Posted in Essential Albums, Masterpiece, Music Reviews, Patti Smith

Patti Smith – Horses – Review

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Patti Smith! Proto-punker! Aggressive poet! Caustic voice! Female Captain Beefheart! Down-and-dirty mistress of grit and rebellion! Right? Right?

Well, kind of. The most surprising thing to me about Horses on my first listen is how bombastic it is. George Starostin (who’ll I’ll try to quote less from now on because I’ve been overkilling it recently, but he’s just so darn quotable) described it as “punk theater for all those snobby bohemians in Greenwich Village.” Now, Mr. Starostin is not exuberantly fond of this album for that very reason, but I find that to be a plenty engaging premise. Horses is, after all, essentially a collection of rambling poetry, about as self-consciously arsty and un-gritty as you can get. It’s easy to imagine this stuff being performed on a messily decked-up stage in the New York Bohemian Rent-style gutters of the world.

The very first song, for example, is much more theatrical then punk ever cares to be. “Gloria” opens with an unassuming piano intro before Patti’s characteristically sneering, endlessly pessimistic voice informs us that “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” The tempo and tension build as she throws all caution to the wind in a distilled summary of the punk ideology. The meat of the song is a cover of a 60s pop tune, originally from the point of view of a male doing 60s things, like seeing a girl and “wanting to make her mine.” As if the fact that the singer is now female wasn’t confusing/puritian-irking enough for you, her vocals constantly switch from somewhat sincere to jokey and sarcastic. The band builds some infectious energy and backing vocals provide the amazing “Gloooooorriiiiaaa” refrain. And there you go: a quintessential punk song constructed out of safe 60s pop and mostly traditional (but still powerful) instrumentation.

The rest of the album is less melodic, not working with previous music and all, leaving the delivery in a Leonard Cohen-type area of existence. I do miss the fun inflections that Patti gave to the “normal” melody of “Gloria”, but clearly her semi-spoken word delivery is what she wanted to put her effort into. It’s not totally inaccessible or anything, though: “Redondo Beach” features a pleasant ska arrangement, one that manages to distract from the lyrics about looking for someone on a beach only to see that they’ve committed suicide. At least until you read reviews on the internet that tell you that’s what the song is about.

When people talk about Horses being inaccessible, they’re usually talking about the “booooring” lengthy tracks of “Birdland” and “Land:.” Being the contrarian I am (at least as much as I can be while praising a Patti Smith album), I adore both of these. “Birdland” is an incoherent nine-minute ramble from the perspective of a man who’s just lost his father, but is only now coming to terms with what that really means. The simple arrangement of the melancholy piano and dissonantly creeping guitar allow Patti’s passionate vocals and bizarre writing to shine, and the results are as odd as they are emotionally compelling. The multipart “Land:” makes melodic references to “Gloria” with a super-thick creepy atmosphere, telling a twistedly unpredictable story of the misadventures of “Johnny”, an everyman of questionable sanity.

“Kimberly” is another highlight, an engagingly funky exercise that goes from the feeling of holding your baby sister for the first time to saving said baby from an exploding building. “Free Money” is an honest look at Patti’s tough upbringing. “Break It Up” is…well, it’s just gorgeous, at least compared to the rest of the album, with another stirring refrain. “Elegie” closes out the album on a suitably druggy, melancholic note.

Another short review, but dangit, this isn’t an easy album to describe. I’m not sure I’ve gotten across just how unique it is and how moving it can be. It’s not very solid compositionally, but it’s a fascinating and passionate look into Patti’s psyche. For the “female Captain Beefheart”, Patti’s got a lot of heart.

Music: 4/5

Thematic Content: 5/5

Lyricism: 5/5

Diversity: 1/5 Well, there is “Redondo Beach.”

Resonance: 5/5

Experience: I really need to stop using my best metaphors in the actual reviews.

10/10. Best Song: Either Gloria or Birdland.

