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?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Kyuss - ...And The Circus Leaves Town (1995)

...And The Circus Leaves Town is, unfortunately, Kyuss' last record -- especially if you ask Josh Homme. Fortunately for us, it's their best. Ever eat chicken? Well, because this is pure Grade A beef. Homme's guitar rumblings have never tasted so meaty what with his propensity for detuning, bass amplification and creating the most memorable riff he can think of. Did this guy study Ron Asheton licks? The enormity of delicious riffage is all over this record; from the fuzz-tone thumpery of "Hurricane" and "One Inch Man," the precious psychedelic guitar warblings of the atmospheric "Phototropic" (my personal fave) to the heavy sludgefest that is "Glorious Lewis," the loose bluesy jam of "El Rodeo" with its splendid opening guitar line, or perhaps the heavy wah wah-tinged "Jumbo Blimp Jumbo" or the delicate, layered guitar melodies in "Catamaran" -- this album is fantastic. The only song that doesn't touch me is "Size Queen." Any stoners from the 70s who've broken their needles on the classics of yore while pining for something new and incredible can start here, because these guys are the real deal. No frills, all balls, modern-day rock as it should have been, but never was because capitalism favors better marketing than better musicianship. All in all, there's nothing to lose with this one, or for Blues For The Red Sun or Welcome To Sky Valley (two other great albums), for that matter. A nod of thanks to Master Cianan for this one, who knew I liked the Queens. Oh, and "Tangy Zizzle" rules, too: "Yeaaaaaah, yeah, put it in gear baby. Hell yeah, that's what I like about you baby; you're always on time." B+

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

King Crimson - Red (1974)

At a modest forty minutes, the five songs that make up Red seem more or less like a pluterperfect distillation of what these fellows were probably feeling leading up to their break-up. Color psychology aside, you certainly don't need to see anything to hear the aggression. A touch of violin here, a bit of brass there, but otherwise this album is a proverbial "heavy" -- which is nice that they didn't end their 70s heyday with a whimper. This stuff is prime beef, for sure, and my second favorite King Crimson album.

Let's begin with the only problem: "Providence." Unfortunately, it's a mindless bit of noodling for my taste. Understandably, it's easy for an unaccomplished musician such as yours truly to be awash in the vile taint of abject criticism; but I plead ignorance on eight minutes of random violin streaks and what appears to be an afternoon jam session after a plate of crumpets. I'd tell Robert Fripp personally. "Red," is a visceral instrumental that evokes quite the opposite of tenderness and gives ample reason why; "Fallen Angel" alternates between acoustic and electric guitar and so switches from particularly heavy bombastic flourishes with accompanied brass to slow and melodic passages with vocals; "One More Red Nightmare" is absolutely brilliant stuff, man -- my favorite track, perhaps. I dig the sludgy arpeggiated funk, if that's an acceptable description. "Starless" is a great closer, not only to the album, but to an era -- an era wholly designed, constructed, inhabited and set unduly afire by King Crimson -- a song featuring all the elements of what made them so interesting: loose, explosive drumming, my favorite-instrument-which-is-not-the-guitar, the Mellotron, some sax, a touch of violin and vintage Frippian electric nastiness. A solid B+

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Eagles - Hotel California (1976)

Like any peculiar cultural gestation this past century, I have never understood the success of The Eagles -- that is, until their new album plopped itself down atop the charts in the US and UK like a neighborhood cat who excretes in your flower bed and fritters away when it likes. Thing is, these fellows are awfully familiar, so familiar that they've made a science out of repetition in an enterprise which is otherwise heralded more for its artistic expressions than it is for its scientific -- scratch -- marketing appeal. So when I heard about how such an album, which I have no intention of listening to this century, has been lauded for its nostalgic inanities and empty tropes, I finally realized that it's not wherein the rub lies, but who puts it there; and The Eagles, purveyors of all things blasé -- especially ballads -- have engineered the most perfectly calculated comeback by crafting a monstrous double album echoing everything everyone has ever remembered about what they liked about them. But isn't that what The Eagles - Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) was supposed to do -- you know, sell over 40 million records? And therein lies the rub, all bespeckled in American green. Admittedly, I am not an Eagles fan -- is that not obvious? -- and I will never curry favor in classic rock circles to pose as an indulgent populist and render myself an advocate for their music. The fact is, they suck too much to expend such effort, even if artificial -- that and I refuse to supplant argument for sales statistics.

