>Album Review: "Real Live" by Bob Dylan

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the wrinklesss

It’s another Bob Dylan live album. Nothing more, nothing less.

I realize that maybe it’s pointless to review a record like Real Live when I haven’t even covered Dylan’s 80’s studio records yet. There’s no context! Why would you care??

Well, okay. Here is a little context. Real Live covers bits of Dylan’s ’84 tour, sandwiched between ’83’s Infidels and ’85’s Empire Burlesque. The former is a pretty decent record, the latter I haven’t even heard yet. His backing band consisted of a smattering of FM rock icons (Mick Taylor on guitar, ex-Face Ian McLagan on the keys, Carlos Santana on guitar here and there), and the disc itself was produced by Glyn Johns if that means anything to you.

The negatives: Dylan sounds pretty haggard here. A little more sprightly than At Budokan, but nowhere near his tour-de-force Rolling Thunder performances. But what would you expect? The guy was over 40 at this point. This record captures him in an awkward transitional phase, between his triumphant mid-70’s comeback and his sudden re-emergence in the late 90’s, when his new-found “old man wheeze” suddenly became an asset. Here, it just sounds sad.

Also, despite the talent present in Dylan’s band, almost every Highway 61 song here sounds incredibly dopey. Lame, “rockin'” versions of each one. Too professional. No heart. Why does “Highway 61 Revisited” sound like T. Rex, for God’s sake? Who thought that was a good idea??* And the electrified “Masters of War” robs it of all its haunting allure. Egh.

The positives: “Tangled Up In Blue” is phenomenal. And it’s got new lyrics! Hey!! That should warrant an illegal download for this thing, at the very least. It’s not the best version of the song by a longshot, but it is a lovely experience, and the new third-person lyrics will keep you hooked. Just as good as the Rolling Thunder version, I would say.

The other solo acoustic songs here are good, as well. “It Ain’t Me, Babe” and “Girl From North Country” aren’t anything new, but they are nice. Dylan sounds a lot better here than on the electric songs, if you can believe that. Also, the two Infidels songs here – “License To Kill” and “I And I” – sound pretty good, and work better with this band than the Highway 61 tracks.

Overall: a decent experience, but not essential. Only 52 minutes long, so at least it’s over with quicker than Budokan (which clocked in at 99 ungodly minutes). Check out “Tangled Up In Blue” if you can find it.

Aww, Bob. If only you had stuck with that band of young L.A. punks you cobbled together for that one time you were on Letterman! That would have been so great!!

I mean, come ON.

Come ONNNNNNN

…more on that for the big 80’s post, I guess. It’s coming!! Mark your calendars. If you can predict the date, that is.

* Nothing against T.Rex. Electric Warrior, that was a good one.

>Requested Review: "Discovery" by Daft Punk

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i could have just put up the american cover art here but how boring would THAT be

So tonight I will be reviewing Daft Punk’s 2001 record Discovery, as requested by blog/twitter/comicfriend Stephanie O’Donnell. It is a funny thing that has happened, with this record here; I first listened to it over a month ago, right after I finally managed to purge Chocolate Starfish from my system. And not only did I enjoy it, I listened to it a good four or five times within the span of a few days, feeling pretty prepared to write a nice review while my Daft Punk buzz was still lingering.

But THEN I spent a month and a half doing absolutely nothing! Life. So it is.

Either way, I am happy to be reviewing Discovery. Despite the fact that this is the first time I have actually sat down and listened to a Daft Punk album all the way through, my love of the classic “One More Time” runs so deep that I almost feel like I have been a fan of the band for years. Forgive me for turning into a hyperbolic critic for a second, but it is such a perfect end-of-the-millennium pre-9/11 party jam that it is impossible for me not to consider it a classic. Like Andrew W.K.’s similar classic “Party Hard” from the same year, it revels in the sheer power of insistent, sloganeering repetition: “ONE MORE TIME!” “WE’RE GONNA CELEBRATE!” “CELEBRATE AND DANCE SO FREE!” “…ONE MORE TIME!!” And of course, filtered through Romanthony’s heavily-filtered vocals, you just have to listen. It is one of those songs that just sounds like such a good time, it is impossible not to have a good time yourself the moment you hear it.

It doesn’t hurt that “One More Time” came out back when I was in 8th grade, one of my more enjoyable years attending public school. I will not bother you with my memories of the song, because they aren’t particularly exciting. But I will say that, thanks to “One More Time,” my memories of that time seem a lot more colorful and intoxicating than I imagine they actually were.

I will say that Discovery is, like “One More Time,” an album that evokes constant party-times and does not let up throughout its hour-or-so running time. Even when “One More Time” and “Aerodynamic” end with ominous church bells, or the synth keyboards of “Nightvision” briefly bring the album into a chilled-out groove, Discovery has an unstoppable energy. In fact, the album’s first four tracks are so powerful that it is almost impossible for the rest of the record to follow them up: besides the aforementioned opener “One More Time,” we have the twisted instrumental “Aerodynamic” (with a processed guitar solo in the middle that I am pretty much in love with), followed by what might be my favorite track on the record next to “One More Time” – “Digital Love.” Unlike most of Discovery‘s other tracks, “Digital Love” relies more on a poppy (and, obviously, vocodered) vocal melody than a repetitious techno-dance groove, and is all the better for it. I mean, it’s just so catchy! And adorable! And there are synth-horns that come out of nowhere. I have no idea who sings it, but man. It is an intoxicating and lovely track.

This four-track opening blitz ends with “Harder Better Faster Stronger” which I don’t need to say a word about. You know it, you idiot. Let’s not play these games!! It was in that Kanye song and that Youtube clip of that guy with the fingers. Of course you know it. Now, I am not going to sit here and tell you that Discovery gets worse all of the sudden after “Stronger” is over – that would not be right of me, to say such things. Because who can knock the insane blip-bloopy rush of “Crescendolls”? Or the funky, laid-back groove of “Something About Us”? Or the insistent dance-floor dramatics of “Superheroes? or “High Life”? Nobody can, that is who. Especially not somebody like me!

At the same time, I feel that Discovery‘s techno-dance-grooves become less and less distinctive as the record wears on. That is just how it is for me. I don’t always make it to the ten-minute closer “Too Long,” that is all I am saying. Some of the last few tracks on here seem to repeat a pleasant little keyboard hook, throw some phatt-ass beats under it, and repeat them over and over adding a little bit more to the mix each time. It is entertaining background dance-floor music to be sure, but it does not hold my attention for too long. I am only saying this because, well, the first half or so of Discovery is just so good and distinctive – “One More Time” and “Digital Love” being the chief examples here – that the record’s second half feels a little more disposable. (And I feel like Daft Punk knew they were front-loading the album – the first four tracks I mentioned above were all released as singles.)

But perhaps I am being finicky. I have listened through Discovery in its entirety several times and have enjoyed it. I admit that I know little to nothing about Daft Punk – I have never heard ’97’s Homework or ’05’s Human After All – so it is impossible for me to judge this record in the context of their career. The albums that bookend this one could sound completely different, or could be more of the same. I don’t know, man!! What I do know about Discovery is that it is a perfectly pleasant and often exhilirating techno-pop album, one of those unique records that is easily accessible to a mainstream pop audience but also contains a sense of depth and ingenious studio finesse that you many not always find in a pop record.

I guess the bottom line is, it is a fun album and I like it a whole bunch.