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Posted in Masterpiece, Megadeth, Music Reviews

Megadeth – Rust In Peace – Review

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The music industry is pretty much the worst. Obviously big, broad, boring bureaucracies are nice, safe, easy targets, but consider this before you write off my forced humor: someone, at some point, had to approve this:

Executive Ideaperson: Hey, you know Rust In Peace?

Frodo Grovelpants: You mean the one Megadeth album people care about?

Executive Ideaperson: That’s the one. Is there a way we can make any more money off it?

Frodo Grovelpants: Not that I can see.

Executive Ideaperson: How about a remaster with bonus tracks?

Frodo Grovelpants: Sounds nice, but the original album was recorded with good equipment. There are no kinks to iron out.

Executive Ideaperson: There must be something we can change. What do kids these days like in music?

Frodo Grovelpants: Probably not technical thrash metal, sir.

Executive Ideaperson: Well, we’ll just squeeze and compress it then.

Frodo Grovelpants: …huh?

Executive Ideaperson: You know, hide the crunch. Less personality means more universality!

Frodo Grovelpants: Oh, okay. Sounds good.

Executive Ideaperson: Kids also like bass, don’t they? Let’s crank up the bass.

Frodo Grovelpants: Another good thought, sir. But kids these days don’t have sufficient ability to discern those kinds of differences. What can we change that’s more obvious?

Executive Ideaperson: Just call up Dave and ask him to rerecord the vocals.

Frodo Grovelpants: Uh…have you HEARD Dave sing recently? His voice has gone to crap. He sounds like Kermit the Frog being crushed in a garbage truck.

Executive Ideaperson: THINK OF THE MONEY, FRODO. THE MONEY. THE METALHEADS WHO WILL BUY ANYTHING. THE MOOOONNEEEY!!!

Wow, that went straight into mean-spirited strawman territory. I’m only kind of sorry.

If it’s not clear, this is a review of the ORIGINAL Rust In Peace, not the 2004 digital remaster with the horrific new vocals and flat, thin mixing. I wouldn’t mind the existence of the remaster so much if the record company wasn’t so keen to push it over the original (the remaster, for example, is the only version available on Spotify). Soulless dreck, that one is.

Now that I’ve defused about the remaster, allow me to gush about one of the best metal albums I’ve ever heard. As in, better than anything by Metallica. Megadeth vs. Metallica is a common debate among metalheads, and while I can’t really chip in because this is the only Megadeth album I’ve heard, but I would still rank it above my favorite Metallica album (Master of Puppets).

So, where does all this love come from? Honestly, Rust In Peace is a pretty stripped-down, basic album. It works because there is nothing even remotely resembling a bad song, it clocks in at a satisfying-but-manageable time, and is generally super-professional. It was made by talented people doing a good job. It’s the kind of great album that makes the creation of a great album look easy.

That’s a pretty dang boring answer though, so let’s look at specifics. Firstly, the soloing is absolutely impeccable. It’s tight while still feeling huge, melodic while still being technically dazzling, and super-heavy while never wearing you (or at least me) down. The solos are the star of the album, honestly. Instead of waiting through the solos to get back to the chorus, you’re waiting through the chorus to get back to the solos.

Super-consistency helps too. The opener “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” is one of the best thrash songs I’ve ever heard, with a good melody, super-satisfying guitar, and always-engaging dynamics. After the title drop, a brief Middle Eastern strum flickers in, making for one of the most memorable touches I’ve heard in metal. “Hanger 18” is pure fist-pumping glory, with a cascading guitar tone carrying a fun melody, bone-crunching solos, and even more bone-crunching drum parts. DUNDUNDUNDUNDUNDUNDUNDUNDUNDUNDUN

“Take No Prisoners” is snappy and confident, with more incredible drumming. “Five Magics”, in addition to a name that’s almost as hilariously bad as “Megadeth”, uses crunch to provide a surprisingly atmospheric intro before swooping into 11-mode. Probably the weakest song on the album, for what very little it’s worth. “Poison Was The Cure” has an amazing intro, building thin tone into thick tone with engrossing effect, leading into another technically impeccable piece of speedy thrash. “Lucrecia” exchanges blazing speed for incredibly oppressive heaviness. “Tornado of Souls” is catchy beyond all reason and features some sparkly guitar lines. Also, the title is a reference to Dante’s Inferno, 10/10. “Dawn Patrol” drops the energy down, providing some relief before the rousing climax of “Rust in Peace…Polaris”, a massive anthem of power, terror, and pure pulse-surging awesomeness.

