The Rolling Stones – Dirty Work

So yesterday’s entry was a little phoned-in, I feel. I knew this was going to happen, because I knew taking on this project that I wasn’t always going to give 100% in my writing, no matter how much I love the album (and I do love that album). Today, I am feeling not any more journalistic, so I decided on a different approach. I put my Zune on shuffle and the first album it came across that piqued my interest, without actually reading the songs as they came by, would be the album I would listen to. I know for a fact that it would happen soon, because I now have over 9300 songs on the Zune and a total of 7200 plays in total. Anyway, as soon as I got to a very strange but compelling song indeed, I whipped the player out of my pocket and saw this:

Keith am I high on trillion-dollar heroin or are we all dressed in delicious candy, Keith? Keith? .... Keith?

Wow.

So today, using only Wikipedia’s citation-needed-packed entry on this album for fact-checking, I am going to be giving a first time run playthrough on this album.

Track one: One Hit (To The Body)

Ok, this track isn’t so bad so far, we’ve got sloppy electric guitars, kind of boring drums with an emphasis on the irregular bass hit (I guess the drums are punching you in the body). The guitar was apparently done by Jimmy Page, so uhh nice job there, I guess he needed someone to play guitars for at this point in the 80’s. You can tell just from the cover and from the way the vocals are reverbed that this is definitely 1986, and imagine this, the album was a bit of a flop!

Holy moley, the vocals just started. This sounds less like the soulful, bad-boy Mick Jagger that sang his heart out in 1969 on the wonderful Let It Bleed. It actually sounds like he didn’t have a microphone, and just screamed all his vocals right into the needle while the records were being scratched. Citation is needed on this, but Wikipedia says it’s a bit rough.

I’d tell you what this song is about, but my only synopsis so far is that it’s about Mick being punched in the body and trying to sing about it whilst vomiting. Nice guitar solos, though.

Track two: Fight

Whoah, as soon as the beat turns on you can tell that this is vile 80’s music. Somehow, the vocals have gotten even worse, too, as if Mick was singing through an oscillating fan. The chord progression is very typical bluesy-rock with that glitzy 80’s reverbed drum and flaccid bass tone. It’s not really “bad”, it just sounds more “contrived” (that means “bad”), as if they’re trying to quickly recreate their popular sound at gunpoint or something. Thankfully it’s only 3 minutes.

Track Three: Harlem Shuffle

This is apparently the first single off the album, and is a cover that Keith Richards discovered, presumably while travelling in outer space. It’s a single, all right, since the only discernable part of the song is where they’re like “Do the harlem shuffle!” The other parts are a mess of chord changes and uninteresting bits that really don’t bother capturing the imagination or anything. I do like the presence of a really deep, almost timpani-sounding drum on the upbeats, but that is not enough to save a song, particularly one that hit #5 on the charts. Why couldn’t Michael Jackson have taken away all the rights to THIS music?

Track Four: Hold Back

Oh no here are those 80’s drums again, only this time they’ve been mixed all the way to the front, so that machinery-sounding snare drum hits you right between the eyes. You may wish for the rest of the band to save you from this oppressive beat, but the guitars are too busy fighting with each other, and Mick’s voice has raised pitch to where it sounds like he’s been transformed by voodoo to a 3 foot tall Tom Waits. I swear to you he isn’t singing in English anymore, unless it’s like homeless people English.

Track Five: Too Rude

Well at least this a change. The drums are being played somewhere in the echo of the Grand Canyon, and there’s some kind of reggae thing going on with the bass. The vocals are not rough at all, just kind of weird. It’s a strange track, everything has so much reverb on it you’d think you were hearing it from inside an empty tank.

Track Six: Winning Ugly

Well we’re opening with a bassline, which is promising. WHOAH nevermind, this track has those 80’s good-feeling-synthy strings, you know the ones. It’s the kind of sound that makes you think about wearing clothes like the ones in that image above. Oh wow, those keyboards are torture. Mick is back to singing like he’s gargling battery acid. This song doesn’t stray very far from that one chord they’ve got going, until about 3 minutes in when the thing goes a little nuts with the random chord changes, and then we hit a kind of “standard guitar solo no. 2” and back to where we were. Holy man is this track still going? How long has it been… only 4 minutes? Wow, we’ve only got like a minute left, thankfully.

Track Seven: Back To Zero

Ha ha ha so now we’ve got funk and clavichord along with undistorted funk guitar and a standard non-funk beat. I must have gotten used to the vocals by now, because I barely even noticed that Mick Jagger sounds like he’s singing in some kind of shower-bathtub thing. There is this crescendo about 2 1/2 minutes in that makes no musical sense except that the instruments are playing seemingly random notes as Mick builds up to a WOOOO that reminds me much of Michael Jackson. I’m so glad I wasn’t into rock music in 1986, this is not my kind of music, clearly.

Track Eight: Dirty Work

All right, the title track! It’s, well, still 80’s-sounding, but it’s got that kind of fast-paced 80’s sound that is not so bad. The guitars are all kind of plastic-sounding, and the beat is again being played in the middle of Death Valley so by the time the echoes catch up you are already listening to another song. Mick might be getting tired of singing in general by this time, so he’s more or less going “BEH BEH BO GRRRR BETTY” by now, with about as much gargle as you can muster. Strangely enough, however, eventually some perfectly ungargly vocals come in and start talking some jittery reverb nonsense about 3 minutes in and then a WOOOOO again and then the “regular” vocals come back in.

Track Nine: Had It With You

Ok here’s the song my shuffle picked that intrigued me so. The guitar tone is so strange, it almost sounds like a distorted keyboard, but it isn’t. The drums are also free of reverb, which is a welcome “thank you Jesus” kind of moment I’ll tell you. The vocals are still hopeless, but now we’ve got harmonica and a saxophone to kind of distract from it. Speaking of, though the “I Had It With You” message might be Mick talking about Keith Richards, since they were apparently fighting a lot at this point (citation needed), but really this song reflects my true feelings about this album, and there are two more tracks to go! JOY!

