Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Morrissey "World Peace is None of Your Business"

Getting up in Morrissey's Business
4 Out Of 5 Stars

After setting the record straight with his "Autobiography," Morrissey turns up the guitars and waxes lyrically in the way only he can. "World Peace is None Of Your Business." He's still railing away about apathy, vegetarianism, and unrequited love, It may also be his most guitar heavy album since the classic "Your Arsenal." Longtime cohort Boz Booher is given chords to crunch and leads to distort all across "World Peace," yet Morrissey leaves room for castanets and accordion (an outright solo on "Earth is The Lonliest Planet" and underpinnings of "The Bullfighter Dies," another pro-animal rights screed).

This is a fun album, because Moz sounds like he's having fun singing. Only on "I Am Not A Man" does he come off as strident, but it's very much a statement of purpose than any song he's done in quite awhile. Howling against jocks, meat eaters and those who'd destroy the planet, it also clocks in at nearly eight minutes, the longest song on "World Peace." Many of the songs are vintage Morrissey, like "Staircase At The University," (in which a despondent student kills herself over the admonishments of a disciplinarian father and snobbish boyfriend while a flamenco guitar solos away) and "Kiss Me A Lot," which add a touch of jangle pop to the album.

If you want to herald his return (it's been five years since "Years Of Refusal"), go ahead. But for those of us who thrill to a lyric like:

World peace is none of your business.
Police will stun you with their stun guns
Or they'll disable you with tasers.
That's what government's for,
Oh, you poor little fool.

Then this will feel like the Morrissey many of us have come to know and love.


Monday, August 11, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Ed Sheeran "X"

Be Fruitful and Multiply
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Ed Sheeran makes his play for more mainstream sound on his second major label album "X" (multiply). His previous album "+" was a singer-songwriter triumph. I thought it was the breakout album of the year. It also established Ed as a bona fide star and an unlikely sex symbol. Yet after that explosion of success, Sheeran decides to mess with the formula. The resulting album is a frustrating mix of sensitive singer-songwriter material and urban hip-hop influences.

Ed has a rather thin voice to start with, and when he applies it to wrap he's whiter than Vanilla Ice.this takes up three of "X's" twelve songs. While the songs are distraction, they don't totally dilute the quality of the album. It's also worth noting it's also worth noting that "X" suffers from multiple producer syndrome, bouncing back and forth between Jake Gosling and hip-hop icon Pharell. While Gosling handles the more sensitive singer-songwriter material, its Pharell that pushes Sheeran in the more urban direction. Sometimes it works to spectacular effect, as it did on the hit single "Sing." "Sing" is a high point on the album.

But then again, you're stuck with the rap songs. The worst of these is "The Man," which almost caused me to dock the album by a full star. Not only is the rap annoying, the song is unnecessarily censored. Sheeran, with all the twists and turns he makes on "X," turns sheepish and bleeps a couple of f-bombs and a reference to defecating. If he's so intent on establishing his credibility as both a singer-songwriter and urban contemporary recording artist, then cutting out words that some might find offensive is cheap. You're a good enough singer and a songwriter that you could've easily used different words. Leaving them on the album only to cut them in post-production is not an admirable trait.

Overall, "X" is a satisfying album. Sheeran is possibly one of the most gifted singer songwriters of the present day, and for whatever flaws this album has, it overcomes them just on the basis of sheer talent. If you're willing to overlook Sheeran's voyages into hip-hop and rap, ("+" also explored these elements, but not to the extent that "X" does) then you will enjoy this album. If not, then this review serves both purposes of being a warning and an endorsement.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Jack White "Lazaretto"

Wherefore art thou Lazaretto
3 Out Of 5 Stars

A step back from his solo debut, "Blunderbuss," Jack White goes very scattershot on his second solo album, "Lazaretto." Recorded with the all-male Buzzards and all-female Peacocks alternating tracks, the focused energy of the debut is missing here. The time spent in Nashville seems to have guided Jack White into some more country elements, and not in a good way.

There's even a full on twangy ballad, "Alone in My Home," a duet with Lille Mae Rische, that meanders a bit but not so much as the following song, "Entitlement." This feels more like a Neil Young song at its heart. If you're looking for rockers, there are a few. "That Black Bat Licorice" and "Just One Drink" mix it up with white signature crunchy guitars and a touch of Rolling Stones swagger. And just to make sure he hasn't lost his fire, there's a white-hot instrumental called "Highball Stepper." But where "Blunderbuss" had a fire that burned all the way through the album, "Lazaretto" is White experimenting. That's a good thing, because between all his time in separate bands, he's earned the right.

"Lazaretto," which is named after an 18th century asylum, is Jack White exorcising what seems like some of the thoughts in his head and guitar that don't have an outlet in The Dead Weather or The Raconteurs. Again this is not a bad thing. But it does lead to what is essentially an average album.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Judas Priest "Redeemer Of Souls"

Stand tall, Rise up, Stay strong
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Judas Priest last appeared in the form of a metal fever dream: the double disc concept album "Nostradamus." While I happened to love it, some Priest fans were left shaking their heads. There were plenty of good tracks, but where was that one killer anthem? This time, they have nothing to worry about. "Redeemer Of Souls" is Judas Priest back to basics. Twin guitars, thunder drums, and Rob Halford's glorious shriek rising above it all. One of the songs may be titled "Valhalla," but for old fans, this will be nirvana.

You can tell Priest is back to business from the moment Halford sings the first stanza, "welcome to my world of steel." And while the departure of legendary guitarist K.K. Downing may have set fans on edge, his replacement, Richie Faulkner, plays off Glenn Tipton and kick mutual butt. Even so, with all the plundering of their iconic metal sound, you'll still find the soul of a bluesman as "Redeemer" comes to a conclusion. "Beginning of The End" echoes Black Sabbath (whose "13" was a comeback of a similar excellence) with the swamps of ancient mists folding around one of Halford's more subdued performances. Mix that up with the bludgeoning "Metalizer" or the creature feature "Dragonaut," and you'll have a Judas Preist disc that stands toe to toe with their best work.

The deluxe version offers five extra songs, starting with the riff heavy and lead stinging "Snake Bite" and the anthemic "Bring It On" being the best of the five, especially the lead guitar threads needling their way through "Snakebite." There's even a parting gift of "Never Forget," in which the band declare their eternal thanks to the loyal fans who've stuck with the band for 17 albums and multiple decades. They are defenders of the faith, indeed.