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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Jimi Hendrix: Valleys of Neptune

Valleys of Neptune
is the latest posthumous release by the legendary Jimi Hendrix. After years of recycled Hendrix music appearing on posthumous albums, everybody was skeptical of this album. The album promised nearly sixty minutes of unreleased Hendrix music. The album sort of delivers on this promise. Some of the songs have been available in some form, either official releases or bootleg CDs. However, even hardcore collectors and bootlegers will find a lot of new material on this album, and the ones that have been heard before are polished. There are some familiar songs on here, such as Fire, Sunshine of Your Love, and Red House. However, these versions are new. Nearly all of the tracks have been heard before. There are two rare tracks on the album, never having surfaced even on a bootleg. These are Ships Passing Through The Night and Crying Blue Rain. There really isn't too much more to say about this album. If you're a serious collector of Hendrix, then this is a good purchase. If you're more of a casual fan, then this really isn't for you. The songs aren't perfect, and some go on way too long, like Sunshine of Your Love or just feel like a jam (Crying Blue Rain.) While this album is better than previous releases in the sense that the songs feel complete, and not just bad quality Demos.
Overall, this is a good album, but not essential in Hendrix's extensive catalog.


(7 out of 10)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Quick Reviews 5-10

1. Magical Mystery Tour (The Beatles)

(8 out of 10)

2.All Things Must Pass (George Harrison)

(9 out of 10)

3. Surfin' Usa (The Beach Boys)


(7 out of 10)

4. Dookie (Green Day)

(8 out of 10)

5. The Pick of Destiny (Tenacious D)

(6 out of 10)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Beatles: Please Please Me

Every band has to start somewhere, don't they? Listening to Abbey Road and Please Please Me are like listening to albums from two completely different bands. One is a pure britpop album, with catchy lyrics, upbeat tempos, and high strung vocals. The other is a mature rock album, with serious themes, slowed down tempos, and even a song featuring Capella singing. That's not to say Please Please Me is bad, it's just not as impressive as their later work. The album is influential, and, as stated by rolling stone magazine, it invented the idea of the self contained rock band, who played their own instruments and sung their own songs, since only six of the fourteen songs on the album are covers. The cover songs, with the obvious exception of Twist and Shout, don't offer too much. I Saw Her Standing There is an amazing song, and one of the songs that would lead to The Beatles' conquering of the american musical market. Ask Me Why, which is a Beatle original, is one of the group's weaker numbers throughout their career, and a failed attempt at a bossa nova type of song. Please Please Me is a good and catchy number, as is Love Me Do. Do You Want To Know A Secret is the first Beatles' song to feature George Harrison on vocals. It is a pleasant song, but not great. Twist and Shout is a cover song, but it might as well be an original. The way that The Beatles changed this average song into one of the best rock and roll songs ever recorded is just amazing. It remains one of the group's most popular cover songs.
Overall, there are some great songs on this album. Most of the originals are good, but the covers aren't too much. A good start to a band which would eventually become a national phenom, and eventually be widely considered one of the greatest bands ever.

(7 out of 10)

Rush: Snakes and Arrows

Snakes and Arrows
is Rush's first studio album since 2004, and their first full length, fully original album since 2002. While Snakes and Arrows is an improvement over 2002's Vapor Trails, the album doesn't contain the vitality of their previous albums. Songs like Far Cry, Armor and Sword, The Main Monkey Business (the most jamming they have done in years), and We Hold On come close, but still fall short. Malignant Narcissism is a wonderful instrumental, but still doesn't reach the levels of YYZ. The songs on this album are not bad by any stretch, however. One thing that I was pleasantly surprised to see was the heavy emphasis on drums on this album, as opposed to Vapor Trails or Feedback, which really showed Neil Peart's ability. This adds a fresh vibe to the album. The other instruments are heavy as well. The lyrical themes are also heavy and grave, almost too much so. The lyrics are about war, faith, and suffering. Malignant Narcissism is actually a humorous title, coming from a line from Team America: World Police, which is humorous, but seems out of place on this serious album.
Overall, this is a really great album. Just because it can't quite live up to masterpieces like Moving Pictures, doesn't mean it is not good. When you factor in that this band has been around since the early 1970's, it is amazing that their albums can retain such quality.

