THE CONTINUED AND ACTUAL SONG FOR SONG ALBUM REVIEW: Cheap Trick’s new album is called “Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello” and it is important to mention that this album, since it doesn’t have Bun E., it cannot be considered a 100% authentic Cheap Trick album. On the other hand, the Peterssonless “One On One” and “Next Position Please” are fine albums and this new one reminds me a little of those at times.
This album sounds powerful and clean and every instrument is PUNCHING YOU IN THE FACE and Robin Zander is loud on top of it and you can hear every word. This sounds like the work of a band who have something to prove. As a unit of players and singers they have never sounded better. Too bad about Bun E. but at least Daxx does not suck. His first name sucks, but aside from that he’s a heavy hitter and allows the band to retain their near-Zeppelin level of heaviosity which is a key factor setting them apart from all other so-called “power pop” bands. What a great gimmick: be the heaviest and still be the most catchy and melodic. This is loud guitars but tap your foot and sing along music. So the good news is the band is rocking harder here than on any studio recording since their first album. It’s like they’re doing it on purpose. Rick Nielsen’s guitar takes up more sonic real estate than maybe ever and the “everything louder than everything else” production style is very flattering to the band and plays to their strengths.
Here’s a song by song play by play:
GIVING THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT SONG
“Heart On The Line” has all the classic Cheap Trick ingredients. It is a chugging, driving rocker with and Robin Zander sounding as great as ever singing vocal singing an almost stereotypically Cheap Trick-like melody. The low E rumble is reminiscent of their great “Everything Works If You Let It” from the Roadie soundtrack. It also reminds me a little of “Auf Weiderschen”. This song has some great surprise sections and reminds the listener of about four different great Trick songs over the course of its four plus minutes. But then I can’t help but notice Daxx is putting cymbal crashes in places I don’t think Bun E. would. He has a similar effect on the sound of the band as Matt Sorum had on Guns ‘N” Roses but Cheap Trick is enough of a better band that the Sorum-likeness doesn’t hurt them too much. The guitar stands out as especially assertive in the mix. The guitar is so loud all over this album that I’m convinced that either 1) Rick Nielsen is intentionally making such a ballsy hard rocking album that the fans will have no choice other than to forgive the unfortunate change of drummers. 2) Bun E., for some reason, wouldn’t allow Nielsen to mix his guitars as loud as he wanted. This seems fairly unlikely. Whatever the reason, it works for me. This is the most they’ve sounded like an authentic straight ahead hard rock band since their debut opened with “Hot Love”. I love the sound Nielsen gets on this album, no reverb or delay, no excessive gain, just a plain electric guitar mixed at a healthy volume for perfect clarity. Nielsen is a long time admirer of AC/DC and the righteous purity of his gigantic guitar sound on this album lives up to that standard. There are two vintage Rick Nielson solos in this song. There is more lead guitar in this song than appears on some entire Trick albums. This is a very very good thing. Robin Zander just sounds very much like himself, which is a great thing.
UNCOOL COMMERCIAL POP SONG
“No Direction” turns things decidedly and abruptly “power pop”. It comes in with chimey guitars and superfluous vocal harmonies right off the bat, spelling out the whole vibe right from go. It also has a very uncool chorus that reeks of the dreaded “this could be played on the radio” genre of yesteryear.
The song sort of reminds me of a rocked up version of Missing Person’s – “Destination Unknown”.
I don’t think Cheap Trick is stealing from Missing Persons, it’s very likely an example of the inevitable occurrence of parallel mediocrity as a result of intentional commercialism. “No Direction” has that kind of chorus that you have a hard time believing the band themselves would actually enjoy listening to. This is the opposite of what makes Cheap Trick great. They are rock and roll scholars with impeccable taste and have a gift for translating the sophistication of someone like Roy Wood into something an American mainstream rock audience can enjoy. And that’s why the chorus to this song makes me sad. But at least there’s another great guitar solo here. He plays some licks from “Oh, Caroline” to boot! This is the old stuff we love. But then it leads into a gratuitous bit of “Life In The Fast Lane” style phase-shifting which highlights the makeshift, random-stuff-pushed-together, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink vibe of the writing and playing on this song and they take that crappy chorus all the way out. Still, Nielsen will not stop with the ceaseless commentary of awesome rock licks. For me, Rick’s guitar is the saving grace of this album. He’s just giving more great guitar than ever before. Zander and Petersen don’t exactly sound like they’re watching the clock either. This sounds like an album that was made with a great care for detail and quality control. Even on a bad song this band is sounding pretty great. But skip this song anyway, it sucks.
NEIL YOUNGISH SINGER SONGWRITER TUNE
I have read that Zander did a great Neil Young when he was a solo acoustic folkie busker-type before he joined forces with Neilsen and co. This song (“When I Wake Up Tomorrow”) sounds like something Neil Young would write and record if he hadn’t suffered from epilepsy. It’s a nice song with a nice melody and another really cool guitar solo. And maybe more importantly, there’s an undercurrent of dark droning A string pedal from Rick Nielsen, which is an early Trick staple on songs like “Taxman, Mr. Thief”, “High Roller”, “Hello There” and others. It’s not totally convincing here but it’s the thought that counts. A good non-Cheap Trick sounding Cheap Trick song.
