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Oh, The Drama
3 Out Of 5 Stars

If anyone should know a thing or two about the dynamics of drama, it would be an actor. Jared Leto and 30 Seconds To Mars pour it one thick with their "Love Lust Faith And Dreams." After all, he's one of the very few to cross his acting career with an ongoing successful rock band, and a couple listens to "LLF&D" prove that Leto takes his musical craft as seriously as he does his acting. Pairing up again with producer and fellow dramatist Steve Lillywhite (U2, among many others) and plow forward.

If "This Is War" found the band edging away from grunge and screaming while turning towards prog rock, "Love Lust Faith And Dreams" takes it even further. Bubbling synths underscore many of the tracks here, especially the anthems like "City of Angels," which you can be excused for comparing the piano here to U2's "City of Blinding Lights." Since Jared Leto takes songwriter credit fir every song here, you may find it surprising that he does offer plenty of variety. While there's no Kanye West cameos, the dance beat of "The Race" heads straight for the dance floor while the final song, "Depuis Le Début," is more raw and dramatic, building its use of an orchestra until it pops...into a wind-up music box.

It's that feeling of diversity that keeps "Love Lust Faith And Dreams" from congealing into a more generic sound. That's not saying it's great, but I'd rather hear a band that can jump from poppy prog to the mystery of "Northern Lights" and still keeping their independent sound intact. "This Is War" is, IMHO, the better album, but LLF&D takes more chances.


   
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The Last of Journey's Bug Albums
3 Out Of 5 Stars


Journey had become hungry for the success they'd tasted via "Infinity" and "Evolution," each exponentially growing in sales. Steve Perry had effectively cornered the band's microphone and Neal Schon beginning to trim his soloing down to bite-sized arena ready applause grabbers, "Departure" was their most attention ready albums to date. The band's appetite for commercial success came with a price as keyboardist Gregg Rollie called it quits soon after (to eventually be replaced by Jonathan Caine). That seemed to matter little to Journey's growing legion of fans as "Departure" soon found itself in the top ten and the initial single, the pulse pounding "Any Way You Want It" soon entered the top 20, another first for the band. Even "Walks Like a Lady," Perry's attempt at while blues and one of the more unusual singles from the band's hits period, sounded effective.

However, Journey still had lingering traces of wanted to have their pop success and prog-rocker status and eat it, too. That meant for vocal production trickery on "People and Places" and phase shifting guitars that dominate "Precious Time," along with Rollie's harmonica. And while it didn't become a breakout single, Journey's penchant for mammoth balladeering, "Stay Awhile" gives a preview of the huge hits that would start once "Escape" became an even more successful album than "Departure."

Granted, FM album rockers fell all over "Departure" when it came to picking out songs to play. But it's obvious now that Journey's albums were never better than the singles. There's a reason the original "Journey's Greatest Hits" competes with the likes of similar sets by Bob Marley, Eagles and CCR for the greatest selling albums of all-time, and that is because when the band went looking for a hit, they knew how to make them fire off. You can't get around that many of these songs are just pedestrian rockers, like "Someday Soon" (sung by Rollie) or "Line of Fire's" run of the mill guitar boogie. That doesn't discount the fact that each Journey album in this three album arc had extraordinary hits. So collect away, fanatics. The rest of us can get by on best of collections, of which there are now many.


      
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The Last of Journey's Bug Albums
3 Out Of 5 Stars


Journey had become hungry for the success they'd tasted via "Infinity" and "Evolution," each exponentially growing in sales. Steve Perry had effectively cornered the band's microphone and Neal Schon beginning to trim his soloing down to bite-sized arena ready applause grabbers, "Departure" was their most attention ready albums to date. The band's appetite for commercial success came with a price as keyboardist Gregg Rollie called it quits soon after (to eventually be replaced by Jonathan Caine). That seemed to matter little to Journey's growing legion of fans as "Departure" soon found itself in the top ten and the initial single, the pulse pounding "Any Way You Want It" soon entered the top 20, another first for the band. Even "Walks Like a Lady," Perry's attempt at while blues and one of the more unusual singles from the band's hits period, sounded effective.

However, Journey still had lingering traces of wanted to have their pop success and prog-rocker status and eat it, too. That meant for vocal production trickery on "People and Places" and phase shifting guitars that dominate "Precious Time," along with Rollie's harmonica. And while it didn't become a breakout single, Journey's penchant for mammoth balladeering, "Stay Awhile" gives a preview of the huge hits that would start once "Escape" became an even more successful album than "Departure."

