Saturday, September 29, 2012


*After further listening, I adjusted my rating of Mumford & Son's Babel to 4 1/2 stars.

This is roughly the scale I use when reviewing:
***** = Classic
****= Amazing
***= Good
**= OK
*1/2= Poor
*= Horrid

Mumford & Sons

            Folk Rock’s seeing a steady climb in popularity as of late, and Mumford & Sons continue to put themselves at the front of that movement with the excellent Babel.  At first listen it’s a very good album, but more or less a slightly darker Sigh No More, as if these guys are trying to pull off being the AC/DC of folk rock.  Yet Babel appears as far more than that at closer inspection—it’s a huge leap forward in song consistency and in most cases, quality. 
            Even if those songs aren’t always quite as radio-ready as “The Cave” or “Little Lion Man,” this will stand as a very good album.
The title track starts things off with the intricacies of acoustic picking, which to be fair was to be expected no matter what, but it really pulls it off, leading into one emotive song, and album, for that matter.
“I Will Wait” is the single here, the radio and concert anthem that everyone will know and sing along to, but it’s far from the only treasure here. 
In fact, it’s the haunting, not the uplifting, that marks some depth and further greatness for Mumford and Sons, such as “Ghosts That We Knew,” or “Holland Road.” 
Meanwhile, other standouts include “Lover of the Light,” “Whispers in the Dark,” or “Hopeless Wanderer,” each an individual track that blends into the whole seamlessly. 
            “Broken Crown” is the song that makes Babel though, the song that shows Mumford & Sons maybe aren’t just what they seem to be.  Brooding, quiet, uplifting, and rebellious, ‘Crown’ is all a great folk song should aspire to be and is what makes me excited, above all else, for what’s to come from this group of glorious folksters. 

****1/2 Stars

Green Day

            Just when you thought Green Day couldn’t make an album any more bloated than the last, they announced a trilogy of them, released in succession across six months.  Uno is the first part of that trilogy, a saga meaning to be a concept album, but which the story of makes no coherent sense. 
            There are, however, some unfortunate similarities between most of the songs on here, including dumbed down lyrics mostly about sex and vague rebellion, and a rehash mentality that fails to introduce anything new. 
            Yet it’s the album’s bloated state that is its downfall.  If they really wanted to go trilogy style, they would’ve been best off releasing three EPs, not full-lengths, for there are four of five good songs on here clawing to get out of the twelve track mess. 
            “Nuclear Family” is the opening song here, driven off the typical Green Day style riffing and defiant snarl.  It’s a solid beginning, but “Stay the Night,” a bored song about exactly what it sounds like fails to continue any sort of spirit they had going. 
            True defiance really only comes a couple of times on Uno, but never better than on “Let Yourself Go,” a somewhat shallow but aggressive and curse-laden tune about not caring.  “Kill the DJ,” really the only original sounding track here, also channels the same defiance, but with a certain irony to it—it’s a dance song about “killing” the DJ.  Still, it’s infectious and a breather from the monotony of most of the album. 
            At least it closes strong too, with “Oh Love” being more of an obvious hit in the vein of their last release, 21st Century Breakdown, except with more spirit to it.  Yet there’s a good seven eight songs on here that are completely devoid of spirit, and Green Day would’ve been better to trim out all the garbage rather than releasing it to the public. 

**1/2 Stars      

As I Lay Dying

            Popular metalcore outfit As I Lay Dying, still running off the fumes of some time on the main stage at the recent Mayhem Festival, is taking the opportunity to release one of their most straightforward albums yet, one that basically comes off as a very heavy thrash sound.  
            “Cauterize” is the sound statement of the album, the track that embodies what this is at its best, which is pretty damn good. 
            Of course, infrequent bursts of cookie monster vocals and riffing so speedy you can’t tell if it’s all different makes for some difficulties in enjoying. 
            The aforementioned “Cauterize,”  “Washed Away/My Only Home,” and the striking “A Greater Foundation” are some better approaches to the group’s style, but this isn’t a flawless album, several bored metal songs weighing it down at times. 
            Nonetheless, there’s some great, melodic metal on here, and has some of the group’s most enjoyable songs, and is a release that showcases the potential of metalcore and its appeal towards the more traditional metal audience. 

*** Stars

British Lion
Steve Harris

Iron Maiden bassist and bandleader Steve Harris has always been the primary songwriter for Maiden, and has gotten a good spotlight on his bass playing over the years, so it’s a little weird that he decided to make a solo album.
Fortunately, Harris isn’t just offering up Maiden-lite on here.  Unfortunately, it’s not the most memorable thing in the world of Maiden side projects, or even close for that matter. 
While vocalist Bruce Dickinson used his solo career to showcase his singing outside of traditional Maiden-style metal, and Adrian Smith launched a band for a different kind of guitar playing, Harris’ bass riffs could well be slowed down versions of gallops he played on just about any other Maiden album.
Of course, Harris is also a songwriter, and this isn’t an Iron Maiden rehash album, so maybe therein lies the point.  While some songs do sound like a half-finished Iron Maiden number (most notably the weak opener “This Is My God,”) there is some experimenting here, with mixed degrees of success, such as 70’s hard-rock numbers like “The Chosen Ones,” or “Karma Killer.”  Meanwhile, the piano-laden “The Lesson” also promotes something new and closes British Lion on a strong note. 
Still, there’s nothing on here that jumps out, and some (“Judas,” with its horrid vocal performance, is practically sickening) fall flat on their faces, making Harris’ solo debut a boring and unpromising experience.    

