Tag Archives: Album

Down on the Upside

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This was released when grunge was losing its popularity, but this “commercial disappointment” still went platinum several times over. Although this album is cleaner and less heavy on the whole than previous efforts, lyrics such as “only happy when you hurt” (from the standout album track “Rhinosaur”) show that the band hasn’t softened up too much. In fact, songs such as the lead single “Pretty Noose,” with it’s swirling guitar lines and monster drum fills, are as intense as anything the band has ever done.

Elsewhere, Zeppelin-esque highlights both minor (“Zero Chance,” “Dusty”) and major (“Burden In My Hand,” the album’s signature song and arguably the band’s best song ever) are heavily reliant on Eastern tinged atmospherics, while “Blow Up The Outside World” starts with a mellow, trippy Beatles-esque melody before exploding into the splendor of its huge chorus. Actually, the first half of the album is mostly excellent, presenting a more accessible Soundgarden that still rocked plenty hard. On the whole, the album doesn’t quite have the diversity of Superunknown, however, and it has much more filler, as the second half gets bogged down by too many unmemorable tracks. I wouldn’t miss “Never Named,” “No Attention,” or “An Unkind,” the albums punkiest songs along with the first side’s far superior “Ty Cobb,”, and though the playing on “Never The Machine Forever” is impressive, the songwriting is only so-so, while “Applebite” is a simple yet strangely alluring (mostly) instrumental that probably could’ve been cut in half. Better is more melodic fare such as “Switch Opens” and “Boot Camp,” while successful multi-sectioned epics such as “Tighter & Tighter” and “Overfloater” also attest to the band’s undiminished ambition and ability. On the downside, this mellower, less edgy album under utilizes their greatest asset by not unleashing Cornell more, but there’s still enough first rate stuff here that had the band left the lesser songs on the cutting room floor, they could’ve had another classic on their hands. As it is, this turned out to be merely a very good goodbye, as Soundgarden broke up soon after this albums release.

Having emerged from the first wave of grunge to stand tall amid other great Seattle heavyweights such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice In Chains, I am lucky to say that I’ve seen Soundgarden live twice  (Lollapalozza 2010 and Vegas 2011), and hope to see them more when the release their long awaited 7th studio album in Oct. 2012.

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Introduce Yourself

No, The Real Thing was not Faith No More’s first album. This underrated album, the band’s second, was actually the one that started to get the band noticed, primarily because of the underground single “We Care A Lot” (actually a reprise from their underwhelming first album, also called We Care A Lot), an anthemic shout along that showcased their unique mix of hard metallic guitar, a fiercely funky rhythm section, and moody keyboards. Indeed, Faith No More is perhaps the only band that has successfully integrated these disparate elements, along with a singer/rapper, into a successful whole without it seeming at all forced. This album is a surprisingly strong early effort and is definitely worth seeking out for any fan that came aboard later, such as yours truly. Chuck Mosley is the vocalist here, and though he’s no Mike Patton his nasally shouts/raps fit well with the material, though it should be noted that many fans find him to be an acquired taste (to put it mildly). The fact that he was black also brought the band some needed pub; let’s face it, black people in heavy metal being a rarity.

Anyway, “Annie’s Song” and “Chinese Arithmetic” are also really catchy and impressive, while the menacingly grinding “Death March,” the brief but hard-hitting title track, and the surging “Blood” also hit the right pleasure points. In fact, the whole album rocks, and though the band is sometimes a tad too stingy with their hooks and the album is short on truly memorable songs (though most of them sound really good while they’re playing), Introduce Yourself is far more than merely an appetizer for future band breakthroughs.


Surfer Rosa

Pixies first full-length album was also an import-only affair back then (small wonder that the band was much bigger overseas!), but it still caused quite a stir among the indie community as its noisy, abrasive guitar assault, when combined with a keen melodic sense, made it uniquely different from anything that had preceded it. Come to think of it, it doesn’t sound like any other Pixies album, either, and for that much of the credit belongs to recording engineer (he hates the term “producer”) Steve Albini, who would later be hired by Nirvana for In Utero primarily on the basis of their admiration for his work here.

This is a raw, abrasive sonic onslaught, with a huge drum sound, yet many of these (generally very short) songs, particularly on the far superior first half, are also eminently tuneful and catchy at the same time. Francis’ vocals, which can be silly, grating, and awe-inspiringly psychotic in equal measure, are often incoherent, and what lyrics can be made out often come across as gibberish, anyway. His off center, at times effeminate vocals certainly are unique, though, and he’s often joined by Kim Deal on some delicious harmonies. She gets a lead vocal too, and wouldn’t you know it if “Gigantic,” simply a great pop rock song, became their biggest hit to date, much to Francis’ chagrin.