Granted, FM album rockers fell all over "Departure" when it came to picking out songs to play. But it's obvious now that Journey's albums were never better than the singles. There's a reason the original "Journey's Greatest Hits" competes with the likes of similar sets by Bob Marley, Eagles and CCR for the greatest selling albums of all-time, and that is because when the band went looking for a hit, they knew how to make them fire off. You can't get around that many of these songs are just pedestrian rockers, like "Someday Soon" (sung by Rollie) or "Line of Fire's" run of the mill guitar boogie. That doesn't discount the fact that each Journey album in this three album arc had extraordinary hits. So collect away, fanatics. The rest of us can get by on best of collections, of which there are now many.


      

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It's Just a Silly Phase I'm Going Through.
4 Out Of 5 Stars

I have posited on other album reviews that I believe 10cc to be the kind of band Monty Python would have dreamed up if they'd decided to take on modern pop in the 70's, instead of the wonderfulness of The Rutles. Graham Gouldman, Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme were already experienced pop writers and performers in other peoples' bands before they joined forces as studio musicians in what was basically a bubblegum hit machine studio. From those beginnings, they became one of the most respected bands of the 70's, seeming to effortlessly blend elements of pop music with progressive rock all while maintaining an often dry wit and cheeky humor. This single "Very Best Of" disc gathers the best of their 45's from their first six studio albums and bonuses you the Godley and Creme hit "Cry."

The band's origins as writers for hire on on display for the songs from their debut, "Donna," "The Dean and I" and "Rubber Bullets." The first two are borderline parody in that they so closely approximate bubblegum singles that it's hard to believe that anything would come of merit in the future. "Rubber Bullets," while still aping the Jailhouse Rock genre, satirically upends the style by having the song delivered from the standpoint of the prison staff. ("I love to hear those convicts squeal, it's a shame these slugs ain't real.") If there was any indication of the brilliance to come, that was where you'd find it.

By "Sheet Music," the band was going full-steam. "Silly Love" and "The Wall Street Shuffle" threw so many styles in the blender that trying to explain the band was an impossibility, even if American audiences weren't catching on as yet. But by the next album, "The Original Soundtrack," that would change. The double bladed "I'm Not In Love" floated all the way to number two in 1975 and broke the band in the states. Sung from both sides of the story, the singer delicately kisses off a love affair - or is he? and that made the enigmatic song such a charmer. The goofy "Life Is a Minestrone" is also included, but the album is sold short.

Having finally broken the states, the band delivered their artiest album yet, with "How Dare You!" While "I'm Mandy Fly Me" and "Art For Art's Sake" were both brilliant singles (and "I'm Mandy" may have been one of the best 'mini-opera' songs of the decade), they missed the top 40, but are definitely among the band's best. That also was when creative tensions caused the rift between Godley/Creme and Stewart/Gouldman to reach a breaking point. Stewart and Gouldman decided to keep the name 10cc and soldier on with "Deceptive Bends." They were obviously eager to please, because the ultra catchy "The Things We Do For Love" became the band's second top ten single and "People In Love" (which tried very hard to find the clever spot "I'm Not In Love" achieved) squeaked to number 40.

Sadly, it seemed that each team needed the other more than they wanted to let on. "Bloody Tourists" tried to capture the old magic, but the main single, "Dreadlock Holiday," was the first time the humor sounded forced. "For You and I," the album's ballad, just couldn't quite match the majesty of earlier, similar songs. Further albums went to a different label, but it didn't much matter as they continued on a slide of diminishing returns. Godley and Creme became video pioneers, directing for the likes of Duran Duran and The Police. It's no surprise then, that their big hit as a duo, "Cry," rose on the charts on the back of an eye-popping video. It was one of the first videos to use the face-morphing technique that eventually became famous on Micheal Jackson's "Black and White."

What makes the addition of "Cry" such a delight is that it that it makes "The Very Best of 10cc" a true representation of the band's work. These were all delightful singles and, at their absolute best, 10cc rivaled any of the 70's hitmakers for style and creativity.


     

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A True Original
5 Out Of 5 Stars

10cc, prior to "The Original Soundtrack," were something of a novelty act. They came up with arty songs with humorous twists, like "Donna," "The Dean and I," and (their biggest US single before this album) "Rubber Bullets." The album before "Soundtrack," "Sheet Music," hinted that the band had some great things potentially in store with songs like "Clockwork Creep" and "Old Wild Men." It was also beginning to show that Graham Gouldman, Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley, and Lol Creme were becoming formidable songwriters.