There! That wasn’t so hard.

How many Daft Punk fans have I upset with this review? Several, I bet. I feel like there is a lot more I could say about Discovery, especially after all this time and all these playthroughs, but oh well. This is how I always feel, after these reviews. It never gets any easier.

Either way, I feel that I am once again energized to get some reviews done. The next one – the next one’s gonna be a good one, folks. I can feel it. It’s one I’ve been waiting to do for a good long time. Be prepared!!

>Requested Review: "Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water" by Limp Bizkit

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Famed blogger Sean Rose, preparing himself for his greatest review ever.

I promised myself I would not let this happen. I promised myself that I would listen through Limp Bizkit’s 2000 long-player Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water all the way through once or twice within the span of a couple days, review it, and be done with it. And then I could move on, free to focus on the next batch of requested reviews and whatever I wanted otherwise. Free from the ne’er-ending gaze of the Red Cap.

But here I am, almost a month after I first listened to this album, and the blog has remained silent until now. Clearly, I have failed.

Do I have any excuses for this delay? No, no. Nothing legitimate. To offer some kind of explanation, here is a brief rundown of my listening experiences with this record throughout the last month:

– Got the album. Listened to it. Made fun of it on Twitter. Somehow managed to make it all the way to track 11 (“I’ll Be OK”) before I started to feel sick and turned it off.
– Listened to “The Rod Stewart Album” for the first time. Liked it a lot.
– Listened to “The Rod Stewart Album” a few more times.
– Started the next track on Starfish, “Boiler,” days later. Got 20 seconds in before I put something else on.
– Listened to “The Rod Stewart Album” one more time. Still good.
– Weeks passed. Finally listened to “Boiler,” along with the rest of the album.
Made fun of it on Twitter again.

And, well. Here I am. A changed man.

I still am not sure how to approach a review like this. Trying to pidgeonhole a record like Chocolate Starfish with words like “good” or “bad” is an exercise is futility. This is a record that simply… exists. As such, I feel it is only necessary to give you a brief rundown on what you might find in this, this seventy-five minute long hell-creature commonly referred to as “Limp Bizkit’s third album.”

– In case you skimmed over the previous statement, I will repeat: this record is seventy-five minutes in length. Seventy. Five. Minutes. In that span of time, only four songs are less than four minutes long, one of which is the album’s minute-long spoken word intro. Average song length here would be around five minutes, often bordering on six – with a few near the end of the record surpassing seven. Now, I’ll be fair here and admit that Starfish‘s ten-minute “Outro” probably should not count as a proper track, since it’s just a lazy compilation of studio noises and Ben Stiller prattling on about his love of the band (I’ll get to that later). So in reality the record is only about 65 minutes long.

But that’s… that’s still a lot. To put things in perspective, I have trouble with 60+ minute long albums by bands I LIKE, unless it’s fucking Exile On Main Street or something. I can’t tell you how much better I feel Michael Jackson’s Dangerous or even R.E.M.’s New Adventures In Hi-Fi would have been if they had just whittled away a few songs here and there. So that is something to keep in mind.

– The first proper song in here, “Hot Dog,” features Fred Durst saying the word “fuck” almost 50 times. I know this because he keeps count: “If I say ‘fuck’ two more times / that’s 46 fucks in this fucked up rhyme!!” And as a bonus, if you listen through all three minutes and fifty seconds of the song for yourself, Fred will give you a full rundown on many, many other things that are “fucked up” (including, but not limited to: the world, peoples’ faces, a kid AND the knife he is holding, and life itself).

It also happens to have the ugliest chorus in the history of popular music.

– If you enjoy the classic Limp single “Rollin’,” and are bemused by the fact that 99.9% of most commercially released rock records do NOT feature the song, Chocolate Starfish is the record for you. “Rollin'” is featured here not once, but twice: first as the original single (“Air Raid Vehicle”) version, and later on as an extended remix (“Urban Assault Vehicle”) version. Single version’s 3:34 minutes, remix version’s 6:32 minutes. For those keeping count, that is almost ten straight minutes of “Rollin’. Almost one-sixth of the record.

– There are some guest voices featured on this record. They are: Xzibit on “Getcha Groove On,” the most explicitly hip-hop oriented track here; Method Man, Redman, and DMX on “Rollin’ (Urban Assault Vehicle)”; and Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots pops in to sing most of “Hold On.” I don’t hold any particular love for any of these guys (well, maybe Method Man and Redman but that’s it), but they are a breath of fresh air after almost one straight hour of Fred Durst’s obnoxious yelping. If there were a guest singer/rapper on every track here, Starfish would be a whole lot easier to fight through.

– Oh, and yes, I guess Ben Stiller counts as a guest vocal too. For some reason, he and the Limp were tight bros back in 2000; not only does he show up in the intro to the Rollin’ music video, he gets an explicit shout-out from Fred in the intro to “Livin’ It Up” (in which he is referred to as Fred’s “favorite motherfucker”) and has a bizarre recorded conversation with the band during the “Outro.” After asking Fred if he grew up with DJ Lethal (and whether or not they called him DJ Lethal when he was a kid), he starts to giggle maniacally. Then his giggling is looped, over and over again, for about 3 full minutes.

– And – AND – according to Wikipedia, this record also features the guest vocals of Third Eye Blind’s Stephan Jenkins, Mark Wahlberg, and (I am not making this up) skateboarder/Rob and Big star Rob Dyrdek. I have no idea where they are on this record, but suffice it to say if this is not some kind of Wiki-editing prank and they are in there somewhere, then Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water currently holds the world record for “Largest Percentage of Sheer Unfiltered Douche In A Commercially Released Rock Album.” (What I am saying is, Rock Against Bush Vol. 2, you will have to settle for second place.)

– 90% of this record is your generic rap-rock garbage-guitar business, with Fred Durst complaining about everybody hating his band in the most lyrically blunt way possible (“hate is all the world has even seen lately,” indeed). This you probably already assumed. But there are a few songs here that manage to break the mold: “The One,” for instance, is a straight-up love song with not a single “shit” or “fucked up” to its name if you can believe that. Hell, it even has an interesting echoey guitar riff that god forbid I actually like! I mean, on any other record it would probably not be much, but in the middle of this 75-minute behemoth it is like finding an oasis in the middle of the Sahara. The aforementioned “Getcha Groove On” is a passable attempt at straight hip-hop, at least in Limp Bizkit terms. And “Hold On” is a slow, grungy ballad mostly sung by Scott Weiland, and it works because it doesn’t actually sound like a Limp Bizkit song at all until Fred Durst finally decides to show up. Which, sadly, is right after the first chorus.

– I never thought Fred Durst was a particularly talented lyricist/rapper, for obvious reasons. But I honestly never knew he was this bad. Most of the rhymes here make “Nookie” sound like Paul’s Boutique – that is, when Fred actually bothers to rhyme and doesn’t just end a line with a misplaced “shit” or “fucked up.”

God. God. What else can I say?

To put this record in perspective, Chocolate Starfish was the last Limp Bizkit record released when the band was still a significantly popular group. Shortly after its release, guitarist/skull-suit-wearing-dude Wes Borland would quit the band, leaving them in a creative tailspin. The unfortunately-titled Results May Vary would be released to commercial and critical guffaws in 2003, featuring a remarkable cover of the Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes.” After that, I could care less what happened to them.