“AUTHENTICALLY POWERFUL DINOSAUR ROCK JAM”
“Do You Believe Me” sounds cool in a Mutt Lange production of Shania Twain/Def Leppard kind of way followed by Mutt Lange AC/DC style in the jam at the end. I think this song is an homage to Mutt Lange, generally. Maybe they’re hoping he might do a Todd Rundgren-Meat Loaf thing with them and produce their next album and have it become a gigantic monster that no one could have ever foreseen. Who knows? We do know that Cheap Trick admire Lange’s classic productions of AC/DC like any other sensible practitioner of two guitars, bass and drums. They are jamming like Zeppelin. The pre-chorus heads into dark stomping Lennonesque territory, which is the most Cheap Trick thing about this song. And then finally we get to a chorus that just has NOTHING going for it. No meaningful lyrics, no melody, it just gets into more AC/DC type crashing chords, leading into yet ANOTHER awesome guitar solo. This one is extended and Rick is on fire here. Daxx is a good drummer but he’s doing the sort of bullshit tasteless rock dude fills only a drummer could love. I’ll call this one a mixed blessing.
UNEXPECTED GLAM ROCK GEM
“Blood Red Lips” is great. A best case scenario for a new Cheap Trick song, it doesn’t sound like a retread of anything they’ve done before, which is particularly tough for a group like this, but the glam rock style sounds perfectly in line with their aesthetic criteria. It’s got that swing. It’s got that swinging drum roll feeling that is used to such great effect in songs like Sweet’s Teenage’ Rampage.
This song pulls off a stunt that rarely is ever seen from a band with Cheap Trick’s history. They’ve written a quintessential Cheap Trick song that doesn’t remind the listener of any of their own classic era songs. The vocabulary stays squarely in rock and roll, so the Trick plays this music with great confidence and swagger. This is the first song on the album to deliver a truly satisfying chorus. It reminds me a lot of Sweet, it’s a Chapman-Chinn style composition and production in the best way. You can hear Slade and the Move and T. Rex in here too. It’s really that good, easily the best song on the album.
OBLIGATORY SEMI-POWER BALLADISH SONG
This song reminds me of an above-average Wings album track. There are some post 90s Jeff Lynne sort of harmonies on this song, which is a regrettable color to add to their palette. This is another one that sounds like they’re aiming for what used to be known as “could be played on the radio”. I don’t even know to what extent radio even actually exists anymore so I wish they’d stop doing this. On the other hand Robin Zander has never sounded better. And yeah, cool guitar solo…
URGENT ROCKER, DOUBLE TIME
This song has the heavy double time groove of songs like Kiss’s “Deuce” and the Pretenders “Mystery Achievement”. Rick is getting into his “Cold Turkey” mindset for the riffs here, which is a signature of his that is always welcome. “Roll Me” is the song that has the most overt rock cliches of anything on the album. The performance is impressive as usual but ultimately this is just another collection of well-executed gestures that doesn’t add up to a convincing song.
AN OBSCURE COVER OF AN OBSCURE COVER
It is not for no reason that this sounds like a guitar heavy Roxy Music, which is a pretty fucking awesome, if not best possible, way for a rock band to sound. That’s because “The In Crowd” is a cover Bryan Ferry did on his first solo album. The Bryan Ferry version, from 1974, starts out as a primitive mid tempo Velvet Underground groove and keeps it going. The Ferry version sounds like Roxy except the guitars are more prominent. The dominance of the basic open E chord on this weird and rocking song is something I’d imagine Rick Nielsen hooked onto way back then. I imagine Cheap Trick hearing this in 1974 as both an inspiration and an affirmation of the way smart and interesting rock and roll music should sound going into the 70s. The original three members aside from Zander toured Europe in 1973. And we know the band covered The Velvets’ “Waiting For The Man” in their early club days. This is a case of covering the cover that may well have been a key source for Cheap Trick’s own unique style. I am speculating Cheap Trick covered it out of 1974 nostalgia. Bryan Ferry – The ‘In’ Crowd (Lyrics)
Bryan Ferry covered it out of 1964 nostalgia:
WHEREIN RICK NIELSEN IS MORE JIMMY PAGE THAN JIMMY PAGE
On “Long Time No See You” the band sound like when Jimmy Page played Zeppelin music with the Black Crowes. Rick Nielsen’s arranging, layering, overdubbing, idiosyncratic riff making and soloing are nearly up to “Houses Of The Holy”/”Physical Graffiti” era Page standards. The band sounds great here and Daxx is impressive. There’s a funky rock groove that could be associated with Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith. And I hear a certain amount of Tylerism coming from Zander so I’m gonna think of it as their Aerosmith song. Nielsen evokes Page and Petersson gets up to Entwistle levels of bass tone and assertiveness. A VERY GOOD Aerosmith song.
THE BIG PRODUCTION
“The Sun Never Sets Up” wouldn’t sound out of place on “All Shook Up”. They’re showing some of the Move influence that characterizes much of their best work and there’s a touch of strings that remind me of “Dream Police” and “Stop This Game”. It is an epic pop production in the tradition of those two songs. This is not a particularly great specimen of that sort of song but a nice try nonetheless.
VINTAGE NEW WAVE ART ROCK
“All Strung Out” is a curiosity. It’s like an overly modern new wave power pop overproduction of a Velvet Underground song that wouldn’t sound out of place on the first Roxy Music album (again with the Velvets/Roxy thing) and as usual, the guitars are great. Robin Zander is doing a cross between Lou Reed and Bryan Ferry and the whole thing works. And it’s got the best bridge on the album to boot.
