Friday, December 17, 2010

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

Listened to: CD

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

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

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

Would Replace With: American Idiot by Green Day

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


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

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

#168: My Aim Is True- Elvis Costello

Listened to: MP3

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

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

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


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

Sunday, December 5, 2010

#434: Outlandos d’Amour- The Police

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Thursday, December 2, 2010

#239: Let It Be- The Replacements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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