By all means, this should be an album I admire more than enjoy, but because it’s so engrossing and tight I have no problem listening to the whole thing at once. I don’t know much about metal, but this has to be in the top 3% of metal albums. The only points I can bring up against it are (a) there’s not a lot of variety and (b) Dave’s vocals aren’t very good. They’re not annoying, like on the remaster, but they still bring the album down from transcendent level.

Pretend there’s a good conclusion here. I’m too busy air guitaring to write.

Music: 5/5

Thematic Content: 4/5 A bit preachy, but there’s some surprisingly tolerable takes on social issues.

Lyricism: 4/5 See above.

Diversity: 3/5

Resonance: 5/5 In the words of the legendary, respectable, and academic linguist/critic George Starostin: “ROCK ON BUDDY!”

Experience: One of those ironic protest rallies for peace that involves a lot of violence. In space.

10/10. Best Song: Tornado of Souls

Posted in Essential Albums, Hip Hop Reviews, Masterpiece, Music Reviews

Madvillian – Madvilliany – Review

HIP HOP WEEK FINALE

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Yup. Still don’t understand hip-hop.

Thankfully, I can at least have fun not understanding it, and Madvilliany is nothing if not several barges of fun. It’s got a bit of a sinister stigma, what with the title and the cover and the mystique that surrounds it (being the only collaboration between Madlib and DOOM), but the overall effect is so joyfully goofy and chaotic that it might fittingly be called the hip-hop version of Trout Mask Replica. That’s coming from someone who has no frame of reference in hip-hop, by the way, so you should probably take it with as many grains of salt as you can shake out of that horrible shaker with the sticky holes where you always have to yank it around for ten minutes to get any reasonable amount of seasoning and everyone in the entire restaurant knows about it but has never bothered to replace it even though you’re pretty sure they can spare the…sorry, what’s this blog about? Oh right, music.

Madvilliany is the most well-known example of abstract hip hop, which from what I can tell is da HOOD version of psychedelia. Basically everything about it is, if not original, at least unconventional. It features twenty-two songs, only a few of which exceed three minutes. These songs largely throw out the verse-hook-verse structure altogether, instead focusing on making one or two nonstop stream-of-consciousness flows. The writing is extremely effective, contrasting surreal nonsense with sharp observations and DOOM’s low, gravelly, threatening flow. He plays the part of the cartoony supervillain but with a dusting of dirty hip-hop stuff very well, and his central presence alone is enough to make the album an incredibly fun listen.

Let’s not forget about Madlib! His production is entertaining, disjointed, sporadic, and incredibly memorable in its deliberate chaos. Little touches like both sound channels being activated on the word “stereo” or the completely out of place intro to “Meat Grinder” add to the album’s insane, comical character. His high-pitched alter ego Quasimodo doesn’t deliver many verses, but they’re all highlights.

As for favorites, the highlight for me is “Shadows of Tomorrow”, one of those universal time deconstructions that it’s probably best not to think about too hard. The hypnotically jarring production makes for an almost out-of-body listening experience when combined with the vocals and lyrics. That’s the first song in an unstoppable trilogy near the end. “Operation Lifesaver aka Mint Test” is absolutely hilarious and “Figaro” features some of the most fun rhymes on the album.

Generally, every song is at least good. Sorry that this review is extremely short and light on details, but this ain’t an easy album to describe. It really is best summed up by “if you haven’t listened to this you should do that”, and that’s pretty much it.

Music: 5/5

Thematic Content: 5/5

Lyricism: 5/5

Diversity: 4/5

Resonance: 4/5

Experience: Pretty much what would happen if a rapper happened to be a supervillain. Good thing he has a sense of humor, or else he’d actually be dangerous.

