Saturday, December 31, 2011

TIE FOR #11 - "THE LOST NOTEBOOKS OF HANK WILLIAMS"

I usually don't include compilation albums on my year-end best-ofs, but I'll make an exception for The Lost Notebooks Of Hank Williams. The album started out as a Bob Dylan project: he was given some "lost" notebooks with lyrics that Hank Williams never put to music.  Bob ended up doing one song, "The Love That Faded," which is excellent.

So, it went from being a Bob album to a tribute of sorts... with a number of big name artists creating new songs out of Williams lyrics.  The lineup features Alan Jackson, Norah Jones, Jack White, Lucinda Williams, Vince Gill with Rodney Crowell, Patty Loveless, Levon Helm, Holly Williams (with her father, Hank Williams Jr. on backing vocals), Jakob Dylan, Sheryl Crow and Merle Haggard.

I imagine that these days, people are more likely to download individual tracks rather than buy compilations.  In this case, it's worth it to pick up the whole thing.  First of all, the entire album is great.  Rock fans may not be hip to, say, Alan Jackson, but his song "You've Been Lonesome Too" is excellent. On the flipside, mainstream country fans may not be too interested in (Nashville resident) Jack White.  But his song "You Know That I Know" is also amazing. Hank's granddaughter Holly has a great voice... and hearing Hank Jr.'s backing vocals almost made me forget about his insane comments on Fox News about The President.

Besides all of that, the CD includes extensive liner notes about Hank, and gives the history of the notebooks that provided the source material for the record.

Hank Williams is surely one of the greatest songwriters of all time, in any genre. This album gives us some of his lost lyrics, which is a gift.  And if the inclusion of any of these artists turns their fanbases on to Hank's music, that's an even greater one.  So big props to producer Mary Martin: I'm sure this was a really long project, but I'm glad it's out.

TIE FOR #11 - COMMON "THE DREAMER/THE BELIEVER"

Common released his latest LP, The Dreamer/The Believer in the last days of 2011, making it difficult to evaluate against other albums that I've been listening to for weeks or months.  But there were at least two songs that I've been listening to for a while: "Blue Sky" and "Ghetto Dreams," the latter featuring Nas. They are both great songs, especially "Ghetto Dreams": hearing two of the greatest MCs of our era on one song is definitely a treat.

The entire LP is produced by No ID.  And other than Nas, there are only two guest appearances: John Legend and Maya Angelou. No ID worked with Common on his early recordings; he's also the guy who introduced Kanye West to production. Common and No ID work together really well, and it was a great idea to have him do the entire album.  These days, most hip-hop albums are more like compilations with different producers, different guest stars.  The artist whose name is on the LP cover is a common thread throughout the songs.  The Dreamer/The Believer feels like an album.

One song that's getting a lot of attention is "Sweet," a song which he has said is about younger hip-hop artists, including Drake.  I'm not part of the hip-hop community, but when I saw Drake's Sprite commercial, where he raps "Last name 'ever,' first name 'greatest,'" I had to laugh and wonder if the guy had every single Eric B & Rakim LP. Or any Eric B & Rakim LP. Does he know who Rakim is? Or KRS-One, Guru, Black Thought, Nas... or Common? I realize that Common risks looking "old" or out of touch by doing a record like "Sweet," but he's a man, and it needed to be said.

Anyway, back to music. I hope Common and No ID do the next album together.  I think The Dreamer/The Believer is a great album, but his greatest is yet to come.

TIE FOR #11 - JIMMY CLIFF "SACRED FIRE EP"

Having Tim Armstrong of Rancid produce Jimmy Cliff was a stroke of genius.  Mr. Cliff's full length LP comes out next year, but the Sacred Fire EP is a preview of what it will be like (except that most of the album will be new songs, and there are three covers on this EP).

Tim is a huge fan of The Clash (and signed Joe Strummer to his Hellcat Records label in the '90s) so it's no surprise that the EP includes a cover of "Guns of Brixton," originally sung by The Clash's bassist/reggae fanatic Paul Simonon (the song also references The Harder They Come, the classic film that Cliff starred in).  It's a perfect song for Jimmy to cover.

Another cover is Rancid's "Ruby Soho," one of the band's ska-influenced tunes.  It's a song about being on the road, so it's something that the 70-something legend can relate to. Also covered: Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," which I bet Dylan has heard and probably loves.

There's one original, "Ship Is Sailing," and that's the one that makes me most optimistic about the LP coming out next year.

I can tell you from first hand experience that Jimmy is still vital and passionate.  I filmed this performance that he did at the SiriusXM Studios a few weeks ago.  I never even knew that he played guitar.  He came and performed a solo acoustic set for us while being interviewed by The Joint's boss, Pat McKay. It was one of the highlights of my career and life to be in the room during this performance.

TIE FOR #11: WILLIAM ELLIOTT WHITMORE "FIELD SONGS"

I first heard singer/songwriter William Elliott Whitmore a few months ago, when I saw him open for Chris Cornell.  I was knocked out and wrote about him. He's put out a number of albums, and his latest one came out a few weeks after the show.  Field Songs is one of the best albums of 2011, and you should check it out.

The photo on the cover was taken in 1947, and these songs could have been written back then.  The whole record is just Whitmore singing and playing acoustic guitar or banjo.  But it never sounds like a folk revival, it sounds like a working class guy telling the stories that he's seen with the instruments he has at hand. If I had five minutes with Bruce Springsteen, I'd ask him if he's heard this album: he should check it out, especially before doing another solo acoustic record.  This is the album that I wish Devils & Dust was.  I liked Devils & Dust, and I liked the songs, but I feel like he was going for something like this.  I wish Bob Dylan had heard of him: he would have been perfect for The Lost Notebooks Of Hank Williams LP that came out earlier this year.

It's sparse, hard and beautiful, and certainly one of the best things I have heard this year.  Big props to Anti- Records (also home to Tom Waits) for having the balls to put this out.  

Thursday, December 29, 2011

T-BONE BURNETT - "THE PRODUCER"

Musician Joseph Henry Burnett is more well known as T-Bone Burnett, but I've been calling him "Him Again." He has produced so many of my favorite albums of recent years, including Gregg Allman's Low Country Blues, Steve Earle's I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, Willie Nelson's Country Music, and the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss collaboration, Raising Sand, as well as the soundtracks to O Brother, Where Art Thou, The Big Lebowski and Crazy Heart.

A neat new compilation that I bought at Starbucks (but I don't believe it's exclusive to the chain) collects lots of the cool music he has produced over the years.  T-Bone himself writes about all the songs, which is really cool.  The collection does a good job of hitting many of his recent high points, although it omits the Willie album.  Still, definitely worth getting, particularly if you don't have a lot of these records.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

BEST OF 2011 - #1 - SOCIAL DISTORTION "HARD TIMES AND NURSERY RHYMES"

So far, I haven't seen Social Distortion's Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes on anyone else's "best of 2011" lists, and what a shame that is. But: your loss, rock critics and bloggers!

And that's the story of Social Distortion in a nutshell.  Because the thing is, even though they've never really fit into a radio format (or tried to), they were never critics' darlings, and are a bit too scary for the mainstream, they sell out all their shows.  The audience really don't care what punk bands are "in," or what's the latest trend in pop culture.  These people see Social D whenever they come to town and they wear their fandom on their sleeves. Many times on tattooed sleeves.

This is an incredible album. I raved about it when it first came out.  Maybe a little less angry than the earlier ones (maybe). But it's filled with great punk rock anthems that a younger guy couldn't have written: they are songs written from someone with experience.  He's seen it all, and still isn't interested in toning it down, or lightening up, or pandering in any other way, to appeal to anyone.  And thank god for that.

Get the album. Trust me.  But I'll name names: "California (Hustle and Flow)" is classic, so is "Sweet and Lowdown."  But my favorite song on the album is "Far Side Of Nowhere," which sounds like Bruce Springsteen was subbing in for Michael Stipe at a R.E.M. session.  I'm not sure Mike Ness would appreciate the R.E.M. comparison, but that's what it made me think of.  On any planet that makes sense, this would have been the #1 hit of the summer.

Whenever I've told anyone that this would be my #1 LP of 2011, they were sort of surprised, but only because they hadn't heard the album.  Which is their loss, and my ongoing mission.  It should be yours too.  Listen to this album. Tell people about it.  When I listen to it, I feel good to be alive.  I don't know many other albums that you can say that about these days.

