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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Album Review: Judas Priest - British Steel (1980)

OK, enough with the A grade ratings you might say.  Enough with all the metal reviews, you may ask.  But I'm going to get this off my chest while the iron is still hot.  And yes, that is is a pun.  Sort of.  Let's face it - I LOOOVE heavy metal music.  Some say it's uncouth and unsophisticated.  Others say it's the work of the devil.  But ignorance, contrary to popular belief, is seldom bliss.  So many albums prove this to be the case - Ace of Spades by Motorhead, Master of Puppets by Metallica, - Reign in Blood by Slayer, The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden.  The list goes on.  And on.  And on.  But it is a genre that is misunderstood by those who seldom listen to it, and often fully unappreciated by those who do.  But it has put out some corking works -  British Steel by Judas Priest is an example of this.  Initially it wasn't metal enough for me.  But now I appreciate it for the magnum opus that it actually is.  Hell, even Beavis and Butt-head can appreciate the finer aspects of "Breaking the Law."  And I can see why.  I can also see why "Living After Midnight" is so respected.  But my favorites after the former are "Rapid Fire", "Metal Gods", followed by "United."  This album commands respect.  I hope it commands yours.  A-

Monday, September 26, 2016

Album Review: Derek and the Dominos - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)

Eric Clapton is one of the better known guitarists among casual music listeners out there.  Along with his famous solo career, he has been part of a number of different bands, such as the Yardbirds and in particular, Cream.  But his best work was never found in any of those - if you want to hear Eric Clapton at his finest, forget his solo work, forget his work with Cream.  Instead, pick yourself up a copy (or check it out on Spotify or some other music streaming service) of his 1970 magnum opus, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos.  "Tears in Heaven", "Lay Down Sally" and "Wonderful Tonight" can all be put on the back-burner while you appreciate the brilliance of this initially neglected, but wonderfully made record.  Critics love it.  Fans love it (and even more people loved it when they finally figured out that it was Clapton's band).  I love it.  I longed for a chance to write up on this album, and now I have that chance.  The funny thing about this album is that it goes against a number of things that I look for in a great album - consistent tempo, relative brevity are two examples of what I prefer in a good album.  But this album flies in the face of these and still sounds like a million dollars.  This album takes its time - many of the fourteen songs here run longer than 5 minutes.  But I can appreciate that, because this album is truly a labor of love.  It feels as if has been crafted, not made or merely recorded.  It was destined to be a masterpiece, come hell or high water.  And it is.  Every songs sound like Clapton is playing with passion, and he is.  My favorite here is a neat rendition of Hendrix's "Little Wing", followed by "Bell Bottom Blues", "Layla" and the very bluesy, "Key to the Highway."  In fact the only track I would willingly skip here is the final track, "Thorn Tree in the Garden."  Otherwise, it's bloody excellent.  A+

Album Review: Anthrax - Spreading The Disease (1985)

I'm very impatient when it comes to listening to music.  I'm far more partial to a fast tempo song, rather than something that is mellow, patient and drawn out.  Thrash metal quickly became a generic favorite of mine as a result of its innate proclivity to move quickly and aggressively.  And the big four of the genre - Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and of course, Anthrax, all lead the way in providing music lovers with that faster-than-light, string thrashing madness that we've come to expect from them.  And they all do it very well.  Metallica and Megadeth are perhaps the most famous of the four.  In fact, without either band, thrash metal probably wouldn't have ever existed.  But the (slightly) lesser known East Coast band Anthrax has made some pretty kick ass records of its own.  My favorite, which I am writing about here, is Spreading The Disease, from 1985.  Fast and angry, as thrash should be, but melodic and utterly pleasurable, and at times climatic and tempered, this album, for me at the very least, is greater than the better received Among The Living from 1987 (but that's still a great album too, I should add).  Why?  "S.S.C./Stand or Fall", "Medusa", "Gung-ho" and "Armed and Dangerous", that's why.  They're some of my favorite Anthrax songs, and they're all concentrated on this album.  But then there's "A.I.R." and "Madhouse" to contend with as well, so you really can't go wrong with this record.  Metal thrashing brilliant! A