** Stars

PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone
John Frusciante

            Ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante has gone a strange road with his solo career ever since his departure from the Peppers back in 2010.  His second “major” release since that announcement, Frusciante continues on with the experimental electronic-rock of July’s Letur Lefr EP. 
            The important thing to understand about Frusciante solo in general, but his recent material in particular, is that his primary purpose of making music is as a creative and personal statement.  He releases it because he knows he has fans that will enjoy it, but he doesn’t, and would be crazy to, expect this to have any creative appeal at all.
            To my ear, this is well-orchestrated noises, but it’s hard to say if it really ever becomes “music.”  If you can’t stomach “Hear Say,” (which it’s likely you won’t) don’t bother listening to the rest of this, though the best song is probably “Mistakes.”  Yet some just get what Frusciante is trying to do; I can to an extent, but it’s a difficult business all in all, an artistic statement that seems to be mostly a cacophony of noises, always as far away from being controlled as is possible

** Stars

Broken Bones

            One of many in a wave of generic hair groups from the 80’s, Dokken has at this point lost their greatest advantage, the fantastic shred-guitarist George Lynch.  Still though, they’ve managed to continue their career whilst avoiding the sorry state of many of their contemporaries, (Poison, Twisted Sister,) with some above average material surfacing throughout the past twenty years.  They haven’t really risen in quality over the time, but they also haven’t fell.
            This new record begins with some engaging but ordinary riff rock, like “Empire” or “Best of Me,” (oddly sharing names with the excellent 2010 single from Ratt.)  This stays pretty consistent, despite the completely bland middle, with the highlight probably being the closer “Tonight.” 
There’s nothing amazing or worth listening to again on Broken Bones, or not much at least, though for a hard rocker who liked Dokken in the past, this actually stands on pretty good grounds with that era of the band. 

** Stars  

Re-Machined: A Tribute to Deep Purple’s Machine Head
Various Artists
            All-Star tribute albums usually aren’t very good; it’s a bunch of famous musicians taking another person’s song and playing it note-for-note.  The all-stars never take risks or liberties, making it just a boring rehash of what we’ve already heard, except this doesn’t have the spark of the original. 
            A Deep Purple tribute album of such class only covering the monumental Machine Head album fares slightly better, because of the quality of the all-stars, but usually doesn’t transcend its state of tribute album. 
            First, let’s talk the droll.  Santana’s “Smoke on the Water” was not only previously released, but ill matched, despite a nice guitar solo; Famed rock bassist and vocalist Glenn Hughes gives a good vocal performance on “Maybe I’m A Leo,” but more or less mimes Purple’s Ian Gillan, making it an unworthy cover all in all (Red Hot Chili Peppers/Chickenfoot drummer Chad Smith also joins him there.)  Meanwhile, “Lazy” and “Never Before” each bring together their own set of poorly-matching musicians to ill effect.  Iron Maiden’s version of “Space Truckin’” is the most shameful though, Bruce Dickinson’s operatic style just not fitting a Purple track. 
            That being said, there’s a lot that hits the mark here.  We get two great versions of “Highway Star,” a thrilling live version from hard rock supergroup Chickenfoot, and Glenn Hughes and Chad Smith once more tagteaming on a song, except this time with guitar virtuouso Steve Vai who manages to rock the solo differently from Ritchie Blackmore (said solo is often considered Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore’s finest.) 
            Also notable include Black Label Society’s “Pictures of Home,” and The Flaming Lips “Smoke on the Water.” 
The only band that takes complete and total license on here, however, is Metallica, covering the B-Side “When a Blind Man Cries” by transforming the balladry of the song into an emotional, heavy, and climatic top-off in the last minute; this is everything a cover should be, searing and original, yet somehow taking root in its source material.   
*** Stars


Too Fast for Love
Motley Crue

            No matter what your opinion is of Motley Crue, their debut will always stand as one of the finest hard rock albums of the 1980’s.  Released just a few years before the tide of hair bands to come, this album represents everything Crue is at their best—rude, raw, and loud. 
            Yet they were yet to lose themselves in the wave of generic metal and power ballads to come.  This debut is Crue at their absolute best, and is probably their only album without any filler on it. 
            “Live Wire” is the proper introduction to the band, a speedy riff matched with raw attitude and screeching sing along chorus.  A concert favorite to this day, “Live Wire” serves as the ultimate lead-in to this album filled with dirty, crushing rock and metal music.  The title track and “Piece of Your Action” were strong cuts and minor hits which showed the group’s obsessions with the typical sex, drugs, and rock n roll lyrical topics, but the deep cuts sometimes shine even more.     
            “Starry Eyes” is based off a killer riff and follows through with a fantastic chorus, while “Merry-Go-Round” proves a perfect tune to showcase their dripping live energy.  Meanwhile, songs like “Come On and Dance,” “On To The Show,” or “Public Enemy #1” are all extraordinarily raw and powerful considering their status as deep tracks. 
            The thing is, though other albums might’ve had the hits, this one had the consistency, crossing over even to the Bonus Tracks on most CD versions, including good previously unreleased songs like “Toast of the Town,” or the stellar live version of “Merry-Go-Round.”  This one’s a hard rock classic.

**** ½ Stars

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Part of my point in writing this blog is not only to explore new music, but old music that's maybe not given much attention any more, or never got it's due: as a result, I'm starting a new HIDDEN GEMS feature, where I take popular rock bands with a huge catalog and put together a playlist of their best material you've never heard of.  

In preparation for the KISS/Crue concert tonight at Comcast Theatre, I’ve been listening to more of both bands, but not just the stuff they’d be likely to play at the show.  Both bands have a rich catalogue including several tracks each that have gone largely unnoticed but every fan of the bands should give a listen:

KISS:  KISS has a pretty huge back catalogue they’ve accumulated over forty-plus years together.  It’d be difficult to distill every overlooked moment into a manageable playlist, or even define what an overlooked moment is.  For the purpose of this segment, I’m assuming casual fans looking for more KISS to enjoy already have their greatest hits, The Very Best Of KISS, and the undisputable classic Alive!, but nothing else.  If you don’t have those, and are a fan of the band, I highly recommend you get those two releases, or at least listen to them, as soon as you get the chance.  I intend this to serve as a sort of Best Of Part Two, and should fit onto a single standard-length disc (80 minutes.)
There’s a good chance you’ve heard a couple of these songs, (“Heaven’s on Fire,” “Creatures of the Night,” and Gene Simmons theme song “God of Thunder” are glaring omissions from several best of collections,) however, I hope there’s some new material for fans on here.  Of course, I can’t guarantee there isn’t a top-notch KISS song I’ve excluded from this list—I’d never have the time to pour through the entire 20+ album catalogue, nor is my word golden on this matter. 

