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)
In their element
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Given that, even in their earliest days, R.E.M. depended heavily on acoustic coloring for their finest material, it's not a surprise that MTV Unplugged would fit them like a glove. These two Unplugged Sessions, which include 11 performances not featured on either of the original broadcasts, offer both empirical evidence that - in both of their decades - R.E.M. could evoke all that was good about indie bands in the 80's on.

Split between a 1991 show behind "Out Of Time" and a 2001 show behind "Reveal," they augmented their sound with guests like Peter Holsapple (the 1991 set in particular) and Scott McCaughey (who played in the pick-up band The Minus Five with Peter Buck). It also showcases how important Mike Mills' harmony vocals were with Michael Stipe's idiosyncratic leads. Given the time between the two sets (long enough to include the R.E.M. post Bill Berry), there's a lot of ground to cover. It actually makes the 2001 disc a more satisfying listen, as they include favorites like "South Central Rain," "The One That I Love" and the oddness of "Country Feedback" sitting next to songs like "Imitation Of Life" and "Sad Professor," which are improved in this setting. They also went for the lesser known songs, like "Belong" and "Rotary Eleven" at the expense of some more obvious selections ("Radio Free Europe" doesn't show up on either disc, although "Losing My Religion" made both shows).

Fans made distraught by the band's break-up can now content themselves with vintage material such as "Unplugged: The Complete Sessions" and the online clear-out of B-Sides and outtakes for the real devout. However, as dual snapshots in the R.E.M. timeline, "Unplugged: The Complete Sessions" is a feast in a drought. I am willing to bet that there's still more in the vaults that will arrive over time. One can only hope.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Still Flinging
5 Out Of 5 Stars

Essentially, this is the album that finally made punk safe for the masses. Led by a powerhouse trio, a wickedly juvenile sense of humor and, frankly, a killer set of songs, "Dookie" became a multi-platinum success and made overnight stars out of Green Day. They worked the basic best of the punk playbook with quick bursts of melody, propulsive drumming (Tre Cool may be one of the most underrated drummers of modern times) and vocals that were both young man snotty ("Longview") and mature beyond the format ("When I Come Around"), they managed to cover all the bases while holding a punk cachet.

Now that "Dookie" is 20 years old, there's a certain nostalgia for the Green Day of yore, before the politics and rock opera days. Billie Jo is still a wild eyed kid in the midst of all the rock dreams, so he can get away with lines like "when master.....'s lost it's thrill" and the oddball bad joke hidden at the tail end of "F.O.D.". And while they were kind of advanced for they're ages, it would still be another three albums before they'd try something as mature as "Good Riddance/Time Of Your Life."

So revel in the golden age of 1990's power punk, before the dam burst and every dyed hair band with a melody had a hit. Green Day got there first, with one of the best opening lines of a punk song ever in "Do you have the time, to listen to me whine" just before a buzzsaw guitar starts tearing the joint apart ("Longview"). They knew they were climbing over the backs of their forebears - the liner art screams Ramones circa "Rocket To Russia" - but little did they know how much farther they'd raise the bar.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Very Evenflow
4 Out Of 5 Stars

What Pearl Jam did, maybe even unwittingly, was to weld the thick sludgy minor-chord sound (and general angst) of grunge to arena size rock choruses and guitar power. In doing so, they managed to quickly outshine their nearest peers (Nirvana) commercially and ultimately become the vanguard for rock through the 90's. Along with Red Hot Chili Peppers and maybe Soundgarden, they shaped the sound of a decade and thrived to see their success sustained creatively.

"The Essential Pearl Jam" (a repackaging of Rearviewmirror, as reflected in the title) reflects (har har) that 12 years between Ten and Binaural in solid fashion, even if does lean heavily on the first three albums. It also offers a dozen later track to show that, even while the band's spotlight had faded somewhat, albums like No Code were better even while the band purposely was making music that antagonized fans expecting more of "Jeremy." Treats like "Do The Evolution" and "Man Of The Hour" sound just as powerful as any of the pre-Vs. material.

And for those who argue that Eddie Vedder is a big old sourpuss, they miss out on fun stuff like the tribute to old 45's "Spin The Black Circle" or the totally un-ironic cover of "Last Kiss" (that actually hit the top ten in 1999). Guitarist Stone Gossard rips some particularly innovative riffs through the proceedings here, and it's worth noting that Goassard (as well as the rest of the band) usually co-wrote the band's songs. On "Rearviewmirror," they are divided into two CD's, with an "Up" disc of rockers and the "Down" side of more pensive or acoustic material.

