, they sang a lot about the fear and downsides of being in love. Obviously there’s nothing better, but sometimes, you can get real scared thinking about what ifs and reality. “Love is here today and it’s gone, tomorrow is here and gone so fast.” So, cherish the time, because you never know when your heart will get broken, or you won’t have another day.

“I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” is the true illustration of someone who feels misunderstood. Perhaps this should be the teenage anthem (though it truly identifies what led Brian Wilson to become a hermit for years). “Sometimes I feel very sad. I guess I just wasn’t made for these times.” Holy shit dude. I know what you mean. Doesn’t everyone?
More instrumentals in the titular song “Pet Sounds”. Very wonky and funky. An experiment. They weren’t really known for their jamming, but they seemed to have a lot of fun with it. The fact they were able to put it on albums just goes to show how things have changed. I mean…can you imagine Taylor Swift telling her producers that she wants to put more than 5 minutes of instrumental fuckery on her next album? Fairly certain she’d get beaten in some way.

So, “Caroline No” holds a special place in my heart. I mean really special. I mean, my father named me after this song. Yeah, I’m being serious. Then again, maybe it doesn’t affect my feelings for it- he was also considering Michelle after the Beatles song, and well, I’d hate the tweeness of that song no matter what. But anyway. My dad told me once why he chose that name. The song is a breakup song (which has led me more than once to curse him for setting me up like that!) but he saw it as more than that. It was a song about a girl making you grow up. And when I was born, he had to grow up. Really grow up, and figure out this world so he could teach me about it someday. This song isn’t just about breaking up with a girl named Caroline who then chopped off her hair and fell out of your life. Its about the growth that any event in your life leaves you with.

The last song on this album is “Hang on to Your Ego”. It seems a little awkwardly placed, but I assume they didn’t want to end on such a sad note. This would’ve worked after “God Only Knows” better, probably. I like it when an album ends mellow (ie. ‘Hot Fuss’ and “Everything Will Be Alright”). But it’s still a good song. Nothing particularly special, but a lot more special than much of what I’ve been hearing nowadays.

Thus is my review. I’m surprised you stuck around this long. But it was the only way I could possibly explain what makes me love this old band that is never really held in the same regard as the Beatles or Stones or a number of others. They weren’t as tough and rocking as either could be, but they didn’t have to be. They had their own sound, and after being marketed as a surfing band they branched out and found it themselves. The Great Bands are usually listed as if recounting from a chip implanted in the brain- everyone will say Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin. All British too, which means they must’ve been doing something right. No one will jump to The Beach Boys. But they’re my bid for the Great American Band. Over Creedence or anyone else. Why? Because of everything I’ve said. Because of some of the most perfect lyrics of all time, some of the most beautiful music, some of the best songs. Because you listen to them and you think about California, ‘cause only the gorgeousness of sun and sand could spawn a band that could even lend dying inside after losing one’s love a sentimental beauty that’s hard to find in a lot of rock and roll. And why is ‘Pet Sounds’ the proof? Well, the proof is in the pudding, and this is a pudding concocted with one part exquisiteness, one part relatability, and two parts genius. I won’t be agreed with a lot on that, maybe at all. But listen to this album and judge for yourself.
 

#316: Rock Steady- No Doubt

Listened to: MP3

After a great harmonic intro, we charge into “Hella Good”, not only one of No Doubt’s best songs, but one of Mark Romanek’s best videos. It’s techno/punk/ska and a thousand other labels applied by music magazines, but more importantly, it’s just good. Really good. You can’t help but just fucking dance every time this track comes back to the chorus. This of course leads into “Hey Baby”, where Stefani trades in her Tragic Kingdom yelps for groaning, whispering croons, and god damn if it isn’t just sexy. You can feel her breath on your ear like she’s whispering right to you. Normally I don’t go for the heavily electronic music, but I’ll be god damned if No Doubt’s work with Bounty Killer doesn’t just slay every inch of disdain I have for dance tracks.

“Making Out” keeps the theme of electronic dance track, though not as good as the last two. It’s kind of generic, but still a lot of fun to listen to. Plus, today’s hit “Tik Tok”seems to have been lifted almost directly from this track. Which brings us to the best reggae track ever recorded by a white girl, “Underneath It All”. Come on, who doesn’t know this track. It’s on every compilation of “Now That’s What I Call Another Compilation of Songs That Were On The Radio In The Late 90’s and Early 00’s”, and deservedly so. It’s a good, nice, mellow track. Plus, when Lady Saw kicks in, it just sooooooooooooooooooooooooo awesome. Sorry, Gwen, but she kicked your ass on this one.

