>Requested Review: "Tarkus" by Emerson Lake and Palmer

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eh heh… hahh.

I’ve been having a hard time expressing my disappointment with Emerson Lake and Palmer’s 1971 prog-rock-opera Tarkus. Because, honestly, what did I expect? I’ve never been a fan of the band, never listened to them voluntarily (with the exception of “Lucky Man” and maybe “Karn Evil 9,” but then again those are played on FM radio every five minutes so I guess they don’t count). I’ve just always heard that they were the pinnacle of 70’s rock excess – musical virtuosos who performed an adaptation of “Pictures At An Exhibition”, released triple-live albums, and appeared on TV with a real tiger onstage because one of their songs had the word “tiger” in the title. Their goofy bombast is so notorious that it is impossible to watch ANY punk rock documentary nowadays without seeing a clip of Keith Emerson noodlin’ on his keyboard – to show what punk was “up against.”

So, naturally, I have a tendency to poke fun at them from time to time. Because it’s easy.

Of course, blogfriend Adam Spektor – a longtime ELP fan – was having none of this. So he challenged me to put my money where my mouth is and actually sit through a full-length ELP record, which I had never done. Tarkus was the album he chose, and even now I haven’t the slightest clue as to why. Did he think I would be “charmed” by the twenty minute opening title track about an armadillo with tank treads? Or did he just think it would be funny? (I’m guessing the latter.)

My first, honest reaction to the aforementioned title track: anger. Pure, all-encompassing rage. I had no idea what I was listening to! Twenty minutes of directionless, non-rocking, un-catchy prog rock masturbation, featuring Keith Emerson bangin’ on his keyboard a whole goddamn lot. I don’t even – I’m not even sure if he’s enjoying himself. It’s more like some kid on the playground told him he “couldn’t play piano good”, and this is his way of saying “nuh-uh!” “Tarkus” is filled with so many long and winding passages of Emerson playing his keyboard really really fast and in such crazy complicated time signatures that it entirely loses focus. Often it is hard to tell where one part begins and another ends, because Keith just keeps on playing. It is a song you can get lost in, and I don’t mean that in the good way. I mean that in the literal sense. It is the musical equivalent of those woods in The Blair Witch Project, only without the luxury of dying at the end. (Weak burn, but you get the idea.)

Now, I will be fair. That was my first listen. I’ve heard “Tarkus” a few more times since then, and I will admit it becomes easier to wade through once you’ve gotten used to it. The obvious highlight of whole ordeal would be Greg Lake’s parts, mostly because they sound like actual honest-to-goodness songs. With, you know, melodies and structure and all that. And, I will admit, Greg Lake’s songs can be pretty cool, especially “Tarkus”-parts “Stones Of Years” and “Mass.” They are goofy and embarrassing lyrically, yes, but they have a lot more personality than Emerson’s endless, boring solos. I don’t think I’ll ever like “Tarkus,” but I can at least bear it now.

Oh, and like I said, it’s apparently about an armadillo with tank treads. The one on the cover. I don’t know anything about that and I don’t care.

Tarkus‘s second side is markedly better than the first, and it’s not hard to see why – it’s six separate songs, each one a collaborative group effort. That is, not primarily written by Keith “I Can Just Noodle On My Hammond Organ Really Fast For Ten Minutes And Slap A Cool Song Title On It!” Emerson. And they aren’t even all stereotypical prog! Side opener “Jeremy Bender” is a silly piano goodtime song that stands in stark contrast to the overly serious “epic” that preceded it, and “Are You Ready Eddy” is an intentionally jokey 50’s rock spit-take. And the songs that are stereotypical prog rock aren’t bad! “Bitches Crystal” is essentially a more likable take on the musical themes “Tarkus” wore thin; the organ heavy dirge “The Only Way” is oddly appealing, despite its ridiculous welcome-to-1971 lyrics (“Can you believe / God makes you breathe? / Why did He lose / Six million Jews??”); “Infinite Space” is an appealing instrumental, and “A Time And A Place” features a dramatic and engrossing Greg Lake vocal. So I mean – these guys clearly could have made the first half of this record a lot better than it is. But Emerson just had to have his way, I guess.

