blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
In Charge
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Sounding more supple and vested than anyone could have expected at this stage of her career, "I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss" finds Sinead O'Connor still exploring her themes of romantic bruising, the push and pull of theology and the inner turmoil that has marked her work since the beginning. Her voice has gained a rougher edge over the years, which is masked on this album by multiple vocal overdubs. The pure voice is no longer there, but she hasn't completely ruined it (ala Joni Mitchell). She also seems a little more playful, in the tone of the album's title and latex love goddess cover picture.

While that playfulness slips into the songs ("How About I Be Me") and occasionally upping the tempo ("Take Me to Church" another theology rant bucked up by self-empowerment), it makes the album a delightful listen. There's also the O'Connor who creeps under your skin, especially on the potent "Streetcars," which loses the multi-tracked vocals and allows her to use that powerful voice backed by little more than a piano and bells. It closes the CD with a reminder of just how potent an artist O'Connor can be when she's at her best.

On the opposite end, she's trod this ground more than a few times and there's not much here thematically than you've heard if you've been a longtime follower. I like the song "8 Good Reasons," but I am weary of her railing against the music industry. She's had a career that many singers would die for, even if she's not the Miley Cyrus type that she's publicly chastened. But as she states on the CD's inner sleeve, "This Album is Dedicated to Me." She still has melodic fire and opinions to be outspoken with, and with "I'm Not Bossy..." O'Connor makes a nice return to form in the manner in which she wants to make it.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Adult Kids
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The Cold War Kids have hit their stride, since "Mine Is Yours" and "Dear Miss Lonely Hearts." On the new (2014) "Hold My Home," they continue their streak of mainstream alternative albums. The album starts off strong, with three killer tracks, where the band embraces their inner U2 and shoot for the stadiums. "All This Could Be Yours" ("All That You Can't Leave Behind," anyone?) really has echoes of Bono and the boys. They are also literal types, where "Hot Coals" begs the question "whatever happened to the strong and silent type?" And to put the point into proper perspective, there's "Harold Bloom." He's an American literary critic and Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University (thanks Wikipedia).

"Can you be wise if you never leave the room?
There will always be another Harold Bloom"
to criticize your every move."

Yes, the Kids have some fight in them. "Hotel Anywhere" looks at the process of achieving your goals, with lead vocalist Nathan Willett's call that he writes and paints, lives and breathes and "it's incredible how little I need." They also have grown braver with the stylistic choices, with the finale, "Hear My Baby Call" approximating a blues groove. With the diversity of music but clarity of purpose, "Hold My Home" is another solid effort from the Cold War Kids.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
What a Beautiful World We Live In
4 Out Of 5 Stars

After pounding out an R.E.M. sound-alike in 2011 in the form of "The King Is Dead," The Decemberists back up a bit for the more middle of the road "What A Terrible World, What A Wonderful World." There are some subtle changes, like heavier strings and horn charts, which are good. The band that crafted CD long suites now starts off an album with a song where the band apologizes for making a commercial for Axe Shampoo ("The Singer Addresses His Audience"). They know they aren't the same band that cut the masterful "The Crane Wife," and openly admit such.

What they are for "What a Terrible World..." are a crafter of songs. They've found a sweet spot between the ornate structure of those early albums to a sense of pop melody. It makes a love song like "Philomenia" all the more jaunty and "Lake Song" a hip folkie haunter. The band also sound more integrated this time around, where "The King Is Dead" was a showcase for Chris Funk, here, piano dominates many of the songs. Me. I kind of like when they get into that folk vein, as one of my favorites here - Colin Malloy almost making a sea shanty song out of "Better Not Wake The Baby."

