>Requested Review: "The Freed Weed" by Sebadoh

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bleaaghhhh!!

I’ve gotta write this review before it drives me completely insane. Friend of the blog Liz decided to request and album that is 70+ minutes in length with a series of songs that rarely exceed the minute-and-a-half mark. In layman’s terms, this is a long long album with lots and lots of songs and man I can’t wrap my head around it! It doesn’t matter how good the music is, I am so terrible with long albums. Even when I listen through them two or three times I don’t feel like I’m listening hard enough or I’m not getting those lyrics down or – you know, I’m just not doing the artist justice here. As of this writing I have only listened through Sebadoh’s Freed Weed one-and-three-quarter times. How is that enough?? I’m the laziest man in the world. Let’s just do this thing.

Freed Weed, I have heard, is a collection of Sebadoh’s earliest work. It’s a combination of tracks from their first couple releases: 1989’s Freed Man and 90’s Weed Forrestin’. Upon further research – and I literally just noticed this – Forrestin’ comprises the first half of this album, with bits of Freed Man comprising the second. It’s not like it matters all that much, considering that both albums sounded pretty similar anyway, so I’m just going to save myself the trouble and refer to The Freed Weed as its own entity.

I can’t talk about specific tracks right now. Can’t do it. They all go by so fast! Let me just talk about how this album sounds: downtrodden, loose, poorly recorded. The lowest possible lo-fi, with the exception of the songwriting (because, y’know, it’s Lou Barlow and he’s good). I have no idea how much of this music was written with the expectation that other people would listen to it. From the sound of it, it just seems like Lou Barlow and Eric Gaffney’s cute little project. Most of this was recorded while Lou was still bassin’ it for Dinosaur Jr., right? Am I right? I have no idea. I distinctly remember reading in Our Band Could Be Your Life about how, at this point, Lou was just so intimidated by J Mascis’s songwriting that he was too shy to take his own songs seriously. I mean – I can see where he was coming from, considering that Mascis was at the top of his game in the 80’s, but man. The guy was just not interested in recording his songs in a nice way!

I like a lot of songs on here, though. What I can remember, at least. Let me scan through the tracklisting here and shoot off some names: “Punch In The Nose” I LOVE. What’s with those horns? Is that a trumpet? I don’t know horns too well. But it’s such a funny, catchy melody. “Brand New Love” is pretty, and what’s that near the end? A sped-up sample of Dinosaur Jr’s classic “The Lung”! A great song hidden in a great song. “Slightest Suggestion” is haunting beauty despite all that tape hiss. “Jealous Of Jesus” was funny before I even heard it. Lyrics: “Everybody wants to dance with Jesus / Nobody wants to dance with me.” “Bolder” is interesting but it doesn’t sound like Lou, unless he fudged with his voice or something. Oh, and the intro to “True Hardcore,” in which Mr. Barlow lovingly claims that “This is a ripoff of every other song I’ve ever done.” Ha-ha! I wouldn’t agree with him but it’s a funny thing for a man to say.

Lou Barlow has a heck of a nice voice. Does anybody ever complain that he’s too wimpy or mopey? Or over-emotional? I don’t think he is, but I worry that others might think he is. Maybe he borders on it a little bit. But honestly, I would go out on a limb and say the guy has a nicer voice than J Mascis. I mean, I’m not taking anything away from J – in the context of Dinosaur Jr., his warbly vocals are perfect. But Lou’s is a lot more appealing to my ears. More flexible, I guess.

I’m sorry for this nothing-for-nothing review of Sebadoh’s The Freed Weed. My consensus: I do enjoy it. It’s pretty consistently melancholy, and not every song is gonna stick in your head, but the ones that do are real winners. The guy was a talented songwriter! This is not the first Sebadoh album I have heard – that would be III, which I heard about a year ago and generally enjoyed. But man, that one sounds polished compared to these songs. “The Freed Pig”, have you heard that song? Compared to these songs that is a bonafide pop-rock song! Also a GREAT GREAT song that is great.

Lou Barlow also wrote my favorite song on Dinosaur Jr.’s Beyond, “Back To Your Heart”. I’m an idiot and I haven’t listened through Farm yet so I don’t know what songs he did on that. But I’m sure they’re memorable! Lou Barlow, talented man. Indie-rock-nerdy guy with a lot of heart. I’m repeating myself.

By the way, I was wondering if anybody noticed (or cared), but I am never writing about video games in this blog again. Ever. Maybe a passing reference, but nothing else. Gaming culture is just – I can’t contribute to it. I have nothing to say. I’m afraid! I put up a positive review of Final Fantasy IV DS about a year ago and it made my good friend Ben Vigeant very upset with me. Legitimately upset. I just have nothing new or interesting to say.