10/10. Best Song: Shadows of Tomorrow

Posted in Frank Zappa, Masterpiece, Music Reviews

Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention – Uncle Meat – Review

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Most of Zappa’s albums are headspinningly diverse, but few offer more variation and jarring shifts then Uncle Meat. It’s truly a hodgepodge in the sense that is has no concept (like the similarly diverse We’re Only In It For The Money) or overarching identity soundwise (like the also-wacky Weasels Ripped My Flesh). It sounds like how the album cover looks: disjointed and bonkers, with a little bit of nightmare fuel. Oh, and orange-brown. If this music was a color, it would be orange-brown.

All this is a prelude to the revelation of “I’m not sure how to talk about this album.” I suppose how this album came to be is a good a place as any to start. As the cover very helpfully clears up, this is “most of the music from the Mother’s movie of the same name which we haven’t got enough money to finish yet.” The movie itself was postponed over and over before Zappa finally scrapped it together in a direct-to-VHS release in 1987, a full 18 years after the album’s release. The movie isn’t required viewing for the full experience, which is good because by all accounts it’s a unwatchable piece of garbage. One less thing to hunt down!

The one part where the movie DOES play a major role is the second disc, which contains almost forty-five minutes of dialogue and the famous “King Kong” suite. Now here’s my dirty little music critic cheat of the day: I didn’t listen to the second disc. I do not INTEND to listen to the second disc for a while, because it has a horrible reputation. On its own, that wouldn’t be enough to keep me away from it (Zappa was always interesting even when he was bad), but I since I ended up kind of loving Uncle Meat, I didn’t want to bring its rating down by having to factor in half an album’s worth of apparent crap. I’ll listen to it someday, especially since “King Kong” is apparently pretty good, but for now just let me have my petty little rating.

In my defense, this is a dang great album and I want it to have the arbitrary number it deserves. You’d think with all the connections it has to an infamous movie and infamous second disc there would be no way to salvage this disjointed whatchagot stew (thanks, John McFerrin) as anything other than one of Zappa’s many, MANY amiable mediocrities. Thankfully, it’s jam-packed with so many entertainingly goofy musical ideas that it ends up like a buffet of tasty bitesize Zappa songs that you can just pop in your mouth whenever you’re in the mood for them. It’s a similar structure to We’re Only In It For the Money, but without the bitterness. In fact, by Zappa standards, the humor is pretty lighthearted. Most of Zappa’s humor comes somewhere at the junction of dark, scathing, and gross. Uncle Meat doesn’t fit any of those categories, opting to let the entertaining goofiness of the music and absurdity of the spoken word parts tickle the receptacles instead. It feels like the lovechild of David Lynch and the Chapman brothers,, with several bits of confusingly awesome dialogue (not from the movie as far as I can tell). Like, tell me “The Voice of Cheese” isn’t a few passes away from being a normal monologue:

Hello, teenage America, my name is Suzy Creamcheese. I’m Suzy Creemcheese because I’ve  never worn fake eyelashes in my whole life and I never made it on surfing set and I never made it on beatnik set and I couldn’t cut the groupie set either and, um . . .actually I really f–ked up in Europe. Now that I’ve done it all over and nobody else will accept me, I’ve come home to my Mothers.

Perfect. Why didn’t Zappa write like this more often?

This goofy-rather-then-satiric tone is what makes Uncle Meat more instantly likable then a lot of Zappa’s other albums. This bleeds over into the wacky, jazz-spiced music. It’s hard to pick highlights, since the quality is kept mostly level throughout, but I’ll try. “Nine Types of Industrial Pollution” features Frank pulling out some really nifty guitar work, noodling through a bunch of cool skiddish passages that remain engaging throughout the six-minute runtime. “Dog Breath, In The Year of the Plague” sounds like how the title does, managing to be surprisingly catchy and well-written melodically, making full use of the best parts of jazz, rock, and pop. “The Dog Breath Variations” is even better, playing with the catchy themes from the original piece to extremely enjoyable effect. “Our Bizarre Relationship” is another spoken word part that’s probably one of the weirdest and most hilarious things on a Zappa album (and the competition’s stiff on both counts). “Electric Aunt Jemima” is also snort-worthily funny, while also being irritatingly catchy and generally a great doo-wop song. “We Can Shoot You” finds a sweetspot between goofy and scary, in a haunted carnival kinda way. “The Air” is a very nice and amusing doo-wop piece. “Project X” gleefully messes around with atonality.