In conclusion: if you love Cheap Trick you probably should get this album. You know who you are. If you don’t love Cheap Trick I can’t imagine you made it through this whole long rambling review and are reading this right now…
ALBUM REVIEW:Bang Zoom Crazy… Hello’ – I love Cheap Trick as much as the next guy except when the next guy falls into a category I call “people who may like Cheap Trick a little too much.” The first time I ever noticed this guy, it was myself. I don’t quite FEEL like that guy these days but that guy lives in me still. I have had and continue to have many friends who are or have been this guy. One of these friends is Tom Beaujour. He is a rock journalist (and a recording studio owner/operator and musician, etc.) who has interviewed Rick Nielsen many times. The last time I saw Tom he was telling me about his most recent interview with Nielsen. I wanted to know only one thing: what’s this Van Halen bullshit where a beloved original member is ousted to be replaced by the control freak guitarist’s offspring? I don’t get these rock stars who gotta be like Donald Trump with this foisting of their offspring on the paying customer. No one wants this. I may not quite be one of those “people who may like Cheap Trick a little too much” at the moment but I am righteously teed off nonetheless. In the history of rock there is no other band in which each individual member is more individually beloved than Cheap Trick. Musically, each member is as individually important as the members of Led Zeppelin or the Who. Image-wise, each member is as individually important as the members of Kiss or the Beatles. By these (not necessarily 100% scientific) metrics, Bun E. Carlos would be one of the twenty most irreplaceable rock band members in history. So they have some explaining to do. Bun E. has, in fact, done some of this explaining in easily Googleable interviews which are informative and entertaining. So when I spoke to my friend Tom, I immediately asked if Nielsen did any explaining about this new arrangement. To paraphrase Tom: “It was kind of frustrating because I asked their publicist if Rick’s son was replacing Bun E. and Rick said ‘Daxx is the touring drummer for Cheap Trick’ and I said ‘Yeah but they just made a new album and Daxx plays on it instead of Bun E. so it seems like he’s Cheap Trick’s new drummer…’ ‘Daxx is Cheap Trick’s touring drummer…”. The exchange went nowhere, The publicist was evasive, inscrutable and why wouldn’t he be? Because it’s just wrong and whatever explanation he could possibly have would suck anyway.
Before digging into the album let’s consider the true significance of a new Cheap Trick album in the year 2016. Their debut came out almost forty years ago and even then they were ten year veteran journeyman musicians. Cheap Trick was never new and they were never young, at least not in the way we typically think of new young bands.
Here’s a severely abridged Cliff Notes account of the long, strange career of Cheap Trick: Rick Nielsen and Tom Petersson had a band called Fuse from 1967 to 1973. They recorded an album for Epic in 1970, which failed artistically and commercially. By 1973 they were playing with two members of The Nazz and good ole’ Bun E. Carlos, sometimes as “Fuse” and sometimes under the name “The Nazz”. They formed Cheap Trick in 1973, finally adding the key ingredient for world domination, the not remotely secret weapon Robin Zander in 1974. And they were finally… off to the races?
Well, not quite yet. The band had a couple years of touring ahead of them before finally being signed (again to Epic) in 1976 and releasing their debut in 1977. And then they were finally… off to the races?
Well, not quite yet. Their records were well received by the press and a slowly building cult following while their incessant touring, now opening for big headliners like Kiss and Aerosmith, was earning them a reputation as a top notch big time live rock act. But they weren’t selling too many records yet.
Their first album was “too raw” to get radio airplay. It’s a great example of a band’s first album consisting of them blasting through a road tested set with great energy and aplomb. It’s the sort of debut wherein the band avoids the red light fright by never acknowledging to themselves that they’re actually recording an album in a recording studio. That’s what it sounds like to me at least. This is my favorite Cheap Trick album, it’s the one that I think sounds like “the real” Cheap Trick. No fillers, no sweeteners, no trying to make it listenable to non-rock fans. It consists 100% of great songs and it’s HEAVY.
On the next album (“In Color”) Tom Werman’s production serves as a bit of an over correction. It is a slick album. Compared to the first album it sounds restrained. It is not for no reason that they rerecorded this album with Steve Albini in 22 years later in 1998 but it also is not for no reason that Albini wanted to rerecord it. This is the second in a string of at least five albums to come from this proverbial “great band at the height of their powers”. Nielsen’s pop songwriting genius is specifically highlighted here, primarily by making this album (along with pretty much everything they’ve done since) a showcase for Zander’s godlike vocals. In fact, the last thing you hear here is Zander’s voice holding what I’m pretty sure is the longest most beautiful high note ever recorded. The thing literally ends on a high note. Convincing.
For their third time up, Werman and the band make a more satisfyingly slick album that reclaims the band’s signature heaviosity to an extent. Many people cite “Heaven Tonight” as Cheap Trick’s best album. It’s my second favorite but that’s just a matter of personal taste. What is a fact is that the best Cheap Trick album is either the first one or “Heaven Tonight”. So anyway, they slick up the production of their second and third albums and they’re finally… off to the races?
Well, almost. They were starting to sell a little more and the label was continuing with the Werman strategy and they were back in the studio working on what was intended to be their fourth release, “Dream Police”.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the fourth album. Would you believe it turned out those first three Cheap Trick albums, neglected in their native USA, were BIG IN JAPAN? So Cheap Trick had three gold albums in Japan and they went there and played a couple concerts at the legendary Japanese venue Budokan and they happened to record these performances for an album exclusively for their Japanese audience. And of course this throwaway live recording turned out to be the very thing that the world needed to hear in order to finally “get” this most extremely palatable rock band with all these great songs, the amazing Cheap Trick. What makes Cheap Trick a truly great rock band can only be truly heard in live performance. This combination of beautiful singing and songwriting coupled with caveman caterwaul and stomp is a unique and powerful thing that is to be treasured. And all the greatest bands rock in a way that is loose but tight and Cheap Trick has always been one of these bands.
