Friday, May 27, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Cold War Kids "Mine is Yours"

Mine Is YoursCold War Kids in a Grown Up World  
4 Out of 5 Stars

These guys used to be loud and gritty, even with the undertones of hidden anthems on their earlier albums. For their third full length album (and first for Geffen/Interscope) "Mine Is Yours," Cold War Kids drop all pretense towards indie-rock sound and go full charge for the areanas of the world. They've discovered their inner U2 and the ghost of Jeff Buckley as seeped in as well. They may have even caught a case of the Arcade Fires, while we're at it.

Which is to say that "Mine is Yours" aims at big targets and bold sounds, and mostly hits its marks. Singer Nathan Willett is a pretty soulful dude for a belter, which makes some of the more awkward lyrics (like "the crown on my head is heavy on me" from the otherwise great "Out of The Wilderness) sound positively inspirational, and when he gets the perfect match, he is. The title track and "Sensitive Kid" are polar opposites with the same effect; where the title track roars forth like a star climbing anthem, "Sensitive Kid" strips down to a slinky bass and piano drop ins to just grab you by the collar for a good shaking. Then, when they sneak back to their earlier, grittier blues sound on "Cold Toes on The Cold Floor," you understand that understated guitarist Jonnie Russell - who spends most of this album buried in producer Jaques King's reverb - is a coming axe-hero.

"Mine Os Yours" is going to fluster some of the Cold War Kids fans that will scream sell-out at A) Signing to Interscope and B) CWK's new-found sonic richness. To me, it's just a natural progression. "Mine Is Yours" is an unexpected surprise for me, and has slowly climbed into the upper reaches of my 2011 favorites.

 Robbers & Cowards The Suburbs How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb GraceCome Around Sundown

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Stevie Nicks (Because We Share May 26th Birthdays!) "In Your Dreams"

In Your Dreams
Up to the edge of the night
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Stevie Nicks enters a new decade with an album that makes you wonder what took her so long; the cover drops Stevie from a crystal bubble, with a hazy white horse and the songstress entering from what looks like a location shoot from "Lord of The Rings." The picture teases you in a fashion that states, "You wanted a welsh witch? You got it." "In Your Dreams" delivers all the kind of music you'd expect from Stevie, even forty years since her rise to super-stardom.

Listening to "In Your Dreams" is a potent reminder of exactly how much Nicks' has influenced singers (not just women) for the past four decades. The nervous sense of drama, the urgency of all things mystical, the forcefulness of her femininity, these are all on display on this album. At the same time, I couldn't help but think of younger bands/singers. Everyone from Taylor Smith to Coldplay have copped some of Stevie's dramatic style for their own. Heck. there's even a vampire song her that she claims was inspired by watching "Twilight." Somewhere in England, Muse is rejoicing.

What makes "In Your Dreams" an album of the now is just how Stevie has kept to her own muse. Picking apart an Edgar Allan Poe poem ("Annabelle Lee") and recreating it as a song is pure Stevie, while name checking Anne Rice and having a spirit flit from woman to woman in "Soldier's Angel" (my favorite song on the album) takes to back to such classic albums as "Rumours" or "Bella Donna." Producer Dave Stewart even gets into the act by being Stevie's Don Henley on the closing song "Cheaper Than Free." Or, some might say, his Lee Hazelwood to Nicks' Nancy Sinatra. Either way you look at it (and you can add Lindsey Buckingham to the list of bargains on the album), "In Your Dreams" puts Stevie back into prominence.

Bella Donna Trouble in Shangri-La Wild Heart Other Side of the Mirror Rock a Little Rumours (Deluxe Edition)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Amazon DVD Reviews: "Passion Play"

Passion PlayBirds of a Feather  
4 Out Of 5 Stars  

This intriguing, if slight, allegorical drama features a cast that works a low key script effectively. "Passion Play" (and no, it has nothing to do with the Christian Ritual dramatic presentation about the Death of  Jesus) features Mickey Rourke, Bill Murray and Megan Fox in a love triangle over an angel. That angel happens to be Fox, who Rourke discovers in a carnival sideshow after surviving a mob hit ordered by Murray's gangster, Happy. But Happy isn't going to be happy unless he can keep this angel for himself.

Roarke, who is playing a washed up jazz trumpeter Nate Poole, refuses to accept that this heavenly being is going to be stolen from him, and for that matter, neither does Rhys Ifans, who runs the Freak Show Lily (Fox) ran away from. The surprising thing about all this is Fox, who plays Lily with just enough smoldering hurt that all my usual prejudices about her were dispelled. Each character is trying to escape their own rhetorical demons (Poole to free himself from his drug destroyed past, a life devoid of beauty and joy for Happy, and literal cages for Lily) that the noir-ish elements of the film work well. Murray, who can really do malevolence well (he's even better in "Mad Dog and Glory"), slithers his way through Happy's role with his usual low key smarmy. In his efforts to continue his come-back, Rourke does a decent job as the dazed Poole, even if it just comes off as a lower degree version of his character in "The Wrestler."