"What a Terrible World..." will probably polarize fans who can't get over the fact that the band hit an early peak and then decided to try other things. As for me, I can respect that The Decemberists are not content to stay in one place for every album. Maybe they still aspire to be R.E.M. or even 10,000 Maniacs (some of the poetic lyrics recall the Maniacs'). What ever direction they travel, I am happy to follow as long as the music is this good.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
4 Out Of 5 Stars

On their last CD, Fall Out Boy announced their mission was to "Save Rock And Roll." On the follow-up, "American Beauty/American Psycho," it sounds like they're still headed out on that path. There's some righteous rock here. And there seems to be a theme here, it's all about the juxtapositions.

For example, the title track. You're blending a Brent Easton Ellis horror novel with a Grateful Dead album of classic Americana. Add Patrick Stump bouncing the word "Psycho" into a bouncy sing along, and you have the makings for a concert staple. The same with "Uma Thurman." Placing the "Pulp Fiction" star inside a song that mashes in the theme to "The Munsters" is something close to a work of genius. Then there's the heroics. Suzanne Vega's "dit dit doo doo" hook from "Tom's Diner" teases the intro before Stump challenges the listener. "You Will Remember Me...for Centuries" Stump wails to music meant to be played over a sports highlights reel. Same goes with "Immortals." Fall Out Boy are back to make rock that knows no limitations (there's nothing here that resembles a sappy ballad), and you'll have a very good time if you just let yourself follow along.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Kook Funk
3 Out Of 5 Stars

The Kooks have become an entirely different band since their debut. What began as a band that used The Kinks and The Arctic Monkeys as a jumping off point has reinvented itself as, of all things, funky. Soulful background vocals, disco-fied guitars, use of electronic drums and other trappings cover a lot of ground on "Listen." It's a much better album that the lackadaisical "Junk Of The Heart," but I never expected them to want to be Chic. Or Daft Punk.

The biggest culprit here is "Down," which breaks into a "down down, diggity down down diggy diggy down" (Kid Rock, anyone?) hook. Along with an insistent bass, it's a song that wouldn't be out of place to get a polished up club remix. The big soul vocal backups from "Around Down" bust the album wide open from the very beginning, Granted, this is a far more exciting album than "Junk" was, but not the direction I ever thought I'd hear The Kooks aiming for.


There are a couple classicist pop tunes here, like "Bad Habit" or the squiggly synth in "Dreams," lead singer Luke Pritchard has an engaging voice, and guitarist Hugh Harris and bassist Max Rafferty get a real chance to strut their stuff. Along with a touch of irony; in my I-tunes library, "Listen" buttresses Kool And The Gang" without the feeling changing up very much. So if you came here looking for the inspiring "Konk" or the perkiness of their debut, you won't find it on "Listen." But if you want a serving of dance-rock, you'll get what you came for.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Four Chords and a Beat Keep Me Alive
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Neon Trees make flashy 80's inspired pop in primary colors. Lot's of flash, plenty of synth-buzz and jittery guitars, all sung over big hooks and plenty of melodies. They proved that they were capable of writing a radio ready song with "Everybody Talks," a song catchy enough to get covered by the cast of Glee. Unfortunately, that song set the bar high enough that expecting the new "Pop Psychology" to be more of that kind of flawless pop. Unfortunately, they fall short.

Not for a lack of trying. The first three songs are mighty fine pop tunes, and "Sleeping With A Friend" comes closest to the effervescence of "Everybody Talks," while "Text Me In The Morning" is goofy enough to cling to the roof of your brain. There's a duet in the form of "Unavoidable" that's pretty good, as well.

But that leaves the rest of the disc, Most of it is indistinguishable from much of the many bands worshiping at the alter of 80's new wave, and lead singer Tyler Glenn chirps his way through "Pop Psychology" like every song has to be drilled in your head through sheer force of his happy singing style, For one or two songs, it's OK, but after a bit you want him to change it up a little. You're all but ready to beg him to show a little angst or something.