(9 out of 10)

The Wings: Band on the Run

After a critically panned first album, and a second album, Red Rose Speedway, which was regarded as 'OK', it seemed the former beatle had struck gold. For anyone who doesn't know, The Wings (commonly called Paul McCartney and the Wings) was Paul McCartney's attempt at a solo career. The recordings were becoming more serious (after they dopey Red Rose Speedway) and Band on the Run was Paul's closest attempt at recreating a Beatles' vibe. The best songs on the album are the title track, Jet, Let Me Roll It, and Picasso's Last Words. These songs are the only real stunners on the album, but the rest of the album isn't bad (there are no throwaway songs), just unimpressive. The thing that makes Band on the Run stand out, from a critical standpoint, is the level of aptitude that distinguishes each recording. Even simple songs, like Bluebird, seem better than they really are, because of the wonderful arrangement that it features (an example are the hooks and saxophone solo within Bluebird.) Helen Wheels is unique because, simply, it was a rocker, especially at a time when critics were panning McCartney for only writing cheesy pop songs. Picasso's Last Words is another example of McCartney's nuance genius. It is a simple song, really, but he turns it into something complex and wonderful.
Overall, while this album doesn't match up to his standards with The Beatles, it is still a good album, and showed, strongly, McCartney's slightly deceptive level of craftsmanship. A good listen for anyone who has listened to The Beatles music and liked it, just don't expect the same level of quality.

(8.5 out of 10)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Quick Reviews 1-5

1. Out of our Heads (The Rolling Stones)

(8 out of 10)

2. Yellow Submarine (The Beatles)

(4 out of 10)

3. Butchering The Beatles: A Headbanging Tribute (various)
(6 out of 10)

4. Fly By Night (Rush)

(8 out of 10)

5. Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum (Tally Hall)

(6 out of 10)

The Kinks: Something Else

Casual Kinks fans won't find too much familiar material on this album. None of their big hits are on here- you won't find All Day and All of the Night, You Really Got Me, Lola, or A Well Respected Man on here. Instead, you'll find some more moderate hits by The Kinks, such as Waterloo Sunset and Death of a Clown. There is a good reason for this: this album is not for everybody. The album has a very unique sound, and nothing from the time period sounds anything like it. There aren't very many rocking tracks on the album, which is filled with acoustic songs, ballads, and songs with a hint of R&B mixed in. This album is filled to the brim with gems, such as Death of a Clown, an artistic and poetic number which is sad yet jolly at the same time. The real winners on the album are David Watts, Situation Vacant, Waterloo Sunset, and Death of a Clown, yet there's not a single weak song on the album, just a few songs that are weaker than the rest, but still good, like Tin Soldier Man, Funny Face, and End of the Season. On Something Else, Ray Davies' songwriting is becoming more and more defined, while Dave Davies is rising as a real songwriter (similar to George Harrison of The Beatles.)
Overall, the album's name really rings true for this album. This album is really something else, and is very unique sounding. In my mind, this is The Kinks' best work, and one of their few albums that can really compete with the other stellar bands of the time period.

(8.5 out of 10)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Beatles: Rubber Soul

Why is Rubber Soul important? Besides the fact that, out of the 14 songs on the album, almost all of them are essential Beatles' songs? Well, Rubber Soul features a dynamic shift in songwriting for the legendary foursome. Previously, every song released by The Beatles featured love as a central theme. This all changed with Rubber Soul, specifically the song Nowhere Man. The Beatles' music also started to take on a more mature quality, both in lyrics and song structure. While the songs on this album were still, for the most part, catchy rock numbers, The Beatles were starting to settle down on this, which laid the foundation for songs like A Day In The Life or Strawberry Fields Forever. The album opener, Drive My Car, is one of the weaker numbers on the album, bringing us back to the Please Please Me days. That song is followed by Norwegian Wood, which was one of the first western songs to use a non-western instrument in recording (George Harrison is playing a sitar in this song.) Michelle won them their first grammy award ever. George Harrison also is featured more prominently more than ever, slowly unfolding into the songwriting genius that he would later become. His two songs, Think For Yourself and If I Needed Someone are some of the best on the album. Think For Yourself is a lesser known Beatles' gem that is lead by a fuzzy guitar and a double tracked bass. If I Needed Someone is a song lead by an acoustic guitar, with the lyrics basically describing how George isn't in need of love at the time. However, the album does sport a weak song. What Goes On gives Ringo Starr his first writing credit ever with the group, but the song is pointless and fairly annoying. It was one of those songs that was obviously just put on the album to take up space0 fun and catchy, but nothing substantial. The songs Wait and Run For Your Life are weak in comparison with the rest of the album, but the fact is that if any other band had written or recorded them, it would be their most popular song. That is the magic of Rubber Soul.
Overall, this is the perfect album, with only a couple of minor kinks.