1.)    “Psycho Circus”  Psycho Circus
2.)    “Ladies Room” Rock and Roll Over
3.)    “Who Wants to be Lonely” Asylum
4.)    “Mr. Speed” Rock and Roll Over
5.)    “Larger Than Life” Alive II
6.)    “Unholy” Revenge
7.)    “Hate” Carnival of Souls
8.)    “Shock Me” Love Gun
9.)    “Makin Love” Rock and Roll Over
10.) “Almost Human” Love Gun
11.)  “Heaven’s On Fire” Animalize
12.)   “Nowhere To Run” Gold: 1974-1982
13.)  “Domino” Revenge
14.)   “War Machine” Creatures of the Night
15.)  “Carr Jam 1981” Revenge
16.)   “Creatures of the Night” Creatures of the Night
17.)   “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose” Lick It Up
18.)   “God of Thunder” Destroyer (Resurrected)

 MOTLEY CRUE: Crue has a much less extensive catalogue than KISS, not to mention their heyday was not as consistent.  Nonetheless, they racked up less hits, and had several overlooked classics.  For the purposes of this playlist, we’ll assume you have/know their most recent best of, The Greatest Hits (version including “Saints of Los Angeles”,) and their new single, “Sex.” 

1.)    “City Boy Blues” Theatre of Pain
2.)    “Public Enemy #1” Too Fast for Love
3.)    “Bastard” Shout at the Devil
4.)    “Starry Eyes” Too Fast for Love
5.)    “Come On and Dance” Too Fast for Love
6.)    “Helter Skelter” Shout at the Devil
7.)    “Jailhouse Rock (Live)” Girls, Girls, Girls
8.)    “Merry Go-Round” Too Fast for Love
9.)    “Knock ‘Em Dead Kid” Shout at the Devil
10.)   “Hooligan’s Holiday” Motley Crue
11.)   “Mutherf***er of the Year” Saints of Los Angeles

Thursday, September 20, 2012


This is roughly the scale I use when reviewing:

***** = Classic
****= Amazing
***= Good
**= OK
*1/2= Poor
*= Horrid

Battle Born
The Killers

            The Killers time as pop superstars is probably over after this album, a kind of level off after substantial hits on each of their three previous releases.  It might not seem that way at first, “Flesh and Bones” sort of being a battle march the way Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen would do it, before leading into lead single, the borderline anthem “Runaways.” 
            However, this just doesn’t have the haunting or the beauty of all The Killers best tracks.  Sure, they’re more or less a singles based band, but this doesn’t really give them any room to transcend to anything else.  A lot of this is decent mellowed out rock that doesn’t really catch any attention. 
            Some material, like the title track or “A Matter of Time” have good feels to them, but nothing matches up to previous hits like “When We Were Young,” or “Mr. Brightside,” nor does this materialize as an album. 
            **1/2 Stars

Down IV, Part 1 – The Purple EP

            The longest running, and arguably best, Pantera offshoot, Down now has an established mode of songs, something which makes this Phil Anselmo fronted outfit a little bored as of late.  Still, the ingenious guitar work of Corrosion of Conformity’s Pepper Keenan helps the case somewhat. 
            This is actually a pretty solid release.  Beginning with the cliché of a rising guitar sound on “Levitation,” the band keeps things tight and heavy, if not always original, throughout most of the six track EP (overlong closer “Misfortune Teller” is the weak link.) 
            There’s plenty of crushing metal here, particularly the single “Witchtripper” and the riff wizardry of “The Curse,” which could well have been a Black Sabbath song.  However, Anselmo & crew show they haven’t forgotten the power of a slow-crusher.  Always the dealmaker on groove metal albums, this extended player’s fit in the genre is the strong “Open Coffins.” 
            Still though, there’s something good but generic about this release; any Pantera or Down fan should be sure to check this out. 

*** Stars

Aftermath of the Lowdown
Richie Sambora

            Whoddathunk?  Golden Age Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora can not only stand on his own, but put up a hell of a fight. 
            A treasure trove of blues, rockers, and ballads, Sambora’s newest release is such a breath of fresh air partly because of how completely unexpected the thing is.  Sambora, after all, is not a household name, though he is a major writing force for the group.    
            Sambora’s success then, comes from a couple things: primarily it’s his hidden talent in guitar, vocals, and even songwriting, but also that he isn’t clamoring for a hit, he’s just writing music like he knows how, and for himself.  The result is a surprisingly honest and powerful coherent set of eleven songs. 
            Furthermore, Sambora knows how to kick things off, pulling out all stops on “Burn That Candle Down,” a must for blues rock fans.  Yet what’s even more incredible is that, while most albums released in the digital age tend to start strong and finish weak, Sambora keeps his effort concentrated and consistent throughout the entire length of the disc. 
            Whether it’s the gentle balladry of “I’ll Always Walk Beside You,” the soaring “Every Road Leads Home To You,” or rocker “Nowadays,” Sambora has crafted something truly extraordinary here, something that deserves as many listeners as it can get. 

