Key To Music Grades

A - You will never be whole without it
B - Highly recommended
C - Flawed, but still pretty good
D - It's your money, not mine
F - Why couldn't this have been burned in Fahrenheit 451?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Coldplay - X&Y (2005)

In 1978, in order to fulfill contractual obligations, Emerson, Lake and Palmer released Love Beach, a most heinous and disgusting example of musicianship. AC/DC's Fly On The Wall in 1985 didn't exactly inspire throngs of supporters, either. Even the mighty Sabbath released the less-than-mediocre Never Say Die! in 1978 as the swan song of Mr. Osbourne. Yet, time has since forgiven these indiscretions, these blasé and lax attempts by otherwise fantastic musicians. Some if this has to do with lowered expectations: ELP was some years off its Brain Salad Surgery glory days; Sabbath had already began to show a slight decline in quality; and AC/DC had already released its post-Back In Black letdown several years earlier.

With that, let me now begin with Coldplay's 2005 dirty bomb X&Y, our newly crowned perennial stinker. If Coldplay were a prostitute, this album is perhaps the equivalent of their having come back to gobble up the sloppy seconds. Factor in the fact that A Rush Of Blood To The Head was easily the equivalent of them breaking their proverbial hymen, and such antics make this all the more messier and bloodier an album. First off, what's there to review, since this album sounds oddly the same, no matter what track you're listening to? This is perfectly squandered drool, better left on your pillow than in your ear, which is precisely where Mr. Martin puts it. A wonder a man with so much passion for global politics and free trade could actually write something so insipid and crass and manage to still sell it -- which is, of course, what separates this album from the aforementioned others: its remarkable thrust into the limelight as the album of the ages and subsequent stepping stone for Coldplay to become the next U2. Ahem. Bono has great vocal range and chops; Chris Martin, at best, is able to project a nasally tinny of a falsetto, a more or less cheap imitation of his hero Thom Yorke. If Coldplay is now considered big, it's the big in the sense of a vacuum, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Millions of sold records does not a great album make; and this album is arguably one of the worst albums ever made, marketed and sold. Unfortunately for us, we'll probably never forget about it. A big fat F encrusted in platinum.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Queens Of The Stone Age - Era Vulgaris (2007)

Musically, 2007 has been fairly uninspiring, and it's nearly July. This should be cause for general melancholia and lament, but 2006 was like this as well, as was 2005 and so there can be no true sense of loss unless you've essentially lost something you cherish first, right? It's evident when Paul McCartney is still able to sell records that people are a bit starved for something, anything -- even the grossly recycled. Indeed, it's quite difficult nowadays to sift through all these products and find something you like without resorting to the familiar; they simply don't make bands like they used to. If not for The Police getting back together -- oh glory for everything that is right in this world -- and an expected release from Radiohead, I expect this year to be an otherwise abysmal wash. Anything that may prove me wrong is quite welcome.

Well, thank you, Queens Of The Stone Age, for being the first in line. I was initially skeptical due to my reception of Lullabies To Paralyze in 2005, and still insist that album simply stops trying a little more than halfway through, despite its brilliant first half. I was even more worried when this album's lifeless opener, "Turnin' On The Screw", which couldn't find a screwdriver, let alone the screw. Yet, this proved to be indicative of nothing, because Era Vulgaris is quite the prodigious album, with only one other dud undeserving of doffing ("I'm Designer"). The interesting thing is not so much that it merely raises the amplitude from their last effort, but that it does so in a myriad of ways, carving its irreverent sexual intensity with astonishing menace. "Battery Acid" sounds like the mechanical pounding of robot paranoia; "Into The Hollow" is an elegant psychedelic groove; "Sick, Sick, Sick" is just sick, as it name suggests, with wailing flourishes and delirious riffage;

and "Misfit Love" flails in manic swarming drones. But don't let Homme's low-key guitar ministrations and bass amps fool you; softer numbers like "Make It Wit Chu" and "Suture Up Your Future" still evoke similar feelings of rawness with exacting precision. Other beauties: "River In The Road," "Run Pig Run" and especially "3's & 7's." In short, these guys remind us not only that rock still lives, but why it's so damn good. Rinse, wash, repeat. Rinse, wash, repeat. B+

