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?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Faith No More - Angel Dust (1992)

Riding on the enormous success of "Epic," replete with its closing piano and flopping fish, Faith No More decided to pillage Mr. Bungle's exorbitant little closet via Mike Patton as a conduit. Ergo, the smattering of heavy-riffed funkadelic rap fusion is at its arguable best here in Angel Dust, their fourth album, and second with Vice Chancellor Patton. The album opens with "Land Of Sunshine," a freakish carnival ride of a song with filthy bass and guitar lines and an array of Patton's progressive vocal croonings. "Crack Hitler" has a plunky funk rhythm with a scratchy turntable wah tone, some exemplary synth, and is just utterly fantastic. "Midlife Crisis," perhaps as well-known as "Epic," is an incredibly insidious number, featuring the best of Pattton's vocal theatrics and a medley of infectious beats. Hell, even a rendition of the theme for "Midnight Cowboy" is surprisingly rousing. "Caffeine," "Smaller And Smaller" and especially "Jizzlobber" are particularly heavy as well. "Be Aggressive" has some startling lyrical content in between the thumping notes ("You're the master and I'll take it on my knees" and "I swallow," among other lines) and is almost as odd a selection as is the musical content spanning the album -- which is of course why "Big" Jim Martin left afterwards. Despite his enormous guitar presence and prodigious talents, the vocal influence and direction by Patton served him his eventual walking papers. A shame, really, because Faith No More never quite recovered with subsequent sub-par albums. Get 'em while they're hot. A tautly conceived B.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Radiohead - In Rainbows (2007) (second disc)

Since I've already reviewed In Rainbows, I suppose I must review the second disc from the boxset as well. The second disc is comprised of eight tracks, two of which are actually one-minute one-offs of experimental noise ("Mk 2') and a reprise-like coda of "Videotape" ("Mk 1"). Of the remaining songs, I could give a fupenny tuck for "4 Minute Warning" and also find "Up On The Ladder" and "Go Slowly" to be fairly engaging, but not terribly exciting stuff -- although still better than most tripe you'll find on popular albums today. The real meat and matters lies in the remaining three numbers: "Down Is The New Up," "Last Flowers" and "Bangers + Mash." Wowzas people, these are really really good. "Last Flowers" is a mostly piano-driven piece and is, I think, one of Radiohead's more beautiful songs. The recording of this entire album clearly showcases the fact that they wished for Thom's voice to be heard much more clearly. "Down Is The New Up," which was aloft in the rumor bin as a possible name for the album, also features a great bit of piano, with some similar up-tempo beats from "15 Step." "Bangers + Mash" is a song I wished was on the regular LP, but have conceded to the band's reasoning that none of these songs fit musically with the rest of the album. It's the funkiest thing these fellows have ever done and a wee bit different than when I originally heard the song here. Still, it's really nice to see Thom playing the drums while he sings and Jonny nastily striking at his guitar. All in all, B-

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie - Bird And Diz (1950)

After a week of hell, I've returned to invoke (or attempt) my bombastic blather in the disguise of a review with Bird And Diz. Hopefully, my appreciation for jazz won't supersede my musical knowledge of it, but ah well. This collection of songs features a fairly estimable lineup of Charlie Parker on sax, Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, Thelonious Monk on piano, Buddy Rich on drums and Curly Russell on bass. This is not the Monk everyone knows and loves, though; his playing is rather subdued and uneventful, as is the drumming and bass. Meanwhile, back in the bat cave, Bird and Diz seem to be strangling each other for the whole of the record (possibly the reason for Thelonious' relegation to the background) with mid-tempo caustic soloing and wild melodies in a constant battle for your attention. Occasionally, they do converge ("Mohawk"), but mostly numbers such as the frenetic "Leap Frog" or equally tense "Bloomdido" share an affinity for the joys of musical flight. "An Oscar For Treadwell" is quite nice, too -- in point of fact, of the six songs here, clocking in at a brief 20 minutos, there isn't a bad bit of music at all, but since I'm obviously a rock guy, that doesn't translate as well in terms of my grading pedagogy, either. All in all, you'll dig the piss out of it. Oh, and ho-hum, I'd give Bird the nod in terms of a victor. B