**** Stars

Head Down
Rival Sons

            Zeppelin revivalists with a thing for riffs, the Rival Sons have not only been productive since their 2009 debut, but have made a name for themselves amongst the dwindling hard rock crowd.  The previous Pressure and Time sounded at times as if it came right out of the 70’s, but their third seems more to hail from the 80’s. 
            Let me explain.  In the late 80’s, hard rockers Whitesnake took the hair metal formula but pumped up the blues-rock to the max, starting the tirade of bands with “Bad-Zeppelin-isms,” such as Kingdom Come and Blue Murder.  These groups had some good material sure, but they also had the tendency to sound like a watered down Led Zep.
  That’s exactly what the third Rival Sons album is.  After sounding like Zeppelin themselves on the second, the third has great riffs and energy (check out “Keep on Swinging” or “Wild Animal,”) but also has bloated pieces like the two part, overlong, “Manifest Destiny.”  Overall, it’s a mixed release for the group and a bit of a step backwards for them. 
**1/2 Stars

Unsung Heroes

Folk metal’s pretty much the most intriguing metal subgenre (unless you’re counting it’s offshoot, Pirate Metal,) but the weird thing, is there is no band that stands out as the triumphant champions of the genre, except maybe the more hard rock Flogging Molly. 
            This new Ensiferum album’s no different.  While it shines with an epic air over it, this record never materializes to anything, often sounding like tired metal music with odd instrumentation thrown in to some effect. 
            There’s also a substantial death metal and power metal influence on them, but this isn’t the best result I’ve seen of mixing the three.  While there’s nothing awful about this, it’s just dull and little stands out one way or another.

** Stars 


Very ‘Eavy Very ‘Umble
Uriah Heep

            In modern day, the cobweb encrusted David Byron on the cover is an appropriate metaphor for Uriah Heep’s dusty, rusted debut, an oft overlooked release which should be standing on the same platform as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin, who forged the fires of heavy metal in the pioneering year of 1970.  Undeniably, this was more of an influence on the onslaught of heavy metal acts of 1971-1975 than say, Led Zeppelin I, and even with its Deep Purple imitation act, Heep set the foundation for the progressive metal that would later be pioneered by Rush with releases like 2112, and Heep themselves on the four or so follow-ups to this.  But this isn’t a progressive record on its own; nor is it a heavy metal record.
 In fact, it’s not much of anything, basically failing to attain the cohesiveness of In Rock or Black Sabbath, or the hits of the first two Led Zeppelin records that would make those three remembered as Gods, while Heep is rarely brought into the conversation when discussing the beginnings of heavy metal.  
Even with all its dated production values and discombobulated structures, Very ‘Eavy Very ‘Umble still
rocks as a very heavy, very powerful record, well worthy of consideration as one of the first three of heavy metal. 
            Just listen to the loopy beginning to opener “Gypsy,” whirling in proggy glory before stabilizing on an intense study in early metal riffing.  This is just the beginning of a tour de force that provides a forcable blueprint for heavy metal.  “Walking In Your Shadow” channels the blues while “Dreammare” is a progressive and psychedelic monster. 
            Other highlights include riff-rockers like “Real Turned On” or “I’ll Keep On Trying,” as well as bonus track “Born In A Trunk” or “Lucy Blues,” a track that would foreshadow their later work. 
            The main attraction, however, is probably the monstrous “Bird of Prey.”  Chugging and shrieking its way through the intro, “Bird of Prey” is a song that intensifies throughout, making it perhaps one of the most overlooked songs of early hard rock and metal music, much like the album in general. 

**** Stars  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


This is roughly the scale I use when reviewing:

***** = Classic
****= Amazing
***= Good
**= OK
*1/2= Poor
*= Horrid


Away From The World
Dave Matthews Band

            Admittedly, I’ve never understood the big appeal of the Dave Matthew Band; while I’m a huge fan of diverse influences and jamming, both things the group are well known for, I’ve never really been able to establish a connection to their music.
            Nonetheless, one can tell their new album will fit in very well with the rest of the catalogue.  An album dominated by loose, but slightly rambunctious, alt-rock, fans will probably be enthralled from the intro to “Broken Things” and all the way through. 
            Clearly, the band is impassioned (check Dave’s vocal performance on “Mercy;” it almost makes me forgive him for his voice.)  The entire group feels comfortable, in place, throughout, adding textures and soaring instrumentation to nearly every song here. 
            Particularly organic, potent songs include “If Only,” and “The Riff,” both of which will make potential live favorites. 
            Yet the album no doubt reaches its crescendo with the last song, the nearly ten-minute “Drunken Soldier,” a lyrically and musically strong track that’s not only a great listen, but will make for some great jams. 
            While not an essential by any means, this is something any Dave fan (not me, heh) is going to want in their collection. 

***1/2 Stars 

Bob Dylan

            Fifty years and 35 albums on, Bob Dylan is still considered one of the greatest songwriters in modern music.  In terms of lyrical quality, he certainly doesn’t let up on “Tempest,” a dark firestorm of a record. 
            Dylan’s taken considerable flak from many (self-included) for his voice, which turns now much raspier than it ever was, sounding more like Louis Armstrong than the Dylan of old; still though, it is one of the weaker elements on this album. 
            Nonetheless, opener “Duquesne Whistle” I’m inclined to like more than many other Dylan songs.  It’s an electric folk song, with a darker mood than many of his other works, like walking through an abandoned saloon in an old Western movie. 
            This isn’t the only throwback to the past: “Early Roman Kings” is a practical rewrite of Muddy Waters’ famed “Mannish Boy.” 
“Scarlet Town” is a very atmospheric, careful track, while other notable highlights include “Narrow Way,” and “Pay in Blood.” 
The album’s centerpiece, however, is no doubt the stirring 14-minute title track.  Like any good song exceeding ten minutes, it’s a story, and an excellent one at that, telling the tale of the Titanic in Dylan’s usual concise and depth-filled style.   
Mostly though, it’s typical, though darker-than-normal, folk music, which actually makes this an interesting release.  Folk-Rock seems to have been on the rise as of late, and it shall be interesting to see how Dylan’s newest album holds up in that growing atmosphere.  Sure, it’s drastically different from what’s getting popular, and isn’t exactly screaming greatness (one or two seven minute-plus songs are fine, but this gets a little ridiculous), but it’s also as good as any for new folk fans to see where it all came from.     

