Kraftwerk – Europe Endless Video

Kraftwerk – Europe Endless: http://youtu.be/gDKiPtBbBQY

I must be off to record a radio spot and to rehearse for a solo show this Sunday in Austin.  I will write more later.  In the meantime, may the dream of Kraftwerk’s Europe Endless take you as far away from Monday morning as you need to go…

Songs of Innocence Review

U2 is a hard band to write a review for.  They come with so much history and baggage at this point, and one must try when writing a review to keep your eye on the donut and not the hole.  When an artist has put our groundbreaking work in the past that should neither give them a free pass on new work nor condemn it.  A piece of art should live in its own unique space.

I have long defended Bono and the gang to friends and loved ones.  However, even I felt like Bono had gone through the looking glass after reading a recent interview book.  He, and the other members of U2 have lived such extraordinary lives, more so than even most pop stars, is it even possible for them to relate to most people?

I am happy to report that their new album Songs of Innocence is perhaps their best album since All That You Can’t Leave Behind and possibly even the criminally underrated Pop. 

One of the reasons U2 has worked over the years as a band is that each member has unique qualities that compliment each other.  They are a true band.  Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton build the foundation that The Edge and Bono dance upon.  The Edge paints in soundscapes as much as he plays guitar.

One of the things that has been out of whack on their last few records is those relationships.  The Edge has been playing more traditional guitar.  Meanwhile the rhythm section has been mixed towards the background.  Bono, who was a superb lyricist from the late 80’s through the 90’s seemed to fall back into the sort of vague poetry that often plagued his earlier work on the last few records.  His lyrics often seemed like they wanted to say more than they were actually saying.

First off, Bono has righted the ship somewhat on this album.  There is a theme running through this album, a loose theme, and it seems as if Bono is looking at where he has come from and the music and politics that shaped his youth.  You will see many reviews comment upon this.  I have always felt that Bono was at his best when he was playing the sinner and asking the big questions.  This started in the late 80’s and came to fruition with the 90’s trilogy.  Other than the songs that dealt explicitly with his father on How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb his lyrics started to feel bereft of meaning.  He wrote some good character studies on No Line on the Horizon,  but not enough that the album thematically gelled as a whole.  I still wouldn’t rank the new albums lyrics along side his best work, but in not worrying about making the big statement for once, and instead focusing on his own life, he has gained some of the ground that he lost.

Meanwhile the rhythm section also seems to establish themselves more than on previous albums since the 90’s.  That is not to say they are turning out the kind of indispensable grooves they once were, but it does seem to be an improvement.  Part of the problem is the mix.  The drums and bass are mixed more in the background than they once were.  This trend started on HTDAAB.

I still miss the days when The Edge came up with new guitar sounds on almost every track.  On Zooropa, the title track from that album, his guitar sounds like laser beams.  That album still sounds like the future 20 years on.

However, these criticisms aside they have crafted an album of relatively intelligent lyrics, super strong melodies, and they are once again relying on arrangements that play to the strengths of all four band members.  No one quite plays drums like Larry Mullen or guitar like the Edge.  Adam Clayton is a Zen master on bass.  This album reminds me more of early period U2 than anything they have claimed was influenced by that period in recent years.

Usually when I say something is the work of craftsmen, as opposed to divine inspiration,  I mean it as a slight dig.  However this album feels like it was constructed by master craftsmen.  This is not an industry changing album the way The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby was.  However this is an excellent collection of songs that is played by a band that slowly seem to be understanding their strengths again.  Most bands would be happy to create an album of such songs.

I was starting to think that U2’s best years were behind them.  While their last two records had moments, A Moment of Surrender, Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Own, Unknown Caller, Yaweh,  and others, this album is made up of strong songs front to back.  If these songs feel like minor victories in a major catalog, there may be some truth in that.  However, this album shows that they are still capable of a complete artistic statement.  As someone that grew up on their music I hope that this is the first step in a creative rebirth.   Only time will tell.

