Friday, December 26, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: The Kooks "Listen"

Kook Funk
3 Out Of 5 Stars

The Kooks have become an entirely different band since their debut. What began as a band that used The Kinks and The Arctic Monkeys as a jumping off point has reinvented itself as, of all things, funky. Soulful background vocals, disco-fied guitars, use of electronic drums and other trappings cover a lot of ground on "Listen." It's a much better album that the lackadaisical "Junk Of The Heart," but I never expected them to want to be Chic. Or Daft Punk.

The biggest culprit here is "Down," which breaks into a "down down, diggity down down diggy diggy down" (Kid Rock, anyone?) hook. Along with an insistent bass, it's a song that wouldn't be out of place to get a polished up club remix. The big soul vocal backups from "Around Down" bust the album wide open from the very beginning, Granted, this is a far more exciting album than "Junk" was, but not the direction I ever thought I'd hear The Kooks aiming for.

There are a couple classicist pop tunes here, like "Bad Habit" or the squiggly synth in "Dreams," lead singer Luke Pritchard has an engaging voice, and guitarist Hugh Harris and bassist Max Rafferty get a real chance to strut their stuff. Along with a touch of irony; in my I-tunes library, "Listen" buttresses Kool And The Gang" without the feeling changing up very much. So if you came here looking for the inspiring "Konk" or the perkiness of their debut, you won't find it on "Listen." But if you want a serving of dance-rock, you'll get what you came for.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Neon Trees "Pop Psychology"

Four Chords and a Beat Keep Me Alive
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Neon Trees make flashy 80's inspired pop in primary colors. Lot's of flash, plenty of synth-buzz and jittery guitars, all sung over big hooks and plenty of melodies. They proved that they were capable of writing a radio ready song with "Everybody Talks," a song catchy enough to get covered by the cast of Glee. Unfortunately, that song set the bar high enough that expecting the new "Pop Psychology" to be more of that kind of flawless pop. Unfortunately, they fall short.

Not for a lack of trying. The first three songs are mighty fine pop tunes, and "Sleeping With A Friend" comes closest to the effervescence of "Everybody Talks," while "Text Me In The Morning" is goofy enough to cling to the roof of your brain. There's a duet in the form of "Unavoidable" that's pretty good, as well.

But that leaves the rest of the disc, Most of it is indistinguishable from much of the many bands worshiping at the alter of 80's new wave, and lead singer Tyler Glenn chirps his way through "Pop Psychology" like every song has to be drilled in your head through sheer force of his happy singing style, For one or two songs, it's OK, but after a bit you want him to change it up a little. You're all but ready to beg him to show a little angst or something.

"Pop Psychology" ends with one more plea for getting together. "First Things First" is a peppy song about putting your needs to the front of your life, to "get what you deserve." Neon Trees, to the very end, want you to enjoy themselves and yourself. Not a bad message, but there's too much sugary sameness and not enough by way of killer material to make the grade of the CD go any higher than average.


Monday, December 8, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: OK Go "Hungry Ghosts"

Appetite For Power Pop
4 Out Of 5 Stars

For better or for worse, OK Go are more known as the band who make videos of themselves on treadmills and inside contraptions made up to look like real life versions of the Mousetrap game. What gets overlooked is that, for four albums now, there's a first rate pop-rock band hidden behind the paint balls. "Hungry Ghosts," four years after "Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky," captures that effortless pop fun that the band has been excelling at since their debut.

Admittedly, the oddly funky and falsetto filled "Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky" was a divisive album for fans, but that can be forgiven here. "Hungry Ghosts" keeps some of "Colour's" quirks while integrating them into the new music. It means the twitchy new wave of the debut is tempered into sonic neatness like the atmospheric "Another Set of Issues." They haven't completely forgone their fascination with Prince by way of The Cars, like the cowbell clanging "Obsession" and the danceable "I Won't Let You Down" shows. Vocalist Damian Kulash gleefully bounds from the straightforward power pop vocals to the funky stuff while making the whole of "Hungry Ghosts" a cohesive album.

While "Oh No" remains OK Go's high-water mark, "Hungry Ghosts" is a crowd pleaser. Fans will be happy to hear OK Go in fine form, and note that the four year wait was well worth it. From the pop magic of "Upside Down and Inside Out" that opens things up to the gentle strains of the final "Lullaby," this is a solid album from beginning to end, proving they can have their say without adorable trained dogs to guide them.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Gerard Way "Hesitant Alien"

Close Encounters of the Loud Kind
2 Out Of 5 Stars

In his first album since breaking up My Chemical Romance, front-man and comic book fanatic Gerard Way jettisons the rock opera confines of "The Black Parade" and "Danger Days" and floods "Hesitant Alien" with fuzzed out guitars, touches of glam rock and his considerable skill at big, meaty hooks. Problem is, things sound like maybe writing big songs with theater in mind might have been a bigger skill than he wanted to own up to. The songs on "Hesitant Alien" distort madly and bleed into each other with a sort of wall of noise monotony.

