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, September 30, 2008

Frank Zappa – Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1976)

Avant my ass. I certainly espouse turning musical norms on their head and always prefer experimentalism to traditionalism, but not this time. Sometimes, even Zappa can go too far, which is what he does here in this jarring, musically lopsided Dada noodlefest, replete with abrupt vocal nonsense, pointless jazz motifs and a whole lot of headache.

You know how some music can be listened to in the background? This is not it. This demands not only your attention; it demands that you waste it. Like a cashier who can’t find the sticker on a tomato and insists the manager is on the way, even though you know they aren’t. Like to eat soufflé with a recipe? Listen to “Toads Of The Short Forest,” where Frank intones over the demented proceedings by telling you the time signatures. Want to pay your respects to Eric Dolphy, the jazz saxophonist? Well, Zappa did, by composing “The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue” – a certified piece of near-noise. In the middle of “Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Sexually Aroused Gas Mask,” you can appreciate the gradual throng of moans into one cacophonous aural odor – er, stench; better yet, tune in to the last song, the title track, which sounds like it’s supposed to be one continuous ripping of flesh – which is to say, horrible dissonant static.

So what’s to like? The violin-laden “Directly From My Heart To You” (a Little Richard cover), “Oh No,” “Orange County Lumber Truck” and most importantly, “My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama,” which, if nothing else, has the greatest interjectory acoustic solo ever, not to mention it being one of Zappa’s best songs. I suggest listening to this with enough time to register to vote. Because this record makes me angry. Anger causes change. Change causes progress. Progress is like tea – it might be sugary or bitter or need a touch more milk, but if you stir it hard enough with your spoon, it might taste good. Well, sometimes. So switch this not-so-bitchen’ LP off your spin machine when you’re done and cast your vote of no confidence in November. Or today. Kiss my sharries. I love swirls. D+

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Rainbow - Rising (1976)

I'll admit the only reason I initially bothered with Rainbow was Ritchie Blackmore, who is my favorite guitarist-not-named Hendrix. This is partially because of my absolute loathing of all things Dio. I remember he had his own radio show a few years back and he seemed like a cool guy. Oh wait, that was Dee Snyder. Nevermind. Vocally, Dio is contrived dramatic blech, to be brief. So it's nothing short of amazing that I don't find him annoying. As soon as I heard "Tarot Woman" at my padre's insistence, I was hooked. I usually hate synth (underlying 80s hatred), but the opening line is supremely nifty. And let's face it: at six songs (34 minutes or so), there really isn't any room for these fellows to fuck or fluff up anything. The guitar is ridiculous (as you would expect), especially on "Light In The Black" and that tasty riff that opens "Starstruck." Hell, this is a guitar album, period. People will say it's Deep Purple-lite. I'm not so sure. While Purple is the infinitely better band, Rainbow is much less straightforward rock and more about sounding huge and including wizards and shit. Plus, Rainbow sounds a whole lot darker, perhaps intentionally, than Purple ever did. The real treat of the album is therefore "Stargazer." I never tire of that ominous plodding feel every time I hear it. Orchestras get me tickled, too, particularly when they're used correctly and not as some stupid parlor trick, substitute accompaniment or half-baked pretentious attempt at seriousness from an otherwise doldrum band (insert your candidate here __________ ). So what have you got to lose? Other than your house, job or increased taxes to support a perversely criminal bailout, give this album a spin. It's certainly the best and most consistent of Rainbow's output. Nothing came close to this again. Enjoy. A-

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Yankees 1, Rays 7 - September 13, 2008

I'm going to make an exception today by posting on an entirely non-musical subject: namely, my last game at Yankee Stadium. It's been a great run, but the listless, lifeless kind of play I saw today has me concerned for all of baseball, since the Yankees were the last magical thing about it. Derek Jeter had three hits, a couple of nifty defensive grabs and generally played as if it was the World Series. I could care less what people say about him; he's a class act and he loves this game. Many others on the team will go home like any other employee at a job, thankful for their salary but glad the day's over with. Sportswriters will recalculate their sabermetrics on Moose's effectiveness, bookies will cash out in favor of the Yanks not making the playoffs, Joe Schmoe will capitalize on his free agent status at season's end and where will I be, the loyal fan, who feels nothing but emptiness? In fact, I'm not going say anything else other than that pictures really do tell a thousand words. Despite erasing the scoreboard, this picture was taken of me after the game. Cheers to great memories. Cheers to my days as a Bleacher Creature. Cheers to those four World Series, and cheers to the joy that is true baseball -- a child's game, not a man's science.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Metallica - Death Magnetic (2008)

