Beastie Boys – Licensed To Ill

When I look at this title, even typing it into the subject bar up there, I get this sinking feeling of “oh no, not Licensed To Ill“, because I think about all the songs that I have to hear every single day on the radio. Any album that contains not one but four songs that are still frequently played on the radio has to be horrible right?

Well, here’s the thing. I have been known to be very hard on the radio, mainly because I am forced to listen to it, but since my daily shift became a 6am-?? schedule, I have been forced to listen to the “New Rock Alternative” and its earliest morning talk show, which, prepare yourself… is actually good.

It’s basically an every-man radio guy (Jason) and an English girl (Deb) arguing about nonsense for 4 hours between the horrid songs and even more horrid commercials (except for one where Gene Simmons talks about Dr Pepper, that commercial is a golden treasure). The thing is, the show is just different enough from all the other “typical” radio talk shows I’ve heard to be interesting. Yeah there are Simpsons/Family Guy clips all the time, the show is interrupted often before it even starts, and of course it’s the damn radio so one wants to claw one’s ears off between chats, but the chats are good because you’ve got a guy who’s anything but an “old pro” (read: he’s roughly my age and doesn’t effect a stupid radioman voice while playing boing noises and well ok he does play noises) and the girl is English so her accent is adorable and her mannerisms charmingly repressed. The interaction between them feels genuine and entertaining, more often than not. In fact, I even tuned into to the show on a Friday when I was off work (the first time I’ve willingly turned on the radio in my life!) So I guess my point is, you can blindly go along with your gut instincts and hate something just because it’s bad, but occasionally, if you look at it with an open mind and a willingness to find the exceptions to the rules, you can come out on top, or at least a nice comfortable place in the middle.

Which brings me to this shining golden turd:

There's that sinking feeling againA question that has plagued me for years is “why oh why did I buy this album years ago at Wal*Mart?” Thing is, I was frequently depressed at the time since I worked there and all, and I found myself doing many irrational but harmless things, like apparently buying albums on a whim and expecting them to be any good.

Once every few years, however, I play the album just to unravel the mystery and see whether there’s any saving grace to the thing. Indeed, the beats are interesting and there’s a lot of variety, and one can’t help but at least feel amused at the Beastie Boys’ rapping style. Basically one of the three dudes starts a rhyme using the same vocal rhythm every time, and the other guys either join in on the last word, or one of the others takes it from the last note and raps the next line, kind of like a musical hot potato. This particular album features all the cheesy noises of 80’s rap with Led Zeppelin samples interspersed throughout.

However, this particular album also features a rather juvenile set of lyrics that range from the poetic (“We did it like this, we did it like that, we did it with a wiffle ball bat”) to the quixotic (“I’ve got rhymes like Abe Vigoda”). There are myriad references to drugs, alcohol, and girls throughout. In fact, that leads me to one of the songs I most hate, “Girls”. Starting with a fake xylophone arpeggio that basically plays the tune to “Shout” by the Isley Brothers, which may be the song’s inspiration, the song will go down in history as one of the most annoying songs ever recorded. Hard to believe it was partially written by Rick Rubin, eh?

Oh yes, the hobo-esque producer who helped re-ignite Johnny Cash’s career was the producer for this and only this album in the Beastie Boys’ discography. It’s true that he is considered one of the best producers that Hip Hop has ever seen, and he produced the most successful albums of my favorite artist’s career, but I just can’t proclaim my undying love for the fellow because of stuff like this.

Then, of course, we have the album’s other radio hits (“Girls” is one), and they’re practically in order on the album’s “B-side”. We start with “Fight For Your Right”, a party hit that you just can’t have a party without, love it or hate it. Then it’s “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn”, the band’s tribute to metal I guess (featuring guitar work from the Slayer guy, another band Rubin was producing at the time).

Then there’s a bit of a reprieve in the form of “Paul Revere”. It’s possibly the objectively worst song in the bunch (the beat is apparently so bad it had to be played backwards), but it’s always been my favorite. Why? Because I heard it on the radio around the age of 13, and at the time thought it was hilarious. It’s a decent enough song lyrically, as long as one listens to it with an attitude of not taking it seriously at all. It tells a tender story of friendship, love, and betrayal, but ultimate ends with redemption, and beer.

Actually I think “Hold It Now, Hit It” is still played on the radio on occasion. I dare not listen to find out, though. It’s actually a pretty fun song, if not a little draggy.

Maybe I only think that way because the next track, “Brass Monkey”, is so gol’dern terrible that anything seems pleasant in comparison. From the terrible horn sample to the reprehensible chorus, there is nothing one can forgive in this song. The song actually hates you, and wants to do you and your family harm, and to let it have its way is considered a sign of weakness in all major cultures.

“Slow And Low” is actually a cover of a cancelled song from Run D.M.C.’s second album that the Boys wanted to record for their own album. It actually is quite good, definitely a worthy reward for hitting the skip button “Brass Monkey” instead of just turning the whole album off.

The last song, “Time To Get Ill”, is also fairly interesting, if for nothing else, than the sheer amount of samples used just to set up lines like “I’ve got more rhymes than Phyllis Diller”.

Honestly, the songs I skipped are generally pretty good too, and don’t get me wrong, I actually do like The Beastie Boys. Their later albums are much better, and in the grand scheme of things, there are much worse albums out there, especially in the 80’s. The production is very well done, the songs constructed with a great degree of care, and those irritating radio hits actually are very entertaining if you’re willingly listening to them and not just trying to drown them out while at work or a party containing white people. Overall, it’s a good album that sucks.