(10 out of 10)

Rush: Moving Pictures

First and foremost: why is Rush not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Rush has, arguably, the most technically talented lineup in the history of music to date. The band's lineup includes Neil Peart (one of the greatest drummers to ever grace music), Geddy Lee (a slightly annoying vocalist, but one of, if not the best, bassist of all time), and Alex Lifeson (a VERY solid guitarist and the founder of the band.) What band deserves a place in the hall more than Rush? They've got the talent, the album sales, the critical acclimation, and longevity that is matched by very few artists. Yet, year after year, they are constantly snubbed by the committee- them and Deep Purple. Excuse my slightly off topic ranting, but it is just a huge annoyance to me.
While Rush recorded many great albums in their career, such as Hemispheres, 2112, Fly By Night, Permanent Waves, Rush, Counterparts, and A Farewell To Kings, Moving Pictures is often considered their magnus opus, and with good reason. Every song on this album is solid, including the lesser known, but still amazing, Witch Hunt and The Camera Eye. Tom Sawyer is one of Rush's best known songs, and is one of their most influential to date. YYZ is, arguably, the best instrumental song ever written. If you can play that bassline perfectly and completely, than I take my hat off to you. Red Barchetta, Limelight, and Vital Signs are all essential Rush songs, as is everything on the album. It is hard to believe that this is just a regular release album, it really seems like a compilation. There are just so many good songs.
Overall, this is one, if not best, progressive/hard rock albums of all time. It is one of the best and most influential albums (in general) of all time. Dear Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 'Experts': stop recruiting rap artists and actually pay attention to a ROCK group with this much talent- wake up.

(10 out of 10)

Dio: Holy Diver

Ronnie James Dio is probably best known for his run with heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath. However, some may also know him from his project beforehand with Ritchie Blackmore (or, if you're a real fan, then maybe even from the Elf period), of Deep Purple, who joined together to form Rainbow. After Dio left Rainbow, he went on to join Black Sabbath, and helped the band release some of their most memorable work. After he left Sabbath, he decided to pursue a solo career to show people that he could make music on his own perfectly well. Holy Diver, Dio's debut album, shows that very clearly. While it's not the best metal album of all time, it certainly has its memorable moments. Holy Diver is the band's most well received album, while the others are generally received as failures (relatively) by critics. Some tracks on the album really stand out from the others- namely, Holy Diver, Rainbow In The Dark, and Stand Up and Shout. The rest of the songs are good, with the only 'bad' song being Invisible. Rainbow In The Dark went on to become a surprise hit, landing at #14 on the US Mainstream Rock Charts (while Holy Diver only reached #40.) The song has been used in multiple venues, such as the popular game Rock Band 3.
Overall, this is an amazing album. Ronnie James Dio influenced so many artists in his career, and appeared on albums from numerous bands, ranging from Black Sabbath to Tenacious D. Unfortunately, he passed away last May. RIP Ronnie James Dio, one of the greatest metal vocalists of all time.

(9 out of 10)

The Beach Boys: Surfin' Safari

(Requested by John W from Cincinnati Ohio)

The Beach Boys are, arguably, best known for their phenomenal album Pet Sounds. Pet Sounds is often considered one of the best albums of all time, and one of the most influential albums of all time (even influencing The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, another serious contender for all time best album) However, before Pet Sounds, there was Surfin' Safari. I can count on one hand the number of notable songs on this album, out of the 12 tracks presented, and these songs are the title track (their first big hit) and 409 (which was the start of an era of songs about cars, in addition to being a big hit.) However, what about the rest of the album? Their first single, Surfin', was also OK, it wasn't great, but it was unique because of its garage-like sound. However, the rest of the sound suffers from awkward songwriting and bad production values (the exact opposite of Pet Sounds, which offered some of the best writing and production values ever.) The album has some less than stellar numbers, such as Ten Little Indians and County Fair, as well as some downright pointless songs, such as Moon Dawg (A gritty instrumental that is way out of place on the album.) With a length of less than 25 minutes, this album is one of the shortest in my catalog.
Overall, this album is sub-par, especially for a band with as much talent as The Beach Boys would eventually uncover. While Brian Wilson's composing genius is foreshadowed here, it still has a long way to develop until Pet Sounds, and beyond.

(5 out of 10)

Metallica: Metallica (The Black Album)

Following the review of the infamous white album (The Beatles), I thought it would be cool to review Metallica's Metallica (The Black Album.) The Black Album came at a time of an extreme change for Metallica, they were changing in foundation from the thrash metal hair band that we had seen up through ...And Justice For All to a less intense, albeit still heavy, more radio accessible band. This shift was a controversial move, as many fans were upset about the new change in direction. Gone are the insane speeds and riffs from albums past. The lyrics also took on a more mature direction, as epitomized by the song Nothing Else Matters. The album was praised by critics, and was commercially successful. Metallica also received some radio airplay, a quasi-new thing for the band, at the time. The album also landed Metallica a Grammy Award. The Black Album was an important pivotal point in Metallica's career, as their next two albums, Load and Re-Load would take that change even further, molding their sound into an almost hard rock shape. The Black Album is, arguably, the band's most dividing album (with the possible exception of Saint Anger) meaning you have a group of people who love the album, and a group who loathe it.
The best songs on the album, from a personal, commercial, and critical standpoint, for me, are Enter Sandman (yeah, get over it, call me a poser), Nothing Else Matters, Sad But True, Wherever I May Roam, and The Unforgiven (though I wish the 'sequel's would never have been written.) The album does tend to revert back to the band's heavy roots, with songs like Of Wolf and Man, but for the most part, sticks to a heavy metal style, as opposed to the thrash metal style of previous albums. The album does sport a few weak songs (relative to the rest of the album) such as Holier Than Thou and Don't Tread on Me. However, there is not too much to complain about on this album.
Overall, this is an excellent album, as well as a very important album in Metallica's career.

