Review Shuffle (11 this time)

May 7, 2007

I know I said last time that I would do some more complaining next time I did an album shuffle.

Yeah, about that. I think I have complained more comparatively at least. Most all of these are still albums I like though, but I find if I complain too much I am just dismal and if I rave too much I end up having no strong taste, at least as it appears. I have two reviews in the works, one an album that I don’t really like and one that I really love. I also have a lot of new albums that have come out this year so I’ll review a lot of that stuff too. For some reason this year I have just been picking up tons of new albums which I don’t usually do. This is mostly all old stuff though.

The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin

I really never got around to getting all the way through this album until very recently. It was one of the albums that just felt like a task to get all the way through although I knew in the first place that it was pretty damn good. This still isn’t one of my favorite Flaming Lips albums, but in any case The Soft Bulletin is very important and popular for a reason. Most all of the songs are very nice little melodies, but simply aren’t expanded upon adequately. What makes some of the Lips’ songs so great is how big and huge they are, and a lot of times, the songs here just don’t develop like they should and are fairly two dimensional, making the album potentially wonderful but kind of dry in the end. But there are some great songs here, and it is an album worth getting to know. Lyrically this is just fantastic. Wayne Coyne is more inspired here than ever and it seems like every song he has awesome line after awesome line, my favorite being “it takes a year to make a day/and I’m feeling like a float on the Macy’s Day Parade” from Slow Motion. Highlights are not few, but once again, everything should have been a highlight if they could have just added some more to each track to make them like the bonus remixes, if that makes any sense. But what really impressed me about this is the sheer command they have over strings in general and their ability to color a song any way they like. This is a good record and is one of the Flaming Lips’ most revered, and I think fans of 90s rock and alternative should really check this out. I don’t know what the deal is with all the different issues of this album though… I think one of them comes with a bonus disk, another with some bonus tracks, and then different versions got either Slow Motion or the Spiderbite Song, both of which are great. Shop around a little and do some research before you buy this one because you will really want the bonus tracks, two wonderful remixes of Race for the Prize and Waitin’ for a Superman as well as a great little tune Buggin’. In short, this is a damn good album showcasing The Flaming Lips’ unique style, but it pales in comparison to Yoshimi.

Aerosmith – Big Ones

I think the majority of the reason I appreciate this is because I listened to it so much as a kid. I basically refused to listen to anything except for The Beatles, this, and the Good Burger soundtrack on a ludicrously long trip to Colorado from Chicago, so I got to know this collection pretty well. People always view Aerosmith as being this really elementary mediocre mainstream rock, but they were really very capable of writing some great songs. This is specifically the best of the bands middle career, which had it’s ups and downs. It seems like about half of this is tough, well written hard rock while the other half is bullshit balladry, most of which is done pretty poorly and I don’t appreciate that much. Specifically Cryin’ and Crazy are alright by sleazy early 90s pop standards, but even then this collection feels too split. But I think it was worth it, considering Aerosmith had just as many good songs in their mid career as they did in the beginning. It’s definitely not all good, but whenever I crank the volume on songs like Rag Doll or Love In an Elevator, or even Eat The Rich, I get some really good nostalgia going on. For me, getting this and the original Aerosmith Greatest Hits is really all I need.

Bob Dylan – Masterpieces

Considering that putting together a Bob Dylan compilation is extremely hard, this three disk Japanese import does the job pretty well for Dylan’s early to mid career. I guess I’m not a huge Dylan fan so I’m not familiar with all of his albums, but this was a good launching point for me into a downright imposing discography. Any release like this runs the risk of not including enough or including too much, and this does miss a few really good ones while including a few questionable songs too (I personally loathe Tears of Rage). But when it comes to Bob Dylan, really it is all about personal preference, and people are going to find songs they love that most are indifferent about and songs they hate that most love. If you want to get into Bob Dylan, stopping here would be the worst thing you could do, because the albums themselves are what hold strength. With that said, you will never get a definitive answer as to where to start in that respect. People will say Freewheelin’, Blonde on Blonde, Highway 61, Bringing it All Back Home, Blood on the Tracks… There is no easy way to dig into this artists body of work, and the only options are to dig and keep digging or simply not get a full picture. But this compilation rustles up some essentials to round off whenever you decide to stop digging, which will happen if this is justified in the first place.

Various Artists – Aqua Teen Hunger Force

To be honest (as if I’m not honest all the time), I haven’t even seen the Aqua Teen movie yet. I really want to and I have been meaning too and it feels like I have been waiting to for years, but all of my friends saw it without me so I guess I’m kind of screwed. I would consider myself and all of my friends to be pretty big Aqua Teen fans anyway, so I think one of them might crack and end up seeing it with me for their second run. I was with one of these such friends at Best Buy browsing for CDs on sale, because god forbid now that Tower Records is closed the only place nearby with a decent selection is Best Buy. I found something I wanted, and then noticed a copy of The Velvet Underground and Nico on sale for ten dollars. I figured it was an album I had been meaning to listen to for a long time, and I had it in my hand when one of my friends came up.

“Dude, DUDE! You need to buy this for me. I promise I’ll pay you back when we get back to my place. I NEED to get this.”