"The Original Soundtrack" blew all their previous efforts out of the water. Opening with a cinematic suite titled "Une Nuit In Paris," it was eight minutes of mini-opera complete with Gendarmes and ladies of the evening. It took all the smart-arse confections of the past and turned it into artiness, a couple years before Queen would do roughly the same thing with "Bohemian Rhapsody." Then came knockout punch number two, "I'm Not In Love." Richly multi-tracked vocals buoy the lamenting singer's defense of a break-up, all while being utterly unconvincing about his non-nonchalance. It was simple but extremely effective, and hit number 2 on the US Pop Charts.

Nothing else here matches the brilliance of those opening tracks, but 10cc sure did try. The satirical quirks return on "Blackmail" and "Life is a Minestrone," while "The Film of My Love" ended the album with another nod to the cinema. The topical "Second Sitting For The Last Supper" is notable for its questioning of religion ("2,000 years and he ain't come yet, we've kept his seat warm and a table set...") These were salad days for 10cc, as the band worked in two halves. Gouldman and Stewart were more conventional, Godley and Creme the artier. While it all worked on this album and the follow-up ("How Dare You"), upcoming frictions would make 10cc's albums lesser efforts. "The Original Soundtrack" was the highpoint.



     

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A State of Thermodynamic Equilibrium
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Muse waste no time on album #6 in going right for the pomp. "Supremacy" kicks off "The 2nd Law" like some expectation of a James Bond film theme, incorporating a movie-like riff and building into a cinematic overthrow of anything else that may follow. But that's Muse. If it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing. Which is a main part of the band's charm.

Queenly pompous and football stadium huge, Muse are one of the few bands that currently play it on a large scale. Take the exaggerated funk of "Panic Station," a dead ringer for Queen's "Fun It," or the upward crescendo of their contribution to the 2012 Olympics, the monumental "Survival" (which is self important enough to have its own prelude). Spiraling up to a mammoth cascade of vocal overlays and epic anthem guitars, it was a fitting song to play over Olympian triumphs.

New to the band is the stepping out of bass player Chris Wolstenholme, who tries his hand at singing and songwriting in place of main man Matthew Bellamy. On "Save Me" and "Liquid State," which provide a break to Muse's usual sledgehammer approach. "Liquid State" is the more driven of the pair, which then leads into the band's set of prog numbers, "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable" and "The 2nd Law: Isolated System." Not since Alan Parsons has a band attempted to go this grand; who else would try a duo of songs based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics? (The entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium--the state of maximum entropy - thanks Wikipedia.)

Loaded with stings, horns and choral effects, it's the sound of ambition pole vaulting into classic rock territory. Parsons would be proud of his prodigies in this case, although I bet a lot of fans will be confused. Me, I usually like when one of my favorite bands tries to get their rocks off doing something against the grain. Be it the electronics of "Madness" or the theater of "The Second Law," Muse delivers on their promise to not be run-of-the-mill.




     

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Tonight's The Night We'll Make History
3 Out Of 5 Stars


Once "Babe" became Styx's biggest hit ever, Dennis DeYoung began to push his vision onto the band. There was always a dichotomy in the classic Styx lineup, with DeYoung wanting to be more commercial and theatrical, while Tommy Shaw wanted to be a harder rocker. "Paradise Theater," Styx's first major attempt at a concept album, has DeYoung's imprint on it, from the theater concept of Chicago's (and thereby, America's) decline through the 70's.

The concept is pretty fizzy, even if the singles hold up well. "Too Much Time On My Hands" was a venture into MTV Video for the band, while "The Best of Times" tried to capture the big balled success of "Babe." James Young got his point across on "Snowblind," again dealing in the decline of things as seen through both a coke addict's eyes and lack of a future vision. (Ditto "Nothing Ever Goes to Plan.") The opening "AD 1928/Rocking The Paradise" was a crowd-pleaser designed to wake up a stadium filled with concert goers. It's hard to ignore, however, the thinness of the production, which just screams late 70's (the album was issued in 1981).

Because of the splits between Show, DeYoung and James Young (who also wanted harder rock), "Paradise Theater" is an uneven album, even though it became the band's biggest success to date. That success solidified DeYoung's commitment to theatrical concepts, which led to the "Kilroy Was Here" album (better than this) as well as driving the band towards breaking up. JY got the last laugh on "Half Penny, Two Penny" (which was highly reminiscent of "Miss America" on "The Grand Illusion"), foretelling the teardown of the Paradise but scratching at the dissent in the band. "I wanna shake myself free, Back home across the sea, where I know I'll be free..." he shouts, just before DeYoung re-enters the stage with a solo piano to reinforce the shakey concept with "AD 1958," a longing for the good old days and keeping alive "The Memories of Paradise." The band exits with an old-timey 20's sounding piano fade, but ultimately, "Paradise Theater" was grand-thater rock: just like you remember the seventies.


