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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Album Review: Van Halen - Fair Warning (1981)

No great rock band is perfect, no doubt about it. Of course, they mostly release great albums, but amongst the discography titans lies some downright duds that either have one good song on them, or none at all. And what really makes them worse is the poor choice of album artwork, just to add injury to insult. People are still willing to fork out money to buy these albums, but of course, this is purely to elevate their status as a fan, not because the album compels them to jump up and down on their couches playing the air guitar with the apartment window wide open, so everyone in the real world can see them embarrass themselves.

Van Halen is one of those great rock bands, and is also one of my all time favorite and most inspirational bands, I'll make this quite clear. Albums like Van Halen, 1984 and 5150 are favored highly by both me and many music publications, for good reason. You have Eddie Van Halen, the legendary guitar hero who's dexterity and prowess with an ax wears the fretboard down faster than a woodpecker on speed. And you can't leave frontmen Diamond Dave and Sammy Hagar out of the picture either. Coming back to what I've said in the first paragraph, not all great bands consistently put out great albums. And Van Halen's Fair Warning from 1981 is an example of this. For starters, the album cover is a painting by Canadian artist William Kurelek, called, "The Maze." On a wall in an art gallery this might look good, but on an album cover it looks ghastly, like a homely-looking lunch lady from Romania with moles sprouting whiskers and teeth like a row of broken menhirs. And the layout artist could've chosen better typography for the band name too. Oh, and the rest of the album cover is poo brown, which looks really bad, even for 1981. Musically, things aren't quite as bad, but they could've been much better too, every song except for "Unchained" and possibly "One Foot Out the Door" are by Van Halen standards boring. Listen to this album once, and put it away, I say. B-


Album Review: Toni Childs - Union (1988)

Once upon a time, back in 1988, I was listening to the radio when I heard the sound of a singer with a voice like Barry White on helium. The song sounded pretty good, it had a nice melody, and so did the other two or so songs by the same artist that received airplay. For a while I thought it was a man singing these songs, but to my surprise, it wasn't. It was Toni Childs, a 'chick'. Now back then, for a lady to sound like a pro-wrestler that's just been Rochambeau-ed was a truly traumatic experience for a six year old aspiring music critic. Good thing I hadn't yet been exposed to Tracy Chapman, otherwise puberty would've come early that year, for sure.

But that voice would prove to be what I think is one of the most underrated in the industry, and if you've ever listened to Toni Childs' debut album, Union, you'd wholeheartedly agree. If you didn't, you should give up petrol sniffing and have your ears checked, because the poor sales record of this album (a pitiful 500k in the US, if I'm not mistaken) is a greater injustice than having all the starving third-world kiddies living off flies and ox dung. And the tracks say it all - radio favorites like "Don't Walk Away" and "Stop Your Fussin'" echo that distinctive "half-dropped teste" voice into the wild blue yonder, whilst "Hush" incrementally ups the emotive feedback with a pseudo-power ballad like imposition. Why this album failed to make any significant impact on the charts escapes me - it's all capitalism's fault this album garnered less praise than it truly deserves. Make no mistake, Toni's voice is distinct; it can take some getting used to, but you'll soon appreciate it for its identity and quality. A


Monday, January 18, 2010

Album Review: The Ramones - Ramones (1976)

As I've said 10,000 times before in my previous posts, I've developed an unexplainable infatuation with punk rock, 30 years after the rest of the world got sick of it and decided singing songs about Satan was a more pressing issue than getting rid of coppers, pollies, arguing that indecent exposure was perfectly decent, and that dope smoking and telling pensioners to sod off was none of the government's business. And some of the more conformist types will argue it's a bizarre genre in terms of it's social implications and impact on individuals - after all, these are people who buy their fashion accessories from pet stores. Even the cockatiels will take one look at their hairdos and wonder what they're doing out. But hey, I'm a man of liberty, I'll stand up for their right to wear dog collars, and their colorful hair is a refreshing change from the split-ended blond dos and salad-bowl haircuts that pepper the Auckland CBD.

