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Eleven Reviews

April 1, 2007

Alice in Chains – Alice in Chains [Tripod]
Tripod
For their final studio effort, Alice In Chains delivered a full album that they did not accompany with a tour. They did, however, perform on David Letterman, and watching that performance even today will send chills down even casual fan’s backs. Alice In Chains Unplugged may have tied the loose ends up and ended up being the final farewell, but this album is where you see the breakdown happening for Layne Staley. Not that the album is all melancholy or heavy metal. This is actually AiCs most diverse record, and it touches on everything from the most hardcore sludge they have ever produced (no less Sludge Factory, and Grind too) to more positive songs (Heaven Beside You, Shame In You). But you can definitely hear the dissolution of the band in this record, mostly because it bounces around so much. The beautiful classic Heaven Beside You segues into the insane nausea of Head Creeps without any provocation. Most all the songs are good except for a few in the last half that don’t quite cut it as AiC classics, but Heaven Beside You is still one of the bands best and Again is the heaviest thing since Them Bones. The real winner is Over Now. After what appears to be a curl-up-and-die maneuver with the interesting Frogs, there is silence, and then a muffled recorded trumpet resound, after which the confused positive/negative song kicks in and does significant emotional effect on the listener. The biggest problem with this album is the production, which falters very obviously. The idea to continue layering Layne’s vocals was a good idea, but the vocals are treated very poorly here and the sound is simply not heavy enough. Such an emotional record should not have been treated so preciously. A remaster, perhaps? It’s not perfect, but it is a respectable way to throw in the towel and contains some of Alice In Chains’ very best songs.

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin [Box Set]
Tripod
This box set released in 1990 acts as an inflated greatest hits to the music of Led Zeppelin. Each disk both covers a specific time period as well as a musical aesthetic. The first disk is the dirty blues rock that made Led Zep famous, the second disk more folky acoustic stuff (my favorite), the third disk is the longer stuff mostly from the middle career, and the fourth disk is the best of the latter stuff that kind of needs to be included for posterity. Jimmy Paige himself chose the songs so the selection is solid, and every song is great. But the truth stands that this box set was probably unnecessary. There are some rarities rounded up, the bands two famous b-sides Traveling Riverside Blues and the Bob Dylan cover Hey Hey What Can I Do, as well as a brilliant live Jimmy Paige take of White Summer/Black Mountain Side. But beyond that, there isn’t too much incentive for fans. This collection is geared towards the fan who is a little more than casual but less than obsessive, a rare breed for Led Zeppelin. For that reason, people interested in the band could have done better with the two disk greatest hits, and people who want more could have gone with The Complete Studio Recordings box set, which also has the two aforementioned b-sides. The fourth disk may be useful for people who do not want to get too into the bands latter mediocre career, as it gathers the best of those albums pretty effectively. As a collection of songs this is easily an A+ purchase, but as a compilation it is just dumb. One is probably better off just getting The Complete Studio Recordings or starting the long fan trek of buying all the albums. Led Zeppelin was a fantastic band and this is a good portrait, but why stop at this when you could have the whole deal?

Boards of Canada – Music Has The Right to Children
Music Has The Right To Children
Surely Boards of Canada’s finest work, Music Has The Right to Children is at first downright confusing and off-putting but is ultimately a great ambient work. This is an album that has no clear purpose but in that sense reasserts itself within each song, creating everything ranging from small interludes to long beat oriented ambient techno. I remember walking home one day listening to this on my headphones. An Eagle In Your Mind was playing on the way there, the cool constantly changing beats keeping my mind interested and relaxed over the interesting synthesizer. Then the second I unlocked my door and walked into my dark apartment, The Color of the Fire started to play. The song is basically an airy drone underneath a childs voice horribly echoed and warped, complemented by bell-like instruments. I kind of freaked out. I didn’t know what the hell was going on and I felt like the sounds were real enough to be in the actual apartment. That is when the true purpose of this album opened up to me. Music Has The Right to Children is an album of electronic audio toys. Every song on the album has it’s own fun charms. There are some more straightforward pieces, especially the chill Turquoise Hexagon Sun comes to mind, and other times the album is more challenging, like with Sixtyten. Roygbiv is unspeakably fun or the short time it lasts, and Wildlife Analysis is a relaxing ambient opener. The whole album has a recurring mood of comfortable technology, and for that reason the album sticks together very well for how much it bounces around. It may have a few weaker songs, but the strong songs are enough to compensate and make the album a joy to listen to at any time, and a personal favorite as well. Rarely will you find an electronic/ambient album that is both passive and interesting, but Music Has The Right to Children makes the cut and is a completely unique, priceless album.

