Thursday, May 31, 2007

Review: The Go-Gos - God Bless the Go-Gos

Label: Beyond Records

Released: May 15, 2001

With very few exceptions, reunion albums are not essential listening. The best we can hope for is a solid album that at least isn't an embarrassment. In 2001, the Go-Gos released their first studio album in 17 years. Considering such a long layoff and that their first go round was short and inconsistent (one very good album and two spotty ones in four years), I can't imagine anyone held out much hope for God Bless the Go-Gos. However, it did get good reviews at the time and I think that is more likely due to it exceeding expectations than actually being that good.

First, don't expect this to be on par with 1981's Beauty and the Beat. The youthful energy and punk rock edge of that album is hard to reproduce at this stage of the game, especially considering that it was already largely gone a year later when they released the inconsistent Vacation album, which along with 1984's Talk Show had only a few good songs and a lot of filler. What God Bless... gives us though is a largely above average set of songs with only a slight lull through the middle. The songs are solid, mixing upbeat pop with slower ballads and the sound is very much the Go-Gos with only a touch of 90s alt rock influence in places. The Go-Gos successfully walk the line between losing their identity and merely recreating their past and that alone makes this one of the better reunion albums out there. Still, there is absolutely nothing essential about it, so this is only for those who wish for more quantity in the Go-Gos' catalog. If you're looking for quality, Beauty and the Beat is still the way to go. However, if you're going to buy a second Go-Gos album, this should edge out both Vacation and Talk Show.

Rating: 6/10

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007


I'm going to add something new here that is actually a bit of a revival of something I used to do the first time around with this blog. I thought it might be fun to have an occasional "participation" post like Metal Mark has. I'll call it Best/Worst and the idea is that I'll list some bands and you tell me their best and worst albums. I'll try to pick from a variety of genres so there's something for everyone. I'll try to do it once a week and we'll see how it goes.

Okay, here's the first round (we'll start out with my two favorite bands):

1. Beatles
2. The Clash


Monday, May 28, 2007

Review: Paul McCartney - McCartney

Label: Capitol

Released: April 20, 1970

For his first proper solo effort, Paul McCartney chooses to curtail the elaborate arrangements he had indulged in with the Beatles in favor of a more grounded album full of country, folk, blues, boogie and soul. To expect a solo album to meet the standard set by the Beatles (and particularly their finale, Abbey Road) would be unfair, but certainly anything McCartney touched should meet a higher standard than something released by just about anyone else. So, Paul's first non-Beatle release likely left the rock critics of 1970 in the difficult position of determining just where that line would be. Lucky for us today, Paul's solo career has proven so inconsistent over the last 37 years that the line is now in the realm of mere mortals and therefore easier to ascertain. So, it is with the caveat that I benefit from hindsight that I am undertaking this review.

Probably due to all the infighting among his band mates, McCartney decided to record his debut almost entirely on his own (with only a bit of background vocals from his wife Linda). The result is consistency in both feel and quality without the album getting stagnant. It starts off with the very short and sweet folk of "The Lovely Linda." While it may seem like a bit of light fare, it actually sets a good tone for the album by being simple not deep and heavy. "That Would Be Something" is country-tinged boogie
with a mellow groove that McCartney accents with some subtle rhythmic vocal parts. As much as I enjoy the track, it isn't so strong that it needs to set it apart from the rest of the album, but the instrumental "Valentine Day" does just that. Other than coming up too soon, it's a nice, raw, medium-paced blues song that very much fits the album as a whole. "Every Night" has a great hook and hints at McCartney's later slicker ballads without giving in to some those roads he would unfortunately travel a few years later. "Hot as Sun/Glasses" couples a fun, light-hearted tune with an experimental track. While neither would stand on their own, both combine for an interesting interlude. The first of McCartney's Beatle leftovers to appear is "Junk." It's low-key and has a certain continental sense to it, much like "Michelle." The pace picks up with "Man We Was Lonely," an excellent country rock song with a hook worthy of a single. McCartney shows he can sing (and play) the blues on "Oo You." It may not be the strongest track, but it's a fine rocker on this generally laid back record. "Momma Miss America" starts off sounding like some of McCartney's later rock songs and then continues in a similar vein to "Oo You." It's a better song over the second half, but still one of the album's weakest moments. "Teddy Boy" is another Beatles cast-off that McCartney includes here. It's catchy, but remains raw and simple. It's also quite a testament to the Beatles that their throwaways were this good. "Singalong Junk" is an odd inclusion since it's simply an instrumental track of "Junk" that runs a little longer. It isn't bad, but seems a bit pointless even though I get idea of the "singalong." "Maybe I'm Amazed" may be a ballad, but not in the sense we typically think of ballads, because it rocks. It really is the album's best track, with McCartney at his best as both a writer and a performer. He actually has some edge on this one, which is something that is too often absent from his solo work. Because perfect pop songs are McCartney's forte, the experimental nature of "Kreen-Akrore" might put off some people. However, it's got some strong moments and actually draws the album to a close that likely left the listener of 1970 wondering where he would go next. Unfortunately, that promise would later be left unfulfilled as McCartney kept to the middle road and "filled the world with silly love songs" for years.

Paul McCartney had to be as unsure of where he would go as a solo artist as the world was when the Beatles called it a day. However, the McCartney album finds him with fine songs and a cohesiveness that makes his solo debut shine. Sadly, the organic, rootsy sounds would give way to pure pop-crafting that was technically great yet almost entirely soulless (with some obvious exceptions).