There are a couple of good songs here that cut through the mix. Both "No Shows" and "Action Cat" favor speed over noise, and comes close to Sweet in terms of Brit-Glam. "No Shows" has a pretty insistent hook. The only other song of note is the speed demon "Juarez," making Way sound like he had some old Pixies CD's mixed in with pop opera aspirations, but I get the feeling all across "Hesitant Alien" that Way is stretching himself too thin. The songs have plenty of sing-along moments when he stops screaming into a distortion pedal, and you keep waiting for that one big number to emerge, ala "Sing," "Helena" or "The Black Parade." Just never happens.

And I'll add one more thing: The album has a horrible mix. On some of the songs, things are so compressed that Way's voice is just another sound crammed in the mush. "Zero Zero" might even had been the big song that "Hesitant Alien" needed, but the production is so bricked out that there's no breathing room for any element of the song to stand out above the others. Same goes for better than half the album. Of all the CD's I've bought recently, the only album to come close to production this bad has been the flat-line of Imagine Dragons' debut. "Hesitant Alien" desperately needed some light between the cracks.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Weezer "Everything Will Be Alright In The End"

Rocking Out Like It's '94
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Weezer took a four year hiatus before delivering "Everything Will Be Alright In The End," with much hullabaloo that they were returning to previous form, the kind that made the Blue album and Green album great. And guess what. For a change the hype lives up to the album. "Everything Will Be Alright In The End" is full of big riffs, catchy hooks and geeked out songs that only Rivers Cuomo can produce.

They even poke fun at fan disappointment in the lead single "Back To The Shack." They promise to play the "start with the lightning strap...more hardcore." They also let you know that even they are tired of "those stupid singing shows," But they also turn the other cheek with "Eulogy For a Rock Band." Did they feel like they might have been left behind? "Time marches on, words come and go," they sing, as they worry about becoming the kind of band machine that plays the greatest hits circuit forever and ever. It's a trap the band won't have to worry about.

Cuomo still turns out great turns of lyrical phrase like (in "DaVinci") "Stephen Hawking can't explain you, Rosetta Stone can't translate you." It's done in the trademark power-pop that has always been the hallmark of the best Weezer songs. It's no coincidence that Ric Ocasek (of The Cars) is back to producing, he was behind the boards of the Blue and Green albums. It's more of the point that Weezer wants to remind you that they have greatness in them once all the right ingredients are in place. That includes a duet with Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino on "Go Away," where she's the one calling Cuomo out for years of d-baggery.

That's not to say the album is pure brilliance; both "The British Are Coming" and album closer "The Futurescope Trilogy" suffer from blandness on the former and trying too hard on the latter. Even so, "Everything Will Be Alright in The End" compensates for the past few mediocre albums (anyone seriously looking back at "Hurley" with nostalgia?) and puts them back on top of their game.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Natalie Merchant "Natalie Merchant"

Richer and Darker
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Natalie Merchant has become more of a rich singer as the years have gone by. Her voice has become more full, her alto voice breathing a deeper mood to her new music on "Natalie Merchant." While deeper moods will likely come as no surprise to her fans (I've been one since seeing 10,000 Maniacs three times), the introspection might be. Gone are the days where she sang poetic socially agitated lyrics atop the Maniacs' new wavish pop, instead, she sings her straightforward poetry in a mix with some truly gorgeous instrumental players.

She's not totally devoid of socially conscious songs, as "Texas" could easily been seen as skewing a certain former president. But it's more mood than anything else she's aiming for. The fork tinged "Seven Deadly Sins" is a perfect example. Stripped to a fairly bare boned structure that slowly builds from acoustic beginnings to slide guitar and ultimately to a martial drum and tastefully played french horn ending, it's adult contemporary music that's for contemporary adults. It's finally at "The End," where Natalie once again touches on the wishful thinking of liberals, that she sings for the final laying down of arms against a 'sea so wide and treacherous,' all while backed with another gorgeously played string section. She may have a touch of grey in her hair as the CD cover depicts, but the elder spokeswoman of "Natalie Merchant" delivers pretty songs that are filled with the most distinct of emotional weight.


Monday, October 20, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Jason Mraz "Yes!"

3 Out Of 5 Stars

Jason Mraz has always seemed like a puppy, always buoyant and ever so eager to please, His albums were catchy and fun, light pop with folk elements. Not so with "Yes!" Moving from slow song to slow song, Mraz has evolved from a fun and loveable lightweight to straight up middle of the road schmaltz. I guess you can call this an attempt at maturity, but with the exception of "Shine," things kind of blend into each other.

He's now working with an all-female, rock-folk band called Raining Jane, but you'd never know it from the general facelessness of the proceedings. They do add some pretty harmonies (like the lush opener "Rise - Love Someone") and some interesting instrumental touches (the sitar on "Shine") and the occasional bouncy bit (the drum beat of "Everywhere"). Yet the album personifies the definition of 'easy listening,' as Mraz doesn't seem to want to challenge his persona as a singer songwriter. It's not that an artist can't swing into a folk style and make it work, John Mayer proved that with his "Born and Raised." However, Mraz is taking it a little too laid back to make things happen. "Yes!" is still eager to please, but the man who laments the lack of "Quiet" in the modern world is taking that a tad too literally here.