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Frank Sinatra - It Might As Well Be Swing (1964)

A few admonitions: I don't review collections or compilations; Sinatra simply has too many releases (even without compilations) to account for; I am less knowledgeable of voice than I am music, so expect less depth in my musings; and lastly, Sinatra has more or less a perfect voice, thereby leaving his work not so much to be critiqued from a vocal perspective, but from that of song selection and musical accompaniment. With that, let me begin by saying that Count Basie is a fine choice for musical accompaniment, keeping a light swagger throughout the selections, be they mid-tempo swing numbers ("Wives And Lovers"; "I Wish You Love") to more lively romps ("I Believe In You"; "Hello, Dolly!"). Frank is in form himself, to the surprise of none, belting out his styled phrasings without so much a strain. He even improvises a different verse for 'ol Satchmo in "Hello, Dolly!" My choice cuts are "Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words)" and "The Best Is Yet To Come," but I believe Frank's overall playful exuberance and enjoyment enhances the remaining performances. This is not to say, though, that there isn't a feeling of sameness. "I Can't Stop Loving You," "I Wanna Be Around" and "The Good Life" are throwaways for me, and possibly why this album isn't absolutely jaw-dropping. Overalll, it's a good listen, but not entirely great. B-

Steely Dan - Countdown To Ecstasy (1973)

If you're still in a fuss over what albums to bring to a desert isle, this beauty from our favorite steam-powered dildo is certain to confound all rational thought processes. Why? Because pound-for-pound, Countdown To Ecstasy may not be Steely Dan's most solid or consistent album, but it is certainly the most essential, and I would argue more essential than The Royal Scam or Pretzel Logic, despite my undeniable love for them as well. Truth be told, you do yourself a grave and mortal disservice by excluding this album just on merits of fluidity or consistency. The fact is that "Bodhisattva," "My Old School" and "King Of The World" are the band's three greatest songs, from any of their albums, and to have them packed neatly in congruence with each other is more than blissful coincidence. The licks on those three songs alone are so indelibly riveting that the term SUPER FUCKING TASTY must have been created just to describe them. In fact, I personally have to listen to one of the three every few days lest I get musical scurvy, scab and spot over and need topical medicinal remedies to alleviate such an otherwise avoidable misfortune.

I imagine everyone's heard "My Old School" with its brass incantations and punctuating guitar solos à la Denny and Skunkmeister about Mssrs. Becker and Fagen's shitty college travails in upstate New York -- but, need I say more? You've heard it, you love it, you'd kill before you let anyone take it away from you. So let's move on because "Bodhisattva" and "King Of The World" don't receive nearly as much attention as they deserve. "Bodhisattva" is not only a guitar player's sine qua non, but musically it should be everyone's. Hell, that song would sound great on a kazoo. Seriously. Not one, but two otherworldly guitar solos, each unique in tone and execution; and when Skunk lays down that funk, I just want to bounce. In fact, during that last minute, begat by Becker's bravura of a boom thump, I wish I were temporally suspended in a kind of repeat, ooh-ing and aah-ing towards my own bodhisattva. Yes, I'm serious. Go fuck yourself.

The album closes with "King Of The World," a ferociously understated beauty with monstrous lyrical undertones of a post-apocalyptic nature in typical Dan fashion. But forget the lyrics, Denny is the man! A plodding little wah, a slicing solo from nowhere -- is there anything he can't do? It's absolute perfection.

As for the rest of the album: "Showbiz Kids" and "Boston Rag" are damned fantastic; get a Steely Dan T-shirt already. "Your Gold Teeth" is good, too, but isn't as focused because of the off-kilter noodling -- which isn't unwelcome considering the Dan's otherwise taut musical inclinations. "Pearl Of The Quarter" is decent as well, but nothing spectacular or immensely memorable. "Razor Boy" is the only track I truly dislike, and mainly for its light soft jazz marimba feel. No thanks.