What I realize is this – I love video games so much. I mean, to death. How can I not? The first music I ever loved was video game music. It was there before I even started listening to the Beatles, for god’s sake. But it’s because of this – this instinctive love of certain genres of games from my youngest years – that I have no confidence in my own tastes in games. My only current-gen console as of this writing is a Wii, and I have four games for it – all first-party Nintendo. Almost every game I have played through in the past year has been a Japanese RPG on the Super Nintendo that I have emulated on my computer. So who the shit would wanna listen to what I have to say about any game at all? Who cares? I don’t get angry at bad games the way I do about bad music. Some shitty Iron Man movie-based piece of crap isn’t going to get me riled up like the new Panic at the Disco album. When I write about music, I feel entirely confident. I never feel that way about video games.

It’s just different. Playing a video game is so totally different than listening to music. It’s – you’re putting yourself into something. It’s an experience. An even more personal experience than music, for me at least. And I have no idea how to talk about that, or how to be discerning about it. It gets to the point where I’ll listen to a Retronauts podcats from 1up.com, and actually get upset because they’ll get all cynical about old games I like! And I’ll be like, “What? What was so bad about the Gamecube?” and shut the thing off. I don’t get it. How could you get angry about something like Donkey Kong Country when Say Anything is still making money?? I can’t do it. Can’t.

But hey. Lou Barlow. Sebadoh. Better than any stinkin’ VIDIOT game!! That’s how my mom always referred to video games. Very clever of her.

Also, a bit of a P.S.: My buddy Emily Neumann has formed a band, apparently. They are called Terrella. I never thought of Ms. Emily as a musically-inclined human being (not meant as an insult) so I was kinda surprised when she told me about it, but pshh! Good for her! I haven’t gotten a chance to listen to them yet but they apparently need a rhythm guitarist. So join their band while you can! Before they hit it big and you’re sittin’ around with your rhyhtm guitar not knowing what to do like some kind of idiot.

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>Self-Requested Review: "Rough Mix" by Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane

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two friendly dudes

Requested reviews are slow in the making! Oh no!!

Sorry for the whole “no updates” thing over the past couple of weeks. I promised myself I wouldn’t have to spend the first three paragraphs of a review explaining my lack of updates but here we are again. Let’s get the excuses out of the way: the next requested album I’m reviewing is Sebadoh’s The Freed Weed, and it’s really long and as such I haven’t listened to it enough yet. This is mostly because I have been listening to a bunch of other records I have been picking up on whim after whim after whim. Also, I’m completely lazy.

But hey, enough excuses. Why don’t I talk about one of the albums that’s been distracting me from my requests? So you can see that I haven’t just been hiding under my bedsheets in deathly silence these past couple weeks? Yeah! What a good idea!!

Rough Mix was a 1977 collaboration between Who guitarist/songsmith Pete Townshend and Small Faces/Faces bassist/songman Ronnie Lane. I’d never listened to this record before because I never knew who the hell Ronnie Lane was – I’d always dismissed it as a record by “Pete Townshend and some dude.” But then, miraculously, I recently discovered the greatness of the Faces AND the Smaller Faces and realized – hey, “some dude” is that Faces bassist! The one who charmingly speak-sings the opening verses during the Faces cover of “Maybe I’m Amazed”!! So I figured a collaboration between two British rock dudes I liked would be something memorable. And hey! I was all too right.

“Collaboration” is actually a loose term here. Rough Mix is, essentially, two solo EPs combined into one full-length record. The structure of the album is literally just “Pete song, Ronnie song, Pete song, Ronnie song…” etc. etc. It’s as if the two of them just said, “Hey, we’ve both got a bunch of good solo songs – why not just throw them together??” And that’s not just in regard to the track layout – their songs sound completely different! Different genres, even. Pete’s songs are all studio-polished pop-rock, unsurprisingly not too dissimilar to what the Who were doing around that time; Ronnie’s songs are all country tunes, laid-back and amiable, accentuated by the charm of his regular-guy voice. This makes the flow of the first half of the album a little jarring – I mean, how does the unassuming beauty of Ronnie Lane’s “Annie” fit between the studio-perfect (and Eric Clapton-cameoed) jam of the title track and the Whoish pop-rock of Pete’s “Keep Me Turning”? It almost sounds as if the two weren’t even in the studio together. And maybe they weren’t!