Rating: 7/10

Addendum: I wrote this review in response to Bill's review over at Rock of Ages. Check his review out too to get a slightly different angle.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Like a cover...but different

Sometimes two people collaborate on a song and record it with their respective bands. Usually, one is far more successful than the other. These don't qualify as covers since the songwriters are the performers in both cases. They're just collaborations that were recorded apart rather than together. Off the top of my head, I can think of three:

"China Girl" by David Bowie and Iggy Pop
Like the rest of Iggy Pop's The Idiot, "China Girl" was co-written with David Bowie. While Bowie's version on 1983's Let's Dance is far better known, Iggy's was released six years earlier. Iggy's version has more raw energy and conveys a bit more madness, but has a vibraphone part that's a little out of place. Bowie's version taps into the Asian angle and his voice is superior, but it's a bit slick and the production is somewhat dated. Both version are very good and my preference would probably change with my mood.

"Our Lips are Sealed" by Jane Wiedlin and Terry Hall
This was a hit off of the Go-Gos 1981 album, Beauty and the Beat, but didn't make Fun Boy Three's self-titled debut the next year. Instead, FB3 included it on 1983's Waiting. The well-known Go-Gos version is an upbeat pop song with bit of edge that they retained from their early days in the LA punk scene. FB3 on the other hand turned this into a melancholy affair (with backing vocals from Wiedlin for contrast). I prefer the Go-Gos version, because I really love their first album, but FB3 certainly made a worthwhile recording of it as well. It works out well that the two versions are so different.

"Because the Night" by Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith
Patti Smith's version on 1978's Easter is better known, but Springsteen only recorded this for the Live 1975-1985 box set. Smith isn't my favorite singer and I still view her as a bit overrated. However, her version is passionate and compelling. Springsteen's version is more raw (obviously since it's live). His voice isn't that great anyway, but he also manages to convey passion. Still, it may be best that he left the song in Smith's hands to record the definitive version.

Can you think of any other songs where the songwriters recorded separate versions?


Friday, May 25, 2007

Review: Ozzy Osbourne - Black Rain

Label: Epic

Released: May 22, 2007

You'd think that 16 years of half-hearted recordings would destroy Ozzy's career. If that isn't enough, surely the overexposure from his asinine reality show would do it. No? How about one of the worst covers albums ever recorded? Somehow Ozzy seems to survive all of this, like a heavy metal Rasputin.

I think "Not Going Away" is probably a threat more than a promise, because if its generic heavy groove is all Ozzy has to offer, I can't imagine who wants to listen anymore (even though I'm well aware that there are legions who will gladly eat this crap right out of his hand). "I Don't Wanna Stop" is a riffy affair that might be decent if it wasn't the same old thing I've heard so many times before. It makes an attempt at being a bit trippy just before the solo, but that ends up being so listless that it loses its intended effect before it gets anywhere. The title track sees Ozzy going with the medium-paced hard rock approach. To make it interesting, he throws in some electronic effects that hint at some industrial influence. It fails miserably. Over the years, Ozzy has been able to pull off some fine ballads, but that power seems to have left him along with his voice. Aside from some subtley nice guitar work from Zakk Wylde, "Lay Your World on Me" is likely the worst ballad he's ever recorded. It gets worse from there as "The Almighty Dollar" kicks in with a generic, funky bass line. The song tries to survive on Ozzy's voice (or the processing that has become his voice) and has very little real structure. "Silver" kicks off with an energetic riff that seems promising. While it's nothing particularly new, the song has a mild hook, decent use of keyboards to bolster Ozzy's voice and a driving chorus. It's not great, but at least it's listenable. Is the next track actually decent or have I just lowered my standards over the course of the album? "Civilize the Universe" lacks the driving chorus of "Silver," but it also has a fair hook and the processing on the vocals actually fits in with overall trippiness of the track. I wouldn't say it's particularly good, but at least "Here for You" isn't as bad as "Lay Your World on Me." The strings in the background aren't very original and neither is the guitar solo. "Countdown's Begun" is nothing new either. I'd only like it if it was the countdown to the end of Ozzy's career. Unfortunately, I don't think that's the case. I'm glad the last track is called "Trap Door," because I definitely want out. There's a bit of the heavy, processed riffy sound of Prong or maybe White Zombie that crops up throughout Black Rain, but it's always done in third-rate fashion and "Trap Door" is a great example of that even though it's actually one of the album’s stronger tracks.

Black Rain is another dull release from Ozzy. It's self-consciously heavy at times and generally formulaic, indicating that Ozzy has little or nothing left in the tank. His vocals are consistently over-processed and it makes his performance very disingenuous. If he can't even come close to what he could in his prime, he needs to either find a new direction or hang it up. As it stands, he's just embarrassing himself. Unfortunately, something tells me that Ozzy will survive even this and continue to destroy any credibility he has left...probably to the tune of millions in album sales. Sad.

Rating: 3/10

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Review: Titan - A Raining Sun of Light and Love for You and You and You

Label: Tee Pee Records

Released: February 6, 2007

The problem with Emerson, Lake and Palmer is that they don't put enough rock in progressive rock. Don't get me wrong, I like a lot of ELP, but they do tend to lean a bit too far to the classical side. Over 30 years after ELP's peak, Titan comes along to correct those errors.

A Raining Sun of Light and Love for You and You and You takes ELP in their prime and adds a very healthy dose of heaviness, producing something along the line of progressive stoner rock (ELP meets Boris, perhaps). It seems that some people have been put off by the first minute or so of acoustic intro, but it (along with other quieter moments throughout) really serves to bring the album's sonic gravity into full relief when the amps kick in. Over the course of the album, the traditional prog keyboards mix it up with fuzzy yet precise guitar parts that alternate between cooperation and opposition. Even when the guitar is more riff than thunder it still feels like they're turned up to 11. The incredibly tight and dynamic rhythm section keeps the frequent pace changes seemless. The songs are so cohesive that even with all of them clocking in around 10 minutes or so, they never grow dull. Across the first three tracks, there is little distinction even across songs as the album works as a single piece in many ways. The fourth and final track is distinctly different from the others, drawing more from Trevor Rabin-era Yes and early 80s Rush than from the more esoteric sounds of early 70s prog. Still, it works well, letting the listener down easy after the mind-altering ride of the first three quarters of the album.