I’m a nice guy. So I ended up buying the soundtrack to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie over The Velvet Underground and Nico. You all finally have an excuse to string me up by the balls with a piano wire, because I know you were all looking for one.

At any rate, this is about what I expected. I don’t think I could have possibly had high expectations for something like this in the first place anyway. But this suffers the same fate as many other movie soundtracks do by simply not having that many songs on it. A good chunk of the soundtrack is comprised of dialog from the shows characters, only a little of which is any good. Namely, Master Shake’s touching rendition of “Nude Love.” Beyond that, the disk is about equal parts silly rap, hardcore metal, and humorous shorts. Some highlights are the humorous original song by Mastadon “Cut You Up With a Linoleum Knife” where the singer threatens to dissolve any movie piraters testicles, Nine Pound Hammer (the ones who did the 12 oz. Mouse theme song) doing Carl’s Theme, and the ridiculously bass heavy ATHF classic I Want Candy. The album can be, at times, very funny, and even I laughed out loud at a reference to a movie I have not even seen yet, “I Like Your Booty (But I’m Not Gay)”. What I don’t understand is how The Hold Steady got on here. Total crap.

Considering I didn’t really pay for this, I can’t say I’m too disappointed. It’s for the fans, that’s for sure, and if you didn’t already know that then don’t even think about buying this. If you were really ever seriously considering buying the soundtrack to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie, you know what you are getting into and could act on that accordingly.

The Album Leaf – In A Safe Place

With In A Safe Place, The Album Leaf has crafted an album that is geared towards a very specific purpose, but luckily that purpose is fulfilled with good to great success. To say that this album is good to fall asleep to might not be such a horrible insult, because it is obvious that this was made to be relaxing enough to fall asleep to. These melodies are relaxing, comforting, and most of all warm, and as the title declares, this music was mostly made to relax and melt troubles away at least for the span of a decent sized album. And really, it is quite impressive how much Jimmy LaValle accomplishes in a little over fifty minutes without really shifting his style much. At points, the goal is changed and the music becomes too tense to really relax too but at the same time it ends up being charming and abrasive nonetheless. Some songs like Window, Over The Pond (featuring Jonsi of Sigur Ros no less), and Streamside are absolutely gorgeous in how relaxing and warm they really are, and at other times songs develop with careful precision into beautiful soaring melodies. I think the production on this album is the biggest problem I had. I didn’t like the beats half the time, but they did end up successfully creating relaxing breakbeats, a monumental oxymoron in the ambient world. Also, some of the songs are just kind of dull and meandering, and to be honest, the album repeats itself and does not really develop or switch anything up. The delicate strings are downright wonderful though, and this album has interested me enough to go see the “band” live later this month. For it’s specific purpose, dream incubation and relaxation, this album achieves impressive heights.

The Melvins – Houdini

I find it very difficult to talk about The Melvins. The Melvins are just what they are. Just about every adjective you think you can describe them with can be refuted, and every positive or negative conjecture can be easily reversed. The only way to tell if you like The Melvins is to listen to them, and probably to start with Houdini. That said, Houdini might not be the most popular album the band ever made, for obvious reasons. For one thing it is startlingly coherent and actually recognizable as a set of songs that have their own identities. This is about as pure as they have ever been, whatever that means. But even when they are at the closest they have ever been to “pop,” they are still miles away. Most of these songs are dirty metallic sludge, and they still prove themselves as being one of the bands that truly held the Grunge movement up. The sheer quality of this album kind of overshadows how the band usually writes music, that is, with the intention of shocking and at times apalling, but there are still some comfortably obnoxious moments, such as Pearl Bomb and Sky Pup. But for the most part this is a really heavy sludge album that usually makes sense, and it packs in a lot of really heavy, really headbanging moments and is probably the centerfold of The Melvins’ long ongoing career. The album surprisingly sticks together and does not have too many disposable moments, but I think the standout songs are the first five in particular, as well as some great ones later like Joan of Arc.

Bjork – Homogenic

Approaching the catalog of an artist as prestigious as Bjork is very difficult, and at first glance new listeners would want to stray from Homogenic in exchange for an album where she looks prettier on the cover. But this album is definitely one of her most serious, moving works and should be an eventual purchase for even casual fans. For the record, this is generally argued to be her best album, and although it may not be easy to listen to at first, the album stands out as being great if you can manage to give it a bit of a chance to open up. From the beginning dynamics of Hunter to the final touching words of All Is Full of Love, most everything on this album is very good and melodies are used to their full potential. But while this album pushes Bjork’s songwriting ability to impressive lengths, it also expands her vocal finesse to it’s most beautiful lengths. Her range and technique are wonderful as usual, but the amount of feeling she puts into her singing is what makes the album truly shine. I think the only problem anyone could ever have with her singing is her distinct Icelandic accent, which to some is wonderful while annoying to others. In any case, Bjork has enough talent to put tingles down even her critics spines. The album’s clear highlight and strongest radio song is without a doubt Bachellorette, an unspeakably moving melancholy orchestral explosion. The consistancy of this is also surprisingly reliable, and although songs like Alarm Call and Pluto are comparitively weaker, the album stays true to it’s unique style of icy melodies dotted with electronic touches. It may not be the easiest Bjork album, but if you simply want to go for the throat and nothing more, this will be the one you want to get.