It is the second disc where more of the interesting material lies for me. I've always personally felt "Better man" to be the best song Pearl Jam ever wrote, and the closer, "Yellow Ledbetter" is a damn good blues number with Mike McCready hitting a terrific facsimile of Jimi Hendrix. There is plenty of meat spread between the two discs, and for the casual radio fan of Pearl Jam, this is a great sampler at a fine price.


   
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)
A great collection of 90's singles!
4 Out Of 5 Stars

This entry into the budget priced "Icon" series features the same track listing as No Doubt's "Singles Collection - 1992 - 2003." So if you already have that set, you can pass on buying this CD and from reading the accompanying review. Otherwise, read on, gentle rocker.

Remember around 1996 and 1997, the period of the great third wave ska revival? All these southern California bands that were aping two-tone bands from the eighties - like Reel Big Fish and Save Ferris? Like most trends, it was over pretty fast. But it was also the breakthrough of "Tragic Kingdom" by No Doubt. And while the ska influenced pop of "Spiderwebs" and "Just A Girl" may have been the initial attention getters, it was the ballad that took them to the top of the charts. "Don't Speak" was a perfect slice of teenage heartbreak and sounded sweet on the radio. Quite frankly, I wasn't expecting them to go much farther after that.

Was I wrong there! While I have yet to really enjoy any of No Doubt's full length albums, their singles were guilty pleasures on the radio. So while the other one hit wonders from the same period faded away, it was No Doubt that continued to grow and create. In many ways, Gwen Stefani reminds me a lot of that other great girl rock band icon, Debbie Harry. Where No Doubt is undoubtedly a band (like Blondie), it is their front person on whom the attention is primarily focused. And like Blondie, No Doubt kept their punky ethos intact while exploring other sounds (dancehall, new wave, etc.). It made for such sublime singles like "Hella Good" and the inescapable "Hey Baby."

The inclusion of the newly recorded version of Talk Talk's "It's My Life" is a perfect match for No Doubt. It utilizes the band's melding of sounds to a pouty song that's tailor made for Gwen's voice. It puts a strong crown on No Doubt's first decade, and with the Grammy for "Underneath It All," and the successful comeback of "Push and Shove," my guess is there will be plenty of material for the inevitable second Icon of hits.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Lou Reed. March 2, 1942 - October 27, 2013
5 Out Of 5 Stars

There aren't too many figures in America Rock and Roll that have a footprint quite like Lou Reed's. From his start as part of Andy Warhol's factory band to his later status as a sort of NYC Poet Laureate, to even recording and album in cahoots with Metallica (not represented here, though), he is one of the USA's predominant rock icons. Or as he put it on one of his live albums, a Rock and Roll Animal. This "Essentials" set is a repackaging of "NYC Man," but still a great set if you don't already own that older package.

The tracklist is a varied set and covers most of his time with various incarnations and major labels (RCA, Arista and Warners). There are excellent liner notes courtesy of Lou himslef, describing the thought processes behind the songs. The sequencing is a bit odd, as the first song here is from "The Raven" (his adaptations of Edgar Alan Poe) and then ends on disc two with "Transformer's" "Pale Blue Eyes." Reed describes his concept for the sequencing as "the point of view which songs relate to each other in the best fashion." Because of the really sweet remastering job (mostly from 2003), many of the songs, even from the Velvets, slip into the others sounding as contemporary as ever. There's the basic rock of "Dirty Boulevard" to the atmospheric guitar the grinds through "Rocket Minuet," which Reed viewed as worthy of following each other. (Minuet" also featured his wife, performance artist Laurie Anderson, on violin.) He could make any sound he wanted, and he did, without compromise.

