Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bon Jovi - Slippery When Wet

Aside from being one of Beethoven's favorite albums, Slippery When Wet represents the absolute perfection of the Bon Jovi pop metal formula. "You Give Love a Bad Name" "Livin' on a Prayer" and "Wanted Dead or Alive" are all still getting played non-ironically here in the 00's, which you can't say for the hits from a number of Bon Jovi's contemporaries. Even with the over-the-top earnestness of "Livin' on a Prayer," the song still resonates to anyone who has ever gone through hard times. Something about this album just hit the right spot.

Oh, do this: even though the two songs have nothing to do with each other than commanding you to do something with your hands, listen to "Raise Your Hands" by Bon Jovi back to back with White Lion's "All Join Our Hands." Something about that combo just seems right.

Blondie - The Best of Blondie

This is a template for how to make a best of compilation. You take the actual best songs from a band and you put them together in some semblance of order. It sounds simple, but you'd be surprised by how hard it is to actually accomplish. Anyway, this is by no means the complete listing of every worthwhile song in the Blondie catalog, but that's what the studio albums are for.

Blondie - Eat to the Beat

Eat to the Beat is the last decent Blondie album before the band went on the schneid and eventually broke up. Yeah, I guess Autoamerican has a couple (and only a couple) moments, but this is pretty much the last glimmer of greatness before things dropped off a cliff.

"Atomic" is the big hit on the album, and I've always been fond of "Dreaming." Unfortunately the album suffers from heavy-handed production. It's all a bit too glossy and glitzy to be as beloved as Blondie's earlier output.

Blondie - Parallel Lines

If you thought Velvet Underground's Loaded was full of hits, you need to check this business out. Parallel Lines includes "Hanging on the Telephone" "One Way or Another" "Sunday Girl" and "Heart of Glass." This album is nearly a greatest hits compilation unto itself. If you choose to own one and only one Blondie studio album, this is the one to get.

Blondie - s/t

Let me explain both the number of Blondie albums in my collection as well as the fact that I had not sat down to listen to them before now. I once belonged to a fantastic online forum of close-knit guys unified in a single hobby. One of those guys turned out to be Jimmy Destri, keyboardist for Blondie. He was a seriously awesome dude who left the forum a few months before I stopped coming around so much. Anyway, I felt the compulsive need to own the music (a decent amount of which he actually wrote) made by a guy I knew. I knew Blondie mainly for "Call Me" and "Heart of Glass." I was unfamiliar with pretty much everything else they had ever done, which is why I was so impressed with this album.

In the spirit of the recently released American Graffiti, Blondie's self-titled debut hearkens back to the girl groups from the dawn of rock and roll. There's a certain innocence and altruism to that type of music, and Blondie captured that same spirit on this album. I don't know if I had heard a single song from this album before last week, but I think I would have remembered. Only two of these songs made it onto Blondie's Greatest Hits, but that doesn't matter to me. I love them all. From the doo-wop of "In the Flesh" to the B-52's-esque oddity of "Attack of the Giant Ants." I liked this album a lot more than I thought I was going to.

Air - Moon Safari

In the late 90's, electronic music was poised to take over the world. People were treating Prodigy's Fat of the Land like it was the Never Mind the Bullocks for a new generation. Of course it never really panned out the way people wanted, unless of course you consider the non-music of the black eyed peas to be the retarded offspring of The Crystal Method, which is a stretch no intelligent person would ever make. Anyway, in sorting through the rubble after the electronica market dipped out in the early 00's, there were only a few groups which survived and only a few albums that still sound relevant. We pretty much whittled things down to Daft Punk, Massive Attack, and Air.

Moon Safari is, if nothing else, endlessly fascinating. It mixes up bossanova and late 70's elevator music with cutting edge electronic noise. You probably know this album for its breakaway hit "Sexy Boy," which was featured in a number of things but for me will always be associated with the scene from 10 Things I Hate About You when they drop the flyers for the party down the stairwell. Oddly enough, that is probably the most aggressive song on the album. Air tends to be precisely as chill as you'd expect them to be based on the name alone. It's music that you can put on in the background and get things done to, or you can tune in and listen to the little nuances play off each other as part of a hidden complexity in the music. There's a reason why this album didn't get shoved aside along with so many of its contemporaries. Just hearing the way traditional and electronic instruments play off each other throughout the album is enough reason to own this album and listen to it on a regular basis.

