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

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