In hindsight, Cheap Trick was a wildly successful record selling band for a grand total of two consecutive albums which were both released in America in 1979. So let’s say Rick Nielsen has been plugging away for 52 years and he’s had a total of one year of carefree runaway success? Later there was also 1988’s “Lap Of Luxury” but that was more of a “Deal With The Devil” situation which could never be sustained. What HAS sustained Cheap Trick for over forty years is their work ethic. They are a band who are very familiar with struggle and never far from it. We love to fantasize about what it would be like to be a big household name rock star but for Cheap Trick I imagine it’s “no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise” and that they “consider it a challenge before the whole human race” and they “ain’t gonna lose”.
Their next album, “All Shook Up”, has George Martin producing and they suffer diminished sales, a critical backlash and the departure of the beloved Tom Petersson, Nielsen’s partner in crime from ’67 on. Almost immediately after things start going well for these guys, they’re taking a turn for the worse. Then they make a different sounding album with Roy Thomas Baker (“One One One”) and it sells less. Then they make a different different sounding album with Todd Rundgren and it sells even less. Then they make two more albums that don’t do much.
But then in 1988 the band finally has a mixed blessing of a sort of resurgence after being forced by their label to record a hideous Hail Mary power ballad written by people not in Cheap Trick, but this doesn’t substantially alter the arc of their career, though having a ginormous hit single certainly didn’t hurt them. What really helps Cheap Trick in a long term way is the return of Tom Petersson. As I mentioned earlier, this is a band in which each individual member is very important to their fans. Knowing you were going to see “the real Cheap Trick” was a major selling point for their live show until Bun E’s departure in 2010.
Cheap Trick’s biggest album was an accident and no one ever figured out how to concoct a Cheap Trick album that would appeal to the gigantic demographic that constitutes all potential Cheap Trick fans. To restate: Rick Nielsen has been recording and releasing albums for 46 years and hit the bullseye, accidentally, exactly once with a live album. “Dream Police” sold a lot too, but that was largely attributable to the momentum created by “Budokkan”. It’s a good album, but not as great as the first three, not even close. Maybe it’s not even as good as “All Shook Up” but that’s a different discussion.
They never stopped touring. And once 70s nostalgia got going in the 90s Cheap Trick became the kind of band you see every year. Maybe in a festival, at an amusement park, a rock club, a theatre, they are on the road. From 1973 on, they are on the road. For 43 years they are on the road.
All this is a long way of saying that Cheap Trick is still grappling with the challenge of making a studio recorded album that lives up to their legend as a great live rock band. The pop thing is dangerous, it makes you think you need to think up some clever ideas in the studio. And too much thinking is kryptonite tor rock and roll.
The reason all this is important is Cheap Trick has recently released their 17th album. They had one big album that was an accident (“Budokkan”), one big album because it was their time (“Dream Police”) and one big album because the record business is evil (“Lap Of Luxury”). On the other 13 they were just trying to catch a break like anyone else. All things considered, this new album makes a fairly decent number 17. It’s a shame they called it “Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello” but the good news is that may be the worst thing about it.
ALBUM REVIEW: Happy Accidents by Delicate Flowers can best be described as gridy pop-folk that goes beyond the beard. There I said it, otherwise I would have categorized it as bedroom rock written by Eric Goldberg but instead he did the right thing Not releasing the demo’s from his creepy sad Daddy Mansion in Green Point; he made a proper solo album and recorded in Wayne, New Jersey’s Skyler Ross Recording (Happy Irony?)- We don’t know.
The canvas as whole is a wash of singer song writer insights. “Break Me Wide Open” is when Happy Accidents is this record paints a very vividly a single line indie rock anthem; from something you would find on a Deep Elm comp back in the 90’s with just a chorus to satisfy the hurt you might feel from a regular break-up song. The opener “Dissolution” does what a first track should do and brings you into his relationship struggle cubby-hole setting up your expectations. Song for song the struggle is real, glossy poetic with “Vaseline”, a slick middle three chord pop song discussing struggle of hiding those things called feelings(do a search on twitter and whole world will open up on this subject in it’s own joke format), where as he might just be editing the deeper hurtful parts when he sings na-na-na-nas to further cover up hurt and blurring of the lens. We don’t know but we certainly feel it and that makes this record gracious. Maybe evening sounding a little bit like Allanis’s bad break-up with that bad comedian from Full House. I joke only because there are feelings and good lyric writing through out is meant to relate to the listening through all the tools. “It’s Easy to Love a Martyr” is when we get to it’s most reverb laden Oasis center. All good in many ways and influences through-out I just really get this and it’s a totally a panty dropper. Probably the highest compliment and rating we might be able to give out here at RS and definitely a high-watermark for this year coming from the Sniffling Indie Kids label.
LABEL: SNIFFLING INDIE KIDS RIYL: The Comas, Cymbals Eat Guitars, Dax Riggs, Elliot Smith, Jason Molina
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ALBUM REVIEW: Here’s a good way to celebrate DIY country punk the day after tax day with the Waco Brothers at Monte Hall in Jersey City and their newest studio album in years called Going Down In History (Bloodshot Records). Seasoned alternative guys mostly Chicag0-ians and one brit ex-pat with guitar lineage (Mekons, Jesus Jones, Dollar Store). In the New York area go see them in all the halls.
04/13/2016 Union Hall
04/16/2016 Monty Hall
The rock shuffle number “We Know It” is one of our favorite tracks on this album, respectfully the opener “DIYBOYB” gets political in way circling up the wagons talking of the posthumous world where artisal world will live on through ideas as they sing “you can’t kill us because we’re already dead”. We asked Jon Langford thoughts on playing WFMU’s venue Monty Hall and he said “I did a session there with the Mekons but haven’t played a full on show there yet so I am very interested to see what mayhem will ensue.” We also ask John like where they find the energy to make grizzly music like this still? and he said “they bottle their rage in the winter time and unleash it in spring!”