So what have I learned in listening to Licensed To Ill once again, despite the presence of all those terrible (yet undeniably catchy) hits? Well, I guess I have learned that, though you may not like something because it sucks, sometimes it’s not all bad, and you can delude yourself into thinking of yourself as more matured and open-minded for admitting that some things, like morning talk radio and the Beastie Boys’ first album, are things you can mostly tolerate.

Mostly.

(This blog post brought to you by 3 days of sleep deprivation, an unusually forgiving attitude about a certain radio show I’ve recently warmed up to, and Thundercloud Subs, may they burn forever in Hell for their jingles.)

Johnny Cash – Now, There Was A Song!

It’s a well known fact that Johnny Cash played a lot of covers. In fact, some folks not as hip to him would jab that he barely wrote any music at all. He wrote a lot of music, to be sure, but when your discography reaches over 100 albums, it’s a given that not all of the songs on every album is going to be an original. One thing that everyone can agree on, however, is that when Johnny Cash did covers, there wasn’t a thing about them that even hinted at the idea that the song wasn’t written just for him. Now, There Was A Song! is the first album purely made up of covers, and the title isn’t lying, these are some pretty dadgum good songs:

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This album features the first instance of a cover that Johnny would record over 40 years later, and it’s one of my favorites of his “American” catalogue, a cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. The version on Now, There Was A Song! does not feature popular singer Nick Cave however, as he was only 3 years old at the time.

The album starts with a song by George Jones (and Darrell Edwards) called “Seasons Of My Heart”.  It’s what I would consider a “rather clever Country song”, and really if I were more of a George Jones fan I could tell you about his version, but I’m not, so I can’t. This song, like most of the others on this album, mysteriously contain a large amount of pedal steel and fiddle, two instruments not found too often in Johnny Cash’s albums. Still, they’re low-key enough to not sound like honky tonk trash, otherwise I would be quietly ignoring this album. The lap steel kind of has that “Hawaiian” effect going for it, and I can dig that at least.

“I Feel Better All Over” is the next track, and it has a great second part to that line: “I feel better all over more than anywhere else”. Not bad, but the rest of the song is kind of so-so, but hey! Did you know it was written by Kenny Rogers? Did you know Kenny Rogers was writing songs before 1960? It might be because he’s fat, but I could have sworn he was younger than that. Another interesting thing about this song is that Johnny hits some uncharacteristically high notes, not as high as the first song he recorded, of course, but that was more of a fluke than anything.

The next song was written by Marty Robbins, a man Johnny admired quite a lot (at least he gave him a very flattering tribute in the latter of his autobiographies). It’s called “I Couldn’t Keep From Crying”, and actually was first recorded by Cash fairly early on when he was at Sun Recordings, though it never surfaced on any albums until this past decade or so, as I understand. It’s a good song, and certainly the Columbia version is better than the first recording as far as I can tell.

Next we have “Time Changes Everything” which was written by Tommy Duncan, who sang for the original Western Swing band Bob Wills And The Texas Playboys (a band my great-granddad turned down an offer to play drums for, incidentally).  It’s a rather refreshing anti-love song, as it goes, because it defies all the other broken heart songs by declaring quite logically that he doesn’t love the girl in question anymore because “Time Changes Everything”. The sentiment would not carry over to any of the other songs, however.

For instance, “My Shoes Keep Walking Walking Back To You”, is another love-lost song (really though what Country song isn’t?) at nearly the breaking point to “obsequious”. Actually this song was part-written by Bob Wills, so the inconsistency in messages is at least inconsistent at its source! Both songs are mighty catchy too, just to let you know.

Ahh, now we’re about half-way through the album, and I think the second half is far better. First off is “I’d Just Be Fool Enough (To Fall)”, a self-deprecating unrequited love song that has a great line:

Oh please don’t be so careless with your glances
Don’t look at me that way and breathe a sigh
Please don’t get too close and let me love you
Cause I just might be fool enough to try

As a dude who is a self-confessed “hopeless case” with the ladies, I can identify with this a little more than somewhat. However, I’m not a coked-out fiend, so I don’t identify well with the next song, except to say I love it.

That song, of course, is “Transfusion Blues” which you may know by its proper title “Cocaine Blues” when it was sung on At Folsom Prison and waaaaaay later on Mystery Of Life. Why the title had to be changed from “Cocaine” to “Transfusion” is beyond me, when the whole story of shooting your woman and running from the law and being sentenced to life in prison is all still intact and, in my opinion, much more severe. I can understand the final line, “I can’t forget the day I shot that bad bitch down” being changed to substitute “bad bitch” for “woman”. I guess cocaine wouldn’t be fashionable until 20 years later, so it was a bit taboo back then. Either way, this song is fantastic, and the awkward substitution doesn’t take away from it THAT much.

Next we have yet another song to stack on the pile of evidence that all women are evil, “Why Do You Punish Me (For Loving You)?”, a tune by Erwin King. It’s one of the more clever ones, however, as the chorus is thus:

My heart cries out behind these prison bars
It pleads to you for your true love to set it free
Why do you punish me, is love a crime?
If so, I’ll spend a lifetime loving serving time

Not too bad, suspiciously close to a song I wrote long before ever hearing this song… whoops!

A much more concret song is “I Will Miss You When You Go”, which almost needs no explanation, as it’s so effective and simple it’s almost not even a song. This, however, is a facet of Country music that can not be denied. It’s not really a genre where a lot of imagination is required, but God bless it anyway.

