Chris Taylor – Down Goes The Day

Wait a minute here, isn’t MY name Chris Taylor?

Why yes it is. This is a fact I have carried with me ever since I could remember, which is why it was a trip to see, at a Christian Bookseller’s convention in Dallas, on a really big screen near the Diamante Publishing booth, a music video by a guy called “Chris Taylor”, and not only that, but to find that, just around the corner, there he was, handing out and signing free copies of his debut CD, Down Goes The Day:

That's right, I had to take a picture of the album cover with my camera phone, it's THAT obscure.

The “wow” feeling was mutual between us as I approached and introduced myself by my full name (I was 15 or 16 at the time, and couldn’t think of a more clever way to approach the topic). We had a bit of a conversation and that was about it. I sought him out on the internet a little later and we conversed a bit that way as well, and recently I talked to a guy who told me he knew this guy after hearing my full name.

So I guess there’s a slight bit of history behind my acquisition of this album, and I can’t help but feel a connection to the artist with my name who created it, and yes, if you’re curious to know, it’s actually a really good album!

The sound of Chris Taylor is basically centered around his sort of acoustic pop singer/songwriter tunes, upon which is built several instrument parts by many other players, all of which work and strive to support the melody, which is what I consider the ultimate way to present a singer/songwriter. Chris sings and plays guitar, and there are tight and rather fancy bass-lines, drums to match, and ambient guitars and either one of the twin beasts of electric keyed instruments, the Hammon B-3 or the Wurlitzer, being played expertly. Again, none of the instruments try to take center stage, it’s all about the melody and the poetry, and thus the album has a distinctively moody pop feel, but is more genuine than most music I’ve heard.

If I were to make a comparison, I guess Chris’ voice has the characteristics of U2’s Bono, but without the high notes. In fact, he seems to go out of his way to not stray too far from the melody to be flashy or anything, but funnily enough, the first time I actually heard U2, which would be in my 20’s, I was like “Huh, this guy sounds like Chris Taylor only he goes crazy with the high notes”, so for me it’s a chicken-egg situation as far as who sounds like who.

The rest of the music, in having an ambient sound to back up an acoustic guitar, is what I consider the definitive “coffee house” music. Something that gets close enough to early 90’s songwriter pop ala Jeff Buckley, but stays low-key enough to still be considered “folk”. I think the keyboards are what assist in this respect.

The lyrics are poetic and awesome, and use a lot of down-to-Earth plain-spoken ways of conveying the decidedly spiritual message. In the first track, the bumpin’ “God Only Knows”, the singer conveys a lot of revelations he’s had about the spiritual life, all of which are prefixed by “I never knew…”, and of course, in the chorus, it’s revealed that “God Only Knows”, simple right?

The next song, “Another Witness” is a bit heavier, containing a nice minor-y melody that has a nice rhythm change that goes from delicate to pounding for the chorus. The verses say things like:

How does the morning rise up with such beauty in the face of the night?
Could be what I’ve been missing, what I’ve neglected my entire life
And why does that feeling come and go with every blow of the wind?
Can I hold onto… and will I ever catch it again?

I’m another, I’m another
Another witness
From another, from another
From another time
If you could only see the things
That I’ve been seeing
Oh, you’d testify

And of course, the next song is one of my favorites, mostly because it has a really sweet bass-line that starts the song unassisted. The song’s called “Jesus Is Alive”, which is straight-forward enough, but the main text of the song is kind of an calling out of people who think they have religion figured out to where it doesn’t interfere with their other plans, or people who take it way too far:

Street corner preachers carry out their plans
With venom in their mouths and a Bible in their hands
Yellin’ about Heaven and Hell, with no love in their eyes

But the chorus is a prayer for wisdom, so all in all it’s a fairly deep song.

The next two songs are ones that, for a long time, I considered unmemorable and never listened to very much, but as I got older they became much better. The first is “Already Forgotten The Name”, which is a pretty good spirtual, and “What Do You Want?” which conveys much of the same theme, only with a saccarine-sweet acoustic guitar melody played by a guy called Jerry Mcpherson, who plays the electric leads on the other songs.

“Learn To Pray” is the song for which the video was created that I saw at the convention, and it’s a really good song. Interestingly enough, it opens up with flutes playing tribal-sounding notes, and are performed by Chris himself. The rest of the song is a really strong melodic piece about prayer and is fairly plain-spoken, as most of the lines deal with a different unlikely situation where one must learn to pray.