Now that I've officially gotten Metallica's three abominations under my belt, let's turn to Death Magnetic, their newest release and definitely best since the Black Album. First, the bad: the album and songs are a bit formulaic; this is partly due to Metallica pillaging their past forays for inspiration, so in a way, they can't be blamed. Or can they? Part of the problem I had when listening was the occasional over-aping of past material. Sure, it may be fine for Metallica to loot Metallica, but when is enough enough? "The Day That Never Comes" is awful, not least for it sounding like "Unforgiven," then "Orion," then "One" -- all in the same song. In fact, why does it sound more like "Unforgiven III" than the actual song on the album, also named "Unforgiven III?" Both are awful and reminiscent more of their Load-era gobbidge than the old stuff they try to imitate. I also think "Suicide & Redemption" is a sludgy, boozy drunken mess; it's a ten minute instrumental, possibly intended in a similar vein as "Call Of Ktulu" or "Orion," but it's a long aimless wankfest. Speaking of wankfest, Kirk Hammett is all over the place. I have a feeling people will love the three solos he plays in almost every song, but most of them are caroused noodling, completely jarring to the music being played, and seemingly intentionally inserted for the sake of being able to be inserted -- that and some of them you can hear coming before they actually come. I have this cassette tape of me playing the guitar as an ambitious 13-year old musical prodigy (har har har!); on it, you can hear me shredding a million arpeggiated notes in a millisecond -- and it's complete crap. Thanks, Kirk. I now feel like I could've recorded a metal album and been like you.

That said, the good: some of the solos actually work quite well (the bad ones are just indelibly bad), as do the plenitude of riffs. James Hetfield used to eat riffs for breakfast; he returns to do just that here. In some instances, riffs change as quickly as they can be digested and the intent for most of the album seemed to be: faster faster faster. For that, I tip my hat to "That Was Just Your Life," "All Nightmare Long" and "My Apocalypse" (the requisite "Damage Inc. or "Metal Militia" or "Dyer's Eve" of the album). "End Of The Line" and "Broken, Beat And Scarred" are also pretty good. Hmm, what else? Robert Trujillo is pretty non-existent; a touch of bass here and there, but it's mostly the Hetfield show. It's a less-than-average album, for sure, but in light of recent history -- say the last however many dismal years -- it's a welcome comeback, even if I expect nothing better from them ever again, since it's painfully obvious they just don't have it anymore and if they weren't appropriating from themselves, they probably would've fared worse. The intent seems genuine and earnest, but the fact is, these guys aren't angry anymore, even if they tried to master the puppets again. C-

Metallica - St. Anger (2003)

Today will be a twofer. First I will do an inevitable, completely unoriginal but personally necessary savaging of Metallica's St. Anger and then shift to their newest album, Death Magnetic, simply to contrast why they've sort of redeemed themselves and why they still suck. First things first.

St. Anger needs no explanation, really, for those familiar with it. It's possibly one of the worst albums ever, notwithstanding from whom and under what circumstances it came to be. Thankfully, as the new album will show, this album seems to have been their proverbial low point: whining, introspective (dare I say "emo") lyrics, Lars the Grouch banging his trash cans, weakly repetitive riffs in songs with no discernible melodies, themes, structure or anything resembling rational order. They tried to sound raw; they instead sounded raucous and unkempt. They tried to sound aggressive; they sounded like someone lit a bag of poop on their porch and ran. Long, unending and diffuse, this is the messiest, most awfully conceived, written or produced poseur of an album by any metal/rock/alternative band ever (except perhaps for Coldplay's two recent fetuses). Not owning it means one more slot on your CD rack, or the equivalent of roughly 70MB of free space on your hard drive, iPod, etc. I actually own it, but that's more because I'm a diseased OCD completionist. So hurrah to those of you who enjoy this kind of garbage. I certainly don't. And for those who seek to come to its defense -- shame on you; I won't even stoop to indulge you. F

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Doors - The Doors (1967)

There are those that find Jim Morrison to be a flimsy poetaster, Robby Krieger an egregious six-stringed nightmare, Ray Manzarek a dawdling hunchback of a keyboardist and John Densmore a lifeless militaristic percussionist, but together they were The Doors, and together they were fantastic. This, their debut, is particular striking for its uniqueness as much for its variance in style, not to mention that it sounded nothing like the flower power summer of love kaleidoscope folk music then-currently being peddled. This is not to say it's a dark album -- in fact, I've heard music tailored to sound dark (minor keys, moodscapes, et al) and this album isn't so much dark as it is exploratory. (Run away, kitty cat.) So if you've been living under a tofu plant or you like safe, pleasant music -- this album isn't for you. But I'm sure it is because I don't think I've attracted too many pop fans here. If I have, I've scared them away -- the exception being Chuck, who still likes the Killers, despite my insistence that he please stop. In fact, most reading this probably love this album, sans one person I am quite aware of.