Which is not to say there aren’t imaginative people in Country music, I don’t really care who you are, Hank Williams will always be one of the top if not the top Country songwriters (in fact, the only person to topple him from the top of the “Greatest Country Artists Of All Time” list is Johnny Cash). Despite his short life, he wrote well over 200 songs, nearly all of which are expertly crafted given the 3 chords he was given. Quite possibly my favorite of these songs is “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, which sounds like your typical Country fare, but in fact the lyrics paint an indellible picture of country landscapes and birds and a starry sky to illustrate the twisted reality of a broken heart. Brilliant stuff, if you have an open mind to it. Of course, the quintessential version of the song is the one Johnny would record on one of his final albums with Nick Cave, but we’ll get to that when it comes.

The next song is one of my favorites on this album, too. It’s another George Jones tuned called “Just One More”, which is (rather late in the album) a song about drinkin’ your woes away. Of course, I don’t drink, so I can’t say I personally relate to the song, but then again I do:

Put the bottle on the table let it stay there till I’m not able
To see your face in every place that I go
I’ve been sitting here so long, just remembering that you are gone
One more drink of wine
And if you’re still on my mind
One drink

Just one more
And then another

The adding of more and more drinks to the chorus is, in a simple way, very clever indeed. It’s hard to picture Johnny Cash getting drunk on wine, as that was never really his style, but he sings it believably enough, as that is how he sings songs, if you weren’t aware.

Finally, we’ve got the unlikely song “Honky-Tonk Girl”, which is kind of a novelty song about a certain kind of girl… one that breaks hearts… and hangs out in Honky-Tonks. Ok, so not EVERY song is a winner (though it’s performed well enough for sure). Maybe it’s just my inability to understand Honky-Tonk culture that well. Oh well!

So that’s Now, There Was A Song!, it’s actually a rather short album at only 26 minutes, in fact I listened to the entire thing on the way to work and again during my lunch-break, with one more play of “Seasons Of My Heart”. So yes, if you are looking for a quick and cheap ($12.99 for the re-issue that came out this month that includes 2 other full length albums!) Johnny Cash album and aren’t particularly fond of songs he has written, then this is perfect for you!

Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man

Ok, I’ll admit that I wanted to write about this album ever since I started this blog, but the antagonist for my choice of today is the fact that, in my desk, I have a ticket (a rather nice one too) for the first (or possibly second as they may have added another date) show of the first American tour the legend Leonard Cohen has done in over 15 years. The man’s shows have been described by critics as something of a religious experience, no matter where your beliefs lie. In fact, if I may steal from Wikipedia, one noted critic of music said the following:

“It is hard work having to put this concert in to words so I’ll just say something I have never said in a review before and will never say again: this was the best show I have ever seen.”

As I understand, much of the show will contain selections from one of Cohen’s most popular and alluringly perplexing albums, I’m Your Man:

This doesn't even look like Leonard Cohen, I'm starting to think I have the wrong man entirely!

Like with The Beatles, I am a little intimidated, even on my daily blog of talking half-hearted trash about music I love, to speak of Leonard Cohen. One reason is because, since the 60’s, the man has put out only 11 albums. There’s also something to his music that makes it grand to the point of being virtually untouchable. I’m not being vague though, it’s because  of those masterful lyrics. I’m not going to quote anyone else today, but let’s just say there’s a certain agreement by anyone who’s ever written a song that there is a level of songwriting one can only hope to achieve in one’s life-time, and among the best and brightest of that top tier is Mr. Cohen.

Right, enough of that, let’s get into why this album perplexes me so.

Basically, as I’ve discussed twice already, Leonard Cohen started his career in music (after being an acclaimed poet and novelist apparently got boring to him) as a folk singer. He has an amazing ability to play these classical triplets that compliment his singing perfectly. Somewhere after Songs Of Love And Hate, however, his style gradually changed over the course of a few albums, eventually blossoming into… get ready for this… an entirely synthesizer and drum machine-based form of jazzy pop (complete with saxophones), backing up Cohen’s voice, which has somehow transformed from a delicate, laid-back tenor to a bass-baritone that beats out even Johnny Cash’s early recordings.

Why did Leonard Cohen, one of folk music’s most enduring iconic figures, choose to transform himself into an 80’s-tastic lounge act with a voice that will make the staunchest non-smoker start craving a pack of unfiltered cigarettes? The answer, as evidenced by this album, is because he can.

I am completely against the idea of replacing practical instruments with synthesizers, and the less saxophone the better, but I can not help but love this album, to the end that it’s actually one of my favorites. Plus, in a way, it’s good that the style changed the way it did, because a song like “First We Take Manhattan” just wouldn’t be the same without it. It’s a hell of a thing, really, because you start to hear the music and you might think “well this is stupid” but then the wave of warm synthesized strings come in and Leonard starts singing his golden words:

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

And suddenly the song makes perfect sense. Nearly every line, including the one where he chuckles amusingly in an almost creepy way, conveys a message that can only be carried across an army of Casio circuitry. Indeed, the song is oppressive and urban, and nylon strings, at least this time, just aren’t going to cut it.

Despite how much I thoroughly enjoy “First We Take Manhattan”, even I will admit that the next song, “Ain’t No Cure For Love” is a tower of amazing lyrics surrounded by all sides by a moat filled with poisonous saxophone blowing and terrifyingly giddy guitar and keyboards, accessible only by way of the very strong bridge. Still, it’s not a bad song by any means, just a bit of a shock that may take the entire 5 minutes of the song’s length to get used to.