BEST OF 2011 - #2 - FOO FIGHTERS "WASTING LIGHT"

I loved Foo Fighters' Wasting Light the minute I heard it and I said so. Dave Grohl and the boys have never made a bad album, but this is certainly one of their best, if not their absolute best. Considering that the guy has nothing to prove, and has probably lived out all of his rock and roll dreams, it would almost be understandable if he just coasted. But I'm glad he hasn't done that: and as a lifelong rock fan, I think he knows that sinking feeling you get when an artist that you love lets you down.  I doubt he gets too caught up in what people think of him, but I know he doesn't want to put out a lame album. The fact that this comes twenty years after Nirvana's Nevermind (and features Nirvana's Krist Novoselic on two songs, and it is produced by Nevermind's Butch Vig) just shows that Dave has been really vital for a really long time.

I do think that sometimes the Foo Fighters albums get a "pass" because people like the band so much.  Which is nice.  But in this case, it isn't necessary, and that's even nicer.

BEST OF 2011 - #3 - TOM WAITS "BAD AS ME"

I recently wrote about Tom Waits' latest, Bad As Me. I was knocked out by the album when I first heard it, and I still feel the same way. It's unbelievable.  I read one review of the album in Uncut, where the reviewer wrote that it's the first album where he kind of combines all of his personas.  The guy also said it was like he recorded a greatest hits album, except that it was all new songs.  I like that. If you're a long time reader of No Expiration, you know that I love the idea of artists with decades under their belts doing vital, important work. Tom Waits is the perfect example of that. But I'm not digging the album because I want to, it's because I have no choice. It really is a stellar album. I mean, I wanted to like Lour Reed and Metallica's Lulu, but there's only so much you can force yourself!

I love the more "rock" songs on the album, like "Chicago" and "Satisfied."  But the ballads are just beautiful.  "Last Leaf" and "New Year's Eve" could have been on his earliest albums and held up to such classics as "Ol' 55" and "Jersey Girl."

There's lots of great people on the album: Keith Richards, Flea, Les Claypool and David Hildago of Los Lobos, but they are all performing in service to the man. They all know it's an honor to be there, even Keith.

I've never seen Tom Waits perform.  He's one of the only living artists who I haven't seen in concert yet (along with Los Lobos).  I'd love to see him in 2012, hopefully it will happen!

BEST OF 2011 - #5 - GARY CLARK JR. "THE BRIGHT LIGHTS EP"

One thing that the Grammys got wrong this year, in my mind, was their nominees for Best New Artist. No disrespect to anyone else, but for me, Gary Clark Jr. is the rookie of the year, hands down.  There's only four songs on The Bright Lights EP, but to me he blows any of the other nominees out of the water.

I was in the studio when he performed at SiriusXM earlier this year.  Amazing.  He's a blues artist, but he transcends the genre, the way Stevie Ray Vaughan did. To me, he makes blues sound menacing, the way PJ Harvey did on her first few albums.  And he makes blues sound fresh, the way The White Stripes did.

I wrote about him this summer, when the EP was just available on iTunes.  You can get the CD now, and his full length is coming out next year. I can't wait to hear it.  He does solo acoustic stuff, solo electric stuff, full band stuff.  He doesn't just do blues, he can also sing R&B.  I know that Questlove from The Roots is a big fan, hopefully that will get him some exposure, because he's an artist that people need to hear.

BEST OF 2011 - #4 - THE BLACK KEYS "EL CAMINO"

The Black Keys are becoming one of my favorite bands.  Last year their amazing album Brothers was my #7 album of the year, and this year El Camino does a bit better: it's #5 on my list.

The Black Keys, famously, are a guitar/singer + drummer duo from the midwest.  So it was never any surprise that they were compared to that other band fitting that description.  The bands are as different as, um, black and white (ha ha).  Both groups may have a fair obsession with vintage songs, sounds, equipment, etc. but the Black Keys aren't as strict with their limitations. Working with Danger Mouse, who produced 2008's Attack and Release and the song "Tighten Up" from Brothers, gives them a bit more of a modern sheen. On this album, he seems a bit more of a band member (in fact, he received co-writing credits), making the Keys a temporary trio.

I’ve read that The Black Keys were inspired by The Clash on their new album, El Camino.  I get it: like The Clash, they take lots of American music forms and deliver them in short, smart powerful punches with no fat on them.  But there’s a lot of other influences going on here: definitely Led Zeppelin, and I’d even add ZZ Top for their crunchy, bluesy, boogie swagger. I don't have all of their albums, but I would say that this album is a bit less blues and a bit more '70s rock and funk.

I have been listening to the album a lot lately, and at one point I tweeted, “I love how @theblackkeys somehow tricked indie kids into listening to cool music.” As I mentioned when I wrote about them last year, they don't relate to most of today's indie rock any more than I do.  I know that they are now popular enough to play arenas, and I hope to catch them in 2012.

BEST OF 2011 - #9 - PJ HARVEY "LET ENGLAND SHAKE"

Most of the albums that I've been writing about as my favorite 10 albums of 2011 are pretty enjoyable.  That's not really the case with PJ Harvey's Let England Shake.  It's an album haunted by the ghosts of war, specifically those from England from World War I.

And yet somehow it seems very much of it's time, 2011.  I'm not British, but it seems to capture the uneasiness of our time, the angst people are feeling.

When I first heard the album, I wrote that I don't always like Ms. Harvey's albums. But it's always interesting to see what she'll do next. She never lets herself be a prisoner of her past, and she always challenges herself. I think that's one of the reasons why she gets so much respect:  Let England Shake won Britain's prestigious Mercury Music Prize (she's the first artist to win it twice, the first time being for Stories From City, Stories From The Sea). It was also named album of the year in UK magazines Mojo and Uncut (it came in towards the bottom of Rolling Stone's top 50).

When PJ Harvey first hit the scene with Dry in 1992, she reminded me a bit of Kurt Cobain.  To think that she has evolved so much since then is stunning, and I can't wait to hear what she'll do next.

Monday, December 26, 2011

BEST OF 2011 - #6 - GREGG ALLMAN "LOW COUNTRY BLUES"

Gregg Allman is one of the great blues singers still walking the earth.  He just needs to have good material.  Happily, he decided to work with T-Bone Burnett for his new solo album, Low Country Blues.

People who aren't familiar with the guy may wonder why he even needs to make a solo album, since he is the leader of The Allman Brothers Band. The difference is that the Allmans are a jazz-influenced blues band, and are the gold standard in improvisational rock music (what is now known as "jam band" music). But Gregg is mainly interested in singing blues and soul, and seems happy to keep the length of his songs under five minutes.  While I love the Allmans, and they've undeniably had a huge influence on rock music, I also love to hear Gregg belting out blues tunes without all the jamming that is sometimes part of the Allmans music.

It's not the most innovative record of the year, and I don't care. And I don't see it on many (or any) "Best of 2011" type lists... again, I don't care.  It seems that the main "heritage" artists being celebrated this year are Paul Simon for his excellent So Beautiful Or So What, and Robbie Robertson for his great How To Become Clairvoyant. But this album needs to be recognized.  Gregg's last solo album, released in 1997, was called Searching For Simplicity.  But this one could just as easily have gotten that title. And sometimes what I want to hear is simplicity.  Especially when it sounds as soulful as this.

BEST OF 2011 - #7 - ADELE "21"

Even if I had spent 2011 in a coma and didn't have any context about the effect that Adele's 21 had, I'd still dig the album.  But the fact that it got people excited about actually buying music again (she sold over 13 million copies worldwide), the fact that the first single "Rolling In The Deep" just seemed to dominate the airwaves and yet never got old, and yes, the fact that she seems to be such an unlikely star... all of that makes me enjoy it even more. And lots of other people enjoy it also: Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly named it their album of the year, VH1 named "Rolling In The Deep" the best song on their Top 40 Videos of 2011 (I was a "pundit" on the show, and was happy to comment on that song). And of course, Adele has a bunch of Grammy(R) nominations, and as a voter, I know I'll be voting for her a couple of times this year.