Other highlights, again almost all of which appear on the first half of the album, are oddly catchy (dare I say it, cute) songs such as “Bone Machine,” “Break My Body” (that’s one hell of a groove there), and “Broken Face” (all 1:30 of it). Even better is “River Euphrates,” which features a lovely intermingling of voices, though Francis also screams his head off as per usual. I’m not sure if there even are actual lyrics to this song, but it sure sounds good, and so does the dreamy, melodic “Where Is My Mind,” the album’s most memorable song which joins “Gigantic” as Surfer Rosa‘s inarguable classics (p.s. it ends suddenly because they ran out of tape!). Unfortunately, the rest of the album is seriously underwritten, making it somewhat less than the “masterpiece” reputation that many have accorded it. Still, even the tossed off songs are generally entertaining even if they could’ve been more fully fleshed out, and the album’s short between song snippets (Albini’s idea), though also hit and miss, generally add to the album’s charming overall ambiance.

Aside from “Vamos,” an unnecessary remake of a Come On Pilgrim track (this version is much longer though not better), and “Brick Is Red,” the stellar finale that’s based around a simple, melodic guitar solo, I’d be hard pressed to recall much about the rest of side two’s songs, which tend to blend together in my mind. Yet I suppose it is the album’s excitingly schizoid sound, especially those aggressive, razor sharp guitars, that makes Surfer Rosa a classic (albeit a minor classic) rather than its individual songs, excellent though several of those are. This album has tons of character, plain and simple, and the band’s innovative use of dynamics and their thriving band chemistry would greatly influence the subsequent Lollapalooza generation (BMG’s music catalog once described alternative music as “sounds like the Pixies”). That said, for all the album’s undeniable strengths, the hit-or-miss songwriting ultimately leaves me with the impression of an incredibly promising young band that hadn’t yet reached their full potential.


Rated R

Right at the moment when even mainstream rock publications and broadcasting companies were getting ready to embrace the stoner-movement (OK, it’s no movement, there’s no creed or anything, but please, let’s keep this simple), Homme and Co. drifted further and further away from the genre’s mastodon heaviness and slowness. The self-titled debut album already marked a more conventional and catchier hard rock-direction than any Kyuss album before, but R is the album where the Queens got rid of the “stoner” tag, once and for all. Admittedly, the guitar still has that “fat” sound (which I think sounds great) and is way thicker than on most other contemporary rock albums, but apart from album closer “I Think I Lost My Headache” (or at least the first half of it, since the rest of it is some utterly superfluous horn crap), this album sounds remarkably up-tempo and varied when compared to Welcome to Sky Valley. Homme and Oliveiri wrote almost all of the songs, and while most of them sound positively catchy, they also learned about the benefits of additional instrumentation (keyboards, vibes, saxophone, horn), often provided by members of the Queens’ family tree (Chris Goss, Mike Johnson, The Screaming Trees’ Barrett Martin), while Mark Lanegan makes his debut on lead vocals, and Halford adds his 2 evil cents to the opening track.

The ultimate hedonistic statement, the lyrics of “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” (“Nicotinevaliumvicadinmarijuana-ecstacyandalcohol”?) get a fitting musical backing of stuttering drums and guitars, with an increasing intensity and acceleration. Basically this isn’t what I’d call “accomplished” song-writing, but they pull it off, and quite possible because they were stuffing themselves with their song’s subjects (who knows?). It’s the next song – one of the best singles of 2000 in my opinion – that proved the Queens had become an awesome rock band, with it’s hooked melody and smart use of vibes courtesy of Barrett Martin. There isn’t really a song on the album with the same mainstream potential, though “Auto Pilot,” sung laconically by Oliveiri, and with a great wailing guitar playing by Homme, is another winner. There’s also the repetitive riff of “Monsters in the Parasol,” which seems to be universally despised, but for some reason it kept on drifting around in my head. The dense “Better Living Through Chemistry” has a nice percussion-filled intro (again, Martin), and slightly spooky vocal line by Homme, until after a silence (around 2:15) the guitar suddenly returns, and directs the songs into neo-psychedelic territory, with rolling drums and wavering backing vocals. The laidback “In the Fade,” sung by Lanegan, has in fact a lot in common with the sound on his former band’s last album, or that kind of rock in general. There’s also the playful “Leg of Lamb” that basically gets its value from Homme’s drugged vocals, but underneath it all there’s a nice melody as well. Since the Queens are something of a democracy, second chief Oliveiri gets to shine during the filthy rockers “Quick and to the Pointless” and “Tension Head.” Neither of both is particularly great, but the girly backing vocals and Oliveiri’s manic performance during the first one are flat-out fun. “Tension Head,” on the other hand, has some crunchy guitar parts, but the vocals are really lousy.