William Hung – Inspiration

With all due respect, if you accuse William Hung of being a bad singer, you have missed the point entirely and you need to re-evaluate your opinions. The title “inspiration” is one of the biggest understatements in years. I don’t know if there is anything here that is not inspiring. The fact that William Hung, WILLIAM HUNG got a record deal when in fact most American Idol qualifiers don’t get close is inspiring. His sense of humor is inspiring, and unbelievably huge. The fact that he has the balls to make a record like this is inspiring. And to be sure, his little interludes are inspiring too. People forget that whatever Sanjaya winning could have proved, William Hung proved twice as much either way. I can’t bear to call this bad music, mostly because I just have too much fun listening to this. The song selection is actually pretty great, although not all of the songs are key. That is about the only room for improvement that this album missed. In any case, the renditions of She Bangs, I Believe I Can Fly, Hotel California, and Rocket Man are about as good as it gets. William Hung is actually singing his heart out on all of this, so the original hit She Bangs wasn’t just a one time fluke. William Hung is William Hung. And nothing is going to change that. And as much as people like Kelly Clarkson giggle in his face and throw him over their shoulder, the truth is obvious. Fifty years from now, people are not going to remember Kelly Clarkson. People are going to remember William Hung, and THAT is truly an amazing accomplishment.

Sly and the Family Stone – Greatest Hits

Not being completely familiar with Sly and the Family Stone’s discography, I can really say almost nothing as to the validity of this disk as a collection. But what I will say is that upon first listen, this blew me away. It is almost unbelievable how many of these songs have quietly, and others not so quietly, become a part of our culture, and all of these songs are fantastic and memorable. Sometimes the problem is that the songs end too fast, just when the listener starts to be for more, but that makes this even more fun and irresistible to explore.What Sly did upon the making of this music is remarkable. The songs are catchy, fun, and energetic as well as skillfully played, but at the same time they really mean something and teach valuable lessons without sounding like they are preaching morals. Sly and the Family Stone are one of those bands that I would really love to get to know better, because I do know that they are one of the best at their kind and masters of soul and funk. But I can imagine if you need a starting point to get acquainted with this wonderful music, Greatest Hits is more than appropriate. I am pretty sure that all the biggest hits are included here, and you have almost certainly heard more than one. At least one or two more songs could have been included here, but I guess that says even more about the clarity and modesty here, a quality which most Greatest Hits collections sadly lack.

Eiffel 65 – Europop

I remember Europop well, and I remember liking it a lot. And now looking back, I can’t deny that this is severely under par music. The vocals are especially bad, but really the whole production is, and the hooks make a mockery out of the genre. But unfortunately, this album is noteworthy, even relevant. One has to have something going for them if they can construct a pop song as brilliant (although annoying as all hell) as Blue. The song’s power on the radio really can’t be downplayed effectively and for a brief period crashed sleazy dance into the mainstream. The songs are unfortunately memorable, which is weird, but maybe it is really only because of the nostalgic value this album has for me. But at the same time, most everything here is cringeworthy and ridiculous. As much as I would love to, I cannot forget Too Much Heaven, Livin’ In A Bubble, My Console (GOOD GOD) and Silicon World. As much as I hate this now, the songs have good hooks. And I do not think I have the right to completely tear apart an album that sold as much as this did. In short, this is a chunk of the dance genre breaking off and making noise on mainstream radio, which was actually a big deal because mainstream dance became more and more relevant because of it, even if it was justified by just one juggernaut of a song.

Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy

Houses of The Holy is just…one of those albums. One of those albums that everyone seems to like and I just cannot figure out why. It is pretty much split between good and startlingly bad, and for a Led Zeppelin album this is about as bad as it gets in the early career. But with that said, the album still has a nice selection of good songs. The Song Remains the Same is an interesting ethnic epic that does it’s job pretty well, but Robert Plant falters here, like he does on most of the album. The Rain Song and Over the Hills and Far Away are two of Led Zep’s absolute best acoustic moments and are priceless treasures that haven’t aged a bit unlike their predecessor. The Crunge is usually cited as being the albums worst track, but to be sure it’s a nice little groove while unfortunately completely unnecessary. The next two songs are downright horrible. Dancing Days was an already tired riff that amounts to even less when Robert Plant takes the stage with the least melodic vocals of his career, a complete embarrassment. D’yer Mak’er is a sad attempt at Reggae, and it’s so bad that John Bonham refused to play it live he hated it so much. The last two tracks are alright though, No Quarter is a nice outing into the avant-garde written by John Paul Jones, and The Ocean is the necessary riff rocker to keep the album on it’s feet considering the mediocrity that came before it. I’m a huge Led Zeppelin fan, but even I’ll admit that this album feels like a missed opportunity and a mixed collection of b-sides. Casual listeners should be encouraged not to give up here, because the band did come back with great success on their next album, but this is one of the weaker in the discography.

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