Aimee Mann - Bachelor No. 2 Or, The Last Remains of the Dodo

This is Aimee Mann at her purest and best. As a singer/songwriter your job is to write excellent songs and perform them with honesty. That's what Aimee Mann is known for, but she steps up her game on Bachelor no. 2. In addition to her fantastic songs (one of which was co-written by Elvis Costello, her idol and fellow wordsmith) the album features the most lush and diverse arrangements in the Aimee Mann catalog. Stop what you're doing right now and go listen to "The Fall of the World's Own Optimist." Pretty awesome, right? Yeah, I told you it was.

Aimee Mann - I'm With Stupid

I'm With Stupid is an interesting album for a number of reasons. First of all, the opening track is laced with honest-to-goodness curse words. So much so that I'm surprised the Tipper Gore task force didn't slap a parental advisory on the album. Something about the album opener "Long Shot" just doesn't sit right with me. It makes me feel like this. I dunno, it's something about who I think Aimee Mann is as a person and what I expect from her.

Anyway, musically and lyrically I'm With Stupid is a decent Aimee Mann album. It's a bit too on-the-nose at times, especially for a woman who keeps getting compared to Elvis Costello and other such wordsmiths. That said, this is my all-time favorite Aimee Mann album cover. It reminds me of the time my older sisters, brother and I were strapped into the family suburban running errands with my mom. We stopped back by the house and my mom asked my brother to get the letters off the fridge. She was talking about a few envelopes on a magnetic clip attached to the refrigerator. What he brought back was a handful of the same type of colored plastic magnetic letters you see on the front of Aimee Mann's fridge on the album cover. We all had a good laugh at my brother's expense.

Aimee Mann - Whatever

Everything about the cover of this album seems to defy everything I think I know about Aimee Mann. I know Aimee Mann as a brilliant singer/songwriter who is beautiful, sensitive, and articulate. The woman on the cover of this album has a weird 90's haircut, is wearing all black and Dr. Martin's (the official shoe of rebellion back in the day) and laying down next to the most 90's word in the dictionary: "Whatever." Nothing about this album indicates that it might be an Aimee Mann album in the same sense as the other Aimee Mann albums I know (I heard her later stuff first. Also, I didn't know about the 'Til Tuesday connection until I was a big enough fan for it to make me look stupid for not knowing about it) but Whatever is exactly the same Aimee Mann I know and love.

The most 90's thing about this album is the fact that the backing tracks rock a little harder than some of Aimee Mann's more recent stuff, but it's not like this is Slayer and her new stuff is Captain and Tennille. You could easily mistake some of the songs on this album for something off...say....Bachelor no. 2. Anyway, the big selling points on Aimee Mann is the fact that she has a great voice (right up there with Susanna Hoffs as one of the great female voices which survived the 80's) and she writes great songs with interesting lyrics. She's what Elvis Costello would be if he weren't British, but was a cute American blonde instead. Whatever is an excellent group of songs which foreshadows all the other excellent things Aimee Mann has done since. She's fantastic and if you haven't heard her stuff before, this is a great place to start.

Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force - Planet Rock

I think I'll always have a soft spot for early hip-hop, but I'm especially fond of intelligent hip-hop that has something to say. Afrika Bambaataa basically started the whole clever, politically aware hip-hop thing.

Planet Rock itself is as pure a slice of 80's hip-hop. Every single track sounds familiar because, whether you think you've heard them or not, they've been sampled in dozens of places. Also, they were a force to be reckoned with in their own day. Afrika Bambaataa mixes up Herbie Hancock-ish synth lines with old school scratching. Planet Rock is absolutely one of the greatest hip-hop albums of the 80's. Listen to "Looking for the Perfect Beat" and tell me it isn't so.