But like I said, the album holds up without any of that knowledge. Rick Rubin exec-produced the record and did a great job doing what he does: making sure the material is good enough, getting a sound that isn't too fancy and adorned, and then he gets out of the way.  Adele is a great singer, she's very soulful (although some contrarians try to come up with ways to deny that simple fact). "Rolling In The Deep" and "Someone Like You" have already reached iconic status (Saturday Night Live based a skit around "Someone Like You") but I actually think "Rumor Has It" is her greatest moment. Of course, she's only 21 as the album's title says, and I'm sure she has many more great moments.  For now, I hope her voice recovers in time for her to perform at the Grammys, which will surely be a great night for this very talented young lady.


BEST OF 2011 - #8 - STEVE EARLE "I'LL NEVER GET OUT OF THIS WORLD ALIVE"

Steve Earle's I'll Never Get Out Of The World Alive is a great album that I felt didn't get enough attention in 2011. I'm a huge fan of Steve's but I didn't really enjoy his last album, 2009's Townes.  This LP was produced by T-Bone Burnett, who is currently on an incredible streak of working with great artists (including the Elton John/Leon Russell, Robert Plant/Allison Krauss collabs, and albums by Jakob Dylan, John Mellencamp and B.B. King).

I feel like Steve always has relevant things to say, and one of my favorite songs on this album is "Little Emperor," about our last President. In this era of Obama bashing, it's worth mentioning that, for all of his failings, he's way better than what we had for eight years before he took office.

This album saw Steve return to the rock band format after doing two solo albums.   And the tour also saw him using a band for the first time in years.  I was fortunate enough to catch the show at Tarrytown Music Hall, and it was incredible. See a bunch of amazing photos from the show, shot by my lovely wife, here. And while I'm writing about Steve, I should mention his weekly SiriusXM show on Outlaw Country, read more about it here.


BEST OF 2011 - #10 - THE ROOTS "undun"

I've heard people describe The Roots' undun as kind of being their Kid A or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I don't quite agree with that: it's not as difficult to get into as Kid A, and it doesn't mark a radically new direction like YHF. Although it does have it's very different elements: the second track (the first real song on the album) "Sleep," sounds unlike what The Roots have done before. And the LP ends with a suite of very interesting songs, starting with Sufjan Stevens' "Redford." It's not The Roots covering the song, it's actually a recording by Mr. Stevens.  Odd choice. It then goes into "Possibility (2nd Movement)," "Will To Power (3rd Movement)" and "Finality (4th Movement)."  The last three parts are instrumental and veer from classical to jazz.  You would have no idea that they were from a Roots album if someone played them for you cold.

According to the band, undun is "an existential re-telling of the short life of one Redford Stephens (1974-1999). Through the use of emotives and Redford’s internal dialogues the album seeks to illustrate the intersection of free will and prescribed destiny as it plays out ‘on the corner’. Utilizing a reverse narrative arc, the album begins as the listener finds Redford disoriented–postmortem–and attempting to make sense of his former life. As he moves through its pivotal moments he begins to deconstruct all that has led to his (and our own) coming undun." As a middle class white guy who grew up in, and lives in, the suburbs, I don't feel like I can address the subject matter (and the last thing I'd want to do is be a clueless white guy trying to address how things play out "on the corner").

What I do know is that there are great songs on the album: I especially dig "Kool On" (featuring Greg Porn and Truck North), "The OtherSide" (featuring Bilal and Greg Porn) and "Stomp" (featuring, yes, Greg Porn).

I like that the band doesn't bother with big name producers or huge celeb guest MCs, there's a real consistency on the album.  But I don't understand why they use other MCs (like Greg Porn, Truck North and Big K.R.I.T.) when they have the guy who is probably the best out there right now, Black Thought.

Of course, I kind of always root for The Roots: they're one of my favorite groups, and their last album How I Got Over was one of my favorite LPs of last year. (I prefer that one to undun, but I still obviously think highly of undun). And I definitely enjoyed Questlove's "snark that can no longer be tweeted about": his decision to cover Fishbone's "Lyin' Ass Bitch" when Michele Bachman was on the Jimmy Fallon show.  I actually wasn't totally comfortable with the "bitch" part, I thought that Joan Jett's "Little Liar" would have been a more appropriate choice. But funny as hell and on point, nonetheless.

Anyway, this was a really ambitious album (but also is shorter than 40 minutes, making it digestible) and I think they deserve credit for doing it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

TOMORROW ON THE MORNING JOLT: REISSUES!

Need any last minute gifts for the discerning rock fan in your life?  Well, tune in to SiriusXM OutQ's Morning Jolt with Larry Flick tomorrow at 9 am; we'll be discussing some great reissues that have come out in the past few months that will make great gifts.  (Don't have a SiriusXM subscription?  Go here to learn how to try SiriusXM on a trial basis).

First off is the newly released Jimi Hendrix box set, Winterland. I wrote about this a few months ago: the box set is drawn from six concerts Jimi played at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom over three nights in October of 1968. It's certainly not where I'd recommend a new fan starts, but it is an incredible collection nonetheless.  There's also a single CD version for those not looking to go the 4 CD box set route.

We're also going to talk about recently reissued Pink Floyd catalog. You can get the entire catalog as a box set for about $180, or get the albums individually.  There's also expanded versions of two of their greatest albums, Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here.

Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band recently reissued their two classic live albums, Live Bullet and Nine Tonight. I recently kind of "discovered" the greatness of Bob Seger and I wrote about it earlier tonight.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the first five Queen albums which had recently been reissued. The rest of their albums have since been reissued and I'll talk about those also.

By the way, I'll be in the studio next week as well, talking about my favorite albums of 2011.  It wasn't a great year for music, but it was a good one, and I'm having a hard time narrowing it down.

MY BOB SEGER AWAKENING


For some reason, I never got into Bob Seger when I was younger, I don't really know why.  I didn't mind him, but I didn't really "get" him.  In 2004, when I was covering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony the year he got in, I was struck by Kid Rock's speech about him.  I have always liked Kid Rock's taste in music - I generally like what he likes (although I don't dislike the same things that he does, we don't agree on Radiohead). Anyway, I picked up both of Bob's greatest hits albums and was knocked out by how many great songs that he's written.

Earlier this year, he reissued his two live albums, both classics: 1976's Live Bullet and 1981's Nine Tonight. It really pointed out just how great The Silver Bullet Band were, they were probably as tight as, say, The E Street Band or The Heartbreakers.

Full disclosure: I got these CDs from the label, but if I didn't, and someone played them for me, I'd buy them.  They are great, great live rock and roll records that you really need to hear. The difference in the albums is that the band (two guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and sax) got smoothed out a bit by Nine Tonight and they added female backing singers, and by that point, they started having hits with mellower songs that kind of laid the foundation for classic rockers making "adult contemporary" music (like "Against The Wind," "You'll Accomp'ny Me"). When I was younger, these songs didn't do anything for me.  Some things you just grow into, I guess.

Nine Tonight has one of my favorite songs ever, "Rock and Roll Never Forgets," which I definitely prefer to "That Old Time Rock and Roll." "Rock and Roll Never Forgets," it could almost be about me.  It still rings true when I hear it, and I never get tired of it.  I feel like I owe Bob something for writing it.

By the way, Bob has also just released Ultimate Hits, a 2 CD set, which is a great place to start out, but I definitely recommend the live albums.

THE PINK FLOYD REISSUES - THE FINAL WORD ON FLOYD

A couple of years ago, EMI Records orchestrated what was probably the biggest reissue campaign ever: putting out the remastered Beatles catalog. This year, they're rolling out the remastered Pink Floyd catalog.  They are very good at this kind of thing.

Floyd's catalog has been reissued before, but this is the first time it is being remastered (I think).  If you want  Pink Floyd's albums, straight up with no bonus tracks, buy the new reissues.  You can actually buy the entire catalog of studio albums (but not live albums) for about $180 via the Discovery box set.  (Full disclosure: I got all of the reissues from the label, but not as the box set, just as individual CDs.)

The sound is incredible and with Pink Floyd, fidelity is important. If you have these versions, you won't ever need anything else, unless you want to dive deeper with expanded editions.

So far, two of their albums have been expanded in two different forms, which is how it's done these days (see recent reissues by U2, Nirvana and The Rolling Stones).  The albums that have been expanded have "Experience" (2 CD sets with a disc of extras) and "Immersion" versions (much more lavish editions).