One of the slight changes in songwriting that Leonard Cohen took in this album was to make the songs more “clever”, and I could not be happier about that. A prime example of some excellent clever lyrics are in “Everybody Knows”:

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
Thats how it goes
Everybody knows

In reading through the lyrics to grab a selection, I realized something about Leonard Cohen’s lyrics. It’s nearly impossible to grasp the kind of quality we’re dealing with in just one line or stanza. Sure, you can quote a line and someone who is familiar with the song will smile and probably give the next line, but Cohen’s lyrics are to be enjoyed in full, because they build on each other, so that by the end of the song there’s just a sense of awe in the creativity that went into each song. This is no accident, of course, it took him over a year to write a single song for an album that wasn’t even popular enough to get distributed in America initially. That particular song, of course, is “Hallelujah”, and I really should have waited to tell that story until the day I talk about Various Positions, but I’m sure I’ll remind myself of that later.

Ahh, now the title track. You know, Leonard Cohen is presently 74 years old, and yet when he sings about women, usually in a sexual way, you are absolutely sure that dozens of women are throwing themselves him way as a result. If you weren’t sure about that, just listen to the song on his new album where he points that out in a very tongue-in-cheek way. The song “I’m Your Man” is little more than Cohen’s super-deep whispering against a light jazz beat and chords played by fake horns via synthesizer, but of course, all the better to understand the words through:

If you want a lover
I’ll do anything you ask me to
And if you want another kind of love
I’ll wear a mask for you
If you want a partner
Take my hand
Or if you want to strike me down in anger
Here I stand
I’m your man

This song is quite the midnight song, I would say.

Next, the album takes an unusual turn. It’s a song called “Take This Waltz”, and it’s actually a Waltz, complete with the synthesized version of an orchestra of strings and singers. The melody brings about the image of a golden banquet hall with all its very fancy patrons dancing in time to Cohen, in a tuxedo, singing against an orchestra about gettin’ it on. At least that’s what goes on in my mind, and it’s fine by me. The lyrics, actually, are the English version of a Spanish poem, and are not really Leonard’s, though interestingly very consistent with his style.

And, in another unusual turn, a dissonant group of notes assail you as Cohen comes back in to sing about the “Jazz Police”. It’s kind of a humorous song, and doesn’t actually have a whole lot of words, but is a funky tune nonetheless.

“I Can’t Forget” is a song that is musically better (I feel) than “Ain’t No Cure For Love”, but is similar in many ways, particularly with the fake horns and real vibraphone. The lyrics are interesting in this one, but perhaps not as mind-blowing as the next song.

The album ends with a kind of blues track called “Tower Of Song”. I say “kind of” because it has all the makings of a blues song, except that the fake instruments don’t make it very obvious, it’s almost like a mechanical tropical song. In the song, Leonard Cohen gives a bit of a tribute to another songwriter that belongs on that top tier of songwriters, Hank Williams:

Well my friends are gone, and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on
I’m just paying my rent every day
Oh in the tower of song

I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long
A hundred floors above me
In the tower of song

When Leonard Cohen was inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame last year, one thing he made sure to do was quote this song, nearly in its entirety. That’s how good this song is.

So yes, I have said many times before that I can excuse poor or non-sensical lyric-writing if the presentation is good enough. Well, quite the flip-side is true for Leonard Cohen. His lyrics basically forgive and in fact justify any bizarre moves he may make in music, but 11 albums and 40 years after his debut, the most bizarre thing he did was drop his voice an octave and add some synthesizers. Other acts have changed much more dramatically over the years, but you know you’re something doing something right when the least expensive ticket to your show is over $90.

Man I’m looking forward to next Thursday!

Bleach – Space

One element of the somehow-unpopular-with-the-other-religions genre of Christian Rock that one has to accept before becoming any kind of a fan is the “Doppelganger Effect”. Basically, any “good” Christian band is invariably going to be compared to and even accused of ripping off a popular non-denominational band. If there were any shred of truth to these accusations, then what we have today is a band that, at least for one album, is either the Christian version of The Smashing Pumpkins or Weezer, depending on how far you wish to reach for comparison:

I get it, Bleach goes into the washer and Space goes outside of the washer, that's real heavy man

Thing is, if you are going to base any kind of argument by taking the stance “they sound like Weezer”, you’ve kind of already lost. Weezer is composed of questionably able whiny nerds who insist on using 4 chords to create music that really drunk people believe is just like Buddy Holly, man (or, you know, people who have never heard Buddy Holly’s music). You can take any band that uses two guitars to make the same chord, or any band that uses the most obvious and simple beat in all of rock music, or any band with a lead singer who wears glasses, and call it “Weezer”. Bleach’s main problem in this regard is that they came out right around the time Weezer-mania was sweeping the junior high and high schools across America, the only place where one might have heard of a secular band AND a Christian band at the same time.

The point has also been made that they’re kind of like The Smashing Pumpkins of Christian Music, which is based on only two criteria. One, that they layer guitars together to get a really thick sound, and two, that the singer (Davy Baysinger) sounds uncannily like a Billy Corgan from which all of the ego has been stripped. Again, the “Doppelganger Effect” is only an illusion, because the layered guitar is still raw as hell (whereas Pumpkins’ guitars are nothing if not refined to a silky smooth buzz), and the singer just happens to have that whiny voice thing.

Here’s the thing, if you drop the comparisons to other bands you’re more familiar with, and if you happen to not have heard any of the band’s other work, their debut album is really good!