Track Ten: Sleep Tonight

Some wonderful little cheesy piano comes in to welcome this track in, and some people going “woo” in the background and impersonating cats. Kind of strange, but then the over-reverbed drums come in and make you think this is going to be a Celine Dion track. Sounds like Keith Richards is singing this one, presumably in a heroin-induced stupor, as he does that kind of Bob Dylan-esque drone in his singing. Also the instruments try to do interesting weird things with the timing, but it all sounds really messy, like Charlie Watts is trying to hit a mouse that landed on his drums while playing, and the rest of the band just kind of follows along. I can’t believe this song is 5 minutes long, I ran out of things to say about it like 2 minutes ago. It definitely suffers from “too many damn choruses” syndrome like so many songs from the 80’s onward.

Track Eleven: Key To The Highway

The best song on the album! It’s just a piano playing a ragtime blues number for 34 seconds. Apparenly this was a tribute to their keyboardist/pianist Ian Stewart, who had died just after this album was issued. Man, what a way to go. Still, the man had a great legacy with the Stones, and I’m sure his tickling of the ivories had bought the band many pounds of fresh cut long grain heroin with which their minds were turned into the kind of pulp that would allow an album like this to happen. So, while I appreciate the sentiment in dedicating the final track to Ian Stewart’s legacy, a much better favor would have been done by taking his parts out of the album entirely.

Oh I’m just being mean. This wasn’t a very good album, but was not as “80’s-tastic” as others I’ve heard, but given that this is the same band that gave us Let It Bleed, Aftermath, and so many other great albums, it really begs the question, why do we consider it a good thing that the Stones have endured for so many decades?

 

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Buddy Guy – Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues

I mentioned in my previous entry about the Blues, the three bluesmen I am most fond of are Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King. Well, if I were to recommend any Buddy Guy album to someone that hasn’t heard him or even good electric blues before, this is the first album that comes to mind, the aptly named Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues:

Buddy Guy will expand your edition, if you know what I mean. eh heh heh heh

Now, even among the staunchiest of blues fans that can be found on Wikipedia, Buddy Guy doesn’t really have a specific “area” with his blues. If you didn’t know, there are different styles of blues that come from different areas, Texas, Chicago, Delta, Piedmont, etc., and Buddy’s has been most related to Chicago, since that’s where he got his start, but there’s definitely some Texas and Delta in there too. Basically, the sound of this album at most of his recent material is characterized by really loud, singing electric guitar, slap/funk bass, a slow, driving beat, and lots of horns and backup singers to make a huge amount of sound. This is basically the Blues at its most bombastic, and there is no better showman to lead such a sound than Buddy Guy. The guy is pretty much a being of pure energy, and it’s related in his stage presence, his searing hot solos, and his energetic vocals. An all around showman!

From the guitar intro bringing in the first hits of the album’s title track, you can just feel the energy. The lyrics, which occur after a few bars, are typically blues:

You’re damn right I got the Blues
From my head down to my shoes
You’re damn right I got the Blues
From my head down to my shoes
I can’t win
‘Cause I don’t have a thing to lose

That’s pretty much the standard Blues method of song-writing. First, set up a premise (usually the song’s title), rhyme, repeat, make a stinger line, repeat all, solo. It’s no secret that Blues are repetitive, they are meant to be, but it’s what is done within that formula that makes one song different from the next. Buddy Guy, however, opted in this album to go for totally different styles on nearly every track.

The song “Where Is The Next One Coming From”, is a down-and-out song about alcoholism and, well, other things one writes the Blues about. It’s a slow-beat with about as much sound contained in every beat as you can fit, whether from an organ, or the horns, or the backup singers, while a guitar wails the whole time. It’s almost too much Blues, but don’t worry, you’ll make it through all right.

The next song is probably my favorite Buddy Guy song, simply for the vocal delivery. It’s called “Five Long Years” and basically Buddy pinches the notes so high, it almost takes on a James Brown quality in parts, until he gets to the “stinger” where it takes on a whole different characteristic that is unique unto itself. Unfortunately, I can’t describe with any amount of clarity what is going on with this song, fortunately that’s what Youtube is for. This song is neatly repeated in its entirety, making it 8 minutes, which kind of unique even among blues songs. Another thing of note is the excellent piano work going on in the background.

The next song, a cover, is one of Buddy’s most popular songs, “Mustang Sally”. I can’t even remember who wrote the thing, but it’s one of those songs I think everyone has heard, and in fact it is one of the most popular songs for Blues guys to cover. Interestingly enough, I am not a big fan of the song, and neither is John Lee Hooker, just so you know.

Next up is a quite slow number called “There Is Something On Your Mind”, where each chord and vocal note is held for far too long, I guess to build suspense. One of Buddy Guy’s characteristics with his songs is to change up some elements of the timing to make his songs sound different, and indeed that is present in this song. His vocal delivery is something like a more subdued version of “Five Long Years“, where he kind of goes all over the place with the notes. All in all, a good song, but possibly tiring if it weren’t only 4 1/2 minutes long, and things are about to take a turn for the strange anyway, so delight in the status quo while you can!

“Early In The Morning” is one of the strangest blues songs I have ever heard. Why is that? Because it’s in 3/3 time, and the whole thing sounds incredibly rushed, like everyone is just barely making it to the next bar on time. A rushed Blues songs almost seems like a cardinal sin, and indeed I will leave that up to you whether this song works or not. Personally, I like it, except it might be a little too disconcerting if I listened to it “early in the morning”. Get it?! Also, in case you are wondering if Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck both play guitar on this track, the answer is yes!