I bought a copy of the "Experience" version of 1973's Dark Side of The Moon for $25. The second disc is a live concert recorded at The Empire Pool in Wembley in 1974, and features the band performing Dark Side from start to finish.  It was cool to hear them reproduce the album in a more raw form - they had not yet become a completely slick stadium band. The "Immersion" version costs over $100 and has lots of extras that I didn't really want: DVD-audio, Blu-Ray audio, 5.1 remixes, surround sound remixes.  There are some video and audio elements that I was interested in, but not enough to spend the extra $75, given how many other reissues I've gotten this season.

I also bought a copy of the "Experience" version of 1975's Wish You Were Here for $25.  The second disc features a bunch of extras: a live version of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (parts 1 -6)," as well as "Raving and Drooling" and "You've Got To Be Crazy," songs which ended up morphing into tunes from their next album, Animals. But my favorite extra is an alternate version of the title track featuring jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli.

Honestly, when I first heard about this reissue campaign, I was kind of ambivalent about the prospect of a Pink Floyd reissue containing any extras. Their classic albums seem so perfect that I wouldn't change a thing. And Floyd's mystique is such that, I don't want to see anything more than what they reveal.  On the other hand, the live Dark Side is pretty awesome, as are some of the Wish You Were Here extras.  I know that next year, they are going to do expanded editions of The Wall, and I'm curious what the extras will be. I've heard that they may also be doing an expanded Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, and I guess if there's unreleased Syd Barrett material, it would be cool to hear it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

TOM WAITS - "BAD AS ME"

Tom Waits is amazing. And so is his latest album, Bad As Me. I'm a big fan of Tom's most recent records, the ones he's done since signing to Epitaph Records' Anti- label. My favorite Waits album is 1999's Mule Variations.  That's pretty much when I got into him.  I was kind of prompted to check out his music because of his association with one of my favorite bands, Primus (he does guest vocals on "Tommy The Cat"). From Mule Variations, I went back and investigated his Elektra and Island years. Wow, what a body of work.  He kind of gets weirder as he gets older, which is the opposite of most artists. But his songs always pack a punch.

Anyway, Bad As Me is just classic. It seems to touch on all the different phases of his career.  The opening track, "Chicago," fits in with his music from the past decade or so, it sounds like it could have been on Mule Variations. "Hell Broke Luce" reminds me of his most bizarre era, the early '90s when he did Bone Machine and The Black Rider. But some of the ballads, like "New Year's Eve" has that boozy, last-call sound from his earliest records.  But despite the stylistic diversity, the album still feels like it has a real continuity, it has a real flow to it.

There are so many great songs here: I love "Chicago" and "New Year's Eve."  "Talking At The Same Time" is awesome, Tom sings in that otherworldly falsetto.  You never know what year it is when you hear a Tom Waits song, but when he sings, "Well, the dog is in the kitchen/and the war drags on/The trees wait by the freeway/all the money is gone," well, what feels more 2011 than that?

My two favorite moments come toward the end of the album.  I love "Satisfied," which is kind of a 60-something's answer to "Satisfaction." When he sings, "Now Mr. Jagger, Mr. Richards, I will scratch where I've been itching," it's cool, punk rock and defiant. Upping the cool ante, though, is the fact that Keith Richards is playing guitar on the song. (Les Claypool from Primus is playing bass on the track: how many artists could get members of those bands on one album, much less one song?). The next song is my other favorite, and it also features Mr. Richards. "Last Leaf" holds up with any of his ballads, "Ol' 55," "Jersey Girl," whatever you want to name.  Keith is the perfect foil for Tom on this song and this album.  In fact, I'm thinking that if Mr. Jagger doesn't get a Stones tour together, Keith should join Tom's touring band.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

TOMORROW NIGHT ON VH1: TOP 40 VIDEOS OF 2011

For the third year in a row, VH1 invited me to be a pundit on their year end video countdown. As I've mentioned, I worked at VH1 for years, had a great time there, and kept relationships there.  Back then, I would occasionally be asked to be interviewed for a show, and I am totally flattered that they still think to call me up for these shows.

I can't say much about what artists I talked about.  Last year, they posted most of the top 40 before the show aired.  This year, they are being much more secretive.  They do mention that Adele, Pitbull and Bruno Mars are in the countdown, so I feel comfortable putting a picture of Adele's 21 album in this post. I have no idea what order the videos came in - they don't tell you that. But hey, we know who's year this was!  Back in June, I said that Adele would be one of the big music stories of the year. I think she is a great soul singer, and so many people really react to her.  I'm happy for her success.

Anyway, the show airs tomorrow night on VH1 at 7 pm, I'm sure it will be rebroadcast a few times before the end of the year. It should be fun.  By the way, I'll be Tweeting throughout the show.  I'm @noexpiration and the hashtag is #VH1Top40.

TOMORROW ON THE MORNING JOLT: REISSUES! U2, NIRVANA, ROLLING STONES, BEACH BOYS, JETHRO TULL

Tomorrow morning I'll be on SiriusXM OutQ's The Morning Jolt with Larry Flick talking about one of my favorite subjects: box sets and reissues.  It's that time of year, they make great gifts!

I've written a lot about U2 lately, and I've also written about the Achtung Baby album and the reissue.  It blew me away when I first heard it in 1991, and I've never gotten tired of it.  The super deluxe version of the box set has lots of great extras (although I balked at the $400+ uber box set, which has the same music, but does have magnets, stickers, Bono shades, etc.  Cute, but for me, not worth the money.  Really, all you need is the album itself, but I really wanted some of the extras.


I've written about the Nirvana Nevermind reissue. Well, a lot has been said about the album lately.  It really was a game changer for music. Yeah, it led to a lot of bands deciding that they had to pretend to be angst ridden, but what are you gonna do?  You can't blame all the hair metal bands on Van Halen, and you can't blame the grunge fakers on Nirvana. I bought the super deluxe version of this also.  Again, for the extras, including a live recording and also Butch Vig's original mixes of the album.  But you'd do fine with the deluxe version.  Or really, just the original, it's so powerful and still holds up today.

I've also written about The Rolling Stones Some Girls reissue. I've mentioned that it's probably my favorite Stones album, and that the outtakes are so good, I think they're better than the Stones' next album, Emotional Rescue. And they're better than most band's albums too.  When Ronnie Wood joined the band, it just worked. It was while the band were still powerful and had their swagger.  I like a lot of what they've done since Some Girls, but nothing came close to matching this LP.  I love Tattoo You and I really like Steel Wheels and A Bigger Bang, none of them come are in their neighborhood.

Jon Moskowitz (@JonMoskow) from the blog Vivoscene was nice enough to do a guest review of The Beach Boys' Smile. I don't really get the album, and I Tweeted a request for someone to guest review it for me, and Jon (who I met at a social media seminar hosted by Sree Sreenivasan aka @sree) said he'd do it.  It turns out, he doesn't really get the album either.  It's not any anti-Beach Boys bias though: we both enjoy Pet Sounds.


Finally, Jethro Tull's Aqualung. People kind of make fun of Jethro Tull, but if you think of them in the context of the time, wow, how different they must have sounded.  Fortunately for them, classic rock radio has played their records for decades.  But that can be a double edged sword.  Songs like "Aqualung" and "Locomotive Breath" and "Cross-Eyed Mary" can lose their edge after years of repetition and being played back to back with lots of the soft rockers that classic rock radio plays so much of. But this is a pretty awesome album.

THE BEACH BOYS - SMILE (guest review)

Well, the music press, and Beach Boys fans, have gone crazy over the release of Smile. It's not so much a "reissue" as a work of art that laid unfinished for decades, that Brian Wilson finally decided to finish.

It took me a long time to come around to The Beach Boys.  I always loved their singles, but never bought their albums.  I guess what changed it was when I covered a Brian Wilson tribute concert for a job, Matthew Sweet performed (he did a great "Sail On Sailor" as a duet with Darius Rucker). I interviewed Matthew the next day, which was exciting as I'm a huge fan.  He couldn't believe that I wasn't a huge fan.  I think that that led me to Pet Sounds, and then I took the band much more seriously.  You can't beat "God Only Knows."  So I was intrigued to hear this Smile album, this great lost album that I'd read so much about over the years.