Listen. Don’t get the impression that I have a bias against 20-minute songs and that is why I am getting all upset about this. Not true! I mean, I don’t love them, but it really depends on the band. Look at Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here or Animals for example – both contain multiple songs reaching past the ten-minute mark, and in Animals‘ case they even cover the same “War Is Bad” themes as Tarkus. The difference is, of course, that Pink Floyd understood how to gradually build mood, atmosphere, and dramatic tension – not to mention they were much better songwriters than anybody in ELP. Say what you will about the Floyd, but man, they knew what they were doing in their prime. I don’t think you can truly appreciate a band like Pink Floyd until you’ve given Tarkus a listen.

So here is my final word on Tarkus – not as awful as I thought it was, but not an album I will ever find myself listening to again. And like I said, it’s hard to say I was actually disappointed with this result, but honestly? I was hoping for a surprise. After all these years making fun of ELP without actually listening to them, I was hoping that all my preconceptions of the band would be entirely falsified and that I would be – beyond all logic – blown away. I did not expect this album to be, well, exactly what I expected it to be. If that makes any sense.

What I will say is this – nobody outside of the year 1971 could record an album like Tarkus. Absolutely nobody.

…except maybe the Mars Volta.

P.S.: If the previous review was a lil’ too long for you, a more succinct overview of my feelings toward this record can be found here.

P.P.S.: Did you hear? Alex Chilton died. Man, that’s fucking horrible. A retrospective post will come soon, I am sure.

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>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.

>Requested Review Two-Pack: "Strangeways, Here We Come" by the Smiths / "Viva Hate" by Morrissey

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morrissey you could have tried a little harder with that there coverart buddy.

Oh, hello there again! Yes it has been a while since I last updated. Chicago was a good time. I ate a hot dog with a large pickle on it and bought a wood painting of a cute kitty cat. I could tell you more but that would be boring! Instead let’s review some music why don’t we.

Today’s requested albums come from good friend and blogfriend Paul Grigas. He’s been a good buddy of mine for many years. This guy, what a guy!! Paul’s a Smiths fan, so it is perfectly logical for him to have requested these records, one being the last Smiths album ever recorded and the other being Morrissey’s first solo album a mere six months after their breakup. Since Paul happened to request two albums of me instead of just one, I – like any red-blooded American – got real lazy about listening to both albums enough to write a decent review, and sat on my laurels for a good long time. But hey! That era of darkness has passed, and here I am, ready and willing to discuss this Morrissey and these Smiths.

(although I’ve still only listened to these albums about one-and-a-half times each and I just want to get this over with, but that shouldn’t worry you my friend)

Just to preface, my current status on the Smiths is as such: I first heard their so-called “magnum opus” The Queen Is Dead way back during my freshmen year of college, and I pretty much fell in love with it. And unlike other albums I adored from that period that had already fallen to the wayside by the time I hit nineteen (sorry Oasis), The Queen Is Dead still sounds great to me. I will always dig that crazy Johnny Marr wah-wah guitar on the title track, those high-pitched “Ann Coates” backing vocals on “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” and the over-the-top romantic fatalism of “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.” It’s just an album with a lot of good songs on it! Admittedly, I also picked up Hatful of Hollow shortly after Queen enchanted me and I just couldn’t get into it, which began a solid three-year period of me not listening to the Smiths much at all. Until right now, of course!

It is nice to hear that Strangeways, the album directly proceeding Queen, continues the Smiths’ then-current trend of writing a bunch of catchy, mostly-rockin’ tunes. Right from the loopy opener “A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours,” you can pretty much deduce that the rest of the album is going to be a good time. How about that grunty Morrissey vocal delivery? “ARRRRRRRush!” Yeah, man. And how about that riffin’ guitar on “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish”? Or that background harmonica all over the “Vicar In A Tutu”-esque “Death At One’s Elbow”? Yeah, yes. These guys got a good sound. The production’s not too different in comparison to Queen, but it’s a little fuller, with more strings and horns and maybe even some synth keyboards in the background (never pushed up front, of course – this is the Smiths after all).