I forgot that I'm supposed to review Hotel California! Извините, unbelievable, mon Dieu! My sincerest apologies. I promise free draft beer next time -- I'll even serve up a pint of my own Guinness! Interestingly enough, despite my natural proclivity to criticize, I actually have some warm regard for Hotel California. In truth, if there were ever a time to utter the phrase -- every dog has its day -- this is it, for sure. What baffles me, though, is that these populist bums could have discovered the creative collectivist energy to produce such a magnificent song such as "Hotel California." As ubiquitous as it is everyone I imagine, let me just add that the two intertwined guitar solos that close the song are incredible. "Life In The Fast Lane" is a great road song with some tasty riffs. "The Last Resort" is potentially the most difficult song on the album, not so much musically, but because it skirts so dangerously to becoming campy; I feel like Don Henley means what he's singing, and that's fine by me because it's a great song. Otherwise, ho-hum, "Victim Of Love" is decent, but that's about where my generosity ends. I still find placing "Wasting Time (Reprise)" directly after "Wasting Time" to be incredibly stupid as well. Whatever, I'll be receiving angry e-mails from this anyway. Bring it on. C+

Thursday, November 15, 2007

T-Rex - Electric Warrior (1971)

Marc Bolan is said to have contributed more to the essence of glam rock than Bowie; whether such an inherently useless platitude can ever be proven is really secondary to the fact that Electric Warrior was certainly an important album at the time. If I were to describe the album using only one word, such a word would be "misleading." There's a certain casual frankness and feel to the singing and playing in just about every place on this record -- which is not to say it's lazy or laid-back, but that it exerts itself in such a fashion as to shed any predispositions of concern -- seemingly. Such a casual feeling does not denote a lack substance, though, because while the album does refashion older musical styles and whose entrance into our ears appears welcoming, this is not actually the case, as Bolan's vocal tones and lyrics indicate a much more savage mockery than a simple regurgitation of older styles and moods. Perhaps his previous work with fairies provides us with the wherewithal to make such erroneous assumptions.

Regardless, for those without such concerns for what music means, or expresses, and could care a whit for this or that, let's get under the hood, shall we? "Mambo Sun" opens the album, a delicate little mid-tempo romper with some very nuanced guitar licks. Much of the album, in fact, is not typical 70s guitar-heavy, to include the burgeoning glam movement the album was to help foster, and instead relies more on the guitar notes being in just the right places. This, of course, is in deep contrast with the fill-as-many-notes-in-the-measure music that was quite popular at the time -- not that I'm complaining about that, either. "Bang A Gong (Get It On)" is a well-known song with a splendid (and much copied) riff, a riveting chorus and some brass to add sass. "Jeepster" is a bit of a throwback to the rock style of the 50s but with an updated swagger. "Cosmic Dancer" is a warbling string-tinged folk ditty with some great electric guitar interspersed. Other notables: "Rip Off" and "The Motivator." Forgettables: "Girl"; "Monolith"; "Planet Queen"; "Lean Woman Blues"; "Life's A Gas." B-

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Machine Head - Burn My Eyes (1994)

Machine Head is such a great metal band that I've decided to review them for the first time. Okay, that was a deliberate lie -- a bit of dabbling with Nabokovian invention and self-serving harlequin vanity. Machine Head is a great band, for sure, but I didn't just decide to review them; I've actually already reviewed them here. Despite having a few thousand albums left in the pitch to strike with my pompous pen, I just noticed nigh several minutes ago the phrase "Real Eyes, Realize, Real Lies" on a website and figured that a review of Burn My Eyes was absolutely necessary.

"Real Eyes, Realize, Real Lies" is more or less an instrumental song that features a cornucopia of various news audio samples concerning the L.A. riots. Robb sings the title at some point within the song as well. Mostly, the song is a nice short segue into the album's final track, "Block," a brutal little closer. The album's opener, though, is where Machine Head really started it all. "Davidian" not only sets the pace for the album, but also cements their status as true metal heroes. An uncompromising and anthemic riff monster, Robb tells us to "let freedom ring with a shotgun blast" but kills us instead with the guitars -- which is totally fine by me.

