Friday, September 10, 2010

#3: Revolver- The Beatles

Listened to: CD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

#357: Honky Chateau- Elton John

Listened to: MP3

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

#252: Metallica- Metallica

Listened to: CD

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

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


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


Tom Lorenzo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 2, 2010

#97: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan- Bob Dylan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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