Tuesday, May 19, 2015

My Amazon Reviews: Imagine Dragons “Smoke and Mirrors”

No Parlor Tricks Required
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Beating the sophomore slump and improving the game in the production department, Imagine Dragons aim for the bleachers in "Smoke and Mirrors." Someone must have told them to get in touch with their inner U2, because much of the album looks to build anthems from scratch. For a change the reach does not exceed the grasp. "Smoke and Mirrors" hits its mark more often than not.

The first single, "I Bet My Life" exemplifies this direction. Pulsing verses with a chorus that looks to hit sing-along status where played, it adds some Mumford and Sons folk stomp to the mix while building to a crescendo climax. "Shots" has a guitar line worthy of The Edge, and "I'm So Sorry" brings back the distortion of the debut album with a raw intensity. But this time they sound like the screaming was intentional. That's a big difference from this album and the debut. The sucess of which seems to have given the band the courage to play every genre they ever had plans for in their incubation days.

That includes a bit of pomp to go with it. Who would have thought that the band that made the hooky "Radioactive" would end their second album with a six minute prog-rock opus? (And maybe the only misstep on an album that is quite assured of its footing.) Or that hints of the electronic dance would underpin "Summer?" Even if once in awhile they dip into the well that is Coldplay ("Dream"), "Smoke and Mirrors" is a surprisingly good album from Imagine Dragons, as they test their musical mettle.


Monday, May 18, 2015

My Amazon Reviews: Bryan Ferry “Avonmore”

Avonmore Evermore
3 Out Of 5 Stars

There is still, always, that voice. The seductive, world weary croon that masters sublime mood and the occasional glimmer of funk-pop. The atmosphere of the best of Roxy Music and the various high points of his solo career, which has been maddeningly inconsistent. But at his best ("Avalon" will always be on my desert island list), Ferry has a grace few can equal. As he nears the age of 70, "Avonmore" strives to find those heights. Given his age, that old world weary man just slips into it like a glove.

Calling the CD "Avonmore" is hardly and accident. In much the same way that "Olympia" took a sample from "Avalon" to compose "Olympia's" "You Can Dance," the tempos and atmosphere are meant to evoke memories of that classic Roxy. However, the sound of "Avonmore" harkens more to "Boys and Girls" and "Bete Noire" than anything Roxy has recorded. Musically, I'd say he makes the mark about 50% of the time here. "Loop Di Li," "One Night Stand" and the title track are vintage Ferry, engaging pop with funky undertones, while "Lost" is the enigmatic Ferry (and also the shortest song here) and features Mark Knopfler on guitar. The cast also includes Flea, Nile Rodgers and Johnny Marr, even though you'd never know it because the sonics of "Avonmore" are just that consistent, even if the songs seem mostly to be retreads.

It's that consistency that lays a trap for the disc's final two songs. He covers Stephen Sondheim's "Send In The Clowns" and then Robert Palmer's "Johnny and Mary." Like his albums of classic cover songs during the Roxy era and his dreadful "Dylanesque," Ferry transforms these into his own. But covering Sondheim is a daunting task for just about everyone, and Ferry misses the target. It's just not a song to be Ferr-iszed. "Johnny and Mary" fares a little better by slowing Palmer's electronic groove down to a misty piano and bubbly synth. It makes the characters something of a middle aged couple who really do "need the world to tell him he ain't lonely." It's an odd way to end an album that, two songs before, had Ferry's position as an elder statesman of ennui secured. Adding these two songs at the end feels almost like an afterthought, like he just wanted to prove that he could take any song in the world and it would just drop into place. It doesn't work, and that is part of the reason I only rated "Avonmore" as an average, three star album.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

My Amazon Reviews: Sinead O’Connor “I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss”

In Charge
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Sounding more supple and vested than anyone could have expected at this stage of her career, "I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss" finds Sinead O'Connor still exploring her themes of romantic bruising, the push and pull of theology and the inner turmoil that has marked her work since the beginning. Her voice has gained a rougher edge over the years, which is masked on this album by multiple vocal overdubs. The pure voice is no longer there, but she hasn't completely ruined it (ala Joni Mitchell). She also seems a little more playful, in the tone of the album's title and latex love goddess cover picture.

While that playfulness slips into the songs ("How About I Be Me") and occasionally upping the tempo ("Take Me to Church" another theology rant bucked up by self-empowerment), it makes the album a delightful listen. There's also the O'Connor who creeps under your skin, especially on the potent "Streetcars," which loses the multi-tracked vocals and allows her to use that powerful voice backed by little more than a piano and bells. It closes the CD with a reminder of just how potent an artist O'Connor can be when she's at her best.

On the opposite end, she's trod this ground more than a few times and there's not much here thematically than you've heard if you've been a longtime follower. I like the song "8 Good Reasons," but I am weary of her railing against the music industry. She's had a career that many singers would die for, even if she's not the Miley Cyrus type that she's publicly chastened. But as she states on the CD's inner sleeve, "This Album is Dedicated to Me." She still has melodic fire and opinions to be outspoken with, and with "I'm Not Bossy..." O'Connor makes a nice return to form in the manner in which she wants to make it.