"Old" and "Blood For Blood" are equally wicked as well with their revamped thrash tendencies. Overall, a solid and well-deserved debut by a band who would greatly reward us with an even more sophisticated metal album for the ages. And that concert is still ringing in my ears, in a tinnitus kind of way; but it was great. B

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Boston - Don't Look Back (1978)

For those who've indulged a bit too much in sense-altering solvents and woken the next day with a wee bit of residual pain within that soft pink squishy mass of importance in our craniums, then you know precisely why Don't Look Back hurts so much -- after all, with roughly two years of having "More Than A Feeling" and "Smokin'," such a disastrous sophomore follow-up just hurts beyond imagination. It's a natural reaction, of course, to compare the particular relevancies and doodads and what have you's from a band's obviously exemplary first effort with what it follows with afterwards. The expectations were, notably, much too high; but, truth be told, it doesn't matter, because Don't Look Back is almost wholly rotten and expectation has nothing to do with it. In fact, the title track is about as good as it gets: a touch of the old style -- that is, the vintage Boston sound created on the first record. After that, and I'm at an utter loss -- I mean, this album is painstakingly demoralizing; it's the complete antithesis of their first album, from stem to sternum. I never delude myself into thinking that, even on my best of days, I can create wondrous musical textures on my Strat, SG or Tele, or that my gurgling, groaning, chicken-with-its-throat-cut voice is any good -- but I would never allow such embarrassing self-absorbed tracks, such as "Party" and "Feelin' Satisfied," to ever bear my stamp of approval. I wouldn't even have opted for a pseudonym. Just buy the first album, not the greatest hits, which includes the aforementioned songs and they are not hits, I assure you. Oh, and I'm awash in disappointment, I know, but I must add that "Used To Bad News" is decent as well. Beyond that, D-

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Stevie Wonder - Innervisions (1973)

Like my Sinatra or Mingus reviews, or anything that is not classic rock -- what I would call my fringe genres -- I believe I lack the necessary vocabulary to describe Stevie. So I will attempt to superficially substitute genre jargon for piffling literary nuance -- is that kosher?

Innervisions is indisputably Stevie's best album. Many will cite the somewhat inconsistent Talking Book, the post car-crash Fulfillingness' First Finale or the mammoth Songs In The Key Of Life (which is really a less focused version of Innervisions) as their personal favorite, but Innervisions, I believe, is the crowning achievement of Stevie's 70s output. Lyrically, the album treats love ballads, social injustice and drugs with as much equality as the man himself would ask of the world, which is quite interesting considering the album's title -- that what we are to hear is the expression of a man physically blind to the world but who possesses such an acute inner grasp of it. Sonically, the album features the best of Stevie's abundantly colorful musical textures and tone colors: the universally omnipresent "Higher Ground"; the beautiful piano-driven "All In Love Is Fair"; the sad yet optimistic acoustic "Visions"; or the Richard Nixon indicting "He's Misstra Know It All."

Perhaps the most intense of songs on the album, "Living For The City," is possibly Stevie Wonder's best song lyrically, musically and vocally as well. I say vocally because the song is comprised of two parts and has a brief interlude where we hear police arresting a black man for no reason. In the first part, Stevie's wonderful voice optimistically sings of the man's poor but proud upbringing. After the interlude where the man is arrested, Stevie's vocal phrasings become gruff and grating, inherently wearied from the harsh life with the only hint of optimism being that of possible change. Sure, there's nothing wrong with ZZ Top having written about whorehouses at the time or Elton John on how Saturday night was good for a smackdown, but that kind of material is fairly trivial when compared to the issues Stevie was confronting, especially considering that he's not overbearing with them as opposed to, let's say, Rage Against The Machine. Other great tracks: "Jesus Children Of America," "Too High," "Golden Lady" and "Don't You Worry About A Thing." A-

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Joe Strummer And The Mescaleros - Streetcore (2003)

Although I just reviewed The Clash, I feel this inordinate sense of duty to highlight the late great Joe Strummer on account of the recently released film about him, Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, which I won't be able to see (limited release) because of Hollywood's corporate stranglehold on the American dollar; if Joe were here, he'd offer up viewings everywhere out of his own pockets. Anyhow, for those not in the know, Joe did not disappear completely after The Clash, although he did have a dark period for many years. Formed in 1999, Joe And The Mescaleros released three solid albums: Rock Art And The X-Ray Style , Global A Go-Go and Streetcore (which was released following his death and reportedly features mostly first takes for the vocals). The first two albums are quite diverse in a worldly sense and feature folk rhythms, multi-cultural musical styles (African, Irish, etc.) and reggae dubs.