That all, in a nutshell, is all you need to know about Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water – or, at least, is all I could possibly write about them without driving myself insane. Originally I was planning on just ignoring a review entirely in favor of a list of notable lyrics from the album, but this would require me to listen through the album multiple times and I was not planning on doing that. Feel free to look them up yourself.

And to be fair, blogbuddy Dave Winchell knew exactly how I would react to his request, so I am not worried about disappointing him. I am worried, admittedly, that after almost a month-long buildup this review has failed to meet some lofty expectations. If that is the case, then I apologize deeply.

But what I can say is this: I have listened to this album twice through, and I have come out alive. And at the end of the day, isn’t that enough??

>On the New Year, Comics, and Upcoming Requested Reviews

>Hello people! A happy new decade to you all. I have to apologize for the lack of updates in the past month or so. This laziness can be attributed to two things:

1) The holiday season. Even though I was home all month and could have easily updated. HEYY.
2) My next requested review is Limp Bizkit’s “Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water,” which is such an outstanding chore to listen to that I have to turn it off within two minutes of putting it on.

So yes, these are unfortunate reasons. But I will write that review soon! I will power through!! Maybe tomorrow, maybe tonight? No, maybe not. But definitely – DEFINITELY – sometime next week. I’ve gotta get this monkey off my back, you know?

But you might be wondering, “HEY HEY Sean, what other requested albums are you gonna be reviewing??” That’s a fair question. Here is a shortlist of the current requests I will be taking care of, in chronological order:

– Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water, requested by Dave Winchell
– Daft Punk’s Discovery, requested by Captain Booyah
– Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Tarkus, requested by Adam Spektor
– Faith No More’s Angel Dust, requested by James
– They Might Be Giants’ The Else, requested by Steve Winchell (he’s been throwing a lot of these at me, this is the last one, I THINK it’s serious)

So yeah. That’s the lineup so far. I would also like to put it out there and make these “requested reviews” a continuous and lasting thing, because I seriously enjoy them and want to do a whole lot more of them. So if anybody, ANYWHERE, has an album they would like me to review, shoot me an email or leave a comment anywhere on this blog and I will get right on it! I promise you this.

Also, I would like to take a second and talk about comics. Comics that, believe it or not, I have been making. If you remember those hourly comics I made last year, I have been making more of them this month, whenever I get the chance. The last ones I did you can read here, and you can keep following my LJ to read more of them. They are a whole lot of fun to do!

Also, just to let you know: I have some new Tom Petty Comics from Steve, just sittin’ around. Those will come. They will.

So that’s it for now. The Limp Bizkit review will come in the next week or so, I promise you this. I just… I just need the willpower.

>Requested Review: "Wilco (the album)" by Wilco

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adorable.

My good buddy Matt Hoffman has been waiting for his requested review for a good long time now. And with good reason – he’s been waiting since, what, July? Poor guy.

Matt asked me to review Wilco’s new self-titled album (Wilco (The Album) as they call it), which I have had sitting in my iTunes since its release without having actually listened to it once in its entirety. I can’t explain why this is; a few songs have popped up here and there, but I guess I have just been distracted with other records, which tends to happen often (I have a horrible attention span). But I consider Wilco to be one of my favorite modern rock bands, and so it is a little weird that I have ignored their new release for such a long time. I haven’t heard Dinosaur Jr’s new album yet either, which came out around the same time as Wilco’s. Do I just not care anymore?? Oh jeez.

No, I don’t think that’s it. I am just not a man that gets very excited about new music releases from anybody (which is kind of weird since I run a music blog but let’s get past that for a bit), so I just kind of let them fall by the wayside. The only new release that I have been excited about recently has been the Flaming Lips’ Embryonic – ’cause, y’know, it’s the Flaming Lips and all that. But I am also a pretty big Wilco fan so I still have no real reason to not be all excited about this album too! What is the deal here??

Hey it doesn’t matter let’s just talk about the album we have here. Wilco (The Album)‘s first track is called “Wilco (the song)” and for the life of me sounds like a song that is actually about the band itself, which is the weirdest thing. I could be completely wrong here (and feel free to correct me if I am) but I think Wilco are quite possibly the first band to write a theme song about themselves since, oh I don’t know, the Monkees? But that’s the thing, ‘cuz the Monkees’ theme song was the first track on their first album, not to mention the opening theme song for a TV show based around them (and hey it wasn’t even WRITTEN by them). Wilco, I will say, are the first band to write a track about themselves as the opener of their seventh studio album after a decade-and-a-half career in the music industry. “This is a man with arms open wide / A sonic shoulder for you to cry / ay, ay, ay, on, Wilco / Wilco will love you, baby.” Hmm.

But besides that bizarre moment of self-mythology, Wilco’s new album is not really anything new. I know I sound like kind of a dick saying that, but it’s true; Wilco (The Album) shares the same down-home chilled-out atmosphere as 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, but you’ll hear some Yankee Hotel Foxtrot here and some Summerteeth there, and maybe even some hints of their earliest records. I wouldn’t know, myself, because I’m a terrible Wilco fan and the only Wilco records I have heard are all the ones I just listed above. I’m a shallow shallow man.

Oh man I was going to talk about those other Wilco albums before but I forgot to! Let me fill you in. 1999’s Summerteeth was the first Wilco album I ever heard and it is still my favorite. It’s pop magnificence, man! Catchy hooks and great production and “A Shot In The Arm” and all that. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is pretty good and I love “Heavy Metal Drummer” and all but I am not as crazy about it as so many other people are. I haven’t heard it in a while, maybe that’s my problem, but it’s a little too moody for my tastes. Would you hate me if I told you I kinda like Sky Blue Sky a little better?? It’s such a pretty album! I admit that it’s not a “sonic masterpiece of this decade” or anything like that but it’s just so amiable that I can’t help but love it. “You Are My Face”? “Side With The Seeds”? “What Light”? Get out of my face, those are so good.

So in that context I would say that Wilco (The Album) sounds like a mix of Sky Blue Sky‘s mellow atmosphere and Summerteeth‘s immaculate pop songcraft, which is why I am confused that I don’t like it a lot more than I do. I don’t dislike it or anything, but I have listened through it four or five times now and my only reaction as been along the lines of “oh, that was pleasant.” Pleasant, but nothing that grabs me, you know? Sky Blue Sky was “pleasant” too but it kind of sucked me in in a way that I can’t quite pinpoint. Maybe I just liked the songs better?

That might be the case. My favorite songs here are the straight-up pop songs: the aforementioned “Wilco (the Song)”, the groovy “Sonny Feeling”, and the wonderful “You Never Know,” the first single from the album. “You Never Know” is honestly a great single and probably the best and most inviting pop song Wilco has written since Summerteeth. Every time it comes on I have to sit there and listen to the whole thing, it makes me feel so good! And that cutesy George Harrison-esque guitar solo near the end? Jeff Tweedy are you trying to paralyze me with powerpop fanboy glee?? Man, what a good track.