The first track, “Eleven” (I love numerical song titles), opens the album up the way one should, with a lovely guitar/bass riff that pounds away for a couple of bars before going into a layered fuzzy guitar chord, complete with controlled feedback! Until the chorus, the song tends to repeat this pattern as the guy sings a “gettin’ saved” song that contains many references to earthly things in the muddiest way possible. The pre-chorus strikes the most profound chord:

You love your pretties and your things
Are you nothing more than just a fashion scene?

And, for the second chorus:

It’s time to kill your glamor life
It’s time to live from inside

Not too shabby, really. Any time I am inspired to come up with a list of songs people who know nothing of Christian Rock might like, this song usually shows up somewhere. Indeed this album shows up as well, I consider it one of the 10 or so albums that should be heard regardless of what you believe.

The second song, however, kind of takes the edge off the previous song. It’s a totally innocuous track (utilizing a really old-fashioned chord pattern) called “The Perfect Family”, and while you may expect such a song to have some hint of irony to it, or maybe some element of tragedy or opposition… it doesn’t. It’s about a couple who get together under ideal circumstances, get married, have kids, grow old, and nothing bad happens. If you’re fine with that, this is the song for you!

The next song brings us back to the original “live from inside” message in the form of “Epidermis Girl”. It’s a very good song, musically speaking (how could I say it’s not, it’s led by the bass), but seems a bit immature in its simplistic message of resisting the sins of the world by way of a really hot girl. If you can look past its outward appearance of being a “pro chastity” song, it’s a good enough metaphor of living a decent, moral, patently un-rock-n’-roll life.

“Tea For Two” is much more like it as far as lyrics go, it’s a song about friends divided by ethnicity, religion, war, whatever, and though the message is simple, it’s effective enough:

An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth
Or a cup of tea for two

Interesting, the biblical quote that has to do with justice being turned in on itself… edgy indeed.

Just when you think you’ve got this album figured out, however, it throws “Cold & Turning Blue” on you, which is a concrete message wrapped up in abstract imagery:

Cheesy moon boy throw your space rocks all around
Your friend balloon boy is tangled, can’t get unwound
You find it funny, meanwhile he squirms around
He struggles, strangles, your friend the funny clown

Can’t you see he’s cold and turning blue?
It makes sense in a way, but doesn’t in many others. What else can you expect when the drummer writes a song?

“Child Of Sod” connects rather nicely to “Eleven”, as it contains many more references to mud, which in a way ties into the band’s name, “Bleach”. It all fits together! The song itself is pretty good, but not fantastic by any means, which is unfortunate because it was one of the songs for which a video was made.

“Crystals & Cash” kind of plods along, as well. It’s got some interesting lyrics that I wish were better explored, they’re abstract but may contain drug references or even sexual ones, but as they stand are just kind of non-sequitorial. It’s the curse of the never-ending chorus, I guess.

“Wonderful” is kind of the 1st-person version of “The Perfect Family”, a totally innocent and undefeatable love song set to an old-fashioned chord progression played on heavy guitars. This one I like a bit better, though, and at least it’s there to keep “The Perfect Family” from being a one-off song about love and happiness, which incidentally is the theme of every Bleach album from here on out.

Then we have “Cannonball”, which is the closest the band comes to inverting The Pumpkins’ style (in fact the first line is “The world is drained” which is almost a twist to well you know). The difference is that this is a whiny-sounding praise song, which is interesting in and of itself.

My second favorite song on the album is right at the back, which is unusual but not unheard of. It’s called “Sugarcoated Ways”, and it has not only the catchiest melody, but it’s got an awesome acoustic guitar and e-piano added to the mix (with the barely-contained guitar feedback ever looming in the back of the right channel). I really wish the band hadn’t gone completely pop-rock and instead stuck to this style, but I can’t exactly go back to the mid-90’s and convince them to, now can I? Oh wait, actually I did meet them in ’98 just as they were coming out with a second album, and I could have totally told them that if I would’ve thought about it. They’re the nicest dudes, by the way.

Finally, we have “Space”, which starts with grungy jazz chords and almost mechanical sounding drumming. If it were up to me, I would have put the coolest bass-line on this song, but it was not to be, the bass-line follows the boring old root notes. Oh the torment of being a musician listening to music. The song is still good enough, it’s got that message of “Hey! I’m a Christian but I’m not the judgmental type!” which is all fine and dandy, but as we’ve established, my favorite way of dealing with evangelism is with songs like “If you don’t love Jesus, go to Hell“.

Deep Purple – Fireball

Man, so I got the inspiration for writing about Deep Purple again, quite on a whim, on the 27th of this month, when I wrote about them on the 25th of January, and the 22nd of February. Apparently late in the month I tend to feel like I have to get my Deep Purple on!

Well, though Deep Purple certainly has a large enough discography to check out every single month, the “best” lineup, MKII, put out only 4 albums (and one incredible live album), of which this is the second (the first being In Rock and third being Machine Head, which we’ve already covered):

Ladies and gentlemen, the winner and still champion of best rock album covers goes to DEEP PURPLEIndeed, Fireball is a force to be reckoned with among 70’s brit-rock albums, and despite the fact that it’s overshadowed in the band’s catalogue by Machine Head, which was released only 6 months afterward, it’s got all the energy and some to spare.

Like the other albums, Fireball puts its best foot forward with the fast, driving, heavy, and double-bass-pedal-tastic title track. I have made no secrets about how much I enjoy songs that start with really kickin’ beats where the other instruments have to keep up, and this album delivers on that. The other instruments, of course, make catching up with Ian Paice’s amazing drumming seem like no feat at all. Of course, like most fireballs, this one burns hot but is gone after only 3 1/2 minutes, which is incredibly short for a Deep Purple tune, I gotta tell ya.

