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?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Police - Ghost In The Machine (1981)

In honor of my going to see these guys on Sunday at the Meadowlands, I've decided to review one of their discs. Choosing, again, was difficult, so I've decided to go with one of their more contentious albums, the one where the band began to disintegrate and not jive as well musically. During this time, Sting supposedly was more in favor of coke than he was in his band-mates, and poor Andy was feeling a bit flustered from the sudden emergence of saxophones and synthesizers, which predominately fill the record. This is not to say that the record is awful because of this -- far from it -- the musicianship is solid; it's the tunes that don't quite feel right -- perhaps I would like to say 'too poppy.' See, The Police are an interesting band insofar as they play more or less pop tunes with a ridiculous set of chops; they kind of straddle the line, but no one would ever accuse them of being poseurs, nor would anyone classify them as art rock or prog rock. This album, I think, crosses that line.

The album opens with "Spirits In The Material World," a strong song featuring the first manifestation of keyboard-driven melodies and Sting's lyrical pop sensibilities. Next, "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" is a little more mid-tempo and has more piano and synth, and -- where the hell is Andy? This is what I thought at this point. I mean, when you have a power trio format, you want to hear each member, right, especially when each member is fantastic? All of those synth lines are distracting me from hearing the guitar notes (if there are any)! Andy is noticeably relegated to bit-player for most of this album, and Stew's frenetic energy seems subdued overall as well. "Invisible Sun" is the absolute highlight here, I think; definitely one of my faves. "Rehumanize Yourself" sounds like it got left off Outlandos; it's a nice little Police thrasher; if that's allowed. "Ωmegaman" and "Demolition Man" are good tunes as well, whereas "One World" and "Darkness" are pretty awful. Really, though, for all my little critiques, the album is still very good, but it's still one of their weaker albums. Essential? Oh yeah. What you're looking for? If you like the dreck that embodies the 80s, some of that horrible contemporary sound seeps in here, so a yes for you. For me, it's just a B+.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Black Sabbath - Vol. 4 (1972)

I'm choosing to comment on Vol. 4 for the following reason: back when I was of a lesser musical pedigree, Master Cianan and I used to frequently mull over our favorite Sabbath tunes. Every time, he would mention "Supernaut" with its spectacular opening riff and asked me if I had it. No, I always replied, consequently disappointing him, and leading me to inquire from what album this legendary song came. This ritual continued unchanged every time, and neither could he ever remember the name of the album, nor could I feign attempts to having tried to find it. This is strangely fitting, considering that Vol. 4 seems to be the black sheep among their first five albums, perhaps for its lack of 'popular' tracks, but certainly not for its lack of menace or musical maturity. Even the album title is short of frills, denoting little that is particularly memorable. Hell, Supernaut would have been a great album title; if I had a child, I might name them Supernaut. I'm serious -- just not the part about having children.

So ado without much further of it, let's commence: "Supernaut" is not the only reason you should buy this album, but yet, it really is the reason you should buy it. The main riff is otherworldly, a testament to Iommi's terrific knack for sublime riffage. SUPER FUCKING TASTY is another way of putting it.

Otherwise, the album features vintage heavy tracks: "Snowblind," the album's original title that was changed due to the cocaine allusions; "Cornucopia" and "St. Vitus' Dance" are some wicked numbers indeed; and most importantly, for contrast, "Changes" is a purely piano-driven ditty with my favorite-instrument-which-is-not-the-guitar, the Mellotron, as well as "Laguna Sunrise" being a nicely sequenced track with overlaying acoustic guitars. Overall, though, the album is frenetic, heavy and downright scrumptious. One problem: "FX" is stupid. Supposedly, the sounds are achieved through an echo effect made by Iommi's crucifix banging up against his guitar. How novel, but it's a silly addition to an otherwise flawless album. Still, I won't hold it against the lads. A

Thursday, July 19, 2007

U2 - The Joshua Tree (1987)

