Thursday, June 17, 2010

#441: Tragic Kingdom- No Doubt

Listened to: Vinyl

In my humble (as humble as I’ve ever been on this thing) opinion, Tragic Kingdom is No Doubt’s finest album. Determined to succeed, despite their pop-ska sound totally clashing with the bleak, hip, grunge sound of the time, No Doubt’s third studio album features most of the songs your average radio-listener (back when radio had listeners) will recognize. Kicking off on “Spiderwebs”, one of the songs that defines the ska genre for me, alternating between laid back, brass heavy beats, and rock and roll guitar-centric heaviness. This track is one of the first to bring ska-pop to the radio, opening the door for The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Specials, and probably even more “indie” bands like MGMT. Just a theory. The album is pure saccharine joy. You can’t avoid wanting to gleefully pogo to that pounding drum, and the upbeat feel carries over into the next track, “Excuse Me Mr.” before you even get a chance to wipe the sweat off your brow. On tracks like “Excuse Me Mr.” and “Just A Girl”, Gwen Stefani proves herself one of the greatest women in rock (and lord knows I have high standards for that title). She’s got that unique voice, that colorful physicality that comes out over the record (come on, don’t act like you don’t picture her singing these tracks, when it gets to that dolphin-like bray during “excuuuse me”) and a damn hot attitude, a punk anger that apparently got lost during her solo career (we miss it, Gwen).

After three of the most well-known No Doubt tracks, “Happy Now?” is a refreshing surprise to first time listeners. From the sliding bass intro, this track is intense. Those back-up vocals of “Are you happy?” hit me hard. This is the pop of the 90’s, for me. My musical mommies. This, Alanis, and Lisa Loeb (yes, Lisa Loeb). Listen to how intense Gwen is as she wails on these tracks. No poppy “Sweet Escape” here. Just intense rock and roll, mixed with juke-box pop, blended to perfection. The upbeat organ on “Different People”, the overall bouncy vibe can’t help but make you bounce in your seat. Oh, Ska. Reggae for white people. Just for clarification, and brevity, let’s talk quick about the next three tracks: “Hey You” is not a cover of Pink Floyd (tragically, as it would be awesome to here their take on it), “The Climb” is not a cover of Miley Cyrus (tragically, some people might actually think it is. Kids are dumb), and “Sixteen” is not an Iggy Pop cover (despite how AWESOME it would be). They’re all great tracks, and you’ll discover that when you listen to this album (Oh, I haven’t convinced you yet? The next two tracks ought to).

“Sunday Morning” (not Maroon Five’s for the record) is Gwen Stefani’s furious break-up song, the angry ska Blood On The Tracks, if you will. It’s intense, it’s peppy, it’s angry, it’s fun. It’s one of the most underrated songs in their entire catalogue, though it admittedly is easily forgotten when followed by what is likely No Doubt’s best track, the so-radio-beloved-you-couldn’t-escape-it-from-1996-to-2005-and-even now-and-then-it-crops-up “Don’t Speak”, a track that deserved al the Grammy’s it lost out on (Though Time Out Of Mind might have deserved Album Of The Year {this might be better, though, that‘s up for debate}, the completely forgotten “Sunny Came Home” {can anyone remember that track?} doesn’t beat out “Don’t Speak” in my book). Stefani’s impassioned vocals, that ahead-of-it’s-time-yet-so-90’s-vibe, everything on that track is brilliantly done, from the first strum of the guitar to that heavy, head-swinging chorus. And god damn, just listen to that acoustic solo.

The four tracks that close this album probably should have gone ahead of “Don’t Speak”, which would have been an amazing album closer, the kind that gives chills. But song placement is probably the only fault this album has. Even the last four tracks are unique, infectiously catchy, and pretty damn fun (see “You Can Do It” specifically if you don’t believe me). Tragic Kingdom is a terrific record (if I take the time to buy it on vinyl, it tends to be. Those things are expensive, and I ain’t got much money, dig?), and if you’ve ever heard a No Doubt track and loved it, odds are It’s on this album, and odds are you’ll love the rest. Yeah, it’s well worth the listen.