That’s only for the first half, though. During the second this so-called “collaboration” becomes a little more clear; Ronnie’s late-night acoustic “April Fool” flows perfectly into Pete’s slower “Street In The City,” and the two actually sing together! on the lovely “Heart To Hang On To.” And honestly, I enjoy the songs so much on this album that the unusual flow of the first side doesn’t bother me much at all. With Pete, you’ve got the pop-rock of “My Baby Gives It Away” (a song comparing his wife to a prostitute, I’m guessing), the spiritually Who-worthy “Keep Me Turning,” the kinda-dumb “Misunderstood” (although lyrically it’s a pretty funny song about Pete’s desire to be elusive and mysterious) and the bizarro “Street In The City” which starts off as a nice acoustic number and somehow morphs into a string-laden opera full of Townshend’s trademark overwritten “serious” lyrics. Despite a few snags here and there, Pete’s stuff is all solid, and if anything these songs proved he was viable enough as a solo artist (a notion confirmed when he recorded Empty Glass a few years later).

But hey! I almost like Ronnie’s songs better. And I barely even know the guy! “Nowhere To Run” and “Annie” are two of the loveliest, most laid-back songs I have heard in a while; “April Fool,” with its subtle acoustic backing and crackling vocals, might be my favorite song on the album; and his verse-singing on “Heart To Hang Onto” is all too charming. “Camelody” is kind of a dumb honky-tonk thing but what can you do? Ronnie Lane’s songs are just so damn nice that I can’t resist them. His voice is like a cross between George Harrison’s and Bob Dylan’s. I like him! Makes me sad that I hadn’t discovered this guy until just recently.

So there is a whole lot to like on Rough Mix. If you’re a Pete Townshend fan, pick it up for some lost gems in his solo catalog, along with a bunch of songs by some guy you’ve never heard of but who is actually really great. If you’re a Ronnie Lane fan then you probably already have this album because this was probably the most popular record this guy had any part in besides those Faces albums. And if you’re not a fan of either – come on!! What are you, a Peter Frampton fan?

But no. Forget about this review. You all want your “requested reviews” don’t you? You don’t want to hear about albums I want you to listen to! How boring is that? Well, I assure all of you that the requested reviews coming up will all be hilarious corkers that you will relish for years and years to come. The Sebadoh one might not be too exciting (SPOILER ALERT: it’s pretty good), but the rest of them, hoo-ee! You’ve got so so many more genres that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. Your southern rock. Your electro-indie-pop. Your 70’s prog. Your techno. Limp Bizkit. It’s all gonna be heard and talked about by yours truly as soon as possible.

(“As soon as possible” obviously meaning “whenever I get tired of listening to Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “The Great Airplane Strike” on a continuous loop”)

(Also something I forgot to mention in the review: during the recording of Rough Mix Ronnie Lane was diagnosed with MS. He lived in agony for another two decades before his untimely death. Just thought I’d let you know!)

>Requested Review: "Appetite For Destruction" by Guns ‘N Roses

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see, THIS is the album cover all the kids wanna see

Today’s requested review comes straight from the brain of one Robert Schwartz. I will refrain from making this review personal or confessional in any way, but the truth remains that I have known Mr. Schwartz longer than anyone else who has requested a review from me – since 3rd grade, in fact. We were very close friends for many many years (we traded Japanese Pokemon cards when they were still in vogue, for god’s sake – that is the sign of true friendship!!) until we sadly went our separate ways after Rob transferred to a different high school. And 9/11 and all that. Changed everything.

And yet, despite the incredible odds against our friendship, we have maintained a loving correspondence over the years. Believe it or not, Mr. Schwartz was actually responsible for inviting me to my first rock concert EVER – a Kiss/Aerosmith show way back in 2003. Without that epochal show, I may never have become as obsessed with rock ‘n roll music as I am now (despite the fact that I hardly listen to either band, but that’s null and void). So in effect, I owe the guy this very blog!! But now Rob has entrusted me with the task of reviewing (sigh) his FAVORITE ALBUM IN ALL OF ROCK MUSIC’S EXISTENCE – 1987’s well-regarded classic Appetite For Destruction by the one and only Guns ‘N Roses. And so, once again, I have been forced into the awkward position of telling a dear friend that their favorite 45-minute-long period of music ever conceived is disreputable trash.

Hmm? Hmm. No, no, my bad again. It’s disreputable garbage.

Ha! Ha! A little misdirection there!!