Now, after listening to The Ramones' debut album, I've been suffering from a rather nasty case of psycho-motor agitation, it is that good I can't help but keep moving. This really is punk rock at it's finest, which makes a lot of natural sense, really. After all, they are regarded as being the very first punk rock band. Three chords and two minute length songs make for musical heaven for those with equally short attention spans. There is a notably consistent and comparable sound to many of these songs, such as in "Blitzkrieg Bop", "Judy is a Punk", and in "I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement" and "Loudmouth", which may be a problem if you have a tendency to get bored very quickly. But for me, it works out great. So much so that I'll probably starve to death by the time I'm through listening to them. Therefore, in concluding this review, if you want advice on what to buy if you're going through a punk-curious phase, may I suggest you buy this album. A-


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Album Review: Phil Collins - Both Sides (1993)

Whenever I think of Phil Collins, I think of a musician who makes songs that, for the most part sound exactly the same as the others. I've heard people say that about Bruce Springsteen, but I tend to notice it a lot in Phil's solo work. Which some will hate, and others will loathe, but I can't help but appreciate Phil's apparent tendency to stick to a formula of sameness. It sounds great to me. Really. In fact, anything that deviated from this I will probably bin in great disgust and twice as angry as a Central Auckland bus driver on minimum wage with few dunny breaks doing a haka.

1993's Both Sides sounds like much of it's predecessors, such as ...But Seriously, except for the fact that apart from one song, "Everyday", it is twice as boring as a block of council flats. And to make things even worse, most of the songs are longer than the Great Wall of China, up to 7 minutes long in fact. Which is fine if it's a good song, or written by Jim Steinman, but given almost all songs have the charisma of a parliamentary backbencher, the only time you'll listen to the CD from start to finish is when you're asleep. I feel that "Every Day" really belongs on ...But Seriously, I can visualize it fitting in quite well with "Do You Remember?" and "Another Day in Paradise." Here, it sticks out like a pit bull amongst chihuahuas. B-


Monday, January 11, 2010

Album Review: The Strokes - Room on Fire (2003)

It has been my general opinion since 1997 that contemporary music has been getting progressively worse overall. My favorite radio station, which I liked because it played a balanced mixture of 80s music and (at that time) contemporary music, shut down and was replaced by a radio station catering for tweens and daddy's little teenage girls. The music they played was the crappy stuff, such as the Spice Girls and the Vengaboys, and everything else in between. If I'm being honest, I'd rather visit a nude beach than put up with Ginger Spice's acidic yodeling.

The Strokes aren't too bad by contemporary standards. They try their best, they have a largely positive image, and I like their album covers. I also like Albert Hammond Jr's name for some reason, it makes him sound like a veteran of the music industry, and hence a professional. By buying their 2003 record Room on Fire, you'll look at the album cover and instantly think '1970s.' But although it isn't a horrible album, there are notable flaws, one of them being the fact it doesn't sound 1970s at all, and the other is the tempos - they sound like they're having what their name implies, a stroke. "12:51", however is a fantastic song, and highly melodic, which as always I love. Record-mates "Between Love & Hate" and "The End Has No End", also make me want to live, but the rest simply get the 'meh' treatment from me. They're a bit like drinking Diet Sprite - you'll put up with it, but you'd much rather have the good stuff any day of the week. B


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Album Review: The Police - Synchronicity (1983)

Reggae music, for me, holds the distinction of being one of the very few genres that actually sounds good naturally without forcing it to sound good. In fact, in order to make it sound bad you have to put effort into doing so. Its easy going nature, with its strong rhythm, laid back tempos and simple melodies, holds universal appreciation by followers of all music genres, not just Rastafarians, stoners, and confused bung-toothed whiteys in Bob Marley t-shirts. Mix it up with other forms of music, such as new wave and rock, and despite it's assimilation it will still manage to stand out like Wayne's World's Garth Algar at a Peter, Paul and Mary reunion special.

British pop rock band The Police built their success on their distinct reggae-infused pop rock numbers, like "So Lonely", "Walking on the Moon" and "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da." It worked fantastically well for them, even though they would eventually put out only five albums, it still managed to propel them to stardom. But toward the end of their recording career, this reggae influence would be dropped in favor of a more new wave orientated sound. Expecting fans to start a soccer riot outside A & M headquarters and an entire race scapegoated, the reception proved to be anything but hostile, and was received well enough to earn them a few Grammys for the effort. Looking at the album as a whole, it comes across as being slightly above average in terms of perceived greatness, but the general quality of the tracklisting also seems well balanced, with "Every Breath You Take", "King of Pain", "Synchronicity I & II", "Wrapped Around Your Finger", "O My G-d", having the appreciative qualities of Jagermeister and Red Bull, whilst others, such as "Mother", "Walking In Your Footsteps" and "Miss Gradenko" being comparable to drinking window cleaner.