I have my own personal favorites here, especially from the albums "Magic and Loss" and "New York," which in my opinion, were brilliant even if it took a few years for an audience to catch up to them. And while the Arista albums tended to get slagged, selections from the likes of "The Blue Mask" and "Legendary Hearts" are here and deserve a re-listen. Of course, there are the magical songs from "Transformer," including "Perfect Day." As a compilation, it's a great starter kit, although I'd recommend any of the albums mentioned here (and "The Velvet Underground and Nico") as perfect albums in their own right. "The Essential Lou Reed" is a terrific overview of one of Rock's greatest cantankerous characters, and the world is a slightly less interesting place because of his passing.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Breakdown, Make Up
2 Out Of 5 Stars

Released as a companion piece to the already abrasive "Broken," Nine Inch Nails' "Fixed" is almost as caustic. Six songs (five remixes) are given a Cuisinart of studio trickery and often pair little resemblance to their sources. For instance, the remix of "Gave Up" tears apart the vocal track into some sort pastiche and stutters most of of the song into disconcerting fragments. "Throw This Away" is a remix of both "Suck" and "Last" that manages to not sound anything like their origins. "Fist F***" is one of two mixes given to "Wish," just with a nastier title and a lot more guitar and no actual use of the actual title.

One of Reznor's best (and most vitriolic) songs, "Happiness In Slavery" is also given a double dose, fist with a semi-standardized remix like you might have expected given the multiple remixes he released from "Pretty Hate Machine." It's almost a dub remix with more industrial sounds. The second, "Screaming Slave," is just what its title would reveal it to be. A total sandblaster musically, with a ton of agonized screams punctuating towards the end. Probably the least interesting track on "Fixed."

"Broken" is obviously the better of the two EP's as it represents Reznor's original vision of the songs, but "Fixed" makes an interesting curio. Reznot would tread this road again, soon after "The Downward Spiral" was released, a near full length LP of remixes called "Further Down The Spiral" would appear. I'd call "Fixed" an EP for completists only.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Don't Hate Yourself for Loving Her
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Joan Jett is a true rock and roll survivor. After the crash of The Runaways, who were often derided as some kind of stunt/joke from Kim Fowley, she rose from the ashes, got rock impresario Neil Bogart to sign her, and released "Bad Reputation." While it was the second album, "I Love Rock and Roll" to really make the breaks happen, Joan rose from the ashes and has kept her career going into the next century. This two disc Greatest Hits anthology is a super way to find out just how (and why) she never went down without a fight.

First off, she dusts off a couple of Runaways tracks, "Cherry Bomb" "School Days" and "You Drive Me Wild" show that The Runaways were perfectly capable of turning out decent rock songs, and Jett takes them over with authority. She's had a knack for doing that from the start, as her choice selection of cover songs has always shown. Here you get "Do You Wanna Touch," "Crimson and Clover," "Everyday People," "AC/DC" (the Sweet song, not the band, although her version of "Dirty Deeds" could have fit nicely), and her explosive version of a song Bruce Springsteen handed over to her, "Light Of Day." Oh yeah, and an obscure song from a band called The Arrows, "I Love Rock and Roll." OK, so we've established that Jett has eclectic tastes in rock artists, but what about her own songs?

"Why should I care about a Bad Reputation?" she barked out on her debut LP. Indeed, she rocks without giving a darn about what the world thought of her. She mixed hard rock, punk energy and glam, sometimes in the same song. There's a direct line from "Do You Wanna Touch" to "I Hate Myself for Loving You." You can't deny the kiss off of "Fake Friends." Or a subversive sense of humor by recording "Love Is All Around" (the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore show) and punking it up. Jett proves she can still cook with a pair of songs from 2006's "Sinner," one of which is a gas of a redo of The Replacements' "Androgynous."

"Greatest Hits" has 21 songs between the two CD's, so there's not much to quibble about (and I am guessing Epic records kept control as very little of those years are represented). But for an enduring talent of Joan Jett's caliber, you'll get your money's worth from this set.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Lost Among The Stars
3 Out Of 5 Stars

For their final proper album as Queen (I am one of those who is steadfast that there is no Queen without Freddie Mercury), Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon put in a valiant effort towards making an album worthy of their finest work. But there is no escaping that "Made In Heaven" is a patchwork effort, comprised of B-Sides, remixes and songs cobbled together from snippets of works in progress. It's a good album, but it is not a great one, and Queen is a band that produced more than their share of brilliance.