One of my favorite methods for writing a blues song is the use of puns and exaggeration, and indeed both are present for the next song:

I’m catching hell out here
People and you know, I know it ain’t right
I say, I’m catching hell out here
And people you know, I know it ain’t right|
Cause I’m so broke, I’m so broke right now
That I can’t even spend the night

I love that! Of course, not every song has to be a setup to a joke, unless you’re Albert Collins (kidding), but certainly it’s a refreshing return to normalcy after the previous song and its waltziness.

The next song is actually a little more jazzy than the rest, as it incorporates brushes on snare drums and jazzy piano. It’s also immensly slow, a bit slower than “There Is Something On Your Mind”. It’s a little more serious than the other songs as well, as “Black Night” seems to be more about depression than anything. It’s a nice and mellow tune though, so you may enjoy it.

Not to leave the album hanging on a low note, however, the next song brings it all the way up with a number called “Let Me Love You Baby”, which was popularly covered by one of Buddy’s proteges, one Stevie Ray Vaughan. Actually, now that I think about it, it’s hard to tell which one came up with the song, because the solo sounds like it could have been done by either artist. Ah well such is the way with the Blues, it practically writes itself.

Speaking of Stevie Ray Vaughan, the final track on Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues is “Rememberin’ Stevie”, which is a tribute track wherein Buddy plays an instrumental song in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughan, imitating many of the recently-deceased guitarist’s classic riffs. It’s quite a noble tribute, and a fine way to end an excellent electric Blues album. The “extended edition” that I have has two more tracks in it, but in my own classic predictable fashion, I’m not going to mention them. Good night!

They Might Be Giants – Flood

Oftentimes, it’s not easy to call just one album an artist’s best, especially an artist as prolific as They Might Be Giants, it’s like trying to decide between Beatles’ albums. Having said that, of the many contenders for “best album”, Flood is the one I would say is the most likely for people who are lofty enough about music  to decide on. That’s probably the most awkward “it is but it isn’t” paragraph I’ve ever written.

Don't go counterclockwise otherwise you will spell DOOLF, and then you will sound like an idiot.

This is the penultimate album in the band’s “electronic” period, that is to say, the period where the bass and drums are fake and nearly everything is played by the Johns, save for some guest musicians I am far too lazy to cite. Despite that, Flood is one of the most musically dense albums the band has ever put out, there is just all kinds of pop magic happening here. In fact, the whole album, despite the minimal amount of musicians involved, sounds quite full and epic, and this is evident from the first track, which is nothing more than a “Theme From Flood”:

Why is the world in love again?
Why are we marching hand-in-hand?
Why are the ocean levels rising up?
It’s a brand new record, for 1990
They Might Be Giants’ brand new album Flood

I strongly suspect John Linnell was in charge of the idea of having a “Theme” to the album, since he has done the same for his own solo work. Either way, the thing is sung by many people, which might be a clever ironic statement since the album is just 2 guys. Either way, it’s charming and only 27 seconds long.

The next song is possibly the band’s most popular, and certain not far away from being their best, “Birdhouse In Your Soul” opens up with a trumpet, organ, bass and drum building to a bit of a complicated crescendo as Linnell (who nearly always sings the first song on any They Might Be Giants album) sings the following:

I’m your only friend, I’m not your only friend
But I’m your little glowing friend
But really I’m not actually your friend
But I am

And then, with “Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch who watches over you”, he proceeds to sing a very lovely metaphor for friendship from the perspective of a blue canary night light. The melody is unlike any I have heard, and despite the plodding beat, has a aura of delicacy and beauty about it. Maybe not, the bridge contains some dissonant organ and trumpet noise that kind of BLATS loudly at you, so like the song’s opening above, this is kind of a conflicting, contradicting song. The mystery behind the lyrics and even the melody is something that has always interested me, so I have never stopped loving this song. When they do it live it has a dual lead guitar solo, which is always nice.

The next song is TMBG’s twist on a country theme and is sung by John Flansburgh, the lefty. It’s called “Lucky Ball & Chain” and the simple 3 chord wonder of it is broken up frequently by some diminished, disasterous sounding chords, particularly one after the second chorus which is backed up with an oppressive bass sax note and some crazy keyboards. Also, after the choruses, are some kind of pause and then random noise (the first sounds a bit like two cowbells clanging together, the second is a gun-shot). Nerds have analyzed endlessly about what these random noises mean, and that sort of thinking can drive someone crazy and very fat. It’s a gun-shot because there should be a gun-shot there. The End.

The song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople) is a song very well known by people over the age of 50, since it was a big hit by The Four Lads back in ’53. My grandmother loved the version They Might Be Giants play, which incorporates some eastern European tones and instruments, including finger-bells. The terrible synth bass of Lincoln makes a return for this album, but since the rest of the album is mixed much louder, the bass is only really “present” in this track and “Your Racist Friend”, a song about just that.

The next song is a wonderful and also lyrically abstract number called “Dead”. The instrumentation is simply Linnell playing a very interesting piano part, kind of what an 80 year old lady would play to accompany a church hymn or something. Either way, both Johns sing the song and it’s a very good song about having your head chopped off in a grocery store and then being reincarnated as a bag of groceries before you ever got to apologize to your brother for making him your slave at age 8. Yes.

Next is the afore-mentioned “Your Racist Friend”, which blends a nice hard-rock guitar and super-loud synth bass set all the way to “slap”. The lyrics are very straight-forward, which sounds weird coming from the Johns. Either way, after a nice thrashy guitar solo by John F., the song goes into a wonderful tropical sound at which the Johns used to stage a conga line to form at their shows, you know, before people ruined it by either moshing or standing still at rock shows.

