Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My Amazon Reviews: Blondie "AutoAmerican"

And it's finger popping.
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Coming off the rocking success of "Eat To The Beat," Blondie hit 1980 ready to do whatever struck their fancy. The result, "AutoAmerican,' was a hodgepodge of styles, everything from disco, rap, rock, cabaret, a surprisingly well done showtune from "Camelot," even reggae. The album starts of eclectically enough, with the mostly instrumental drone of "Europa," which ends with Debbie Harry robotically speaking about phase gridlock and being left on your rims. Getting that out of their systems quickly enough, "AutoAmerican" breaks into a disco groove with "Live It Up," which seemed, in comparison the such monsters as "Heart Of Glass" and "Call Me," a bit tepid.

Which sets the tone for much of "AutoAmerican." Blondie was so all over the map that many of the songs kind of pale in comparison to other songs from earlier albums. The hits off the album itself show those flaws in sharp relief. The number one "The Tide Is High" (a cover of a Jamaican band called The Paragons) took reggae and used Harry's breathless vocal to make a striking pop song that stuck to the roof of your brain like the best of their singles. Then there was the truly unique "Rapture," in which a mostly underground and novelty form of music suddenly found itself at number one. It could easily be the first rap/rock crossover single. and still holds up remarkably well after over three decades.

One of the things missing from "AutoAmerican" was the rock. There's nothing here to compare to the explosive "Dreaming" or the muscle of "The Hardest Part" from just one album back. There are a couple tries, like the wild abandon in "Walk Like Me" and the horn driven "Go Through It." It also shows up on the bonus tracks, where the extended version of the number one "Call Me" blows away many of "AutoAmerican's" weaker moments. Harry was at Force 10 against Giorgio Morodor's Eurodisco pumping pulse. Which means that the best of the album are the singles, one of which is a bonus track. It didn't much matter at this point as the band was beginning to splinter (Frank Infante had to sue to be on the album) and the limp "The Hunter" would quietly close this chapter on Blondie. (They've made a couple of very strong reunion albums, including "No Exit" and "Panic Of Girls" in the new century, however.)


Sunday, March 15, 2015

My Amazon Reviews: Fall Out Boy "American Beauty/American Psycho"

4 Out Of 5 Stars

On their last CD, Fall Out Boy announced their mission was to "Save Rock And Roll." On the follow-up, "American Beauty/American Psycho," it sounds like they're still headed out on that path. There's some righteous rock here. And there seems to be a theme here, it's all about the juxtapositions.

For example, the title track. You're blending a Brent Easton Ellis horror novel with a Grateful Dead album of classic Americana. Add Patrick Stump bouncing the word "Psycho" into a bouncy sing along, and you have the makings for a concert staple. The same with "Uma Thurman." Placing the "Pulp Fiction" star inside a song that mashes in the theme to "The Munsters" is something close to a work of genius. Then there's the heroics. Suzanne Vega's "dit dit doo doo" hook from "Tom's Diner" teases the intro before Stump challenges the listener. "You Will Remember Me...for Centuries" Stump wails to music meant to be played over a sports highlights reel. Same goes with "Immortals." Fall Out Boy are back to make rock that knows no limitations (there's nothing here that resembles a sappy ballad), and you'll have a very good time if you just let yourself follow along.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

My Amazon Reviews: Marilyn Manson "The Pale Emperor

Retaking The Throne
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Sporting a deeper groove and riffs that would make a voodoo bluesman proud, Marilyn Manson takes back his seat at the table for "The Pale Emperor." With 2012's "Born Villain," Manson seemed to be getting his full swagger back, and here he takes full advantage of his place as elder statesman and lead crank in the old school of LA evil that Manson had as his own court back in the "Dope Show" days.

The sound is sleeker and more percussive than usual, adding menace where before might have been labored screaming. Manson, to his credit, still uses all sorts of voices for dramatic effect to get what he wants, but instead of hectic he goes for menacing. "Killing Strangers," "The Pale Emperor's" pulsing opening cut, sounds like it slithered its way out of some hell-hounded biker bar, made even more so by Manson's insistence that "we got guns, you better run" growled in a nasty fashion. He's no longer tethered to a media that demands that he produce a hit "single," leaving him to operate as an outsider of sorts in his advancing years.

I mean that in a good way. The man who was once blamed for mass school shootings now plies his trade in TV and movies along with his music. (His multi-episode stint on "Sons Of Anarchy" was actually kind of funny.) So he can be, as he puts it himself, "The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles," all while sounding like he can still raise the devil when he wants to. He may sing that he's ready to meet his maker, but with "The Pale Emperor," Marilyn Manson still makes like he could scare that man off for a few more rounds. It's also been said that much of the album's songs were single takes. All the better to grit and glitter you with.