Album Review: Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Rust Never Sleeps (1979)

I rarely listen to live albums, or live music for that matter.  For me, I almost always favor the original studio recording over other versions of the same song.  This isn't always the case, however - Chris Rea is well known for re-recording some of his songs, and every version is distinct enough to warrant its own merit, although  I will always prefer the Dancing With Strangers version of "Let's Dance" over the 1988 redo, although the '88 re-recording of "Candles" is better than the original.  But I still take great pleasure in listening to either version.  But of course, I digress.  Live albums have never really resonated with me for a number of reasons.  But one particular "live" album is the exception to this rule.  Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young & Crazy Horse is a fantastic album all around, not just in its capacity as a live album.  First half is a collection of delightful acoustic tracks, whereas side two is full of distorted electric numbers, all of which are good, although in my case the distortion takes some getting used to.  But I did eventually get used to it, and I can fully appreciate the record in its entirety.  Sensational songwriting (as is to be expected from Neil Young) makes this album great, rather than its novelty live/studio hybrid values.  Listen to "Pocahontas", "Sail Away", "My, My, Hey Hey (Out of The Blue) and you'll soon find the repeat button to be your best friend.  And the fun continues on the electric side of things, with "Welfare Mothers" and "Powerfinger" being the picks of the bunch on that front.  A great album for good reasons.  A+

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Album Review: Pink Floyd - The Wall (1979)

Waters-era Pink Floyd comes across as being negative, pessimistic and angry at times.  When Juxtaposed alongside the band's 1987 album A Momentary Lapse of Reason, this quickly becomes obvious.  And the latter album is boldly refreshing and brilliant because of it.  But even when things get overly negative or dark, the Floyd is still not a band to be messed with.  The famous concept album from 1979, The Wall, is a testament to this.  Its rock opera, concept-orientated theme channels this negativity and turns it into a palatable artwork.  It is brilliant from start to finish.  It is the very definition of art.  And it is neither overrated nor underrated - it's legacy is well deserved, and makes for essential listening for anyone who loves their classic rock.  It's at times euphoric, manic, and psychotic, angry, confused.  But in spite of all this, it's a joy to listen to every time.  Oh, and funny too - as Roger Water famously says at the end of "Another Brick Wall Part II", "if ya don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding!"  Damn straight.  And there's that legendary David Gilmour guitar solo on "Comfortably Numb."  "Run Like Hell", "Mother" and "Young Lust" are other favorites.  But don't follow what I like best, listen to it from start to finish and find out what you love about it for yourself.  A-

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Album Review: Bruce Springsteen - Born in the USA (1984)

A few albums come to mind when I'm asked what's the most flawless album you've stumbled across, and the competition for the best can indeed be a very tight race.  But for me there is invariably one that comes out on top every time - Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen.  I can never get bored of this record, I shall forever savor this record, and I will be buried with this record.  I would even argue that I love this album more than life itself, but that would be too easy, given that for me right now Monty Python's claim that "life's a piece of shit" would make for an excellent tattoo design choice.  But then again, I listen to this album and realize, albeit for a fleeting moment, that there are sporadic moments of bliss and carelessness to be had, facilitated of course, by impeccable musicological gems such as this.  This record is a three-month vacation encased in polycarbonate plastic and vaporized aluminum, one that you'll never get tired of revisiting each time the aforementioned shit hits the fan.  Many of Bruce's greats are found on this album - "Born in the USA", "Dancing in the Dark", "I'm On Fire", "Glory Days" and "My Hometown" are the ones you may know best.  But then there's the rest - "Cover Me", "Working On The Highway", "No Surrender" and another four delightful ditties awaiting your discovery.  And they're ALL bloody good.  A+