If I had to pick a favorite, I’d go with the title theme. It’s a little under two minutes long, but like Zappa’s more famous jazz fusion masterpiece “Peaches En Regalia”, it tirelessly packs neat ideas and varied tones into a very short space. I especially love that atmospheric outro…one of the most inspired moments on the album.

Speaking of inspired moments, there’s a few live clips! One of them features Zappa getting his grubby hands all over the famous Royal Albert Hall pipe organ, which he uses to play “Louie Louie.” The Mothers also put on a drunken performance of “God Bless America” at The Whisky A Go-Go. If those two scenarios don’t sound hilarious to you, I don’t think you and I can be friends.

If I could only bring one Zappa album to a deserted island…well, it’d probably be Burnt Weeny Sandwich. But if I could bring TWO, Uncle Meat would join me as well. Everything I like about Zappa is on these two albums, bringing moments of lightness to a very dark catalogue. If nothing else, Uncle Meat leaves me comfortable espousing that Frank Zappa, for all his inconsistency, was a genius.

The first thing that attracted me to Mothers’ music was the fact that they played for twenty  minutes and everybody was hissing and booing and falling off the dance floor and Elmer was yelling at them to get off stage and turn down their amplifiers.

Music: 5/5

Thematic Content: 3/5 

Lyricism: 4/5

Diversity: 5/5

Resonance: 3/5 Which is pretty good for Zappa, but the goofiness isn’t really “human.”

Experience: Scientific experiment gone wrong! You’re a horrifying mutant! Day to day tasks now need to be completed with your telekinetic tongue and three beefy tentacles! Wait, this is actually kind of cool. You’ve even gathered a fandom, who have gone from sympathetic to admiring to worshipful. Isn’t logic the worst?

10/10. Best Song: Uncle Meat: Main Title Theme

Posted in Masterpiece, Music Reviews, They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants – Lincoln – Review

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“I’m going down to Cowtown

The cow’s a friend to me

Lives beneath the ocean and that’s where I will be

Beneath the waves, the waves

And that’s where I will be

I’m gonna see the cow beneath the sea”

 

“I remember the year I went to camp

I heard about some lady named Selma and some blacks

Somebody put their fingers in the President’s ears

It wasn’t too much later they came out with Johnson’s wax”

 

“I saw my baby wearing Santa’s beard

She kissed him once and whispered in his ear

I saw my baby wearing Santa’s beard

I wish he would go

He’s breaking up my home”

 

There. Review over. Does it get any more perfect then that? People often try to draw parallels between modern music and unquestioned landmarks (EG “What’s our generation’s version of the Beatles?”), and I find those pursuits more frivolous then anything. But I swear, the only lyricist that even remotely reminds me of They Might Be Giants is Bob Dylan. Even that’s not a perfect comparison; Dylan’s insane imagery came from a disjointed emotional state. TMBG are Lewis Carol-style masters of well-orchestrated nonsense, and as a lover of absurdity it fills me with glee.

Oh, wait, this is a music review. Well, the music’s fantastic, but largely in the same vein as the debut. They do have a bigger production budget, which is probably the biggest difference. The debut sounds fine, but unless the whole “this could have been recorded in a college dorm” style appeals to you, you won’t find it that impressive. Most bands would use this bigger budget to slicken up their sound, improve their professionalism. I’m not sure what TMBG did with theirs, but I’d like to think they bought a few more accordions and some snacks. Either way, the sound is crisper and the arrangements a bit more elaborate.

Thankfully, none of this detracts from the experience of two goofy guys with minimal equipment and a knack for hooks writing the dorkiest music imaginable. The singing is a lot less nasally this time around, and I do kind of miss that layer of geekiness, but who cares when the vocals themselves are so entertaining? There’s funny affectations, a human tone, and a surprising amount of professional restraint. Muh boys are growing up, methinks.

