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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Album Review: Paul Simon - Graceland (1986)

This particular album seems to be one of those records that everybody who knows a thing or ten about popular music will tell you is the cat's ass.  Well, almost everybody.  I'm sure somebody out there think it's vile, overrated, or uninspiring.  I for one ain't one of those people.  I'm one of the multitude of music lovers who think it's the cat's ass.  It really is, regardless of how seemingly cliche and predictable it has become to be giving it any sort of appraisal.  Having appreciated to varying degrees the dulcet acoustic folk-isms of Simon & Garfunkel, I'm not surprised that this album is as good as it is.  Very very good, in fact.  Paul Simon is without a doubt a musical genius and a creative force to be reckoned with, and nor does he need Art Garfunkel to show people he could pen songs as gracefully and as thoughtful as the likes of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.  But Art Garfunkel made Simon & Garfunkel just as Simon did, and I'm grateful for both.  But with Graceland, I'm likewise glad he went out on his own as well.  Making what was then a controversial decision to travel to South Africa to record the album, the end result was an amicable consolidation of indigenous South African genres as well as the staple rock and pop varieties of the eighties.  Audacious and radical, Graceland is unexpected in its brilliance, and predictable in the competence and greatness of its authors.  "Boy In The Bubble", "Graceland", "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes", "Crazy Love, Vol. II", "Under African Skies" and "Homeless" are what you should be playing first.  If you don't own a copy of this album, buy it.  But at least put listening to it on your bucket list.  A+


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Album Review: Whitesnake - Whitesnake/1987 (1987)

It's amazing how one's perceptions of certain albums can potentially change over the years.  Of course, there will always be albums that will never get better.  But on occasion, revisiting what you once considered a dud can come back and bite you in the ass.  When I first heard Whitesnake's eponymous album from 1987 (in some markets, this album is known as 1987) there were the two power ballads, "Here I Go Again" and "Is This Love", which I loved and still love, and then there was the rest of the album, which at the time I thought, "meh, not my thing."  But in a rare change of heart, in hindsight I was mistaken.  Listening to it again I'm thinking, "this is actually a bloody good album."  Its classic hard rock/heavy metal sensibilities have quickly grown on me considerably since the last 10-12 years or so since I last heard the album.  If you loved the two aforementioned power ballads, and you usually don't listen to hard rock or heavy metal, then this album is definitely not for you.  Some of the other songs have of course grown on me - "Give Me All Your Love", "You're Gonna Break My Heart Again", "Bad Boys", and "Straight For The Heart" are great examples to start with.  I'm really glad I chose to review this album.  And I am definitely regretting my initial perceptions of this great album.  But that was 10-12 years ago, of course.  A-


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Album Review: Metallica - Hardwired...to Self Destruct (2016)

What a fantastic return to form Metallica's new album is.  This is easily the best studio album they've done since 1991's Metallica album.  And James' voice is in the best shape that it's been since Garage, Inc.  That is saying something.  Their previous album, Death Magnetic, was undoubtedly a marked improvement over the forgettable St. Anger.  But despite the massive improvements, there were still problems with it.  Hardwired...to Self Destruct is phenomenally good.  It has done well in ironing out the minor shortcomings of its predecessor.  It's phenomenally long as well, and that may prove to be an issue for some.  But here, every song, and I mean EVERY song has something great about it.  Indeed, the hardest part about listening to this album is picking the best songs.  The standard edition of the album contains a total of twelve songs, with an additional 14 on the additional deluxe edition disc, including a improved version of the previously released "Lords of Summer."  "Spit Out the Bone" is my personal favorite here, followed by "Hardwired", "Dream No More", "Atlas Rising" and "Confusion."  But I love the rest of the album as well.  If you love Metallica, buy it!  Now!  It's good enough to make the perpetually flaccid positively tumescent.  And in the immortal words of Master Yoda, "phenomenally good, this album is!"  A


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Album Review: ZZ Top - El Loco (1981)

