Thursday, January 31, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Concrete Blonde "The Essential"

Concrete Evidence
4 Out Of 5 Stars
The husky, sultry voice of singer/songwriter Johnette Napolitano led Concrete Blonde to a successful career, and this Essential Collection gathers 14 songs to showcase both her voice and the tight combo playing of Jim Mankey and assorted drummers. The lone hit, "Joey," is here, along with alternative faves like "Dancing On The Edge" and "Still In Hollywood." Owing more than a passing debt to The Pretenders, songs like "God Is a Bullet" and the mournful "Caroline" (about the passing of a friend) tease the shadow of Chrissie Hynde.

Napolitano is still a force of nature, as the rockier songs attest. "The Sky Is A Poisonous Garden" pounds away and the cover of Hendrix's "Little Wing" is true to the original while still giving Napolitano an imprint of her own. At the same time, the band's pop instincts were as good as any other IRS stablemates. "Joey" is all Spector Girl Group and "Happy Birthday" is nearly jangle-pop. There's a pretty even representation from the band's four IRS albums, leaning towards the gold "Bloodletting" (whose title song should've been included). Overall, a satisfying collection from an underrated band.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Pet Shop Boys "Elysium"

Chilling With the Pet Shop Boys
3 Out Of 5 Stars

With "Elysium," the Pet Shop Boys take a lighter approach to the grooves. This is a very tranquil album, comparable to "Release" from 2002. Maturity has crept into the oeuvre, letting the tempos slow down for the most part while the introspective lyrics take their precious time working their way into your consciousness. Songs like "Invisible" or "Requiem In Denim And Leopardskin" carefully dissect the duo's often ironic worldview.

The Boys don't completely stay in midtempo land. The short but biting "Your Early Stuff" is reminiscent of "Yesterday When I Was Mad," about a chance meeting with a casual fan who asks ridiculous questions and asks about the management that rips you off when you're a pop star. There's the danceable "A Face Like That" and the funny "Ego Music" where Neil Tennant declares "I am my own demographic" over a dance beat. There's also the Olympic anthem, "Winning," which is triumphant without being histrionic.

The lighter touch to most of the songs is something of a hindrance to the album overall, as "Elysium" takes several listens to take hold. Like the underrated "Bilingual" and again, "Release," the album seems like a holding pattern. Fans will be pleased, but casual listeners may find it too bland to take.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Vacation to Florida Sunshine

After all the work Joel and I did in the aftermath of his father's passing, we made a decision to take a break for a week. Thanks to a week in a time share courtesy of one of my Aunts and AAA, we settled on Orlando and Disneyworld, with a side trip to Universal Studios.

The weather was very cooperative, with highs in the mid-70's and not to chilly at night. I was able to take my fill of roller coasters (Joel doesn't like thrill rides), with the exception of the Harry Potter rides at Universal. Seems they have size restrictions on these rides and I have a bit too much in the waist to fit the chairs. But the Aerosmith Rock and Roller Coaster (Disney) was a wild trip (one of the indoor - in the dark rides that really whips you around), and the Incredible Hulk (Universal) with some wild corkscrews and open air loopers.

I was also seriously impressed by the new 3-D technology. The Disney feature "Mickey's PhilharMagic" and Universal's Amazing Spiderman ride put the images right in front of you, along with effects like waterspray and heat blasts to add to the experience. Along with the new animatronics (the Aerosmith Coaster had the full band performing a skit before you boarded the cars) made the fantasy all the more realistic. It was a week to make my feet ache and give us many smiles. It was a real bummer to have to come back to snow and sub-freezing temperatures!

More pictures and amusing stuff here.

My Amazon Reviews: Muse "The 2'nd Law"

A State of Thermodynamic Equilibrium
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Muse waste no time on album #6 in going right for the pomp. "Supremacy" kicks off "The 2nd Law" like some expectation of a James Bond film theme, incorporating a movie-like riff and building into a cinematic overthrow of anything else that may follow. But that's Muse. If it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing. Which is a main part of the band's charm.

Queenly pompous and football stadium huge, Muse are one of the few bands that currently play it on a large scale. Take the exaggerated funk of "Panic Station," a dead ringer for Queen's "Fun It," or the upward crescendo of their contribution to the 2012 Olympics, the monumental "Survival" (which is self important enough to have its own prelude). Spiraling up to a mammoth cascade of vocal overlays and epic anthem guitars, it was a fitting song to play over Olympian triumphs.

New to the band is the stepping out of bass player Chris Wolstenholme, who tries his hand at singing and songwriting in place of main man Matthew Bellamy. On "Save Me" and "Liquid State," which provide a break to Muse's usual sledgehammer approach. "Liquid State" is the more driven of the pair, which then leads into the band's set of prog numbers, "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable" and "The 2nd Law: Isolated System." Not since Alan Parsons has a band attempted to go this grand; who else would try a duo of songs based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics? (The entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium--the state of maximum entropy - thanks Wikipedia.)