Aphex Twin – Richard D. James Album
Richard D. James Album
The issue everyone seems to have with Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James Album is mostly due to confusion. Confusion that the record simply does not straighten out. James’ approach on this record is completely skewed, and while this is definitely a product of his usual fun and ultimately effective psyche, listeners will likely be put off by his odd taste. Simply put, this record isn’t sure if it wants to be happy or evil, and the result is a big mess. It’s a fun mess, and an interesting one too, but by no means is this for the casual electronica listener. The ingredients are usually simple ambient melodies that could have worked as songs on their own (or maybe with soft beats) inflated to ludicrous levels of energy by breakneck beats. A surprise lies at every turn of this album, and as a result, the listener is hardly ever spared their temporary sanity. The opening 4 is an Aphex masterwork, a touching gel of strings hammered by the fast beats to make an interesting and contemplative modern piece. But then conversely the next song, Cornish Acid, is fun in a horribly evil way, with practically the same beats overlaying a creepy synthesizer. These decided contradictions are placed by the minute. Sometimes the trick works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Goon Gumpas strangely enough has no beat, and it’s a charming melody, enough to make even the happiest listener suspicious of what tricks might be up Richard’s sleeves. Girl/Boy Song is fairly innocuous even under the asteroid field of a drum machine, and another highlight. Logon Rock Witch is just evil, with a playful organ/jack-in-the-box tune that drifts into a creepy haze. And of course, Milkman is a schizophrenic trick that needs no explanation. This album probably does what it sets out to do with flying colors. I simply don’t always enjoy the goal. The intent is to make good electronic music, and there is a myriad of good tracks here, specifically 4, Fingerbib, and Girl/Boy Song. But the intent is also to confuse with an obnoxious juxtaposition of clashing elements. This can be enjoyable, and there are people who enjoy beats like this, so this is no throwaway. But I probably would have enjoyed the album more had those beats not been there at all. This album is insanity, take it or leave it.

The Cranberries – Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?
Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?
Irish rockers The Cranberries delivered their most acclaimed record as a debut, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We. There is a certain charm to this kind of music, and no question they presented their style very well for a debut. But there is simply something about this that is lacking. If anything, the wonderful tune Dreams is enough to justify the rest of the album repeating itself. And it does sort of linger on the same melancholy Gaelic themes a lot. When it does it with specific taste and hooks like with I Still Do, it’s alright. But one would think that if the band continued on in the same way they presented Dreams, the album would have been nothing short of phenomenal. But unfortunately, what The Cranberries do the most is not necessarily the most interesting. In any case, some songs here are just priceless, namely Linger and Dreams, but for anyone who wants good Irish rock, a very narrow genre, it definitely wouldn’t be a bad purchase.