If Richard Pryor Fronted a Metal Band

One of the albums I have been listening to is the new Body Count album, Manslaughter.   This is a ridiculously absurd album.  By lead singer Ice-T’s own admission this album is grindhouse.  It is meant to be over-the-top.   Songs about torture, black voodoo sex, and murder permeate the album.  However, this is absurdity with a purpose:  The record is meant to show how meaningless the modern recording industry is.  This album is a comedy record as well as a heavy metal record.  It is more laugh out loud funny than it is offensive, and that is by design.  Ice-T is just having fun. 

The riffs and songs in general don’t rise to the level of Body Count’s self titled debut.  However, anyone that liked that record will find enough to like here. 

“Guys have gone from ‘Fight the Power’ to ‘What does Kim Kardashian have on today?’  What the fuck is going on?”

Ice is telling dirty jokes and speaking truth to power, often at the same time.  On the song Pray for Death he imagines torturing a bully by splitting his nuts with a golf club. 

“America’s losing their cribs while you are bragging about the shit you did or shit you bought.  Most of it lies.  Yeah you know I know you know.”

It’s like if Slayer and Public Enemy made a record together.  In another era this album might be simply entertaining, but unfortunately it is one of the few records I have heard recently where it feels like something is on the line. 

Imagine if an angry Richard Pryor fronted an extreme metal band.  You’ll arrive somewhere close to where these proceedings go.  If that sounds at all interesting to you check it out.  If you have never heard Body Count start with their self titled debut.  If you like that album this is a worthy follow up.  

U2 Gives Away New Album for Free

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I’ve been dealing with a  couple personal issues.  In the meantime it has come to my attention that through Apple, U2 has given their new album to anyone that has an iTunes account.  It was announced yesterday, without warning, that this would be happening.  If you have an iTunes account just go to the purchased section in the main menu, and click on the cloud in the upper right hand corner of the new record, the record is called Songs of Innocence.  I’ve been listening all day, but I still haven’t heard it enough to write anything close to a review.  One will be forthcoming once I wrap my mind around the new record.  

How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?

I have been listening to the new Sinead O’Connor album today, but it is too complex of a record to absorb since its released last night at midnight.  The album, by the way, is called I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss.  I never really listened to Sinead O’Connor during the time when she was at the top of the charts.  I was off listening to whatever music a young male listens to back then.  She didn’t seem “cool” at the time, and that is my loss.  Luckily I have realized by now what a tremendous talent that she is.  

I discovered her best album first.  Her last album, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?, is one of my absolute favorite records of the last few years.  It is one of those albums that manages to blend the personal and political, where the artist is able to look out at the world with both empathy and disgust.  The album is also first rate when it comes to music and melody.  Every song is well arranged and every melody is full of hooks that will stick with you long after you have listened to the record.  However, where an album that takes on so many topics and styles might appear disjointed if you hadn’t heard it, the production is simply top notch and ties everything together.   The writing, most of which is O’Connor’s, also has a lot to do with the unity of the record.  An album with so many themes works because you get a sense that you are getting a full picture of the artist as a human being.  The record sounds warm and inviting, it sounds current, without the digital brittleness of many modern records, and without any production tricks that will sound dated in a few years.  When I listen to it, I can’t help but think of albums like Born to Run, Achtung Baby, and Vauxhall and I.  These are perfect records that haven’t aged a day since they were released.  Of course O’Connor’s album won’t change the world like those records did, because her media light wasn’t shining at its brightest when it was released, but it is in their caliber.  

First of all O’Connor can flat out sing.  She is also an excellent writer.  The very things that got her in trouble, even though she was right on SNL if not always, is the very thing that makes her such a unique talent.  You get the sense that whatever she is singing is something that she deeply believes in that moment.  She may change her mind in the next minute, and infuriate people, but in the moment she is completely true to her convictions.  

This album is political, but not in a current events kind of way, unless you count the songs that still seem to hold a grudge for the religion that did her, and so many others damage in Ireland.  Her songs are too character driven, too personal, to be merely be songs that are ripped from the newspapers.  She writes a song from the point of view of a junkie, where despite the junkie’s obvious failings, and the song’s dark mood, you can’t help but feel empathy for the character.  This at a time when the War on Drugs is appearing more absurd then ever.  However, there are no statements made, just on characters story.  One of the most powerful songs on the album is the closing tour de force V.I.P.  In this song she tears down celebrity and religion in equal measures.  I know some of you may find the fact that a celebrity is taking on celebrity as too much to bear.  However, the passion and the intelligence in this song should silence any criticism.  