"Pop Psychology" ends with one more plea for getting together. "First Things First" is a peppy song about putting your needs to the front of your life, to "get what you deserve." Neon Trees, to the very end, want you to enjoy themselves and yourself. Not a bad message, but there's too much sugary sameness and not enough by way of killer material to make the grade of the CD go any higher than average.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Telling Strange Tales
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Stripping themselves back considerably from their last few albums, Coldplay's "Ghost Stories" bares the band to key piano pop balladry and Chris Martin's laments of love. For fans of the lush "Viva La Vida" or the Eno-inilftrated "Mylo Xyloto, this will sound almost naked. Martin has never sounded this intimate, and the band hasn't been this uncluttered sine their "Parachutes" debut.

What would explain this sudden call back to a more bare bones sound? Well, for one, Martin and longtime lady Gwyneth Paltrow have called it quits, and some of the songs sure do feel like break-up please. "Magic" is the earnest tip of the iceberg, as Martin keeps begging "I don't want anyone else but you" over and over above a most subdued electronic pulse. Where most other bands would make this into pure corn, Coldplay make it so darn earnest that you kind of feel for the guy. And it doesn't always work. Soon after, he wails on "Ink" that he loves so much it hurts...just like that brand new tattoo. Even Martin can't get away with that one.

But what he does pull out of his hat here is sometimes close to brilliance. Coldplay may easily be one of the biggest bands in the world, but few would make such a left field turn as they do on "Ghost Stories." That inclination towards pop heavens is on full display on the album's most uptempo track, "Sky Full Of Stars." On prior albums, the band would have laid on the production till the song was bleeding U2-isms, this time around, it's piano filtered through some electronic treatments and Martin laying on as thick as he can. "In a sky full of stars, I think I saw you..." just as the beat kicks in courtesy of Swedish DJ Avicii. It's the kind of song that makes you happy to hear it on the radio.

"Ghost Stories" may be confessionals all the way, but it also brings Coldplay down to Earth. By the time it's over, Martin is comparing himself to a flock of birds drifting above the ground in that big falsetto of his. For all the glitter and widescreen production of their previous albums, this is where they finally find their soul. Bare souls, it seems, perhaps fly better.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Mess With Your Sanity
4 Out Of 5 Stars

A band with a lot of promise, Kongos field a lot of variety for "Lunatic." There are touches of 80's pop surrounded by African rhythms (if you're familiar with Johnny Clegg, you'll latch on immediately). Which would suit a band whose father, John Kongos, had a hit in 1971 while sons and brothers Dylan, Daniel, Jesse, and Johnny Kongos absorbed the sounds of their South African upbringing. There's touches of reggae here, and plenty of arena sized radio hooks. In fact, there's already one ubiquitous hit that you'd probably caught somewhere, the jaunty "Come With Me Now."

The songs are hooky singalongs with moments of introspection. "This Time I Won't Forget" is a celebration of being alive and in the moment. The songs all have that feeling, being fast or slow. The tribal drum opener, "I'm Only Joking," bounces along with such feistiness that it's too much fun to ignore. Same with "It's a Good Life," which marries John Lennon's "Instant Karma" by way of Paul Simon's "Graceland" album. Can you tell that I'm digging Kongos yet? I heartily recommend "Lunatic."

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Getting up in Morrissey's Business
4 Out Of 5 Stars

After setting the record straight with his "Autobiography," Morrissey turns up the guitars and waxes lyrically in the way only he can. "World Peace is None Of Your Business." He's still railing away about apathy, vegetarianism, and unrequited love, It may also be his most guitar heavy album since the classic "Your Arsenal." Longtime cohort Boz Booher is given chords to crunch and leads to distort all across "World Peace," yet Morrissey leaves room for castanets and accordion (an outright solo on "Earth is The Lonliest Planet" and underpinnings of "The Bullfighter Dies," another pro-animal rights screed).

This is a fun album, because Moz sounds like he's having fun singing. Only on "I Am Not A Man" does he come off as strident, but it's very much a statement of purpose than any song he's done in quite awhile. Howling against jocks, meat eaters and those who'd destroy the planet, it also clocks in at nearly eight minutes, the longest song on "World Peace." Many of the songs are vintage Morrissey, like "Staircase At The University," (in which a despondent student kills herself over the admonishments of a disciplinarian father and snobbish boyfriend while a flamenco guitar solos away) and "Kiss Me A Lot," which add a touch of jangle pop to the album.