In 1995, four years after Mercury's passing, the band took a look over what they had. This included vocal tracks that Mercury had laid down prior to his death; he knew what was coming and did what any self respecting Diva would do, he made sure there were plenty of his grand voice tracks for his bandmates to choose from. These are the songs "Mother Love" and (I believe) "A Winter's Tale." Of the two, "A Winter's Tale" fairs the best as a relaxed song where Freddie ruminates on the finer yet unheralded things of life, before adding at the end, "ooo, it's bliss."

Then come the redoes, like "Made In Heaven" and "I Was Born To Love You," reworked from Mercury's underrated "Mr Bad Guy" album. "Born To Love You" started life as a disco-fied dance-rock number, here Mercury's vocal track is synthed out into a mid tempo rocker with the rest of the band adding their background vocals. The two songs where Freddie's vocals weren't originally there come from "Made In Heaven" and "Too Much Love Will Kill You" (now there's some bad irony) via Roger Taylor's unheralded band The Cross and a Brian May solo album, respectively. Both are grand in the traditional Queen fashion. Same with "Let Me Live," which features Taylor and Brian sharing leads with Freddie and a gospel chorus backing them up.

That's the good stuff. The rest of "Made In Heaven" is piecemeal and sounds it. Then there's the inexplicable 23 minutes of ambient chill-out that drags out the CD (thank heaven for the skip button) to a very WTF ending where the final thing you hear is Mercury exclaiming "Fab!" I'm sure someone, somewhere, thought this was a brilliant tribute to Mercury's ascendance into legend, but it wasn't. For Queen fans and completists, "Made In Heaven" is something you should own. But I can't recommend it to much anyone else except for the most ardent of Queen fans. "Innuendo" was the last Queen album that measured up to the bend's mighty legacy. Best it should have stayed that way.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Leapfrogging the Competition
4 Out Of 5 Stars

They'd have pulled three stars just for the fact that they lifted the band name from a Monty Python "MTV News/Rolling Stone" parody skit, but then Toad The Wet Sprocket were a band that didn't want to be conventional. They had an acoustically based rock-pop foundation that was lead by singer Glen Phillips and bandmates that all crafted songs for the band. Phillips, along with guitarist Todd Nichols, bassist Dean Dinning, and drummer Randy Guss lead off with a pair of modest albums, "Bread and Circus" and then "Pale." The songs "Way Away," "Come Back Down," and a different version of "Jam" come from this first duo, and show the band mastering an REM style of jangle pop.

The band refined their sound quickly and the next two albums were the band's watersheds. "Fear" came first and popped up Toad's first top 20 single in "All I Want." Easily one of the better jangle pop songs top come from the 90's, it masked the albums darker themes. "Hold Her Down" is a diatribe against sexual abuse, while "I Will Not Take These Things For Granted" is a lush take that follows the good things that life serves you, just as the title states. There was also the stately waltz-time "Walk On The Ocean." "Dulcinea" (which translates roughly in Spanish to a sweet lady) contained more of the same themes, with a sense of whimsy. But the singles were also the toughest of Toad's career to date; "Fall Down" (which squeaked into the Top 40) and an edit of "Something's Always Wrong," again using REM as a starting point. In my opinion, the best two Toad The Wet Sprocket CD's.

It took a couple of years and an odds and ends compilation titled "In Light Syrup" (again with the Monty Python references, from which the jangly "Good Intentions" comes from) before 1997's "Coil" appeared. Toad seemed a bit more somber, and they must have liked the album a lot afterwards, as "Come Down," "Crazy Life," and "Whatever I Fear" all made this best of's cut. It was also the band's highest charting album, peaking at #19. There's three new songs, a redone version of "PS," and the two previously unreleased in the US tunes "Eyes Wide Open" and "Silo Lullaby." Both are good representations of the band's overall sound and dynamic. I may have even bumped this up an extra star had they included their version of KISS's "Rock and Roll All Night" set to roughly the same arrangement as "Walk On The Ocean." But not to be.

Taken as a whole, this is one of those Greatest Hits collections that serves the band well. There are a couple of songs I would have wished for ("Windmills" would be a big one for me), but I am certain every fan has a quibble to make. "PS," by playing with the recording chronology, feels like an album made as a whole and not as a collection culled together without thought. That's how all best of's should be, and Toad The Wet Sprocket" get the treatment they deserve.

PS: Glen Phillips still records and tours, and has several decent solo CD's under his belt.