Friday, December 7, 2007

Rush - Moving Pictures (1981)

The instrumental "YYZ" is the reason I began listening to Rush in the first place -- with its bloated bass blurblings, chunky guitar noodling and tenacious technical drumming -- is Neil Peart a robot, or what? I had heard "Tom Sawyer" on the radio, but I never seemed convinced enough to lend my ears to these guys. I'm sure glad that I did. Now what I didn't do was purchase a greatest hits compilation; what I did do, however, was purchase Moving Pictures first, arguably Rush's best album, if not its most popular, for those very reasons.

The album begins with the now-ubiquitous "Tom Sawyer," a song featuring a hybrid of vintage rock and new wave melodies. Everyone is on point as usual: Neal Peart is not content with just keeping the beat; Geddy Lee wants to spank his bass until he gets arrested for it and Alex Lifeson decides he's in it to win it. Remarkable stuff, really -- that such a trio can create such clean yet powerful music with each instrument easily heard. The torrid "Red Barchetta," the autobiographical "Limelight" and the aforementioned "YYZ" make up the whole of side one, and it's a complete doozy of a side, for sure. I can listen to it over and over for hours. As for side two, I don't care much for "Witch Hunt" and while I like the epic quality of "The Camera Eye" and the meaty "Vital Signs," the second side is simply not as powerful or musically adept. (This actually occurs on most albums I listen to -- the last few songs are always weaker than the first several -- any theories?) Unfortunately, whether you're ready to lay down you first-born for this album, or you prefer Permanent Waves or A Farewell To Kings, this is where it more or less ends for me as these fellows progress towards heavy synthesized new wave. You probably have this album anyway, but still. B+

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Derek And The Dominos - Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)

I'm going to indulge a bit here and act on what lingering loathing I've lovingly lathered over the past few days regarding Mssr. Eric Clapton in the comments section and have decided to put, as Bob would say, the sacred cow on the chopping block for slaughter. I almost chose the overrated Wheels Of Fire, but decided this one would suffice. This is not to say that I'm going to spend the next few lines demoralizing Clapton, but his unwelcome and mediocre spirit will be criticized, for sure. It's not that mediocrity is necessarily a terrible thing, but when such mediocrity is so highly praised, that is when I become particularly agitated, hence his deserved exclusion off my top 50 list, and perhaps even 100, for that matter.

With that, let's get on with the story of Eric's -- er, Derek's -- manic love-fest of an album. It starts off well enough with "I Looked Away," the tender "Bell Bottom Blues" and the rollicking "Keep On Growing" and then, no matter how good Duane Allman's licks or presence, the album suddenly sucks. "Nobody Knows When You're Down And Out" is muddled bluesy dreck; "Anyday," featuring otherwise tasty Duane Allman slide, is pretty much drivel otherwise. This rather lifeless torpor continues on for the entirety of the album, to include the horrible "Have You Ever Loved A Woman" and the most tepid and uninspiring cover of Hendrix's "Little Wing". Two notable exceptions are the ferocious "Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?" and, of course, "Layla," which I love oh so dearly. Of course, such a heap of praise is not without explanation. See, that opening guitar line -- that was not only played by Duane Allman, but was created by him as well; and those bird-like tones produced during the piano coda are his as well. In fact, I would be positively frightened to hear not only that song, but this entire album as well had he had not appeared on it. I suppose, perhaps, this is Clapton's true genius: surrounding himself with far better talent to substitute for his own shortcomings and riding their coattails. Hence, his additional lack of kudos from me for his time during Cream, Blind Faith and The Yardbirds, although as far as praise is concerned, this is Clapton's best work -- whatever that means. Regardless, it is what is. Thank you, Duane. Screw you, Eric. And I promise to be nice for the next few. C-

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Move - Message From The Country (1971)

OK, time for a rarity. For those comfortably sequestered in camp ELO, allow me to invite an old friend back into the group, someone who spent a good part of the old days in the music backwoods with Father Lynne: The Move, heretofore known as candidate for the unfortunate title of Best-Band-That-Never-Made-It-Big (except perhaps in the UK). Initially led by mastermind Roy Wood, and later inflected with the imaginary Beatle Lynne's orchestral sensibilities, The Move were a solid British band that produced four solid albums, the last of which, Message From The Country, is their finest. Unlike ELO, they had no definitive "megahit," but also unlike ELO, they never had a weak album and weren't an irresponsible singles band.