If you want to herald his return (it's been five years since "Years Of Refusal"), go ahead. But for those of us who thrill to a lyric like:

World peace is none of your business.
Police will stun you with their stun guns
Or they'll disable you with tasers.
That's what government's for,
Oh, you poor little fool.

Then this will feel like the Morrissey many of us have come to know and love.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
He's your "Hasidic reggae superstar"
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Matisyahu knows who he wants to be, and as your "Hasidic reggae superstar" (as he refers to himself on the song "Watch The Walls Melt Down" and "Confidence"), he's out to deliver his upbeat and spiritual message by hip-hop, reggae and rap beats and singing. At least he's aware that he's got that market cornered. That's not a bad thing. In a musical genre that usually depends on telling you just what a piece of crap the world is, Matisyau wants you to listen to him cheer you on until you become a "Champion." (One of a few very poppy songs on "Akeda.")

Between the soul searching ("Surrender") and the dancehall party songs (the excellent first single "Watch The Walls Melt Down"), Matisyahu is happy to mix styles and emotions into a coherent album. You can pick the messenger, be it you or God as defined by Matisyahu's Jewish roots, just as long as you feel it. I think his previous album, "Spark Seeker," was a bit more adventurous, but "Akeda" still shows Matisyahu in control of his message and image, and refusing to be pigeon-holed.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
I bear more grudges than lonely high court judges (remastered version review)
5 Out Of 5 Stars

After the glitter bomb that was "Your Arsenal," Morrissey decided to slow the pace a bit. "Vauxhall and I" was a much more languid and consistently paced album than any other solo albums. In fact, the guitars frequently hide in the background to allow more more Morrissey's ironic and witty lyrics to come to the fore. This was also one of Morrissey's most successful American albums, even managing to have a scrape of the top 40 with the single " The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get."

Just because the tempo had slowed down, that certainly didn't mean that Morrissey was showing any signs of mellowing out. His literate wit and self depreciating personality frequently shine through. He even dips a toe into progressive rock with a whispered "Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning." His literary references, be they "Billy Budd" or the World War II denial of the "Lazy Sunbathers," again offer proof that the 80s had a few wordsmiths as clever as Morrissey was. This 20th anniversary edition of "Vauxhall and I" reminds us just how potent Morrissey is at his very best.

The bonus live concert from the period shows just how reinvigorated Morrissey was at the time of this album. Energetic and buoyant, the guitars that had been relegated to the background moved to the foreground. Morrisey gives a delicious, more playful reading to a variety of songs, giving "Billy Budd" more force and making "The More You Ignore Me" into jangle pop. It's a fine complement to "Vauxhall and I's" seemingly mature attitude. The remastering itself is one of those that actually highlights passages you may have missed in the original version. As such this nearly flawless album has a version that is a must own.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Oceans and Diamonds
4 Out Of 5 Stars

When Beck released his masterstroke of moodiness, "Sea Change," it was lauded as a real downer of a break-up album...and one of his best. It's ground he's studiously avoided since - until now. Like that album's older and wiser brother, "Morning Phase" finds Beck picking up the acoustic guitar and moody atmospherics. It's not the cathartic bummer uplift that "Sea Change" was, but it is a darn good California folk-rock album.

In addition, you can also add Nick Drake, one of the few masters of the art of dark folk, as one of the influences. Beautifully ethereal and strong on melody, "Blackbird Chain" and "Blue Moon" fall into this realm, with "Blue Moon" starting off with a brooding ""I'm so tired of being alone, these penitent walls are all I've known." The choruses are layered with echoed spaciness, while Beck keeps trying to call his beloved back. The string heavy "Wave" (which he performed on SNL) leans heavily on atmospherics. Without the use of any percussion, it's just Beck's voice and plenty of sonic watercolors. It's really quite lovely, even as its ending finds Beck crying "Isolation, isolation..."