Well, I've listened to it a few times, and I don't really get it. I don't want to say it isn't good, I just don't get it.  And it does have "Good Vibrations," one of the best pop songs ever, not to mention "Heroes and Villains" and "Surf's Up." So I Tweeted (I'm @noexpiration) a request for someone else to write about Smile for me. Luckily Jon Moskowitz (@jonmoskow) was paying attention and offered to do the deed. Jon writes for the blog Vivoscene, which you should check out. And, it turns out, he doesn't totally get Smile either. So, here's his review:



Until the release of The Pet Sounds Sessions box set in 1997, I never had much time for The Beach Boys. I liked “I Get Around,” “Help Me Rhonda,” and “Surf City” (this last in an ironic way, due to its ludicrous falsetto chorus of “Two girls for ev-er-y boooooy!”), but not much else. Once I heard the stereo mix of Pet Sounds, however, I started to realize what all the fuss was about. That mix, and the session tapes that accompanied it, made me appreciate the brilliance of Brian Wilson’s melodic gift. When it was announced that Smile—the legendary, unfinished follow-up to Pet Sounds—would be given the same box set treatment, I anticipated a similarly revelatory experience. After all, Smile, according to the legend, was even better than Pet Sounds.

Well, yes and no. Mostly no.  One of the strengths of Pet Sounds is the way its musical adventurousness is anchored by the professional craftsmanship of its lyrics. “Wouldn't It Be Nice” may sound like music from Mars, but the words are pure teenage yearning, as earthbound as you can get.  “God Only Knows” is Wilson's outstanding spiritual statement, but it can also be enjoyed as a simple (if breathtakingly beautiful) love song. With the possible exception of “Good Vibrations,” the songs from Smile don’t have this advantage. Mike Love may have gotten a lot of stick over the years for objecting to Van Dyke Parks’ obscure lyrics, but it’s not hard to sympathize with him when confronted with lines like “Who rang the iron horse?” or “The crow cries undercover the cornfield” from “Cabin Essence.” As the careers of everyone from Little Richard to Michael Stipe prove, pop song lyrics don’t have to make sense—but they do have to deliver an emotional punch. Parks’ lyrics fail on this count. When sung to one of the most beautiful melodies Brian Wilson ever wrote, a line like the infamous “columnated ruins domino,” from “Surf’s Up,” is not just dumb—it’s almost an insult to the music.

But it’s not just the lyrics that are a problem here. Wilson famously called Smile his “teenage symphony to God,” and it shows in the songwriting, which strives for a symphonic effect by stringing together short “movements” in often unrelated musical styles. This pastiche technique works well on “Good Vibrations,” but less so everywhere else. “Heroes and Villains” goes from surf pop to barbershop quartet to piano ballad and doo-wop before finishing off with a one-two punch of cowboy ballad harmonica and English music hall trombone. It’s like a clip reel from The Lawrence Welk Show. “Do You Like Worms (Roll Plymouth Rock)” has a spooky rinky-dink piano section, a Hawaiian guitar interlude and vocal break that sounds like the awful “ooga chaka” song from that dancing baby video back in the ‘90s.* It’s all a bit precious—the kind of twee psychedelic experimentation that ruined a lot of music on both sides of the Atlantic in the mid-‘60s.

After listening to The Smile Sessions, it’s hard to see how the finished album could have ever lived up to the hype it has accumulated over the years. Though it seems almost sacrilegious not to love this music, I don’t think Smile would have been the earthquake its fans dream about. Maybe The Smile Sessions is not the story of Brian Wilson at the height of his creative powers, but a snapshot of the moment when his creativity started to ripen and rot.

* - A search of the internets tells me that this song is Blue Swede’s mid-‘70s cover of B.J. Thomas’s “Hooked On A Feeling.”

THE FACES - A BEGINNER'S GUIDE

I've thought that The Faces have been overlooked by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for years, I'm glad that they are finally getting in. They've kind of been overshadowed by singer Rod Stewart's solo career: he's been in the Hall of Fame for over a decade.  With all due respect to Rod's solo career (his early LPs, recorded while he was in The Faces, were incredible), I prefer The Faces.

It's too bad that Rod hasn't participated in their recent reunion shows: guitarist Ronnie Wood (already a Hall of Famer as a member of The Rolling Stones), drummer Kenny Jones (who is a former member of The Who, but wasn't inducted with them) and keyboardist Ian McLagan have been doing concerts with Glen Matlock of The Sex Pistols on bass, and Mick Hucknall of Simply Red singing. (Original bassist/singer Ronnie Lane passed away in 1997.)

The Faces are being inducted along with their precursors, The Small Faces, which featured Jones, McLagan and Lane along with the late singer/guitarist Steve Marriott. Honestly, I'm not that familiar with The Small Faces, if anyone would like to contribute something about them to my blog, please let me know in the comments. My understanding is that their best album is 1968's Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake. But I love The Faces, and here's my primer:

The Compilation: The Best Of Faces: Good Boys... When They're Asleep. It's got their one big hit, "Stay With Me," but some other great performances: their cover of Bob Dylan's "Wicked Messenger," "Sweet Lady Mary," "Had Me A Real Good Time," and "Ooh La La" (sung by Ronnie Lane).

The Classic Album: 1971's A Nod Is As Good As A Wink... To A Dead Horse.  It's just a blast.  It has some of Rod's best vocal performances ever (including the aforementioned "Stay With Me") and yet Ronnie Lane's "Last Orders Please" is still a highlight.

The Box Set: Five Guys Walk Into A Bar... is a hell of a lot of fun. It has almost everything you'd want, including lots of great covers (part of the magic of Rod and Ronnie Wood is that they know when to write a song, and when to do someone else's).  John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed," The Temptations'  "(I Know) I'm Losing You" as well as the band's take on solo tunes by Rod ("Maggie May") and Ronnie Wood ("I Can Feel The Fire").

Friday, December 9, 2011

GUNS N ROSES - A BEGINNER'S GUIDE

In the next few weeks and months, I hope to have a number of guest bloggers give their testimonials about Guns N Roses. Earlier this week, Guitar World Senior Editor Rich Beinstock wrote about his hopes that the band's original lineup will reunite for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

I've heard people complain a bit about Guns because (a) they are getting in before other hard rock bands who have been eligible for years, like KISS and Motorhead and (b) they are essentially getting in for one album, Appetite For Destruction.

I think many of the guys in the band might agree with (a).  As for (b), my beginner's guide to GNR is this:

Get Appetite For Destruction.

It's just one of the greatest albums ever.

After that, you're probably in good shape with Greatest Hits, which includes the best songs from the Lies EP, the Use Your Illusion LPs , with a few of their later covers thrown in. Lies itself is pretty good (minus the hateful lyrics of "One In A Million" and "I Used To Love Her") and the Illusion LPs have a lot of good songs.

As for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony: my prediction is that W. Axl Rose will perform with his current lineup of Guns N Roses, while Slash and Duff McKagan put together a band that will probably include Izzy Stradlin' or Gilby Clarke (or both), Steven Adler or Matt Sorum (or both) and a singer (perhaps Myles Kennedy from Slash's band). And the Slash/Duff band will perform as well.  But of course Axl/Slash/Duff/Izzy/Steven would just rule.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

THE BEASTIE BOYS - A BEGINNER'S GUIDE

How did The Beastie Boys react to the news that they're being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? They haven't really said much. On one hand, they don't seem to take this kind of thing seriously. On the other, it has to feel pretty good to be acknowledged. Along with the Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five and Run-D.M.C., they are the only hip-hop artist to be inducted thus far.  And they are the only band with roots in hardcore punk to be inducted.  Add to that, the fact that Adam Yauch has been battling cancer... well, that has to add some weight to this. I hope he's doing well, and I hope they show up and perform. I'd guess they'd do a hardcore tune, at least one hip-hop tune, one of their hard rockers and an instrumental funk jam. How many other bands have so many modes? So there's a lot of great stuff in the long line of LPs.

The Compilation: the 2 CD set Sounds Of Science has almost all of their modes: hardcore punk, their days as a Run-D.M.C. style Def Jam group, the Paul's Boutique era, their hard rock stuff, instrumental funk and even their country phase (which was very brief).  It has hits, album tracks and rare stuff too. And great liner notes by the band. If that's too much for you, go for the single CD Solid Gold Hits.