ALBUM REVIEW: The debut LP by Belgian noise-rock group El Yunque opens Baskenland with the explosive drums, insectile guitar, and manic vocals one might expect venturing into this genre. I wasn’t disappointed, to say the least, but rather pleasantly surprised when the rest of the album offered a more constructed version of that first track. What I proceeded to find was a mix of industrial elements and versatile guitar, accompanied by a combination of English and apparently Belgian lyrics, ranging in style from folky, Gira-esque drawls, to shrill screaming. There’s a nice mix between fast progressive songs, and longer more hypnotic tracks revolving around a central groove.
“Kabeldraad” is an almost nineteen minute pounding jam that gives off a doom vibe at certain times while bringing you through a range of highs and lows, all while somehow not being boring. Noztechtransch takes you through an evil, country influenced, instrumentation overlaid with catchy verses with gems like, “I’m a redneck baller”. The classical rock elements given the context of the rest of the album gives it an interesting edge, I felt like I was in a dive bar that allows smoking mixed with some warehouse art rock performance. The way the band draws on each of their influences is very nuanced which can make it difficult to discern their core sound. With this in mind it opens up every new track to be a blank slate they can do whatever they want with, which is potentially very refreshing. When they’re using conventional rock elements it still has an edge to it, and when they have a noise interlude that’s a lot more deconstructed it retains a very cohesive feel because of the scaffolding the rest of the track provides.
Baskenlandis this band’s first LP, after just an EP and a cassette, and it showcases everything in a really promising experimental group. If this is step one, then I’m very much looking forward to the progression of El Yunque.
Tonight on Friday the fucking 13th, 2015 at Asbury Park Yaht Club, New York’s indie rock band Dead Stars rock the jersey shore with the sneakergazing and well groomed Overlake.
ALBUM REVIEW: Dead Stars – Slumber
Here is a cassette/digital release that is equal parts malt liquor guitar distortion grind alla J-Mascis and melodic rock vocals akin to jets to brazil. So as far as classic rock fans go you could throw in Dave Grohl there as an audible influence too by his long hairs but without the idiocratic persona. Maybe I also like it because it’s a strong 90’s nod to his upstate band called Tugboat Annie or even teenage fanclub. Many good reasons but this record stands on it’s own and is the good shit so you should support them on bandcamp.
Dead Stars ‘Someone Else’ Old Flame Records
OK,enough of my bullshit. Give this some love so your mom can see what you are doing facebook today
ALBUM REVIEW: Man these are good’ole boys re-invented with some rock-n-roll pride that stings you right in the face. Lots of fast jams that remind me of the fast parts of Nine Pound Hammer and burry The Supersuckers with their last rights. Lee Bains III and The Glory Fires is pure and uninhibited by their past. They let the bong rip one energetic tune after the next. It’s not a put-on and you can feel them flying their flag over the music with a different message and a new kind of pride. Taking on the world with dirty sweat, grit and the quest for the good weed. Lee is putting in the good work like a rock-n-roll as a preacher leading the boys into a tornado of rock and a hail locusts. What is important to know that these guys are a live band of regular dudes who happen to be on Sub Pop now who love to play music and listen to all sorts of shit. Hung out with them, drank cheap beer and the good tequila and these men are the real deal. Over the top distortion with great guitar tones is what you need and they delivery. Soon enough you will catch them live and thank us. Website | Twitter
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ALBUM REVIEW: One of my new favorite downloads from the newly refocused emusic is Hookworms. If they(EM) didn’t recommend it I would still be ignoring the 30 times some publicist named dropped them to push their own band on me. Fuck totally been ignoring the blog too but that is a whole other matter I won’t bore you with the story here. Just know this “indie” psych band from Leeds UK is notable and THE HUM is the evidence, the happy noise that woke me up after a 3 month slumber of letting this blog float in space with not even so much as a reach around. They are coming around to the East Coast in April of 2015 so maybe I’ll get out of the house then. This record reminds me of a lot of other new psyche like no age and locals Wreaths; but they hit some pink floyd-esque flair here and there with well placed in a echo and bunnymen like Velvet Underground grooves and guitar delays. Still somewhat poppy and catchy though – your note dead right? Music shouldn’t bore you so this may keep you alive with a swift bong hit ( do the kids even do that anymore). Some screaming type stuff too on some of tracks which reminds me of Rye Coalition. You know when the notes yelp in a good way. Enough reminders and head-nods to a band that cares. Not operatic either or least you feel it as some of the running time on the their tunes goes over the minute mark.. Just good head noddin’ While their 13,000 fans on facebook already know their previous “artier” Pearl Mystic. This is a good sign and probably brought you by some record nerds or Weird World Record Co. Website
So when was the last time you jumped out of your workstation chair and shouted “holy fucking shit” at the (un)shocking dismay of your co-workers after discovering the kick ass sound of that next big band? Yeah, I don’t remember either since it rarely to never happens, but I did just that when I stumbled upon Eastern Anchors.
Researching them after learning my comrades in Tri-State were sharing the stage with the Red Bank trio at Parkside Lounge, NYC somewhere back in 2013. I stumbled across their 2012 full release, Drunken Arts and Pure Science which boasts a consistent shit-load of hits (“James the Viking”, “Crown Vic”, “Far From OK” “Herzog, Help Me” and on and on and on…). The heavy but melodic, sonic, ball-crushing of their sound is just that and beautifully so.