The next tune, also reminiscent of the other albums, is a bluesy jam, only unlike the other albums, it’s called “No No No” instead of something different. It’s catchy all around, but the chorus in particular will stick with you unless your mind is made of the purest teflon:

Have we got our freedom? No, no, no
Is it getting better? No, no, no
Do we love each other? No, no, no
Must we wait forever? No, no, no

Of all the Deep Purple songs dealing with protesting… well, whatever’s around… this one is probably my favorite. Not my favorite is one that will come with the 4th album in the MKII lineup, but that’s an entry for the late part of another month.

The third song… varies heavily depending on which country you bought this album in. If you bought it or downloaded it in America, you either got the version with “Strange Kind Of Woman”, or if you bought the most recent special edition, or the original version in the UK or Japan, you got “Demon’s Eye” as your third track. Of course, if you have the special edition, you have both songs, but “Demon’s Eye” is going to come up third.

“Demon’s Eye” starts off with that lovely distorted keyboard sound pounding away at a chord that the guitar joins, followed by Ian’s trademark over-the-top vocals, all set in a dire minor-key blues boogie. Interestingly enough, “Strange Kind Of Woman” is also a boogie, so it’s interesting to note that you’ve got 2 songs of similar length, both of which with nearly the same beat, only one is a song about not wanting a woman because she’s “sly like a demon’s eye” (I don’t know either), and the other is about really wanting a woman despite her being really resistant to the singer’s uhh, obvious charm. Then again, “Strange Kind Of Woman” has that last line “I won my woman just before she died”, which kind of puts an abrupt tragic spin on what started as a tale of trying to win a woman’s heart, but such is the way of rock n’ roll. You’re gonna have the occasional song where the subject, object, or everyone dies. You’ll just have to accept it.

“Anyone’s Daughter”, the pan-continental fourth song, is rather unique among its compatriots in the Deep Purple MKII discography. It’s a country-sounding jig featuring some quite good finger-picking from noted wizard Ritchie Blackmore, and also a 7th-chord heavy electric piano part. It’s immensely catchy, and then the vocals come in, and they’re not rock vocals at all! He sings the song perfectly clearly, which is good because the lyrics are fantastic. It’s about sleeping with the wrong kind of women because they’re someone important’s daughter, until the song’s ending, of course, which is a great metaphor for denouncing authority figures in society or something, I don’t know.

The next song is quite different as an album song than as a live song, where it has had a sure spot in for nearly 40 years now. The reason it is such a concert staple is because it is home to a 6-10 minute drum solo from the afore-mentioned super drummer, Ian Paice. It starts with a cool, sweeping drum beat and the tune being played by guitar and keyboard while the bass line rolls away. It’s a decent enough song, but definitely a spectacle when played live. According to Ian Gillan, it’s a song about “Lucifer, and all his friends”. Again, it’s hard to have any decent rock without the devil getting in there somewhere. Replacing the extended drum solo, in the album version, is a guitar solo and fancy drum part that then goes back to normal while the guitar solo continues to pound away. Again, drum solo, much more impressive.

After “The Mule” is a song called “Fools”, which is 8 minutes long so strap yourself in. It’s a tune mainly centered around a riff established again by the keyboard and guitar working in tandem. Those two work really well together, I should mention. The vocals come in with a soft and very in-the-background “Ahhhhh, I’m crying”, and you know you’re in for one of the more “progressive” songs that pervaded Deep Purple’s otherwise rather metallic repetoire. If you’ve got a spare 2 minutes to wait for the rocking part of the song to come in, I promise it’s well worth it. Just try not to fall asleep, otherwise that first guitar hit might wake you up unpleasantly. I kind of really love the line:

Rocks and stones won’t bruise my soul
But tears will leave a stain

It’s cheese but it’s good cheese. By the way, at around the 4 1/2 minute mark, you can get your pillow ready, because Ritchie Blackmore is going to perform, for you, his impression of a bad cello player by basically combining “tapping” on the fret board to get the notes and using the volume notes to fade every note in, with a little assistance from Jon Lord, the keyboardist. This was apparently an unescapable part of the live show as well, and smacks of pretension, but that’s Ritchie Blackmore for ya.

It should also be noted that “The Mule” and “Fools” are mixed up in name and track number on the Zune download of the special edition of this album. Zune buyers, beware! You’ll have to re-adjust the ID3 yourself, fool.

Finally, an extra-deep guitar note brings us the song “No One Came”, a song about being a old rock star who has lost all relevance who continues to pound away despite the fact that “no one came”. I would love to jab Ian Gillan at this one, but in fact the band is still selling out stadiums and, at least in Japan, they’re still very impressed. They’re on tour there right now, as I understand! So… well played!

And that’s Fireball. Another album that seems short, but you probably lost about 5 years off your life listening to the fake cello in “Fools” so the album has lengthened itself relative to the remainder of your life here on Earth. The band says “you’re welcome”.

The Offspring – Smash

“What? You like The Offspring?”

This question has been drummed up in response to me talking about this band for about half my life now. Why yes, I do like The Offspring, sure I don’t own any of their albums other than the one I’m talking about, but the fact remains. You can blame my cousin, the same one responsible for getting me into these guys and these guys, only the latter in a less obvious way.  He had this album too, and us both being pre-teenagers/early teenagers at the time, it was pretty much perfect. It’s punk-rock, only not as crappy, and it’s angry, but still has that sardonic angle that coming-of-age kids just love.

