>Album Reviews: "Tinted Windows" by Tinted Windows

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So why does James Iha look older than Bun E. Carlos?

I honestly don’t have that much to say about Tinted Windows. Upon the announcement of their existence, I get the feeling many of my friends expected me to see them as a cream dream come true. This is mostly because, you know, Taylor Hanson’s their singer, and I am probably the only 22-year-old male in existence who listens to Hanson on a regular basis. But who else do we got? James Iha? Fine, but I barely care about the Smashing Pumpkins. Adam Schlesinger, he’s fine, although I admittedly don’t listen to Fountains of Wayne all that much. And Bun E. Carlos, hey, it’s cool that he’s here, but I don’t think he’s really up to doing much creatively – as I predicted, Schlesinger wrote most of the songs here, with Iha only writing one song and Hanson writing one and collaborating on one more. So I guess what we’ve got here is Fountains of Wayne with a different singer and less interesting lyrics? Yeah. That’s what we’ve got.

OK, I’m being mean. I like this album. Of course I like this album. It’s catchy power pop performed by a group of people I mostly genuinely like. Yes, it’s a pretty generic album as far as power pop goes – anybody expecting something huge from these guys teaming up will be disappointed (but I don’t think anybody was expecting anything huge anyway so yeah okay moving on) – but the melodies are nice and the singing is nice and the songs themselves are pleasant, with an occasional surprise here and there. Kind of. “Kind Of A Girl” is the single, and despite the fact that it approaches a nigh-Jonas Brothers level of cheesy bubblegum it is very catchy and I like it. Most of the other songs here are a little “cooler,” so to speak, but not by too much. There a couple big ‘ol ballads (“Dead Serious” and “Back With You,” both of which sound suspiciously similar but are still likable); a couple Cheap Tricky thingers (“Cha Cha”, “Doncha Wanna”); and the rest, for the most part, is happy goofy basic guitar-driven pop music. Does that sound like music you want to listen to?? Then this album might be for you!

There are a few songs I really like. “Without Love,” despite its very basic (read: sophomoric) lyrics, makes me smile. It’s just so happy! “Messing With My Head” also has a really nifty chorus, and “Nothing To Me” – Taylor Hanson’s only sole songwriting credit – has enough of a Big Star style for me to like it. But you know, overall, I enjoy this record. I can’t think of any individual songs that I didn’t like – some dipped under the radar, and I should probably hate the ballads but WHOOPS I like them too. Pitchfork hates this record (surprise surprise), claiming that it is much less than the sum of its talented parts, and they may be right but who cares? Neither were the Traveling Wilburys. I don’t find this record remarkable, but at the same time I have found myself listening to it several times over. It’s only 35 minutes for godssake! Zippy dippy pop. Yeah, I’d probably prefer to listen to Hanson, but at the same time Tinted Windows don’t sound quite as boring-mellow as modern Hanson, so that’s nice. I’ve always felt that Hanson, even nowadays, are better at fun pop music than they are at anything else – be it funk or boy band ballads or Jack Johnson acoustic douchebaggery or whatever – and Tinted Windows is proably the closest I will get to that, so hey. There you go.

Well that was a terrible review. You’d think I’d have a lot to say about Taylor Hanson’s other band, eh? Nah. Whatever you guys. I’m graduating. I’m lazy. I’m creatively bankrupt. I am many things. There’s a new Bob Dylan album out though! I’ll review that. That’ll be good.

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>Album Review: "Get Yer Boots On: The Best Of Slade"

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hard-rockin’s spacemen!! (with platform boots)

Before the dawn of this New Year I can honestly say I knew next to nothing about Slade. Nothing. I didn’t even know they were the guys that first did “Cum On Feel The Noize” – I just attributed that song to “Anonymous Seventies British Glam-Rock Band” for many many years. And in fact, I doubt too many Americans really hold Slade up to much regard now, save for 80’s metal enthusiasts and the dudes in Kiss. Why care much about Slade when you’ve got other trailblazing British 70’s rockers like David Bowie, T.Rex, Mott The Hoople or Roxy Music? Ehh?

Well, fun fact – during their early-70s peak, Slade outsold all of those bands in Britain. Their succession of Top 10 UK singles has only been beaten by the Beatles. They were the biggest British band of the 70s (at least in Britain itself), and as far as I can recall are still held in pretty high regard over there. And yet, in America, they are known mostly as the dudes who wrote that Quiet Riot song. They didn’t have a single hit in America during their peak years.