Up next is a very special song indeed. It’s “Particle Man” and I can’t overstate its importance on how I view music and the possibilities contained within. It was used to make a video from the show Tiny Toons Adventures, which is a terrible show that I liked only when I was young/stupid enough to not care. Either way, both “Particle Man” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” were used in the show, with cartoon vignettes representing the former in a completely literal way. It’s about the cartoon’s duck character, Plucky, as a wrestler, fighting all these ideas as if they were wreslters. Triangle Man is a fat, androgynous character, Universe Man is really, really big, and he literally has a watch with a minute hand, millenium hand, and an aeon hand, all of which come out to slap Plucky around since it’s an entirely violent show. Person Man looks a whole lot like a character from an old Bugs Bunny cartoon, but many of the characters from that cartoon were re-used in Tiny Toons.

Anyway, we’ve next got one of the more upbeat songs about suicide that I’ve ever heard. “Twisting” kind of lays it out there about a girl who has left a guy, and according to the singer, the guy’s inner monologue (one can guess) says “She wants to see you slowly twisting in the wind”, but you could totally see yourself doing The Twist to this song.

I am so used to hearing this album on cassette tape that I really want to say “on the end of Side A is a song called We Want A Rock”. I love this song not because it’s got a great accordion-driven melody, or because it has some very clever lyrics. No, I love this song because it’s called “We Want A Rock” which is an obvious play on the Twisted Sister tune “We Wanna Rock”.

Next, on the top of Side B, we’ve got “Someone Keeps Moving My Chair”, a song about someone called Mr. Horrible who is antagonized at every turn by The Ugliness Men while his only worldly concern is the fact that someone keeps moving his chair. The words are the best on the album. Do I have anything else to explain?

The next song, “Hearing Aid”, is kind of an exploration into how many unusual sounds the Giants can put in their music. The answer is “lots” because this song just kind of makes no earthly sense at all. It’s quite wonderful for that reason, I would dare say this song probably belongs on their debut album, it’s so abstract.

The next song is a winner of brevity, as it’s called “Minimum Wage” and the only words sung are “Minimum Waaaage YEE HAW *whip crack*” and the song continues to play a japanese-inspired theme. That about says it, really.

I challenge any singer worth his salt to keep up with the Johns on “Letterbox”, as it is sung so incredibly fast that I don’t even know if the guys themselves can sing it live. I guess I’ll have to catch one of their upcoming shows where they plan on doing the entire Flood album live (they have done this at least twice in the past).

Speaking of tough singing, John Linnell sings in Johnny Cash register (not hard for Mr. L, he’s got quite a deep voice for a non-smoker) for the song “Whistling In The Dark”, which contains, as its main percussive instrument, a marching band bass drum played by John Flansburgh. The lyrics are also wonderful in this song:

A woman came up to me and said I’d like to poison your mind
With wrong ideas that appeal to you, though I am not unkind
She looked at me, I looked at something written across her scalp
And these are the words that it faintly said as I tried to call for help

This song may or may not be the direct inspiration for the first song I ever wrote, “The Thing”. We’ll leave that up to whoever is going to write my novel when I die.

The background vocals to “Hot Cha” are also incredibly low, but I think they might be supplied by John F., it’s hard to tell when the Johns sing in tandem, since they are similiar sounding on most recordings. The song’s got a great swing beat and some vibraphone, as well as a great piano break at one point. I just love this song for all kinds of reasons.

Then we’ve got a nice folk song called “Women & Men”, which is constructed out of some kind of abstract idea that the Johns don’t bother to explain explicitly, thus the entire song is a mystery to all the women and men who bring with them messages of love.

Speaking of love, the next song “Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love” is one of the song upon which detractors of the band have based their accusations that the Johns are gay, mostly for the line:

John I’ve been bad, and they’re coming after me
Done someone wrong, and I fear that it was me
Sapphire bullets of pure love

Palpable nonsense, the song’s clearly about ?????

Coming in at number 18 (yes, there are 19 songs on this album) is a song actually called “They Might Be Giants”, which I guess was meant to be the Giants theme, though it’s hardly ever played at concert (except in the afore-mentioned “live Flood” sets). The best part of this song is the cut-up audio of some distinguished guy who is probably reading a children’s book being made to say:

Make the merry-go-round go faster
So that everyone needs to hang on tighter
Just to keep from being thrown to the wolves

That line of thinking makes me so happy.

The final song of the day is “Road Movie To Berlin”, which again doesn’t make much sense until you sit and think about it forever and then post your thoughts on the internet about it. I will do no such thing and will only say that there’s a cha-cha breakdown in the song that is both mind-numbingly irritating and irrepressably cool, which just might represent the band on the whole for some people.

With that, we’ve got the arguably best album the band has put out, although in my own mind, it would soon be ousted by every album that has come out since, but I have the same thinking about Radiohead that I have about They Might Be Giants, my favorite is always the most recent album.

Roy Orbison – Sings Lonely And Blue

Ahh, Roy Orbison, a name that surely everyone who has heard of music would be familiar with, a legend in his own time, a man for whom The Beatles were an opening act. I mentioned in a much earlier article that the grandpa in my head forced me to go out and purchase all three of the “Monument” reissued albums he put out. Indeed, I did, and they are all three fantastic albums. I decided to tackle them in chronological order, so today we have the first “Monument” album, Sings Lonely And Blue:

Dad-blame it where IS that drinking glass?

Now, I am no expert on anything, but the liner notes explained to me that, in an era of “rock n’ roll” where it was customary to have backup singers do some sort of “Doo wop” kind of background thing, Roy Orbison took it to the next level, and then the level after that. From the first track, the now-infamous “Only The Lonely”, the backup singers have practically more air-time than the star himself, and not only that, but the range of background “words” they sing are unlike most of the other recordings of this time.