The Classic Album(s): They had a lot of game changers.  First, their debut full length, 1986's Licensed To Ill on Def Jam. It has lots of douchey anthems like "Fight For Your Right" and "Brass Monkey," but on the other hand, it was pretty groundbreaking and has lots of amazing tracks.  They completely flipped the script and risked everything by leaving Def Jam, Rush Management and producer Rick Rubin for L.A., Capitol Records and The Dust Brothers for 1989's Paul's Boutique. At the album tanked at the time. Now: it is considered a classic.   After that, they picked up their instruments again for another classic, 1992's Check Your Head. This sort of mapped out the rest of their career, which they'd split between straight up hip-hop, hard rock tunes with Adam Horowitz on the mic, hard core punk tunes with Mike D shouting, and instrumental funk jams.

After that, they still released great albums but nothing as groundbreaking. Still, 1994's Ill Communication is amazing, 1998's Hello Nasty is great. I think 2004's To The 5 Boroughs is totally underrated, and ditto for this year's Hot Sauce Committee Part 2. I also dig their instrumental album, 2007's The Mix-Up. And, although they weren't at their best as a hardcore band, the 1994 compilation Some Old Bullshit is still solid, plus it has their legendary prank call "Cookie Puss."

GUEST POST: RICHARD BIENSTOCK ON GUNS N ROSES AND THE ROCK AND ROLL HALLL OF FAME

I was Richard Beinstock's counselor at sleep away camp a million years ago. Imagine my surprise when I bumped into him at a screening of a Cheap Trick concert DVD and realized that he is Senior Editor of Guitar World magazine! I asked him what he thought about Guns N Roses' upcoming induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Here's what he said.


I can’t say that I followed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot too closely this time around; like any Annual Big Music Event from the Grammys on down, its impact and sense of import in the music world seems only to cool year over year, beyond any bands/managers/label people/media/music geeks/etc. who might have a stake in the whole deal. But come on—Guns N’ Roses! Whether or not you care about this kind of thing at all, who doesn’t want to see this go down?

So Gn’R—while at the end of the day their glory run was relatively short, and their catalog of output relatively slim, the question of whether the band would make the cut was always a no-brainer. Because fuck it, they made what very well might be the greatest hard rock album ever. Top 5 at least, IMO, and the beauty here is that millions of others likely feel the same. So case closed.

So now they’re in, and thus begins the real speculation. Because as much as a Rock Hall induction is considered an honor, in this case it also comes off as something of a dare. Everybody wants this reunion. Everybody’s talked about this reunion. Everybody in the band has been asked about this reunion for something like 15 years now. So it stands to reason that whoever snags this reunion is the proverbial shit. Even if they didn’t deserve inclusion, if I were Jann I’d throw ‘em in just for the potential glory of being the Dude That Made It Happen.

Which bears asking: Beyond all the wondering about Will They Or Won’t They, maybe the question is, Why Would They Do It For, Of All Places, The Rock Hall? No amount of guarantee, no promises of bazillion-dollar tour grosses, no mega-manager muscle, has been able to bring the five originals to the table all these years. So how does the Hall of Fame turn out to be the big man with enough pull to make it happen?

First, some history…or, actually, not. Without delving into the filthy minutiae, let’s just agree that a reunion comes down to Axl Rose  capitulating to stand onstage next to Slash, the man he’s pinned as a cancer and more or less blamed for every bad thing that’s ever happened to him. There may likely be no love lost in the opposite direction, but Slash is, at least outwardly, a fairly reasonable and relaxed adult, and would likely take the plunge. As for the others, Steven Adler’s been praying for this day to come since he wrapped up his drum tracks on “Civil War”; Duff McKagan, like Slash, is a sensible man and still has a relationship, if somewhat tenuous, with Rose; Izzy Stradlin', for all his time spent laying low, releasing killer, Keef-y albums without bothering to tell anyone, and doing whatever other cool-ass things Izzy does, has still managed to find the time to jam with Slash on his 2010 solo disc and pop up beside Axl at a few Guns gigs. So the connections are there. But if the promises of renewed fame and fortune haven’t led them to pull the trigger, why should jamming awkwardly through a few old tunes in front of a stuffy room of suits do it? The answer is it shouldn’t. But the weird thing about the Hall of Fame is that it often does. Hell if I know why.

So assuming Axl does indeed play ball, who’s on that stage with him? Duff and Slash for sure. Izzy (or at least a “Where’s Izzy? sign), a hesitant yes. Gilby Clarke? 30/70. Any latter day exes? No. Dizzy Reed? 80/20. Fortus/Bumble/Ferrer/Stinson/Ashba/Pitman? No …unless Axl works in some weird stipulation whereby the current Guns incarnation has to get airtime as well.

That leaves the drum chair, where the likely scenario is a split, with Adler and Matt Sorum each taking a spin for their own songs. Which, while fanwise, everyone loves the former and is lukewarm about the latter, is probably as it should be. The interesting thing there will be what happens the proverbial day after, when the contracts are signed and tour announcements are made. Adler would be the hopeful choice, though the more stable Sorum the likely winner. Only time will tell whether it would be harder for Adler to survive a reunion tour or the prospect of being left out of a reunion tour. Either way, I’m pulling for him, the band and the Rock Hall to make Cleveland for, at least one night, every music fans’ Paradise City.

One last game-changing scenario:
Axl shows up really, really late…meaning not at all. The four original instrumentalists are on site, and Rose is the lone hold out under the assumption that, hey, Guns N’ Roses still exists, and if you wanna see the band perform, then the band, as it is now, performs. This is where the Rock Hall can still use its muscle to make true magic happen. I’m talking “Welcome to the Jungle” … featuring Mick Jagger! “Paradise City”…. guest vox Bono! “You’re Crazy” … with Bruce! “One in a Million” … sung by Adele!

Let’s just hope the pairings don’t go so well that they decide to wring a whole album’s worth of material out of the thing…

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS - A BEGINNER'S GUIDE

I was really excited to hear that The Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the artists being inducted into the Rock and Roll of Fame in 2012. I've been a fan for over twenty years: I was turned on to them in about 1989 when they released Mother's Milk. I have gotten every album since on release day (if not earlier), and I picked up all of their earlier albums too. The band has been though so much -- death, addiction, near implosion -- but somehow their music makes me feel good to be alive.

In the next few weeks, I hope to have a guest blogger write a real life testimonial about the band.  But I thought I'd give a quick primer on the group.  I'm curious which members will be part of the induction. Obviously singer Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea.  I'm sure the guys from their most successful lineup, drummer Chad Smith and guitarist John Frusciante. And I kind of figure that original members -- the late guitarist Hillel Slovak and drummer Jack Irons (who later joined Pearl Jam) - may get in. But I wonder if Dave Navarro, who was in the band for one album (1995's well titled One Hot Minute) will be included. Or their newest member, guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who is on their new album, I'm With You. (The Chili Peppers are managed by the same company that manages Metallica -- and when Metallica were inducted, bassist Robert Trujilio was included, even though he had only played on one album, Death Magnetic). Anyway, if you're just looking to get into the band, here are my recommendations:

The Compilations: the band's career took off when they signed to Warner Brothers Records for their 1991 LP, Bloodsugarsexmagik. 2003's Greatest Hits covers the WB era, which is mainly the Kiedis/Flea/Smith/Frusciante lineup. It has their most well known material. But if you're interested in their early stuff, which they recorded for EMI, check out 1992's What Hits!?, which mostly features the Kiedis/Flea/Irons/Slovak lineup (as well as some tunes from Mother's Milk, which was Smith and Frusciante's first album with the band).   They have yet to release any kind of career spanning collection, nor do they have any box sets.

The Classic Album(s): 1991's Bloodsugarsexmagik. I'm going to do a "#20yrslater" post on that album soon, it is such an incredible record. I'm sure the guys in the band think it is their best, it's certainly the album that made them stars, and it also made people take them more seriously.  I think the aforementioned What Hits!? does a great job of covering the Slovak/Irons era, but the best single LP from that time is 1987's Uplift Mofo Party Plan. Another classic is the group's reunion album with Frusciante, 1999's Californication.

But honestly, I have a hard time not liking anything by them. I also love Freaky Styley, Mother's Milk, By The Way and even the album with Navarro, One Hot Minute.

Monday, December 5, 2011

DEAR BONO: I APOLOGIZE (SORT OF)

A couple of weeks ago, I had a post called "Dear Bono: Shut up." I was kind of bummed about a quote of his cited to UK publication The Sun where, in an interview about  the 20th anniversary of U2's Achtung Baby, he said, "We've been on the verge of irrelevance for the last 20 years, dodged, ducked, dived, made some great work, I hope, along the way – and the occasional faux pas."