Why didn’t they? Shit, I don’t know. I heard somewhere that Americans thought they sounded “too British” but that makes little to no sense. Slade’s forte, at least during their peak glam years, was heart-stomping football-chant rock ‘n roll, which I don’t consider to be particularly British. There were PLENTY of bands like that in America scoring tons and tons of hits, so why not Slade? There are probably many reasons that I just do not know. It’s a shame, though, ’cause from what I am hearing on Get Yer Boots On Slade were a pretty kick-ass band. Their lead singer, Noddy Holder (I can’t get over that name for some reason) has this awesome throat-scratching scream of a voice that he uses to great effect, lending these songs a certain degree of rough-edged toughness. And hey, it’s anthemic hard rock! Who doesn’t love that?? (Nobody.)

Now I will admit, Get Yer Boots On is all the Slade I’ve got. Anybody who knows me (or reads this blog regularly) knows that I am not particularly fond of compilations. Get Yer Boots On is all I’ve got because it’s all I could find. Having said that, it is a well-crafted compilation, one that gives us a nice summation of the better parts of Slade’s career. I guess you could divide their development up into four phases: you’ve got their darker, Sabbath-esque early years (“Look Wot You Dun,” “Coz I Luv You”); their peak-era glammy glam bubblegum years (“Mamma Weer All Crazee Now,” “Cum On Feel the Noize,” “Gudbuy T’Jane”); their baroque-pop phase (“Everyday,” “Far Far Away,” “How Does It Feel”); and their straight-ahead 80s metal-pop phase (“Run Runaway,” “My Oh My”). At times the flow can feel a bit jarring – having the 80s-metal “Run Runaway” following the lushly orchestrated 70s number “How Does It Feel” is indeed weird – but overall there’s a nice flow to these tracks.

I would say their first two phases – the dark hard-rock and the goofy glam-rock – offer the most enjoyable Slade to be found here. I’m particularly fond of “Coz I Luv You,” one of their more sinister early hits with what has to be the most badass violin I have heard in a rock song (Andrew Bird, eat your dang heart out) and “Get Down And Get With It,” a simplistic MC5 rocker that, while generic, is still enjoyable. And the glam-rock, oh man. What a barrel of fun. “Take Me Back ‘ome,” “Mama Weer All Crazee Now,” “Cum on Feel The Noize” and my personal favorite Slade tune “Gudbuy T’Jane” are all perfectly-crafted handclap-worthy hard-rock numbers with indelible choruses. It is at this point in the compilation where I can easily credit Slade to being a precusor to AC/DC (“Mama,” in particular, bears a striking similarity to AC/DC’s “Rock ‘N Roll Damnation” – you can easily imagine Bon Scott shouting a bunch of these songs). The goofy fun holds up until the classic “Merry Xmas Everybody,” Slade’s one Christmas song that is one of the most enjoyable holiday songs I have yet heard. Apparently it is held in the same regard as “White Christmas” in Britain. Hmm.

Slade’s out-of-left-field baroque-pop phase in the mid-70s is probably my least favorite, at least from what I’m hearing on Get Yer Boots On. I mean, none of it’s bad – it’s certainly an interesting change of style, and they pull it off pretty well – but it just doesn’t sound like them. The ballad “Everyday,” the folky shuffle “Far Far Away,” and the epic “How Does It Feel” are all impressive songs, but it’s nothing amazing, and undoubtedly contributed to their loss of popularity after around ’75 or so. But then you’ve got their goofy 80’s comeback “Run Runaway,” a rockin’ 80s metal number featuring a vaguely Scottish melody – oddly enough, one of my favorite songs on here. It’s a whole lotta fun! And somehow, their only substantial hit in America. Interesting, that.

So what do I have to say about Slade? Nothing shocking. They were a cool band! And they wrote truly kickass songs that deserve classic status over here – hey, they wrote hard rockers a little better than David Bowie, if you ask this dude. If you love some simple, direct, guttural classic hard-rock, look no further. And don’t let the Britishness scare you! I don’t know why it would! I mean, damn, the Beatles were a pretty British band, weren’t they? Zeppelin? Deep Purple? The Who? Bowie?? No, no, it’s Slade that sound too British. Okay.

(P.S. – I cannot stand the name of this compilation, if only because it constantly reminds me of U2’s “Get On Your Boots.” And everything I think of that song, I have to stop typing and shudder. Really interrupts the flow of things.)

>Album Review: "Close Calls With Brick Walls" by Andrew W.K.

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ehehehahaha

So in my last Andrew W.K. review, I lamented what I perceived to be a dropoff in Mr. Wilkes-Krier’s recorded output since 2003’s The Wolf. I said this, foolishly, not even considering the fact that the man has indeed released a couple records since 2003 – 2006’s Close Calls With Brick Walls, and a collection of J-Pop covers in 2008 (dubbed The Japan Covers). Like the ignoramus I am, I shrugged these records off, considering them a little too obscure to take seriously – I mean, both were only released in Japan, for God’s sake! Where am I going to find them, being the pigheaded American I am? Hell, Close Calls doesn’t even have an Allmusic grade! How am I supposed to know what to think of it??

