Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Aerosmith "Permanent Vacation"

One Sober Comeback
4 Out Of 5 Stars
Despite the fact that the newly sobered Aerosmith released "Done With Mirrors" to a collective yawn, the band knew they were on to something when their guest appearance on Run DMC's cover of "Walk This Way" got the band back on the radio and MTV. In fact, if you read Steven Tyler's biography "Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?: A Rock 'n' Roll Memoir," he barely even mentions "Mirrors." The reason might just be that "Permanent Vacation" both buried "Mirrors" in its wake and took advantage of nostalgia the Run DMC turn had ginned up for the group.

"Permanent Vacation" pulled all the stops: hot producer Bruce Fairbairn came into the studio to slicken the band up, hired gun songwriters Desmond Child and Jim Vallance (who usually wrote for/with Bryan Adams) churned up the hooks, and both Tyler and Joe Perry were in top form. They also entered the world of 80's power ballads with "Angel," which put them back into the top ten for the first time in over a decade. The band had sharpened up considerably since going sober, with songs like "Hangman's Jury" and the cover of The Beatles' "I'm Down" taking the band back to their roots.

More to the point, Aerosmith was no longer afraid of an obvious hit single. Both "Rag Doll" and "Dude Looks Like a Lady" kicked out of any radio station with ear-shattering force. Their willingness to also embrace some fresh quirks (the Caribbean goofiness of the title track or the slick horns and strings that pop up throughout the disc) made clear that Aerosmith was both back and hungry to establish themselves back at the top of the American Rock Heap. "Permanent Vacation" was the first half of a mammoth one-two punch that "Pump" completed the clobbering (and became their first top ten album since the classic "Rocks").


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Snow Patrol "Fallen Empires"

All You Ever Wanted
3 Out Of 5 Stars
Snow Patrol gave us one blast of rock and roll on their last album, when they placed "Take Back This City" on their previous album, "A Hundred Million Suns." If that was meant to be a hint to a coming change in direction, "Fallen Empires" kicks that notion in the bud. However, they seem to have discovered synthesizer rhythms for this album, which adds some new textures to their brand of emotionally mopey music. Songs like "Called Out" are updated versions of "Chasing Cars," with a bigger bottom and, with an assist from vocalist Lisile, some deeply felt nostalgia on "The Garden Rules" and "Lifening."

However, "Fallen Empires" gives fans much of what Snow Patrol has been good at for about a decade now; stately ballads and thoughtful singing from Gary Lightbody. Moments like the gospel-choir chorus of "This Isn't Everything You Are" are genuinely affecting, yet at the same time, he can make a simple statement like "Ireland in the World Cup, either North or South, this is all I ever wanted from life" on "Lifening." Snow Patrol, and by extension, "Fallen Empires," are at its best when Lightbody and company stick to these sentiments. I think "A Hundred Million Suns" was the better album, but "Fallen Empires" is good stuff for those who think Coldplay is rocking too much lately.


Monday, February 27, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: AC/DC "For Those About To Rock"

Fire Away
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Riding the coattails of the phenomenal "Back In Black," AC/DC's second age literally went for the big guns. "For Those About To Rock" starts of with one of Angus Young's meatiest riffs ever, and ends with a phalanx of cannons firing the 21 gun salute. It's as epic a rock song that ever came out of the 80's, and solidified AC/DC with Brian Johnson as a permanent fixture in the world of hard rock. It even gave them a rare chart single, as "Let's Get It Up" barely missed the top 40.

That established, it's also unavoidable fact that cracks were starting to show. The subjects were getting a bit obvious ("Inject The Venom," "I Put The Finger On You") and some of the riffage was retreading past glories. Angus still lays out power chords better than anyone else at the time, and Johnson's vocal caterwauls were unmatchable. It also meant that AC/DC remained a prime target for scared parents everywhere, making "FTABTR" appealing to the prematurely deaf worldwide. The last great album in the group's hot streak, the coming albums "Flick of The Switch" and "Fly On The Wall" began a decline that clung to the band until "The Razor's Edge" nine years later.


My Amazon Reviews: Blondie "The Panic Of Girls"

Calmness of Panic 
3 Out of 5 Stars

Never a stranger to genre jumping, Blondie's third album since refiguring themselves ("No Exit," "The Curse of Blondie"), and "The Panic of Girls" goes for the hopscotch with gusto. Debbie Harry makes you start salivating when the electric pulse and Bo-Diddly drums kick off "D-Day" is classic Blondie style. She teases you by singing 'Debbie, Devil, don't you dare, day of the Deb..." or at least that's what it sounds like. There's all the wonderful traits of the great Blondie singles: self depreciating, a wink and a smirk, Debbie's pure and unique voice and a kicking hook.