*** Stars

La Futura
ZZ Top

            “I Gotsta Get Paid” is gutsy blues-rock, moving with riff, swagger and some bizarre cross between 70’s and 80’s ZZ Top, and a perfect introduction to their new album, one that makes a clear statement they’ve got their foot planted firmly where they want it, and they’re not moving it. 
            By that virtue, La Futura should satisfy plenty of fans, without exceeding expectations.  “Chartreuse” is a welcome callback to “Sharp Dressed Man” while bits like “Consumption” or “Heartache in Blue” are raw, soaking in the blues and forcefully satisfying. 
            However, it is filled out with a few spots of boring material, (“Over Now,” “It’s Too Easy, Manana”) making it not all that different from other recent releases from the band.  However, the dirty, grinding riffs throughout make for some of their best material since “Eliminator.”    

*** Stars

Fight or Flight

If post-grunge is today’s hair metal, Hoobastank is Black and Blue or Firehouse to Nickelback’s Poison.  That is, there’s very little original about the group, something reaffirmed on this release.  More or less, it’s generic hard rock music, without much punch or surprise to it. 
Of course, some people like a genre of music, whether or not it has surprises in it, and the riffs are decent enough, the lyrics spotted with introspection, and the choruses faintly melodic, enough so that the album will garner some fans.  Yet even most fans of the genre will no doubt be bored by this release and with good reason. 

*1/2 Stars


Green Day

            Anyone who still hasn’t seen the Green Day story behind “Good Riddance” and the “American Idiot” album should probably go out right now and buy/download the group’s 1994 masterpiece Dookie.
            Adorned with an explosive, cartoony, album cover and opening with something as raw and defiant as “Burnout,” it’s pretty clear this is a record taking punk to previously unseen levels.  Sure, it’s all raw, pure intensity, often compacted into two minutes or less, as it is that most punk goes. 
            This is no ordinary punk though—some of it is maybe (“In the End,” “Sassafras Roots,” etc,) –but at their core, Green Day are much more. 
            The unmistakable punk pop of “Welcome to Paradise” or “When I Come Around” is the most obvious examples.  The former  is driven by a three-chord riff and a slight rebellious attitude, with its chorus establishing it as more melodic than most punk and it’s bass bridge showing it to be not as repetitive as is most music of the genre.  The latter has an even greater pop substance to it, without ever forgetting its roots, Billy Joe Armstrong’s chorus being delivered with a certain nasal only he could ever pull off.
 Meanwhile, songs like “She” shows the punk side of Green Day at their absolute best. 
            It’s the stuff that breeds anger and defiance with poppier sensibilities, though, that makes for the five star material.
“Longview” is pretty much the embodiment of what Green Day stand for.   Drummer Tre Cool starts going on a simple drum beat as the warping bass of Mike Dirnt joins in to provide a solid backing for Armstrong’s snarling verse: “Sit around and watch the tube, but nothing's on / I change the channels for an hour or two / Twiddle my thumbs just for a bit / I'm sick of all the same old shit / In a house with unlocked doors / And I'm f***ing lazy.”  It’s pure Green Day, and perhaps one of their finest songs. 
“Basket Case” has a similar manic feel to it, driven by a guitar riff this time, and opening with Armstrong asking listeners “Do You Have the Time / To listen to me whine / about nothing and everything at once.”  Yes we do.
Members of groups like the Sex Pistols have often criticized Green Day, saying they’re not a true punk band, that they don’t have the right attitude, but maybe that’s what makes Green Day so successful: they care about the music more than a band like the Sex Pistols ever could. 

****1/2 Stars


Magpies of Fire/Victorian Machinery
Red Hot Chili Peppers

The second release in the “I’m With You” B-Sides series is a definite improvement over the first duo of tracks.   While both songs were worthwhile for a Peppers nut, none of them were for the casual listener.  Sure, it’s just B-Sides, but the Peppers have a tendency of turning out bonus tracks that would make for A-grade album material. 
This time, they’re certainly back in the groove, at least with the excellent “Victorian Machinery,” a chaotic and sporadic track based on the spurting rhythm guitar of Josh Klinghoffer, and the rambunctious rhythm held in by the ultimate bassist-drummer combo of Flea and Chad Smith. 
“Magpies of Fire” isn’t quite the same experience, following much closer along the lines of last months “Strange Man,” but with a certain beauty and eloquence to it only Anthony Kiedis could weave. 

“Victorian Machinery” - ***1/2 Stars
“Magpies of Fire” - **1/2 Stars

“Let Yourself Go” by Green Day:  This is the third single from the first part of Green Day’s upcoming three-part Uno/Dos/Tre album.  More than likely, these are the only three songs that would’ve made the cut on the distilled version, but nonetheless, this one’s not a bad song, even if the band’s obviously starting to fade.  Sure, it’s got real defiance to it, Billy Joe Armstrong spewing “f-bombs” as usual, but there’s something distant about this that already makes me wish the album was more.  Here’s hoping I’m wrong. --*** Stars

“Sex” by Motley Crue: Finally!  Crue has amended the greatest disparity in their catalog by naming a song simply “Sex.”  Not as good a song title as “Muther****er of the Year,” but continues their recent habit of releasing great singles.  This is pretty straightforward Crue, filled with all the riffery and raunch you’d demand of Crue in any day and age.  This one delivers on a stadium level.  --**** Stars

“Hell or Hallelujah” by KISS:  Continuing KISS’ habit as of late to make predictable, cookie cutter hard rock, the single from their upcoming Monster album isn’t exactly promising.  The previous Sonic Boom was average but had a strong single in “Modern Day Delilah.”  Nonetheless, the song isn’t awful, just kind of boring.  --** Stars

“Stand Up” by All That Remains: A more or less predictable melodic metal song on every level that will most likely be enjoyed by fans of the band, and held in disdain by those who aren’t.  --** Stars

“Sacrimony – Angel of Afterlife” by Kamelot: One of the higher quality power metal bands give fans more of what they love on their new single, a sweeping track that foreshadows a conceptual album. 
  --*** Stars

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Covering the major releases of Tuesday, September 4th......

