Monday, September 29, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: The Empty Hearts "The Empty Hearts"

A Power Pop Supergroup
4 Out Of 5 Stars

First off, there's the pedigree. Wally Palmar of the Romantics on lead vocals, rhythm guitar, and harmonica; Elliot Easton of the Cars on lead guitar and vocals; Andy Babiuk of the Chesterfield Kings on bass and vocals; and Clem Burke of Blondie on drums and vocals. Then for bonus cool points, they were given their name by Steven Van Zandt. The freshly minted The Empty Hearts were birthed by the 60's British Invasion and filtered through 80's power pop cool and then fed through a garage band. The band themselves are wearing their influences on their sleeve, or at least their t-shirt...dig The Who shirt on the CD cover. Make no mistake, this is the real deal.

"The Empty Hearts" is a first rate power popper's dream. The garagey "90 Miles An Hour Down a Dead End Street" careens into a ripping harmonica solo courtesy of Palmar and the band chiming in on chipper 'dit dit dit' background vocals for an ace hook. "No Way Out" cops from The Kinks and The Who. Dig the fuzzed out guitar in "Perfect World." Elements of The Beatles, maybe a touch of The Stones, and certainly a tiny touch of the elements of everyone's band kick in here and there through The Empty Hearts, and it feels completely natural. That could come from the album's immediacy, the whole thing was hammered out in five days, frequently the whole band playing live and catching the first take. Credit producer Ed Stasium for helping capture lightning in a bottle, he used to do the same for the Ramones.

One other thing; no-one here is trying to re-invent the wheel. The band has already stated in interviews that they just wanted to bring back the fun of listening to classic songs and being in a band that enjoyed doing what they do best. When the final "Uh Huh!" brings "Meet Me Around The Corner" to a close (just after a gnarly solo from Easton, I should add), I just want to start the whole thing over from the beginning. "The Empty Hearts" plows through its twelve songs and you wish there were more. I can't think of any better way to describe this little chunk of garage-pop nirvana. I just wanna hear it again. Power Pop lives.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Linkin Park "The Hunter"

The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game
3 Out of 5 Stars

Viewed as a comeback of sorts for Linkin Park, they return to basics after the highly experimental "Thousand Suns" and the OK but not great "Living Things." The guitars are suddenly heavier, Chester Bennington screams and rapper Mike Shinoda is more prominent on this album than on the previous two. And always a sign that a band wants to let you know they're still relevant, there are plenty of special guests. "The Hunter" also ditches producer Rick Rubin for a co-production between Brad Delson and Shinoda.

Does it all work? On a superficial level, yes. It grinds out the aggro-metal-rap that made the band's bones back with 2000's "Hybrid Theory." "The Hunter" opens with a very aggressive salvo, Chester screaming out his failures for "Keys To The Kingdom," but it ends with a little kid shouting. Yes, the guys in Linkin Park are now daddies. Rage now goes inward instead of outward. On "A Thousand Suns," that meant moody introspection, now it's marked by hollering "Rebellion." Rap legend Rakim drops by on the exhilarating "Guilty All The Same," but it's just so he can complain about how record companies treat their bands. I hate my job, too, but I'm not a rich rock band. Kind of kills the thrill. Another guest star wasted is Tom Morello. If I had him on my album, I'd be expecting some rip-roaring guitar solos, Instead, he's buried on a mellow instrumental called "Drawbar." WTF?

"The Hunter" has plenty going for it; it's not a total bow-wow. Delson's guitars are way more prominent than on the last two albums. He's given more room to blister chord his way through "The Hunter" (and aggravates me even more that Morello was not utilized for his real skills), a credit to the band trying to recapture it's old glories. Not a bad attempt, but you've heard them doing better.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers "Hypnotic Eye"

Cast Your Spell Over Me
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Tom Petty may have been making albums for over 40 years now, but he never lost his will to rock. Even with the maddeningly uneven "Mojo," there was plenty of guitar to go around. Same with the "Mudcrutch" reunion. Now he's back in the studio after a tour that was comprised mainly of deep cuts from across all his albums and a couple of small theater residencies. All of this seems to have given Petty and the band a kick in the kiester, as "Hypnotic Eye" gets down to business and doesn't let up.