Finally, the Queens also continue the tradition of ending the album on a lesser note: the short instrumental “Lightning Song” is nice and oozes out a slightly eastern influence because of the percussion, while the Sabbath-esque album closer “I Think I Lost My headache” is just fine, up till that annoying pseudo-jazz ending that completely spoils the fun. But, the final verdict is really positive since the band evolved into a creative and interesting rock band that’s not afraid to shed the bludgeoning force of its past while incorporating often surprisingly poppy elements into their music. Despite their infatuation with all things druggy, they didn’t succeed in making an addictive album, because it’s way to uneven for that, but they confirmed that disbanding a band needn’t result in lesser results. At this point, the band eclipsed Kyuss’ popularity and almost its excellent music. Almost.


Queens of the Stone Age

Remember Kyuss guys? I know little about them at the time of writing and not a huge amount about Queens Of The Stone Age compared to certain other bands I could be reviewing. I’ve never really paid them much attention and from listening to this debut set, I think I know why. Oh, they have their plus points, ‘No One Knows’ being just one of them. Plus points like? Well, without mentioning individual tunes for a little bit here, they sound great. They sound genuinely impressive, especially turned up loud. Question one, strip away the layers of magnificent fuzz and what are we left with? Second good point, they can play. Josh Homme does a few neat little guitar solos, although I always yearn for them to be longer. The band as whole have a great fuzzy thing going on and clearly are good enough players for us to assume they have ‘chops’. Although they do it in such a way they don’t go overboard. For all the 70s rock influences carefully hidden underneath, they aren’t about to blow it by releasing an album long composition for piano and orchestra. I find myself losing interest during the 2nd half of the album, not because it’s a huge amount worse than the 1st half, rather the lack of variety. For all that impresses, I have a nagging suspicion the songs came very easily to Josh Homme and co, too easily. A natural evolution from Kyuss and post Kyuss activities perhaps, but I’ve heard better rock debuts.

I’ll mention a few individual tunes now, ‘Regular John’ is awesome, a stupendous driving riff powers a tune that’s also got just enough vocals to please. Josh Homme isn’t a shouter, his voice sort of just sits in the middle of the overall sound, which is always how a good vocalist in a band should be. ‘Walkin On The Sidewalks’ contains a very dirty sounding guitar riff and sounds so good turned up loud it almost blows away my theory that hard rock albums should also sound reasonably decent listened to quietly. The slightly strange closing tune ‘I Was A Teenage Hand Model’ makes me yearn that Queens Of The Stone Age had thrown in a semi-acoustic ballad, or just something different, somewhere earlier in the albums tracklisting. ‘I Was A Teenage Hand Model’ is very throwaway yet works as one of the few different things here. Oh, the very beginning of ‘Hispanic Impressions’ always makes me think that a Deep Purple song is about to begin. Does anybody else get that? The six minute long ‘You Can’t Quit Me Baby’ is a nod to Led Zeppelin and also something a little more interesting in terms of song-arrangement. A solid debut album overall, rather than an astonishing one, although there is enough within the highlights to suggest that Queens Of The Stone Age can be very good indeed when everything falls in the correct places. Indeed, ‘Regular John’ is so good I could almost claim it’s one of the greatest hard-rock songs ever.


Pablo Honey

I remember listening to ‘Creep’ for the first time from the band I never heard before. It blew me away, and I remember to this day how it felt hearing ‘Creep’ for the first time. Still, there is more to ‘Pablo Honey’ than just ‘Creep’. Well, more or less. The album is split roughly half and half between rockier material and more delicate, prettier material. On the rockier side we have the opening ‘You’. You can hear traces of groups such as The Pixies in the way the song builds up and there may also be a little Eighties U2 in there someplace, too

‘Creep’ is sandwiched between ‘You’ and the nice guitar textures and sounds of the up-tempo ‘How Do You?’. ‘How Do You?’ suffers lyrically however, pretty simple lyrics, especially once we reach the underwhelming chorus. One interesting note. ‘How Do You?’ vocally more than musically is the sound of Thom seemingly trying to be John Lydon in places, not something Thom would attempt in the future, though. And for that, we can all be thankful, I feel. Yeah, this is a debut album and Radiohead are searching for themselves, for their own true character, not realising that with ‘Creep’, the gorgeously sung ‘Thinking About You’ and the closing textured and hypnotic guitar parts of ‘Blow Out’ – that they’d already found it. Elsewhere we’ve got the quiet, threatening to go loud, but never quite going all out for it ‘Stop Whispering’. Still, nice guitar parts even if this is one of those songs where Thom seems unsure of how to quite present his vocals.

‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’ was released as a single and crept into the lower reaches of the UK top forty. I was quite excited when I first heard ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’, especially the neat and ominous guitar parts that introduced the song. Everything continues going very well until the chorus is reached. Like ‘How Do You?’, this isn’t a song with a very good chorus, the lyric makes me wince a little. Very simple, and that U2 thing definitely pops up here, something about the way Thom sings this. A couple of highlights open the second half of the album, both fairly unassuming songs and it’s where Radiohead aren’t trying as hard that they really succeed on ‘Pablo Honey’. Well, ‘Creep’ is the exception that proves the rule, I suppose. Anyway, ‘Ripcord’ has some nice pounding drum parts, neat guitars on this album full of neat guitars as well as a powerful enough Thom vocal. ‘Vegetable’ has some of the most intriguing lyrics on the album as well as some of the best vocals. ‘Lurgee’ points a way forwards to parts of ‘The Bends’, very spine chilling, beautiful stuff. Adore the sound of the bass line here. Ah, things falling into place!


Californication

Fucken’ A! Everything One Hot Minute aspired to be (a worthy follow-up to Blood Sugar Sex Magik) and much, much more. Even though it contains a few less-than-great songs and runs on for a bit too long, Californication easily overshadows all of the band’s earlier work, which is kinda ironic as it’s stylistically the furthest removed from the outrageous funk-rock of before. Ok, there IS still some of that hyper-kinetic funk scattered throughout the album, but this time around, the band has focused on songs and – especially – melody, coming up with several memorable songs that are the best they ever did. If Blood Sugar Sex Magik witnessed the boys finally growing up, and One Hot Minute was a dreary stagnation (regression, actually), the boys have their shit completely together on this album, performing well-written songs with commanding style and class. However, despite the strong songwriting and overall musicianship, it’s my conviction this is ‘the Frusciante album’. Although he’s much less all-over-the-place than he was on Mother’s Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and by consequence also less concerned with being flashy, the new minimalism as you can hear it on the majority of the songs displays an incredibly increased melodic gift, inspiration and tastefulness. I’d even go as far as to say it’s one of the few albums of the past five years I’d play just to listen to the guitar playing: during the ballads, it’s mellow and occasionally touching, while he also knows how to rock out during the album’s (few) straightforward rock songs.

You could argue that this time around, the album is dominated by the mellow songs, as almost half of the tracks (several of ‘em being highlights on the album) could qualify as ballads or pop-oriented tracks you could also place in that category with a stretch of the imagination. There are also the hyper funk tracks, of course, but they’re in a minority. In between those, there are a few songs that are neither, opting for a more straightforward rock direction. The first of the sissy songs that made an impact, “Scar Tissue,” immediately showed the new course to full effect. More than ever, melody has become the key ingredient in their music, in the song, the playing and the vocals. Just listen to Frusciante’s delicate, minimal technique, which he basically keeps up during the album. Even better than “Scar Tissue” is “Other Side,” a song that still gets to me because of Kiedis’ wonderful performance and those backing vocals that take the song to an entirely different level they hadn’t even explored yet. The same basically goes for the wistful title track – that also contains a short but wonderful solo by Frusciante – and “Porcelain,’ which finds the band entering more fragile territory than ever before. An awesome addition to this list is the acoustic album closer, “Road Trippin’ ”, an introvert song that has more in common with Elliott Smith’s lush portraits than their own previous escapades. Respect. Somewhere hovering between this category and the pop songs are “This Velvet Glove,” a song that’s quite similar to “Californication,” but that comes with occasional rock outbursts. Much better though, are “Parallel Universe” and “Easily,” the first boasting a truly fantastic chorus. Not all of the album’s tracks are as impressive, as “Emit Remmus” with its sustained notes and pounding groove never did anything for me, and neither did the mid-tempo funk-rock of “Purple Stain,” but there are remarkably few filler tracks on the album. Even the nervous funk-inflected mofos are for the most part enjoyable as hell: opening track “Around the World” (yeah, the one with the massive intro) is pleasantly bouncy, “Get on Top” features some bludgeoning bass work by Flea and some of the band’s silliest lyrics (“Gorilla, Cuntilla, Sammy D and Salmonella, come with me ‘cause I’m an ass killer’), while “I Like Dirt” and “Right on Time” despite their flimsiness, are more fun than most of their previous punk-funk blasts. Sure, Californication isn’t a perfect album, but it’s one hell of an album by a band I no longer deemed capable of making. It’s always great when a band surprises you, but when they do it with as much class and superb songs as the Peppers on Californication, it’s quite a blast.