Of course then I remembered this whole “downloading music” deal and found Close Calls online lickety-split. And then, upon listening to it, the breadth of my idiocy truly came to light. Because it just might be the man’s finest record!

And yes, that might be a mighty claim to make, considering the now-classic status of I Get Wet (I’m not joking there). But despite the non-stop fun of that album, Close Calls just sounds better to me. For one, it’s more diverse – where I Get Wet has a pretty consistent, straightforward formula of “gut-busting super-processed testosterone-rock” with an occasional dance beat or piano intro thrown in for good measure, Close Calls is absolutely all over the map. You’ve got full-blown piano solos (“Dr. Dumont”), bass-driven poetry slams (“Golden-Eyed Dog”), goofy techno-pop (“Pushing Drugs”), jazzy incantations (“Slam John Against A Brick Wall”), dark guitar riff-fests (“Hand On The Place,” “Mark My Grace”) – the list goes on and on. And not only that – I might as well get this out of the way – there are no party songs on this album. Oh sure, there are the usual odes to debauchery in “Las Vegas” and “I Wanna See You Go Wild,” but there are no songs with the word “party” in them. Not a single one.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Not to worry, though! The old Andrew W.K. hasn’t disappeared under a veil of bizarro experimentation – if anything, he’s just gotten more manic. “Not Going To Bed,” the first single off the record, takes the party-hearty formula of I Get Wet and turns it on its ear; it’s a song about staying up all night and never ever going to sleep, ever, taking the message of “Party Hard” to its logical conclusion. It’s easily the loopiest, funniest, and maybe even catchiest single he’s ever put out. And thankfully, Close Calls retain’s Andrew’s wonderful gift for epic anthems – “You Will Remember Tonight,” “When I’m High,” and closer “The Moving Room” should be enough to convince anybody that Mr. W.K.’s still got it (or at least, he hadn’t lost it by 2006). But even the tracks most similar to I Get Wet are a hell of a lot weirder, not to mention the fact that – get this – he actually sings in his normal singing voice most of the time! And hey, his voice is pretty good! It’s nice to know that he can actually move beyond the guttural power-grunt of his first two albums without sacrificing his aggressively happy personality.

Hell, even the lyrics get crazier, something I did not expect. Songs like “One Brother” – with a melody that would suit any of his usual party-till-you-puke lyrics – starts off with “I can roll out of sync with the beat of a rink / ’cause I roll on my own terms / I don’t need any sisters anymore / I already ate my fill of worms.” I definitely get a quasi-psychedelic vibe from Close Calls, especially from the two opening tracks that don’t sound like Andrew W.K. at all – the unusual ballad “I Came For You” and the synth-driven dirge of “Close Calls With Bal Harbour,” a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on the second side of Ween’s Quebec. It’s only until you reach “Not Going To Bed” that you realize that, despite his newfound weirdness, this is still Andrew W.K.

So maybe Close Calls won’t appeal to Andrew W.K. diehards who swear by his first two records. I don’t know. What I do know is that Close Calls feels like a real step forward, and was probably one of the weirdest and most entertaining records released by a mainstream artist in 2006, which makes it all the sadder that he hasn’t released a record in the US since The Wolf. It also, unfortunately, means that in the US Andrew W.K. may well be remembered as a one-hit wonder who only replicated the same formula with The Wolf only to shuffle off into obscurity, which is a shame. Close Calls proves to me that the guy is much more than a novelty – hell, I Get Wet already proved that to me, but this one is so much more diverse and well-produced that it leaves no room for doubt. Every bit of goofy weirdness, Wagnerian bombast and hard-rock psychedelics that bubbled under the surface of his first two records finally comes to a head on Close Calls, and it is quite a glorious thing.

I also have managed to come across The Japan Covers recently, which I haven’t listened to all the way through yet. Maybe I’ll review it in the future. I know Andrew apparently planned Close Calls to be the first in a trilogy of new records, ending with Young Lord in 2007, but that never came to pass. A shameful shame. He does, apparently, have an all-piano album coming out sometime this year. It’s good to know the guy’s still active. We all need a little joy in our lives, don’t we?

LATE EDIT: This review was very nicely linked to on Andrew W.K.’s website. I don’t know how they found this blog and/or the review, but thank you SO MUCH to whoever posted it! It’s crazy! (If it was actually Andrew W.K. himself, hotdamn, THANKS EVEN MORE)