Oh, the grade. Uh, duh. It's the Steely Dan, and whatever. A

Go Jerome Aniton!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pearl Jam - Yield (1998)

Kevin Smith is brilliant. Well, sometimes. But you realize it when he makes you like Ben Affleck -- even if for a second. I know, I know. But this line out of Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back is so appropriate to this post, it simply must be repeated: "Well, look at these morose motherfuckers right here. Looks like somebody shit in their cereal...BONG." That line unequivocally summarizes Pearl Jam -- except there's no BONG. With the exception of Ten, every successive album is a tepid uninspired mess, a glow here, an ember there, and then, absolute dreck. Yield is no different, and about the only reason I chose to review this one over their other efforts is because all shit smells the same in a cesspool.

Starting with the best first is probably the wisest course because you may not get to the end of this review. Therefore, the album opener, "Brain Of J" is a great song. Such momentum, though, is squandered, as the album becomes this torpid lull of predictable so-so rock 'n' roll pudding. Despite "In Hiding" and "MFC" -- decent songs themselves -- the album embodies absolute worthlessness. "Pilate" is fundamentally the reason every human being alive -- of talent or not -- should learn to play any instrument simply to overshadow the ick that is this song. It's just pure drivel -- likewise, take your pain meds after "All Those Yesterdays" and "." and "Faithfull" and "Low Light" and "No Way." Interestingly enough, "Given To Fly" and "Do The Evolution" are actually better songs live than on the studio recording here, but these aren't those versions, so why I'm trying to be polite is, well, I just don't know. I just wish Eddie Vedder would decide whether he's Jim Morrison, Roger Daltrey or Neil Young. A very generous C-.

The Who - Who's Next (1971)

Every time I look at this album, I think of a pissing Rimbaud in "Evening Prayer." Surely, any album whose cover depicts a band's just having pissed on a monolith has got to be excellent as well, right? A nod of approval from the heliotropes. But let's get to the real meaty beaty big and bouncy here: this album flat-out rocks. No clavichords, Mellotrons, flutes, brass quartets, intricate time signatures, overtures -- nope, not a whiff of rock opera here -- which is to say, no pretensions and especially, no filler. Ok, there's violin and some synth. Big schtooping deal. (I never said I wasn't a fan of Tommy or Passion Play or Days Of Future Passed.) It's there to give the music more power, not the illusion of majesty, which is all the difference, really, from a bloated rock opera and a great rock 'n' roll album. Besides, this album isn't trying to tell a story; every track is its own all-inclusive revelation. Perhaps that's why they're almost all radio staples.

Yet, everything I can say of this album is tautological, a bit of a retread, a mere puffing of pretty smoke. What can I add? -- that "Baba O'Riley" is beyond classic; that "Bargain" is, er, classic. "Going Mobile," "Behind Blue Eyes," "Won't Get Fooled Again," "The Song Is Over," "Getting In Tune" -- classics. Oh, and those are just the absurdly amazing songs. "Love Ain't For Keeping" and "My Wife" are damn good themselves; they're simply not played as often on the radio as the others. Still. Call me what you will, but I can feel 'ol Pete laying down a thunderous windmill on that first chord struck in "Baba O'Riley"

or right before Daltrey's final shriek in "Won't Get Fooled Again."

Sure, you can hear it, I know, but can you feel it? These songs are just synergistic. Don't be fooled by Tommy or Quadrophenia or any other concept album. Just because someone intends to connect the dots for you doesn't mean you can't connect them for yourself. Who's Next is just a big fat juicy cheeseburger greasing down the sides of your head and you can't help but lick the grease. Start to finish. One heart attack at a time. Exaltation. Exhaustion. Joy. Enlightenment. Long live rock. A+

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Blur - Blur (1997)

I figured I'd be more populist and modern with this next post. Allow me first to issue a brief caveat: I consider Blur to be an indulgence, a band whose aspirations seem to lie no farther than the continuation of a post-Kinks pastoral rock. At best, they are supremely infectious; at worst, imitators who remind me of the greatness of the originals; but all in all, Blur is so veddy British and I dig that (not to mention that Graham Coxon lays down some super tasty guitar riffs.) That said, I place this album as the first piece in my holy triumvirate of 1997 (along with OK Computer and Urban Hymns).