The reason for that is Roy’s tendency to go for an “orchestral” sound to his recordings. It really suited him too, much like the stripped-down sound suited Johnny Cash (who was neighbors with Roy for years and the two were best of friends). Basically, the more other music there was going on in the background, the more impressively Roy’s soaring tenor would rise above it and he’d hit some impossible note, and he often ended his songs (literally “on a high note”, I guess) this way.

The theme of “Lonely and Blue” is really driven home with this album, oftentimes on a ridiculous scale. I may need to analyze this further, but I am fairly certain that not a song goes by on this rekkid that doesn’t contain the words “Lonely”, “Blue”, or “Cry” in there somewhere. Again, as the liner notes have explained, Roy Orbison was never one to throw away a perfectly good recipe, so most of his songs deal with the same issues, but in a different way and with some different vocal or instrument hook to keep you locked right in. In a way, it’s perfect for someone who listens to music for heartbreak therapy, because it’s good enough to not be cheesy, and rockin’ enough to not be completely depressing.

“Only The Lonely” is kind of a standard, so I shall skip a detailed explanation of it and go on to “Bye Bye Love”. Though “Only The Lonely” does a good job of presenting an idea of loneliness and love lost, it’s “Bye Bye Love” that really slams you headfirst into it, the lyrics are simple but to the point:

Bye bye Love, Bye bye happiness
Hello, loneliness
I think I’m gonna cry
Bye bye, my Love, goodbye

It’s such a pretty melody though, it’s hard to really focus on the extremely dour message contained within. Personally, I think that’s the mark of “good” rock music.

And you may think I was kidding about “Crying” being an integral part of the lyrical formula, but the next song is indeed called “Cry”, where, after two songs of Roy singing about crying, he’s now recommending YOU cry as well! The song is actually pretty positive, it’s just a little disconcerting at first just how much he goes on about crying.

The next song, fortunately, does not contain the word “cry”. It’s a song called “Blue Avenue”, and features some excellent “character” violins. I am not sure if there’s an official name, but I tend to say an instrument is playing a “character” part when it sounds like it’s more representing something happening in the story of the song (such as plucked violin strings representing walking).

“I Can’t Stop Loving You” is a perfect song for what it is. It’s about not being able to let someone go, and hopelessly clinging on to that idea. It has a line that I am quite fond of as well:

They say that time heals a broken heart
But time has stood still since we’ve been apart

Just try and tell me that’s not proper songwriting right there.

The background vocals I was explaining earlier really start to come in full swing with “Come Back To Me (My Love)”, a song about breaking up with a 16 year old (!!!) You know when you hear “Bum Bum Bum” in the background that you’re now in the early 60’s.

“Blue Angel” is certainly the most ridiculous of all background vocal songs, it basically goes “Cha la la… Doo bee waa… Wum bum bum… yip yip fum.” And repeat. For this reason, I can not help but love this song. This song also contains all three of the key words “Lonely”, “Blue”, and “Cry”, and some amazing vocal work, I mean comparatively.

We then come to the song that reportedly gave Roy the idea to go for an orchestral sound: “Raindrops”. There is a “character” part played by some kind of tuned percussion like a vibraphone or glockenspiel or xylophone or something, but it sounds like tiny bells and it plays a descending scale that sounds like raindrops hitting a window, accompanied by a plucked violin. Really, despite the lyrics being pretty good on this one, the feature is the instrumental chiming for sure.

The next song is my favorite on the album, and not because Johnny Cash covered it on his (to date) final album, no no. It’s just a great song called “(I’d Be) A Legend In My Time”. The tune is great, but the lyrics are incredible:

If heartaches brought fame, in love’s crazy game
I’d be a legend in my time
If they gave gold statuettes for tears and regrets
I’d be a legend in my time

But they don’t give awards and there’s no praise or fame
For a heart that’s been broken over love that’s in vain

I just can’t help but dig that. The next song brings back the background vocals for a round of “Dum Dee Dum Dee Dum Boo Yeah Yeah Oooooh I’m Hurtin” for the song “I’m Hurtin'”. There doesn’t seem to be much to this song right until the middle of the song, where an impressive bridge showcases Roy’s own vocals (not to be outdone by the busy backup section). There is a second bridge after another chorus, and his voice is even stronger in that one. All I have to say to that is “Dum Dee Dum Dee Dum Boo Yeah Yeah Woooah Woooah Wooah Woooah”

The next song is great too, it’s called “Twenty-Two Days”, and not only is it a numerical title (I love those), but it is a tribute to just how exaggerated you can be with these songs:

Oh it’s been twenty-two lonely blue
Days without a word from you-ooh-ooh-ooh
And forty-four million more
Tears I’ve cried since you walked through that door

that is an average of 2 million tears every single day! Is that even possible?

I have to say that I don’t really understand the album’s final song, “I’ll Say It’s My Fault”. It’s about breaking up with a girl and offering to absorb all the blame if anyone asks him what happened. I don’t really know why you would do this unless you’re a royal wimp, or if you’re just really, really into your ex-girlfriend. Either way, it’s a pretty song, just kind of wussy, even for Roy Orbison!

With that, the song’s bonus tracks play for I have a special re-issue CD, but I won’t talk about those because time has run out for today’s writeup. I’ve been without sleep now for 34 hours, time to hit the pillows!

Fair – The Best Worst-Case Scenario

I was told yesterday that, for recompense for my entry about the awful Shaded Red album, I should “review” a much better band today. Well I had been meaning to give this up-and-coming band a good writeup, so in the interest of fairness, let’s talk about Fair!

This, my friends, is a Grammy award-nominated album cover. I'm serious.

Some of yous may remember my post about Poor Old Lu, and how much I love that band (especially since they’re a good Christian band). Well, half of Poor Old Lu, after some other adventures that I will surely discuss later, went on to make up half of Fair. Specifically, Lu guitarist Aaron Sprinkle and bassist Nick Barber reprise their roles, only this time Aaron is also the lead singer and songwriter.