The songwriting is even better than the debut. These guys’ approach to melody reminds me of SOMETHING, but I can’t figure it out. The best I can come up with is a bizarre mix of bouncy nostalgic pop, dynamically soaring musical theatre, modestly strumming folk, and unprofessional garage rock. I mean all of this in the best possible way. Not only are they catchy (and ho boy, if you don’t have half the hooks stuck in your head after a few listens, you need to get better at music), but they’re incredibly entertaining to follow along with. And they’re so ECLECTIC! When they’re at the top of their game, these guys could write a convincing melody for any genre imaginable.

I suppose I haven’t given any descriptions of the actual songs, but dangit, these are hard songs to describe. The opener “Ana Ng” is an engagingly jagged rocker that sounds like “Brown Sugar” as reimaged by a lonely, socially conscious nerd. “Where Your Eyes Don’t Go” is one of the biggest oddballs, conjuring a surprisingly thick atmosphere and creepy lyrics. “Mr Me” is an uptempo polka song with more hilarious lyrics (“Or end up sad like Mister Me/He ended up sad/He ended up sad/He ended up really, really, really sad”). “The World’s Address” is samba-like, with a melody that could be adequately described as “spicy.” “Shoehorn with Teeth” has some of my favorite satirical lyrics on the album, and one of the most disjointedly fun melodies. “Snowball in Hell” is a surprisingly lovely semi-ballad, but with an accordion because of course. My favorite of the bunch is the power pop rocker “Purple Toupee”, with an infectiously swelling chorus that’s nigh impossible to not sing along with and riffs that could easily rock a metalhead crowd if given a few more layers of heaviness. That’s seven highlights out of eighteen, but they’re really arbitrarily chosen. Like the debut, Lincoln is extremely consistent, with nary a problematic song in sight. Even if there was, they’re so short that it would matter all that much.

In short, Lincoln is basically the debut, but marginally better. It’s Master of Puppets to the debuts’ Ride the Lightning. The only big upgrade is in the sound department, and even that’s only technical stuff. The melodies are better, but only a bit. The lyrics are better but only a bit. The singing is better, but only a bit. And so it continues. Still, if you’re gonna tread water, it might was well be deep, impressive water.

Music: 5/5

Thematic Content: 3/5  It’s more about the journey then the destination, if you get my drift.

Lyricism: 5/5 “He asks a girl if they can both sit in a chair/But he doesn’t get nervous/She’s not really there”

Diversity: 5/5

Resonance: 3/5 A bit too jokey for a higher rating, unfortunately.

Experience: Falling down a hole into Wonderland as reimagined by a college creative writing class in the middle of election year.

10/10. Best Song: Purple Toupee

Posted in Black Sabbath, Essential Albums, Masterpiece, Music Reviews

Black Sabbath – Master of Reality – Review

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Oh right, THIS is why people love Black Sabbath!

To go with the music critic cliché of the cheesy Beatles analogy, Master of Reality is Revolver to Paranoid’s Rubber Soul: they’re more or less in the same general category and are great in their own ways, but this album ratchets the previous one up to eleven in all departments. The biggest difference, famously, is the guitar tone. It’s far heavier than before, and some of the best I’ve heard on a metal album. It’s just so satisfyingly crunchy!

But just because they were recording what was, at that point, the heaviest album ever made, doesn’t mean they forgot about the songwriting. Not only are the riffs as absurdly catchy as the more famous ones from Paranoid, but the melodies themselves are some of the best Sabbath ever put out. The thing that strikes me the most about them, besides their catchiness, is how huge they sound. This is a BIG album in every respect, especially in the composition.