But what inevitably brings me to choose and glorify their self-titled über-bomb? Surely, it's their best-known album commercially, and perhaps there's justifiably good reason for that. It's a nicely sequenced encapsulation or a distillation, if you will, of their overall sound, which is to say, conversely, that it sounds every bit like their influences. Their first album, Leisure, was a kind of shoe-gazing throwback to the 70s; their second, Modern Life Is Rubbish, was a more energetic and focused throwback to the 70s. Parklife broke some nice musical ground for them just as The Great Escape was an abomination moving backwards. Blur, then, is simply the rounding off and sublimation of all their previous efforts; the third charm, so to speak, except it was the fifth. Whatever. Is this reason enough to hate them? Perhaps, but they're just too much damn fun to hate -- and at least they tried to meld their influences instead of just trying to be The Beatles.

In my opinion, "Beetlebum" is simply Blur's best song to date, but as an American you wouldn't know it because of its successor single "Song 2" and subsequent cultural explosion into mainstream Americana. Perhaps five minutes of a beautiful distorted guitar riff was too eternal for MTV,

and a two-minute anthem with accompanying video of a band bouncing around what look like Turkish carpets singing "wee hoo" simply resonated better. Serving even better contrast is the song that follows, "Country Sad Ballad Man," a nice psychedelic-tinged ditty; "M.O.R." -- likewise a great track if only because it reminds us of why Bowie was so great. Hell, this album is just great; in a way, a tribute, but full of verve and flaws and a blur of what the band loved to create but couldn't escape from. I suppose about the only thing you should avoid from this album are the music videos, where Damon Albarn reveals himself to be more of a ham than we already suspected him of being. But hey, whatever. B+

Monday, June 18, 2007

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - Trout Mask Replica (1969)

At the request of Master Cianan, I have suffered through 78 more minutes of my life than I intended today. So, here goes: what kind of album do you get when you combine a man with a four-octave vocal range, musicians who seem to intentionally play out of time with each other in a kind of hybrid psychedelic blues/jazz -- and ultimately, is produced by Frank Zappa, the god of weirdness itself? Trout Mask Replica, an exceptionally shitty but essential record from 1969 that deserves no more listens than you've already given it, and impetuously insists that you continue to do so. It's a sprawling and disjointed 28 song, 78 minute set that is always much too long, features a rampant collection of haphazard musical textures ("Frownland," "Steal Softly Thru Snow," "Hair Pie: Bake 1"), odd a cappella blues renderings ("The Dust Blows Forward 'N The Dust Blows Back," "Well," "Orange Claw Hammer"), and overall, an amusing sense of poetic puffery with more mentions of "fast and bulbous" that if you didn't know the meaning before, you will soon want to find out.

In fact, the lyrics make you wonder if you're the only one not to have been invited aboard the mother ship. The guitars are undeniably atrocious upstart rhythms that seem incomplete and each possessing its own wonderfully aggrieved time signature; the saxophone is erratic, misplaced, perfect; the drummer, usually the cornerstone for keeping the beat, forgot about this completely and should have laid off the apple pixy stix.

Strangely enough, this album does occasionally work, even if never of the time. The shittiness is so exquisite and exacting that you can almost hear the chaos coming together at times, perhaps for the duration of a song or two, perhaps over the course of its entire length. "Moonlight On Vermont" and "Pachuco Cadaver" are the only two tracks I can personally listen to without wanting to die; otherwise, this album is a matter of personal preference, mood and degree; which is to say, how often do you crave the taste of bleach? I do not recommend listening to this while doing anything else; external stimuli will only provoke strong feelings or irritability and anger, and the dog just doesn't deserve the kind of inevitable punishment you will be willing to bestow after hearing this inspired mess. A D+, but a notable exception insofar as you really should own it; I do and I'm proud.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Love - Forever Changes (1967)