I’ll be honest, it’s a little bit Early Brittany Spears, but I really like “Detective”. It’ a lot of fun, and I’m a little glad to see they got away from Jamaican vibe for at least a track. Now, what’s interesting about “Don’t Bring Me Down” is how much it sounds like a Cars song.

Surprise!

It’s co-written by Ric Ocasek. Yes, that Ric Ocasek. Oh, you meant you didn’t know who Ric Ocasek was. He’s from the Cars…The Cars…you know, “I guess you’re just what I needed”? Fuck it, whatever. He’s Ric Ocasek. Look him up. Anyway, this is also a really fun track. Now, from the beginning, you either love or hate “Start The Fire”. For once in my life, I’m going to spare you my opinion. It’s a polarizing track, and I’m interested to know your opinion on it (there’s a “Post A Comment” box for just that reason), but I won’t tell you which end of the spectrum I stand on.

However, I will tell you that I HATE “Running”. It’s drawn comparisons to Depeche Mode, and if that’s true, I’m going to kill myself during my review for Violator. It reminds me of “Fallen From The Sky” off of the soundtrack to the movie Once, except at least that had the redeeming factor of Glen and Marketa’s always amazing harmonies. This just has…eh. Seriously, kill me. Though, I know some people who love it, so maybe it’s just a matter of taste.

“In My Head” has a bass part oompapa that feels like Tom Waits meets Kraftwerk (I referenced him two days in a row. Damn you Nick Young!!!!!!!!!) and it’s a pretty fun track. “Platinum Blonde Life” marks the return of co-writer Ric Ocasek, though this time less obvious. Though, to be honest, I barely care about this track since I’m so looking forward to the next one.

After some techno intro, you hear a guitar play that sounds oddly familiar. Could it be…yes, that voice doing the harmonies. It can’t be, but it is! It is! Ladies and gentlemen, Prince! Motherfucking Prince! Yes, even though it’s just a recording, I still feel the need to introduce him. It’s Prince! This track kicks as solely for the presence of Prince.

The album closes on “Rock Steady”, which starts off sounding like an old Gameboy soundtrack, and moves into techno-reggae. God, I really hate applying labels to shit, but there it is. Techno-reggea. It’s an ok track, but I wish they’d closed the album on the Prince track.

So, I gotta be honest, I really enjoyed this album, even though this ain’t my kind of music. It truly does deserve a place on this list, even if it doesn’t get the mainstream recognition in memory that it should.

-Mike

So, tomorrow is Pet Sounds, which I’m excited for, as our guest writer Carrie Ferrante has told me hers is 4 pages. Mine’s gonna be brief, I promise. See you tomorrow

#98: This Year’s Model- Elvis Costello

Listened to: MP3

To imagine this coming out in 1998 is easy. To picture this coming out in 1978 is near impossible. This album’s sound is massively ahead of it’s time. “No Action” is an anthem worthy of the 90’s punk revival (Yes, Green Day, I do want you to cover this song). “This Year’s Girl” is Buddy Holly meets The Pixies, and to be honest, outrocks them both at times. Just listen to that bass line. That’s a tasty-ass bassline. Yes, I just used the words tasty-ass. Cut me some slack, I just finished writing a depressing as shit screenplay for the 6th time. I’m being upbeat. This is Elvis’ first album with The Attractions, and it truly shows how much of an asset they were to him.

“The Beat” is traditional Elvis Costello awesome. 50’s pop construction with a slightly punk/psychedlic vibe, mixed with Elvis’ Mozart-tinged vocal melodies. I know, you wouldn’t thing, but some of the vocal lines he sings on this song have a real Mozart vibe.

Now, you wanna talk about a great appreciation for the importance of bass, look no further than “Pump It Up”. With a shout along chorus, a sound that belongs on a strokes album, and lyrics that speak to every man’s youth, “Pump It Up” is a masterful rock classic. Does it sound familiar? That’s because you’ve already heard it in part. It was used in “Egg Man” on the Beastie Boys magnum opus “Paul’s Boutique”.