Fun fact: I had never listened to the entirety of Appetite For Destruction before last week. Not even once. The hits I have always known, but nothing else. This is because I am simply not that interested in the folk-rock combo famously known as “Guns And Roses.” Their hits are pretty good but I don’t like Axl Rose too much and his unfalteringly egomaniacal personality never really appealed to me. I have also never been fond of his voice, and then there was that whole Chinese Democracy thing and I wanted nothing to do with that, because the thought of Guns ‘N Roses with Axl as the only remaining original member is just a horrifying concept. So I never actively sought out Appetite until Mr. Rob prodded me to review it for him. So here I am, and I’ve listened to it, and I’m being a total dick about it! Surprise of the century.

Honestly, I don’t have that much to say about Appetite For Destruction. I’m not in love with it, but it’s got some killer tracks. It was obviously a colossal megahit and a lot of people love it to death, and I have nothing against that. I personally find it a little too slick and indulgent – at least on Axl’s part – to find it as enjoyable as, say, AC/DC’s Back In Black. It’s tough for me to give a singular, generalized opinion on this record. I’m just all over the place here!

A few thoughts:

– “Paradise City” is a great song. This is probably obvious to a lot of people, but I haven’t heard it in a really long time and I never realized how good it was until now. It’s the little things: that echoey guitar intro, followed by those heavy drums, kick things off perfectly. Then there’s that cute little synth that doesn’t show up anywhere else on the album, and Slash’s nigh-perfect guitar riff-noodling about a minute in that might be my favorite aspect of the song. And how ’bout that sudden thrashy breakdown during the song’s last two minutes?? Damn, that’s good. It’s a very well structured track. And it’s mostly based around that chanty chorus, so there’s no room for any embarrassing wannabe-badass Axl lyrics! This is nothing but a good thing (time – Bret Michaels).

– I know as a musical critic of music I am supposed to champion obscure album tracks over the more well-known radio hits, but I will say without reservation that the big hits on this album are probably the best and most distinctive. “Sweet Child O’Mine” is still lovely, “Paradise City” tears, “Welcome To The Jungle” is ridiculous fun. The only album track that totally grabs me is “Mr. Brownstone” – most of the rest of the songs here range from pretty cool to kinda meh. At least from my first couple listens.

– I don’t like Axl’s voice much but I kinda dig his lower, goofier voice. It can sound a little boneheaded, but it gives songs like “It’s So Easy” and especially “Mr. Brownstone” a provocative edge.

– I somehow remember Mark Prindle actively registering his dislike for the last couple minutes of “Rocket Queen,” the closing track here. I, for some reason, very much enjoy it. It’s got kind of an anthemic, uplifting edge that most of the rest of the album lacks.

– The well-known MegaMan X3 anthem “My Michelle” has a killer heavy riff but I just can’t get past Axl’s vocal delivery. He tries a little too hard to sound “dangerous” on this one, and it annoys me. I was actually gonna slam the lyrics for being in the same vein (“Your daddy works in porno / now that mommy’s not around / she used to love her heroin / but now she’s underground!”) until I read that they are actually a brutally honest chronicle of one of the band’s friends, named Michelle. She wanted a pretty song about her, and Axl wrote this. That’s just hilarious.

– Why are these guys compared to the Stones so much? They sound nothing like them. They’re more like a meaner Aerosmtih.

– “Think About You” is a cool song.

– “You’re Crazy” is pretty fast! Almost punk-rock!!

– I respect what Guns ‘N Roses represented. They were a bunch of mean drug addicts in a sea of cutesy boy-toy Bon Jovis during the late 80s. Unfortunately, said respect does not guarantee that I will listen to this album all that much. Except for “Paradise City” which I want to listen to all the time now.

-My reviews of the rest of GNR’s discography are as follows. As I have never listened to any of these albums before – and probably never will – I will base my opinions on them primarily on what I remember of reviews I’ve read.

GNR Lies – Axl Rose is a racist!!
Use Your Illusion I – Bloated! Every track is like 10 minutes long!!
Use Your Illusion II – Bloateder! Might have that song where Axl yells at all of his critics by name but I forget, either way that’s kinda silly
Spaghetti Incident?!? – Covers a real cool Damned song! Also a Charles Manson song because Axl is an attention whore.
Chinese Democracy – no no let’s not get into this

Bottom Line: It’s Guns ‘N Roses. You know what to expect.

Rob, I tried to give you a good review here. I really did. I know I’ve failed you. I’ll make it up to you somehow.

Hey you remember that time you emailed me some porn over AOL way back in the day? And your dad found it and called me angrily, thinking that I had sent it to you for some reason? And he wanted to talk to my parents and I started crying?? Yeah I remember that.