     
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Head Out On The Highway
3 Out Of 5 Stars

I'm one of the fans of Fountains of Wayne that grew into the band backwards, tricked into loving them by the fact that "Stacy's Mom" was such a ridiculous earworm that I had to have "Welcome Interstate Managers." Then I went to "Traffic and Weather," which I loved just about as much. Then it was time to go to the beginning and get albums one and two. Adam Schlesinger, Chris Collingwood and company have what almost every power pop wannanbe band in the world aspires to, and that is an uncanny ability to craft songs that sound recognizable on the first listen, even if you think it was by somebody else originally.

So why only three stars for "Utopia Parkway?" Well, despite the fact that the debut was classic almost from the first note, here FoW fall victim to the dreaded sophomore slump. You know the one where you have all your life to write the first album and 8 months to come up with the second? That's what "Utopia Parkway" sounds like to me. The influences are just a bit too obvious, the jokes a little too insider, and the songs just short of flawless. They still had more hooks that the proverbial tackle box, but there are themes on "Parkway" that they'd perfect in later albums. "Denise" sounds like it was the blueprint for "Traffic and Weather's" "Someone to Love," and "The Senator's Daughter" a warm-up for "Hackensack."

The band's penchant for checking off ironic references also doesn't make it past the obvious, like mentioning 38 Special in "Red Dragon Tattoo" or a certain contempt for the denizens of "The Valley Of Malls" (even with the killer guitar lick). I think this was the only time I listened to a Fountains Of Wayne album where I didn't instantly fall in love with everything there. Be that as it may, These guys love their pop conventions more than they sneer at them, which makes even the lesser of their records treats for power pop geeks like me. Even the mellow pop groove of "Sky Full Of Holes" 12 years later confirmed at just how brilliant Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood can be even when they coast. ("Sky Full Of Holes" was one of my favorite albums for 2011, I should add.) "Utopia Parkway" was just a minor pothole in a career that has seen more than its share of genius moments.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Mellencamp Transitions Yet Again
3 Out Of 5 Stars

John Mellencamp has never been one to allow his muse any slack. Be the disputes he's had over his name, his image and even his sound, Mellencamp has been kicking at the prickles since he started out. For 1996's "Mr Happy Go Lucky," Mellencamp again threw a spanner into the public's expectations and hired noted dance producer Junior Vasquez to man the production booth. Purists immediately cried foul over the album's dependence on drum loops, samples and other gimmicks, but they missed the point. Mellencamp, who had just recovered from a major heart attack, was compelled more than ever to explore his music on his terms and "Mr Happy Go Lucky" succeeds more than it fails.

Even with the touches added by Vasquez, the album still depends mainly on the kind of rootsy/folkish rock Mellencamp had been coaxing out of his songs sine "Big Daddy." The big hit, "Key West Intermezzo," glides atop a shuffling groove, but has the traditional drum clap and home-baked electric piano moving things along under Mellencamp's usual gruff melodic singing. Even with a dance producer, Mellencamp sounds more like Springsteen than Madonna. In fact, the one or two times that Mellencamp seems to be letting Vasquez push him, like "This May Not Be The End Of The World," sound forced.

You'll still be getting plenty of the patented Mellencamp sounds (I count "Key West Intermezzo" among them), like "Just Another Day" and "Circling The Moon," plus his deepening love of roots rock, like "Jackamo Road" and "The Full Catastrophe." Never one to sit on his laurels or cater to anyone's expectations, John Mellencamp was still capable of bending genres and confounding expectations. "Mr Happy Go Lucky" was another one of those albums and a worthy disc out of Mellencamp's library.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
The Queen of New Age Romanticism
5 Out Of 5 Stars

After serving time with some family members in the Celtic pop band Clannad, Enya decided they were becoming too pop and set out for a solo career. It may have taken her two albums to perfect the sound she's become famous for, but when "Orinoco Flow" became an international hot single and propelled her 1988 album "Watermark" to multiplatinum status, Enya became an international pop star. Which is something of a misnomer, as what Enya records is anything but traditional pop. She utilizes old folk and Celtic sounds, lush overdubbing and multi-layered harmonies to create music that no-one else has ever come close to duplicating.