     

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We've got a thing...
3 Out of 5 Stars
 
And it's called "Radar Love." In America, at least, that was one of two calling cards for Golden Earring. The other came a decade later for these Dutchmen, and that was the top ten "Twilight Zone," which sounds almost like it came from a different band. But in between, Golden Earring cut twenty-some albums and had a huge following in Europe. Their cult following in the USA kept them on major labels through their career, and the obvious title of "The Continuing Story of Radar Love" tries to sum up the decade plus between the band's two main hits.

The CD does OK in that regard, especially since most folks will be buying this for one or the other hit. However, there are Golden Earring albums not even represented here, like "Hilt," "Prisoner of The Night" or "NEWS," which even had a near miss with "When The Lady Smiles." What falls between the two hits are a mixture of songs and styles; GE were straddling hard rock and prog and not really grounded on either. It made a song like "Radar Love," with the hard rock book-ended by jungle drums and a horn break in the center, or "Ce Soir" a film noir of a song about an assassin. Or even another attempt at US single, "Candy's Going Bad" (the follow-up to "Radar Love"). It starts of with a hard rock band and slows down at the end into a proggy instrumental fade. Or that, by the time they got to "The Devil Made Me Do It" and "Twilight Zone" (yet another song about an assassin), they were embracing slickness and new-wavish synths.

Lead vocalist Barry Hay manages to pull off his English pretty well, and guitarist George Kooymans often has a flair for quirky riffs and solos (give a listen to the spacy "Vanilla Queen" or the solos that build the bridge of "Twilight Zone"), but many of these songs do show their age. That's not in a good way, I should add. Come for the hits, and explore the rest with the knowledge that Golden Earring have been style chameleons throughout their career. Then listen to "Leather," a song that riffs about that "same old masochism" for a good chuckle.



     

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Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock? 
4 Out Of 5 Stars

That question is what Ian Anderson poses for "Thick as a Brick 2," some 40 years post the original classic rock epic that helped make Jethro Tull into American stars. Appears Ian has been goaded about writing this for several years now, and finally took up the challenge. It's surprisingly good, given the idea of writing a full on prog-rock concept album in the 2010's.

Gerald is given a batch of alternate futures to have arrived at, with Anderson exploring the themes with an obvious glee. It's his liveliest album in many a year, sketching out where Gerald might have been at 50, becoming a banker, a derelict, soldier, singer and "A Most Ordinary Man." Anderson also does a fair amount of self-reference, down to teasing with lyrics from "Locomotive Breath" (on Cosy Corner") and revisiting musical themes from the original album. His flute dominates, along with staccato blasts of guitar, folk-rock interludes, and spoken word set-ups to several of Gerald's possible lives.

It should be noted that, while several Tull alumni are among the players. this is still Anderson's solo show. It could easily be his own musings of "What If's Maybes and Might Have Beens" had he not been rock's best known flute player. You also won't hear anything that sounds like an obvious single, even though the original still managed one. What you do get in Anderson the ringleader, putting aside the classical ambitions from some of his solo albums to what could easily pass for a Tull album from the 80's and 90's. If you ever wondered about the boy-wonder poet or treated yourself to an afternoon puzzling over the St Cleve newspaper (now a website), you're going to get many growing spins of "Thick as a Brick 2."




     





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"We're Here Because You're There"
4 Out Of 5 Stars

That quote was part of the original album's liner notes, and it pretty much sums up The Tubes' general attitude. They were irreverent and shocking, with enough playing chops to keep those in the know interested in the music. Put that with the live show that get them banned from numerous venues (in their early days), and you had a band that seemed to be perennially on the brink of making it big. But The Tubes also spent just a little too much time being weird to climb all the way to chartland. "The Completion Backward Principle" saw them almost making it yet again, as David Foster did his best to smooth out the jarring edges and polish the band even more than Todd Rundgren did on "Remote Control." The Tubes did their part by writing some tunes that sounded absolutely Toto-ish, if Toto ever contemplated amnesia, schizophrenia and late night B-Movies as song fodder.

