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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Album Review: Pink Floyd - The Final Cut (1983)

Pink Floyd isn't exactly renowned for its uplifting, feel-good songs about brotherly love, world peace and the pursuit of happiness that doesn't involve smoking copious amounts of weed, which is incidentally, one way or another, the source of most of the former. On the contrary, many of the songs have a cynical, pessimistic, and somewhat dark mood to them that'll have a Valium-addled Barney the Dinosaur turn his left arm into a makeshift cutting board. Take 1979's The Wall for example, and an excellent example at that. A concept album revolving around a central character who's basically a personification of the band name, it progressively takes on pessimistic, dark themes, from fasicism, sadistic headmasters, hubby-beaters to suicide and depression. And even if you couldn't speak a word of English, you'd still find the album to be a gloomy state of affairs, that, weren't it not for its otherwise musically brilliant conception, would be enough to make you want to go bungee jumping by the neck from the nearest bridge.

The follow-up album, The Final Cut, largely carries on in this aspect, but instead applies it using war as a theme. But unlike its predecessor, it fails to carry on in its projection of brilliance and appeal, despite sounding very similar. Roger Waters knows how to make a great rock opera, and make it work, and it's this particular quality that spares the album from a potential bollocking on my part. Amongst all the war-bashing and Thatcher-bashing though (which isn't a bad thing, I must add), lies some Floyd classics, such as "The Final Cut", "Not Now John", "The Post War Dream" and to a lesser extent, "Your Possible Pasts." All of which make up for what would've been a somewhat bland and disappointing album otherwise, and perhaps, dare I say it, the soundtrack to your own suicide attempt. B+

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Album Review: Chris Rea - New Light Through Old Windows (1988)

Quite often I've found that when an artist who's been in the game for some time (say, 20-30 years) decides to re-record many of their greatest hits, sometimes in lieu of an actual compilation of the originals, the end result is a modernized, yet greatly improved version of the original. Two prominent examples of this are Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. Johnny Cash re-recorded many of his classics, such as "Ring of Fire", "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk The Line", whilst Roy Orbison redid classics such as "Oh, Pretty Woman", "Ooby Dooby" (which craps all over the original, to be frank) and the eye-wateringly beautiful and operatic "Crying", in which he duets with K.D. Lang. And often these 'remakes' bring out the potential in which these songs had possessed all along, but remained vested, perhaps in the haste to put an album out, the absence of more modern recording technology, or simply due to sub-standard production work.

Lesser known, but woefully underrated English singer-songwriter Chris Rea did an excellent job of remaking many of his classic songs, like "On The Beach" and "Let's Dance" on his 1988 album, New Light Through Old Windows. Throw in a couple of newbies, like "Driving Home for Christmas", and "Working On It", and you've got an album that really redefines the term, 'optimism.' It took me a good 5 or 6 years to really appreciate this album, which is due to my maturity as a music fan at the time at which I bought it. Now, as I write this review, I've found that I simply can't get enough of it, and after playing each song 10,000 or so times, I'm yet to show any signs of boredom. I hope after only 10 times that you'll feel exactly the same way. A+

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Album Review: The Ramones - Rocket to Russia (1977)

In the past decade and a half, I've been at odds with modern rock music and its overall tendency to produce what I would call a 'cacophonic odyssey of noises.' But to call it that would be far too complimentary - I would best define it as being stale, boring, lazy, cheap and an insult to the great institute that is rock 'n' roll. I felt (and still feel) that the only sub-genre of rock that will save it is pop punk. OK, you may say it appeals to squealing little girls, particularly with the word 'pop' in it, but to be quite frank, I'd rather suck a lemon with a festering case of mouth ulcers than listen to some of that other cack that spews forth from the radio nowadays. Now, I'm not saying that it's all bad, but for the most part I would say that the recording industry's forte now lies with making frisbees, beer coasters and shaving mirrors, rather than the bona fide rock albums of old. The reason why modern punk sounds so darn good is it seems to stick to its roots better than, say, heavy metal. Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple sound worlds away from Sepultura, Probot, or Slipknot, but the Ramones' sound can be clearly heard in the music of bands like Green Day and Rancid, so much so it sticks out like an anorexic at fat camp.

In contrast to their first album, Rocket to Russia by the Ramones sounds a lot more like its modern pop punk descendants. Its injection of surf rock makes it sound like the Beach Boys to Ramones' The Beatles, whereas Ramones sounds a lot more like the English punk that would follow in its own pioneering wake. And musicological analysis and historical background aside, it's a corker of an album too. Songs like, "Rockaway Beach" and an interesting cover of "Surfin' Bird" make this quite obvious. Coupled with fantastic, uplifting 'feel-good about yourself' ballads like "Locket Love", "Do You Wanna Dance?" and "Cretin Hop", and quirky numbers about the reality of family life (for some anyway) like, "We're A Happy Family", you've got a classic album that everyone except for the deaf should own. The way I see it, this album doesn't just belong on your turntable, CD player or iPod, but the album cover itself should be worn on the front of a black t-shirt by government decree. It is that worthy. So, go out and buy it. A

Monday, February 1, 2010

Album Review: Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde (1966)

In my previous two reviews of Dylan's handiwork, I've lambasted both albums for being boring or being of poor quality. I now must admit, I was a bit too critical of both works, although I still hold to my opinion that they are some of his least inspiring efforts. But that doesn't mean I think badly of Bob Dylan. Of all the musicians who have improved drastically throughout their careers, Bob Dylan has to be number one. Why? Because when he first started out nearly 50 years ago, his songs, despite the beauty of the accompanying lyrics that make Dylan who he is, his ability to make music was clearly a work in progress. Today though, if you listen to Modern Times or Love and Theft, you can hear the difference experience has made for whom I respectfully regard as the poet laureate of folk rock. And so do professional critics. They are both classic albums, and some of his best work. Despite his advancing age, he's clearly shown he still has the magic.

1966's Blonde on Blonde is an album I all too often overlook. It's a mixed bag of fun songs, love songs, borderline sad songs, songs about getting stoned, songs about women, songs about hats, uplifting songs...OK, I'll shut up now, you get the message. Anyway, the beauty of this album lies partially in its diversity, partially in the acoustic delicacy of tracks like "4th Time Around" and "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands", and in fun, uplifting songs like "Absolutely Sweet Marie", "I Want You" and "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35." And we can't skip stereotypical "Dylanesque" tracks like "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" and "Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat." There truly is something for everyone on this album, and to demonstrate that I really have the maturity of a still born fetus, listen carefully to the last minute or so on "Rainy Day Women" and you'll hear someone in the background using the 'f' word. That's how fun this song really is. Overall, it is my opinion that anyone who considers themselves a music lover should own this album, for fear of having their house burnt down and their gonads sold for medicinal purposes. A