Now, Nick’s had me listening to a lot of Tom Waits lately (Nick Young: Tom Waits as Mike Natale: Glen Hansard or Leonard Cohen), so that when I heard the piano part of “Little Triggers”, I thought we were going into a grumbly ballad. Instead, we get Elvis rocking and wailing in a slow-dance track with one of my favorite drum parts of any song thus far. This brings us to the far-far-far ahead of it’s time “You Belong To Me”. No wonder Pitchfork.com gave this a 10.0. This sounds like an indie track by some obscure band guys who think their cool for listening to indie music listen to.

Switching over to side two (which I would do if I had Nick’s copy on vinyl on me. Alas, I won’t be with it for another hour) we get “Hand In Hand”. With an intro worthy of Pink Floyd, Elvis moves into a melody which makes me so glad he sounds the way he does (despite Elvis reportedly hating his voice). This sweet ballad is followed by what might be my favorite track on the album, the Clash-esque “Chelsea (I Don’t Want To Go)”. I said Clash-esque, but it’s almost like Elvis mixed The Clash with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, before RHCP even existed. The track is so awesome, so bouncy, so well done, that this track alone ought to win you over.

“Lip Service” is a fun little number where you can almost see Elvis grappling the mic like James Brown as he tries to stop himself from dancing to his own awesome track. Plus, the guitars sound like Johnny Marr, and that’s always a good thing. The harmonies on “Living In Paradise” are delicious, and that organ part is my favorite thus far. This is kind of like a sincere Weezer song.
Now, remember when I said “Little Triggers” had my favorite drum part thus far? The thus far was because we hadn’t gotten to “Lipstick Vogue” yet. This is a great, frenetic track, with an awesome bass part, and a drum track to die for. Come on, this is a killer track, just admit it. You gotta.

The album ends on the military march-esque “Night Rally”, which recalls to mind, probably just form the title, the drag race scene from “Rebel Without A Cause”. Remind me later to add this song as the soundtrack to that scene.

So, all in all, This Year’s Model is a fun album deserving a place on this list. All the tracks had to be even more mind-blowing in the days before indie rock and weezer, who clearly jacked the shit outta this album. It may be called This Year’s Model, but it’s actually a model of something 20 years to come (from 1978 that is).

-Mike

Tomorrow will be #316: Rock Steady by No Doubt.

#480: Faith- George Michael

Listened to: CD

I’ll be honest, I’ve listened to Faith by George Michael before. I know Faith. I love Faith. Every time I hear organ chords, anywhere, I hope I’ll hear “Well, I guess it would be nice if I could touch your body.” I’ll be honest, I think this album is criminally underrated. Sure, it’s considered to be one of the 500 greatest albums, but so was Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic, and that crap piece ranked higher. Here, you have George Michael at his peak, and what might be the best pop album ever produced (Yeah, I get that everyone loved you, Thriller, but you just don’t do it for me. Does that mean I believe Faith should rank above Thriller? No. Just wish it had the praise and support that Thriller has).

Opening on one of the best songs (and first songs I learned) for the acoustic guitar, “Faith”, the album has this kick start that just says “I’m talented, sexy, and about to take you places you’ve never been.” Faith is, without a doubt, one of the best pop songs ever composed, and virtually inseparable from the video of him shaking his ass in those tattered jeans. But even sans sexy video, this song kicks serious ass.

Then we move to one of George’s finest ballads, the Electra complexity of “Father Figure”. “I will be your father figure. Put your tiny hand in mine, I will be the one to love you till the end of time.” (fun fact: Woody Allen’s wedding vows. Cheap shot, I’m sorry. Love you, Woody). “Father Figure showcases George’s softer side, but just when you think he’s all of a sudden a balladeer you can bring home to Mom, he brings in the saxophones and pleads that he “…wants your sex.”. Some people I talk to hate “I Want Your Sex Parts 1 & 2”, but I adore it. It’s like “What’d I Say” on aphrodisiacs. I can picture George Michael practically humping the mic stand while he performs this track.

What I admire about this album more than anything is the fluctuation of moods. He changes pace every track, and yet it doesn’t come out disjointed. “Faith” moves perfectly into “Father Figure”, which picks up great into “I Want Your Sex Parts 1 &2”. The morning after to that last track is “One More Try”. This gorgeous ballad that seems to just be waiting for an American Idol contestant to butcher it, translates brilliantly today. Take out the typical 80’s organ sounds, ad just listen to the vocals. Michael gives an anguish on this track that doesn’t tell you who he’s singing about, but almost makes you wish you ever felt what he must have felt to be this damaged.