It's pretty amazing that Titan spent years honing their skills and exposing their music through self-released CD-Rs. Now that they've unleashed themselves upon the world, they sound like they are at their musical peak rather than their formative period. This is a band that blurs musical definitions without losing focus or direction. They are certainly ready for the world, but the question really is, "Is the world ready for Titan?" Probably not, but it should be.

Rating: 9/10

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Review: Grinderman

Label: Anti

Released: April 10, 2007

Some bands use rhythm. Some bands use melody. Grinderman uses insanity. Much of Nick Cave's latest project has to be some of the darkest, most desolate music since Suicide's debut 30 years ago. Unlike Suicide though, Grinderman has a more organic approach with traditional intruments and a definite feel of improvisation. While it might feel more alive, it certainly doesn't make living sound very good. The music starts off plodding and dirgeful with stark instrumentation from three of the Bad Seeds. This isn't just a stripped down version of the Bad Seeds though. This time, they write as a group and it's decidedly uglier and emptier than even their previous explorations of life's dark side over the first half.

The album kicks off with "Get It On," an exercise in flat dissonance with Cave going off like some strange marriage of beat poet and televangelist. "No Pussy Blues" seems like it will be a bit more restrained though no more structured until the straight noise of the break after the first verse. These aren't the "no pussy blues" of your typical rock star who didn't get any from the groupies. It's the "no pussy blues" of a sociopath who's put all his sexual eggs in one basket and is seething after all his advances are rebuffed. And the last thing he's looking for is love. Don't expect anything lighter with "Electric Alice." Musically, it's a little bit more interesting, but that only serves to add new layers of creepiness. "Grinderman" hints at the Doors' "The End," but drags on considerably despite being far shorter. The album finally gets going a little on "Depth Charge Ethel." It's not a great song, but the mere presence of some form in the song make it stick out like a sore thumb. For the first time Grinderman gets away from the cold influence of Suicide coupled with some manic form of the blues and instead adopts the swagger of the New York Dolls while retaining a fair degree of the album's general insanity. "Go Tell the Women" gets back to the minimalist approach with very little structure and much repetition. After six hookless tracks, "(I Don't Need You) to Set Me Free" finally presents some semblance of a song that could stand on its own outside of the concept of the album. I wouldn't go so far as to suggest it would get radio play, but it is a reasonably listenable tune with some nice, loose guitar work. "Honey Bee (Let's Fly to Mars)" isn't quite as strong as its predecessor, but works as a pretty good garage song with a pretty cool organ part and some wild guitar behind it. Cave does some real singing on "Man in the Moon," a short ballad that continues in the warmer vein of the second half of the album. "When My Love Comes Down" reins in the rock a bit, but doesn't return to the sparseness of the first half. It still has a bigger sound and more ability to stand on its own merit. "Love Bomb" finishes the album out with a lot more energy than it starts with, but great psyche guitar, a driving rhythm and Cave's delivery make certain that the album's overall insanity isn't diminished.

Although it warms up over the second half, Grinderman remains a very dark affair. The first half is a particularly tough listen that really only succeeds in concept. Increased structure and energy make the second half much more listenable, but no more pleasant. Grinderman is certainly a success as pure art, but its inaccessiblity makes it struggle as a rock album. I would suggest that Nick Cave fans check it out to see just how much a Nick Cave fan they really are.

Rating: 6/10

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Live: Deep Sleep, Liars Academy, Loved Ones and Strike Anywhere

May 16, 2007, The Ottobar, Baltimore, Maryland

First, this show was a benefit for a great cause. J. Robbins has given an awful lot to the music community over the years between his own bands and those he produced. Now, J.'s family is in need. His son Callum has Spinal Muscular Atrophy and his care requires more than insurance will pay. There was a nice turnout for the show, so that will hopefully help out the Robbins family. If you want to learn more or help out, check out For Callum.

In addition to being a great cause, the show was a real deal at $10 for four bands. First up was Baltimore locals Deep Sleep. Their set was short (under 20 minutes) and likely included every song on their 9-song debut 7". But it was a short, fast explosion. Borrowing heavily from Chavo-era Black Flag in both sound and presence, Deep Sleep may never become a great band, but they certainly ripped it up as an opener and got the show off on the right foot.

Deep Sleep was followed by Baltimore natives Liars Academy. They came out with three guitarists and I expected it was just a way to get all thier buddies in the band rather than actually serving a purpose. However, their riff-heavy brand of emo really employed the whole band's skills. The harmonies were usually a little off (something I'm sure they remedied in the studio), but they were otherwise tight. The lead vocals brought most of the emo elements to the table, but singer Ryan Shelkett did keep enough edge on his voice to avoid much of the sappiness that often weakens bands of that genre. Still, it had enough soft spots to make me wonder if the album had the same punch as the live show. While they weren't my favorite of the night, Liars Academy certainly were the most musically interesting.

Philadelphia's Loved Ones didn't have the creativity of Liars Academy, but they made up for it with good energy, good hooks and good nature. They played a set full of gritty, catchy punk along the lines of bands like Avail. While they weren't musically remarkable, they were very engaging, both in calling the audience to support the cause and to have fun at the same time. The Loved Ones are certainly up my alley and I would recommend catching them live if you can just because it's a guaranteed good time full of solid punk rock.