There are a couple vaguely “artsy” songs on here, too – “Deeper Down” recalls Yankee Hotel Foxtrot with its unusual structure, and “Bull Black Nova” repeats this bizarre monotonous piano riff for a while before descending into a guitar jam not unlike Sky Blue Sky‘s “Impossible Germany.” But besides these songs and the aforementioned pop-rockers, Wilco is a pretty mellow album, almost to a fault. Songs like “Country Disappeared” and “Solitaire” are quite lovely, really they are, and Tweedy’s duet with Feist in “You and I” is nice and all. But it feels a little drab and there are times when I feel like they are retreading old ground – does “I’ll Fight” sound a bit much like “On And On And On” from the last album or am I just paranoid? The whole album smacks of a “been there done that” sort of feeling for me. I think it’s fine for a band to consolidate their strengths and write songs in a signature style that they know they’re good at, and clearly this is what Wilco did on this album. I just feel like most of the songs are not as good as songs on previous releases.

But really – I’m being overly negative. If you are a casual Wilco fan I’m sure you’ll like this album, because it certainly is a Wilco album! Jeff Tweedy sings on every song and there are guitars and catchy hooks and Americana and all that. Also the word “Wilco” is on the cover of the record so you know what you’re in for. And “Sonny Feeling,” hey, that’s a fun little track huh? I think I would honestly like Wilco (The Album) a whole lot more if they’d stuck with the fun pop-rock of those aforementioned few tracks for the whole album, but that’s just me and I am not the wisest man alive.

Matt, do you like it? I’m sorry if you do because I have been a dick in this review like always and I’m sorry to do this to you. I mostly like it! It just feels a little slow and samey sometimes. What can you do?

Whatever. I’m happy Wilco are still around. And when else am I gonna be able to compare them to the Monkees? Never, ever again. That is something to cherish. Oh, how I wish I could write this review of Wilco’s 2009 release Wilco (The Album) for the rest of my life.

But no, I can’t do that. Then when would I ever get to Limp Bizkit??

(Oh, and Matt – do you have a blog or a website or anything? If so gimme a shout and I’ll link to it.)

>Requested Review: "Time" by the Electric Light Orchestra

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remember the good ‘ol 1980s??

Ahh yes, finally, a requested review from none other than good blogfriend and Phil writer Benjamin Vigeant! I’m not sure if anybody remembers this, but Ben was nice enough to request an album review of me about a year ago, the first time I actually bothered to ask people for requests in the first place. He actually requested a comic-review, if you can believe that, and I obliged him by writing one of the worst reviews/comics I have ever made. It was mean-spirited, obnoxious, and – worst of all – horribly horribly drawn. And it barely even mentioned the album he requested in the first place! I would like to delete it forever, but who am I to edit my own past?? I don’t believe in that. I will at least not bother to link to it here – if you really want to fish it out of the archives, God bless you.

So now I hope I can make up for past mistakes with this, what I hope will be a proper review of the album Time by Jeff Lynne’s Electrical Light Orchestra, released in 1981. I am under the impression that Ben asked me to review this one ’cause he knew that I would like it – and, well, he’s right! I will admit that my personal history with ELO is a little limited; the only album of theirs I’d had before I heard Time was A New World Record, which I have always loved. But still, I admit that I feel a little out-of-place giving Time a positive review without being able to compare it to their more well-regarded 70’s albums; I’ve only heard Eldorado a couple times and I haven’t even approached Out Of The Blue. So what I’m saying is, Time could be a complete piece of shit and I’m just so green-behind-the-ears that I can’t hear it!!

Well, OK, I’ll get Time‘s most obvious flaw out of the way right now: it has to be one of the most dated-sounding pop albums I have ever heard. Everything about it, from the synth-drenched orchestration to the vocoder-filtered vocals to the “CRAZY FUTURISTIC” lyrics, screams “I AM A POP ROCK ALBUM RECORDED IN THE EARLY NINETEEN-EIGHTIES.” So I would say that your enjoyment of Time will mostly be based on how many early 80’s production cliches you will be able to stomach in the span of 45 minutes. I, personally, find it to be more cutesy than disgusting, but I am sure there are plenty of listeners who would not share my views on this. These people will not like Time in the slightest.

Oh, and it’s a concept album too! A sci-fi concept album! I probably should have brought that up earlier. What from I can tell, the “plot” (and I use that term loosely) of this album follows some guy from the year 1981 (the year this album was released, coincidentally!!) who is kidnapped by some time-traveling nogoodniks and sent to the year 2095 for some reason that is not really explained. He tries to have sex with a robot, misses his girlfriend a whole lot, and I think is sent back to his own time in the end having learned absolutely nothing. I guess the future is a pretty depressing place, and he doesn’t like it there so much. So he sings about going back to 1981 a whole lot, and then he does. I guess that’s it? Don’t ask me, I am not a genius raconteur like Mr. Jeff Lynne.

But let’s just forgo all of that right now. Time, despite its near-crippling corniness, is a good album ’cause it’s full of those fun and catchy melodies Mr. Lynne and company have always been known for. How can we, as a nation, deny the sheer hookiness of epic rockers like “Twilight” and “Hold On Tight,” the adorable reggae-tinged “The Lights Go Down,” or the wonderful balladry of “Rain Is Falling” and “21st Century Man”? We can’t, we can’t. These songs are so good that you can easily ignore their silly lyrical themes – I mean, I think “Rain Is Falling” is about a time machine or something, but who cares when the melody is just so good?? That’s “Telephone Line” quality, my friend. There are also some neat moments of moodiness here, like the piano melody of “Ticket To The Moon” and the dark synth patterns of “Another Heart Breaks.” Then there is what I would say is my favorite song on the album, “The Way Life’s Meant To Be,” with its lovely flamenco-styled guitar and a melody worthy of A New World Record. What a catchy song! It reminds me that my favorite songs on this album are the ones that sound like “classic” ELO: songs “Rain Is Falling” and “Twilight” would probably fit right in there with their 70s work. But again, that is a somewhat presumptuous thing for me to say, considering that I have barely heard any of their 70’s albums in the first place! Man I should get on that.

There are a couple songs that should be brought to your attention, however. Those would be “Yours Truly, 2095” and “Here Is The News,” far and away the two corniest songs on this record. Mr. Vigeant himself singled these two out just for their totally silly lyrics, and I have to agree with him. The former is a rumination on the protagonist’s new robotic future girlfriend, described as he writes a letter back to his human girlfriend in 1981 (“I met someone who looks a lot like you / she does the things you do / but she is an IBM”). My favorite lines: “She has an IQ of 1001 / She has a jumpsuit on / and she’s also a telephone.” The latter song – easily the most ridiculous on the album – is meant to be a newscast from the year 2095, broadcasting a whole lot of FUUUUTURISTIC events (“The weather’s fine, but there might be a meteor shower”; “A cure’s been found for good ‘ol rocket lag”) over an insistent synth beat and random spoken-word snippets from FUUUUTURE TELEVISION. These are moments of such pure cheesiness that I just can’t help but love them. Suffice it to say, if you can brave these two songs, you are probably going to enjoy Time just fine; if not, I guess I can’t blame you.

But y’know – in the end it’s just a fun pop-rock record. 45 minutes long, full of 3-to-4 minute songs that won’t wear out their welcome. Nothing that’s going to blow you away I’m sure, and there’s plenty to scoff at here for fans of music that isn’t totally embarrassing and dated. But you cannot argue with these melodies, man! They are just so good. I found Time to be a very entertaining trip down melody lane (ha ha) and I am sure you will, too. I’m not sure if this album would appeal to many outside of the hardcore ELO fanbase, but that’s just their loss, huh?