The band is in top form. Iommi’s monster riffs shine throughout the album’s run time, Ward pulls out some of his most entertaining drumming, Geezer’s basslines add a wonderful depth of mood, I even like Osbourne’s singing on here! When Sabbath is running on all cylinders, it produces some truly marvelous results. The highlights of those results are the sonically powerful “After Forever” (aka “the one with the hilariously out-of-place Christian lyrics written so that the Catholic Geezer could convince people he wasn’t actually a Satanist”) and “Children of the Grave.” “After Forever” is fist-pumping, heart racing and ear worming enough to please anyone, Christian or Satanist. “Children of the Grave” has some of the best, most fun drumming in Sabbath’s catalogue and the most driving riffs on the relatively heavy and mid-tempo album. It’s also got this cool, spooky outro reminiscent of Sabbath’s moody debut. Second-tier highlights are the outrageously catchy stoner anthem “Sweet Leaf,” which boasts possibly the best set of riffs on the album; “Lord of this World” is a tad slow but still a lumbering good time; “Into The Void” is a satisfying conclusion that absolutely tears through any sonic barriers that the other songs might not have conquered with terrifyingly perfect riffs and soloing.

Even the throwaways are fun! The thirty-second “Embryo” is completely dull on a compositional level, but its exotic flavor makes it a fun oddball. “Orchid” is another short instrumental, actually quite lovely if insubstantial. “Solitude” is a ballad, basically an inferior rewrite of “Planet Caravan” from Paranoid (medieval influences and all that), but it’s harmlessly nice and breaks up the heavy sound of the album before the rousing “Into the Void” finale. This is the first Sabbath album I’ve listened to where all the songs are capital G “good”, not just “tolerable” like the weak links on their other work (“A Bit of Finger/Sleeping Village/Warning” on Black Sabbath, “Rat Salad” on Paranoid).

It’s hard describe, besides the amazing riffage and satisfying heaviness, why this album clicked with me so much. I enjoy some of Sabbath’s other stuff, but I always found it kind of…distant, I guess? Something about this album has true character. I should find it solid-yet-generic, but something about its aura is intoxicatingly likable. And no, I don’t think it has anything to do with the hilarious Christian lyrics.

Best Sabbath album? Best Sabbath album.

Music: 5/5

Thematic Content: 4/5 This is the aura, I guess?

Lyricism: 1/5 “They should realize before they criticize/That God is the only way to love”

Diversity: 4/5 Come at me, bro.

Resonance: 4/5 Rockers + that weird aura + “Solitude” isn’t horrible.

Experience: Discovering that your favorite chips have been rebranded. Thankfully, they’re even crunchier then before. What’s with all the religious imagery on the bag, though?

10/10. Best Song: Children of the Grave

Posted in Frank Zappa, Masterpiece, Music Reviews

Frank Zappa – You Are What You Is – Bitesize Review

Hi. I’m working on an Obscured By Clouds review. Maybe that’ll actually go up this week.

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This album is actually very useful, because it’s essentially a perfect Zappa thesis statement. Everything to conceptually like and dislike about Zappa is on here. If you can dig it, you’ll like Zappa. If you can’t, you probably won’t. Such it is for me: it’s difficult for me to really CONNECT with Zappa’s work on an emotional level because he’s so detached and cynical, but his wit and entertaining musicianship are enough to keep me coming back to him again and again. This album is essentially the blueprint of what has made Zappa one of my all-time favorite artists.

In a lot of ways, it’s Zappa’s version of The White Album, because it’s a headspinningly diverse catalogue of genre parodies. Everything from rock to jazz to gospel to western to anthem and everything else is here, with Zappa’s satiric lyrics functioning at an all-time high. The opening, “Teenage Wind”, lampoons what irresponsible young people see freedom as (“Free is when you don’t have to pay for nothing or do nothing/We want to be free/Free as the wind”). “Society Pages” lampoons the “beautiful people”; “I’m A Beautiful Guy” skewers the ridiculous arrogance of hard rock. There’s also the infamous “religion” trilogy, which stretches from “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing” to “Heavenly Bank Account.” Bashing the violence and bigotry of religious hypocrites and televangelists in particular is nothing new in rock music, but Zappa offers some of the sharpest and funniest writing this subgenre offers. Obviously I don’t agree with everything he says in these songs (being nominally religious myself), but the unhindered calling out of those who use religion to their own selfish ends is brutally satisfying.

