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.

Anna Calvi Desire Video

Anna Calvi is a singular talent.  I’m still discovering her music and forming an opinion about it, but there is no doubt that she is something special.  Her guitar playing is fantastic and she can go to powerful operatic places with her voice.  I’m always happy to stumble upon someone that is going in their own direction.  

Trouble In Mind

This is one of my favorite songs of all time.  Much like the movie from which it came, of which Trouble In Mind is also the title, it creates its own world.  Alan Rudolph’s movie is a masterpiece of modern noir.  I can get lost in this song forever and it is one of the few songs that I can put on repeat for several plays every time I hear it.  I know that this is an old standard, and that there are purists who will probably like other versions, one that don’t feature synthesizers and reverb drenched trumpet, but this is the one for me.  It’s a sad song, but one in which the very acceptance of that sadness seems to take on some kind of healing quality.  Like all the best art it makes you feel more than one emotion at the same time, and this version is highly emotional.  Marianne Faithfull sings it as if she was born to, and we are all better off for its existence.  

Only an Expert Lyrics

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Now only an expert can deal with the problem
Because half the problem is seeing the problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

So if theres no expert dealing with the problem
Its really actually twice the problem
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

Now in America we like solutions
We like solutions to problems
And theres so many companies that offer solutions
Companies with names like Pet Solution
The Hair Solution. The Debt Solution. The World Solution. The Sushi Solution.
Companies with experts ready to solve the problems.
Cause only an expert can see theres a problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only and expert can deal with the problem

Now lets say youre invited to be on Oprah
And you dont have a problem
But you want to go on the show, so you need a problem
So you invent a problem
But if youre not an expert in problems
Youre probably not going to invent a very plausible problem
And so youre probably going to get nailed
Youre going to get exposed
Youre going to have to bow down and apologize
And beg for the publics forgiveness.
Cause only an expert can see theres a problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

Now on these shows, the shows that try to solve your problems
The big question is always How can I get control?
How can I take control?
But dont forget this is a question for the regular viewer
The person whos barely getting by.
The person whos watching shows about people with problems
The person whos part of the 60% of the U.S. population
1.3 weeks away, 1.3 pay checks away from homelessness.
In other words, a person with problems.
So when experts say, Lets get to the root of the problem
Lets take control of the problem
So if you take control of the problem you can solve the problem.
Now often this doesnt work at all because the situation is completely out of control.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

So who are these experts?
Experts are usually self-appointed people or elected officials
Or people skilled in sales techniques, trained or self-taught
To focus on things that might be identified as problems.
Now sometimes these things are not actually problems.
But the expert is someone who studies the problem
And tries to solve the problem.
The expert is someone who carries malpractice insurance.
Because often the solution becomes the problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

Now sometimes experts look for weapons.
And sometimes they look everywhere for weapons.
And sometimes when they dont find any weapons
Sometimes other experts say, If you havent found any weapons
It doesnt mean there are no weapons.
And other experts looking for weapons find things like cleaning fluids.
And refrigerator rods. And small magnets. And they say,
These things may look like common objects to you
But in our opinion, they could be weapons.
Or they could be used to make weapons.
Or they could be used to ship weapons.
Or to store weapons.
Cause only an expert can see they might be weapons
And only an expert can see they might be problems.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

And sometimes, if its really really really hot.
And its July in January.
And theres no more snow and huge waves are wiping out cities.
And hurricanes are everywhere.
And everyone knows its a problem.
But if some of the experts say its no problem
And other experts claim its no problem
Or explain why its no problem
Then its simply not a problem.
But when an expert says its a problem
And makes a movie and wins an Oscar about the problem
Then all the other experts have to agree that it is most likely a problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

And even though a county can invade another country.
And flatten it. And ruin it. And create havoc and civil war in that other country
If the experts say that its not a problem
And everyone agrees that theyre experts good at seeing problems
Then invading that country is simply not a problem.
And if a country tortures people
And holds citizens without cause or trial and sets up military tribunals
This is also not a problem.
Unless theres an expert who says its the beginning of a problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

Only an expert can see theres a problem
And see the problem is half the problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

By Laurie Anderson.  I posted a link to the video of Laurie Anderson performing this song on David Letterman the other day, but I thought the lyrics were worth reprinting in and of themselves.  She has a mind like a laser beam.  

 

Knockin’ On Mine

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Alright, you read common knowledge, stockpile your brain
You get burned in the sun, you get wet in the rain
What they teach you to fix, needs to be broke
I say, he who laughs first didn’t get the joke
Go on, untap your mind, quit knocking on mine

An English teacher from Vancouver
She asked me to write something for her students
I wrote knowledge adds, wisdom let slide
She says now really? I wanna tap your mind

Quit knockin’ on mine
Walkin’ on
Knockin’ on mine

Knowledge is power, got your books go read ‘em
Wisdom is ignorance, stupidity, I call freedom
Knockin’ on mine, get out

Comic books, the Bible, road maps, pornography
Anything you wanna read
Go out and sit in a field sometime

Quit knockin’ on mine
(Knockin’ on mine)
Quit knockin’ on mine
(Knockin’ on mine)

Power got your books go read ‘em
Wisdom is ignorance, stupidity, I call freedom
Quit knockin’ on mine
(Knockin’ on mine)

You read common knowledge every day
You’re as common as that newspaper you throw away
You get burned in the sun, you get wet in the rain
Won’t you ever change, won’t you ever learn?

Quit knockin’ on mine
(Knockin’ on mine)

Knockin’ On Mine by Paul Westerberg.  I remember hearing this song when I was around 13 or 14 and being surprised that there was a rock n roll song about reading, one that actually rocked no less.  I was used to the songs that were on the radio that were about having fun and partying all of the time.  As I grow older I realize that it’s ideas that are most subversive of all.  Anyone just singing about whiskey all of the time is selling you fake rebellion.  

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.