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, February 13, 2008

Led Zeppelin - Houses Of The Holy (1973)

With the imminent arrival of Valentine's Day, I'd like to switch things up a bit -- after all, have we truly forgotten the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre? No, I haven't the time to massacre seven albums to equal the number of victims, but perhaps -- hear me out -- I can do to one what I would do to seven. Especially if the album is a sacred cow in need of an overdue slaughter whose reputation is supremely undeserving. No, I wasn't there, I didn't get the T-shirt and my zeitgeist card expired a long time ago with my lack of nostalgia. Sorry, I really don't know my victim.

So without further ado, let's venture into the Houses Of The Holy and do some deplorable sacrilege! (Brief caveat: Zep's first four albums are just short of amazing; there, that's my penance rock gods.) I really can't describe how much I loathe this album; it's a complete distillation of all the things that could have went wrong on their previous albums but somehow didn't. Yet, here they are on full display, every popped cyst, abscess and oozing sebaceous gland: egregious imitative blues/reggae/funk pilferings, pointless noodling and guitar wankery, tepid percussion and bass performances, and the seemingly endless caterwauling from the Diocese of this filthy sermon himself, Roberto De Planta of West Bromwich.

What's to say? "The Song Remains The Same" sounds like a bad Zeppelin rip-off; "The Rain Song" is a lot of time I'll never get back; "No Quarter" makes me wish I had one for the jukebox. "D'Yer Mak'er" is atrocious. As soon it starts, I want to pop a brick into Plant's mouth and make him stop. Then, I want Mssr. Page to stop. Then I want John to sober up. Then -- and where is JPJ's mad bass thumping? What can I say, oh my brothers and sisters? -- you know those hypotheticals where people say, oh so-and-so can put out a horrible album and anyone would buy it? This is that album. "The Crunge" is the most awful thing I've ever heard in my life.  "Dancing Days" is a precursor for Plant's later solo material. "The Ocean" is my favorite track to highlight, not because it sucks (though it does), but because I feel like this song exemplifies the excess and pompous nature the band had transformed into. Sure, it sounds like Zep, but a different, more bloated version. All the refinements blurred; all the intricacies swept away in favor of flawless production and the fact that they just didn't have it anymore. The only saving grace to this abortive monstrosity is "Over The Hills And Far Away" -- which I dig and dig so much, perhaps just because it's the only thing on the album I like. Sorry Zep-heads, my purplish tie-dye is comfortable, but I throw it into the wash when listening to this garbage. F

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Donny Hathaway - Donny Hathway (1971)

This little long player consists of Donny's expansion from his eclectic compositions on Everything Is Everything to then-current musical styles -- which is to say, all of these songs (except one) are covers. Normally, this is a poor decision -- think Bowie's Pin-Ups -- but Donny does to the originals what most do with Dylan songs: make them supremely better. I find Leon Russell's "A Song For You" to be particularly grating, but Donny's version feels like it's his song, and many oblivious to Mr. Russell probably thought it was his to begin with, so who's to argue? It's one of Donny's greatest songs and showcases his seemingly effortless ability to weave his voice around any lyric, mood or musical set-piece. In fact, besides the perfection that is Sinatra, Donny is probably one of the most treasured voices I've ever heard. It's a shame he snuffed it, and even a greater shame that he's being given the Thelonious Monk treatment as a misguided eccentric. "Giving Up" opens the album, and establishes fairly quickly that the cheerful optimism expressed on his first record was not to be repeated here; and despite my own depraved religious sensibilities, the gospel-like numbers -- especially "Put Your Hand In The Hand" -- are thoroughly rousing, even if they are steeped in a subtext of hopeless longing. Covers aside, the vocal renditions may not be as brilliant as on Everything Is Everything or the music as complex as on Extension Of A Man, but the album still bears the mark of Donny, through and through, and deserves consideration just for that. B

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Joseph - Stoned Age Man

Well, I usually burst into elated paroxysms for my darling audience to go out and listen to any albums I dig. Ho-hum, good luck with this one. You'll probably have your chance to pay Jesus back that fifty cents you owe him before you ever find this. I think I found the album years ago as a rare resell on Amazon. This guy doesn't even have a wikipedia page (sniff, sniff). Anyway, from what I myself have gathered, Joseph was an up-and-coming guitarist with some tasty bluesy psychedelia chops who got someone's attention back in the 70s. He cut an album, and then vanished into thin air forever. Seriously, despite having been given better accolades over the years, no one knows what happened to him. Obviously, the album did not do well at the time, but is he dead? Did he pull a J.D. Salinger? There is even dispute as to whether his name is Joseph Long or Longoria or Longeria. Certainly, the myth of this all is kind of silly to ponder, but the music itself is worth a listen. Personally, I think the world wouldn't be as pleasant without "Gotta Get Away" and "Stone Age Man," but you can be the judge -- if you can find it. Maybe I'll burn some copies for any interested parties. No, wait; I won't. I found myself under the large and oppressive boot of the military for years; I don't want the RIAA after me. Overall, the album features a nice amalgam of psychedelic blues and Joseph's husky vocal gruffings. I wouldn't kill myself to find it, but as I'm wont to mention, a D-list band from the 70s is oodles and oodles better than any snot being picked today. B

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

AC/DC - Back In Black (1980)

I'm listening to this album right now. The crunchy tones, the gritty vocals, the oomph that makes an Oompa Loompa bounce. I mean, is "Hells Bells" not one of the greatest openings to an album ever? Mourning aside, these guys said bon voyage to Bon Scott and hello to Mr. Johnson, and then some. Ok, I'm being crass now. Perhaps my reasoning arises from a sincere inability to express everything all the time, but I must say, if you don't own this album, you mustn't give a fupenny tuck for straight-up rock & roll. "Hells Bells," "Shoot To Thrill," "You Shook Me All Night Long" and "Back In Black" are all radio staples, but they're also ridiculously good, no matter how often you hear them. Yet, four great and amazing songs don't make a great and amazing album, although it is better than the bait-and-shit single tactics record companies use now to get you to recoup losses on egregious bands. Instead, with AC/DC, we are treated to all of the songs having been done extremely well. Nice! And have you given the dog a bone lately? He deserves one, assuredly. Definitely not noise pollution. Definitely not for the background. Listen and relish oh my brothers and sisters, and all that cal. A-