That is why "The Very Best of Enya" is essential listening. The songs on this CD bent the arc of popular music and she became the best known musician of what was then called "New Age" music. More to the point, she transcended the faddish nature of the movement and continues to make music that resonates with the public to this day. While her music is gentle, she still has a dynamic sound. "Storms in Africa" ebbs and flows, building to its climax. "Only Time" (made popular after 9/11 as something radio used to calm listeners) gently lulled it's way into the top ten Billboard charts. her music is graceful and never disruptive, but she does so without resorting to the kind of Adult Contemporary radio bombast or condescending wimpiness. Enya creates music that comforts and brings the listener an experience in elegance.

If there are any qualms here, it's that I probably would have been just fine without the Christmas Carol "Oiche Chiuin," as it disrupts the originality of the rest of Enya's work. Also because the elegiac goodbye of "May It Be" would have brought the collection to a far more satisfying conclusion. "The Very Best of Enya" is music that transcended all the tropes of modern pop music and still stands as fresh and gorgeous as it has on the albums it's been culled from.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Default)
The Queen of New Age Romanticism
5 Out Of 5 Stars

After serving time with some family members in the Celtic pop band Clannad, Enya decided they were becoming too pop and set out for a solo career. It may have taken her two albums to perfect the sound she's become famous for, but when "Orinoco Flow" became an international hot single and propelled her 1988 album "Watermark" to multiplatinum status, Enya became an international pop star. Which is something of a misnomer, as what Enya records is anything but traditional pop. She utilizes old folk and Celtic sounds, lush overdubbing and multi-layered harmonies to create music that no-one else has ever come close to duplicating.

That is why "The Very Best of Enya" is essential listening. The songs on this CD bent the arc of popular music and she became the best known musician of what was then called "New Age" music. More to the point, she transcended the faddish nature of the movement and continues to make music that resonates with the public to this day. While her music is gentle, she still has a dynamic sound. "Storms in Africa" ebbs and flows, building to its climax. "Only Time" (made popular after 9/11 as something radio used to calm listeners) gently lulled it's way into the top ten Billboard charts. her music is graceful and never disruptive, but she does so without resorting to the kind of Adult Contemporary radio bombast or condescending wimpiness. Enya creates music that comforts and brings the listener an experience in elegance.

If there are any qualms here, it's that I probably would have been just fine without the Christmas Carol "Oiche Chiuin," as it disrupts the originality of the rest of Enya's work. Also because the elegiac goodbye of "May It Be" would have brought the collection to a far more satisfying conclusion. "The Very Best of Enya" is music that transcended all the tropes of modern pop music and still stands as fresh and gorgeous as it has on the albums it's been culled from.


     

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blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Go go, Gordon
4 Out Of 5 Stars

When the American debut of Barenaked Ladies crossed my desk many years ago, I was not sure quite what to make of them. They were certainly crucially adept, as each song sounded musically delightful. They had a whimsical sense of humor that would pop-up baldly on many of the songs. They were vocally versatile, with multiple lead singers who could also harmonize nicely. I thought "Gordon" was one of the best debut albums I'd heard in years, much the equal of 10cc or the likes of Nick Lowe, two other artists who weren't afraid if mixing serious playing with goofy jokes.

I also wondered if American audiences would ever catch on. The humor was often blatant, like "Grade Nine," which poked fun at elementary school nerdom, right down to the Rush guitar licks. Or one of their eventual concert staples, "If I Had A Million Dollars," which was both a decent song and a poke at consumerism that ends in a punch line (and included a bacon joke. After all Barenaked ladies are Canadian). But amidst the comedic moments were some serious, thought provoking songwriting. "The Flag" with Ed Robertson and Steve Page is a serious look at the "complicated people leading complicated lives," as a relationship falls to surrender, or the lovely pair together in the jazzy "I Love You."

Either side of the Barenaked Ladies' equation worked. If you were willing to allow the sense of humor not get in the way of the musicianship and the ace singing and writing of Ed Robertson and Steve Page, "Gordon" is a rewarding album. They also got better real fast, and as "One Week" eventually proved, they had the stuff of stardom.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Default)
Go go, Gordon
4 Out Of 5 Stars

When the American debut of Barenaked Ladies crossed my desk many years ago, I was not sure quite what to make of them. They were certainly crucially adept, as each song sounded musically delightful. They had a whimsical sense of humor that would pop-up baldly on many of the songs. They were vocally versatile, with multiple lead singers who could also harmonize nicely. I thought "Gordon" was one of the best debut albums I'd heard in years, much the equal of 10cc or the likes of Nick Lowe, two other artists who weren't afraid if mixing serious playing with goofy jokes.