"What I Heard" continues with same force, then "Mother" (about an old fave nightclub from the band's Lower Manhattan formative years) makes it to third base. But then "Panic of Girls" starts to scatter. "The End The End" and "Sunday Smile" are the required "Tide is High" retreads, "Le Blue" is four and a half minutes of pseudo French cabaret kitsch, and "China Shoes" closes the album with a yawn. The only surprise is that they didn't attempt to clone a "Heart of Glass" single. Still, then band plays with the groove of a unit that's been working together long enough to sound casually perfect, and that makes the halfway songs like "Words In My Mouth" or the remix ready "Wipe of My Sweat" enjoyable.

"Panic of Girls" is about as good as "The Curse" and doesn't pander the way "No Exit" did (no trendy cameos here). It's also a better album than Harry's "Necessary Evil." Harry, Chris Stein and Clem Burke still make quite a racket for old fans, just remember that these are old pros making sturdy if unremarkable music for us oldsters.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Queen "Innuendo"

The Show Must Go On
4 Out Of 5 Stars
"Innuendo" was released in February of 1991. The single "These are The Days Of Our Lives" was issued ahead of the album to little airplay, while "Headlong" fared better at rock radio. The video for "Days" was interesting in that Mercury seemed frail looking and in poor health. In November, Freddie Mercury released a press statement that he was terminally ill with AIDS, and then died within days. As is now well known, Mercury was fighting to complete this album (along with tracks that eventually would become "Made in Heaven") as his last testament.

As such, "Innuendo" is a really solid late Queen album, as good as "A Kind of Magic" and better than "A Day At The Races." Mortality was obviously weighing heavily on Mercury and his bandmates, as semi-autobiographical numbers like "I'm Going Slightly Mad," Mercury's ode to his cats "Delilah," the bittersweet "Days" and the stately "The Show Must Go On" all indicate. Brain May's guitar is hotter here than on many of their post-Game discs, on both "Bijou" and the epic title track.

Queen's pop sense also was in full swing here, with such missed opportunities for singles as "All God's Children" and "I Can't Live With You." Even though Mercury was in failing health, the band's tradition for pomp and grandeur continued with an album launch party occurring on the fabled Queen Mary liner in the US after Hollywood Records signed the band in the US. It's a considerable feat that the band decided to go out at full-throttle, with Mercury delivering some top-notch work. As the album closes, Mercury delivers what could be his finest goodbye.

"My soul is painted
like the wings of butterflies,
Fairy tales of yesterday,
will grow but never die,
I can fly, my friends!
The Show must go on!"

As far as the bonus cuts go, there are two noteworthy ones. First is the re-recorded version of "I Can't Live With You," which originally appeared on the now out of print "Queen Rocks" collection, the other a B-Side titled "Lost Opportunity." The passing of Mercury so soon after the release of "Innuendo" meant no live performances, though the Elton John rendition of "The Show Must Go On" from the Freddie Mercury Tribute shows would have been nice.


My Amazon Reviews: Glee Cast "Volume 7"

Not so lucky 7
3 Out Of 5 Stars

The Glee Third Season has seemed to be a bit forced, and so has the music. With the exception of the Michael Jackson episode, the songs seem random. I would have been more appreciative had the producers done a "West Side Story" and Michael Jackson whole disc, then cherry picked from the rest of the best for this disc.

That doesn't leave the disc without its highlights. Matthew Morrison does a nice job on Coldplay's "Fix You" and the Adele mash up of "Rumor Has It/Someone Like You" is a knockout. The cast version of Jackson's "Man In The Mirror" is a standout as well, but again, a full Jackson CD would have been even better (ala the Madonna disc a year ago). Instead, we get cheese like Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual" and a poor imitation of the original Warblers (The Tufts University Beelzebubs Glee Club, now replaced by studio singers) doing Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl." "Hot For Teacher" made a great video moment, but stalls out without the visual.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Scorpions "Comeblack"

Don't call it a Comeblack.... 
3 Out Of 5 Stars
It's hard to elevate the new (and allegedly, final) Scorpions album "Comeblack." For whatever reason, the band decided to revisit some of their greatest hits, along with members' personal favorites. We'll cover the bad news first: the re-recordings offer nothing new. They're basically note-by-rote redoes. I understand that bands occasionally do retreads to get a better royalty rate or creative/licensing control over their songs, but otherwise, why redo a song as perfect as "Wind of Change" or "Rock You Like a Hurricane" for a new tour?

Then there's the second half. Who would have guessed that T-Rex or "Tainted Love" were in the Scorpions' box of guilty pleasures? Or that they'd so totally get off on tearing up on The Kinks' "All The Day and All Of The Night"? Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs sound like they're have a ball turning T Rex's "Children Of The Universe" into a crunch fest. Then you get Klaus Meine showing off his genuine vocal chops by tackling The Stones' "Ruby Tuesday" and The Beatles' "Across The Universe." These make the last half of "Comeblack" into a pretty cool party album. However, it's not going to make me discard my copy of "Deadly Sting" anytime soon.