Next up, a total change of pace, #483: Life After Death by Notorious B.I.G.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

#238: Can’t Buy A Thrill- Steely Dan

Listened to: MP3

Say what you will about Steely Dan (Lord knows Nick and I did back in our second day of reviewing), but they have good sources for things. Their name comes from a Borroughs book, and this album’s title comes from a Bob Dylan song. I really do want to like them, and maybe, just maybe, I will. Let’s see. So, without further ado, let’s give Steely Dan a second chance.
Let’s just get it out right off the bat: The Steely Dan songs you know are on this album (besides maybe Home At Last, but that‘s only if you‘re me, my guitarist, or those guys we played with that one night). “Do It Again” opens the album, and even if you’re not a huge fan (which I’m not) you’ve got to admit this is a good song. The pitch-shifting organ, the laid-back beat, he fact that it sounds like the instrumental break-down part of “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” by The Rolling Stones, and…god damn, is that a sitar? I think that every time I hear this. That’s kinda badass.

“Dirty Work” takes on a lilting quality, a really gentle vibe that feels like a track off of the Godspell soundtrack. “Kings” is where you start to get an idea of what makes Steely Dan good enjoyable. It’s not the laid-back vibe (which could at times put one to sleep) but those harmonies. They’re so rich, so serene, and have such a relaxed power behind them, you can’t help but find some minor appeal. “Midnite Cruiser” is a chill, nice enough track, as is “Only A Fool Would Say That”. Let’s face it, none of these songs are my cup of tea. I also can’t stand a track the rest of my band loves, the popular Steely Dan staple, “Reelin’ In The Years”.It’s all too relaxed and sterile for my tastes, but for relaxed and sterile music, I can’t deny it it’s quality. These are talented composers and musicians, just doing something I don’t enjoy.

“Fire In The Hole” is by far the most mellow track, and definitely lacking in the harmonies, and therefore the quality for me. “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)” takes on a bit more of a southern rock vibe (I did say a bit, not much) with the use of the slide guitar, which makes it a hair more enjoyable. Plus, once the harmonies come back in, I’m made a little bit of a happy camper. “Change of the Guard”’s mere organ sound makes it come off as cheesy, and I kinda hate the sound of the vocals. The guitar playing is enjoyable, and for what the music is, it’s quality. Just not my type of music.

The album ends on “Turn That Heartbeat Over Again” which is an enjoyable enough track, and a decent closer to what, to me, is a decent album. If you like Steely Dan’s style, it’s worth listening to. It is a great album for their kind of music. I wasn’t a fan, but it’s not like Pretzel Logic, which has no place on his list. This deserves to be on there (but much lower). It’s just not my dig.


Next up, something that truly is my dig. #441: Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt.

#6: What’s Going On- Marvin Gaye

Listened to: CD

I remember this album so well from my high school days, I can tell you who I borrowed it from and when (what I can’t tell you is whether I gave it back to him or not). Possibly the greatest soul album of all-time (though there should be a healthy debate between it and Songs In The Key Of Life, but we’ll get to that another day), What’s Going On is a technical, musical, and thematic achievement across the board. To go track by track on this album as I do with others is a disservice to the album, as it’s a concept album, whose overall arc, flow, and beauty is lost by dissecting it. I will say my favorite tracks are the title track and “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”. Marvin Gaye’s voice floats through all the song, even as he’s pained and pleading with you to “save the babies”.

This is undoubtedly Gaye’s best album. Pick it up and give it a listen. Each track is it’s own unique world, but connected together to form the magnificent universe all the emotions of this record contain. You cannot ignore this album, otherwise you’re doing a disservice to yourself.


Next up, #238: Can’t Buy A Thrill by Steely Dan. See you then.