The buff job paid off, with The Tubes' first across the board Album Radio hit, the tough strutting but uncharacteristic "Talk To You Later." The band then hit late night TV and began showing up in swim flippers performing "Sushi Girl" in a wading pool from the stage of the Tonight Show. Radio took notice and the ballad "Don't Want To Wait Anymore" snuck into the lower reaches of the Top 40. Fortunately, Foster wasn't completely able to tame these yahoos. "Attack Of The Fifty Foot Woman" was sci-fi silly in a manner that only The Tubes could make credible, and the punchy "Mr. Hate" was the confrontation of a shattering personality that the band executed perfectly on stage. "TCBWP" is likely The Tubes' most consistent album musically, but misses five stars because it was too slickly over produced, and the band never regained their experimental edge after this (unless you count the second half of "Love Bomb").




   


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Bon Iver makes his "Kid A"
3 Out Of 5 Stars

There was a joke on "Saturday Night Live," where Justin Timberlake plays Justin Vernon, and sings a Bon Iver song to a newborn baby. The punchline is that Timberlake/Vernon falls asleep singing to himself. That's a cut a bit too close to the truth for "Bon Iver," the new CD from Vernon's namesake. There's a lot of tinkling drone, falsetto sweeteners and the occasional surprise instrumental appearances (a slide guitar in "Towers," etc.).

Taken in small doses, "Bon Iver" comes off as an even moer laid back version of Fleet Foxes, or an Ambient Peter Gabriel. Try and listen to the album all at once and you're going to get the SNL baby effect. Sometimes, like on "Calgary," he plays with traditional rock, other times, like "Hinnom TX," his experimental side takes him into "Amnesiac" territory, and that is not meant as a compliment. "Bon Iver" is, like that Radiohead album, both an acquired taste and a love it/hate it recording. I find it far more boring and static than exciting and artful.



     



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Finding the secret ingredient
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Founded by a pair of Santana sidemen and recording three albums of heavy-duty fusion rock, Journey was a band with chops galore but little commercial success to show for it. Guitarist Neal Schon and their manager decided they needed something extra to push the band to a different level, so they decided to hire vocalist Steve Perry. In an effort to polish and refine their sound, they also pulled in producer Roy Thomas Baker, who was in his stride at the time with albums from The Cars and Queen. With all the elements in place, Journey set about recording their fourth album.

"Infinity" sounded like a whole new band. As a songwriter, Perry pulled Schon towards more traditional song structure. Baker brought the band focus; not only did he get the band to lose the fusion excess, he polished the already superior musicianship in Journey to a level of majestic the group had never before reached. His penchant for layered multi-tracked harmonies benefited Journey's sound on songs like "Feeling That Way." Perry's soaring tenor blended nicely with Greg Rollie's voice, and both "Lights" and "Wheel In The Sky" barely missed the top 40. There was also the Kelly/Mouse artwork that popped off the cover, again unlike anything the band had done before (and becoming a theme the band would come back to throughout the decades).

The sucess of "Infinity" also finds the band in a sudden state of flux. Drummer Ansley Dunbar would bow out after this, and Rollie would tire of being Perry's second banana after that. For the moment, however, Journey had found the magic formula for their climb to the top with "Infinity" and the soon to come "Evolution."



   
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...And The Meek Shall Inherit The Earth
5 Out of 5 Stars

Rush jumped a creative canyon in 1976, when they released their science-fiction epic "2112." It was pretty much the moment when drummer Neil Peart mastered his writing skills, basing the entire first side on a socialist empire taken down by a guitar slinging rebel. It was more adventurous and ambitious than anything on the band's initial three albums, and also finally put the spotlight on Rush's virtuoso musical chops. Even with the dopey dedication to 'the genius of Ayn Rand' on the cover, the first half of the album was brilliant. A perfect lure for teenagers who thought prog-rock was to arty and not loud enough.

In fact, that side one suite is so amazing that it even saves the album from dropping below a five star rating. Because like it or not, side two is mostly run-of-the-mill hard rock, down to the obligatory stoner anthem ("A Passage To Bangkok"). "Twilight Zone" fares little better. The ballad "Tears" is probably the best of the second half of the album, and Geddy Lee's lyrical contribution to the disc. The stadium ready "Something for Nothing" is exactly the kind of 'raise your fist and yell' concert pleaser, and ends the song on a high note.

"2112" is still the gateway Rush album. It took them a couple more tries to make another brilliant album ("Moving Pictures"), but this was the moment it was obvious that this trio was on to something bigger than the sum of the trio.