Here are my favorite songs on Strangeways: “Girlfriend In A Coma,” in just about two minutes, manages to be funny (“Do you really think she’ll pull through?”), creepy (“There are times when I could have strangled her”), and – somehow – endearingly bittersweet (“Let me whisper my last goodbyes, I know it’s serious”) all at once. And it’s catchy, too! “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” is typically well-written Smiths pop-rock; “Paint A Vulgar Picture” doubles as an entertaining critique of record companies’ treatment of popular deceased musicians (“Re-issue, re-package, re-package / Re-evaluate the songs / Double-pack with a photograph / extra track (and a tacky badge)”) and of their obsessive fans (“No, they cannot hurt you, my darling / They cannot touch you now / But me and my ‘true love’ / Will never meet again”); and “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me” nearly tops “There Is A Light” in terms of sheer romantic tragedy. “Unhappy Birthday,” too, is a dependable Morrissey kiss-off. While I can’t say I like Strangeways more than Queen – the latter, in my eyes, still nails the whole “Smiths” formula better than anything else I’ve heard – I will gladly file it into the “Smiths Albums Sean Rose Enjoys” portfolio and just leave it at that. (I can see myself listening to it more than once in my leisurely time – this is a plus.)

Viva Hate, Morrissey’s 1988 debut solo album, doesn’t quite hit me like Strangeways. It’s a little more mellow, with a little more emphasis on Morrissey’s vocals (obviously) and – at the same time – is a little less gripping and melodic. For me, at least. To be honest, the sound of Viva isn’t a huge departure from Strangeways (which isn’t too surprising, considering how close those two releases are) but definitely downplays the guitar-driven energy of the last couple Smiths releases (the lack of Johnny Marr, while completely expected, is a bit of a drag). To be honest, I have listened through Viva Hate almost three times now and I have trouble remembering a lot of the songs!! This is not good, for a man like me.

But maybe that isn’t fair. Here are some Viva Hate songs I love: “Suedehead,” oh man, that song is beautiful. What a pretty guitar! Sounds like the Cure or something. “Hairdresser On Fire” has that lovely piano line and epic melody – that’s a good one. “I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me” is a Smiths-worthy pop-rock tune – energetic, funny, and complete with a synth-keyboard intro! Who saw that one coming? “Dial-A-Cliche” and “Margaret On The Guillotine” are both very graceful album closers (despite the latter’s caustic anti-Thatcher lyrics) and “Atsatian Cousin,” unlike the rest of the album, is even more guitar-heavy and bitter than the Smiths ever could have been.

I can’t think of any songs on Viva Hate that I flat-out disliked, but after hearing Strangeways it just doesn’t “get” me as much. It’s a slower, longer, and more morose album than Strangeways so maybe it’s just that. Or maybe I’m just being unfair; these reviews are all based on first impressions, after all. I liked Strangeways a lot more upon first listen, and as such I’ve been listening to it more. I can’t help it, man!! Maybe Viva Hate will rub off on me the next time I listen to it, whenever that may be. Until then, I will stick to the Smiths.

Really, I have never been a huge Smiths fan but Strangeways has done a lot to pique my interest. Maybe I should give their earlier stuff another shot? It’s worth it. I will say this – diehard fans of the Smiths would do well to seek out this Viva Hate record, as I am sure they would enjoy it a lot more than I have. As a guy who is not that big into Morrissey, I will have to settle for only midly enjoying it. But you don’t have to be me! You don’t have to settle!!

I am excited, though. My next requested review is going to be a lot of fun – one I have been looking forward to for many months. Look out for it. Also there is a new R.E.M. live album out that is really something special, you’ll probably be hearing a lot about that too. Until then, I hope Paul Grigas will sleep well tonight, knowing that his absolute best friend has approved of his musical tastes!! (You know it, Paul. You do.)