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Monday, January 18, 2016

Album Review: Van Halen - 5150 (1986)

David Lee Roth's departure from Van Halen after the release of 1984 meant that the band were tasked with filling a rather large pair of shoes.  Diamond Dave had many things going for him - looks, charisma and energy, among other things, but like all artists who've carved out a unique brand for themselves that cannot possibly be replicated by any other individual, his departure inevitably asked for a change of direction for the band.  Bringing on board Sammy Hagar from Montrose, Hagar brought a very different style and persona to that of his predecessor.  For some, this would begin the era known derogatively by Roth supporters as 'Van Hagar.'  The way I see it, comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges - both are singers, great singers at that, but they are stylistically worlds apart.  And personally, I love both.

Hagar brought to Van Halen a refreshing, more heavier sound that, rather than sullying the legacy left behind by the now solo David Lee Roth, carved out a completely new Van Halen.  5150 from 1986 is the "debut" album for the new Van Halen.  But what a way to kick off a new era for the band.  Look at the songs on this album - "Why Can't This Be Love?", "Best of Both Worlds", "Dreams" - three of the best songs I have ever heard from the band.  And let's not forget the emotive, synthesized, "Love Walks In."  Either.  The low point here is probably the title track, "5150", but don't let that stifle your indulgence.  One of their best, no matter what the detractors might say.  A

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Album Review: David Bowie – Reality (2003)

In light of the unexpected (and shocking) death of legendary rocker David Bowie, it feels somewhat obligatory on my part as a budding music critic (of sorts) to write up a review on an album by one of the world's most innovative, artistic and irrefutably brilliant musicians.  And I'm more than happy to oblige.  I loved David Bowie.  I loved his chameleon-like artistic proclivities.  I loved his musical sensibilities.  But most of all I loved his climatic and authoritative voice.  And I cannot help but feel somewhat guilty for finding the most gratitude in listening to his music after his death.  But of course, I guess, we are predisposed to take even the greatest musical titans for granted until the day that they cease to be, in which we quickly come to realize that we've just lost something irreplaceable.  And what we are left with - memories, the music that has been, the legacy of an immeasurable talent now lost to time - subsequently forces us to cherish and relish them until ourselves succumb to our own mortality and head for that great gig in the sky.  It seems you really don't know what you've got until it's gone.  Anyway, back to the review.

Reality from 2003 is a very good album, given that many artists who claim to have had musical careers spanning five decades are often burned out and mere fractions of the great artists that they once were.  But David Bowie, 56 years old at the time of this album's release, demonstrates aptly that longevity is no inevitable barrier to continuing musical brilliance.  The opening track, "New Killer Star", is as good a song as "Ashes to Ashes" or "Heroes" ever were.  From there it moves on to "Pablo Picasso" and "Never Get Old."  My second favorite on the album, "Days" makes for compulsory listening, and for good measure, I recommend giving "Fall Dog Bombs the Moon" and "Waterloo Sunset" a whirl as well.  A-

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Album Review: Motorhead - Ace of Spades (1980)

In light of the recent passing of legendary Motorhead and Hawkwind frontman, Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister on 28th December, 2015, I feel that the time is right to satiate my itching need to write a review for this particular album, which is one of the most highly acclaimed heavy metal albums in history.  Indeed, it is one of the best albums ever made.  Whilst in terms of genre it is considered a metal album, in spirit it is very much a rock 'n' roll record.  Which is fitting, given that Lemmy himself personally saw what he and his band Motorhead had made as being rock 'n' roll.  And the title track, the famous "Ace of Spades", will invariably invoke mental connections with those familiar with Metallica's earliest work, particularly their 1983 debut album, Kill 'Em All.  After all, Motorhead was a huge influence on Metallica's formative years, so it seems logical to assume that songs such as "Whiplash" are indicative of a strong and prominent Motorhead influence.  But even on Ace of Spades, I hear songs that bear resemblance to songs by other bands - "Love Me Like a Reptile" sounds a bit like "Hell Bent for Leather" by Judas Priest.  And "Fast and Loose" reminds me of Thin Lizzy.  All in all, there are some great tracks on this record - my personal favorite is "The Chase is Better Than The Catch."  RIP Lemmy, what a legacy you leave behind.  A

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Album Review: Rush - Moving Pictures (1981)

I've known about the Canadian band Rush for a long time now.  Like many other bands, I just never got around to listening to their music.  Well I finally got around to it.  And like many other bands, I'm pleased that I did.  The album that I'm currently reveling in is Moving Pictures from 1981, and what an interesting, and overall pleasing album it is.  When I first began listening to the first track, "Tom Sawyer" my first impressions were "it's different."  Yes it is.  But its a favorable kind of different.  I love the synthesizers on this album.  I love the seemingly randomized, perhaps disorganized, nature of tracks like "YYZ" - that's not a particularly articulate description really, but it shall suffice I guess.  All up, there are some great sounds being made on this album, and not just those being put out by synthesizers, either.  If I were to describe this album in one line, I suppose I would say, "It sounds like a utopian, futurist spin on Black Sabbath."  Correct me if I'm wrong.  Good job, Rush, you've won me over with this album.  My faves - "Red Barchetta" and "Limelight."  A-