The Cure – Standing on a Beach
Standing on a Beach
The Cure are the owners of a frighteningly large body of work and can therefore be a complete hassle to approach. Starting at any individual album can likely result in misconceptions or an unclear picture of what The Cure were really like because at every leg of their long career they have been a bit different. The later compilation Greatest Hits just doesn’t do the job, and there has not yet been a good collection that has covered the bands whole near three decade career. When Standing on a Beach was made, there was never any question whether another collection would have to be made because the band was already making their next album Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, so this was never meant to be a complete picture but it is most likely the best place to start diving into The Cure’s imposing discography. The material here runs from the subdued punk of the bands debut Three Imaginary Boys all the way through the commercial sucess The Head on the Door, and the development is undeniably great and a wonder to listen to. Robert Smith’s voice is honed and the guitars are refined over the years that this spans. All the songs here are great, and it’s a wonder how a band so comtemplative and long winded can make such great pop gems. Accuracy is not any issue because this is a collection of singles, but the band definitely gave their best to the radio and never lost their grace in the process. The Cure are a great band and worthy of exploring, but it is tiring and troublesome to know where to start. This is not a complete picture, but there will most likely never be a completely accurate one, so for casual fans this along with the bands other singles collection Galore will be all one could ever need. And for those who want to dig deeper, this is a good branching point and signpost for where to go next. Either way, Standing on a Beach is a collection of great songs and further proof that The Cure are always fantastic.

Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine
Pretty Hate Machine
At what it does, Nine Inch Nails’ debut Pretty Hate Machine is a killer record. But unfortunately it has some qualities that are hard to get used to or simply not for everyone. This isn’t considered one of the industrial genres best records for no reason. Most all the songs are irresistibly catchy while staying abrasive and heavy. For a first song, Head Like a Hole is still arguably Trent Reznor’s finest concoction of muscular guitars and hypnotic electronica, and the lyrics aren’t bad either. However, one of this albums many flaws are how hit or miss the lyrics are. Half the time, they are spot on and a joy to hear unfurl (lay my hands on Heaven and the sun and the moon and the stars / while the devil wants to fuck me in the back of his car), and at all other times they are cringeworthy at best (how could you turn us into this? / after you just taught me how to kiss…you). Another problem people will have with this album is the very ’80s production values, such as the echoed snares and the stylized synthesizers. But fortunately the core of the record is simply good enough to keep it’s quality apparent even after almost twenty years under it’s belt. Each song is individually crisened with great hook and develops with great guitars and catchy electronic beats and tunes. Not only are all the songs strong, but the record presents itself like a finely cut gem. None of these tunes are as bleak or pained as Reznor’s later songs, but they still have a significant bit of emotion. No question, this is a thematic album based on a relationship that is both painful but also seductively fun, but the lyrics just don’t quite cut it in the end. All the tracks are standout, from the devils hook Kinda I Want To to the sexual pulse of Down In It. The album has great things to share with the right listener, a lot like The Downward Spiral, but it’s problems catch up with it pretty readily. Although it may not be an indesputable masterpiece, it is still a great collection of songs, one of the first truly good industrial records, and a fantastic start to Trent Reznor’s great career.

Cocteau Twins – Garlands
Garlands
Garlands is no question Cocteau Twins most off the wall, odd creation. Being the bands debut one can only expect so much, but either way this is hardly an enjoyable listen. The intension here is clouded. This is kind of a stab at the gothic genre but without as much force as The Cure or similar artists. Garlands is of it’s own world, though. The beats are almost primeval, and the guitar and bass provides a quiet, reserved swirl of out of place sound in the backdrop of Liz Frasers at this point un-honed vocals. To say I don’t understand this record is avoiding the obvious fact that I don’t enjoy listening to it, but the album may well be purposefully strange. Almost every track is an uncomfortable swirl of insanity, and the guitars rarely do anything more than unsettle, and the songs do not conclude very well. One has to wonder, judging from the sharp rise in quality with the proceeding record Head Over Heels, whether this disorder was intended. But the album does have it’s redeeming moments that justify it’s existence. Blind Dumb Deaf is absolutely gorgeous in a sad paranoid way, the title track Garlands is actually kind of interesting, and Wax and Wane is often cited as a Cocteau Twins favorite by hardcore fans who like the bands earlier work. The truth is, this is just setup for the brilliance of Head Over Heels and the spectacular career that follows, but this might actually be your thing if you are looking for early gothic music.