   

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Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Landing somewhere in the middle of The Flaming Lips' catalog is "Hit To Death In The Future Head," which has long felt like a transitional album in their continual chameleon-like career. The shift seems to be in a move away from the acidic psychedelia into psychedelic Beach Boys. Kinda like goodbye Sonic Youth, hello Beatles' White Album. This most easily found as the lazy roll of "The Sun" or the peppier, undeniably catchy "Gingerale Afternoon." Wayne Coyne is also exploring the possibilities of his singing voice; this is the first Lips CD where his singing really shines all they way through.

It may be also worth noting that "Hit" was the last Lips album to feature guitarist Jonathan Donahue and drummer Nathan Roberts were aboard. Donahue contributes plenty of guitar freakouts, like on "Frogs" and "The Magician Versus The Headache," along with all the whacked out sounds mixed into the CD's half-hour "bonus" track of cacophony. (Shades of 1997's Zaireeka, anyone?) There are plenty of epic moments to be found here, but the follow-up album was the powerful "Transmissions From The Satellite Heart," the Lips' artistic and commercial breakthrough. As such, "Hit" is a cool listen, but not the place to start of you want to discover why Flaming Lips can be such a magic band.


    

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Oh my goodness, Tori has become Kate Bush
4 Out Of 5 Stars

When listening to Tori Amos' new album, "Night of Hunters," it is helpful to remember that Tori was a conservatory trained musician. And she's always loved to conceptualize her music; starting with "Boys For Pele" in 1996. So it shouldn't come as a suprise that when the classical recording label Deutsche Grammophon offered her a commission to write a song cycle based on classical works, she jumped at it. "Night Of Hunters," which chronicles a woman dealing with the end of a relationship, is an excellent summation of Tori's talents as both musician and composer.

Back when I first received a copy of "Y Kant Tori Read," I remember telling friends I thought Tori was going to be the American Kate Bush. "Little Earthquakes" solidified that opinion for me, but I never thought Tori went all the way into Kate's musical extravagance until this album. Much of "Hunter" recalls Bush's "Aerial," especially the "Sky Full of Honey" suite that is that album's second disc. Filled with lush romantic orchestration and Tori's usual literate lyrics, "Hunter" contains emotional tensions that Tori last explored on "Scarlett's Walk" in 2002.

In the same vein as "Scarlett's Walk" and its themes of a journey through womanhood, "Hunter" takes a particular moment of womanhood and tries to dissect it. As well as a difficult one. Tori needed a foil to try and help her character deal with the loss of love and image, for which we are introduced to her daughter Natasha as "Annabelle The Fox." But what "Hunter" does not do is bow to pop conventions. This is strictly a classical record and there aren't nods to hip-hop (as they did on "Abnormally Attracted to Sin's" opener, "Give") or standard pop instrumentation.

Indeed, only "Cactus Practice" or "Carry" contain what one would conventionally call a 'hook,' and when Tori and her daughter trade lines on "Job's Coffin," you might be slightly tempted to attempt singing along. But to return to my earlier Kate Bush analogy, "Night Of Hunters" is not an easy listen as much as it is an unfolding one. It's also a strong return to the Tori that amazed us 20 years ago on "Little Earthquakes."

Thanks to Amazon reviewer T.Fisher: here are the sources for Tori's songs on "Night Of The Hunter."

1. Shattering Sea (Alkan: Song of the Madwoman on the Sea-Shore, Prelude op. 31 no. 8)
2. SnowBlind (Granados: Añoranza - from 6 Pieces on Spanish Folksongs)
3. Battle of Trees (Satie: Gnossienne no. 1)
4. Fearlessness (Granados: Orientale from 12 Spanish Dances)
5. Cactus Practice (Chopin: Nocturne op. 9 no. 1)
6. Star Whisperer (Schubert: Andantino from Piano Sonata in A major D 959)
7. Job's Coffin (Inspired by the next song, Nautical Twilight)
8. Nautical Twilight (Mendelssohn: Venetian Boat Song from Songs Without Words op. 30)
9. Your Ghost (Schumann: Theme and Variations in E flat major WoO 24 from Ghost Variations)
10. Edge of the Moon (Bach: Siciliano from Flute Sonata BWV 1031)
11. The Chase (Mussorgsky: The Old Castle from Pictures at an Exhibition)
12. Night of Hunters (Scarlatti: Sonata in F minor, K.466 and the Gregorian Chant "Salva Regina")
13. Seven Sisters (Bach: Prelude in C minor)
14. Carry (Debussy: The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, from Preludes I)




   

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The other side of the prism
4 Out Of 5 Stars

TV On The Radio have been one of the most proggy groups of the last few years. Mixing elements and references from everyone from the Flaming Lips to David Bowie, their music has been a wonderful batter that pours out from each CD. For "Nine Types of Light," TVotR have moved into a new direction: relationship songs.