Loaded with stings, horns and choral effects, it's the sound of ambition pole vaulting into classic rock territory. Parsons would be proud of his prodigies in this case, although I bet a lot of fans will be confused. Me, I usually like when one of my favorite bands tries to get their rocks off doing something against the grain. Be it the electronics of "Madness" or the theater of "The Second Law," Muse delivers on their promise to not be run-of-the-mill.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Green Day "Dos!"

Dosey Dos
3 Out Of 5 Stars

After listening to all three of Green Day's trilogy of Uno Dos and Tre, I'm beginning to recall why artists will record 30 to 40 songs and then whittle them down to the best dozen. Dos is a good album with a fair amount of filler, balanced by some experimental sidelines. They still maintain a snotty attitude and can deliver hooks like mad, just as you can tell from "F-Time" and "Wow That's Load" attest. Although once again, the sing along of "F-Time" is marred by the juvenile quality of the song.

What's good is "Nightlife," featuring a rap from one Lady Cobra (who gets a song named after here for her efforts) and the melancholy "Amy." Or more specifically, Amy Winehouse, whose trial leaves Billie Joe Armstrong to lament "will you be my friend?" It's a telling story (like "Macy's Day Parade" from "Warning") made all the more ironic by Armstrong's trip to rehab. There's still plenty of frantic energy involved, but like I stated previously, what feels like an inordinate number of lesser quality songs. "Tre" suffers from the same fate. "Uno" is the clear winner, but you can pick songs from the samples and make your own best of.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: The Script "#3"

What Happened to The Melodies?
3 Out Of 5 Stars

I really liked "Science and Faith," Irish trio The Script's second album. There was just the right balance of anthemic pop and modern rock/rap to keep a balance. On #3, the rapping overwhelms. The album tends to bland out after the first few songs and the stronger singles. "Hall Of Fame" drew me in when it was used on the World Series' baseball commercials, and it sounded like the band was once again going to hit the right notes. But the lyrics/raps are loaded with cliches, the rapping is excruciatingly monochromatic, and only "If You Could See Me Now," lead singer Danny O'Donoghue's ode to his dead father, has the emotional wallop of anything from "Science and Faith."

I'll also give a tip of the hat to "Kaleidoscope," which grapples with a U2 sound and "Glowing," which is a well structured piano rocker minus the annoying rapping. That makes four songs I like on an album of 10; not a good batting average. #3 is not a bad album, just an average one, slickly produced and full of confidence, but just feels like a step in the wrong direction for The Script.


Monday, January 7, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: The Lumineers

Light My Way
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The Lumineers debut album rides the folk-rock wave currently being popularized by the likes of The Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons. But unlike either of those two bands, whom I love, The Lumineers eschew polish and production for a defiantly low-fi souns and a great dependence on "Ho Hey" choruses. To that extreme, their calling card is that title. A hook filled sing-along called simply "Ho Hey."

The Lumineers are heavily dependent of catchy choruses and chants that a footballer could love. At the same time, they know the pain of loss resonates well in this sort of context, as "Stubborn Love" exhorts "The opposite of love is indifference." This trio can do both the depth and the easy and filter between the two with ease. Lead singer Wesley Schultz holds is own with the Avetts and Mumfords for the rootsy delivery, and can even claim Denver CO as their home.

These are the kind of songs that do a barn-stomper proud. Made for beer chugging and glass slamming ala "Ho Hey" and other irresistible choruses. Step back in time with "Flapper Girl" or "Charlie Boy," or get a little deeper with "Slow It Down." Get past the hollow sound (like I said, this is a low-fi production) and you'll find a lot to enjoy with The Lumineers.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: The The "45RPM: The Singles"

What a Perfect Day
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Matt Johnson, who operated under the nom de rock The The, was a great English crank. He wasn't simply an angry young man, he was just P-O'd. He managed that anger into a series of ever better albums, which included two powerful collections called "Infected" and "Mind Bomb," where his anger and musical ambition merged into a whole. The oddest thing was that he never really had a proper band (with the exception of "Mind Bomb"), yet he still managed to get his point across.

The 45RPM collection wrangles the best of the singles and includes primarily the single mixes, which is a good thing for novices because Johnson's sophisticated aggression can be a lot in big doses. "Infected" marries a dance beat to the paranoia about Aids, while "The Beat(en) Generation" laments apathy in a near folk context. There's a sense of humor, as well, when "Armageddon Days" playfully invokes The Sweet and "Ballroom Blitz" before breaking into a diatribe about religious hypocrisy. In fact, the only time Johnson ever really toned down for an entire album was the aptly named "Dusk," from which "Dogs of Lust" is the best of that album's three representations.

The The wasn't afraid to go loud and aggressive (when I saw them on the "Mind Bomb" tour, Johnny Marr was on guitar and it was easily the loudest concert I've ever attended), but he also unafraid of baring his soul. Early classics "Uncertain Smile" and the deceptively chipper "Perfect Day" show that from the very start, Johnson wasn't going to be one of your typical angry young men. With 45RPM, he delivers conclusive proof that he was a lot smarter than his limited success in America ever shown.