So who's with me in saying that the instrumental they criminally lop off for FM radio in "Light My Fire" is exquisitely awesome; or that "Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)" is deliciously unsettling in a Brechtian sense; or that, despite your current or past penchants, you vote unanimously that if you were to do drugs, "The End" would be the song that you do them to? I love the drugged feel of "End Of The Night" nearly as much as I love the silliness of "Twentieth Century Fox." Oh, and "Crystal Ship" -- if everyone anyone has a second, please leave a comment if you don't like this song. I'm really curious -- really. I really love that song. Otherwise, maybe they really didn't break on through to the other side, but they did make a helluva great album. And even though I will most assuredly give all their albums (maybe except Morrison Hotel) the same grade, this one is the most deserving. A

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Prodigy - Experience (1992)

This is certainly not an album I would normally endorse at first glance, but I'll do just that, simply because I love it and also because I would prefer to puncture any presuppositions anyone may have of me that I hate pop, country, or anything that isn't rock. (Actually, I loathe country, so pardon the retraction.) For those familiar with The Prodigy, you probably remember that controversial "Smack My Bitch Up" video, or maybe "Breathe" from the incessant play it used to receive on MTV -- when MTV used to play music videos. Fat Of The Land is still a pretty good album, as was its predecessor Music For The Jilted Generation, but Prodigy's best stuff begins with their first, this excellent gem from 1992. From the grandstand bit of piano exposition on "Wind It Up" to the dizzying breakbeats of "Music Reach 1/2/3/4" or the booming bass thumps from "Everybody In The Place (115 And Rising)," it's hard not to feel the jungle vibe, baby. Bells, whistles, chipmunk vocals, and even some notable samples -- "I am the god of hellfire, and I bring you fire" from Crazy World Of Arthur Brown's "Fire"-- the album is an eclectic and dense compendium of layered hooks and polyphonic electronic structures gone awry, all from the sprawling and prodigious brainwork of Liam Howlett, a classically trained pianist who makes his chops known more through composition than customary virtuoso playing. It's electronic, it's fascinatingly weird and it's devoid of guitars and a central singer. But if you like your tea difficult, which I do, these leaves simply originate from foreign lands but still taste quite good, especially when mixed with local cream. It'll take your brain to another dimension. Pay close attention. B+

Richard Ashcroft - Human Conditions (2002)

After reading Chuck's almost entirely deserved beating of Richard Ashcroft's Keys To The World, and since I just recently reviewed the Verve -- a much better musical outfit than Ashcroft could and will ever be -- I'm offering up his 2002 stinker, definitely the worst of his solo output, for slaughter. Problem is, it stinks so bad I'd rather just let the bathroom air out for awhile and take a stroll outside to pretend to puff some cancer sticks. Here, read this while I'm gone. Richard Ashcroft does; you should, too.

1. Wash and condition your hair. Blow your hair dry with a round brush to remove wave. Use a ceramic flat iron to straighten naturally curly hair. 2. Section off the hair on the top of your head. Make a part at each of the temples, to the back of the head. Clip the hair on the top or your head together so that no stray hairs hang down. 3. Use a rat tail comb to back comb the hair around the border of the part. Rat the hair in the back of the head as well as the sides. 4. Spray the back combed hair with aerosol hairspray to give extra support hair extensions. 5. Use dark hair extensions for light hair, or light hair extensions for dark hair. Clip the extensions into sections of back combed hair. 6. Unclip the hair on the top of the hair. Smooth the hair down over the hair extensions. Divide the bangs into two sections. Back comb the under section of hair and spray it. Clip hair extensions to the bang area. 7. Smooth the top layer of bangs over the extension. Run your fingers through the hair to smooth it. Spray the entire hairdo with a quick shot of aerosol spray.

This album makes me feel massive indifference towards everything. Poverty. War. Salmonella. Elections. Rock star hair. Whatever. It's hard to feel good about anything for most of this half bummed-out acid trip, half-Sting pretense of an endeavor when there really isn't anything to care about. Even the world's ugliest dog got more loving than this speckled bit of rot. "Check The Meaning," as close to a song as you can probably assess one to be, is the first track and the only thing resembling human decency that I can imagine Ashcroft envisioned for us to enjoy. I like it sometimes. He probably loves this album. Everything else -- is just like that middle paragraph you may or may not have suffered all the way through. F