The first single was almost a straight ahead pop song. "Will Do" unravels slowly, like a lush R&B ballad with a seductive lead vocal. Had that song been the direction of the entire CD, I think most TV fans might have been too shocked to handle it. No need to worry, though, on "Nine Types of Light,: the following song is a buzzy beat number "New Cannonball Blues." Lurching from sassy vocals to a wailing falsetto, it has its own take on blues-rock that jerks along on its powerful drumline.

I also love the Bowie cop on "No Future Shock" and "Repetition." Kip Malone gives TV fans a new dance refrain as he barks out "Do the no future!" in a world that's gone insane. Same with the hard rocking "Caffeinated Consciousness" that ends the album, which hardly feel out of place on a Red Hot Chili Peppers album (or a little too much like INXS's "Guns The Sky" younger brother). To the other end of the spectrum, "Killer Crane" stretches out for over six minutes, with a "Dear Prudence" reference and refined and patient unfolding. Same with the album's beginning, "Second Song." "Confidence and ignorance approve me...I tried so hard to shut it down, gently walk away," is sung over a slow build. There's almost an acquiescence involved to "Nine Types of Light" that makes it fascinating.

Listening to this album made me often thing of the Talking Heads. That New York band followed their most dense and career altering album "Remain in Light" with the sunnier and poppy "Speaking in Tongues." "Nine Types of Light" finds TV leaving New York for Los Angeles and taking a sunnier view of the world. (Although no-one will mistake TVotR for Taylor Swift.) "Nine" is a great album, also standing as a tribute to band member/bassist Gerard Smith, who passed away from lung cancer in April of 2011.



   

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Time, rolling like a river,
3 Out Of 5 Stars

While his prior studio album was released six years before, Alan Parsons put together a new touring version of the Alan Parsons Project and took it on a global tour. "Eye 2 Eye," recorded in Madrid, is from that period. The members aren't many of the more infamous APP crew (no Colin Blunstone, Chris Rainbow, Lenny Zakatek etc), but the new gang fills in admirably. The set list leans heavily on hits, with only "More and More Lost Without You" (from "Valid Path") veering from the better known songs.

Like all of Parsons' albums, even his live recording are immaculately done. The sounds is just slightly less pristine than the studio versions, there's no pandering to the crowd (no 'clap your hands!!' or 'sing along with this part!' type of audience baiting). While "Eye 2 Eye" won't wipe the memory of the classic albums from your brain, it's not a disappointing CD by any means. However, the only reason you'll need to won it is if you're an APP completest.

PS - Nice to see the acknowledgement of Eric Woolfson in the liner notes.


   

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Completing The Circuit
4 Out Of 5 Stars


My Morning Jacket have such an ingrained sound that, no matter how many left turns they've taken since "Z," you can still pull their identity out of the ether their albums have become. On "Circuital," they make something of a return to the atmospheric space rock that had gone missing on the almost funky "Evil Urges," while still carrying the chromosomes of that album into this year's warp drives. Like a country-fried version of The Flaming Lips, Jim James and Company just can't stop evolving or lunging into the glorious fogs.

When your album starts with a vocalized faux-horn entrance into a "Victory Dance" and then into the epic title track where James hush/wails that he's "right back in the same place that we started out," and those two pieces are already almost a third of your album, you know you're in for an unconventional ride. Everything here is trippy but assured, from the beauty of the romantic waltz "Moving Away" to the goofy "Holding On To Black Metal;" the band never sounds tentative or as if they're searching for something. Or even if they're cracking musical jokes, as they do on "Outta My System," it's more like an ode to growing up than what most bands would use for filler.

My Morning Jacket may have become America's most fearless band. "Circuital" pulls influences together yet never seems to go down the same road twice, be it Pink Floyd mystical or The Who-like guitar intensity. (Having seen him play twice, I can assure you, the one thing I really wish for is the album where James lets that Townsend-sized energy appear on an album.) They now have discovered how to manage their many musical fusions while remaining their own band. While not the startling revelation that "Z" was, "Circuital" may well be MMJ's best to date, and one of 2011's best albums.