Pissy McSkeleton wishes to welcome you to Smash, the hit Offspring album

So is the album good? Well, it’s “good for punk rock”, in that, no it’s not very good, but if you look at a lot of the influences this band had and especially some of the bands this band influenced themselves, you’ll find this is pretty much cream of the crop.

None of that matters when you’re young, however, especially if you don’t know or care much about music. The fact is, these guys are shouting about people shooting each other in schools and cars and just guns in general, but in this way that you KNOW they’re not promoting it, they’re tearing down a system that allows it to exist. Plus, the lyrics are so concrete that even a pre-teen can understand what’s going on in songs like “Self Esteem” and “Not The One”. Plus, there’s a ton of cussing, but since this is 1994 we’re talking about, my CD copy does not have a Parental Advisory sticker on it. Whoops! Looks like I listened to music with cussing and am now, myself, a deviant!

The album is actually really well put together. For one, you’ve got a nice vocal intro of some relaxed guy telling you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the compact disc, after which of course is the first proper song with its typical driving punk beat. The guy revisits us a few songs in after the song “Genocide” and is present at the end of the album before an instrumental fadeout.

The hit singles on this album, which you will recognize by them not sounding like every other song, actually occur fairly late in the album, which is odd. The two biggest ones (at least in my mind) on this particular release are “Come Out And Play (Keep ‘m Seperated)”, the afore-mentioned song about bringing your guns to school (with the poignant “(if) You’re under 18, you won’t be doing any time”, and “Self-Esteem”, a song that is still played every single day on the damn radio.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t any rockin’ goodness early on in the album. In particular, “Bad Habit” is like the ultimate shout-along road rage song. Only, you know, you should probably not really gun down other motorists, but by the same token, you motorists who are not very good shouldn’t flip off other motorists for getting mad at you, because you never know who has been listening to too much Offspring.

“Gotta Get Away” is apparently another hit single, but I don’t remember ever hearing it outside of listening to the album myself. It’s pretty good but quite slow compared to the rest of the album (lead guitar with more than 1 note at a time? For shame!) It’s about schizophrenia, though, and I can get behind that.

“Genocide” is a “profound Generation X” styled song about something or other, but I can’t shake the fact that the first line in the chorus, which is “Dog Eat Dog”, sounds remarkably like “Donkey Kong”, so that’s how I’ve always heard the song. Some parodies write themselves, I guess.

Interestingly enough, starting from “Gotta Get Away” and right on through “Something To Believe In” is an interesting phenomenon, Early Album Slowdown. If I didn’t know the “hits” were coming up right around the corner, I might have skipped this album entirely, at least if I were listening to it today, which I am.

Thankfully, the next two songs are quite the party, but surely you have heard them by now, so I don’t have to say much else about them.

“It’ll Be A Long Time” brings the typical punk beat right back in, along with the political unrest. It’s a good enough song, for sure, but really if you want your political points to be known, you might try singing them to where people don’t have to read along with the lyrics sheet. Also, if you are going to make people read along on the lyrics sheet, maybe make the lyrics a font slightly bigger than that which requires a magnifying glass. Honestly though, if I felt like that it was an intentional move to make your lyrics undiscernable and then print the lyrics of your important words on microscopic font, I would award these guys a medal.

“Killboy Powerhead” is an interesting song, since it makes absolutely no sense at all. It’s also much more “punk rock” than even the punk songs from the earlier parts of the album, so kudos there, I suppose.

“What Happened To You?” is a much better song lyrically (not musically, it’s ska), and explores the dangers of drug abuse (see, The Offspring are socially responsible!) I’m not sure smoking too much marijuana is going to really kill you, the jury’s out on that one, but it will make you extraordinarily stupid, so I guess you might as well be dead at that point. Either way, it’s a song that would not work except in the back of the album, where the “extra” songs go.

“So Alone” is a song that wouldn’t even exist if I didn’t just say it does, it’s that short and tediously like the other filler songs. I do like the shouting, though.

Finally we’ve got “Not The One”, which ends the album on a stunning political note! Ok, so it’s not stunning, there were about 20 billboards on the way to this song saying “Political Song – Next Exit”, but really isn’t that the point of punk-rock? It just so happens that a couple of catchy alternative rock songs paved the way for this album to be not only one of the best-selling punk albums, but the number one best selling independent label album of all time! Luckily, having only one foot in the pond of American disestablishmentarianism means that the fans didn’t get all pissy when this band sold out… time and time again.

I never really got into The Offspring after Smash, I’ll admit, mainly because songs like “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)” and “Original Prankster” are far too irritating to warrant an entire album listening. Even as an early teenager, I knew this in my heart. Still, Smash is a good occasional listen, if for nothing else, than to elicit that ever-present question from anyone that knows me and my musical tastes:

“What? You like The Offspring?”

Warren Zevon – Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School

I woke up this morning in a terrible state, basically I had to take a very physical lesson in not eating lime-flavored shrimp ramen, no matter how broke you are. I now find myself with an entire day to sit around in pain, and it reminded me that we haven’t checked in on one of my favorite artists in a while:

He came.... to dance.

Now, last we left Warren Zevon, he had just gone from total obscurity playing piano in an Irish pub in Spain to releasing two amazing albums and was well on his way towards the top… or at least a very comfortable place closer to the middle. Either way, as it always is, the pressure was on to follow up Excitable Boy with something equally… well… exciting. At least, I imagine the pressure was there, apparently Warren himself never felt it. In an interview from about 8 years ago, he revealed that he never really considered himself a rock star who would rise and fall according to the whims of the public, but instead a successful folk singer who somehow stumbled into fame once or twice.