Then they released their 2014 single release “Above Your Station”. I wish I could honestly say I jumped out of my work chair and shouted “holy fucking shit” at the (un)shocking dismay of my co-workers again but I recently upgraded to an office. Again, the onslaught of a perfect blend of melodically sonic “ummph” continues like a speeding train of alternate tuning, chugging bass and earth-shaking drums, charging full steam ahead and not stopping for shit. If this track is just an appetizer, I can’t wait the main dish. Check out the cute video for the tune below….
Flip the 7 ” over and you will find the delightful sounds of Zero For Conduct and their catchy single “Average Marks Makes Shitty Sparks.” I don’t know much about this New Brunswick two piece except that I like this first release, though I can’t help thinking post-hardcore DC bands of the late 80s/early 90s, especially early Jawbox between the pounding forward, off the rails music and the singers J. Robbins-ish vox. Nevertheless, I dig it and looking forward to more from them.
Overall a solid release from the Nefarious Industries label…..let’s hear some more….!
ALBUME REVIEW: Here’s how Christian I think U2 is: I think they’re the benevolent equivalent of Mel Gibson, or, expressed more economically: Bizarro Mel Gibson. They take the title of their new album from William Blake, who can be described as a “Christian mystic”. Do you think U2 put a lot of thought into what they call this thing they’re giving to half a billion people? I’m gonna guess the answer is yes. So what’s a mystic? The way I’d describe is it is a mystic is someone who experiences the divine as subjective reality . Throughout history, there have always been nay-sayers who find these people insane. Sometimes they even kill mystics. Assuming Jesus Christ was an actual historical figure, one could make an argument that he was not literally “the son of God” any more than anyone else, but his mystical experiences convinced him that he was, and he went around talking about it. Big mistake. And now they wanna kill U2 too.
In terms of how much attention each of their new albums receives upon release, I believe U2 may be on top of the longest winning streak in rock and roll history. Last I heard, U2 are Christians (except for Adam Clayton, which is why he’s the one that went out with Naomi Campbell, I guess.) Since they’re Irish, religion isn’t simply a comforting aspect of their lives, or such is my speculation. What’s impressive about this to me is they don’t advertise or emphasize their spirituality but it has always been reflected in their work. This means they are in the faith, hope and love business, rather than the anger and selfishness business. For the most part, all my favorite artists are geniuses at expressing negativity, from John Lennon all the way down. I love that shit. If Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen or Elliott Smith of Kurt Cobain (extra points for suicides!) are selling darkness and despair I will put mustard (alcohol?) on that shit and gobble it down. But that’s the easy way. BTW: I gotta mention Cohen and Cave have also written many powerfully uplifting songs that express real feelings of transcendent sacred hope. Here’s an interesting snippet of Jim Morrison talking about where I’m going with this:
“A PIECE OF MUSIC IS THE PURE EXPRESSION OF JOY (1968) – JIM MORRISON
Apple and U2 have colluded to revolutionize what it means when a new album comes out, at least this once. What I’m interested in is what they have decided would be the thing they give to basically every person in the civilized world. So U2 being U2 and Apple being Apple, I believe careful consideration has gone into what they’re dumping into everyone’s library. A band doesn’t end up in U2’s position by accident. U2 always worked hard towards the aim of being being the biggest band in the world. U2 in general and Bono in particular have been committed to using their powers for good to the point of near absurdity. I find the reaction to their new free album to be cynical and jaded beyond all rationality, but that’s probably just because I’m looking at my Facebook feed, which consists primarily of crabby old punk rockers in their 40s and 50s who are living in the year 1983 (like myself). But boy, oh boy, do people love making wisecracks about U2 giving them an album they never asked for. The sheer effrontery of this grand gesture has got legions of middle-aged men acting like the snotty adolescent older daughter on all my favorite “golden age of TV” cable serials. It’s just another thing coming at you over the computer, get into it or ignore it or delete it but if you’re complaining about it it’s because you LOVE complaining. I love complaining. Complaining reinforces the ego with beautiful efficiency. But for me, this is no such occasion. I find “Songs Of Innocence” to be inspiring and uplifting and it gives me hope for the future of rock and roll and for humanity.
U2 have the elements of a “real” band. You can really hear the contribution of each of the four members on every song. Like the Who, each member has an idiosyncratically individual musical personality expressed through their style but like the Ramones there is no virtuosity, no element superfluous to the expression of the song. This is consistently the case throughout the album. Bono in particular is singing as beautifully Bono-like as ever but he sounds more interested in the song than he is in his own Bono-nature. He’s not going a step past what is needed. On any other U2 album from “Unforgettable Fire” onward Bono gets a little too rich for my blood, but never on this album.