And, as perfectly as ever, just as you and George Michael are sinking into sad memories, he cries out “Don’t bring me down!” at the start of “Hard Day”, a track that could as easily be a 90’s Bowie track, but in the hands of an even more soulful voice. Listen to those backing vocals, ranging from angelic highs to soul-shakingly low. This track could be for dancing or…well, the same thing you’d be using Track 3 for. I still don’t know who’s doing the “sweet little boy” part, but god damn if I don’t adore the hell out of it.

“Hand To Mouth”, at the beginning, sounds like a Cure song. And if it were a Cure song, I’d probably like the Cure a lot more. How do tracks like his not get airplay? Come on, has there been one track we’ve listened to so far today that hasn’t been a potential hit single? No. “Hand To Mouth” has that sexy whisper Michael made famous, but with lyrical turns Bob Dylan would be proud of. Yeah, this is a political track. “I believe in the gods of America. I believe in the land of the free. But no one told me that the gods believe in nothing, so with empty hands I pray.” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that just happened.

“Look At Your Hands”, a great follow up to “Hand To Mouth” both on the play of the word hands, and the once again yin-yang mix of up and down songs. Listen to those saxs, that guitar, those drums, and try not to swing your head from side to side in glee. Michael let’s his vocals run wild on this track, and god bless him for it. Most artists would take so much instrumentation and do these R&B vocal wails, losing the melody in effect, and wrecking the song. But Michael keeps it in control, and the subdued mix of his vocals into the songs like it’s just another instrument make that tracks about the songs, not him.

The only time we don’t get that move from upbeat to downbeat is actually my least favorite track on the album, “Monkey”, but in his defense, if he had but the album’s last slow song “Kissing A Fool” in it’s place, and ended the album on this, it would have been so much less powerful. What is it with the Brits and monkeys? George here’s singing about them, Peter Gabriel wants to shock them, and everybody’s got something to hide except for Paul McCartney and his. I’m just confused. “Monkey” is not a terrible track, but it’s the first and only time on the album I feel less than 100% sincerity for Mr. Michael. Maybe it’s just me. It’s still a perfect piece to a perfect pop record, and apparently a huge hit in the 80‘s. So was cocaine. Just saying, maybe one helped the other a bit.

The finale is also one of the finest. So soft and beautiful, Michael talks about a feeling I’m sure we all know, being terrified to love someone because we’re too “messed up”. This could have been a Frank Sinatra track, and Michael would have done it justice if it was, but no, he wrote this. This man’s compositional range alone is mind-blowing, but his performance, his mix of flair and grace, perfectly documented on this track, ought to prove why this is a brilliant album.

Believe it or not, this album I as much about the conflict of the human spirit through life as it is about sex. He begins in lustful youth, decrying a lover for not having “Faith”, a faith he lacks in himself by the end, sure that his lover, whom he’d seduced throughout the album, is “Kissing A Fool”. Now, tell me that isn’t a perfect pop album. The emotion, the music, the variety, and the sheer beauty, I’ll take this over any album by the “King Of Pop” any day. I’d be furious if this didn’t make the list, and I’m still a little pissed it didn’t rank higher.

-Mike

Well, tomorrow (there’s a whole bunch, including this one posted in one day. Couldn’t get to a computer. Sorry folks) is #98: This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello. See you then.

#262: Workingman’s Dead- The Grateful Dead

Bit of a crisis when I found out my computer was not, in fact, posting this week. Worse was that I didn't save this entry. So, you're getting Monday-Friday today. Fun, huh? I'm using a non-suck computer, but I still have to grab the files off mine. While you wait for the rest, please enjoy my ridiculously brief review of Workingman's Dead (I'm super-pissed I had to redo it).


Listened to: CD



This review is gonna be short, because I already typed one once, it was two pages, and it got deleted. My computer decided to be a dick. So, long story short, this album is only good for “Uncle John’s Band” and “Casey Jones”, and that’s only if you’re reeeeeeaaaaaaalllllllyyyyyyy into mellow music. This album is nothing special. And I don’t mind The Dead. I had an ex who adored them, and they were truly a great live band. Recorded? Not so much. The album is draggy, dreary, and a waste of time. Like I said, I was more eloquent about it before, but I’m tired and busy. So, yeah, screw this album. How can you put this unmoving, ineffectual bore on this list, and ignore something like Dave Brubeck?