Who, you may ask, is Love? Up until recently, I would have asked the same question. Such is the greatness of discovery in life. Led by Arthur Lee, a highly volatile singer/composer, Love created a unique blend of psychedelic, folk, Latin-tinged melodies of a darker contrast than what their band name may have suggested. Yet, for inexplicable reasons, Love never took off, despite endorsements from The Doors and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, to name a few. Perhaps it was due to their self-destructive behavior, their drug addictions, their unwillingness to play gigs outside of L.A. All of this matters little, though, to the fact that not only are Love's first three releases absolutely solid, but that their 1967 effort, Forever Changes, is perhaps one of the greatest albums to come out of the 60s, and equally deserves a nod in a hat as one of the better records of our time.

Wait a second, who is this again? Love. You know, that band with an album full of that grand, almost perfected sense of melody, interweaving acoustic riffs and Mariachi horns, sweeping but still understated orchestral string flourishes with an almost poetic numbness; and behind the helm, the dark wordsmith himself, providing wonderful vocal contrast with the swelling around him. In "Live And Let Live," as the seeming harmony of the music plods forward, a few minor keys rise, and Lee begins to sing, "Oh, the snot was caked against my pants; it has turned to crystal. There's a bluebird sitting on a branch; I guess I'll take my pistol. I've got it in my hand, because he's on my land." And if "Live And Let Live" showcases Lee's vocal maturity, "Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale" bends it, allowing his range to slide in and out of verses to the barrage of horns and intricate acoustic layers.

Or what of "Red Telephone" in which Lee is "sitting on a hillside, watching all the people die"? In "The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This," it seems that the Summer of Love itself is dying to a close. Other equally astounding tracks: "A House Is Not A Motel," "Bummer In The Summer," "Alone Again Or." Do yourself a favor, put past your apprehensions about how you've never heard of these guys and buy it now. A

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sublime - Robbin' The Hood (1994)

This first posting may very well have been the most difficult. What to review first? Should I waddle in common sense and play it safe by endorsing my favorite album, or perhaps indulge you with my most recent spin? Would anyone prefer if I produced a diatribe for the world's worst album, or began with something obscure but brilliant? I believe true wisdom can be culled from a beer and a pair of dice, and therefore I have swindled this cherry act with a bit of randomness of my own.

Sublime's second album, Robbin' The Hood, is a decidedly mixed affair: while it features the trio's flourishing of punk/reggae/ska/hip-hop/acoustic chops and grooves, much of the album consists of lackadaisical dubs and snippets of sampling that feel like leftovers rather than true cuisine. For what it's worth, the actual songs on the album are fantastic, fused with a sense of the playful and serious that Sublime has come to be known for; and as incomplete as the dubs seem, they provide the necessary skeletal structure to show why the great songs rock as much as they do. In fact, "Lincoln Highway Dub" serves as a template for later in "Santeria" on their self-titled effort in 1996.

My personal faves are the plaintive "Pool Shark (Acoustic)," 90 seconds of what arguably foreshadows singer Bradley Nowell's heroin overdose and remains one of Sublime's finest and most powerful acoustic numbers; "All You Need," a frenetic little thrasher featuring vintage Brad scat; "Saw Red," a duet with the otherwise terrible Gwen Stefani -- I suppose every does dog have its day; "Boss D.J." and "Mary" are two additional solid acoustic numbers; and "STP" is just classic Sublime. This album also features the bizarre introduction of one Raleigh Theodore Sakers, a gentlemen of absolute impeccable insanity and whose soliloquies and artful zingers simply must be heard to be believed; yet, while providing a nice comic touch between tracks, they ultimately lose their punch after you've recited them incessantly to your annoyed family and friends. Otherwise, repeated listens should only be to determine if this guy was real or not. Definite duds: "Q-Ball," "I Don't Care Too Much For Reggae Dub," "Steady B Loop Dub." Overall: B+. Treat yourself to the band.