 I had a problem with that statement, as U2's music from the past twenty years means a lot to me, up to and especially including "Moment Of Surrender" from their latest album, No Line On The Horizon.

But in a cover story with British magazine Q, Bono had a similar quote (maybe The Sun nicked it?). The rest of the quote says "Lots of people have U2 albums -- why they would want another one is a reasonable question.  I don't know if it's possible for us to make something current that is meaningful, not just to our audience but to the times we live in. But that's kind of the job for me and I'm not ready to give it up.  I think it's unlikely that we'll pull it off, but then, so has the last 20 years been unlikely."

For some reason, I feel a little less annoyed by seeing his quote in this context.  I can understand wanting to transcend the fanbase to do something that resonates with everyone.  On the other hand, if Bruce Springsteen retired because he'll (probably) never match the reach of Born In The U.S.A., we would never have gotten The Rising, We Shall Overcome or Magic.  Or look at Bob Dylan: he doesn't care at all what the larger culture likes or doesn't.  If he did, and retired because he didn't have any more songs like "Blowin' In The Wind" or "Like A Rolling Stone" or "The Times They Are A' Changin'" or "Hurricane" or "Subterranean Homesick Blues" in him, we would never have gotten Time Out Of Mind or "Love and Theft" or Modern Times or "Things Have Changed" or Together Through Life. What a shame that would have been.

In the Q feature, the band touch on the different albums they are working on, and I really look forward to hearing what they do with Danger Mouse. Based on the stuff that he has done with The Black Keys, I think he has to potential to craft a great, funky album around some cool songs.  Of course, U2 has to come with the songs.  Hopefully DM will be able to tell them to return to the drawing board if the songs don't measure up.  I have faith that they've got at least another great album in them.  And what is U2 about, if not faith?

P.S. Q put together a great Achtung tribute, Ahk-toong Bay-Bi.  It was available with the magazine in Europe, and is available to buy on iTunes. With artists like Nine Inch Nails, Garbage, Depeche Mode, Patti Smith, Damien Rice and Jack White, it's really worth a listen.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

THE ROLLING STONES - SOME GIRLS (reissue review)

The Rolling Stones released Some Girls in 1978 when I was nine years old.  I don't think I was aware of the concept that a band was releasing a new album, but I did associate certain artists with certain songs, I just had no idea if they were new or old.

But I do remember hearing "Miss You," "Beast Of Burden" and "Shattered" all over the place.  Years later, when I started really getting into the Stones, learning their history and buying their old albums (this was around '89, when they hit the road for the first time in years for Steel Wheels) I picked up Some Girls and was knocked out by how great it was.  This may be sacrilegious to say, but it quickly became my favorite Stones album. I realize that most hardcore fans choose albums from the Brian Jones or Mick Taylor eras.  Of course I love albums from both of those eras, and there are no bad albums from either era, but this is my favorite.

If you didn't know better, you would have thought that Ronnie Wood was created in a lab to join The Stones. In the history of rock, has there ever been a replacement in a major band that just fit so perfectly?

I don't think I knew too much of the context when I first got the album though. I just knew that there were three incredible singles, but in between them were a group of songs that were just as good, or better.  I knew that this came out during the punk rock era, and they seemed to nod at this without trying too hard, on songs like "Lies," "Respectable" and "When The Whip Comes Down." Their soul roots were acknowledged with their cover of The Temptations' "Just My Imagination." They nodded at their country influences (and made fun of them more than a bit) on "Far Away Eyes." "Miss You" and "Shattered" were funky as hell, and "Beast Of Burden" is one of their best pop songs ever.  Also on this album is one of my favorite Keith Richards-sung Stones tunes, "Before They Make Me Run" ("see my taillights fading, there's not a dry eye in the house"). On my Rolling Stones iPod mix, every song on this album is included. (That mix is nearly 11 hours long, but still.)

I just bought the deluxe (not super-deluxe) version of the album. It comes with a second disc of stuff that didn't make the album. Often times, this kind of thing is a curiosity, but disc 2 of Some Girls is its own great album.  I think I prefer it to their next album, Emotional Rescue! "Claudine" is a great vintage rocker.  "No Spare Parts" (featuring newly recorded parts by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood) is a lovely country-ish song.  There's actually a lot of country on disc two, including Keith singing a classic song, "We Had It All," and also a cover of Hank Williams' "You Win Again."

The super-deluxe version also contains a DVD of a live concert from the tour, but not the CD version.  So, I decided to get the deluxe version, and pick up the DVD/CD version of Some Girls - Live In Texas '78, which you can get separately (and buying both was still less expensive than the super-deluxe version). I have a lot of great live recordings by the Stones, but this might be the best one. So, if you love the Stones, particularly the Ronnie Wood era, I'd recommend doing what I did: get the deluxe version, and get the DVD/CD (or BlueRay/CD) combo of Some Girls Live.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

#20YRSAGO: NIRVANA - NEVERMIND (+ boxset review!)

A lot of incredible albums came out in 1991 (hence my series of "#20yrsago" posts), but none had the game changing impact of Nirvana's Nevermind.

I remember hearing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the first time.  I was driving my car on the Meadowbrook Parkway in Long Island while I was in college.  I ejected whatever cassette I was listening to, and my radio was set to 92.7 FM (it was either WLIR or WDRE).  I heard the guitar first. Why are they playing a band as heavy as Metallica?  Of course, when I heard the singer, he sounded nothing like Metallica or anyone else. Who was this?  I soon found out.

I got Nevermind when it first came out. Obviously it is a classic album.  I loved "Lounge Act," I thought it sounded like The Smithereens (I later read that they were, in fact, an influence). At some point, I found Kurt Cobain a bit too precious and annoying (wearing a "corporate magazines still suck" shirt while doing a corporate magazine cover was cute, but complaining about Pearl Jam bugged me), and I stopped listening to them for a bit. That was dumb of me.  They are one of the greatest bands ever, and Nevermind is an incredible album.  I'm sure Dylan said some things about other artists that I like, it would never make me stop listening to his music.

There's lots of stories about Nirvana's concrete impact (the oft-told stories of hair metal bands hearing Nirvana and realizing that their day was done) and how they didn't care about their new-found status (famously turning down opening slots on tours by U2 and Guns N Roses/Metallica). My story is this:  I was DJing at a great rock and roll bar called Fezziwigs, owned by two great guys, ex-hippies who performed at the bar as an acoustic duo.  Almost all of their repertoire was '60s and '70s songs, but they threw in Dire Straits and Traveling Wilburys songs as well. They didn't always "get" the music I played, but Nirvana was the only band they ever paid me to NOT play. $5 extra per night, just as long as they didn't have to hear "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Sometimes I would have to sacrifice the extra fiver, other nights I played "Lounge Act" instead.

Anyway. I've been listening to the super-deluxe box set lately, and I'm stunned by how great it is.  Why did I buy the super deluxe version, instead of the just the deluxe one?  Well, one reason is that it comes with a live concert recording from the era, and a DVD of the same concert.  You could buy that DVD/CD package separately.  There are tons of B-sides and bonus tracks, many of which come with the deluxe version.  I was kind of attracted to the super-delxue by the idea of the Butch Vig's original mixes.  Butch Vig, of course, produced Nevermind, and went on to be a famous producer, as well as the drummer of the band Garbage. But this was one of his first big major label projects, and I guess the label didn't like his mixes, so they hired Andy Wallace to mix it instead.  So, it's cool to hear Butch's original vision for the album. Also included are "boombox demos": literally, the band performing and recording themselves on a cassette deck on a boombox.  It's interesting to hear them in that raw of a format, but I don't think I'll listen to that too often.  Finally, there are some early demos of the songs that pre-date Dave Grohl joining the band: they feature Chad Channing on drums.

Nevermind is an album that I have a complicated relationship with, but it's certainly one of the greatest and most important albums released in my lifetime, and I'm grateful for it.  It helped to wipe out a lot of crap bands (of course, it inspired a movement of those crap bands pretending to be Nirvana, instead of pretending to be Van Halen). It also sort of brought a system of ethics to bands who come from the underground and end up in the mainstream.  Stone Gossard basically admitted as much in Pearl Jam 20.  The idea of Kurt Cobain giving a public beatdown over something that smells like a sell-out helped to keep the band on their best behavior.  For a time, it felt like most of pop music felt the same way. Maybe a lot of us (including some of Kurt's bandmates, friends and fans) have outgrown that rigid ethic, but you know that people are probably influenced by Kurt's personality as much as they are by his songs.