"Morning Phase" shows just how much Beck can get away with. It took him six years from the lukewarm "Modern Guilt" to do the soul searching he's doing here. Like "Sea Change," the impact is not immediate, but it is one that sinks in and leaves a lasting impression. He's long moved beyond the hipster cache of "Loser" and can now find the beauty old fashioned sounds of banjos and ukeleles. It's a good thing, because after all these years and plenty of maturity, "Morning Phase," with all of its private mellow gold, shows that Beck is still capable of throwing a wonderful curve ball.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Oh My Lorde
4 Out Of 5 Stars

New Zealander Ella Yelich-O'Connor (aka, Lorde) comes on like Adele or Lana Del Rey with big beats on the debut "Pure Heroine." Hard to believe that such a big voice is coming from a teenager, but she has the depth and blue-eyed soul power of women two times her age. Match that big voice up with some hip-hop percussion, and you have some potent combinations. The whole album is a solid from start to finish, although you can't beat the singles for pop thrills.

By now, you've likely heard "Royals" and "Team," with their seductive grooves and shimmering electronic sound. This is teen-angst at its best, and Lorde plays her age to the maximum. She has the knack for teen girl melodrama like Del Ray (or to court another teen sensation, Taylor Swift), as seen in "White Teeth Teens" or the saga of high school class strata in the opening "Tennis Court."

"Baby be the class clown,
I'll be the beauty queen in tears,
It's a new art form,
Showing people how little we care."

She has mastered both the yearning want and detached view of a typical teen, and the music matches her personality. "Glory and Gore" serves as more than a song title, it's the way Lorde pushes at her material. She's self-confident, of solid voice and the will to attack her subjects head on. It takes a special kind of new songwriter to have mastered these multiple personalities the way Lorde does, and she has done so here. "Pure Heroine" keeps the music in a match to the singer, the background throb of the electronics to the self searching and expressive lyrics of her debut. There's a huge potential for growth here.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Say 10 Hail Marys
3 Out Of 5 Stars

For a band that only recorded two proper albums, Danny Wilson (a trio as opposed to a single person, their name came from a Frank Sinatra movie), this "Best Of" holds together very well. Combining the best from their debut "Meet Danny Wilson" and the less well received "Be Bop Moptop," you get the best songs from each album.

American audiences will likely recall the signature hit, "Mary's Prayer." The remaining 10 songs showcase the band's sophisticated mixture of immaculate production and pop-craft, taking obvious inspiration from middle-period Steely Dan and following the trail of fellow travelers Prefab Sprout. Lead singer and songwriter Gary Clark has a pretty good blue-eyed soul voice, and the lyrics twist and turn in an enigmatic way (again, teasing out that Steely Dan influence). There's the moody "Broken China" - here in a live version - and the peppier "The Second Summer Of Love" from "Be Bop."

The only problem is that "Mary's Prayer" set such a high benchmark for the band that it became impossible to replicate the success afterwards. There are a couple of B-Sides here, including a chipper take on the standard, "Get Happy." Given the intricacies of their debut and the fact that "The Best of Danny Wilson" is a mere 11 songs, a couple more from the debut would have made this a more satisfying collection. Given that you can still find "Mary's Prayer" on the debut and any number of 80's compilations, I can only recommend this to the most ardent fans.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Out from Under The Weight of Living
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Quite accomplished for a debut, Bastille's "Bad Blood" takes a lot of influences and blends them into some seamless pop. Far from being another 80's revivalist band, they take their compositions semi-seriously, but not so much as to be pompous. The opening vocal chant to "Pompeii" sets a tone of grandiose things to come, but then settles for a neat pop hook and sing-along chanting. It's much the same though "Bad Blood," songs that come on strong and morph into feel good poptime.