This is roughly the scale I use when reviewing:

***** = Classic
****= Amazing
***= Good
**= OK
*1/2= Poor
*= Horrid

Night Visions
Imagine Dragons

            It’s not really my favorite format, but I’d sure as hell love to get Imagine Dragon’s Night Visions on vinyl.  Just imagine taking the thing out of its sleeve, popping it into a vinyl player, setting the needle down on the black plastic, and collapsing onto your bed holding the album sleeve above your head just as an ethereal instrument arrangement introduces “Radioactive.”  The album cover just fits the music so well. 
            If I were to take this image further (I am) I’d say that the lone figure in the center is the band and the pentagonal pillars of stone surrounding it represent the different kind of fans the band is destined to have. 
            See, the thing is Imagine Dragons’ debut has something for pretty much any listener of modern music, (save hip-hop/rap.)  Sing or hum along choruses for the Pop crowd, introspective lyrics for admirers of modern rock, atmosphere for the alternative crowd, drops and synths for listeners of electronic*, and something bordering between dark and light for the metalhead in us all. 
            The aforementioned “Radioactive,” in fact, embodies this the most out of anything on here.  The little touches and nuances the band give this three-minute track are just perfect, especially the strained gasp during the end of the first verse. 
            Other songs similarly shine with a complete atmospheric feel to them, particularly “On Top of the World,” a song adorned with jangling guitars, passioned whistles, and vocals that remind me oddly of Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis.  There’s a great folk-y feel to this song that just makes it very spirited and is one of those songs that will likely be unjustly overlooked.  “Amsterdam” has a similar feel, sans the folk, being more driven by a bass and vocal verse with a weaker, but still impressive, chorus.
            “Demons” is another strong introspective pop song about a loved one finding out about your dark side.     
            Meanwhile, “Tiptoe” is perhaps the best song that wasn’t previously released.  It goes in a similar vein as “Radioactive,” but it’s got stronger vocals and a very alt-pop chorus.  While it’s not an obvious hit, it has a fighting chance and there's just a very good feel to it. 
            Of course, the obvious hit is/was “It’s Time,” a great song driven by percussive claps and a chorus that would’ve been sung at High School Graduations across the country if it had caught on a month prior.  There’s something both mournful and hopeful about the band’s proclamation that “It's time to begin, isn't it? / I get a little bit bigger, but then I'll admit / I'm just the same as I was / Now don't you understand / That I'm never changing who I am.” 
            Lyrically, none of these songs break new ground, but they don’t retread either.  Even what is perhaps the most derivative track here, “Hear Me” is a good listen, though I cringe when the chorus starts and I get the dreaded temptation to sing Avril Lavigne’s “Since You’ve Been Gone.” (C’mon, I dare you not to feel the same way.)  
Matched with the music, the lyrical content seems fresh, and perhaps goes a little deeper than does most popular music nowadays. 
            The overall result is, while suffering a significant dip in quality in the second half (I had a hard time making it through “Every Time” even once), a cohesive and powerful milestone for alternative music. 
Maybe this is just me, but I can’t shake the mental image of Imagine Dragons being some offbeat fusion of The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Coldplay crafted in an alternate universe.  The former is one of my favorite band, while the latter I can’t help but cringe at.  Yet I definitely weigh this debut as a good, if not excellent, one, and I can’t imagine any fan of either band detesting of these guys.   
Imagine Dragons will be a surefire breakout band this year, but the question on the minds of anyone who already knows and loves the band will be if the album, as a whole, is worth getting.  After all, four of the five songs off the Continued Silence EP are represented on their debut, three of which are obvious single choices.  As one might’ve guessed, my resounding answer is yes. 

*I’ll count it as music though it’s arguably just noise….
**** Stars

Matchbox Twenty

            Y’know, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy anything about Matchbox Twenty’s “comeback” album if it came out two months ago, because I just got over their music being overplayed in 2002 right around then.  
            Yet since I am, and have been listening to them a bit lately, I was mildly excited to see if they would be able to turn up the guitars one last time for Rob Thomas’ swooning, “smooth” (Santana fans will get that pun) vocals to croon cliches of 90’s rock one last time. 
            Well, there is no “Push” or “Unwell” here, but maybe that’s a good thing.  As it is, songs like “She’s So Mean” won’t infect the masses, but sport a solid hook, and one of the group’s better lyrics; a similar analysis would apply to “Overjoyed,” except for “dumber” lyrics.
“Parade” is the conventional choice for a post-grunge band to open their album with.  An upbeat rocker with riffs fans will love but that will never make a commercial splash, the opener is certainly one of the better things on here. 
In the end though, MB20 in 2012 isn’t much different than MB20 in 2002: some strong melodies, some weaker ones, some filler, some meaningful tracks.  The only difference is that it is 2012, and post-grunge here reaffirms itself as one of the less endurable rock movements. 

** Stars


            …..But wait, MB20 isn’t the only 90’s rock band unexpectedly releasing an album!  Yup, Smashmouth are still alive, and they haven’t evolved much since the Shrek movies.  This album is pretty much what you’d expect, and therefore, I wouldn’t expect anybody to listen to it, unless you too get intrigued by Smashmouth still being around.  Which actually should be everybody. 
If you do, the seven year old in you will be filled with uncontrollable glee.  The poppy sentiment is very 2000’s, as a listen to opening track “Perfect Planet” will affirm.  It’s actually kind of a catchy song.  In fact, a lot of these are fun little romps back to the world in 1999.
 “Magic” is the would-be hit, but it is kinda enjoyable, and there was something doofily awesome about “Live to Love Another Day,” and ridiculously appealing to “Flippin’ Out.”    
If nothing else though, you have to give them credit for having the audacity to name a song “Justin Bieber,” in which they ironically insinuate he’s going to go out of style in between a chorus of “whoah oh oh oh oh oh oh whoah.”  This might actually be worth picking up if I ever feel like reverting to my childhood self.  So, sometime soon. 