Oceans 11 Soundtrack
Ocean's 11
For a movie that has an otherwise fantastic soundtrack, the CD release is a let down in most all ways. Whoever compiled this clearly did not know what the hell they were doing, that simple. What struck me about Oceans 11 most the first time I saw it was the awesome jazz score, but on here, most of the songs are smashed in value by way of either brevity or inclusion of in-movie dialogue. Tunes like Pickpockets, Ruben’s In, and Stealing The Pinch, and Hookers would be ten times more enjoyable if they weren’t so criminally short, and the dialogue sprinkled throughout is not only unnecessary but also annoying. Some otherwise darling Percy Faith songs are only played as background music to dialogue… So stupid. What saves this for near salvation in the longrun is the fact that the music is fantastic. Boobytrapping, The Projets, Gritty Shaker, $160 Million Chinese Man, and 69 Police are all great songs and long enough for the keeping. Claire de Lune is, as always, a charming classic as well. But the fact of the matter is, the production here is catastrophic. Fans of the movie and it’s music deserve better, and this just doesn’t deliver on the level it should.

Smashing Pumpkins – Rotten Apples: The Smashing Pumpkins Greatest Hits
Rotten Apples
As a sampler to the Smashing Pumpkins discography, Rotten Apples does a fair job, but as a Greatest Hits compilation it fails on a few levels. For one thing, the song selection is rather mixed. To be fair, this is not “Rotten Apples: Best Of Smashing Pumpkins.” Instead, we are treated to what is supposed to be the bands biggest hits on the radio, and in many ways those hits are not presented well enough. Any fan could make the argument that certain songs should have been included, but for a few reasons this compilation just can’t decide whether it wants to be a Greatest Hits or a Best Of, so it falters more in the face of these complaints. The choice of including a shortened version of Drown from the Singles soundtrack is a nice treat though, and two bonus unreleased songs are saved for last as the incentive for fans. These two songs are, no question, fantastic. But attention to the bands whole career is divided between it’s uneven components at the demise of quality of songs. Once again, personal preference is a prevalent complaint. Mayonaise was a much bigger hit than Disarm, and there was no reason whatsoever to include Eye at all. Landslide is truly one of the bands greater gems, but it does not reflect on it’s respective album quite as much as something like Frail And Bedazzled would. If you want a place to start, this might be the best bet you have.

Nirvana – Nirvana Unplugged
Nirvana Unplugged
For as long as I can remember, Nirvana Unplugged has haunted, amazed, and touched me on levels that no other record can. It would be silly for me to pretend that this isn’t my all time favorite record considering how much I come back to it even after long periods of leaving the bands music on the backburner. Every song here is a classic, and each song, be it one of the bands songs or one of the covers, is flexed to it’s otherwise unseen limits, displaying all their glory at completely new revealing angles. Instrumentally, the music is hypnotizing, and I’m yet to figure out why even after all these years, but the perfect rhythm section probably helps and the beautiful guitars are always wonderful. The momentum the album carries is never interrupted, from the Beatles pop of About A Girl through the Meat Puppets set straight down to the Leadbelly cover. Absolutely every moment on this album is as good as can be; there is not one weak song, and even Something In The Way, which I have always considered to be one of Nirvana’s lesser songs from their popular days, is seamlessly transformed into a wonderful gem. Considering Kurt Cobain shot up some heroine right before this show and was nervous out of his mind, the quality of the music is nothing short of miraculous. The band is, in fact, in better playing condition than they have ever been, even if Dave isn’t used to playing so quietly and Kurt is high and emotionally broken. There is clearly an uneasiness here, which makes the listening experience that much more enjoyable. Kurt exaggerates the price of a Leadbelly guitar among other precious nuances shared with the audience in between songs, as if to hide what emotions are really there. Thankfully, this music speaks emotions that words cannot capture and more than makes up for the less than adequate suicide note that Kurt would write in not that many more weeks. This is not only the greatest recording Nirvana ever did, but it is also the unequivocal culmination of their entire career, perfectly tying up any loose ends and leaving me with nothing more to desire from what has always been my favorite band even under deep scrutiny. It is my personal opinion that no record is ever completely perfect, but for all intents and purposes, this is as perfect to me as any album has ever been.

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One comment

  1. You have a great taste in music and you write well. I look forward to read more reviews from you.



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