So thank you Ben for recommending this album, and I hope this review rights the horrible ways I have wronged you in the past. I also thank you for not requesting another comic review, which I am sure would have turned out horrible (not because of you – because of ME). That goes for anybody who may request a review from me in the future: do not ask for more comic reviews, ever, please. Not that you would anyway.

So let’s end this with the video for “Twilight,” full of all those early-80’s lightshow effects you all love so much.

>Album Review: "Live At The Olympia" by R.E.M.

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pretty sure Stipe stopped wearing that stupid facepaint for these shows

Oh hey! Today is Thanksgiving in these United States! I hope most of you have enjoyed your turkey and stuffing and gravy and naptime. To celebrate this holiday of thanks I will go ahead and write about a band that I have written about many times before and has nothing to do with Thanksgiving: R.E.M.

R.E.M. are one of my favorite bands ever. I have made this pretty obvious in the past, but it is worth repeating. They are a band that cuts me deep, you see. So when I heard they were putting out a double-disc live album, one that was getting more-than-decent reviews, I figured it was worth a shot. And not only was I not disappointed – I was enthralled. I mean, I expected quality, but I did not expect this much quality. For a huge R.E.M. fan like myself, it is a special treat.

Perhaps some context is necessary. R.E.M., surprisingly enough, have issued only two official live albums in their entire 25+ year existence – and they’ve both been released only in the past couple years. The first one, R.E.M. Live, came out in ’07 and focused on a few 2005 shows in support of Around the Sun, quite possibly the least exciting R.E.M. album ever released. And the tracklisting bore this out: not only was Sun the most represented album there with a whopping six tracks, but most of the other songs were the usual, predictable hits (a little “Losing My Religion” here, a little “Everybody Hurts” there) and questionable album cuts (like “So Fast So Numb,” a decent but middling selection from the otherwise lovely New Adventures In Hi Fi, and “I Took Your Name” from the always-bleghh Monster). As for their classic I.R.S. albums, “Cuyahoga” was the only out-of-nowhere choice there; otherwise, they were barely represented. The band sounded OK, but the album was nothing that was going to bring anybody back to the R.E.M. fold after almost a decade of mediocre albums. If anything, the band sounded more out of touch than ever, trotting out their biggest hits without much gusto. It was, in a word, depressing.

Fast forward to the present. We now have R.E.M. Live At The Olympia, a two-disc 39-song set recorded during their “working rehearsal” shows in July 2007. At this point, Around The Sun had been thoroughly panned and ignored, and the band were determined to write better material for their next record in the face of rapidly thinning fan support. Most of those new songs are previewed here, and would eventually see official release on 2008’s Accelerate, far and away their best album in a decade; so while it’s the most represented record on here, it at least deserves to be, unlike Around the Sun. And as for their older songs, well, let me put it this way: besides Accelerate, the most represented albums on here are (in descending order) Reckoning, Fables Of The Reconstruction, and Chronic Town (FOUR songs from Chronic Town – that’s one song shy of the whole thing). Coming from a band whose setlists have been painfully 90’s-heavy since, well, the 90’s, this is pretty remarkable; I mean, maybe Reckoning isn’t a huge shock, but Fables Of The Reconstruction? With FIVE songs?! And so much of Chronic Town? These are albums most R.E.M. fans assumed they had just plain forgotten about – and maybe they had, considering how cautious they are in the introductions to each older song (especially on “Kohoutek” where Peter Buck goes as far as to say to Michael Stipe, “You should probably apologize to the audience before we play this – it could be bad”).

The important thing is, though, that these old hits sound great. I mean, it doesn’t hurt that they’re great songs to begin with – the early-mid 80’s were a good time for this band – but here they sound even more energetic than ever. I can’t imagine songs like “Maps and Legends” and especially “1,000,000” sounding better; they play these older hits as if they were Lifes Rich Pageant or Accelerate songs, with more muscular guitarwork and front-and-center vocals (Michael Stipe is in really good voice the whole way through – just saying). It’s really something, man. And as for the less-represented albums on here, the song choices are surprisingly top-notch. What would you expect from Document: maybe “The One I Love” and “It’s The End Of the World”? Try “Welcome To The Occupation” and oh-my-lord-yes “Disturbance At The Heron House.” Murmur gets “Sitting Still”(!!) and “West of the Fields”; Lifes Rich Pageant gets “Cuyahoga” and “These Days”; and the wrongs of R.E.M. Live are thankfully righted with the inclusion of “New Test Leper” and “Electrolite” from New Adventures, two of the honest-to-goodness most beautiful songs in the band’s catalog. There are times when I almost feel like this setlist was tailor made for me.

But there could be some complaints. If you are more of a fan of R.E.M.’s more commercially successful late 80’s-early 90’s work, this record will sadden you deeply. There’s nothing from Green or Out Of Time here, and only one song each from Automatic For The People and Monster. Speaking as a diehard Automatic fan, this is a little upsetting, since its one song here – “Drive” – was also on R.E.M. Live (still sounds great though, and at least it’s not the horrible “rock” version they used to play on the Monster tour). But it’s a testament to the quality of this live release that I honestly don’t even notice they’re missing most of the time. Those old hits are just so overwhelmingly well played that it just doesn’t matter. And hey – “Circus Envy,” from Monster, sounds a lot better here than it has any right to.

As for the newer songs, well. Accelerate‘s songs are still wonderful, even in their early incarnations (and I am reminded that “Living Well Is The Best Revenge,” which kicks off the first disc, might be the best song they’ve recorded in the past decade). There’s also a couple of unreleased tracks intended for Accelerate that didn’t quite make the cut: the so-so rocker “Staring Down The Barrel Of The Middle Distance” and the kinda-boring “On The Fly” which finds the band still grappling with the dull-as-nails Around The Sun sound. And speaking of that album, “The Worst Joke Ever” is on here, and isn’t much more exciting than the album version. “I’ve Been High” from Reveal fares a little better – definitely a pretty song, but not a remarkable one. These are the only songs taken from their last few albums, however, and they stick out like a sore thumb (they are literally the SLOWEST SONGS EVER WRITTEN). It just goes to show how eager they were back in the post-Sun fallout to reconnect with the sound that made them great. Listening to this show all the way though, it is easy to see why Accelerate turned out so damn good.

Oh sure, you could trifle a bit with the song choices (as I just did). You could even think to yourself, “hey, maybe these live songs sound a little TOO good to not have been meticulously overdubbed,” but then you would just be a nagging nelly, wouldn’t you? Honestly, if you are an R.E.M. fan of any stripe, this is essential listening – ESPECIALLY if you fell off the wagon after Bill Berry left and haven’t even bothered giving Accelerate a chance. This one, unlike the last live album, will convince you. This release reminds me happily of when I saw these guys live last year, just being shocked at how re-energized, charismatic, and entertaining they were. And hey, they brought out “Ignoreland” and “Find The River” for that show, so I’ll excuse their exclusion of Automatic tracks on here for now. Consider us even, band I love so dearly!!

I’ll end this with a couple videos for you to see: one from one of the Dublin rehearsals, with them playing “Romance,” a B-side they hadn’t played in about twenty years. (Stipe is reading from a lyric sheet, which I’m sure he had to do for most of these old songs.):

Also as a bonus, and old live version of one of my favorite Out of Time tracks, “Half A World Away” (which, in a perfect world, would be on this thing):

>Album Review: "Embryonic" by the Flaming Lips

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MUAHHHHHH (give it a kiss)

So yes, once again I am delaying my next requested review, which I will take care of next week. If this upsets or surprises you, I don’t care because there is a new Flaming Lips album out and if I don’t review it soon I am going to drive myself insane!