Strike Anywhere headlined the show. They're one of those bands that I like well enough, but never got tremendously excited about. They seemed like a good political punk band, spewing anger over fast and somewhat melodic songs, but not particularly special among their peers. I had no idea what I was in for though. Strike Anywhere played 50+ minutes of pure adrenalin, their righteous anger full of love. I don't know if I've ever seen a band blast out that much energy over a full set. I've always thought there were two reasons to be really angry: because you hate the world or because you love the world. The latter is the one that resonates with me and that is exactly why Strike Anywhere's set felt so good. Despite the crowd's demands, they didn't come back for an encore and I applaud them for it. Why should they when they left everything out there in the set? They had nothing left to prove and probably little energy left to give. If anyone complained, they must've been in the bathroom for the whole set, because there was no reason to walk away anything less than elated.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Discography: U2 - Conclusion

U2 has had a remarkable career spanning almost three decades in which they have consistently pushed the limits of what rock music can be while remaining incredibly successful. Few bands have done as much to shape music as U2 and certainly no one has done it for as long. They may be the only band to really play in the same league as the Beatles.

Because they had so many essential albums (three 10s, one 9 and two 8s by my count), it's hard to believe there would be much need for any kind of greatest hits collection. After all, you should just own the full albums or you miss out on an awful lot of great album tracks. However, in addition to filling albums with essential listening, U2 also had some fantastic B-sides which can be found on The Best of 1980-1990 and The Best of 1990-2000. The former is particularly full of gems that didn't make the cut at pressing time and only saw the light of day on the flipside of singles. "Sweetest Thing," "Everlasting Love" and "Silver and Gold" alone are worth the price of the double CD. The latter is little sketchier, because a lot of the B-sides are just remixes, but you still get a few fine pieces from soundtracks like "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" and "The Hands That Built America" plus the new "Electrical Storm." The fact that so many songs were left over for B-sides and soundtracks after the band filled album after album with such high quality is yet another testament to what is likely the greatest band in history after the Beatles.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Discography: U2 - Rock Period

All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000)
I still remember a friend calling me to tell about "Beautiful Day" the day it came out. It was back in the Napster era and I got right online to check it out. I must've played five times in a row at least. It was the best rock song I'd heard in years and it came from a band that had moved ever further away from traditional rock music over the preceeding decade. What is so amazing about All That You Can't Leave Behind is that it's a straightforward rock album yet still sounds like completely like U2. I think this, perhaps more than all the record sales and millions of fans, shows their impact on rock music. After 20 years, they make a consciously mainstream album and it sounds like them, because their influence on rock has been so pervasive. "Beautiful Day" is the one outstanding song in a sea of very, very good material. The only fault with the album is that it celebrates all that they've done, but doesn't break new ground as they'd done so often before. I also see All That You Can't Leave Behind similar to how I see REM's Monster. Like REM, U2's music became less rock oriented and I think they wanted an album where they could go on tour and just play the songs without trying to create a club effect.
Rating: 8/10

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004)
I don't know that there's much to say about this one that I didn't already say above. Even with "Vertigo" showing up in a commercial, I don't grow tired of it. The album is full of solid songs that once again show U2's impact on the rock world by being both mainstream and distinctly U2 at the same time. While I've enjoyed the last two albums, I'm curious to see if U2 will reinvent themselves yet again and take us on another ride into the future of rock and roll.
Rating: 8/10

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Discography: U2 - European Period

Achtung Baby (1991)
Admittedly, this album took a little time to grow on me. It was a shock. Even though there was four years between their last proper album and Achtung Baby, I certainly had no idea that the band had spent that time completely reinventing themselves. Once I got past that though, it quickly became clear that this album was a masterpiece and, despite the break from the past, it was still very much a U2 album. They managed to change their sound without changing the intangibles that made them U2. While you'd think the increasing influence of Europop and perhaps late 70s Bowie would turn the music cold, nothing could be farther from the truth. U2 manage to incorporate the sound without abandoning their emotion. Instead, they make an album that is probably more rather than less personal.
Rating: 10/10

Zooropa (1993)
A recent listen to this album convinced me of two things, most of the album isn't quite as awful as I remembered and "Stay (Faraway So Close)" isn't quite as good. The end result is that I bumped it up from a 2/10 to a 4/10. It's still an experiment gone awry that U2 should have had the good sense to leave on the shelf. I remember reading a letter in Rolling Stone, who gave it a great review, that said Bono could fart in the microphone and RS would give it 4 stars (out of 5). 14 years later, I still can't figure out what anyone likes about it.
Rating: 4/10

Pop (1997)
While Pop doesn't come close to the songwriting quality or the emotional level of Achtung Baby, it also isn't the jumbled incoherent mess that is Zooropa. When I think of Pop as a whole, it's a very cohesive album, yet the individual songs jump around a good bit in their influences from techno ("Discotheque" and "Mofo") to rock ballads ("If God Will Send His Angels") to soul ("The Playboy Mansion") to jazz ("If You Wear That Velvet Dress") to psychedelia ("Wake Up Dead Man"). Only "Miami" struggles a bit to find itself, but even it isn't a complete failure. In many ways, this album foreshadows U2's straightforward rock approach that comes to fruition on All That You Can't Leave Behind, but it still feels mostly like a club-oriented album. Pop's problem isn't imperfection or incoherence so much as it's inability to reach the heights of much of U2's other work. Perhaps they realized how far off the path they got with Zooropa and this album was a settling down for them. It may have kept them from making a great album, but at least it seems to have grounded them again and positioned them to make more great albums rather than to run amuck in bad experiments.
Rating: 6/10

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Discography: U2 - American Period

The Unforgettable Fire (1984)
This album still has some elements of the Irish period remaining, making it somewhat of a transitional album. Still, the bigger sound courtesy of the Brian Eno/Daniel Lanois production team and the heavily American-focused lyrical themes land this one more firmly in U2's American period. The well-known "A Sort of Homecoming" and "Pride (in the Name of Love)" are stunningly good and "Bad" may be the best song of their career. Even more telling is that many of the lesser-known tracks like "Wire" and "Indian Summer Sky" are in nearly the same league. Even the tracks that can be viewed as filler (even though they are never as lackluster as what I'd call filler on most albums) play a vital role in making this U2's most complete album to date without even a moment of weakness.
Rating: 10/10