The first song is “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)”. They come out pushing all the right buttons for U2-80s-new wave nostalgia. They’re coming at you with the “whoa whoahs” and the moody minimalist piano vibes of “New Year’s Day”, then the Edge comes in sounding more crunchy and lo-fi than ever. This guitar is loud and distorted and rocking hard and obnoxious but NOT Ramones-like, which is a good choice. When the groove kicks in I like to imagine they were thinking of Adam and the Ants. It has the stick clicks of “Antmusic” and the “Whoah whoas” associated with Adam and the Ants (and also U2, of course). A little of the old military snare. They always were good at using the snare drum to remind you of a military band and thus the underpinning haunting subconscious knowledge of the ongoing inevitability of the never-ending horrors of war. It’s an Irish thing, these people didn’t just discover terrorism over the last 15 years. This is the first of many songs that evokes the “War” album for me, which is the best U2 ever were. Take into consideration once again, the demographic they’re appealing to is EVERYBODY. Also, most people who like U2 at all have liked them for a REALLY LONG TIME, decades. These guys have been around the block enough to know what side their bread is buttered on. All of us Gen-x-ers grew up with U2, whether we cared to or not. What I like about this song is it seems to say “remember that feeling, it has always been there”. No music gets under your skin like the stuff you got into when you were 14. Ask the surviving Beatles and Stones, who have always embraced this truth. This song is about connecting with what it means to find the healing powers of rock and roll at the most painful and confusing part of life, the transition of adolescence. It’s also a sexy and exciting time, full of the feeling of possibility and the FUTURE. I think this song expresses all of that. For me personally it does somewhat remind me of my favorite band when I was 13 and this song in particular:
and also around the same time I was way into this:
And the hook for the first song on their latest and biggest new album contains the lines:
“Everything I ever lost now has been returned, the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard”
That’s very beautiful to me. It takes me back to when music really was the thing that made sense out of the world. Before I grew up and “figured it all out” and worked out my “philosophy of life”. What’s REALLY deep about it is this: from U2’s Christian perspective, “everything I ever lost” can only mean the connection to God, or the collective-consciousness, “the higher power”, the ONE, the thing bigger than yourself, the thing that the so-called “soul” is said to be hooked into. The pursuit of ecstatic connection triggered by the mysterious powers of music (like, how does it work? Why does it DO that to us?) is an expression of this spiritual longing, just like the booze and drugs and sex and all the other good stuff. Television, for Christ’s sake! ANYTHING to feel connected and immersed in something larger than yourself that you can lose yourself in. So this song and this chorus contain for me all that is needed to show that U2 is back and they have something worthwhile to say to us. Remember, they’re old too, they’re in the same boat. This is a line that fits and is simple and contains the whole meaning of life. And it’s catchy and it has a good beat. The Edge does not lean on special effects here and he’s playing some real satisfying punk rock rhythm guitar. I’m assuming this song had to have been written and recordedy before the recent death of Tommy Ramone, which triggered a wave of nostalgia ultimately resulting in the canonization of the Ramones as second most important band ever. If this is indeed the case, U2 has their finger on the pulse in a way that continues to be SPOOKY! They do a great job of making an anthemic rocker that doesn’t in any way attempt to sound like the Ramones. “Vertigo” sounded more like the Ramones than this one does. They got good taste.
The second song is “Every Breaking Wave”. This song is shamelessly evocative of “With or Without You”, but faster, more driving, which only takes it slightly past the excitement level of “Every Breath You Take” by the Police, but I’m really digging it. As a matter of fact, because you can easily picture Sting singing these verses, for the first time ever I know for a fact that I find Bono a million times less annoying than Sting. But this is a cool, middling Police-type song. I like the line, “Every gambler knows that to lose is what you’re really there for”. I’m not a gambler, but I’m familiar with the concept, it’s a big part of the psychology of self-destruction. Contrary to Bono’s assertion, I’m sure there’s a lot of gamblers out there who think they want the thrill of victory but Bono’s talking about the self-examining self-destroyer, who really knows he’s his own worst enemy all along. That’s a lot of extrapolation from one simple lyric and a great example of the strength of Bono’s words on this album. From the unique perspective of the Christian rock star, I find this to be a line that expresses sincere empathy and compassion, without judgement. You don’t get as big as U2 without making a deal with the devil, and I believe Bono is quietly and non-self-aggrandizingly grappling with his own demons, whatever form they may take. This song is about not waiting for the next big thing to make your life worthwhile. “To be swept off our feet and stop chasing every breaking wave” and “I thought I heard the Captain’s voice, it’s hard to listen while you preach” are examples of Bono sharing moments when he discovers humility is where fulfillment lies. “Are we so hopeless against the tide?” Good fucking question the song is asking. This is a song about strength in spiritual surrender, which is the only strength there is that won’t ultimately result in eating yourself alive, somehow. “We’re in love with defeat” has to do with the human condition in general. Did I say this song is about surrender? Bono uses a sweet falsetto that uncharactistically makes him softer at the peak of the melody. The message I take from this song is “the kingdom of heaven is within.” It’s catchy, it’s got a good beat.
I love an album that puts the best song 3rd, and for me this is clearly one of them. On “California” they kick into my favorite groove which my friend calls “The Sex Pistols beat” but I think of it as “the ‘Funtime’ beat” and here’s a couple favorite examples:
IGGY POP – THE IDIOT – FUNTIME
DAVID BOWIE – RED SAILS
But it makes me want to dance like this:
SCENE FROM FOOTLOOSE
Now I’m really digging this album. It is building momentum, the tempo is faster, dancier, but still rocking and the message is super-duper Christian! “There is no end to love”. As far as I’m concerned, that’s up there with “All You Need Is Love” and “The love you take is equal to the love you make”, as far as I’m concerned at the moment. This is a great song about Universal Cosmic Love. Warning: this Love does not disintegrate haters, it absorbs them. We got us a new Van Morrison here, Irish mysticism expressed directly and simply. That may be wishful thinking on my part, but there’s no denying this groove don’t quit. This is some super-entertaining new wave power pop. The synths in the chorus sound warmly soothing in a way that reminds me of Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” (again with the 80s retro), but there’s also some subtle tasty string arrangement sounding stuff and then the Edge takes a melodic guitar solo that is more straightforward in expression of simple and loud and fat melody than I can ever remember hearing him do, he sounds like more like Television and the Skids, which he always credited as primary influences. Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton (from here on in referred to as “the rhythm section”) are appropriately propulsive. There is no song ever written where it is more obvious when you’re hearing The Hook and I mean that in the best possible sense. My favorite “whoa-whoahs” on the album. It’s real catchy and has a really good beat. Unfortunately, for me it’s all downhill from here. Plenty of quality U2 for the next 40 minutes or so, but I could listen to “California” all day. I hereby declare it is my favorite U2 song of all time.
