Friday, November 30, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Talk Talk "Essential"

All That Talk
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Mark Hollis and Talk Talk may be one of the most misunderstood bands of the new wave period. Starting life as a Duran Duran clone (and the hit dance single "Talk Talk"), Hollis soon turned the band from a synth heavy pop sound to a more brooding and experimental band. By the time of their fourth album, the outstanding "Spirit Of Eden," they were completely unrecognizable from the original incarnation.

That makes this compilation a tough call. The obvious hits are here, like "Talk Talk" and "It's My Life," (missing the great "Such a Shame," a serious UK hit). It also means that "Spirit of Eden" is completely ignored. The singles are all prime material, and Hollis (along with multi-instrumentalist and producer Tim Friese-Greene) were evolving with every album. This collection cuts the band short. You get a better overview with "Natural History."


My Amazon Reviews: Sting "The Soul Cages"

New Ships to be Built, new work to be done
5 Out Of 5 Stars

Sting's elegy to his father (who had recently passed) is a moody and moving album, dispensing with conventional pop and loaded with images of the sea, loss and those missing. The gently lolling waves that roll through "Island Of Souls" capture the mood of the album perfectly, as 'Benny' dreams of building the perfect ship to rescue his father and he to a magic island that would free them from the drudgery of living in a shipbuilder's wharf-side. Time soon ensnares them both as Benny seems his dreams crash on the water of loss and the never ending need for warcraft.

So it goes throughout "The Soul Cages." The single, "All This Time" reflects on the wisdom of his father as the river washes time away. That it's the most upbeat song on the CD also tells you the artist's mood at the time. The title track, "When The Angels Fall" or the elegy of "Why Should I Cry For You" are all mournful, cathartic works that Sting used to ponder the harder questions of life. Even the uptempo "Jeremiah's Blues" contemplates the end of the world, and it's the poppier song here.

With same gang of jazz and rock vets, along with Sting on bass for a change, the album is a sonic delight (and due for an upgrade, as is Sting's whole catalog). Just be certain, this is an album that may cause the shedding of tears if you're in a darker place.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: The Beastie Boys "Licensed To Ill"

They are Most Def
5 Out Of 5 Stars

One of my criterion for a five star album is that it bent the popular culture in a direction where everything afterwards changed direction. The debut from The Beastie Boys did just that. The mere fact that they became the first rap act to have a number one album alone makes them historic, but the album itself still stands the test of time from 1986 on. Made by a trio of well heeled inner city brats, "Licensed to Ill" was noisy, brash, snotty and made like a punk rock album. It rocked harder than many current rock albums of the period.

That came courtesy of the sampling. Among the usual array of funk samples were lifts from Led Zepplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Clash and others. These upped the volume and the more jagged feel of "Ill," spiking the sound to match the juvenile force of the lyrics. Those words centered mostly on getting high, loose women, and partying your brains out in the most politically incorrect fashion possible. To that extent, "Fight For Your Right To Party" may be as radical a single as "Anarchy In The UK" was for the Sex Pistols.

That the Beasties also were traditional song structuralists made them more accessible. "Party," Girls" and much of the album used traditional song bridge chorus structure that made the songs concise punches of aggression and teenaged snottiness. Nobody was going to tell them what they could or could not do, which meant that their raps were punctuated by the heavy metal of a Kerry King (Slayer) guitar solo for "No Sleep Till Brooklyn." This was the album that made rap creep into the suburbs. "Licensed To Ill" was so radical an album that The Beasties never quite could make another one like it, despite their continued success (and their more mature attitudes as their success grew), making it not just a great album, but a call to arms for plenty of musicians to follow.


Monday, November 26, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Luka Bloom "Dreams In America"

3 Out Of 5 Stars

Luka Bloom goes back over the many years of his storied career to reinterpret some of his best songs. A little older, a littler wiser, maybe a bit more articulate, his remakes hew close to the originals with a few subtle differences on Dreams In America. So I'll lay it out front: as a man who's followed Luka's career since his Warner Brothers' album 1990's "Riverside," the originals are better. These are all great songs, one and all, and there's a new recording of a standard, "Lord Franklin." But it's still playing a game of horseshoes. Close barely counts.

