Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Supertramp "Retrospectacle"

Retrospectacle: The Supertramp AnthologyThat's Really Super, Supertramp  
4 Out of 5 Stars

This "Retrospectacle" is not a greatest hits set, and probably not for casual fans of the singles Supertramp placed on the charts through the 70's and 80's. At two discs and 32 songs, it covers the Supertramp albums from their first two (largely ignored on original release) albums, the hot period from "Crime of The Century" through "Famous Last Words" and then offers a few more songs from albums post-hit career. It was a pretty wild and evolving career, with this set giving a solid history.

While they started out as art-rockers with British Music Hall sensibilities (best shown by the single "Land Ho), by the time the went for high concept with "Crime of The Century," Supertramp began to make art-pop that rocked. Not an easy task. But with "Dreamer" and "Bloody Well Right," they hit a rich commercial lineage that had few peers. In this time period, only 10cc could match Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson's canny mixture of rock/pop/and witty compositions. The albums continued getting better and (in my opinion, at least) peaked with "Even In The Quietest Moments." "Give A Little Bit" became a top 20 hit and the band became superstars. That set the stage for the explosive success of "Breakfast In America," a smoothly slick look at their newly found worldwide acceptance.

In addition to being a Top Ten Album, it spawned four hits singles (and the sublime "The Logical Song") and eventually even lifted the five year old "Dreamer" back onto the top 20. The sound was immaculate, but homogeneity was beginning to show. It also led to the obligatory double live album, the top ten "Paris." What the lone track from that album, "You Started Laughing," shows, is that Supertramp were as technically proficient onstage as they were in the studio, just not necessarily spontaneous. It also filled the time for the band to finish up "Famous Last Words," an album that did show that the band had sanded off all the quirks to become a highly polished pop band in pursuit of American Radio (most tellingly shown by the kiddy chorus that pops up on "It's Raining Again").

"Famous Last Words" was the point where Hodgson decided he was going solo, leaving Davies to carry "Brother Where You Bound" and "Free as a Bird." Turns out they obviously needed each other more than they cared to admit, as the lack of the pair's vocal interplay and songwriting chemistry made "Brother" bland and "Bird" forgettable. The remaining songs are, frankly, utterly uninteresting (although the live version of "Another Man's Woman" reminds you of past glories). Davies is still soldiering on under than Supertramp name, but the excess of material here will please only diehard fans. You could easily settle for the single disc set.

The Very Best Of Supertramp  Breakfast in America Crime of the Century Even in the Quietest Moments Crisis? What Crisis? Paris

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Glee: The Music, Volume 5

Glee: The Music, Volume 5A Rebound from Volume 4  
4 Out of 5 Stars

My thoughts on the fourth volume of music from Glee was that it leaned too heavily on one style and not enough work in the variety that has made the soundtracks to the show enjoyable fluff. For the fifth volume, the producers correct that issue by mixing everything from the musical "Rent," The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Dixie Chicks via Fleetwood Mac and, for the first time, originals written specifically for the show. While some may gripe that there are no selections from The Warblers (and, for that matter Chris Colfer/Kurt), a solo Warblers album is to be released in the Spring.

There's another bonus in the return of Gwyneth Paltrow as Holly Holiday on three songs, proving her chops as a country singer on "Landslide" but otherwise being so-so on Prince's "Kiss" (with Will Shuster/Matthew Morrison) and getting her Joan Jett on for a cover of "Do You Wanna Touch Me." The duet with Morrison is better visually than musically, although Morrison reveals a wicked falsetto. In addition to Jett, the 80's come out through a fun duet by Rachel and Blaine (Darren Criss) on Human League's "Don't You Want Me" and two runs at Michael Jackson.

The originals are both run of the mill pop, with "Get It Right" a solo for Rachel and "Loser Like Me" a bubblegummy number for the entire ensemble. The gang style vocals are missing on this disc, which makes "Loser" and the cover of My Chemical Romance's "Sing" really stand out. "Sing" is easily the best song here, and makes me long for more of the powerful, uplifting numbers that Glee excels at. But another thing that they have frequently done is take a song from another artist outshine the original; on this volume it's Katy Perry's "Firework." takes this anthem of finding your identity and completely nails it, more so than Perry (who I do enjoy, but just is not the strongest singer). There are those who may feel that this goes against singer-songwriting as an ethic, given that Glee is a showcase for glossy-pop, I find it wonderful.

Two more things: Lay off the Queen numbers. Queen is now Glee's new Journey.

And why is Sam/Chord Overstreet not featured in the CD cast shots? He's now getting prominent solos on the songs and is a strong show character. Leaving him out of the picture seems like a slight.

Glee: The Music, Volume 4 Glee: The Music, Volume 3 Showstoppers (Deluxe) Glee: The Music - Love Songs Glee: The Music, Volume 2 Glee: The Music - Journey to Regionals Glee: The Music, Volume 1 

Monday, March 28, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Bright Eyes "The People's Key"

The People's KeyA great big melting pot of Bright Eyes  
4 Out of 5 Stars

Conor Oberst once made the ambitious mis-step or releasing two Bright Eyes albums at once; he issued the classic "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" and the cringe worthy electronica of "Digital Ash in A Digital Urn" on the same day. One was a beautiful, thoughtful descendant of Bob Dylan, the other was an amateurish Kraftwerk homage. "The People's Key" sounds like he learned from that moment and pulled the best of each onto one album. "The People's Key" uses a full band to highlight Oberst's gifts of melody, penchant for strange narratives/spirituality and his curiosity for electronic instruments and forges them into a dynamic album with many highlights.

Like Iron and Wine's "Kiss Each Other Clean" (issued roughly the same time), "The People's Key" shows Oberst fleshing out the edges of  his comfort zone with richer arrangements and fuller singing. Purists might not take to it easily, but there is a direct line from Oberst's time in Monster's Of Folk (who did a raucous concert performance), his more personal songs on the solo album and the opening narrative of "Cassadaga." Also, like Dylan, there are moments of inexplicable lyrical oddities that are as filled with beauty as they are strange. Who else could rhyme the title of the song "Haile Selassie" with the line about  his audio equipment ("one drop and a bubbling Leslie, calling me home like Haile Selassie").

Oberst is a restless artist, as anyone who has followed his eclectic career can tell you. The wild mood swings on "The People's Key" are testament to that factor, yet it is strong enough an album to hold together. I'll probably always be wedded to the style of the man who wrote and sang "I'm Wide Awake," but even the annoying "shamanic vocals" credited to one Denny Brewer (without which I might have given this 5 stars) can distract from the richness of "The People's Key."

 I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning Cassadaga Conor Oberst Monsters Of Folk The King Is Dead Collapse Into Now

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tomorrow: Join me In NYC: I'm doing a reading after 3PM.

David Stein and I will be sharing a book table at the event. Come on out!
First Hand: An Erotic Guide to Fisting (A Boner Book)  Sgt. Vlengles' Revenge (A Boner Book) Carried Away: An S/M Romance Ask the Man Who Owns Him: The real lives of gay Masters and slaves