The Advantage - Elf Titled

Elf Titled, not to be confused with The Advantage's self-titled album, is actually the first video game cover album I ever heard and the entire reason I own several albums in this genre. I vividly remember walking into Zia's and hearing the theme song to Air Fortress, a nice underrated NES game. I wondered who would bother to learn the music from an NES game most people don't even bother to play, and the guy behind the counter gave me the answer: The Advantage.

Elf Titled has a few advantages over its predecessor. First of all, the audio quality is slightly better on this album. Most video game cover album tend to be pretty low fi, but this one is half decent in terms of fi. In addition to the step up in sound quality, this album boasts a better set of songs. They cover things like Mega Man 2, Castlevania I, II, and III, Metroid, and Double Dragon II. Of course the crown jewel for me is Air Fortress. It has pretty great music regardless of what you may think of the game itself. Anyway, if you buy only one video game cover album, I recommend this one.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Blind Faith - s/t

Blind Faith is one of the most interesting things to ever happen to rock. The more I learn about the story of the band's creation, premature touring and quick burnout, the more I want to know. If you want to know more, look here for a fairly extensive breakdown.

Anyway, Blind Faith is comprised of some of the 60's best musicians. It all started when Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood decided it might be nice to work together. They grabbed Ginger Baker from the freshly defunct Cream, and Rick Grech from Traffic. Before the band could really get off the ground, rumors swirled and the public clamored for whatever it was that Winwood and Clapton were doing. This self-titled album as well as the band itself were rushed out to the public before they were ready. All the pressure from the media as well as the expectations of the fans basically killed the band in six months. One of the greatest rock and roll combos of all time didn't even get a full year in. It's freaking fascinating that we have anything to remember this band by.

Anyway, Blind Faith sounds like what you get when four great musicians get to start some ideas but not really flesh them out the way they would if they had any amount of time to put a spit shine on the album. There is something lacking in Blind Faith, but there's also something amazing there. It's an almost voyeuristic experience. I feel a little guilty for ever hearing this album, but only a little. It's an amzing slice of blues rock and one of my favorite things in the Clapton catalogue. You owe it to yourself to know about and hear this album.

Black Sabbath - Paranoid

As a fan of doom metal, when I hear Paranoid I tend to think "This is what all metal should sound like" rather than "This is what metal used to sound like." Yes, this is a groundbreaking and trendsetting album. It's The Velvet Underground & Nico of metal in that at least half the great metal bands in the world were inspired by it. Paranoid laid down the metal law while establishing the traditions and iconography of the genre. Every metal band since this album has taken the Paranoid formula and run with it. For those of us with mutliple Scott Weinrich records in our collections, we wish they hadn't run so far.

Anyway, my personal metal proclivities aside, this is one of the greatest albums of all-time. After beginning guitarists have mastered the simplicity of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water," they move on to the slightly more complex riff from "Iron Man." That's just how it's done. "Iron Man" "War Pigs" and "Electric Funeral" are all such great songs, they have crossed into the lexicon of the non-metal public. This is one of the least boring historical documents in the world. It's slow, sludgy metal and it's just the way I like it.

The Black Keys - Attack and Release

The first note on this album betrays the fact that it was not produced by drummer Parick Carney and his patented medium-fidelity method. Attack and Release is a collaboration between The Black Keys and the notorious Danger Mouse, who seems to have dipped his finger into every pie in the world since 2005.

Attack and Release answers the question, "What would The Black Keys sound like if they recorded in an actual studio and let someone else produce?" While it would be all too easy to pile on this album a la everyone who piled on Dylan for going electric, I'm not going to do it. It sounds different, but it's also awesome. Danger Mouse brings with him a number of organs and synths, which work surprisingly well with The Black Keys' sound, especially on "Oceans & Streams" which kicks up to 11 when the organ comes in.

With everything that changes on Attack and Release, the one thing that hasn't changed is the supreme musicianship of The Black Keys. They're still the best thing going in rock and roll, and bringing in Danger Mouse doesn't change that. While I enjoy previous Black Keys releases more, there's still plenty to like on this album.