So how is Aaron Sprinkle at songwriting? He’s awesome, actually, one of my heroes, at least. There actually are two different kinds of Aaron Sprinkle songs, the ones he writes as a singer/songwriter (in which capacity he has put out many albums I will talk about later), and the ones he writes as a band leader. The difference is that his singer/songwriter stuff is more straightforward and emotional, and his band stuff is a little more abstract and vague. Either way, the imagery he uses is very real-world stuff, so it’s almost like country music in a way (not to mention he is no stranger to the lap steel in his songs on either project).

The band’s debut (and only thus far) album starts out, like so many weeks, with “Monday”, a terrific opening song if ever I heard one. Though I have mentioned before that I enjoy albums that drop you in to the action right away, the same can be said about albums that build up to the party, as long as it doesn’t take over a few minutes, or the entire song to do so (I’m looking at you, U2). The first thought I had, upon hearing the entire band together, was how remarkably clean everything sounds. It’s also a very tight sound, meaning everything plays a note precisely when the beat hits, which is certainly pleasing. It’s kind of the opposite of the Jimi Hendrix sound, which is everyone playing something awesome and sort of different at roughly the same time, but the rocking effect is still there for everyone. The only problem with the Fair side of precision is that it becomes very hard to improvise or stray away from the established melody, but such is pop.

Even if there is not much room for improvisation, tracks like “The Attic” make up for it with very interesting guitar effects, very clever drumming, and a gorgeous vocal melody. I hesitate to say that this is one of my favorite songs on the album, because this is  a rare instance where I consider each song to be uniquely amazing, so I’ll just say this song might become YOUR favorite.

“Carelessness” is a song that first appeared as a presell-bonus EP bonus thingy thing that indie bands do sometimes, so I had heard it about a hundred times before the album proper. It is… so very good. It starts with Aaron’s smooth voice (he and I share the same range of comfort for singing so I always love to sing along to his stuff) laid over the top of a warm e-piano chord progression, after which all the instruments join in a beat that is unusual enough to be interesting, but not far-fetched enough to be inaccessible. Eek, journalist speak there, I am moving on.

The song “The Dumbfound Game”, after a guitar/drum rifftacular intro, is really kind of an exercise of how often can you change a song up without it getting weird. The answer is 3, by the way, just to let you know.

We then come, appropriately enough, to the slow ballad of the album, introduced by acoustic guitars and real piano. In fact, now that I think about it, most of the songs on this album have a definite “introduction” with sparse instruments playing in the melody. Oh well, it’s not obvious enough that the album seems predictable, especially toward the end. However, “Pause” has a bit of a ring of familiarity to it, except it kind of turns around the very blues-inspired “I blame you” sort of message by making the chorus out of the line “I don’t blame you this time”. It’s good to see some positivity coming out of pop music once in a while!

“Grab Your Coat” is very clearly a “middle-of-the-album” kind of intermission song. It’s short, contains nothing but Aaron’s singing/guitaring (possibly the guitaring of their very capable rhythm guitarist Erick Newbill), and a keyboard. Aaron seems fond of placing these kinds of songs in the middle of his “band” albums, and it tends to work, there’s just not much else to say about it.

“Bide My Crime” is another good song that contains some very pleasurable guitar tones. In fact, I had a conversation with a recently-signed musician named Corey Crowder who was produced by Aaron for his album (since his label is Tooth & Nail and Aaron is a producer there), and he explained to me that everything in Aaron’s studio is vintage and extremely nice. The dude does not mess around, clearly!

At the point “Get You Out Alive” starts (with a drumming intro), you may start to feel the album chugging a bit. I mean, the whole thing’s nice but there haven’t been any real dramatic changes in the song structure. It’s really too bad, as well, because “Get You Out Alive” is a very good song (I enjoy the light touch of piano especially), and so is the next track, “Cut Down Sideways”, and even the next track, “Confidently Dreaming”, but I guess it’s the similarities in structure, timing (most of the songs can be neatly timed at 4:30, 5:30, or 6 minutes), and overall feel give the album a brilliant amount of cohesion, but only if you’re already digging the sound.

If, by this time, you’re not digging the sound anymore, you’re in luck! The final two songs are, in my opinion, the overall best ones. Firstly, we have “Blurry Eyed”, which is a melancholy song presumably about someone in an army, pleading that “it’s not a mistake”, and who knows what it’s really about, but that’s my interpretation. On top of the moody guitar chords, there is some beautiful cello work and some nice harmony work done by Aaron’s brother, former Poor Old Lu drummer Jesse Sprinkle. In fact, Jesse’s solo work often contains cello, so it’s almost like Jesse brought a lot of his own sound with him for this track. Either way, it’s not to be missed!

Even better than that, though, is the album’s finale. It’s called “Unglued” and it’s brilliant. For one, it has no intro, it’s one of the few songs on the album that just drops you right into an off-kilter drum beat and powerful guitar arpeggio (that means lots o’ guitar notes). The vocal melody, while repetitive, is intoxicating, and the inclusion of really pretty female backup vocals (which appear earlier in the album but not as prettily) make this song easily a winner. I uhh, can’t promise you’ll make sense of the lyrics, but it’s more about imagery than a direct point, so I can forgive.

So there you have it, a clean, bright, tonally excellent album that may drag a bit in places, but ends really strong and by the time it ends, you should be feeling pretty good. It definitely deserved more than a nomination for Best Album Art at the Grammy’s, but even the fact that a Christian label artist got nominated for a non-Christian award is not too shabby.

One thing to note as well, if you enjoyed The Pale Pacific, you should definitely check out this band. They sometimes gig together in the magical city of Seattle, a place I wish to go to someday. Well, until next time!