In all honesty, I have a lot of trouble reviewing records by bands that are very important to me; so many thoughts and emotions bubble to the surface and I want to get them all in my review, but I never do. As such, I never feel that I’ve said enough and in the end I am not satisfied. So, in that regard, it doesn’t get much worse than reviewing Embryonic – not just a new record by the Flaming Lips, a band I consider one of my long-time personal favorites, but one that is seventy minutes long and is easily one of the densest and most complex records they’ve ever released.

In other words, there is no way I am going to be happy with this review. There are so many things that I am going to forget to say. So I might as well just go with the flow.

I won’t bore you with my extensively personal experiences with the Flaming Lips’ music. I’ll save that for another time. Anybody who knows me well, however, knows that I have been a big fan for a while. And while – not unlike another favorite band of mine, XTC – I have barely ever written about them in this blog, they are written into its very DNA: their 2006 record At War With The Mystics was the first record I ever reviewed in this thing a good three and a half years ago. And it is funny, considering how enthusiastic I am in that review about an album that, in retrospect, did not thrill me – and one that I didn’t listen to all that much following its release. Chalk it up to being a younger man in the midst of a year-long rush of euphoric Flaming Lips fandom, I guess, but even back then my reservations about the album – which would become more explicit the more I listened to it – would pop up more than once, like in my summary of “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”:

“My problem here – it’s the Flaming Lips trying to sound weird, which they really don’t need to do. You’re already fucking weird, Wayne. You know it!! You don’t need throw random arcade noises and “funny” stuff like that in a song like this to make it sound weird. You couldn’t be normal if you tried. But still, it’s a cool song that doesn’t quite represent the rest of the album.”

I was being polite here, because I did not want to admit that I was not satisfied with a Flaming Lips song. Until “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”, I felt that the Flaming Lips could do me no wrong, and I wanted to maintain that excitement. But for a moment there, I think I hit the nail on the head: The Flaming Lips, all of the sudden, were trying way too hard to sound weird. And while I stand by that statement, in retrospect I feel the problem ran even deeper than that: worse than weirdness, the Lips were trying to sound cutesy, bubbly, or that dreaded descriptor: quirky. It was indie-quirk pandering, to put it bluntly, and even now it bugs me. It bugged me then, too, but I didn’t really know how to put it into words. With Mystics, it felt as if the Flaming Lips – a band known for taking risks and defying audience expectations with each new album – were pandering to a group of people who viewed the Flaming Lips as cutesy, uplifting bunnysuit-wearing happymen who wrote songs for Spongebob Squarepants movie soundtracks. It did not make me happy. (Nothing against Spongebob, but y’know.)

At War With The Mystics did bother me, but – and it’s obvious from that review – I still liked it a lot. Because, well, it’s not that bad of an album! The whole “we are the crazy quirky Flaming Lips and welcome to our sunshine-and-balloons factory” attitude definitely kills some of the songs’ impact (“Yeah Yeah Yeah” and “Free Radicals” being the obvious examples), but the songs that cash in on the Lips’ trademark beauty are typically wonderful: “Cosmic Autumn Rebellion,” “Vein of Stars,” “Sound of Failure,” etc. But the one song that still stands out to me – and to a lot of people, I think – is “Pompeii Am Gotterdammerung,” an echo-laden bass-driven prog epic that is still one of the most exciting tracks they’ve ever recorded. That song, unlike everything else on Mystics, sounded like the Lips pushing themselves into something new and great, and as I said at the time: “If the Lips ever did a straight-up prog-rock album in the style of this track I have no doubt it would be fucking awesome.”

And so. Now we have Embryonic. I could get all prophetic and congratulate my 18-year-old self for accurately predicting what the next Flaming Lips release would sound like, but that would not be right because none of Embryonic‘s eighteen tracks sound a whit like “Pompeii.” To be honest, in terms of attitude and structure, Embryonic has no obvious forebear in anything the Flaming Lips have released previously, which I think is giving people a lot of trouble. Most Embryonic reviews I’ve read have people attempting to compare it to some other album they’ve done, or – more frequently – touting it as a “back to basics” album, returning to the reckless spirit of pre-Soft Bulletin releases like Telepathic Surgery or Priest Driven Ambulance. This confuses me, because let me tell you, Embryonic sounds nothing like their older stuff. Their 80’s records were more psychedelic and fractured, to be sure, but even their darkest and noisiest moments were always leavened with pretty acoustic guitar ballads and a goofy sense of humor (why else would Priest Driven Ambulance end with a sincere, noisy cover of “What A Wonderful World”?). If the Flaming Lips wanted to record a “back to basics” album, they would have ditched the widescreen studio production, returned to the two-guitars-bass-and-drums setup of their early 90’s work, and let the guitar noise rip. And that’s not what they do on Embryonic.

So why are people so quick to compare Embryonic to those records? Well, you see, Embryonic is a dark record – much darker than the musical therapy of The Soft Bulletin, the brooding yet lovely Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, and especially the in-your-face cutesiness of Mystics. So, of course, the most obvious conclusion people can make is that Embryonic is a return to their pre-Soft Bulletin records, a knee-jerk reaction that simply isn’t true. Embryonic is the darker than those albums too, and is just about the darkest record the Flaming Lips have ever released.

Now, I should clarify that statement (and I should also start talking about what Embryonic sounds like considering I’ve spent too many paragraphs talking about what it doesn’t). The Flaming Lips, even in their most uplifting moments, have always had a dark undercurrent to their work – a recognition of mortality, the inevitability of life and death and whathaveyou. Clouds Taste Metallic, one of their happiest albums, featured a song called “Evil Will Prevail.” Soft Bulletin, probably the most uplifting thing they could possibly record, ends with a song called “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate.” Yoshimi‘s “Do You Realize??,” the other most uplifting thing they could possibly record, has really fucking depressing lyrics (not to mention that it is followed up by the defeatist anthem “All We Have Is Now”). But these records, despite the aforementioned moments of depression, offered an answer to life’s worries: “Hey man, it’s okay! Life can be tough – real tough – but everybody’s gotta go through it! We’ll all go through it together, and we’ll all be okay!”

Embryonic doesn’t have these answers. It is not designed to give you a hug and make you feel OK – instead it buries you deep, deep down into the murk and never pulls you back up. The only song on here where Wayne Coyne sings like the Wayne Coyne we all know and love is “Evil,” a song that could probably fit comfortably on Yoshimi with its warm electronics. But it’s a trick, see – “Evil”‘ leads directly into “Aquarius Sabotage,” which immediately attacks the listener with manic drums, screeching guitars and an unsettling bass line. “The Impulse,” which might have been one of the prettiest songs on the album, is marred by Wayne’s creepy vocoder-processed vocals. “I Can Be A Frog,” which could have been a cutesy joke song on Mystics, features vintage horror-movie backing music and Karen O making a bunch of creepy animal noises. While Embryonic is just as lavishly produced as their last few albums, it exploits their sonic palette in a much darker way, making every potentially peaceful moment sound sinister, unsettling, and uncomfortable. There is no “Do You Realize??”-esque moment of release – it’s all downhill.