That’s really a good attitude to have about it, but Zevon’s approach to folk music was certainly rock-inspired, at least in Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School. Nearly every song is a rocker, and some of them seemed destined to be great live hits, since they hardly deviated from the established chord progressions and melodies, and this album would perhaps be the only example of Zevon subscribing to the “more choruses, the merrier” attitude of recording that has remained so popular in country music. However, none of these things are particularly bad, in fact this album is quite a strong release, but the lack of “Werewolves Of London” type hits signaled a decline in record sales that the next album would solidify.

The album starts, interestingly enough, with a bouncy set of strings playing a piece of music that gives way to the rock guitars. The song “Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School” is very sparse lyrically, but seems more concerned with throwing out dual lead guitar solos and a really kickin’ march-inspired beat. The oft-repeated line “Down on my knees in pain” is certainly something I can relate to.

The one “single” that charted from this album is “A Certain Girl”, which is a very catchy R&B song, actually first recorded by Ernie K-Doe (written by Allen Toussaint), and is thus a cover. It was rare for Zevon to cover songs, but whenever he did it was usually way better than the original (as I understand, he covered Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan” which is yet another instance of artists I love crossing paths). The hook is this song is really excellent:

Zevon: There is a certain girl I’ve been in love with a long, long time
Backup singers: What’s her name?
Zevon: I can’t tell ya.
Backup singers: Ahhhh…

That “What’s her name” bit is repeated through many lines, with the backup singers conversing with the singer on many points. I always love this move. Something similar happens on The Rutles album too.

The next song is a bit of a rhythmic jam called “Jungle Work” which is another song about mercenaries, only without the ballad-type storytelling of “Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner”. It’s still groovy, though, and is a type of song he came back to a few times in the earlier albums.

Then, as is customary in these types of albums, the mood is slowed down with a piano piece called “Empty-Handed Heart”, which is a song of heart-break, a subject Warren seems to have no trouble writing about, no matter how complex the subject. This time, it was divorce from his wife, but not a messy, hate-filled one, in fact they remained friends and he charged her with the task of writing his biography when he died. The lyrics to this song are somehow better than the ones in the previous albums’ ballads, which is something that Science once called impossible, but Warren did anyway.

An interlude brings us from that song to the next, which is quite fancy, but the next song is “Play It All Night Long”, a live favorite poking viciously at Southern life and, in particular, “Sweet Home Alabama”, which opens up the chorus:

Sweet Home Alabama
Play that dead band’s song
Turn those speakers up full blast
Play it all night long

As Wikipedia concedes, it’s probably the only song to make full use of the word “Brucellosis”. The song is quite catchy and actually one of my favorites from his Stand In The Fire live show.

Another song that’s great live is “Jeannie Needs A Shooter”, which is the first Zevon song to feature Bruce Springsteen, as I understand. However, I’m not sure what he did in the song, other than helping to write it, because there are no background vocals, and that doesn’t seem to be him playing guitar. Oh well, it’s a song about being a “shooter” (perhaps an outlaw) and wooing a girl named “Jeannie” much against her lawman father’s wishes, but finally he gets his way… or does he? This song is so much better played raucously live.

Another interlude brings us to the song “Bill Lee”. I have no idea what this song’s about, though I love the opening lyrics:

You’re supposed to sit on your ass and nod at stupid things
Man, that’s hard to do
And if you don’t, they’ll screw you
And if you do, they’ll screw you too

Another fun part is where he says “Sometimes I say things I shouldn’t, like…” and instead of saying anything, he plays a harmonica line. It’s kind of like how trumpets would be used to signify adults speaking in all those Peanuts cartoons.

A strange song indeed, given the minory tone of the rest of the album, is “Gorilla, You’re A Desperado”, which has this wood-block driven tropical beat, accordion sounds, all kinds of synths, and an interesting story about a gorilla stealing your identity. Don’t get me wrong, the song is entertaining and very clever, just a REALLY sharp left turn compared to the rest of the album. Still, this is also a sound that Zevon would re-visit, and he always writes his “funny” songs with this kind of cheesy electronic music. I have no other explanation than that this is 1980 we’re talking about here.

Then we’re right back to the fancy piano playing for “Bed Of Coals”, as if the previous song didn’t even happen. The lyrics were co-written with T-Bone Burnett, a famous guy, and seem to be about alcoholism, maybe not to the profound effect of “Desperado Under The Eaves” but certainly to some kind of effect. My particular favorite line is:

I’m too old to die young
And too young to die now

It’s a good song, overall, and has a slide guitar solo that sounds suspiciously like it is being played by one of The Eagles. I bet it’s Joe Walsh. He played slide on one of my favorite Zevon tunes that I will talk about in many, many months.

A strange piano and bass melody opens up “Wild Age”, in fact the interplay between bass and piano is interesting all throughout. I guess that’s what happens when you’re playing with a legend like Leland Sklar. The song is basically about living “the wild age”, and is about irresponsible youth, and would probably be only 1 minute instead of 4 1/2 if it weren’t for the chorus. Man, so many choruses! At least there’s some screaming descant near the end.

With that, Zevon’s first of many “unpopular” albums ends. Again, I consider the whole thing to be strong, particularly the first half, and I believe it’s the last album Zevon used strings quite so heavily on. He even avoided using very many of them (if any at all) on his final album.

Now I am off to lay down and listen to more music and maybe eat some toast. Please join us next time as we examine yet another album, every single day, here at Album Du Jour.