Would Replace With: Time Out by Dave Brubeck Quartet


Time Out is a revolutionary album. It’s use of unique time signatures brought jazz into a new era and to a new audience. Hell, this album beat out Workingman’s Dead for a spot on the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame’s 200 Greatest Album’s list. Get with the (not terribly recent) times, Rolling Stone. Now, again, Dave Brubeck got a better defense in my last essay, but now I’m tired, irritated, and flat out enraged, so just listen to the album and see for yourselves. It’s a fucking masterpiece.



-Mike



Tomorrow is #480: Faith by George Michael.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

#115: Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs- Derek & The Dominoes

Listened to: CD

In honor of the holiday, I decided to pick one of the greatest albums of love songs ever recorded, from one of the finest bands assembled (my guitarist once declared them “the greatest band ever”). Eric Clapton’s 1970 group put out a classic blues-rock album featuring some of the best rock love songs ever, including “Bell Bottom Blues”, “why does Love Got To Be So Sad?”, “Tell The Truth”, and the best I’m-nailing-my-best-friend’s-wife song ever written, “Layla”. Every track on this album is brilliant, and were I not on my way to play some of those songs, I’d have a lot more to say. But without a doubt, this album in a masterpiece. I hope to have my guitarist come on and give a better review than I did. I apologize, but I simply can’t think while this album is on. I get too absorbed in every crevice of perfection. Hell, even when Clapton’s voice cracks, it’s fantastic.

-Mike

See you tomorrow for #262: Workingman’s Dead by The Grateful Dead.

#419: Dummy- Portishead


Listened to: MP3


Remember when I said Led Zeppelin II was an album to fuck to? Well, Dummy is if you want it to be more sensual [read: less fun]. This music is more nick Young’s turf than mine. I enjoyed the album, but I couldn’t really decipher one track from the others. It’s nice, it’s ambient, and it’s very, VERY sexy. I highly recommend it, and if I wasn’t staring at one of the most gorgeous women I’ve ever seen in my life, with one of the most gorgeous dresses on that I’ve ever seen in my life, I’d write more about this album. But…dear god…it fit’s the music so good and…and…wow…see you tomorrow.


-Mike


Tomorrow is #115: Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs. A little Valentine’ Day treat. Today’s treat? Watching one of the prettiest women alive work with one of the most gifted directors I’ve ever seen. Ok, so that’s only a treat for me, but…so what? I deserve to be happy.

#45: The Band- The Band

Listened to: MP3

A terrific second album by one of the greatest bands in American history. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, “Rag Mama Rag” and “Up On Cripple Creek”, normally songs with little competition on rock radio, have to fight for your attention with great tracks like “Jawbone” and “Across The Great Divide”. Without a doubt, The Band’s self-titled album is also their best. If I wasn’t on my way to Crazy Heart right now, and working on a film set the next two days, I’d set aside the time to watch The Last Waltz. Well, the director is a Scorcese fan…

-Mike

Sorry to keep this one short. The next two will be too. Busy days. Unfortunately, I’m spending Valentine’s Day with the band, no lovers. Anywho, come back tomorrow for #419: Dummy by Portishead.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

#75: Led Zeppelin II- Led Zeppelin

Listened to: MP3

There are albums to put on while your driving. There are albums to put on when you’re trying to get to sleep. There are albums to put on while your writing. And then there are albums to put on when you’re getting it on. Led Zeppelin II is the last of these. Robert Plant’s voice always possessed an erotic nature, and it’s no better showcased than on the first half of this album.
“Whole Lotta Love” sounds like he was fucking in the studio, for god’s sake. “I’m gonna give you every inch of my love” along with that sliding guitar right after is all you need to know what the boys in the band want you doing. Fresh off their debut groundbreaker, Zep gets even more sophisticated on this one, Bonham’s drumming begins to move into that masterful symphonic style he displayed fuller on albums like Presence and Coda, and Page’s guitar playing is truly in a league of it’s own on this album. Even that accapela “Way down inside” seems to drip with sex. And Whole Lotta Love” ain’t the only track. “What Is And What Should Never Be” (a very special song in my life for reasons I’ll not discuss) alternates between ballad (or the closest Zeppelin comes to a ballad) and heavy rock jam. It basically sets the rhythm for the bedroom (or basement, or car, or office). “The Lemon Song” has a guitar sound that I absolutely love, and really reminds us all of Zep’s roots, the blues. Listen to that guitar solo, or that galloping drum beat, and you can’t deny Zeppelin is one of the greatest bands of all time (though I still think The Rolling Stones are the greatest, and my favorite will always be The Who). “I wanna squeeze you, baby, until the juice runs down my leg”? Come on. Pure sex right there.