Friday, March 13, 2015

My Amazon Reviews: Maroon 5 "V"

Effortless pop, Expertly delivered
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Better than the overproduced "Overexposed," "V" is Maroon 5's return to making candy-floss pop. I mean that as a compliment. As many bands that try to make this kind of music, few succeed at it quite the way Adam Levine and the boys do. Want more proof? Just think of Adam's TV stint on "The Voice," where assorted contestants vie for the opportunity to make this kind of music (with the odd country or soul belter mixed in for variety) and remind yourself that the show has yet to turn out a viable star. If it was that easy, they'd all have sales of the magnitude Maroon 5 have achieved.

For one thing, Maroon 5 know their way around a killer hook. Both "Maps" and "Animals" have hooks so big they belong in butcher shops and Adam's blue eyed soul delivery (and falsetto) make them stick to your ear canals. He also knows how to deliver one for the ladies, as the ballad "Unkiss Me" shows. The big piano ballad with Gwen Stefani, "My Heart Is Open" is a wonderful pairing, although "Moves Like Jagger" wins the duet contest by virtue of its snappiness. Yet Maroon 5 provides the fizz that pops in the 10's decade that it needs to stand above the fray.

I'll add an extra recommendation for the deluxe version of "V" in that two of the three songs are actually worthy of the couple extra bucks. There's the surprisingly bare bones version of the 90's one hit wonder Marcy Playground's "Sex And Candy." Then there's the Levine Oscar nominated solo track "Lost Stars," which Levine recorded for the movie "Begin Again" which he had an acting role in. They round out "V" and make it an album to rival Maroon 5's better entries.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

My Amazon Reviews: The Dream Academy "The Morning Lasted All Day; A Retrospective"

Ah hey ma ma ma ma...
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Long overdue but well worth the wait, "The Morning Lasted All Day" finally collects a solid set of The Dream Academy's best from their three albums, a few B-sides and oddities and the brand new "Sunrising." Augmented with a comprehensive booklet written by Nick Laird-Clowes, exquisitely remastered with his supervision, this is about as good a Dream Academy anthology as a fan could hope for.

While it naturally is heavily weighted in favor of their dynamic debut, both "Remembrance Days" and "A Different Kind Of Weather" are given exposure. (I've always been of the mindset that "Weather," despite the fact that it didn't even chart in the US, has been vastly underrated.) The band's chamber-pop gets much of its otherworldliness from Kate St. John's oboe and other reed instruments flowing beneath Laird-Clowes' folkish guitars and vocal delivery. There's a lovely sort of soft focus to many of their songs that made the majority of them difficult to fit in during the synth-heavy 80's, leaving such contenders as "Indian Summer" and "Power To Believe" (included here both in its instrumental version as heard on the "Planes Trains and Automobiles" soundtrack, and the vocal version from "Remembrance Days") frozen out of the top 40.

The ethereal quality of their songs a times masked the presence of noteworthy contributors. Friend of the band and Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour was a frequent collaborator and co-producer, Lindsay Buckingham co-producing and adding background vocals to "Indian Summer," and The Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr playing on "Ballad In 4/4." It takes away nothing from the band's presentation, even offering proof just how powerful The Dream Academy 'sound' was to all the stages of the band's recording history.

I have a few of my own favorites to recommend as a fan, one of them being the lovely version of John Lennon's "Love," as featured on "Weather." Actually using a drum-loop, Laird-Clowes brings an emphasis to Lennon's message (including a portion of "#9 Dream") that few covers of Lennon have done. The cover of The Smiths' "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" is good for a smile, and I have always thought "Indian Summer" was a single cheated out of deserved hit status. Then there's "Sunrising," the first new Dream Academy song in 30 years. It's a welcome treat and fits in with the band's legacy, with Gilbert Gabriel's piano painting the mood (alas, St.John is not featured on it).

Even with that minor wish not coming true, I am very happy to have "The Morning Lasted All Day" to augment my original CD's of The Dream Academy. The remastering enables you to hear things that were tempered in the originals, and makes for a satisfying listening experience. Now if only the original albums could get the deluxe treatment....


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My Amazon Book Reviews: Douglas Whaley "Corbin Milk"

The Spy Who Fell In Love
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Corbin Milk has a dilemma. Well, several dilemmas. He's a top spy for the CIA, who have no qualms about using the fact that Corbin is a drop dead gorgeous gay man as sexual bait while working undercover. His new found lover wants Corbin to stop using his sexual prowess on his spy missions. And to top it off, his supervisor is a closet case who wants a night in the sack. These are the main twists turning about in "Corbin Milk," a thriller in three parts.

First is a mission to the Middle East, where Corbin must find his way into a super secure palace. Then a trip to Amsterdam, to take down a sadistic Russian into rough sex, and then the most tricky mission of all...making a secure relationship with the new love of his life, George Yancy. All the while, he has to fend off the snooping supervisor who is far too interested in Corbin's love life and makes Corbin's job all the more difficult on the home front.

"Corbin Milk" makes use of its characters and fleshes them out well. Corbin himself is a complex man, a superior spy who winds his way through difficult missions in realistic fashion, and the other folk play important roles without succumbing to cliché. Corbin works hard and plays harder, and all the other members of the story keep up with the book's pace. A thriller with romance at its core, "Corbin Milk" is a book I savored, one episode at a time.