Shaded Red – Shaded Red

Today’s album is a bit of a request, rather, a half-hearted suggestion by my sister who knows how much I enjoy making fun of bad Christian bands. So, while I wait for The Complete Hank Williams to download into my Zune, let’s take a trip back to a similar past, all the way back…

The album cover is made of a very pleasant psuedo-cardboard, much like the music contained within.

…to the year 1997.

It was a great year for Christian rock, to be honest, albums I honestly love and will probably talk about all seem to have come out on this year, and would continue to come out until the entire genre kind of dried out and became utterly useless after Y2K (an unwritten and forgotten casualty, I guess).

Shaded Red is bad, but for only one reason: the lyrics. I don’t normally fault bands for lyrics, in fact often if the music is good enough, I will drop any criticism of the lyrics in the spirit of positive writing. Problem is, the music isn’t good enough to forgive Shaded Red’s songwriting. It’s passable, for certain, even catchy, and the guys know how to play them some instruments, but, well, let’s talk about these lyrics.

For one, the song titles are as follows:

  1. Caught
  2. Collide
  3. Let It Out
  4. Faker
  5. Found Someone
  6. Something
  7. Falling For You
  8. Dreamin
  9. Fear Not
  10. Far Away
  11. Sunk
  12. Use Me

I’ve seen more imagination in a Collective Soul album, for crying out loud. I mean, one of the songs is called “Something“. All right, so alternative rocks band are known for unimaginative, stale, usually mono-syllabic titles. By the same token, the new alternative rock, “indie rock”, uses abstract volumes of meaningless drivel with which to title their songs, and depending on how easily irritated you are by acts of mindless conformity, both methods may annoy you.

The first song, “Caught“, isn’t so bad, just generic. The whole groove is fairly standard but still there, so you may be feeling optimistic about the whole thing. Then we have “Collide“, which is also catchy, but well, it’s got a chorus:

Run away, run away from here
You gotta run away
Run away, run away from here
You feel you need to run away from me

You better believe this chorus repeats nigh endlessly. You’d think the verses would have to be pretty good to justify a chorus of about 4 words:

Every time I close my eyes, I see you
Walkin’ away from me
Walkin’ away from us
Walkin’ away from love

That is seriously the entirety of the second verse. The next song is actually my favorite on the album, “Let It Out“, as it has a great alternative head-bobbing sound to it kind of like Pearl Jam Lite, and it too has a catchy chorus:

Let it out (let it out), let it out, let it out
Let it out, hey hey
Let it out (let it out), say let it out, let it out
Let it out, yeah
Hey hey yeah yeah

I love this band, but the best is yet to come.

The next song, “Faker“, is well, about a faker… who needs God. It’s not particularly catchy, but when the message is that strong, you don’t need much more than an acoustic guitar really.

The best song is probably “Found Someone“, not only for the generic chorus:

All night, all day
I feel your touch
I feel your love
It’s your love that makes it right
All night, all day
I feel your touch
I feel your love
It’s your love that holds me tight

But for the fact that:

Didn’t He come to save us
Didn’t He come to tell us
Of true love
Forever and ever
Yet He fell apart on the cross He bore
True love he gave
So I could say, oh yeah

That’s right, in most of the verses there, this is revealed to be a love song in the most literal sense about our Savior, Jesus Christ. Believe it or not, this is actually quite the convention in Christian songwriting, the “literal” interpretation of biblical verses having to do with the church being the “bride of Christ” and things like that. A lot of artists will write a generic love song and then turn it out around to really be about Jesus. This sort of Deiphilia can be pretty disturbing, but most listeners don’t really pay any mind.

The next song, “Something“, only needs to be talked about as far as the title. What could you possibly expect from a song called that?

I honestly have a lot of trouble listening to “Falling For You” because, well there is just all kinds of crap wrong with this song. For one, it starts with a goofy voice saying “SPIN IT SPIN IT SPIN IT SPIN IT” and then the dern thing just skips on to the next song, EVERY TIME. I don’t know what’s wrong with this song or my skipping finger.

Another lyrical wonder is the song “Dreamin“:

Don’t sway, don’t break
Don’t fall, don’t quake
Don’t speak, don’t run
Don’t cry, just trust
Don’t leave, don’t shake
Don’t crawl, don’t fake
Don’t shy, don’t shun
Don’t fear, just trust

Yeeesh! The chorus isn’t much better really, it’s basically “Don’t Stop Dreamin”, in kind of that praise’n’worship mode that sounds like gospel only sung by boring white guys. I mean, really, this is the kind of song that they would play at a church gig and extend to 15 hundred hours with an extended sing along of “Don’t stop Dreamin”.

Then we get another slow song called “Fear Not“, which is a love song sung from the perspective of Jesus Christ. This is another convention in Christian songwriting, and it provides us with lines like:

I move in, in closer to you
The breath you breathe I supply
For countless times I’ve called out
With an everlasting love, everlasting love

Fear not now, fear not now
Hear what I’m saying to you
You can trust now, let your guard down
Let my love embrace you

I really want to buy Jesus a box of chocolates now. Anyway, you know your song is going to have a certain cheese element when you have one of the Newsboys guest-appear on your praise song with a keyboard solo. It’s not a bad solo for 3 notes.

We then have yet another slow song called “Far Away”, which is… well… it’s one of those songs that is SO generic that I can’t really even think of anything to say about it. The chorus is “I’m so far away… so far away”, and the song is mainly just the chorus. The end!

Then we have… wait a minute… 3/4 time? Minor chords? Punchy singing? This… is actually good! Man it’s been so long, I almost forgot what a good song sounds like! Even the lyrics are pretty good, a basic drowning metaphor having to do with a sunken ship, I really have no complaints! Why is it at the end of the album then?