Wide Awake in America (1985)
The live version of "Bad" is not quite live enough to be essential, but "A Sort of Homecoming" is perhaps their best official live song. The two studio tracks are clearly not album tracks for U2, but they are certainly better than what most other bands would fill their albums with.
Rating: 7/10

Joshua Tree (1987)
While the three singles that kick off the album are great songs (particularly "Where the Streets Have No Name") and even the next song, "Bullet the Blue Sky," is equally as compelling, the album falls into a bit of listlessness after that. "In God's Country" is a memorable song further in, but the rest lacks the energy of their earlier releases. Don't get me wrong, the album is still powerful and the songs don't fall to the level of typical filler, it's just that they don't reach out and grab me and shake me. There is little question that Joshua Tree is great, but in my mind it remains their most overrated work. It is interesting that they would copy the Beatles' "Get Back" performance for the "Where the Streets Have No Name" video. It may show how much their egos had swelled by this point, but the video's wide acceptance is also an indicator that perhaps their heads had merely grown into their stature as the greatest rock band since the Fab Four.
Rating: 8/10

Rattle and Hum (1988)
This one catches quite a bit of flack for a number of reasons. First, it's an odd album, because it's a mix of studio and live performances intermingled. Second, it's a bit pretentious, especially when coupled with the movie. Third, some of the performances are just not up to the bar raised by U2 in all their previous work. While "Helter Skelter" might be the most well-intentioned cover of all time, it's a dull performance. How is that possible with that song? Even Motley Crue did a good cover of it. Most of the other live stuff falls flat as well, albeit not so glaringly. While "Desire" and "Angel of Harlem" are both fine singles, bringing in BB King for "When Love Comes to Town" feels a bit forced. The non-U2 "Freedom for My People" might be a bit of a novelty, but I think it does a better job of uncovering what the band was really trying to get at than the BB King track does. One huge bonus is the presence of a live version of "Silver and Gold," a Joshua Tree b-side that is simply amazing. There is some reason to take a few shots at Rattle and Hum, but the positives still outshine the negatives, leaving it one of U2's most underrated albums.
Rating: 7/10

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Discography: U2 - Irish Period

Boy (1980)
Everything was already in place for greatness. A few years before, guitarists everywhere were floored by what Eddie van Halen was doing, but it seems that no one noticed the Edge doing something every bit as innovative. The difference is that the Edge didn't have to carry his band. His playing was no more nor less than the song needed. Bono was already an engaging singer and the lyrics had more substance than a lot of bands have in their prime. Boy has a lot of the energy of punk, yet the songs are better written and far from raw. In addition to the well-known "I Will Follow" and "Electric Co," there are a lot of great album tracks including "Out of Control" and "A Day Without Me."
Rating: 9/10

October (1981)
This album gets a lot of flak for some reason. It doesn't quite live up to the promise of Boy, but it isn't a step backward either. Perhaps it could be considered a holding pattern. October has more low-key songs than its predecessor, but it also has a few breakouts as well. "Gloria" gets some radio play from time to time, but "I Threw a Brick Through a Window," "Fire" and "Rejoice" are also worth getting to know.
Rating: 8/10

War (1983)
I'm often torn between this one and The Unforgettable Fire as U2's best album. Right now, I'm siding with War. A broader set of influences comes together here without watering down the band's identity. Everything takes a step forward without becoming so refined that it loses any energy. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "New Years Day" never get old despite staying in steady radio rotation for 24 years. "Two Hearts Beat as One," "Seconds" and "40" should also make your playlist.
Rating: 10/10

Under a Blood Red Sky (1983)
Live albums are seldom essential, but this one might be. It's not that it's a great live recording so much as it captures why U2 was so important: They connected with people. An added bonus is the inclusion of "11 O'Clock Tick Tock" and "Party Girl" which don't appear on any of the regular studio LPs.
Rating: 7/10

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

If you have a dog or cat...

Sorry for the unrelated post, but this is an important message. If you have a dog or cat, please take a look at this list of foods that are poisonous for them. My dog Vinny got into a bag of raisins last week. We had no idea that raisins were toxic to dogs. He spent five days in the hospital due to acute renal (kidney) failure and finally died on Thursday. He was only 2 1/2 years old. He was one of the best friends I've ever had and I miss him terribly. I'm just hoping that more tragedy can be prevented by sharing his story. If you have pets, take a look at the list so you don't have to go through what we went through last week.




Discography: U2 - Intro

I heard U2 for the first time almost 25 years ago. A friend of mine was a huge fan. As they became one of the biggest rock bands in the world, I wondered, "How did he know?" Now I wonder, "How did I not know?" In every respect, they are as important to the 80s (and everything after) as the Beatles were to the 60s (and everything after), both musically and socially. To boot, they became a political force as well. Perhaps U2 was more of the Beatles/Dylan of the 80s and maybe the David Bowie of the 90s. That's probably too many analogies though.

I used to think that U2's career could be divided in two, Boy through Rattle and Hum and Achtung Baby to the present. Going back and listening to everything together though, I really think there are four periods, the Irish period, the American period, the European period and the Rock period.

The Irish period consists of the first three studio LPs, Boy, October and War as well as the live Under a Blood Red Sky. Their sound was pretty well-defined, but hadn't become the huge arena-oriented sound into which it would soon develop. The Edge was already revolutionizing what could be done with a guitar and a delay pedal. Bono's vocals were already soulful and completely engaging. Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. were already a simple but tight rhythm section. The pieces were in place, but U2 didn't sound like a huge band yet. They were still Ireland's and not the world's.

The American period saw U2's focus shift from Ireland to the American superpower, both the largest market and the biggest power in the West. The Unforgettable Fire, Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum all share the same sense of being American records, both musically and philosophically. Interestingly, the band never seemed like an Irish band trying to act American. They thoroughly absorbed America into who they were as a band without losing the Irish spirit that made them unique.

