Thursday, April 28, 2011

Album Review: Pearl Jam – Binaural

At this point in Pearl Jam’s career they were engaged in a wilful act of fan-shedding, removing most of the better songs from their studio albums and keeping them for 2003’s Lost Dogs rarities collection. Ok, they weren’t, but in retrospect it feels that way.

Binaural, released in 2000 was less accessible than previous album Yield. Rather than engaging tunes with big choruses, they preferred fast rockers without a chorus with Eddie Vedder groaning within an inch of his life such as Breakerfall, Evacuation, Insignificance etc.

None of these are particularly interesting. Elsewhere, Light Years and Thin Air have the ring of Wishlist (again from Yield) about them, that is a steady drumbeat and a big, catchy singalong chorus and a great vocal from Vedder. Nothing As It Seems was the lead single, kind of an odd choice for a single as it’s one of the murkiest, most brooding songs Pearl Jam have written, with lashings of electric guitar from Stone Gossard and Mike McCready. How anyone thought this would be a good choice for a single I don’t know, but it’s a great track, despite not having a commercial bone in its body.

The slower tracks work quite well. Tracks like Of The Girl, Slight of Hand and Parting Ways move at a fairly glacial pace but are fine tunes. Parting Ways in particular is a great tune, ending off with dark as hell guitar chords crashing ad nauseam giving an almost trance-like effect. Mention also to Vedder’s foray into uke-rock (ie using a ukulele) on Soon Forget.

I wasn’t quite joking about the fan-shedding. This album sold fewer than any of their previous albums, though for committed fans there is still plenty to get your teeth into.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Album Review: Type O Negative – October Rust

This was American Goths Type O Negative’s fourth album, released in 1996. Irritatingly, it’s bookended by some short skippable tracks, opening with static before a brief message thanking the listener for purchase, similarly at the end of the album. You won’t want to hear them again.

It’s not until track 3 that the band kicks properly into gear with Love You To Death, Josh Silver’s creepy keyboard intro darkening the atmosphere for Peter Steele’s sub-Eldritch doom-laden vocals before Kenny Hickey’s huge guitars kick in. This wide-screen, anthemic track sets the tone for the album, think Mission/Sisters of Mercy with slightly more metal guitars and a latent Gary Numan influence (melodically).

The tracks in general are slow, brooding epics, with catchy choruses, though many are quite lengthy such as the acoustic Die With Me and the keyboard-led Burnt Flowers Fallen. Steele's vocals are standard issue goth, though his lower register sounds unintentionally hilarious on Be My Druidess, singing “I’ll do anything to make you come” in a voice so deep and portentous it’s almost goth parody.

There are uptempo tracks also: My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend is a hammer-horror style rocker about a threesome with a driving beat, while they also do a pretty good version of Neil Young’s Cinnamon Girl, in a kind of a Bauhaus vein.

The album is possibly overlong making it difficult to sustain the ominous mood and atmosphere but most of the tracks work very well.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Album Review: The Go-Betweens – Bright Yellow, Bright Orange

2003’s Bright Yellow, Bright Orange was the second album in the second incarnation of the Go-Betweens. It’s probably the weakest of the three, with some of the songs sounding underwritten.

Nevertheless, Caroline and I is a great opener, with Robert Forster playing a summery track that could have come straight from Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby. In fact, the influence of Lou Reed/Velvet Underground also impacts on Grant McLennan’s Mrs Morgan, which borrows part of the Sweet Jane riff over a lovely yearning chorus (“she never wanted, she never wanted to see the rain”) while guitars jangle and backing vocals coo.

Robert Forster has a couple of decent songs here, the acoustic Hunky Dory-esque In Her Diary has a beautiful string arrangement and the self-referential Something for Myself (“want to get out of folk and get into rare groove”). However his Too Much of One Thing was a chore to listen to when it came out the first time as Bob Dylan’s Lily, Rosemary & the Jack of Hearts (it’s a dead ringer for this song). McLennan’s Poison in the Walls and Crooked Lines are blissfully pleasant without being very engaging, Mexico has an annoying keyboard sound going through it and Unfinished Business sounds like its title, unfinished.

It’s the least essential of the ‘comeback’ albums, but the better songs are worth investigating.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Album Review: Ryan Adams – Demolition

Following his Gold album, Ryan Adams had been working on 4 albums concurrently, The Suicide Handbook, 48 Hours, The Pinkheart Sessions and the Swedish sessions. Although Lost Highway torpedoed this plan, they are heavily bootlegged. Notwithstanding this, Lost Highway in their wisdom put out a compilation of tracks from these projects in 2002, entitled Demolition.

It might have been better if they hadn’t. This was effectively the follow-up to Gold, and it doesn’t work particularly well as an album. It has to be said that Adams’ prolific songwriting badly needed an editor. Tracks like Nuclear, Starting to Hurt and especially Gimme A Sign sounded like MOR ‘rawk’ and are pretty forgettable.