This is sacrilege, I know, but I don't understand why this album receives as much praise as it does. I chock this up to our singles culture wherein people only remember the name of an album because of how many singles it produces. In this case, "Where The Streets Have No Name," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "Without Or Without You," In God's Country" and "One Tree Hill" where more or less the releases in the US, UK and abroad. The first three singles are purely indicative of why U2 are truly great tunesmiths; the rest is truly unremarkable filler. Interestingly enough, these same three singles open the album; therefore, after "Bullet The Blue Sky," the fourth track, the album significantly plummets into oblivion. That was too abstract. It basically takes a sloppy wet shit. "In God's Country" tries to stop the bleeding, but let's face it, this album signifies the incontrovertible fact that U2 were too lazy to arrange the songs better, knowing quite well that the enormity and brand of their name alone would guarantee that people would listen to this album no matter how the songs were arranged. Then again, sorting five songs among eleven wouldn't make that much of a difference. It's a shame, really, because The Edge has some tasty riffs. C+

Monday, July 16, 2007

Fantômas - Delìrium Còrdia (2004)

The only reason I still own this album is because Fantômas is an otherwise fantastic band. Not having it amidst their other worthwhile efforts is simply illogical. That said, it still sucks. Let me explain. I love Mr. Bungle, Faith No More, Tomahawk, etc. I love Mike Patton. MIKE PATTON IS GOD. Just kidding. But he can still sing, scat, screech, or rap with the rest of them; hell, when he does that rapturous polyphonic overlay of banshee-like widows with just a mic on Adult Themes For Voice, the man regularly averts the impossible and tells it to go fuck itself. Everything he touches turns to wackadoo. Lovely tottering brain-spewing wackadoo. This album, though, is either so beyond my mental faculties of apprehension and appreciation or it's just a terrible amalgamation of sound made manifest in pure concocted drivel and noise. The only positive thing I can say of this mess is that it's carefully concocted drivel and noise -- like an artist who chooses to paint his magnum opus on loose-leaf with crayons. The timbre of a dreary piano, muffled chanting, occasional aimless riffage and the most anti-climactic final eighteen minutes of nothing but old-school record crackling and silence. This is straight out of Brian Eno's head during a nightmare. Landscapes of wackadoo à la Patton. Oh, and Dave Lombardo generally rules, but he's entirely underused here. A meaningless A for effort; F for everything else.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Deep Purple - Made In Japan (1972)

This is the greatest live rock 'n' roll album ever by pound-for-pound one of the greatest musical lineups ever. Period. Funny thing is, Purple could have just aped these songs on stage and no one would have thought any less of them -- simply because these songs stand up for themselves as classic rock gems. Thankfully, every member was a virtuoso in their own right and brought so much intensity and bravado to these performances that, indeed, you truly wish you could have been there for such remarkable improvisation. Frampton Comes Alive! can kiss it.

The album opens with a frenetic high-octane version of "Highway Star" that otherwise invalidates the studio original. Here, organist Jon Lord butchers his keyboard with furious speed and power, and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore lays down a staggering set of notes while strangling his whammy bar.

The next track, the classical vignette "Child In Time," features Ian Gillan in his uppermost vocal register, an explosive four-minute fret-fest from Mr. Blackmore and then booms to conclusion with some tasty Roger Glover bass. Oh yeah, and Ian Paice rules too. (Drummers simply don't get the credit they deserve.) Next is "Smoke On The Water" -- yeah, the one with one of the great meat-and-bone guitar riffs of all time. Gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh, as Alex would say. "The Mule" has a nice long drum solo from Paice and then afterwards we are treated to an intense jam version of "Strange Kind Of Woman" that features Gillan imitating Blackmore's guitar sequences note for note. Pure awesomeness. "Lazy" is such a swaggering romp it makes no pretense of being otherwise and "Space Truckin'" is a near-twenty minute opus consisting of dueling organ and guitar solos; this is more or less one of the most satisfying finishes to an album ever, and your ears are sure to feel exhausted and battered afterwards. Of course, for some, this album does not end there because in the expanded 2-disc set, we are fortunate to be given three more glorious versions of "Speed King," "Lucille" and "Black Night" not included on the original release. I daresay anyone should have a problem with that. A+