So in conclusion, my advice to anyone would be simply be this; if you're 'buy-curious' about The Police, you might like this album, if you're a Police fan, you better have this album already. B+


Friday, January 8, 2010

Album Review: Pantera - Cowboys From Hell (1990)

When people think of Heavy Metal music, they think of a band of four bogans wearing ripped Levis, long hair, t-shirts with their band name on it, armed with Flying-Vs and angrily screaming out Satan-themed lyrics darker than a chubby Goth chick's ass-crack. And their fans aren't much different either; up there in the mosh pit, dressed in black and banging their long-haired bonces around like a pro-wrestler with 'roid rage strangling a mop to thrash classics like "Whiplash" by Metallica, or "Rattlehead" by Megadeth. And when it comes to being stereotyped by others, they're probably the most care-free group of people you'll ever come across. And that's why I like them.

Pantera is a classic example of this metal-head stereotype. Their music screams power, anger and control, yet it doesn't seem to influence anyone in any negative way whatsoever. Listen to "F***ing Hostile", and you won't find people going at each other doing the two-fist twist. In fact, you'll find them jumping up and down with smiles on their faces large enough to accommodate a banana, and trying to restrain themselves from hugging people around them in all the excitement.

And now down to the album in question - Cowboys from Hell. Technically not their debut, but it is often regarded as their first proper mainstream album as a groove metal band. And a great debut it is, I went nuts for this album the first time I heard it. Unlike it's successor Vulgar Display of Power, I didn't have to wean myself into listening to it, and it wasn't the acquired taste I felt "Vulgar" was. And the songs will testify to this; "Primate Concrete Sledge", in it's own display of power, will get the adrenaline flowing first time you hear it, and the legendary "Cemetery Gates" is a (n ironically) mellowed out 'death' ballad to help bring you back down from that winded up state. And the album finishes with the very awesome "The Art of Shredding", one of my all time favorites.

The rest of the album is very close to being on par with these songs, in terms of quality and consistency (you like one, you'll like the others), but considering I'm pressed for space I'll leave it up to you to decide whether this record is just the cat's ass (that's a good thing). For me though, it's one of the best. A


Friday, January 1, 2010

Dave's Favorite Bands of the Past Four Decades

A new year, and a new decade already, wow time really goes too fast! Which in a way is a good thing, because you skip crappy music eras at a much faster pace. But on the other hand, you appear to get older quicker, and therefore die quicker. Which sucks, because I'll never have enough time to sample all the music I want to hear, and there's never a shortage of it either. But never mind my chronological hypochondria, here is yet another favorites list...

1960s: The Beatles

Woefully predictable - you'd think I had no mind of my own when I say the Fab Four was the greatest band of the decade. But 300 million music critics can't be wrong, and you simply can't deny facts. Gimme "Hey Jude", "Rocky Raccoon", "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "Octopus' Garden", and you won't hear one word of complaint from me...

1970s: The Ramones

I've always been a closet punk rock fan, and this'll squash anything that suggests otherwise. Simple three-chord rock 'n' roll that'll grow on you faster than a malignant neck growth in Hiroshima. From "Blitzkrieg Bop" to "Chain Saw", you'll want to pull your stereo apart just to solder the repeat button pins together...

1980s: Metallica

The eighties was my favorite decade, even though I was just a kid (which explains a lot today) I have more fond memories than I have brain cells. Most of the decade I spent listening to the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins and Michael Jackson earlier on to Fine Young Cannibals and Milli Vanilli (of whom I'm deeply ashamed to admit) towards the later years. This is the decade in which my love of music developed. But it took another 15 flippin' years for me to get hooked on the legendary Metallica, whom in their prime were an unstoppable force of epic proportions. No other thrash metal band has, or ever will rival their eighties works, EVER. To discover this band for the first time is like discovering a cure for cancer.

1990s: Green Day

In terms of overall quality, Green Day comes out on tops in the 90s group. Stereotypically punk, their 1994 album Dookie is regarded as one of the era's best, getting them my personal thumbs up as the best act of the 90s.

2000's: The White Stripes

Listen to Elephant, and you'll hear that simplicity need not be boring. Two colors, two band members, and what do you get for your money? The greatest rock act of the noughties by far. How many acts of this era made Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list? Sweet diddly bugger all, and these guys are quite rightly one of them.