Streetcore, though, is what I would call a return to the Clash sound -- not entirely, but it's quite prominent. In fact, I think Streetcore is a better album than the sloppy but popular Combat Rock and the sprawling 36-song muddled monstrosity that is Sandinista. Disagree with me; go for it, but not until you listen to it because I know you probably haven't. "Coma Girl," the first track, sounds like a long lost Clash song with its familiar punky riff, but before it can even sink in, "Get Down Moses" -- a swaggering reggae romp -- gives you this swelling feeling inside you, as if you know that what you're hearing is indeed something very special.

"Redemption Song" is an acoustic cover of the Bob Marley song and is definitely, like Marley's ruminations on his own mortality at its writing, a plaintive rendition for Joe's imminent passing. "Burnin' Streets" is probably, I would say, the best song on the album, although I'm at a loss for words on how to describe it other than it's a touch sad when Joe sings about how "London is burning" -- except this time sans the menace or growl like he would in the Clash's hey-day. Still, by the time you're done listening, you may have -- as I had -- a feeling of lingering excitement -- an unconscious precursor of the next Joe Strummer release. And then you remember the congenital heart defect. And then all you can ever do is just listen again. Rest in peace, Joe. B

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Deep Purple - Stormbringer (1974)

Ah, here it is -- the dreadful funky close to one of the most heralded rock outfits from the 70s, the album that made Ritchie Blackmore hang up his scalloped frets and say bollocks to his blokes. This album sounds more like a vocal showcase for singer David Coverdale than it does an album proper, allowing him to project his soulful funk tendencies with fruitless abandon and practice his impending Whitesnake garbage -- and really, what business does "Love Don't Mean A Thing" have on any respectable DP album, let alone a rock album? I'm not a funk-hater, believe me; and I've got nothing against soul. Sly & The Family Stone; Donny Hathaway; Stevie Wonder? I totally dig them. Deep Purple laying down a saturated funk groove? I don't think so. Ritchie's later manifestation as the mad minstrel is better than this.

"Holy Man" is a synthesized gospel; "Hold On" sounds like a blaxploitation flick montage sequence; "Soldier Of Fortune" carries the torch as the prerequisite end-of-album mournful ballad. No, I didn't eat the shrooms; I swear on my mother's grave, and she ain't even dead! Terrible, terrible stuff, really, terribly, truly. The only songs worth lending your tympanic membranes to are "Stormbringer," "Lady Double Dealer" and "High Ball Shooter" -- the latter two conjuring up images of casinos and roulette and -- wow, I really don't know what to write about this album other than don't buy it. Ever. At all. I bought it, but that's because I'm as mad as a hatter. If you really want it, let me know; I'll burn you a copy. But I will hold you in such low regard that I think you would prefer my frienship instead. Oh, enough. D-

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Pink Floyd - Animals (1977)

Pink Floyd is ubiquitous; the reasons of which are fairly obvious: Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall established enough of a fanbase to last an eternity; but what of the other records? If the aforementioned albums are considered the Golden Era of Pink Floyd, we must remember that Animals, released right before The Wall, is placed squarely in its midst. (Disclosure: Pink Floyd is my favorite band and I am unabashed in any kind of praise I will undoubtedly bestow upon them.)

Drawing inspiration from Orwell's Animal Farm, the album's lyrical content revolves around a series of anthropomorphic depictions of pigs, sheep and dogs in a not-so-favorable manner. Lyrics notwithstanding (even though I think they're great), the music is amazing. The album's bookends, two short pieces entitled "Pigs On The Wing (Part One) and "Pigs On The Wing (Part Two)", are interesting insofar as they're almost identical except for the tone they impart. Part One is more introductory and matter-of-fact, whereas Part Two is darker and more sarcastic in tone. The album's set-pieces, though, are where the greatness begins. "Dogs" is a monstrous 17-minute mini-epic replete with blistering acoustics and even dog howls; it's like an overly focused and possibly too-structured band jam except that it paints bleak caricatures of businessmen. "Pigs (Three Different Ones) is a politically scathing ode to, I suspect, some specific individuals, one of whom is named Whitehouse (my British politics in the 70s is not up to snuff, sorry). The song, as expected, also features a throng of pig noises. "Sheep" is my favorite track; a nasty romper of a song with some very delicious bass and an ever-present ominous sort of feeling -- as if wolves were encircling a poor little herd of sheep. The little sheep sermon is fantastic, especially the part where the sheep rise up against the dogs and threaten them with karate. Favorite line: "Bleating and babbling we fell on his neck with a scream. Wave upon wave of demented avengers march cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream." All in all, a very essential, very wonderful little long player that is as bleak and nasty as the animals it portrays. A