My biggest gripe was that I had the twist figured out by the time Poole finds the side-show. I won't reveal it, naturally, but if I could pluck that particular feather from "Passion Play," my guess is so will a bunch of other viewers. Don't let that stop you from watching this, though. Softly spun movies like this are hard to find.

  The Wrestler Mad Dog and Glory Angel Heart (Special Edition)  Scrooged

Monday, May 23, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: John Mayer "Battle Studies"

Battle StudiesHeart Scars  
4 Out Of 5 Stars

John Mayer is making mature music these days, which is to say that "Battle Studies" is an adult album that plays it easy. Having jumped off the hot-shot guitarist train, he now sounds more like the Eric Clapton of "Unplugged" than the EC of "Slowhand." Or more to the point, Mayer now sounds like he's intent on being the new Phil Collins.

Not that being Collins is a bad thing, as Phil's best work in the 80's still sounds terrific. The lead track, "Heartbreak Warfare" is almost the kind of divorce song Collins specialized in for his first two solo albums, minus the landmine sounding drums. Having Taylor Swift on "Half Of My Heart" is the equivalent of Collin's duets like "Separate Lives." The finale, "Friends, Lovers or Nothing," is one of the songs that merits the Clapton comparisons, and that's in a good way. Although Mayer brings these comparisons on himself by pulling readily identifiable covers out of the box, like the way he funkifies "Crossroads." While the song belongs to Robert Johnson, its most recognizable version was EC's (who even had a box set under that title, fer crying out loud).

Mayer made himself into his own performer with the albums "Try" and "Continuum," which makes "Battle Studies" a slight step back. "Assassin" is the most individualistic song here, delivered with guitar firepower and subdued voice, and is the one song that sounds like it came in from the "Continuum" sessions. "All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye" is a terrific radio record, but someone should have told Mayer that "Who Says" is the kind of novelty that wears out quickly. He's long past the point in his career where trifles like that should be on solid albums; if Mayer wants to keep holding himself to the standards of Clapton, BB King and other guitar greats he claims he wants to emulate, he needs to study their battles more in depth.

"Battle Studies" is a sturdy album, ultimately. It sounds like a sharp left from the the more intense previous album, with Mayer aiming for adult-pop without getting mired in the saccharine. He still needs to concentrate on being John Mayer as opposed to a composite of his heroes. While he loves to rub shoulders with the greats and does so with much skill, he will ultimately need to decide if he wants to rub against the great ones or stand alongside of them as an equally talented artist.

Continuum Try! John Mayer Trio Live in Concert Sounds Like This No Jacket Required Face Value Clapton 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: The Cars "Move Like This"

Move Like This Restore, Remake, Remodel  
4 Out Of 5 Stars

You know how you always hear stories about some guy who buys an incredible automotive machine, drives it for a spell and then parks it in the garage? It sits there, under a tarp or other covering, the tarp coated with dirt and pigeon feathers, but the machine itself remaining clean and protected underneath. Time may still cause it bit of damage, but when the old man moves on and either sells or gives his baby to a trusted friend, that friend pulls it out from under the dirt and crud, tunes it up a bit, and drives it off almost as good as it was when the old man first bought it.

That is exactly how "Move Like This," the first all-new Cars album since 1987's "Door To Door," feels. Ric Ocasek, after years of being a record exec, in demand producer and occasional guest on The Colbert Report, finally agreed with bandmates to get together and record again after being the holdout from "The New Cars" project. Given that it was always his clipped manner of singing and often oblique lyrics that defined much of The Cars' best material, his presence makes "Move Like This" sound like the band that released such classics as "Candy O," "Heartbeat City" and the debut album. The lead track, "Blue Tip" rivals anything from those albums, and has a video that compares to the great clips from "Heartbeat City."

The really cool thing about "Move Like This" is just how natural the album sounds. The songs, for the most part, sound easy and unforced as opposed to a band desperately trying to recreate their glory days. Songs like "Hits Me" and "Sad Song" come off as if they were part of a lost 80's album, with Greg Hawkes' keyboards adding that atmospheric cushion and Elliot Easton dropping razor sharp guitar. But as I used in the earlier analogy, not everything is the same as it was in 1987.

The passing of bassist and vocalist Ben Orr in 2000 takes a little of the smooth ride away from The Cars and, despite their best efforts, is still a noticeable absence. His voice was the one The Cars used to carry their ballads (their biggest hit, "Drive," being the most famous example) and was an integral part of the band's unique harmonies. Orr's voice would have made the song "Free" into a Cars Ballad, where Ocasek can't quite do it. Still, the band puts in the liner notes "Ben, your spirit was with us" and "Move Like This" shows it. Shiny, smooth and purring like a classic, this is The Cars reunion we were waiting for.

 The Cars Candy-O Heartbeat City Panorama Shake It Up  Door to Door