Oh wait, it’s not. We have just one more praise song to go, “Use Me”. It has a beautiful if not “churchy” piano melody that you can tell is being played acoustically since intrepid headphone users can hear keys squeaking. Anyway, the lyrics are still “blah”, that’s no surprise, but I really like this song for the piano. The lyrics are about 8 words, most of which are “Use Me”, so I shan’t bother with a reprint. Let’s just get as far away from this album as possible. I hope you’re happy, sister!

Man that Hank Williams still hasn’t downloaded.

USE MEEEEEE

Deep Purple – Machine Head

All right, it’s about time I talked about what I consider one of the best rock albums in existence, or is it just a really good rock album based around the best rock SONG in existence? I don’t really know, maybe I should just cut out the hyperbole and get to talking about a really snazzy album, Deep Purple’s best and most successful album, Machine Head:

I imagine this is how the band saw the entire world at all times.

This album is the penultimate recording by the best Deep Purple lineup, the “Mark II” lineup I spoke of previously in my In Rock writeup. Tensions between the band were not yet at their worst, what with two of the biggest egos in music at the time trying to front the same band (Ian Gillan and Ritchie Blackmore). At this time, the band worked really well as a cohesive whole, had a good foothold on what their sound should be, and in fact had unlocked the ultimate secret of rock music: it’s all a bunch of bullshit!

Take the album’s opening track, for instance, the legendary “Highway Star“. The song was actually written when a reporter asked Ritchie and Ian what their songwriting method was, to which they replied with an improvised jam that became, nearly verbatim, the song we know now as one of the best songs in all of rock music. Indeed, the lyrics are so unimportant in the grand scheme of this song that I believe Ian Gillan has never sung the exact same words twice, and certainly not the words that appear on the album. “Highway Star” was an accomplishment that would not be easily duplicated, because of one slight problem, it’s impossible to sing.

How do I know this? Well, because Ian Gillan has never been able to sing it. Oh, he gets close, but his voice broke at one point, reportedly when he spent a year as the replacement to Ronnie James Dio fronting Black Sabbath but watch any performance of “Child In Time” and you can see the man didn’t really take care of his vocal cords. Even before his voice broke, his personal habits kept him from getting even a coherent version out. No matter, the version that appears on the album is perfect, and though I am a big fan of the only MK II performance of it that’s ever been video-taped (to my knowledge), it would never be quite the same for Gillan, or even really well-meaning imitators.

So how do you follow up the best rock song you have in an album? By throwing out a less rocking but still capable song called “Maybe I’m A Leo“. I uhh, don’t really get this song. It’s pretty good but hardly “driving”, and the beat reminds me more of Little Feat than Deep Purple. Either way, it’s a decent song with some good blues lyrics, and the guitar riff is interesting because it actually doesn’t start on the downbeat (the “1” if you count the beat “1,2,3,4”, instead it starts on the “2”), but seriously, if I am having to talk about the unusual guitar riff in technical terms, I’m clearly really struggling with finding things to talk about.

The next song is far more like it. “Pictures Of Home” is driving, rockin’, bumpin’, and even contains a bass solo! The awesome rolling drum intro is a highlight too, provided by my hero Ian Paice. In fact, the drumming is so good on this entire album, it can kind of go unnoticed because it’s just constant.

Another interesting intro is to the song “Never Before”, it’s almost reggae-inspired, at least in my ears. It eventually becomes a more pop-flavored rock number, particularly with the chorus. Not a bad song, actually.

We then arrive past the album’s mid-point, and are greeted by its most famous track, the classic rock staple “Smoke On The Water“. It really would take someone with my level of pop unawareness to hear those opening chords and not know instantly what song is playing. The best thing about the song is that its lyrics about a club burning down during a Frank Zappa show is actually the true story of how Machine Head was made. The band did record the album in Montreux, Switzerland, with the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio (except, ironically, “Smoke On The Water”) and the place did catch fire, because of a “stupid with a flare gun”, and everything else. The song is really groovin’, though there is a high-note scream that was taken out of the original mix (only to be added in later to the reissue that I have), so the whole thing is missing that “classic” Deep Purple over-indulgence. Funny how the song where they’re nearly the most toned down became their biggest hit.

Speaking of toned down, light-then-heavy keyboards introduce one of my personal favorites, a rhythm n’ blues number called “Lazy”. The keyboard intro builds, introduces some distortion, then starts swingin’, and the rest of the band starts joining in after a minute, after which the whole song comes in with its thumping, bumping beat. The lyrics are about someone being lazy, so I don’t even know why I’m mentioning them. Look, look, Ian even plays harmonica on it. Excellence! I can’t get enough of this song, and it’s just as good live as it is in the studio unlike other great songs I’ve already mentioned.

I mentioned earlier that Deep Purple unlocked the secret of rock, that it’s all bullshit, and there is not a song that proves that more conclusively than the closing track to the album proper, “Space Truckin'”. Ok, dig this: It’s a song about… trucking… in space. Driving around Outer Space in a truck, that’s what the song is about. Not only was it a big hit for the band, but also a concert staple for many years, probably even today. THAT is the secret to rock n’ roll, if you’re ever curious. Of course, I am not faulting this song, it’s unbearably rockin’, and it started as an instrumental, so better to have some silly vocals than no vocals at all, right?

Most re-issues of the album, including all the ones you can find today on CD include one more song to bring the whole party down. That song is “When A Blind Man Cries” and I’d love to take it seriously because it’s a great slow bluesy track that is meant to be mellow and dour. However, the lyrics and vocal performance make me sort of crack up laughing at it every time.

Wait a minute, so I guess I consider this one of my favorite albums, yet I have just spent most of this writeup making fun of it. That just about figures, really. Then again, this is Deep Purple we’re talking about here, how serious can you get? This album’s amazing, you should listen to it.