The country-tinged tracks (Hallelujah, Desire) are an improvement, though none of them are a patch on his work with Whiskeytown. On the other hand Chin Up, Cheer Up is a sprightly, bluegrass romp on banjos which is really enjoyable to listen to.
As for his line in forlorn folk, She Wants To Play Hearts and the cello-driven You Will Always Be The Same don’t boast strong melodies, yet they work in an understated way, though the woah-woahs of Tomorrow lapse into tedium.

And yet: this is one talented guy. Rescuing the album from disaster are plaintive piano ballad Cry On Demand which marries a kind of open, catchy tune to a slightly clichéd lyric, and two other fine tracks. Dear Chicago sounds really moody with its reverbed guitars, casually husky vocal from Adams and wonderfully self-pitying lyrics about how “I’m gonna die alone and sad.” Most unfortunately the track only lasts 2 minutes! Jesus (Don’t Touch My Baby) sounds like nothing else he has done, with a deep vocal over a wash of keyboards, reminiscent of something off Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy.

A very patchy collection, some great songs and some filler. Much like his career.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Album Review: Dakota Suite – Morning Lake Forever

This album followed swiftly after the wonderful Signal Hill in 2000. Rather than a cohesive album, it’s a kind of mish-mash, taking Chris Hooson’s singer-songwriter material alongside classical pieces and electronic work.

Chapel Rain shares a lyrical and musical resemblance to the Red House Painters’ Evil for nearly nine minutes. Turk 1 on the other hand is a propulsive, jazzy instrumental. Perhaps the most moving piece is The Streets Were All I Saw, which has some quite beautiful violins backing Hooson’s vocals. Lesseps is an almost science-fiction style electronic piece full of bleeps, evoking Eno.

It culminates with the serene classical piece, About When We Met, a pleasing mix of piano and strings. Despite the lack of cohesion, the pieces all share a similar mood if not sound, which makes this short album quite a compelling one.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Album Review: Lloyd Cole – Love Story

After the debacle that was Bad Vibes, 1995’s follow-up was a distinct improvement, a slight return for Lloyd Cole to what he does best. Robert Quine was also back on board for this one, which helps.

The songwriting is a little patchy, even understated in comparison to his previous albums. The likes of jangly Trigger Happy and the deceptively sweet-sounding Love Ruins Everything are fairly muted tracks, while Sentimental Fool employs sweeping strings.

Unhappy Song has the ring of Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken about it, but Like Lovers Do is without doubt the strongest song here. Sounding effortless, Lloyd whips out an instant classic to stand alongside the many gems in his back catalogue. It’s a great song that also sounds commercial. Later on the album Let’s Get Lost is very Bob Dylan circa Subterranean Homesick Blues, before the album finishes with the wide-eyed, shimmery For Crying Out Loud.

Unfotunately many of the other songs are indisinctive, making the album seem watered-down. The “headful of attitude” of his previous solo albums is gone – it seemed like Lloyd needed a break at this point which is what transpired…

Friday, April 22, 2011

Album Review: Screaming Trees – Uncle Anesthesia

The Screaming Trees released their first album on Epic records in 1991, right before what became known as ‘grunge’ became a seriously big noise. But this band were more grunge by association with the pacific Northwest, than their actual sound. The album initially felt disappointing, with many of the songs lost in Terry Date and Chris Cornell’s somewhat muddy production. It also saw the final stage of the Trees’ transition from a punky sound to a more classic rock sound.

Opening song Beyond This Horizon doesn’t really work, Mark Lanegan’s developing croon failing to rescue the track from sounding like a refugee from The Cult’s Sonic Temple album. Though drummer Mark Pickerel, on his final album with Screaming Trees, gives a fine performance here.

Bed of Roses fairs much better with Gary Lee Conner’s jangly guitars fitting in well to the overall heavy sound, though there is way too much reverb on Lanegan’s voice. The title track is probably one of the best here, Conner’s heavily wah-wahed (grammar?) guitar riff rocks hard and Lanegan is in fine voice, his voice rising from a deep croon about “dusted preacher in the dark” to screaming unintelligible lyrics over the guitar solo.

Many of the songs take a relatively simple chord progression and layer them with heavy, yet jangly guitars and Lanegan’s wonderful voice (Caught Between, Alice Said), and one of these, Lay Your Head Down, contains a wonderfully weedy recorder solo from Chris Cornell amid the raging guitars!

There are some fine slower tracks here also. Disappearing finds Lanegan singing at the top of his register over a descending melody featuring a trumpet, while final track Closer builds from a sparse opening to a slow anthem, leaving plenty of room for another fine Lanegan vocal.

They would go on to arguably greater heights with Sweet Oblivion and Dust but this often overlooked album is a strong sounding album, albeit with slightly less memorable songs than subsequent albums. It also bears witness to the maturing of Mark Lanegan’s voice to the powerful instrument that it has become.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Album Review: Neil Young – Freedom

In 1989, Neil Young’s credibility was not exactly high, having released a string of dodgy, genre-hopping albums in the 1980s. What a relief it was when this album landed, a sort of back-to-basics album without weird vocoder effects (Trans) or country-hick stylings (Old Ways) but actual good songs of both the rocking and acoustic variety.