If you're new to Luka's talents, and they are profound, this might be a decent place to start. I'll also recommend the import Platinum Collection, covering his first three CD's (and including his novelty almost hit cover of LL Cool J's "I Need Love"). I'll recommend this to the newly initiated and those who may only have heard a few of Luka's songs. He's a dynamic performer (I can testify to this from three occasions to see him live), and his music is worth hearing. Just heed that this is a series of re-recordings plus three live versions.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Aerosmith "Greatest Hits (1980)"

A Calling Card for early Aerosmith
4 Out Of 5 Stars

When this came out in 1980, Aerosmith were still one of the hottest rock bands in the world. The slippage of "Night In The Ruts" had just been released and the backlash (or the public breakup between the band and Joe Perry) hadn't happened yet. That meant the public's appetite for a Greatest Hits was still hot, and this ten song package filled in nicely. It collects songs from the debut to "Ruts," skips the "Live Bootleg" and adds one soundtrack single Beatles Cover from the camp classic movie "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (in which Aerosmith played the villains!).

The main reason to won this is the 1978 version of "Come Together" from Sgt Pepper. This has been the only CD you can find it on (unless you want the SPLHCB soundtrack, and you probably don't). It also doesn't bother with the Run-DMC version of "Walk This Way" which tends to show up on other discs. The two best songs from "Draw The Line" are hear and the goofy cover of "Remember Walking In The Sand" are included. The down side is that several of the tracks are single edits ("Same Old Song and Dance," "Sweet Emotion" and "Draw The Line," to name three) and "Train Kept a Rollin'" could have easily been included among the single releases.

Other than "Oh Yeah," which culls both the CBS and Geffen years onto two discs, "Aerosmith's Greatest Hits" is about as good a bang for the buck as you'll get from this band.


Friday, November 23, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Neon Trees "Picture Show"

The record that I play
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The second album from Neon Trees combines power-pop with the kind of emo-rock that Fall Out Boy specialized in. The result is a fairly cool mix of infectious tunes that punch, with slick pop that captured radio's ear ("Everybody Talks"). But fans of the hit should be warned, there's not much else similar on "Picture Show." They rock harder than they pop. They even call one of their better songs "Teenaged Sounds," which sums up their approach almost as well as anything I could say about them.

This Utah quartet are all teenage angst and new wave fascination. "We're sick of everybody trying to be famous" they wail, just before making a Beatles/Bowie vocal climb into their hit. There's a lot of wanting it both ways, especially in the dancier tracks like the New Order-ish "Lessons In Love" and "Trust," or the sweet vocal interplay between lead vocalist Tyler Glenn and drummer Elaine Bradley that makes "Mad Love" into ridiculously catchy pop. There's also a tendency to aim for more that just quick hit ditties, with "Trust" pushing past the six minute mark.

Much like The Killers (whom Neon Trees has toured with), there's a real effort to do more then emulate the 80's sounds they clearly love with the whammy of a modern rock band. They may not have reached the level of Springsteen worship The Killers have (nor do they seem to want to), yet with several undeniably catchy songs and some snapping rock ("I Am The DJ" and "Moving in The Dark," "Picture Show's" bookends), they've earned the right to say that there's no sophomore slump in their discography.


Monday, November 19, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Matisyahu "Spark Seeker"

Squeezing Out Sparks
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Matisyahu must have known his number was just about up. "Spark Seeker" finds him ditching the eclecticism of "Light" and "Youth" for a more electronic, hip hop (read, mainstream) sound. There's a lot of Auto-tuning and phase-shifted vocals and some guest appearances (rapper Shyne being the biggest name). In the biggest concession of all, gone are the huge beard and Hasidim garb. Heck, he's on a motorcycle on the album's inner-photo.

What this means for the music is actually very little. Middle Eastern influences are melded into the hip-hop and rap; right from the beginning with one J.Ralph, he kicks off what sounds like a call to prayer ("Crossroads"). Hebrew choruses and verses mix in with the ultra slick beats, courtesy of producer Kool Kojak. Kojak's credits are mainly along the lines of Ke$sha, Nicki Manaj, Katy Perry and many others, so you know this was a crafted sonic move. But Matisyahu can't help it. He remains as eclectic as ever with a greater - if that is possible - sense of being an uplifting force in his music.

There's a smooth sax solo in "Summer Wind," and a powerful lyric in "Fire Of Freedom" and slinky groove of "Tel Avivin'." Which is not a false way to groove as the man recorded "Spark Seeker" both in Los Angeles and Israel. Matisyahu took his own journey to make this album in the personal and mystical sense, with the end result being his tightest and possibly his most provocative disc to date.