But here’s the unexpected part of this album: the MUSIC is great! Not great in the usual Zappa way, where the emphasis is more on playing then composition, just great on a basic musical standard. The melodies here are really, really catchy and always fit the song perfectly. This is probably Zappa’s height as a composer, if not as a “musician.”

There’s basically nothing of note wrong with the album. It’s so polished and intentional that even the stuff that could be wrong with it…actually feels kind of right. “Doreen” is a parody arena song with a coda that goes on for waaaaay to long. It’s immediately followed by “Goblin Girl”, a wonderfully spooky piece of innuendo, which goes into its own lengthy coda. Suddenly, the coda starts to turn into the one from “Doreen” because the previous song has forgotten that it’s over. I didn’t even notice this effect until John McFerrin pointed it out to me, and I died laughing. Other than that, I suppose the middle stretch of the album isn’t up to par with the beginning and end, but there still isn’t a bad song on here. Heck, by Zappa standards, these are all fantastic.

Is it a perfect album? Probably not. Is it a perfect ZAPPA album? Pretty much yeah. Not transcendent (hence it’s denied the 10+), but only because it’s a perfect execution of a concept I don’t find all that resonant.

10/10.

Experience: Getting drunk while in a very anti-establishment mood and trying to interpret the music in the bar.

Best Song: I don’t even know how to begin choosing.

Posted in Masterpiece, Music Reviews, The Beatles

The Beatles – Rubber Soul – Review

the-beatles-rubber-soul-300x300

And

When I awoke

I was alone

This bird had flown

So

I lit a fire,

Isn’t it good

Norwegian wood?

-Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flow)

This album is abnormally comfortable. For reasons that elude me, Rubber Soul is the Beatles album I default to for a casual, relaxed listen. Revolver is close contender, but it’s a bit too experimental and masterpiece-ish to fill the same effortless void. Even my favorite Beatles album (Abbey Road) is too intricate and emotional for me to want to pop in more often than this humble LP. I know that makes zero sense, but whenever I listen to the organic instruments, commonplace themes, genre-mashing, and simple-but-sharp lyrics of Rubber Soul, I go into a different state of mind. That’s not to say Rubber Soul is unremarkable or a guilty pleasure; neither could be farther from the truth. Help! was a prototype, this is the finished product.

The fact that this album has less artsy flourishes then most “classic” Beatles albums calls attention to its greatest, most underappreciated attribute: Rubber Soul (in this geek’s opinion) is the greatest Beatles album PURELY in terms of composition. There have been Beatles albums with better playing, better production, better singing, better lyrics, better ideas, and better overall music…but NEVER better melodies. I believe the melody to be the single most important part of a song, making the skeleton of Rubber Soul one of my favorites before we even get to the meat. The meat makes it even better. Yum.

Continue reading “The Beatles – Rubber Soul – Review”

Posted in Masterpiece, Music Reviews, Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd – Atom Heart Mother – Review

OLD REVIEW DUMP #3: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO (2/6)

More adjectival and adverbly experimenting. It’s not as emotionally fueled as the Funeral review, but I’m getting there. There’s a few imprecise words and hazy descriptions I would be more careful to weed out if I was writing this today, but the review as a whole holds up fine.

Here it is, in all its lack of maternity…

atomheartmothercover

If I were a swan, I’d be gone
If I were a train, I’d be late
And if I were a good man,
I’d talk with you
More often than I do
If I were to sleep, I could dream
If I were afraid, I could hide
If I go insane, please don’t put
Your wires in my brain
-If

1970: the magical time when a picture of a cow was going to sell you an album. What happened to the art of cover design?
Atom Heart Mother is a wonderful little experimental album. It’s more ideas then substance, but the concepts are strong enough to hold the album together. There are only five songs, and even though two of them are over ten minutes, the album is a brief, clever, and enjoyable listen. It’s more polished and focused then Ummagumma by light years. There are no excesses here, just good ideas.

Continue reading “Pink Floyd – Atom Heart Mother – Review”