They didn't ease into the European period as they did into the American period. The three years between albums saw an abupt shift in their sound from the very organic American roots influences to the colder, more precise world of European club music. Nonetheless, they managed to keep the sense of warmth that always made them so engaging for Achtung Baby. That warmth was comparitively absent from Zooropa and Pop.

Despite the commercial and critical success of the European period, I think U2 felt the need to re-engage themselves which led to the albums of the Rock period. While the tours for the previous three albums were supposedly amazing, they also had the quality of being more of a spectacle than a rock concert. When they released All That You Can't Leave Behind, my first reaction was that they had written an album they could play live without all the frills of the recent tours. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb continues in the same vein.

In order to keep things manageable, I'm going to split this into multiple posts, one for each of the periods above.

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Friday, May 11, 2007


Metal Mark had a post about covers and Jeff had one about tribute albums, so I thought I'd get in on the act and post a list of some of my favorite covers.

  • Slayer - "In-a-gadda-da-vida" - Slayer does an amazing job with this Iron Butterfly classic. They trim it down to a manageable length and turn it from trippy to brutal. This is probably my favorite cover of all time.

  • Clash - "Pressure Drop" - The Clash often did reggae better than many reggae artists. Here they take reggae and turn it into punk by adding an edge, not just speed.

  • Revolting Cocks - "Do You Think I'm Sexy" - The Revolting Cocks take Rod Stewart at his most shallow and turn it into a hard, dark song that makes me feel dirty.

  • Devo - "Satisfaction" - I think "Satisfaction" is one of the worst songs ever recorded, but I really like how Devo capitalize on how cold the song really is.

  • Fu Manchu - "Freedom of Choice" - This is the opposite of Devo's cover above. Fu Manchu takes the cold precision of Devo and turns it into a heavy, sludgely stoner tune.

  • Blue Cheer - "Summertime Blues" - It's amazing how much a song can change over a little more than a decade. Blue Cheer takes this old Eddie Cochran rock n roller and turn up the amps!

  • Dynamite Hack - "Boyz N the Hood" - Dynamite Hack was a terrible band, but they certainly nailed this cover by turning the definitive gangsta song into a sappy ballad.

  • Wilson Pickett - "Hey Jude" - You'd think it'd be tough to cover a song like "Hey Jude," but Pickett's impassioned vocals and some great horns breathe an entirely different energy into this one.

  • SOD - "Diamonds and Rust" - Okay, this one isn't really a cover per se, but it sure is funny!

  • Evan Dando - "Skulls" - I always thought the Misfits' version was funny, because it's so melodic and the content is so nasty. Evan Dando's sacharine sweet voice adds a lot to that same effect.

  • Black Flag - "Louie Louie" - This one has been covered a million times and not all of them are as happy as the Beach Boys or the Troggs, but none are as angry as Black Flag's. The additional verse changes everything.

  • Mark Arm - "Masters of War" - Mark Arm gives more edge to a song whose lyrics were always harsh.

  • Jimi Hendrix - "All Along the Watchtower" - It must be a great cover when it's the definitive version. This is actually one of my favorite Hendrix songs.

  • Johnny Cash - "Hurt" - I never fully believe Trent Reznor. Sometimes it just seems like he's negative for the sake of being negative. Johnny Cash never suffers from this problem. His version of "Hurt" takes a well-written song and adds honesty.

  • Realm - "Eleanor Rigby" - Realm was a decent though forgotten thrash band from the late 80s, but they do a great version of "Eleanor Rigby." It loses a lot of the melancholia of the original, but manages to add a different energy that makes it more interesting than simply speeding it up.

  • Prong - "(Get a) Grip (on Yourself)" - I was skeptical when I first heard that Prong covered this one, but hearing it made me realize that it was the perfect song for them.

  • Fear Factory - "Cars" - Fear Factory proves just how good a band they are by taking on this Gary Numan tune. It retains the cold hook of the original, but makes it heavy. This makes it so clear that they understood the song and is anohter of my all-time favorite covers.

  • Mighty Mighty Bosstones - "Sweet Emotion" - The Bosstones take on Aerosmith's best song, ramp up the energy and throw in some horns!

  • Yo La Tengo - "Nuclear War" - How do you improve a Sun Ra classic? Add children swearing.

  • Soundgarden - "One Minute of Silence" - The idea of recording a minute of silence can only work...twice. Soundgarden's cover is almost as brilliant a novelty as John Lennon's original.

  • Nouvelle Vague - "Too Drunk to Fuck" - The only way a Bossa Nova cover of the Dead Kennedys could work is if it's done by a band who understands both.

  • Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Higher Ground" - The Chili Peppers pull this off with more funk than Stevie Wonder.

  • Communards - "Don't Leave Me This Way" - You don't have to like dance music to love this one. If this doesn't get you fired up, check your pulse, you might be dead.

  • DOA - "Takin' Care of Business" - Anarcho-punks DOA not only ramp up the energy, but add a little politics as well.

  • Tim Version - "1916" - Motorhead failed to give this song a genuine, gritty, everyman appeal, but the Tim Version fixes that.

  • Jane's Addiction/Ice-T - "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" - The dueling vocals add a new dimension to this Sly and the Family Stone classic.

  • Joss Stone - "Some Kind of Wonderful" - I never thought this was a great song, but Joss Stone can breathe life into anything with her rich, sensuous vocals.

Those are some of my favorite covers. What are some of your favorites?


Wednesday, May 09, 2007


It seems like most people my age have long ago put away their band shirts and grown up. Not me. I wear a t-shirt everyday and 90% of them are music-related. It kinda makes me sad, because I love looking at t-shirts in the same way that I love looking at album art.