I loved 1983's Eliminator and 1985's Afterburner. 1990's Recycler is pretty damn good too.  And 1992's Greatest Hits has some interesting (but still inferior) remixed versions of the likes of "Legs" and "La Grange."  Some of their 1990s and 2000s stuff is good too.  But going back a bit before Eliminator really had the band breaking out onto the scene in the 1980s and you'll stumble across 1981's El Loco.  Eccentric, but not dull, and even better on a second play through, you'll instantly recognize it as the precursor to their 1983 classic - it's here where the synths creep in.  And whilst my initial assessment ranked only side one as being brilliant, the second playthrough confirms my mistake.  Side two isn't as good as side one, but it's good enough to warrant neglecting the skip buttons.  Two classic tracks are here "Tube Snake Boogie" and "Pearl Necklace."  In addition to these, "I Wanna Drive You Home", "Ten Foot Pole", "Party on the Patio" and "Don't Tease Me" are the one's that float my boat the most.  "Groovy Little Hippie Pad" is definitely worth checking out too.  El Loco?  More like Brilliante!  A-


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Album Review: White Zombie - Astrocreep: 2000 Songs of Love, Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head (1995)

For a guy who once owned a Rob Zombie shirt, and is an unabashed fan of his music, I should be listening to a lot more of it these days than what I do now.  I must come clean in saying that I haven't been listening to his stuff for a long, long time now, and frankly that just won't do.  After watching Beavis & Butt-head Do America last night, I decided that I have been living under a rock.  Living under a rock and listening to everything BUT Rob Zombie or White Zombie.  Or anything else regarding industrial metal (that reminds me, I MUST write a review of Sehnsucht by Rammstein!) for that matter.  Well, I've made amends by checking out Astrocreep: 2000 Songs of Love, Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head from 1995.  I haven't heard the album in its entirety before, but having recently done so, I am going to say that it is pretty much everything I've come to expect from White Zombie.  Realizing that there is more to the band than songs such as "More Human Than Human" and "Super Charger Heaven", I'm soon reveling in "Electric Head, Part 1 (The Agony" and "Electric Head, Part 2 (The Ecstasy).  And I'm quite attached to "Real Solution #9" and "Grease Paint and Monkey Brains" too.  "Blur The Technicolor" and "Blood, Milk and Sky" I tend to play the least.  Discovering new music is always a joy, but rediscovering something you once loved and forgot is just as satisfying too.  And for some reason, I can't help but think of Frank Zappa when I listen to it again.  A-



Album Review: Heart - Heart (1985)

I'm so pleased I went out of my way today to listen to Heart's eponymous album from 1985.  After taking the liberty of skimming over the review ratings for the album on its Wikipedia page, and of course having listened to the album from start to finish, I've concluded that this album is much better than what some people have said about it.  From my perspective at least, the band's stuff from the 1970s (i.e. "Barracuda") is good, but not as good as their 1980s material, and this record is at the very pinnacle of what I consider to be their 80s prime. "These Dreams" is the number one pick on this album, and it's usually the first track I listen to on their Essential Heart album.  "What About Love?"  "Never", "If Looks Could Kill" and "Nothin' At All" are also on the Essential Heart compilation, although "Never" and "Nothin' At All" have been remixed somewhat, and for the better.  But the original versions here can't be discounted either.  My favorite track outside of "These Dreams" is "All Eyes", and it gets better every time I play it.  Screw what other reviews say about this album, I like it, and I like it a lot, to my surprise.  And when it comes to music, I love surprises.  A-


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Album Review: Queen - A Night At The Opera (1975)