But after thee tracks of hardcore fucking, isn’t it time for some sentimentality? The boys of Zeppelin thought so, which brings us to the beautiful “Thank You”. It takes the traditional 60’s love song, and brings it to a place where Zeppelin can still remain the badass mystical guys they are. “Thank You” is up there on my list of Best Love Songs (a list you’ll see on Sunday.

I remember I had an audition for a band (I got the gig and was fired shortly after) in 10th grade, and I had to sing “Heartbreaker”. I stood outside a Waldbaums for 3 hours at a Boy Scout fund raiser listening to it on repeat. Truly a powerhouse track, and a great way to open side B (I’d imagine. I don’t actually have this record). The only thing I dislike is that he ruins the rhyme scheme towards the end and just yells “Go away heartbreaker”. That just never sat right with me.

“Living, Loving Maid” to me sounds more like a post-Bon Scott AC/DC track than Zeppelin, and I’ll be damned if I could tell you why. “Ramble On” might be one of the best, and geekiest, tracks on the album. It’s about Lord Of The Rings. If I tried to write about Lord Of The Rings, I’d get my ass kicked, but Zep pulled it off. This track is heavy, intense, and true, bloody rock and roll.
“Moby Dick” doesn’t even need vocals. That riff is heavy and powerful enough to sustain the whole song, and Jimmy Page gives another Jimi (Hendrix) a run for his money with the solos on this track. Also, if anyone was wondering why Zeppelin couldn’t go on without John Bonham, look no further than this track.

The album ends on “Bring It On Home”, a terrifyingly reverb-ed track with a haunting harmonica, the bluesiest track on the album, though not one of the strongest in my opinion. I would have rather they ended on “Moby Dick”, but who am I to question masters, right? The song does pick up into classic heavy Zeppelin, after all. Still, it’s standard Zep fare.

All in all, Led Zeppelin II proves Zeppelin is one of the few bands to avoid the sophomore slump. If anything, II might actually surpass I musically. I won’t go so far as to determine that, but I will say that both these albums are essential listening for anyone who wants to truly live. Yeah, that’s not too bold a statement.

-Mike

Tomorrow, swing by for # 45: The Band by…The…The Band.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, a man whom I forgot to ask to do a bio, so he’ll remain an enigma (until next time he guests, when I’ll correct my error), Tom Lorenzo.

I’m not gonna come off as some big music auteur and I’m not gonna try to tell
you if you don’t agree with me you’re a raging dickhead. I’m not as musically inclined as my man Mickey. So, with that out of the way, lets get this shit started.

Led Zeppelin is one of my favorite bands of all time. I was a late bloomer when it
came to music. I used to just listen to songs I liked from movies and tv shows and whatnot. But senior year I started to expand. But freshman year of college is when I discovered Zeppelin on an all Zeppelin channel on XM Radio. Ever since then, I’ve been a different man musically. Now, on to the album at hand, “Led Zeppelin II”.

I just wanna say I love the album and the album cover. Basically superimposing
their faces on to the photos of the red baron and company from WWI is awesome. This entire album is basically Zeppelin throwing down the gauntlet. This was around the time The Beatles were in disarray. So Zeppelin came out and said fuck all that music about peace and shit. If “Led Zeppelin” was them making an album fusing blues and hard rock, “Led Zeppelin II” is them going even further outside the norms of rock and roll.

These guys mixed blues with rock and created something new. At the time, critics hated them. But now, we can let classics like “Whole Lotta Love” wash over us. Jimmy Page owns this song and “Heartbreaker” with his guitar solos from hell. Often the unsung hero in bands, John Paul Jones lets the bass loose, particularly on “Ramble On”, which is a song about “Lord of The Rings”. John Bonham, one of the best drummers of all time, just absolutely makes other drummers look like lily licking cocksuckers with “Moby Dick”. Then we got Robert Plant, further cementing himself as one of the best vocalists of all time. He also brings his writing talents to the table. “What Is and What Should Never Be”, about fucking his wifes younger sister. He also heavily contributed to “Ramble On” with his love of Tolkien. He also wrote possibly my favorite song on the album, “Thank You”. Seriously, I have two ideal picks for a wedding song. “Thank You” and “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica.