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HeathenDown in space it's always 1982
4 Out of 5 Stars

Continuing the creative resurgence David Bowie began with 1995's "Outside," "Heathen" found David Bowie creating interesting and soulful music after the more chilling "Hours." Teaming up with producer Tony Visconti, "Heathen" seemed as if Bowie decided he no longer had to keep trying to outdo anything from his past. While the album is moody and haunting, Bowie and Visconti seemed to be settled on making an album that played to Bowie's greatest elements.

If listened to in that respect, "Heathen" delivers plenty of payoffs. Bowie seems more of an alien than ever on "Heathen," staring with the electronic squiggles and snaps of "Sunday," which ultimately builds to Bowie chanting "Seek only peace" under the main lyric. The melancholy, if warmer "Everyone Says Hi" calls out to a lost love to come home to the boring little town she long ran away from. "Slow Burn" recalls a slowed down "Starman," and is the most haunting of the songs here (as well as my favorite from the CD).

Close behind is "Slip Away," which - to me - indictaed the purpose of "Heathen" as Bowie and Visconti created it.

"Some of us will always stay behind
Down in space it's always 1982,
The joke we always knew..."

Seems to be directed at everyone still expecting another "Space Oddity" or awaiting another chapter in the chronicles Major Tom. It's more than a sly humor. Even more humorous and intriguing are the three choices of outside songs. Bowie takes a run at Neil Young's "I've Been Waiting For You" (featuring Dave Grohl on guitar). This is probably the most conventional of the three choices, and without knowing the source, it would be easy to think it came off of Bowie's pen. Then there's The Pixies' "Cactus," which is sort of fun. If you listen carefully, you'll hear Bowie spelling out D-A-V-I-D the same what The Pixies spelled out their own name on the original.



But the absolute topper comes in the form of "I Took a Trip On a Gemini Spacecraft," originally by the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. Stardust issues aside, the Texas psycho-billy artist 9and one time T-Bone Burnette collaborator) is a hardcore cult artist that Bowie has always admired. But picking this song is almost like an inside joke, because it fits into the album so seamlessly while kind of pricking the Bowie legend. It's the most fun to be head on "Heathen."


It also kind of vindicates the album's title. The slip-sleeve's images include pictures of damaged art, and including a song like "Gemini Spacecraft" is a sort of blaspheme. It's hard not to imagine Bowie having a good laugh at all the critics who'd be poring over the album when it was first issued and trying to figure the relevance. "Heathen," dark and moody as it often is, is still David Bowie at his strongest, as well as a hearty call of "I'm still here" from the artist.






 Best of David Bowie Low A Treasure (CD) Different Story Olympia Surfer Rosa
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Point Of Know ReturnAll Your Money, won't another minute, buy
5 Out of 5 Stars

Kansas hit their crossroads with both "Leftoverture" and this 1977 follow-up, "Point of Know Return." When "Carry On Wayward Son" put the band into America's largest arenas, their mix of heartland boogie and English progressive rock gave them a starting point that became this, their most successful album. Like a lot of bands at this point (think Styx or REO Speedwagon), Kansas opted to pull more pop into their mix and less Magnum Opus.

That meant a focus on shorter songs with bigger hooks. It also meant (as the new, excellent liner notes point out) the band was starting to fray when success began to pump up individual egos. While the songs are still universally decent, there's less inter-musician jamming. Some songs, like the concert-ready "Lightning's Hand" or "Sparks of The Tempest," don't have as cohesive a feel as the band's best work. (It's also worth noting that "Sparks of The Tempest" is here as a bonus live version.) A proggy-keyboard workout, "The Spider," harkens more towards that era, as does the title track.

However, it was the least unconventional song on the album that would prove to be Kansas' high-water mark. A guitar warm-up exercise that Kerry Livgren set poetry to evolved into "Dust in The Wind," a solo acoustic guitar enhanced by violinist Robbie Steinhardt. It's as art rock as "Icarus" (from "Masque") would be, even if it was stripped down before such things became popular. As such, it hit number six on the pop charts and found Kansas added to the same radio stations that would play Barry Manilow but not BTO. It also signaled the tipping point for the band.

By the next studio album, "Monolith," Steve Walsh had begun chasing a solo career, Kerry and Dave Hope would soon become born again Christians and the music became less focused. "Point Of Know Return" was not just a trippy album title, it was kind of a harbinger of the band itself. It makes this album and "Leftoverture" two for a pair (and the band's first three albums a trilogy of American Progressive Rock), as well as being their best album.


Best of  Leftoverture (Exp) Monolith Boston Don't Look Back (Reis) (Dig) Walk on

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