O’Connor writes about joy in love with all of the same passion and intelligence that she uses in her more scathing works.  Writing a love song that actually is infused with joy and love is a lot harder to do than one would think.  It’s hard to describe an emotion that is so often talked about in cliches with any kind of originality.  On several songs she manages this feat with ease.  Above I have posted a live version of the single for this record, The Wolf is Getting Married.  I dare you to watch that video at say that she cannot sing.  

If you are a fan of intelligent pop music and the power of song than this is a record that I can’t recommend enough.  She may not be as fashionable as she once was, but there she is, off on her own, with the same passion and conviction that she had when everyone was watching.  

 

 

 

Johnny Marr Strikes Again

When Johnny Marr first joined The Cribs I watched a few live videos and didn’t get it.  (He has joined, played with, and now left the band by this point.)  I thought the Jarman brothers, the three brothers that make up the band, looked goofy and that they couldn’t sing.  Keep in mind I like a lot of people that “can’t sing”.  I was dead wrong as the album that the four of them made together, Ignore the Ignorance, is simply fantastic.

First of all, the guitar playing is top notch.  With Johnny Marr onboard you would expect no less, but this is a great TWO guitar band as Ryan Jarman plays a perfect foil to Johnny Marr.  Sure, Johnny Marr is doing a great deal of the most interesting stuff, but Jarman compliments him excellently.  I love records where each guitarist is panned to one side of the recording so you can hear what each of them are doing and also how they compliment each other.  It’s exciting to hear Johnny Marr, who is known for a great deal of overdubs, play as if he is playing live.  There are actually very few overdubs on this record period that couldn’t be replicated by a live band.  There is some occasional acoustic guitar, keyboards, etc., but they are sparse and usually relegated to background duty.  I think this is some of Johnny Marr’s best guitar playing outside of The Smiths, and his tone on this record is as good as it’s eve been.  It sounds as if you could take a bite out of it and chew on it for awhile.

The album is also one of those albums where the whole thing is strong and listenable.  The lyrics are far superior than most pop music, if not reaching the level of true poetry.  And there are plenty of great pop melodies.  The entire band plays well together and, except for those few small overdubs, it almost sounds like a band playing live.  It was produced by Nick Launay who also produced the completely strange and captivating Public Image Ltd. album The Flowers of Romance.  There is a great deal of guitar oriented British pop music, but this is among the best in recent years.

Dark Despair and Gallows Humor

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In order to not completely burn myself out on the new Morrissey disc, World Peace is None of your Business, which I could easily listen to a thousand times until I need to move on, I have been mixing it up with some Frank Sinatra.  I especially like Sinatra’s music where he is drowning in gloom.  This would be on albums like Only the Lonely and No One Cares.  These are albums filled with maudlin songs full of despair over lost love.  Unlike teenage pop songs, where no matter how sad the music is you know that they will eventually be OK, because they are young and will bounce back, this is music for adults, where all hope has gone out of the window.  In teenage pop, which I love as well, it feels like a tragedy, but we know it is not.  On these Sinatra albums they are the sound of a middle age man running out of time to correct his mistakes.  In fact, the narrator of each song, may be out of time, forever destined to walk the earth bearing the grief of his lost love, like Marley’s Ghost with his chains.

When things go this jet black, maybe it’s just me, but I also feel like they go through the looking glass and cross over to a certain kind of gallows humor.  This in no way dims the true sadness of these records, nor do I mean it in any kind of ironic sense as if I’m smirking at the albums.  But tragedy and comedy have always been very close to me.  It is through this sort of transition between tragedy and dark, dark comedy, that emotional release comes and the records actually become therapeutic.  Instead of wallowing in the despair of the narrator, as voyeurs into the world of the narrator, we can exercise our own emotions and transcend them.