I also wondered if American audiences would ever catch on. The humor was often blatant, like "Grade Nine," which poked fun at elementary school nerdom, right down to the Rush guitar licks. Or one of their eventual concert staples, "If I Had A Million Dollars," which was both a decent song and a poke at consumerism that ends in a punch line (and included a bacon joke. After all Barenaked ladies are Canadian). But amidst the comedic moments were some serious, thought provoking songwriting. "The Flag" with Ed Robertson and Steve Page is a serious look at the "complicated people leading complicated lives," as a relationship falls to surrender, or the lovely pair together in the jazzy "I Love You."

Either side of the Barenaked Ladies' equation worked. If you were willing to allow the sense of humor not get in the way of the musicianship and the ace singing and writing of Ed Robertson and Steve Page, "Gordon" is a rewarding album. They also got better real fast, and as "One Week" eventually proved, they had the stuff of stardom.


     

This entry was originally posted at http://www.dreamwidth.org/12345.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Maturity Hate Machine
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Things must be going pretty swell in the Trent Reznor household. The man seems to have found some sort of domestic bliss, down to having his wife collaborate on the How To Destroy Angels project. He now has Grammy and Oscar trophies for the mantlepiece. He's so happy that, a few years after he declared Nine Inch Nails over, he's resurrected the name and put out the almost chipper "Hesitation Marks." While hardly a classic NIN album, it doesn't deserve the angry fanboy one/two star reviews. Let's address why "Hesitation Marks" is a good NIN album.

Reznor stopped using his studio time for anger management years ago, probably starting at "With Teeth." Saying that the guy's not pissed off anymore is obvious to anyone with an attention span of more than one album. He's been making music as craftsmanship as he sees fit for a long time now. Hence the politics of rocking "With Teeth," the concept album and viral campaign for "Year Zero," the ambient soundtrack precursor of "Ghosts" and his "thank you" to his fans, the so-so "The Slip," then gave it away as a download freebie. Angry young men don't sit down with movie rough cuts and devise soundtracks/scores. "Hesitation Marks" reflects all of these aspects. In fact, it's more like revisionism of his earlier work. "Hesitation Marks" sounds an awful lot like a grown man's look back at "Pretty Hate Machine."

"Copy Of A" takes this notion head on. Complete with a guest guitar run from Lindsey Buckingham (yes, the guy from 70's megastars Fleetwood Mac for you newbies), Reznor digs right in:

"I am just a copy of a copy of a copy
Everything I say has come before
Assembled into something into something into something
I am never certain anymore."

He's in on the whole idea. That's why when the haunting "All Time Low" brings to mind images from "The Downward Spiral," Reznor is looking at the paranoia from a man who's already been to the bottom and can now see what abyss looks like from a safe distance. The atmospheric guitar from one time King Crimson/Bears/Bowie guitarist Adrian Belew makes me wish Belew could have found his place comfortably in the NIN framework, as he's always been an asset to any band who needs their guitars coming in from left field. Belew's appearance here, along with Buckingham's (or for that matter, super-bassist Pino Palladino) is clear evidence that Reznor is looking after the perfection he desires in these songs.

I can't say that "Hesitation Marks" is all peaches and debris, as the song's tendency to be reminiscent of earlier, classic work can be distracting. That doesn't mean the album is bad, nor does it qualify the album as not enjoyable. Trent Reznor has every right to be happy. It also gives him the leeway to say (as he does in "Everything"), "I have tried everything, and I've survived everything." Good on him, and lucky for us. "Hesitation Marks" quietly rages on, doing so in a manner befitting a man pushing 50.


     
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Maturity Hate Machine
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Things must be going pretty swell in the Trent Reznor household. The man seems to have found some sort of domestic bliss, down to having his wife collaborate on the How To Destroy Angels project. He now has Grammy and Oscar trophies for the mantlepiece. He's so happy that, a few years after he declared Nine Inch Nails over, he's resurrected the name and put out the almost chipper "Hesitation Marks." While hardly a classic NIN album, it doesn't deserve the angry fanboy one/two star reviews. Let's address why "Hesitation Marks" is a good NIN album.