And Embryonic‘s darkest tracks? Hoo-ee. “See The Leaves,” with its overpowered drums, bendy bassline and unwelcoming Wayne Coyne vocals, has to be one of the darkest songs they’ve ever done. You remember Mystics‘ “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion”? With Wayne warning against those pessimistic folks who “see the sun go down, but don’t see it rise”? Well, let’s sample some lyrics from “See The Leaves”: “See the leaves / They’re dying again / See the moth / It’s flying again / See the grass / It’s dying again / See the sun / It’s trying again.” Well well. So much for optimism! The jerky psych-rock album opener “Convinced Of The Hex” continues this darker trend, as does the bass-driven tribal chanting of “Sagittarius Silver Announcement” (is that Wayne singing lead on that, by the way? If it is, Jesusss) and the formless murk of “Gemini Syringes,” featuring echo-laden Wayne vocals and a monologue from German mathematician Thorsten Wormann on what I assume to be the nature of the universe. At times these songs can feel formless, murky, and incomprehensible, but they all manage to sound cohesive in the context of the album, which is no small feat.

I’ll be honest – upon first listen, Embryonic was just so downtrodden and long that I did not manage to get all the way through it. To be fair, I was just streaming it casually off of Colbernation.com, and it was like 3 in the morning, so the circumstances were not ideal. But it does show that Embryonic is an album that requires a few listens, ’cause there’s a whole lot here to absorb, which might be a bit much if you’re not a diehard fan. But when it comes right down to it – and forgive me for generalizing – Embryonic is just cool. It can be a little dark and draggy, yes, but it’s all worth it for songs like the pulsating groover “Silver Trembling Hands,” the epic power rock of “Worm Mountain” (featuring MGMT, apparently), or the remarkable album closer “Watching The Planets,” one of their most apocalyptic songs to date. Considering that these guys are not getting any younger (or, in Wayne Coyne’s case, pushing 50), it is great to hear them still pushing the boundaries of their music and trying new things, at the risk of alienating the mainstream audience they have built up over the past decade. Mystics had me worried that they were running out of ideas; Embryonic, thankfully, has proven me wrong.

In preparation for this review I have spent the last few weeks listening through every Flaming Lips album since 1986’s Hear It Is (with the exception of Zaireeka, which I will get to soon I am sure). I was a nice reminder that I seriously love this band, and that Mystics is the only record they have put out that leaves a bad taste in my mouth – and even that one is pretty good. I am happy about Embryonic‘s critical success but I am a little upset that people are using it as an opportunity to diss on Bulletin and Yoshimi in the same breath as Mystics, which has happened in a few reviews I’ve read. Let’s get this straight: The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots are wonderful albums that everybody liked upon their release, and for good reason. Embryonic is practically as good as they are but for completely different reasons. What I’m trying to say is, if you’re going to diss on a recent Flaming Lips album, make it Mystics. That one actually deserves it.

One last thought before I finish this and never ever talk about the Flaming Lips again until their next album comes out – and maybe this will give you a better impression of what this album is like, considering that I have done a less than adequate job of describing these songs to you. I was a little worried before I heard Embryonic, ’cause you know, their last album was Mystics and I wasn’t sure what it would sound like. And what worried me especially was the fact that there were guest artists on a Flaming Lips album! That ain’t never happened before! I mean – two songs with Karen O? I half-expected some lame quirky duet between her and Wayne to clog up the proceedings here. But man – if you’re going to have guest artists on an album, you gotta do it like Embryonic. Karen O’s vocals just add a creepy texture to her songs rather than overpowering them, and MGMT’s appearance on “Worm Mountain” just make it even more brutal. Hell, you can barely tell they’re there, but they make the songs cooler!! It’s a good album, guys. Check it out.

So that’ll do it. Next week, I promise, will be a requested review – two albums in one, actually! So check that out. As for the Flaming Lips, I may end up doing a career-summary post for them sometime in the future, considering I just sat through all of their albums and have so so many thoughts about them. I’ll probably do what I did for that Radiohead overview from like a year ago and just recommend a bunch of tracks from each album that I like. Sound good to you? Sounds good to me.

(Also a quick note: if you have just listened through Embryonic and are wondering out-loud to yourself “Jeez, where CAN these guys go from here??,” the answer may surprise you.)

>Album Review: "Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina" by the Left Banke

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literally the least rowdy group of teenagers you will ever meet

Sad news this week: due to a computer hiccup, I do not have access to my music, and as such I do not have access to the requested albums I was planning on reviewing this week: the Smiths’ Strangeways Here We Come and Morrissey’s Viva Hate, both requested by my good friend Paul Grigas. Tragedy! Fortunately, other good friend Emily Vasseur has adopted my shitty laptop and I will probably be able to get it back without erasing my hard drive. So this is a good thing. Whenever I do get it back, I promise you that requested review post haste.

In the meantime, let’s talk about another record that has enchanted me over the past couple months – Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina by the Left Banke, which despite its misleading title actually has more than two songs on it! There are nine other tracks besides those two classics and they are mostly all good. If you don’t know anything about the Left Banke, they were a 60’s pop-rock group mostly known for epitomizing the “baroque pop” genre – that his, pop music with a whole lot of harpsichord and strings thrown in there. At least, that’s the Left Banke definition. Keep in mind that this music sounds little to nothing like the Beach Boys/Brian Wilson style of baroque pop recorded around the same time (’66-’67), with super-complicated song structures and vocal arrangements and whathaveyou. The songs on Walk Away Renee aren’t even heavily influenced by classical music, at least not to me – they’re just pop songs with a whole lotta harpischord.

Thankfully, they’re really good pop songs! Great, even. “Walk Away Renee,” obviously, is the classic and the biggest hit, good enough to be covered – with equal greatness – by the Four Tops a couple years later. “Pretty Ballerina” is the other hit, one of their prettiest and most alluring songs, defined by Steve Martin Caro’s plaintive vocals. There’s also “She May Call You Up Tonight,” my favorite Left Banke song and one of the best songs ever. It’s a wonderful, catchy pop tune driven by a jazzy piano – like Vince Guaraldi or something. If nobody sang on it it would sound like “Linus and Lucy” or something. But man, the vocals are so CATCHY! It’s a great song, and the entire reason I got into the Left Banke in the first place, thanks to Adam Spektor playing it on his radio show.

It’s not very “baroque,” though. Actually, a lot of songs on here aren’t baroque in the slightest! It’s funny, ’cause if you listen to songs like “Barterers And Their Wives” or “Shadows Breaking Over My Head” these guys sound like the most polite and reserved rock band that has ever existed. But THEN, you’ve got songs like “Evening Gown,” a peppy harpsichord-driven rocker (??) with Steve Martin Caro almost YELPING his vocals, and “Lazy Day” which features an actual FUZZ GUITAR! Like some kind of NUGGET or something! But that’s not even the weirdest part – “What Do You Know”? It’s a COUNTRY ROCK SONG. Like “What Goes On” by the Beatles or something. Twangy guitars and everything. Lead guy sings like Ringo Starr all the sudden. HOW IS THIS BAROQUE IN ANY WAY YOU IDIOTS.

So yeah, the random stylistic diversions are unusual and unexpected, ESPECIALLY if you’ve only heard “Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina.” They aren’t bad songs, though. And the ones that aren’t whacky diversions are simply beautiful songs that deserve all of this world’s love. Mysterious, subdued, yet accessible pop music – it’s all here!