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Dave's Random, Boredom-induced, Artistically Questionable and Rather Cliché and Unoriginal List of Favorite Albums From the 80s

Some might argue my taste in music sucks. And they're probably right. And you're probably thinking I've ripped this list off from somewhere else. That is definitely wrong - nobody apart from me likes Afterburner by ZZ Top. But I'm bored. So here is a list of 1980s albums that I think are just the cat's posterior:

1980. AC/DC – Back in Black

Brian Johnson's debut with Acca Dacca after the untimely death of Bon Scott is proof that appendicitis can result in a lucrative, long and successful music career with one of hard rock's titans. Featuring classic tracks such as “Hells Bells”, “Shoot to Thrill”, and “You Shook Me All Night Long”, the album would go on to become one of the best selling albums in history, and it isn't difficult to see why, either.

Runner-up: Icehouse – Flowers

1981. The Police – Ghost In The Machine

Drifting away from the reggae infused sound of their earlier works, Ghost in the Machine moves into the synth-driven new wave era with charming ditties aplenty. “Spirits in the Material World”, “Invisible Sun”, “Everything She Does is Magic” are just some of the better known tracks on this album...bugger it, just go listen to the bloody thing.

Runner-up: Van Halen – Fair Warning

1982. Roxy Music - Avalon

The uber cool Bryan Ferry and chums end Roxy Music's recording career on a very high note with the epic Avalon. Something of an acquired taste, but once you get used to it, you'll soon find yourself making a mental note to yourself to save your copy should your house ever happen to burn down.

Runner-up: Michael Jackson – Thriller

1983. Cyndi Lauper – She's So Unusual

Arguably the most surprising album on this list, Cyndi Lauper's debut album is actually excellent. Yeah, you might be thinking songs like “She Bop” and “Time after Time” are all you need, but not really. There's the rest of the album to explore, like the Prince-penned “When You Were Mine”, or “Money Changes Everything.” But sadly for me, my CD copy is degrading thanks to the supposedly rare phenomenon of “disc rot.”

Runner-up: ZZ Top - Eliminator

1984. Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A.

“Hey little girl, is your daddy home?” Given the filthy minds of more modern times, this is perhaps not the most politically correct thing to sing on an album these days, unless, of course, you're Rolf Harris, but for The Boss in 1984, that as-yet politically untarnished 'come on' line that opens “I'm On Fire” shows that Bruce can knock up a love song just as good as he could a number about the plight of the working man. One of those albums that you could quite happily play from start to finish, just like the aforementioned Cyndi Lauper album.

Runner-up: Metallica – Ride the Lightning

1985. ZZ Top – Afterburner

Following on from the excellent Eliminator, The Texas Weird Beards keep on hard rockin' and up the synths in the process. Not as polished as its predecessor, I'm certainly not one to complain, if “Delirious”, “Can't Stop Rockin'” and “Stages” are anything to go by. Oh, and “Sleeping Bag.”

Runner-up: Anthrax – Spreading the Disease

1986. Paul Simon – Graceland

Not an album I like to talk about too much – giving it appraisal can sometimes feel a little too cliché, but damn it, it deserves it anyway. And this album shows that Simon lost little when Simon & Garfunkel ceased to be – and who really needs to talk about a bridge over troubled water when you've got the Mississippi Delta shining like a National guitar?

Runner-up: Slayer – Reign in Blood

1987. Def Leppard – Hysteria

No cliché “greatest albums” list is ever complete without Def Leppard's mammoth Hysteria from 1987. A significant number of songs from this album received airplay, and it isn't hard to 'hear' why. But bugger “Animal” - “Don't Shoot Shotgun” and “Gods of War” are where it's at.

Runner-up: Michael Jackson – Bad

1988. Fine Young Cannibals – The Raw and the Cooked

Roland Gift's somewhat proprietary voice served well as part of the soundtrack to my 1988/1989, as did Toni Childs' Union, which follows behind in second place. A brilliant album from start to finish. And it's a bit of a shame that the band did relatively bugger all following its release.

Runner-up: Toni Childs – Union

1989. Phil Collins - ...But Seriously

The much maligned Phil Collins deserves better, in my opinion. After all, I owe him a great deal for my almost 30 year old appreciation of popular music. And OK, he's made some not so good albums, but then again, I'm still waiting on somebody to deliver that impeccable discography. Indeed, my tumble-weed count so far stands at around 2,374. But hey, I've enjoyed some great music in that time, including this album, Phil Collins' ...But Seriously.

Runner-up: Skid Row – Skid Row