Reznor stopped using his studio time for anger management years ago, probably starting at "With Teeth." Saying that the guy's not pissed off anymore is obvious to anyone with an attention span of more than one album. He's been making music as craftsmanship as he sees fit for a long time now. Hence the politics of rocking "With Teeth," the concept album and viral campaign for "Year Zero," the ambient soundtrack precursor of "Ghosts" and his "thank you" to his fans, the so-so "The Slip," then gave it away as a download freebie. Angry young men don't sit down with movie rough cuts and devise soundtracks/scores. "Hesitation Marks" reflects all of these aspects. In fact, it's more like revisionism of his earlier work. "Hesitation Marks" sounds an awful lot like a grown man's look back at "Pretty Hate Machine."

"Copy Of A" takes this notion head on. Complete with a guest guitar run from Lindsey Buckingham (yes, the guy from 70's megastars Fleetwood Mac for you newbies), Reznor digs right in:

"I am just a copy of a copy of a copy
Everything I say has come before
Assembled into something into something into something
I am never certain anymore."

He's in on the whole idea. That's why when the haunting "All Time Low" brings to mind images from "The Downward Spiral," Reznor is looking at the paranoia from a man who's already been to the bottom and can now see what abyss looks like from a safe distance. The atmospheric guitar from one time King Crimson/Bears/Bowie guitarist Adrian Belew makes me wish Belew could have found his place comfortably in the NIN framework, as he's always been an asset to any band who needs their guitars coming in from left field. Belew's appearance here, along with Buckingham's (or for that matter, super-bassist Pino Palladino) is clear evidence that Reznor is looking after the perfection he desires in these songs.

I can't say that "Hesitation Marks" is all peaches and debris, as the songs' tendency to be reminiscent of earlier, classic work can be distracting. That doesn't mean the album is bad, nor does it qualify the album as not enjoyable. Trent Reznor has every right to be happy. It also gives him the leeway to say (as he does in "Everything"), "I have tried everything, and I've survived everything." Good on him, and lucky for us. "Hesitation Marks" quietly rages on, doing so in a manner befitting a man pushing 50.


   




This entry was originally posted at http://www.dreamwidth.org/12345.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
When Thompson was on a roll
5 Out Of 5 Stars

In 1988, Capitol took a roll of the dice and signed Richard Thompson to an American record deal. Thompson had several brushes with success, and had skipped across several smaller labels, all while seeing that breakthrough always just seemingly out of reach. Someone at Hollywood and Vine must have seen this as an opportunity, and five studio albums ensued. With the promotional wheels of Capitol behind him, Thompson suddenly found his albums creeping into the top hundred, and the man himself on a serious creative roll. "Action Packed" is a superb collection that skims the cream from those albums and adds a new track.

Starting with "Amnesia" and going through "You? Me? Us?," Thompson was matched to producer Mitchell Froom, who seemed perfectly aligned towards Thompson's playing and songwriting. To his credit, Thompson embraced the style and finessed it, delivering some remarkable songs and his usual killer guitar playing. I challenge anyone to listen to "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" and not come away with the opinion that it is simply one of the best folk songs ever written or to hear "I Feel Good" and miss it's cynical bite. Those are just a pair of the classic songs on "Action Packed," balancing semi-rock songs with tenderly played pieces like "Beeswing." His final Capitol disc, "Mock Tudor," produced by Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf, and still had Froom on keyboards

Thompson has always had a soft spot for writing about the down-trodden, and there are a few of those here, as well. "Mr. Rebound" describes the woe of a man who always seems to be the fall-back when the women of his dreams needs a fling with somebody new. Then's there's "Waltzing's For Dreamers," in it's stately 3/4 time as Thompson describes each of the three steps of breaking his heart. The bonus tracks are no slouches, either, when you consider that they are usually the stuff of B-sides. The softly seductive "Persuasion" (co-written by Split Enz' Tim Finn) is cast as a ballad featuring his son, Teddy. "Mr Rebound" and "Fully Qualified to Be Your Man" were unavailable on CD prior to "Action Packed" and were recorded for "Mock Tudor."

Thompson has been making brilliant songs for so many years that it's difficult to recommend single CD's without busting your wallet. But for a blazing period between 1988 and 1999, he ran a streak of strong albums, and "Action Packed" pulls that decade into an enjoyably listenable single CD experience.


     

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