This next “Song For Someone” starts with a nice acoustic Edge guitar. This is sort of a nice new “One”, if you want that kind of thing. I like it better than “One” which, again, is a little rich for my blood. Yet another “classic-U2” sounding song on the album. Again, in his guitar solo, The Edge evokes his primary original influence, Stuart Adamson of the Skids:
THE SKIDS – CHARADE
Stuart Adamson went on to further refine his bagpipe-like melodic guitar style with a band called Big Country. He’s dead now.
“Iris” has the band as one rhythm unit. This is real old school U2, “Where The Streets Have No Name” with a little of the mood of the “War” album style but faster and leaner and meaner. The Edge has got his delay back and he remembers how to use it. Not a bad song, but maybe the closest they get to doing “U2-by-numbers” on this album. It’s a fairly silly love song (some people want to fill the world with them). I like the ending tagline “Free yourself to be yourself, only you can see yourself”. Positive energy!
“Volcano” starts with bass and drums, almost like an old Pixies tune. The chorus reminds me a bit of Siouxsie and the Banshees with maybe even a little REM “This One Goes Out To The One I Love” thrown in via the guitar line at the end. The 80s mood continues, this is the point of the album where I’m starting to suspect they front loaded all the really good songs, but that’s no crime. Total album track, not bad. There’s some nice guitar on here, as always. Single note-lines rather than chords makes it sort of modern-sounding.
“Raised By Wolves” builds tension through the first two verses with some typically minimalist U2 style piano, gradually increasing in volume. This song is about growing up in the urban blight of war-torn Dublin, and the tension builds until the chorus bursts out : “Raised by wolves, stronger than fear”. And what’s stronger than fear? Conventional wisdom says the answer is love, but they don’t come right out and say that, sneaky Christians that they are. The pattern of evoking nostalgia for the classic, early, “innocent” U2 is continued. On this track it’s a nice little bit of “New Year’s Day” style piano. So we’re back where we started once again, pretty much in a good way.
“Cedarwood” is all over the place. It’s got some incongruously non U2-like heaviosity that reminds me at times of Soundgarden’s “Spoonman” of all things and some great melodic bass playing from Adam Clayton. This song seems like it was built out of leftover parts that were too good to be thrown out. Every part is stylistically different, but it sounds like it should be four different developed songs instead of one string of different ideas. It’s all good, except I don’t think it works as a song.
“Sleep Like a Baby” has nice minimalistic synth work. These sounds reminds me of stuff like U2’s early contemporaries: Yazoo, early Depeche Mode, Heaven 17 and good old Human League mores than U2. Bono’s singing in a style and using some sort of vocal phasing effect that makes him sound like Marc Bolan, which is pretty fucking cool. The song ends up sounding almost like a cross between U2 and the Eurhythmics. Bono hits an incredibly high falsetto in this tune, so high it’s like he almost disappears into it. And the outré solo-is super rude and fuzztonish. Nice groove and sound, not a great song.
“This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” sets up some nice vibes with acoustic guitar, more classic-style U2 piano and a group vocal that makes me think once again of the “War” album. Getting towards the end of this album, I’m thinking U2’s own “songs of innocence” culminated on their third album, “War”. Remember, they had the picture of the same little kid on the first album and the third album (and a handful of import singles, and the video for “Two Hearts Beat As One”). “War” was the end of the innocence for these boys. That was the album where they hit their stride stylistically and became big rock stars in America. Say, I wonder if that’s presently being rereleased on iTunes, in remastered form? (along with the rest of their catalogue) Wouldn’t that be something?
Now all of a sudden, at the last song, the plot thickens! Is U2 trying to edge themselves into the Beatles/Bowie/Stones/Elvis Costello category of artists who can sell you their old classics over and over again? The reason I ask this is I gotta say, I loved the first three U2 albums when I was a kid but I have never owned them since the advent of the compact disc, because I was too cool to buy U2 records when their latest hit was consistently omnipresent all throughout MTV’s entire music video playing era. But I’m starting to feel like I want to own those first three albums again, and it’s this album that is making me feel this way. You gotta be a certain age to get the urge to buy albums, or a weirdo. And that’s why Ace Frehley is at number 2 in the charts and Bowie releases a new old album every year.
So I digress, the second last song’s got “Soldier, soldier” in it and when U2’s got a gang of voices singing about anything to do with war, it’s gonna remind you of “War” in some way or other. The Edge is doing some great, semi-Radioheadish electric guitar in it in the intro. Or is it ZZ Top? And then it goes disco. A more 70s version of “Achtung-era” U2, another winning period for the group. As a matter of fact I’m gonna say it’s got “Achtung” verses and “War” choruses. The Edge is playing some real cool spiky single note rhythms on this. Even with all these assets the song seems to deserve it’s placement as second last song on the album, a traditional dead spot. Not that anyone’s ever gonna listen to the whole thing all the way through. AND it’s the longest song on the album! Nice touch. I guess it just HAD to have that superfluous acoustic breakdown!
So finally, the last song is a long, slow, boring thing called “The Troubles”. Starts out with some female voices. It’s a moody song that maybe gets into that mood of “One” but with a different approach. I’m not loving these lady vocals at the end of the album. This song starts from a low place dynamically, but really seems to try to have “moments”. Seems like all icing. At least they give The Edge the last word, with a long strong outré solo that is very traditionally Edge-like.
It occurs to me this album could actually be great it if it were 15 minutes shorter. The 35 minute album! That’s what I really miss and it’s one of the reasons we used to listen to entire albums. Overall, I enjoy this U2 album. It’s got all the elements I like about them and a few great songs. I don’t think they owe anyone an apology.