*** Stars

The Sheepdogs

If you too are utterly and devastatingly perplexed by the prospect of a Canadian Southern Rock Band in 2012 called Sheepdog, don’t worry about it and just listen to the music.  It’s worth it.    
Overall, there’s actually a very garage-y feel to it, the thing having a “laid back” (first song on the album) feel, filled with guitar fuzz and psychedelia.  In an age where you can’t escape the computer’s influence on music, it’s refreshing to hear something like this, which is to say, raw, comparable to early Black Keys or any White Stripes. 
That’s not to diminish from it’s very 70’s feel.  Songs like “Feeling Good” or “The Way It Is” breathe and speak 70’s.  All punning aside, it really is a laid back album.  Sure, there’s much higher quality southern rock and boogie rock, and the production doesn’t feel that much different than what’s on this, but this is much more accurate a continuation of the style than modern Lynyrd Skynyrd or Country music. 
When it comes down to it, listening to this reminds me of my phase where I tried to find “sleeper” albums of the early 70’s, that is, Black Sabbath, Cream, and Deep Purple sound-alikes.  In the end, I enjoyed the ride, but there wasn’t very many songs I’d come back to. 

**1/2 Stars

Emerald Forest and the Sun
Swallow The Sun

            Admittedly, I find most doom and death metal offputting, so who knows what possessed me to listen to a song off the latest album of a doom/death metal hybrid group.  Regardless, it’s not at all what one would expect, the indistinguishable vocals and lyrics of death and the boringly heavy churning of doom being mostly absent from this release. 
Instead what we get is something oddly akin to sludge meets folk.  The first track “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird” almost channels The Lord of the Rings, Celtic-ish chanting adding to the epic feel of the nearly ten minute song.  It’s certainly original, and not something you’d expect coming from an extreme metal band on either side of the genre.  Inevitably, it does go into full-throttle screaming, but never loses the melody and eloquence to it, kind of making me want to charge off into some sort of medieval battle with the thing on. 
There’s some odd, unexpected element to merely every song: melodic singing, acoustic jangles, chords more akin to power metal, whatever it may be, there’s definitely more to this band than their supposed label. 
A lot of the songs, however, never take wind beyond their sweeping set ups, showing a band with more than meets the eye that just can’t channel it all into one concentrated stream of music, but might someday.  In the meantime, I’m off to listen to some of their earlier stuff.

*** Stars


Screaming for Vengeance
Judas Priest


    Thirty years on and there’s still not many concert openers that can top “Hellion/Electric Eye,” but what makes it so great is that it also works tremendously well as an album opener.  The amount of energy built up in just 40 seconds by the dual guitar leads of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing is unparalleled, and that it’s followed up by the speed riffery of “Electric Eye” makes it all the more incredible. 
            They’re a perfect intro for Screaming for Vengeance, one of Priest’s most well-acclaimed albums.  Rob Halford’s screams and shrieks hint here at an Orwellian Society, the “electric eye” being Big Brother, whose part is played by Halford for chilling effect. 
            Though Priest don’t carry this energy through all ten songs, the next one certainly does, “Riding on the Wind” being another live standard for the band, and a furious one at that, being one of longtime drummer Dave Holland’s best performances. 
            Other tracks don’t have the same live energy as the first few, but remain high quality metal, such as the simmering “(Take These) Chains” or the Halford screamer “Bloodstone.” 
            Halford’s most impressive shrieker of the album, if not their career, is no doubt “Screaming for Vengeance,” a song embodied by the album cover and blaring into a red and seething intensity.  With a blaring, echoing chorus and a devastating riff, this too is Priest at their finest.
            Of course, the adrenaline-pumping “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” may be their best known, a song both prime metal and a showcase for Priest’s commercial sensibilities in the early 80’s. 
            In fact, the only bad songs on here are “Pain and Pleasure” and “Fever,” both a bit of an 80’s metal cliché with no hooks or memorable moments. 
            Priest choose a song with a decidedly AC/DC crunch to it to close out on, the superb “Devil’s Child.”  By the end of the song, metalheads were all the more enamored with the Priest, and this still stands as one of the better albums from one of the most influential names in metal. 
            The recent 30th anniversary edition couples the original album with five excellent (per usual) live performances of songs from the album, as well as the outtake “Prisoner Of Your Eyes,” a respectable song, not to mention adorning it all with an even cooler cover than the original. 

****1/2 Stars  

Monday, September 3, 2012


As a bit of a trial run, my first post will cover some notable releases from the past month.  I'm using a five star system, one being that it killed some brain cells making it through, and five being it's a classic, and any fan of the genre should go out and listen to right now.


Last of a Dyin’ Breed
Lynyrd Skynyrd

            For the most part, I’ve stayed away from the reunion-era Skynyrd studio albums; however, given the hype this one and the last (Gods + Generals) received, I figured I’d check this one out.  The content, it turns out, isn’t the least bit unexpected. 
            Since the once-were titans of southern rock are essentially a tribute band, down now only to one major post-plane crash member, guitarist Gary Rossington, something about this feels like a cover album, the band hashing out a lengthy platter of southern rock clichés, but with amped up, modern sounding guitars.  Sometimes it even gets painful, such as on “Homegrown,” which has lyrics most unworthy of its music. 
            The truth is, at this point, Skynyrd is tarnishing the original’s legacy, at least to my mind.  Sure, no song, when taken as a whole, makes my ears bleed, nothing makes me perk up in delight either, which was basically the expectations held up on nearly every song they did in their original six album run in the 70’s. 
Yet some fans will welcome this as a way to relish in Skynyrd’s sound and music, especially if they’ve gotten overplay fatigue from the originals.  For them, it serves a purpose, and will definitely be enjoyable, but for those holding out hope that they’ll ever be half the band they were, it’s time to give up now. 
** Stars