(8.5 out of 10)

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Beatles: The Beatles (The White Album)

In just five years, The Beatles had gone from recording catchy, upbeat pop songs, such as I Want to Hold Your Hand, to songs on the completely other end of the spectrum. For instance, Yer Blues is one of the most depressing songs to come out of the 1960s. Trading upbeat and catchy chorus lines, such as "I want to hold your hand, I want to hold your hand!" to depressing ones, such as "Feel so lonely, wanna die." To think how much The Beatles had changed in a mere five year period is just amazing, both in their music, as well as interpersonal relationships. Tensions were getting tight, and that shows very much on this album. Every song on this album was worked on individually (with the exception of Happiness is a Warm Gun) and is thus more like a collection of three (well, if you count Ringo's one terrible song, then four) solo careers, with The Beatles' logo stuck on at the end. However, does this make it a bad album? Absolutely not. What it does mean is that there is very much musical exploration on the album. Songs range from somber Piano melodies (Julia) to avant garde pieces (Revolution 9) to straight up blues songs (Yer Blues.) The genre variety is just amazing. George Harrison also gets some time on this double LP, with four of his songs appearing on the album. The songs are Piggies, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Long Long Long, and Savoy Truffle. The album's real winners are While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Happiness is a Warm Gun, Blackbird, and Julia. However, there are some really good songs too, such as Birthday, Back In The USSR, Dear prudence, Long Long Long, I Will, Helter Skelter, etc. However, there are also some just plain bad songs on here too. In my opinion, the worst songs on here are Wild Honey Pie, The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, Don't Pass Me By (written by Ringo Starr), Honey Pie, and Revolution 9. Then, inbetween these songs, there are some songs that are just all right, such as Good Night, Glass Onion, Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, Rocky Raccoon, Sexy Sadie, etc.

Overall, while this album has a lot of good songs, it also has a lot of bad and OK songs. Honestly, it would have been better if they had condensed this double album into a single album, and cut the fat off of the edges. Then, it would easily be one of the best albums of all time. It is a good album, no doubt, but not The Beatles' best.


(8.5 out of 10)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pink Floyd: The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

When most people hear the name Pink Floyd, they associate them with their famous The Dark Side of the Moon album, one of the most renowned albums of all time. However, the band's debut album reflects none of the progressive rock genius that will, eventually, showcase itself on their most popular album. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn reflects the musical elements of their previous singles, Arnold Layne, which is about a transsexual who likes to steal women's clothing from washing lines, and See Emily Play, which is about a girl that Syd Barret met after waking up in the woods after a gig one time (although it is unclear whether the girl was real, or was just a drug-induced hallucination.)
This was the first, and last, album under the leadership of Syd Barret, who eventually lost his mind and was kicked out early 1968. Although Barret would contribute to their second album, A Saucerfull of Secrets, he was not the main director of it. The change of direction definitely shows, as the 'Pink Floyd Prog Rock' sound was emerging by the time they released their second album.
However, this album is all psychedelic, without even a trace of progressive rock sound, which was heavily inspired by The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which had been released shortly before The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. However, this album really shows Syd Barret's musical genius. Most of the songs are written in odd time signatures (which was a fairly rare thing for the time) and some songs even changed time signatures several times. The real winners on this album are Astronomy Domine, Interstellar Overdrive (one of the few songs in 4/4 time on the album), and Bike. While the album does sport some not quite up to par songs, most of the songs are quite decent, especially for a debut album. The only song that could really be called 'bad' on the album is Roger Waters' first songwriting attempt, Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk. Even though the song is pretty bad, it definitely foreshadows some of the lyrical and musical content that will be found in later songs, such as Comfortably Numb.
Lyrically, this album is a black sheep, of sorts, for Pink Floyd, as most of the songs are witty, as opposed to their serious material later on in their career. The lyrical content ranges from space to scarecrows, and it is all done in a very witty style (for the epitome of this, see The Gnome.)

Overall, while definitely not one of Pink Floyd's best albums, this albums is above average, especially for a debut album.

(7 out of 10)


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