Oh, one more thing about the Left Banke. Michael Brown, their pianist and main songwriter – the guy that wrote every great song on here – was sixteen at the time. Sixteen!! Man, what were you and I doing at age sixteen? I was playing “Enter The Matrix” on Gamecube and writing Mega Man X fanfiction. This guy was writing “Walk Away Renee.” Sheesh.

That’s it for now. I am waiting for my comptuer to return to me, and once that happens you will be getting two things: 1) more requested reviews, and 2) a review of the new Flaming Lips album! Oh man it’s a good one! I am actually gonna wait on the latter there until the album is officially released, just to be fair and decent, but that’s coming up pretty soon anyway so I am not worried. Enjoy your weekend!

>Requested Review: "Black Sea" by XTC

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it is an album full of whaling chanties (or is “chanties” not a word?)

Ohhh folks. We’ve got a scorcher for you tonight. This here review has been requested by none other than a living legend – my freshmen year college roommate Nick Hennessey!

Now, OK. In a perfect world Mr. Hennessey would need absolutely no introduction – you would simply see his name and nod to yourself in instant approval, a Pavlovian response to his inimitable genius. But sadly, we do not live in this world, so I will explain. I lived with Mr. Hennessey for a year, and what a trailblazing year that was. Before college I was a nascent waif of an eighteen-year-old, with my only known methods of “partying down” being reading Final Fantasy VIII guidebooks and drinking Mountain Dew Code Red by the liter. A year with Mr. Hennessey changed all that – and when he wasn’t busy introducing me to the pleasures of hard liquor and fast women, he was blasting great music into my face every morning noon and night, whether I was prepared for it (read: awake) or not. The list of bands he turned me on to that year – most of which are now among my favorites – is pretty startling: you got your Undertones, your Replacements, your Wilco, your Beach Boys, your Smiths, your Television… the list goes on and on. And it wasn’t just music – the guy showed me the British Office for the first time, too. Yes, that British Office! The one that is like my favorite show now. Mr. Hennessey’s taste surely knows no bounds.

So yes. Along with close high school bros Luke Coryea and Adam Spektor, Nick Hennessey is one of those indispensible “threw a lot of great music at me all at once when I was a teen’ger” sorts of dudes. A solid guy. And yes, the album he requested for me tonight is one by none other than the biggest band he got me into during my freshmen year – XTC! One of my favorite bands ever thanks to him, and unusually enough, a band that I have not discussed in this blog even a single time. And I have been writing in this blog for, what, almost four years now? Yikes.

Now, mind you, I had been planning on reviewing an XTC album here for quite a long while – my all-time favorite, 1999’s Apple Venus Vol. 1. However, the album Mr. Hennessey has requested of me is 1981’s Black Sea, a completely different sort of album by what might as well be a completely different sort of band. While Apple Venus is a studied, graceful record by a band in their waning days, Black Sea is a twisted, guitar-driven slice of kinda-sorta-New Wave with a kooky lead singer. It’s one the last albums the band made before lead singer/songwriter Andy Partridge developed some unfortunate stagefright and kept the band in the studio for, you know, the rest of their career. So here on this album you’ve got the sound of a live band: pounding drums, screechy guitars, forceful vocals, and so forth (I guess there’s a bass in there too). At this point XTC were definitely more Devo-sounding than the Beatles/Beach Boys pastiches of their later work – nearly every song here sounds like, you know, something is horribly wrong. But in a good way!

There are differences in vocal delivery as well. Andy Partridge, in comparison with his more pop-friendly late 80s/early 90s vocals, sounds straight-up frightened in these songs, his voice teeming with wild teenage awkwardness. At this point in his career he did not feel the need to make his voice sound “accessible” in any sort of way – he just sounded like a yelping, nervous man, and he was all the better for it. Then there is the George Harrison-esque Colin Moulding, who at this point in his career had the exact same voice that he would have for the rest of his career, and was also all the better for it. He’s a great vocal counterpoint; whereas Partridge sounds like he has something broken deep inside of him, Moulding sings like a nice, charming Britishman, no matter what song he is singing. “Generals and Majors” is an obvious war satire, to be sure, but with Moulding’s straight-up adorable vocals it doesn’t feel bitter in the slightest. Just fun!! Hey, that’s XTC.

Enough with this. Let’s talk about the songs, because those are the most important things on a record album, are they not? The first two tracks here are two of the best two XTC tracks ever, all two of them. Andy’s screechy tune “Respectable Street” and Colin’s aforementioned jaunty “Generals and Majors” both border on experimental dub-influenced New Wave, but are really just great pop songs: why else would the former include those “Oooh-eyy-oooh-eyy-oooh-oooh!”s in the verses, and why else would the latter feature one of the catchiest little guitar riffs EVER?? Yes, yes the answer is obvious. These guys were raised on the finest 60’s pop, and it shows. It doesn’t let up from there – if anything, things get a little more exploratory, and a little weirder. You’ve got Andy’s hammy vocal delivery in “Living Through Another Cuba,” those loopy phaser effects in the piano-driven “Rocket From A Bottle,” more super-catchy poppiness with the classic “Towers of London” – the fun does not end, not ever! And while pretty much every other song on here is written by Partridge, the one other track Moulding has – the cutesy, riff-driven “Love At First Sight” – is a real keeper that you’ll want to hear. These guys are good.

Oh, no no, I’m not done describing songs yet! “Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me)” is a goofy little song that I used to not like much but has grown on me over the years. It popped up in Hot Fuzz and man that was a good movie, wasn’t it? And this is a good song, featured in that good movie. Admittedly “No Language In Our Lungs” and “Burning With Optimism’s Flames” have never been my absolute favorites but I like them pretty good. Oh, and man, how about those two atmospheric tracks that do not sound like conventional songs at all?? I used to not like those much either but they sound so much cooler to me now. To be fair, “Paper And Iron (Notes And Coins)” isn’t that atmospheric, but it does start off with that echoey guitar effect that always makes me swoon like a man. And then there’s the album closer “Travels in Nihilon” which I just now realized is like the neatest album closer ever. Those tribal drums! That uncharacteristically creepy Andy Partridge vocal delivery! Those vocal-echoing guitars in the chorus! The fact that it doesn’t get boring even a little bit for a full seven minutes!! Oh maaan. That’s a good song. Sadly, after ’82 they would never write another song like it ever, and where does that leave us? (Not a rhetorical question. I need the answer to this.)

I think a lot of people might have trouble with Andy Partridge’s voice. If there was any point of contention anybody could have with early XTC, it is that. He just doesn’t have a pretty voice! Not yet, anyway. Even when they write a pretty tune, he does not want to sing it in a pretty way. For me, that makes it sound a whole lot more interesting, but for others it might just sound ugly (and it does kinda sound ugly to me too, but hey, I’m a forgiving man). And sometimes he can get a little hammy or over-wordy. But what can you do? The guy was a great songwriter. I don’t know if I can recommend this as a “First XTC Album” – you might want to ease in with their poppier late 80’s stuff, I don’t know. I don’t know how you feel about all this, readers. I don’t know what music you like. If you’re an ELO fan, check out their later stuff. If you’re a Talking Heads fan, check out this one. It ’twill not disappoint.

Thank you for reading, True Believers. As a gift for you, I will present you with nary a slice of Nick Hennessey’s genius: the classic “Fresh Lettuce,” performed as his rappin’ alter-ego Pauley Boom:

Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.