The Glorious Dead
The Heavy

            After 2009’s House That Dirt Built, it seemed certain that Britain’s retro-soul group The Heavy were about to make a break through.  The single “How You Like Me Now?” was used in a nearly uncountable amount of movies, television shows, and commercials, the whole album was something refreshing and unknown, and as of late, artists like Adele have been riding different types of soul to mainstream success. 
            Problem is, from the Vincent Price mocking intro to the album, it’s clear that what The Heavy made was not the follow-up to The House That Dirt Built, but The House That Dirt Built Part Two.  It’s damned powerful, but it’s not winning any converts.    
So no breakthrough for The Heavy.  But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad album.
In fact, “What Makes a Good Man?” is a great song.  Lyrically and musically, it’s a track taking R&B to its highest peaks; even though it’s not totally original, it’s a song that catches you with rising horns, raspy vocals, and colossal drums, and even some handclaps thrown in for good measure. 
Elsewhere, “Big Bad Wolf” is probably the most original thing on this album, and its chaotic wellspring of funk and soul is spurting from the song. 
There’s honestly not a wasted song on here, despite a lack of identity compared to the last album.  “Same Ol” or “Be Mine,” for example, reminds me of various tracks from previous releases, but undoubtedly, The Heavy is a band with their own sound, far different than anything that’s come before.
Still, there’s something about this album, and maybe this band, that they’ll always be on the verge of breakthrough.  I’ll always be rooting for them, as will others, I’m sure, but perhaps they’re destined to toil towards a small group of fans and never see the mainstream.  Not that that’s a bad thing. 

***1/2 Stars

Circles Around the Sun

Dispatch is very odd, even for a jam band.  Admittedly, this new release is my first contact with the group, yet it’s infinitely interesting, even when it lacks a track that sticks to the ribs.  The musical portrait painted on this record shows a band with perhaps too broad a range of interests, ranging from reggae to folk, electronics to roots rock, and of course, the loose jam band mentality shared by bands such as Phish, Dave Mathews Band, or Gov’t Mule. 
The title track starts off the album as a sort of statement as to what listeners are in for; indeed, it’s probably the best thing on the whole affair, but that’s not to diminish the general quality of the record, which while not super memorable in a traditional sense, makes for a great unique listen. 

** 1/2 Stars


What Could Have Been Love/Lover Alot

It's been ten years, and many breakup rumors, since Aerosmith has released any original music.  Now that they're back and counting down to a Winter 2012 release for their new album, Music From Another Dimension, they've been releasing more and more information about it, culminating in these second and third singles.  The first song we heard, "Legendary Child," was pummeling but lacked melody.  These two songs correct the problem, somewhat.  "What Could Have Been Love" is a soaring, melodic, but somewhat typical  Aerosmith power ballad.  It's a solid song, veering away from their 90's style and falling somewhere between the ballads of the 70's and 80's.  Meanwhile, "Lover Alot" is the more raucous sort, another pummeling rocker led off by Joey Kramer's drums.  Like "Legendary Child," Steven Tyler's famous voice seems a little stretched thing on this song, but it's got a chorus that can get stuck in your head, like most of Aerosmith's best stuff.  Neither of these songs are revelations, but it's good to know the band's back in the groove, moving on from the past ten years of stagnancy, or the ten of sucking up to MTV that preceded it.  

*** Stars (for both)

Strange Man/Long Progression
Red Hot Chili Peppers

The first in a series of nine double singles culled from songs recorded during the I'm With You sessions, these two new tracks from the Peppers don't make me scream "I can't believe they left this off the album," but they're worthwhile listens nonetheless.  Usually, the Peppers release B-sides of equal or better quality to most of the songs from the actual album.  However, these two, while interesting, are no such beasts.  "Strange Man" is kind of a soulful bit, very much the product of lead singer Anthony Kiedis.  It doesn't have the hooks or fiery bass leads of the previous album, but it's a nice, mellow song nonetheless.  "Long Progression" is a little more lively.  Bassist Flea leads the music, which is funky but not aggressively so, but guitarist Josh Klinghoffer gets a chance to shine, which is definitely a good thing.  Still, I'm a hardcore RHCP fan, and that's pretty much the only group to whom these songs will appeal to.  

("Strange Man" - ** Stars;  "Long Progression" - **1/2 stars)

Destroyer: Resurrected

More than 35 years after its release and there’s still something powerfully fun and energetic about the intro to “Detroit Rock City,” one of seemingly thousands party anthems by KISS.  You can say they’re a dated joke as much as you want, as is sometimes custom of the public, but even beyond the makeup, the stage tricks, and the platform boots, KISS brings the power of the rock arena to your home. 
Figuring this was as good a time as any to make everybody remember this, KISS released a remastered version of their seminal Destroyer album last month, and the remaster does its job.  On the aforementioned “Detroit Rock City,” the mix points out how important each member was to the bad, and also strips back some of the 70’s production values.  The entire remaster is very well done, and the album itself is one of the greatest of classic hard rock, as becomes clear during each listen.
“King of the Night Time World” is a chaotically poppy rock song, with guitar squealing and blaring in the background, while “God of Thunder,” always an overlooked gem in the KISS catalogue, keeps all its thumping bass, creeping effects, and dark atmosphere, to reaffirm itself as Gene Simmons theme song (it’s the song he usually does the spitting blood/breathing fire routine to in concert.)  Shout It Out Loud, is of course, the other obvious anthem on here, another sloganeering hard rock song with attitude, as was KISS’ forte. 
Other standouts on the album included “Flaming Youth,” probably the song that got the most improvement from the rerelease, “Sweet Pain,” a bit of infectious dark pop, and “Do You Love Me,” a drum driven track snarling about the possibilities of real love for the rock star (hint: it’s minimal.) 
Interestingly enough, the song that holds up the least is “Beth,” a number one hit back in the 70’s, which lacks the sonic punch of other KISS songs. 
            Nonetheless, this is one of the highest quality remasters I’ve heard, a privilege the original was both worthy and in need of. 

***** Stars