There's nothing wrong with that, as anyone who follows my reviews will note that I'm a sucker for a well done pop CD. Bastille make clean, clear (no loudness wars!) sounding songs that stick like candy. They love the cinematic production and the fact that you can hide darkness with a deceptive arrangement (using "Laura Palmer," the fictional murder victim of David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" is the most obvious giveaway) shows that parlor trick. Heck, even the CD cover is a movie poster mock up.

For a change, the grandeur and the sugar mix well. There are plenty of good songs to choose from here, from the warning cry of "Weight of the World" to oft told tale of "Daniel In The Lion's Den." Lead singer and songwriter Dan Smith has a solid grasp of songwriting and sense of what it takes to sell the drama. "Bad Blood" is one of my favorites for 2013.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Preaching to the Choir
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Striking yet another retro pose for all things 80's synth, we have Chvrches and "The Bones Of What You Believe." Lead singer Lauren Mayberry and crew may be apeing the mopey sounds for all they can, but they do a really good job of it. They couch it all in shiny happy laptop rock, but they also have a taste for the distorted ("You Caught The Light," oddly a song that Mayberry doesn't sing) and it is easy to see why Depeche Mode chose them as tour openers overseas.

The Scottish threesome understand that a good downer goes down even better when it has this kind of sheen. On the anthem-ish "The Mother We Share," especially in the chorus:

"I'm in misery where you can seem as old as your omens
And the mother we share will never keep your proud head from falling
The way is long but you can make it easy on me
And the mother we share will never keep our cold hearts from calling."

Yup, nothing like a depressive episode that has a good beat so you can dance to it. "I'll be a thorn in your side," Mayberry sweetly sings on "Lungs." Her voice (which at times reminded me of Kate Bush) is so silky that you'll sometimes miss the bite of Chvrches lyrics. It's that combination of the frosty with the sugary that makes "The Bones of What You Believe" one of the better debuts of 2013.

Only gripe? Much like Imagine Dragons' debut, the frequent push into loudness war territory mars some of the better songs. I'm really beginning to think decently producing albums has become a lost art.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Santa Brough)
They Want The Airwaves
4 Out Of 5 Stars

After the tentative "Suck It And See," Arctic Monkeys ditch any subtlety and go right for the big boom stomp on their "AM" release of steam. It's obvious they've been paying attention to the outside world, as the first time I heard the CD's opener "Do I Wanna Know," I thought it was a new Black Keys songs. All slam drums and guitar distort, "Do I Wanna Know" finds lead singer Alex Turner growling "Have you no idea you're in deep" with appropriate menace, while the ballad "Number 1 Party Anthem" tears down a bar to its after hours essence of "Lights in the floor and sweat on the walls, call off the search for your soul"

There are still a couple of the jagged barbs of guitar that recall the teenage racket of their first couple of CD's, but for the most part, this is a grown up album. Allegedly inspired by Alex Turner's breakup with model and TV host Alexa Chung, the songs here are both snippy ("Why'd You Only Call Me When You're Drunk" to the wistfully resigned "Mad Sounds." Queens Of The Stonage honcho Josh Homme (who had produced the band in the past) contributes spooky "be my baby" falsetto to "Knee Socks," a song that almost matches Franz Ferdinand's choppy disco rock.

There's plenty of satisfaction on "AM," which has one ear to current trends and one ear tuned to the radio, Given the two way interpretation of the title as both the band's initials and the old fashioned delivery system of popular hits, Arctic Monkeys have comeback with arguably their best album since their debut.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
...Goes to My Head
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Probably the most successful reggae band in the world (and at the very least in terms of American success), UB40 started life as a leftist political band and ultimately ended up a bizarrely successful cover band. Their name taken from the UK equivalent of an Unemployment form, this "Greatest Hits" collection does a real good job of making sure that you'll discover that the band was more than just their reggae-fied takes on 60's and 70's oldies.

Vocalist Ali Campbell had plenty of swagger and that helped to make the protest songs (like "One In Ten," a slap at Margaret Thatcher) convincing. He could also croons convincingly, as he does on "Please Don't Make Me Cry." The cover of the Gospel standard "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" presented Ali as a soulman, and the song became popular after being adopted by the 2003 English Rugby team. Ali and his brother Robin were formidable songwriters, and the bulk of the songs were full band efforts.