I've been itching to review a Queen album for a while now, and I've always cherished the three Greatest Hits albums that they've released since 1992. And now, I've finally got around to listening to what is supposed to be one of their better albums, A Night At The Opera from 1975.  And I have to say that I'm a tad disappointed with it.  There are some noteworthy and interesting songs on it, such as "Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon", "'39", staples such as "You're My Best Friend" and obviously "Bohemian Rhapsody."  But on the whole it feels tedious and drawn out, which for me reproduces the feeling of being at an Opera very well (hence the title), and perhaps I should've known better by the title.  But of course, this album is not trying to sound like "Keep Yourself Alive" or "Stone Cold Crazy", and slow tempos aren't my forte.  But why "I'm in Love With my Car" reminds me of Pink Floyd I will never fully understand.  I myself would steer well clear of "The Prophet Song" and "Love of my Life" - too tedious for my liking.  I do find myself going back to the wonderful Brian May-led "'39" and "Seaside Rendezvous", though.  That's the Queen I know and like.  B


Album Review: Yngwie Malmsteen - Eclipse (1990)

Given heavy metal's image amongst much of the mainstream populace as being unsophisticated, uncouth neanderthal drivel, many will be surprised, if not shocked, to learn of the existence of a particular sub-genre called neoclassical metal.  Among various circles, the very notion of a metal-classical music synthesis seems absurd, if not unheard of.  And that would be understandable.  But it is important to note that heavy metal is a diverse, technical and complicated style of music worthy of appraisal far beyond socially mediated, (and very unfair) preconceptions of metal fans as being trashy knuckleheads.  People need to give it a chance - hell, as a traditionally synth-pop, new-wave loving 80s kids, I did.  And I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever.  Swedish faster-than-light guitar guru Yngwie Malmsteen demonstrates aptly just how classical music and heavy metal aren't necessary diametrically opposed to the point of complete incompatibility.  Take his 1990 album Eclipse - not the best metal album I've heard, but I love uber-fast shredding, and this record has it in spades.  The solos are a bit lengthy and drag on for a bit, but nonetheless they are impressive in their speed and precision and of course, their classical homages.  And coupled with a competent vocalist, Malmsteen successfully transforms mainstream heavy metal into a more focused art form.  "Making Love", "Judas" and "Eclipse" are great starting points, and everyone who has owned his "best of" albums will know them.  But my shredding favorite on this album is 'Demon Driver."  And don't forget to give "Motherless Child" a go as well.  Not bad, I must say.  Not bad at all.  B


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Album Review: Meat Loaf - Bat Out of Hell (1977)

Gee, they weren't kidding when they said Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell was a great classic album.  And likewise, it's little wonder it has sold like hot cakes.  Plenty of hit songs on this album - "Bat Out of Hell", "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad", "Paradise By the Dashboard Light", "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)" are all well known, but throw in "All Revved Up With No Place to Go" and "For Crying Out Loud" and you've got a brilliant, sometimes maligned, but nonetheless praiseworthy record whose sales figures are frankly well justified.  Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman together made some cracking music, as its 1993 successor Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell will also testify to.  I personally prefer the heavy metal-esque/hard rock oompf factor of B.O.O.H. II, but in truth this breakthrough album is no less pleasant on the ears.  Nothing to complain about here!  A


Album Review: ABBA - Gold: Greatest Hits (1992)

"Greatest Hits" and "Best Of" compilations are by default good, or very good, albums.  Very rarely, however, are they teetering on the edge of flawlessness.  Sometimes, they're all you need from a band or artist, either because they contain every good song on offer, or they contain all of the essential hits.  The phenomenally successful Gold: Greatest Hits by ABBA is of the former.  Well, sort of.  "Fernando" I don't like and have never liked, and thus would rather see the likes of "Super Trouper" or "Honey, Honey" on here instead. But everything else that is brilliant is on here, 17 classic gems from Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid ("Rock Me" isn't too hot either, in my opinion).  Bookended by "Dancing Queen" and "Waterloo", and featuring every big hit from "Knowing Me, Knowing You" to "S.O.S", you'll never go wrong buying this record, what with 30 million or so albums being sold to date.  In short, Bjorn and Benny are pop songwriting geniuses, and this record serves to verify that fact.  A+