Saturday, May 05, 2007

Live: Orange, Heart Attacks, Time Again, Necromantix

May 4, 2007, The Ottobar, Baltimore, Maryland

Last night, Ray and I caught the Necromantix show at the Ottobar. Since the Necromantix have a decided retro feel, I kind of expected that there would be some degree of nostalgia to the evening, but it wasn't all what I expected. As it turned out, with varying success, each band was a throwback to an era other than their own. The bands weren’t the only one’s getting into the past though. There was a pretty funny example of it in the audience as well. As I was watching the night second band, I noticed a girl a few people in front of me. She had X's on her hands, so she was under 21 for sure, but by the looks of her, I suspect she was probably closer to 18. The weird thing was this: She had the words, "Reagan sucks" painted on the back of her jacket. Reagan? I wonder if I should have clued her in that Reagan isn't president anymore. Actually, he hasn't been president since she was no more than two. It's the worst example I think I've ever seen of living in someone else's past. Guess, what, George W. Bush is president now and he sucks too! Why don't you pick on your own president? There's no protest in "Reagan sucks" anymore. I sure hope she isn’t planning on attending the Rock Against Reagan festival this year! So, you get the picture. That was the kind of night it was.

The opener was a band called Orange. They were a throwback to the 90s. There was nothing wrong with them other than the fact that they're like a second generation copy of the Clash and Buzzcocks via Rancid and Green Day. It'd be one thing if they reached all the way back to those roots, but instead, they merely copied the watered down punk of the 90s. Each generation away from the original loses a little soul is lost when rehashing the past. Orange doesn't have the soul of Rancid or Green Day who don't have the soul of the Clash or Buzzcocks. I'm not saying that new bands don't have soul, just those that reinvent the wheel. The problem with Orange isn't that they were bad, just that they weren't special. I saw the drummer after the show and he had a Frank Zappa shirt on. Maybe Orange should spend some time listening to Zappa to infuse a little creativity into their music. As it stands, they're wholly unoriginal. Their CD was $5. I passed.

Next up was the New York Dolls, I mean the Heart Attacks. They were a throwback to the 70s. These guys looked like the Dolls, they sounded like the Dolls, they almost were the Dolls. Unlike Orange, they were a first generation copy and they did it with enthusiasm. I've seen a lot of bands try to convey energy on the Ottobar's small stage and struggle to keep from running into each other. The Heart Attacks didn't bother with that struggle. They were all over the place with wild abandon. Singer Chase Noles did tumbles across the tiny stage and jumped from the balcony into the crowd. Guitarist Tuk also jumped into the crowd while playing the final song of the set. These guys might not have been the most original band, but they played with a lot of energy. Besides, they're a better New York Dolls than the New York Dolls are these days.

Time Again came on next. This time it was a throwback to the 80s. A first generation copy of 80s hardcore (largely DC-style in my opinion), they also mixed things up with a couple of slower melodic songs that made them a bit more multi-dimensional. As exciting as the Heart Attacks were, Time Again made them look like they were standing still. They had that rare gift of truly engaging the audience and almost the entire lower floor of the Ottobar was a big pit, swirling in an old school circle. It was good to watch (even 20 years ago, I was never one to be in the pit), because it was kids as a community, looking out for each other and just having fun. Time Again was simply a solid hardcore band, but they had that intangible that made them one with the audience and produced a better show than any band can put on alone. I'm not a big fan of encores, because they're almost never spontaneous, but a band that isn't headlining doesn't plan an encore, because they never get to do one. Time Again had created such a good vibe that the crowd called for it and they obliged! The spontaneity of the whole thing made it one of the best encores I've ever seen. After the show, I only had $7 cash left after admission and parking, but guitarist Elijah Reyes sold me the full-length for what I had in my pocket even thought they were charging $10. How punk is that? As Ray and I were walking out to the car, drummer Ryan Purucker told us that they would be back in a few months with the Casualties. I'm definitely gonna try to be there!

That brings us to band we went to see, the Necromantix. Of course, they were a throwback to the 50s, but that's their shtick. They're not just a revival though; they take rockabilly, mix it up with some old B horror movies and a little punk rock and turn it into their own thing. They're the cream of the psychobilly crop and I expected a great show. I was even more excited after Time Again's set, because a pretty high bar was set for the night's performances, so the Necromantix couldn't just go through the motions. Well, they didn't, but they didn't outplay Time Again either. The Necromantix had two things against them from the start. First, the mix was terrible. Half the time, I couldn't hear the guitar and the other half, it sounded too fuzzy, more like Blue Cheer than Gene Vincent. On top of that, they did a few things that separated them from the crowd. No one was allowed on stage. The few people that did get up were quickly removed by either Ottobar staff or the Necromantix manager. When the manager wasn't keeping fans from participating, he was busy pointing out people with video cameras in the audience with a flashlight. What does it hurt them for someone to tape the show? Is that gonna cut into the sales of their smash hit live DVD or something? That’s commercial rock behavior. Do they think they're Metallica? All of those shenanigans left a bad taste in my mouth even though they proved to be pretty amazing musicians. Bassist Kim Nekroman is such a dynamic player that his coffin-shaped bass is a minor detail. At one point, he was using his foot instead of his fret hand. He was all over the place, leaning into the crowd and putting on a generally exciting show. Drummer Andy DeMize had the touch of a jazz drummer and played with effortless energy. Unfortunately the technical problems made guitarist Tröy Deströy difficult to hear. He had a subdued stage presence, sitting down when the others soloed, but conveyed the whole rockabilly image very well. When I could hear him, it was clear that he had the chops even if the mix was screwing it up. The Necromantix really did play a fine set, but they seemed so distanced from the audience after Time Again that I just didn't find them engaging. To further distance themselves from all things right with a punk rock show, their merch was on the pricey side. CDs were a reasonable $10, but shirts and LPs were $15, they had a bandana for $10(!) and belt buckle for $25. I know merch is where they make their money, but I still found them to be a bit high.

