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Sunday, February 21, 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+

Monday, February 8, 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


Tuesday, February 2, 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


Monday, February 1, 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-