Now, not everything is a classic. I think the weakest song on here is “The Lemon
Song”. It’s still good, all the guys on their game but it just doesn’t do it for me. While “Living Loving Maid” is an underrated song in my opinion, it still is one of the weaker tracks on here. And “Bring It On Home” is one of the weaker tracks on here, because I feel like it was a track left off of the last album. Also because naysayers of Zeppelin say that they ripped this song off from Sonny Boy Williamson and it’s just annoying to hear.

This album is a classic. It’s Led Zeppelin doing what they do best and absolutely
tear it apart. This came out the same year as “Led Zeppelin” and they showed a
tremendous growth between the two. There are some absolute classics here and even the weaker songs are better than most bands on their best day. I’ll also say the emergence of Zeppelin is a great moment in music history and gave people a different sound than The Beatles. Zeppelin is rock and roll. I mean, a little red snapper anyone?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

#193: Dookie- Green Day


Listened to: Vinyl


Remember Blink-182, Good Charlotte, and all those other snarky, obsessed-over bands who capitalized off of the punk revival of the 90’s? They have this album to thank. Except, unlike Blink, Green Day’s 1994 classic is good for more than just punk riffs and sophomoric lyrics, though it’s got plenty of those too.


Green Day’s rule of the airwaves was inescapable in ‘94 (as is would become again exactly 10 years later with their far more mature album, American Idiot), and while Johnny Rotten has written them off as knock-offs of the Pistols, I’m a die hard fan of both. Opening the album on “Burnout”, Green Day seemed to kick off a fast-strumming, foul mouthed revolution, saying “Grunge was cool, but let’s get a little nastier”. In an instant, gone were the bleatings of Vedder and Cobain, replaced by equally the falsetto wails of Buckley and Yorke, and the pop-punk rock of Billie Joe and company. While the most popular tracks, “Longview”, “Welcome To Paradise”, “She”, “When I Come Around”, and the anthemic “Basket Case” are the ones everyone remembers, every track on this album could be a hit.


It’s hard to separate this album from my youth. I grew up getting to hear this on cassette from my uncle when my parents weren’t around. It was the first CD I ever bought (used from $5 from Tower Records) at age 12. My drummer and I played “Basket Case” in the middle school talent show in the first band we ever had. Recently, I found it on vinyl, and listening to it on this new format, I was overcome with emotion and nostalgia. The throbbing bass, the thrashing guitar, the sinfully great cacophony on certain racks, the drums and vocals working in a violent tandem, everything on this album just works. I had the fortune of seeing Green Day in concert this summer, and it really was a brilliant experience. To have that Bowie-esque stage eccentricity mixed with the same punk spirit you hear on Dookie is a feat I hope I can one day achieve. While I hate those assholes these day who say they “…only like old Green Day” (you all knew the lyrics to American Idiot. Don’t flicking lie), you can’t fault them for loving Dookie. Hell, it’s certified diamond, and deserves every one of it’s 10,000,000 sales and then some.


-Mike


See you tomorrow for #75: Led Zeppelin II by Led Zeppelin

#427: Presenting The Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica

Listened to: MP3

An excellent portrait of a pre-Beatles 60’s. Nice, doo-wop feel, and great tracks which prove why the Ronettes have earned their way into American musical history. Pop on American Graffiti, get some Coke in glass bottle, pop on this album, and feel the 50’s and 60’s flow over you. Just, you know, try and forget the whole Phil-Spector-reportedly-made-these-girls-lives-hell” part.

-Mike

Next up, #193: Dookie by Green Day.

#138: Rejuvenation- The Meters

#138: Rejuvenation- The Meters

Listened to: MP3

I can find nothing to say against Rejuvenation. It is a truly solid funk album, and unlike the Earth, Wind & Fire album I reviewed last month, no track on this album, even the 11 minute one, goes on a second too long. From “People Say” to “Africa”, the funk is on the forefront, and is highly worth the listen.

-Mike

Tomorrow (the post, as well as the one actually due for today, will be posted soon. Was working on a film shoot the last two days, so I wrote these while on set) will be # 527: Presenting The Fabulous Ronettes featuring Veronica by The Ronettes.