But it was the covers that made them stateside success, and they're all here. The breakthrough version of Neil Diamond's "Red Red Wine" is here, but in its single version (minus the toasting of member Terence "Astro" Wilson) and that holds my review from being 5 stars. (Also a minus, no real information/liner notes/photography other than songtitles and album credits.) The three "Labour Of Love" collections was where the bulk of the covers were taken, including the Temptations' "The Way You Do the Things You Do," Al Green's "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)." Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love," came from "Promises and Lies," and their version of Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" (with Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders) came from "Baggariddim," but was one of the band's first US hits. They'd try that duet trick again with "Breakfast In Bed," to lesser results.

The band eventually fell into the trap of aiming at the cover version singles as their bread and butter, losing their edge as a band. But the singles across all the albums were always UB40's strong suit, and this "Greatest Hits" spotlights the band in their heyday (before Ali left). You can choose your speed...the ultra-poppish covers or the stinging reggae of "If It Happens Again" or "Kingston Town." Either way, you'll come out ahead.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Comes up Short
3 Out Of 5 Stars

A spotty if still relevant compilation of Velvet Underground songs, this entry into the budget "Icon" series is a tough one to categorize. Every song here is revolutionary for its time, but the quality between the recordings was and remains spotty. The young Lou Reed already has the part down of underbelly poet, and songs like "Waiting For My Man," "Heroin" and "Venus In Furs" de-romanticize New York City long before punk rock found it fashionable to do so. But it does so at the expense of Nico, who's voice on "Femme Fatale" would be on my short list for any Velvet's anthology. I also would have preferred the studio versions of "Rock and Roll" and "Sweet Jane" instead of the live versions included.

You're better off getting individual albums, and especially "The Velvet Underground and Nico" (aka "Peel it Slowly and See"). "Icon" makes a good toe-dippper, but it ultimately is not enough.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Arcade Fire Loosen Up
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Arcade Fire find themselves stirring up emotions and dance floor beats on their double CD, "Reflektor." As the most famous band of their beloved Indie scene, they have to contend with being the little band that could, as in could win a Grammy for Album of The Year ("The Suburbs"). Their answer? To invoke Orpheus and the failed love to Eurydice (she's the image of the cover art), bring in Haitian musicians to lay down some serious grooves, let David Bowie sing back up (the title track) and make what feels like their least densely produced album of their career. If anything, it frequently reminds me of how Talking Heads sounded when they used "Speaking In Tongues" to open up their overall sound.

"If there is no music in Heaven, then what's it for?" bemoans Win Butler on "Here Comes the Night Time" (the first part, the second opens disc two as a dirge), and he's here to celebrate. That means giving "Reflektor" over to James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem to make the grooves pop. Granted, this isn't Saturday Night Fever, but the percussion and bass drive better than half the album. Eurydice and Orpheus tangle again on twin songs "Awful Sound" and "It's Not Over" to again invoke their tragic love before moving onto other topics. Like "Porno." Not as bad as the title implies, it's a slower tune that contemplates the simplistic ways that men misinterpret love, like "little boys with their porno." Yes, Arcade Fire may be loosening up, but that doesn't mean their lyrics have gone soft.

Which is what makes "Reflektor" a pretty good album. Arcade Fire are still finding ways to get their sound to new places without losing their identity. If I have any gripes, it's that the expansive grooves seem to often come at the expense of over-lenghty songs (some judicious editing - like the 5 minutes of drivel at the end of "Supersymmetry" - could have made this a single disc), and the album packaging comes with lyric sheets that tore as soon as they got caught on the CD's. But that's hardly a fault to Arcade Fire. I'd gladly take a two CD set of music this ambitious than a single disc of poorly thought through laptop pop. So go ahead, dance to a song about dying (the New Order-ish "Afterlife") till "we work it out."



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September 2015

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