The first thing you hear is a great big fuzz blast and you know you're in for a good time. "American Dream Plan B" picks up where "American Girl" left off all that time ago, and brings her back with her boyfriend who still believes in the dream, but he's getting old enough to know it might never happen. But you'd never guess the song's a bit of a bummer because the band is laying done a sound that's pure retro Petty, organ and all. Speaking of retro, you might even feel a little Doors creep in on the next song, "Fault Lines."

All across "Hypnotic Eye," you'll find mesmerizing rock and more of the "Mojo" blues. There's a shuffling blues harp surfing the rhythm of "Burnt Out Town" and a bump and grinder nearly seven minute "Shadow People." What Petty also reminds himself here is that you can still deliver a knockout in under three minutes, and he gets that body blow in with "Forgotten Man" (dig those twin lead guitars featuring Petty and Mike Campbell) and "American Dream Part B." There's a little something for everyone here, and it's all good. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers' "Hypnotic Eye" will cast its spell and you won't mind a bit.


My Amazon Reviews: Coldplay "Ghost Stories"

Telling Strange Tales
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Stripping themselves back considerably from their last few albums, Coldplay's "Ghost Stories" bares the band to key piano pop balladry and Chris Martin's laments of love. For fans of the lush "Viva La Vida" or the Eno-inilftrated "Mylo Xyloto, this will sound almost naked. Martin has never sounded this intimate, and the band hasn't been this uncluttered sine their "Parachutes" debut.

What would explain this sudden call back to a more bare bones sound? Well, for one, Martin and longtime lady Gwyneth Paltrow have called it quits, and some of the songs sure do feel like break-up please. "Magic" is the earnest tip of the iceberg, as Martin keeps begging "I don't want anyone else but you" over and over above a most subdued electronic pulse. Where most other bands would make this into pure corn, Coldplay make it so darn earnest that you kind of feel for the guy. And it doesn't always work. Soon after, he wails on "Ink" that he loves so much it hurts...just like that brand new tattoo. Even Martin can't get away with that one.

But what he does pull out of his hat here is sometimes close to brilliance. Coldplay may easily be one of the biggest bands in the world, but few would make such a left field turn as they do on "Ghost Stories." That inclination towards pop heavens is on full display on the album's most uptempo track, "Sky Full Of Stars." On prior albums, the band would have laid on the production till the song was bleeding U2-isms, this time around, it's piano filtered through some electronic treatments and Martin laying on as thick as he can. "In a sky full of stars, I think I saw you..." just as the beat kicks in courtesy of Swedish DJ Avicii. It's the kind of song that makes you happy to hear it on the radio.

"Ghost Stories" may be confessionals all the way, but it also brings Coldplay down to Earth. By the time it's over, Martin is comparing himself to a flock of birds drifting above the ground in that big falsetto of his. For all the glitter and widescreen production of their previous albums, this is where they finally find their soul. Bare souls, it seems, perhaps fly better.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Amazon Reviews: Kongos "Lunatic"

Mess With Your Sanity
4 Out Of 5 Stars

A band with a lot of promise, Kongos field a lot of variety for "Lunatic." There are touches of 80's pop surrounded by African rhythms (if you're familiar with Johnny Clegg, you'll latch on immediately). Which would suit a band whose father, John Kongos, had a hit in 1971 while sons and brothers Dylan, Daniel, Jesse, and Johnny Kongos absorbed the sounds of their South African upbringing. There's touches of reggae here, and plenty of arena sized radio hooks. In fact, there's already one ubiquitous hit that you'd probably caught somewhere, the jaunty "Come With Me Now."

The songs are hooky singalongs with moments of introspection. "This Time I Won't Forget" is a celebration of being alive and in the moment. The songs all have that feeling, being fast or slow. The tribal drum opener, "I'm Only Joking," bounces along with such feistiness that it's too much fun to ignore. Same with "It's a Good Life," which marries John Lennon's "Instant Karma" by way of Paul Simon's "Graceland" album. Can you tell that I'm digging Kongos yet? I heartily recommend "Lunatic."