So, this night of nostalgia had some surprises (Time Again and to lesser extent the Heart Attacks), a disappointment (Necromantix) and a small dose of mediocrity (Orange). It's a shame they didn't have a garage band on the bill to cover the 60s. Then it would have been the history of rock n roll in one night in the tiny, little Ottobar. All in all, it was well worth the $12 I paid to get in. Seriously, I would pay $12 to see Time Again alone, so everything else was a bonus.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

I don't have faith in Rush...

On Rush's new album, Snakes & Arrows, they have a song called "Faithless." It's a bit of light fare typical of their output over the last 20 years, not particularly good and not particularly bad. It contains the following lines:

I don't have faith in faith
I don't believe in belief
You can call me faithless
I still cling to hope
And I believe in love
And that's faith enough for me

Personally, I'm half sympathetic to the extent faith and belief are abstracts that aren't important without the more concrete love and hope. It's similar to the old theological argument of "salvation by faith" versus "salvation by works" and Peart shows himself to be a bit of a lightweight in this area by suggesting that only the works matter without regard to a broader consciousness in which to frame them. That's okay though. They're rock lyrics and shouldn't be expected to be philosophically complete. The real trouble that I have with them strictly as lyrics is that they seem like empty words, similar to the abstract concepts about which they complain.

In contrast, John Lennon expressed a similar sentiment with these words in his song, "God":

I don't believe in magic
I don't believe in I-Ching
I don't believe in Bible
I don' believe in Tarot
I don't believe in Hitler
I don't believe in Jesus
I don't believe in Kennedy
I don't believe in Buddha
I don't believe in Mantra
I don't believe in Gita
I don't believe in Yoga
I don't believe in kings
I don't believe in Elvis
I don't believe in Zimmerman
I don't believe in Beatles
I just believe in me
Yoko and me
And that's reality

Frankly, I'm uncomfortable with some of what Lennon says here, but the way he says it touches me. It's warm and real, because he ties it into more than just abstract ideas, he ties it to himself. John Lennon said a lot that I find to be half-baked gibber-jabber that people only listened to because he was a Beatle, but while I don't sympathize with all he says in "God," I believe him when he says it. I can't say that about Rush. Maybe Neil Peart should have stuck to writing about By-Tor and the Snow Dog.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Myspace: Mike Kelly

I found Mike Kelly on a Myspace bulletin from none other than Mike Watt. I thought with that kinda recommendation he desrved at least a listen. Let me first offer Mike's own disclaimer, because it's a good one and something you should know going in. He writes of his songs, "ALL WERE RECORDED IN FIRST TAKE,IN ORDER TO CAPTURE THE ESSENCE OF THE SONG,INSTEAD OF WASHING IT AWAY IN PERFECTION.IM SORRY IF IT SOUNDS ALITTLE ROUGH AROUND THE EDGES, BUT IM DOING IT ALL MYSELF,,TRYING NOT TO FORGET IDEAS AND TRYING TO CATCH INSPIRATION WHEN IT COMES." Rough around the edges might be a bit of an understatement, but he is warning you ahead of time not to expect Dark Side of the Moon or anything in terms of production. Fair warning, no problem. If you can deal with what are essentially the ultimate in DIY recordings (written, performed, recorded by Mike himself) and get over the sheer rawness of these songs, you might be in for a treat. If you can't, I suspect he doesn't really want you visiting anyway, because his music isn't about being slick or smooth or easy. It's about spontenaity and challenge and a good psyche out.

Right now, Mike has four songs up on his myspace page. "Can I" is an acoustic piece with rough vocals. Echoey backing vocals lurk in the background and some trippy guitar noodling rises and falls. It's a pretty freaky track that reminds me a bit of some alumni of the old Enigma Records like the Rain Parade or Jet Black Berries. "Croaxias Inadvert" is another acoustic song that starts off a bit in a Syd Barrett vein, but chanting vocals make it a bit more Eastern as it goes. This one doesn't really get going though, making it the weakest of the four. Getting away from the acoustic, "Hopeonarope Wesp" is domiated by raw, phased and distorted guitar. It's not a complex song, but the subdued wail of Mike's vocals give it nice dimension. It reminds me a lot of the trippier side of 80s punk and alternative, like Wurm or the Enigma stuff I mentioned above. "The Place is You" comes close to being the best of the four songs, but the structure breaks down a bit in the middle. It comes back around, but there's a bit much going on which leads to confusion more than just a listening challenge. I think it's more of a production issue though.

Mike Kelly is a raw musician. Both his playing and singing could use a little bit of refiniement and the production is more what you'd expect from a recording of ideas than even a demo (as he warns us on his page). However, there's a lot of real potential here. The songs have a decidely psychedelic quality and display real passion. Even if he cleans everything up, Mike isn't playing the kind of stuff that will light up the charts, but I say too bad for the masses, because they're missing out. As it stands, I like what he's doing, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the lumps.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Myspace Posts

Myspace has a lot of faults, including horrible design, semi-porn peddling and just general stupidity from people I don't really give a crap about. However, it has proven to be a pretty good way to find some new music and keep up to date on tours, releases, etc. So, I'm going to add a feature to my blog where I review a band/artist that I found on Myspace. We'll see how it goes.

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Cover: Leviathan - My War

Black metal is not at all my thing, but I somehow stumbled upon Leviathan on Myspace. When I saw they had a song called "My War," I figured I'd at least check to see if it was the Black Flag classic. Sure enough, it was. Now, Black Flag is probably in my top ten of all time and "My War" has particular sentimental value for me (I nominated it for my class song in high school!), so it's probably a tough one to do justice to in my eyes, but I doubt Leviathan could justice to much of anything. They robbed the song of all its real anger and replaced it with a sense of "look at me, I'm crazy" that seems to permeate their whole image. I was annoyed, not scared. What crap.

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