GOD BLESS OZZY OSBOURNE - DOCUMENTARY REVIEW

I finally caught the Ozzy Osbourne documentary, God Bless Ozzy Osbourne. I imagine some people would be skeptical about how deep this doc would go, given that it is "presented" by Jack Osbourne, who is one of the producers (and Sharon Osbourne is the executive producer).

I think they did a good job: this isn't a fluff piece or a marketing tool.  Jack, his siblings and his half siblings have lots of justified issues with their rock star dad, and they all vent quite a bit (even Aimee, who famously declined to have any involvement with The Osbournes show on MTV).  While the film makes no bones about his incredible musical impact, it also doesn't flinch from his tragic flaws, and there are many. It was difficult to watch Sharon discuss some of their more violent moments (and there are pictures of her with the bruises to prove it).  It was heartbreaking to watch Jack and Ozzy (separately) discuss an argument that became a turning point for Ozzy.  Ozzy yelled at Jack, saying he's given him everything he ever asked for, and Jack countered with the point that he wanted a father. There are stories from the other children detailing the forgotten birthdays (in one scene, Ozzy struggles to remember what year his first child was born in), the drug and alcohol abuses and more. The story seems to end well: according to the narrative, Ozzy has been clean and sober for five years at the time of the filming. I really hope that that is true.  I can say that when I saw Ozzy in concert a year ago, he seemed to be in great shape and he sounded better than he had the last time I'd seen him, nearly a decade earlier.  As I've mentioned in an earlier post, I'd love to see him when he tours with Black Sabbath in 2012.

I thought that a more well-rounded story would have included more of Sharon's involvement.  I realize that the story is about Ozzy, but like her or not, he most likely would not have had a solo career without her.  Her love, determination and toughness probably has as much to do with his post-Sabbath success as anything he's done.   Even the part where Ozzy talks about Ozzfest (which Sharon started when Lollapalooza wouldn't book Ozzy) is just a bonus feature. On the other hand, The Osbournes seems to be referred to as something that happened to the family, not something executive produced by Sharon. If the show gave a negative impression of Ozzy, or exploited his illnesses or weaknesses for laughs... well, there's no acknowledgement that maybe they shouldn't have been doing it.

The doc spends a bit of time on the story of Sabbath and on Ozzy's first guitarist, the late Randy Rhoads. Henry Rollins, Metallica's Robert Trujilio (Ozzy's former bassist) and even Sir Paul McCartney weigh in on Sabbath and Ozzy's impact.   Geezer Butler, Bill Ward and Tony Iommi are all interviewed.  I think that a lot of the footage here could be re-used for a full-on Black Sabbath documentary, which could tell their story and show their impact.  Sort of like a combination of The Beatles Anthology and Rush Beyond The Lighted Stage. I realize that there are legal and emotional issues there, but what a great story that would be.


Friday, November 25, 2011

SUPERHEAVY = MICK JAGGER + DAVE STEWART + DAMIEN MARLEY + JOSS STONE + (NOT ENOUGH) A.R. RAHMAN

When I heard that Dave Stewart had put together a "supergroup" with Mick Jagger, Damian Marley, Joss Stone and A.R. Rahman, I was intrigued. Of course, it could be a trainwreck, but it could be cool.  Stewart, of course, has worked on some good records, both as a member of The Eurythmics, but also producing other artists like Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers ("Don't Come Around Here No More"), Mick Jagger ("Old Habits Die Hard") and Stevie Nicks ("Secret Love").

But Superheavy doesn't really work for me, although it does have it's moments.  I know that the idea was to have all of these cultures coming together, but in many places it comes off as very mainstream rock with tinges of reggae and Indian music. I would have been curious to hear it if A.R. Rahman produced more of the songs.  It sounds like he sort of just added some touches to the songs, but he is an Oscar winning musician who is one of the hugest stars in India.  I would rather have heard an album co-produced by Stewart and Rahman.

Still, if they ever do another album I would check it out, the record shows lots of potential.

#20YRSAGO: U2 - ACHTUNG BABY (+ boxset review!)

The first post in my #20yrsago series -- celebrating some classic albums that came out in (or around) 1991 - was Chris Whitley's debut Living With The Law. Now, I'm going to write about an LP that is a little more well known (but both albums have involvement from Daniel Lanois, so there is a common thread).

I don't know that my mind has ever been as blown as it was when I first turned on U2's Achtung Baby. Yeah, I've been knocked out by many artists the first time I heard them... but by an artist who I had been following for years?  I have never been so surprised by a group's "new direction" as I was when I put Achtung Baby into my CD player.

This was, of course, before the web, and I don't think that I knew too much about what U2's "new direction" would be like.  In the years since, The Edge has often talked about performing encores on U2's last '80s tour with opener B.B. King and then going back to his dressing room and listening to KMFDM. But I didn't know about any of that at the time.

There were hints.  On the 12" of Rattle and Hum's "When Love Comes To Town," their collab with B.B. (a song which marked the peak of their explorations into American roots music), the B-side was a cover of Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot" as if to remind us of their post punk roots.

But the next new release by the band was a cover of Cole Porter's "Night and Day," from the Red Hot & Blue collection, the first CD compiled by the Red Hot organization.  I saw the video on MTV.  U2 still looked like their Joshua Tree selves - Bono with no shades, no makeup, long hair, The Edge with long hair and the doo-rag.  But they didn't really sound like U2.  It was darker, funkier, and synth-ier.  It reminded me a bit of Depeche Mode.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

LOU REED. METALLICA. LULU. WTF?

Gitmo, meet your new soundtrack!

I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way (other than the fact that I'm against torture).  But Lou Reed's unlikely double album collaboration with Metallica, Lulu, is one of the most abrasive albums I've ever heard, and one of the most difficult to sit through. I really admire the totally uncompromising spirit of the album: it is about as uncommercial as anything I've heard from a major artist in recent memory.

There's something admirable about a band like Metallica doing something so totally challenging to themselves and their audience (and Metallica must know that fans wouldn't like the idea of them collaborating with Lou Reed, and they'd like it less after hearing it).

That said, I don't really think I'll listen to this album too much. If I could go five years back in time and play Lulu for someone, they'd probably think that it was a Saturday Night Live skit making fun of what would happen if Lou Reed and Metallica did an album together.

In the years since Lou's classic 1989 LP New York, he's adopted a sort of atonal talking style of doing his vocals, and that's what he does here.  I'm a huge fan of his music, and I even like some of his post-New York stuff.  I liked his collaboration with his Velvet Underground bandmate, John Cale, Songs for 'Drella. Magic & Loss is an incredible album, but only if you're in a certain mood. But New York is the last Lou album that I just reach for because I want to listen to it again. Of course, he has a lot of great albums, and all the Velvet Underground LPs are incredible.  A lot of Lou's influences are avant-garde, outsider music.  But he's also influenced by doo-wop and Dion.  I'd love to see him to something you can sort of sing along to, and I thought this album might be that chance. But I again, I respect that he doesn't care what I, or anyone else, wanted with this album.

Metallica definitely do a solid job, but there's only so much they can do with this material.  I like the opener, "Brandenburg Gate," and also "Iced Honey," but that's kind of it.  I wouldn't mind seeing them do those songs in concert, with or without Lou.

I find myself wondering why Metallica agreed to this.  They definitely worked surprisingly well with Lou at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 25 anniversary concert in New York a few years back, they did a great version of "Sweet Jane." They must have been surprised to have been asked by Lou to do a record, and I'm sure it appealed to Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett (although James Hetfield is a fan of dark outsider music by the likes of Nick Cave and Tom Waits so it makes sense that Lou's music would appeal to him as well).  Still, Lulu makes St. Anger sound like "The Black Album," and they have to have realized that this would probably be the lowest selling album in their catalog.  But I guess they wanted to do something different and challenge themselves, and that's admirable.

I imagine that their next album will be much tighter, shorter and accessible.  In fact, I've heard that they will play "The Black Album" in its entirety at a European festival this summer. Well, if this album sends them in a more song-oriented direction, I'll be grateful for Lulu.