The album is bookended by 2 versions of Rockin’ In The Free World, which was a huge anthem for Neil Young. An acoustic version opens the album, with a full band version closing it, mimicing the structure of Rust Never Sleeps which did the same trick with Hey Hey, My My. The electric version rocks harder than anything since Rust Never Sleeps, and its big guitar riff made it an instant classic… and a busker’s dream. Timing was everything as the song became an anthem of sorts for the fall of the Berlin Wall, which occurred shortly after this album’s release.

Beyond this song there are plenty of other decent songs here. Don’t Cry has a gnarled, distorted guitar underpinning the melody, which returns on the Spanish-inflected Eldorado and his version of On Broadway. The latter could have been a disaster but it actually works, based primarily on layers of guitar which build and build, becoming progressively more ragged, culminating in Young screaming “give me that crack” at the end of the song.

Midtempo tracks like Crime in the City and Someday are marred by some very 80s saxophone, however the country-tinged Too Far Gone, a song dating back to the 70s, fares better, the simple melody nicely carried by steel guitar.

Lovers of the more acoustic side of Neil Young are catered for here, with Hangin’ on a Limb taking a classic Young acoustic guitar progression by way of Linda Ronstadt’s backing vocals to form a gorgeous little song. I should also mention Wrecking Ball, where another simple melody works well via Neil Young’s ghostly piano.

Definitely his strongest album since Rust Never Sleeps, it laid to rest his dodgy 80s period once and for all and paved the way for his co-option into the classic rock “canon” in the 90s.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Album Review: Brian Eno – Music for Films

It is said that Brian Eno invented so-called ‘ambient’ music in the 1970s. I’ve always found this sort of music particularly difficult to get a handle on, being very ephemeral and fleeting. Many have the opinion that such music is ideal background music. I disagree, I find it essential to actually sit down and actively listen to the music, without doing anything else.

This album, released in 1978 is a series of imaginary soundtracks. All the pieces are rather short and tranquil, consisting mainly of heavily treated electric guitar, with electric piano, and also minimal percussion from Phil Collins. A lot of it sounds meditative, like the type of thing you would hear in a flotation tank (one of my vices). Tracks like From The Same Hill, Sparrowfall and Strange Light are very zen, and many of them last less than 90 seconds, giving them little time to make an impression.

Slow Water stands out, due to the prominence of piano and the general moody ambience, while the likes of Alternative 3 and John Cale’s viola scrapings on Patrolling Wire Borders are quite cinematic and foreboding.

Others like Events In Dense Fog are barely there at all while on the debit side the funky/jazzy bass of A Measured Room sound a little out of pace. It’s not the most engaging of albums, you do have to persevere with it. Scholars of modern ambient music will have heard it all before but for those like myself who are less familiar with the genre it’s an interesting diversion.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Concert Review: O Emperor – The Academy, Dublin, April 15th 2011

Unfortunately your reviewer arrived late to an almost full to bursting Academy, missing the Sacred Animals and most of Gorgeous Colours. From what I saw of the latter, they played a radio-friendly brand of pop/rock with occasional trumpet. O Emperor were accompanied by a string quartet, alongside some backing singers/percussionists. With five members in the band this made for a lot of people on stage! Despite not being the most charismatic of bunches their Frames-style rock ambled along agreeably in a laid-back, blissed out way, songs like December and Sedalia working well. As the gig wore on they appeared to become a little more precious, summoning influences like Jeff Buckley and Muse, though the ensuing tedium was lifted by single Don Quixote. The music was good in the main with some nice harmonies (Fleet Foxes-style) but something didn’t quite connect, at times the band appeared locked in their own little world, unaware of the crowd. I fear the aforementioned crowd will disagree with me though…

Monday, April 4, 2011

Album Review: Lloyd Cole – Bad Vibes

This was where my once unswerving loyalty to Lloyd Cole began to waver. In a change of tack from his excellent solo work up till now, he enlisted producer Adam Peters, Bob Clearmountain on mixing duties and attempted to update his sound with modern-sounding guitars and “programming”. The result is a most un-Lloyd Cole sounding album. Opener Morning Is Broken is a fairly strong descending melody, but there are distracting beats through the song which don’t work too well. The spectre of late-period Beatles hangs over So You’d Like To Save The World, also the rock anthem My Way To You, and especially Fall Together. Elsewhere, it sounds like his well of inspiration is running dry on tracks like the Amazing Grace mimicking Holier Than Thou, while Wild Mushrooms is a machine-driven moody experiment best forgotten. Love You So What has the kitchen-sink thrown in, guitars, keyboards, a danceable beat and even a cello. It sounds how that reads, ie doesn’t quite work. Too Much of a Good Thing is a rare beast here, a swooping guitar part not ruined by the pervasive beats and cluttered production. The album is nothing if not diverse, Mister Wrong is one of the few songs not smothered by over-production to allow a gentle tune to creep through, while Seen The Future is nothing short of Lloyd doing T.Rex’s Children of the Revolution! It finishes with the glacial crawl that is Can’t Get Arrested which can’t decide what it wants to be, taking eight minutes to do so. Unfortunately this album never really rises above the over-cooked production and must go down as one of Lloyd Cole’s weakest albums.