Beginning with "Message From The Country," the eclectic musical leanings are made readily apparent with the main harmony layered with Lynne's ELO-esque vocal phrasings and Roy Wood's beefy undercurrent. "Until Your Mama's Gone" opens with a beautiful acoustic line and then moves to a bass-thumping, piano-rollicking number that keeps on exploding right until the end. I love that one. "Don't Mess Me Up" is a kind of rockabilly romper and "My Marge" is a campy little joke of a song, but you've got to dig it -- or else. "The Words Of Aaron" is possibly my favorite Move song; I hate to keep drawing comparisons, but it's like a minimalist ELO song musically, but that still manages to retain much of its power. "Ella James" and "The Minister" are good ones, too. Also, as a quick afterthought, if you've heard the song "Do Ya" by ELO, it was originally a Move single released in conjunction with this album. All in all, you can't go wrong with these guys. It's sad they never "made" it in America. B+

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Mad Hatter Music Top 50 Guitarists

1. Jimi Hendrix
2. Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple, Rainbow)
3. Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath)
4. David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)
5. Robert Fripp (King Crimson, solo)
6. Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen)
7. Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers)
8. Denny Dias (Steely Dan)
9. Ted Nugent (Amboy Dukes, solo)
10. Brian May (Queen)
11. Andy Summers (The Police)
12. Angus Young (AC/DC)
13. Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top)
14. Duane Allman (The Allman Brothers Band)
15. Allen Collins (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
16. Alvin Lee (Ten Years After)
17. Pete Townshend (The Who)
18. Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)
19. Johnny Marr (The Smiths)
20. Rory Gallagher
21. Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne)
22. Toy Caldwell (The Marshall Tucker Band)
23. Hughie Thomasson (The Outlaws)
24. Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead)
25. Dickie Betts (The Allman Brothers Band)

26. Frank Zappa
27. David "The Edge" Evans (U2)
28. Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones)
29. Alex Skolnick (Testament)
30. Robbie Krieger (The Doors)
31. Mick Ronson (David Bowie)
32. Alex Lifeson (Rush)
33. Ron Asheton (The Stooges)
34. John McLaughlin (The Mahavishnu Orchestra)
35. Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser (Blue Öyster Cult)
36. Dave Mustaine (Megadeth)
37. "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott (Pantera)
38. John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
39. Josh Homme (Kyuss, Queens Of The Stone Age)
40. Kirk Hammett (Metallica)
41. Slash (Guns 'N' Roses)
42. Jerry Cantrell (Alice In Chains)
43. Tony Bourge (Budgie)
44. Eddie Phillips (The Creation)
45. Robin Trower (Procol Harum, solo)
46. Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave)
47. Jan Akkerman (Focus)
48. Johnny Winter
49. Dean Ween (Ween)
50. Kaki King

Based on guitar chops and skill, originality, influence, style, etc., these represent my top 50 guitarists. Therefore, while Pink Floyd is my all-time favorite band, it did not guarantee David Gilmour the top spot -- after all, this is purely guitar-work. Also, as this is not something quantitative, my order of ranking is purely subjective and obviously subject to change as my opinion dawdles. As an example, when I listen to Dimebag's solo/outro on "Floods"

I think he's the greatest guitarist ever, especially because it sounds like he's playing his own funeral song (rest in peace, brother). Then I hear "Voodoo Child" and think, uh, no. Noticeably absent on the list are Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker, Steve Cropper and the like; and while I do not deny their unique history in music, they are not my cup of tea, especially with the kind of crumpets I prefer. As an added note, I fucking hate Eric Clapton. How's that for eloquence? Enjoy and comment all you like.