The Black Keys - Magic Potion

Magic Potion finds The Back Keys back in the basement, and cranking out the blues just like they like to do. Even so, this is not The Big Come Up all over again or Thickfreakness part 2. This is an album by a band that is a little older and a little more interested in their own sound. That doesn't mean it's better than either of the aforementioned albums, it's different.

First of all, Magic Potion is not a relentless blues assault. It has a ballad in "You're the One" and a slow rocker in "The Flame." Some of the other songs are relentless blues rockers, but others just pick their spots. If The Black Keys were The Beatles, Magic Potion would be Rubber Soul, an album made after relentless touring that finds the band a little weary, a little wary, and in transition from what they have been into what they will be. For some reason, I never want to listen to either Rubber Soul or Magic Potion. I'm wrong. They're both great albums, and I always enjoy them in the moment, so I can't ever figure out why I don't listen to them all the time.

The Black Keys - Rubber Factory

While the first two Black Keys albums were literally home recordings (specifically basement recordings), Rubber Factory, their third, was recorded in an abandoned tire factory. This makes sense because the album actually sounds like urban decay. There is a haunting loneliness to this album, and I didn't like how it made me feel at first, but it grew on me.

One of the other reasons Rubber Factory didn't hit it off with me at first was the fact that this album represents a change in The Black Keys' sound and their approach to music. Sure, they still rock the blues and they always will, but Rubber Factory finds them experimenting with a number of different sounds. There's the creepy monotonous violin on "When the Lights Go Out," the whispy steel guitar on the ballad-ish (another first for The Black Keys) "The Lengths," and the general distance of the entire album. The whole thing sounds like it's playing in another room, even when you're standing right in front of the speakers. This is the blues for ghosts.

Anyway, despite the slight change in direction, there's still plenty of good old fuzzed-out blues on this album just like The Black Keys fried up on their first two albums. Even so, the more I hear this album, the more I hear the death of American industry and the tortured spirits of abandoned the one this album was recorded in.

The Black Keys - Thickfreakness

Legend has it that The Black Keys recorded this self-produced masterpiece in a mere 24 hours. I wouldn't put it past them. They're freaking magical.

"Thickfreakness" is actually the first Black Keys song I ever heard. It showed up on a punk compilation, of all things. As soon as I heard the growling distorted feedback that opens the track, I knew I was dealing with forces beyond my comprehension. I bought the album as soon as I had the scratch, and it hasn't stopped blowing my mind yet. The Big Come Up put The Black Keys right up there with The White Stripes. Thickfreakness put them up there with Led Zeppelin (and no, that isn't blasphemy. Jimmy Page is a big Black Keys fan). Seriously, go listen to the title track and tell me they aren't the greatest thing to happen to distortion since Link Wray's "Rumble." Or better yet, go watch this live version and see that they can pull it off live just as easily as they can in the studio.

The fact that The Black Keys are now taking over the world with their current album El Camino comes as absolutely no surprise to those of us who jumped on the bandwagon early. All we want to know is what took the world so long to figure out the fact that The Black Keys are the best thing going in rock and the best thing to come along in a long time

The Black Keys - The Big Come Up

The Black Keys' first album was a total revelation. Sure, the world had already seen a bluesy two piece drum and guitar combo before The Black Keys hit the scene, but this album showed that the depths of that form had not even begun to be plumbed. The Big Come Up combines blues purism with a garage rock sensibility and unbridled enthusiasm. It's gritty, honest, and downright exciting. Never before have two men and only two men caused such a glorious ruckus. You honestly couldn't ask for more in a debut.

The vinyl version of this album contains three alternate versions of the songs which appear on the CD version, and it also contains bonus track, which just happens to be a cover of one of my favorite Stooges tracks, "No Fun." Also appearing on this album is one of the very few Beatles covers I'll ever sign off on: "Se Said, She Said." Perhaps my favorite track on the album is the closer "240 Years Before Your Time" in which Dan Auerbach's guitar holds a conversation with the audio track from an old educational film. Every time I listen to it, I think I can actually understand what the guitar is talking about. It's like that episode of Home Movies. You know the one.