Then there’s a song called “Seahorse” which seems to be about a complex interpersonal relationship, and is quite a good song with a melody that always seems familiar to me but I can’t quite place its source… Oh well.

The next song is called “Deep Reasons Why (It Just Is)”, which is about as pop-tastic as you can get on an album like this. It not only features a 2-or-3 note guitar melody that serves as a hook, there are “woo hoo hoo”s in it, and the song’s message is about letting go of deep-seated convictions regarding one’s sense of guilt and spiritual doubt. Yep, might as well had been written by the Barenaked Ladies… just kidding, I wouldn’t wish that upon any song.

The nearly-there last track is “Down Goes The Day”, which again deals with a complex relationship, most likely one that’s ending:

I’m dropping out said the thin man to his lady
I’m moving on said the lady to her man
Time uses up the vision and the headline
Old stories never make the front page again

The part where “Down goes the day” is sung is quite a catchy hook, especially since he has a choir of children singing it as the song draws to an end. Really not bad for a poet-type, and kind of atypical really.

Not atypical of the poet-type, however, is the nearly 16 minute poetry reading set to an improvised minor blues jam. It’s not officially listed in the liner notes, except as a side-note at the end that describes how the song was made, both with a short description and an accompanying poem called “Better Days Ahead”, which is the unofficial name for the actual poem. It’s quite an interesting song, and the instruments play along with it very nicely for having absolutely no rehearsal and only total spontaneity and a few guitar chords to guide them.

And with that, our handsomely-named hero ends his debut. Really, I like this album so much that I often forget that it’s the fact that we have the same name that drew me to this guy (But really we don’t have the same name, his middle name is “Andrew” and mine isn’t). He came out with a few more albums that I really love, though maybe not quite as impactful as the first, and I even went back and listened to his short-lived band before his solo career, “Love Coma”. It’s pretty good too, and I’m sure all those albums will get writeups at some point. Until then, “down goes the day”!

Amy Winehouse – Back To Black

What’s this? You say, a Grammy-award-winning pop album?! Indeed, today I am going to talk about an album by someone of whom nobody would shut up about forever and ever… until now:

It's like Keith Richards turned into a lovely girl and then back again

Despite that pesky ever-presence of British music in our country, apparently every time someone from England takes over the charts for a while, it’s another “British Invasion”. If anything, the only time the British invaded was in the 17th century, and we stayed here.

Really though, I know what the magazines are talking about when they get drunk and forget that there’s a “British Invasion” every other weekend, and that’s the fact that someone has come over here, taken over our torpid pop charts for a few weeks, and brought a fleet of very similar musicians utilizing the exact same style to make sure that they make off with ALL our Grammies (IS there a plural to the Grammy awards?) In the case of Amy Winehouse, that group has included the dismal Duffy and the adequate Adele, both of which were either nominated or won something or other in the past year. Some people make the grave mistake, shortly before dying under mysterious circumstances, of comparing the incomparably superior songstress Sia Furler to this lot, but in fact she is Australian and sings better songs than this, and sings them much, much better. So yeah, that’s an egregious, musically ignorant mistake to make there.

Anyway, about Amy Winehouse: I actually like her, and I like this album. It’s kind of hard not to for most music fans, because she (or the people pulling the strings behind her) has taken the best elements of Motown, infused them with a bit of jazz, and stuck a saucy singer in the forefront who knows how to “work it”, as they say. Her singing is not sublime or anything, I’d say it’s about like that bee-hive haircut she sported for a while, in that her singing is big but falls short of impressive, is reminiscent of a style long gone, and is thus a bit unusual for this day and age, and is disheveled and uneven enough to have kind of a cuteness about it. To simplify, I describe her singing as “adorably off-key”.

It’s not just the singing that has earned this lady her tea and crumpets, oh no. She’s got a thing that dates all the way back to Beethoven and perhaps even farther back, which is that she’s half musician, half character. Her character is that of a disreputable woman of devilish habits who sings about her suffering much the same way as she sings about her habits. She’s a slave to both and there’s no freedom in sight. It’s unfortunate that this “character” is apparently hand-in-hand with the real person, at least unfortunate in a personal sense. Fact is, her disgusting personal life is part of why people are so fascinated with her. Deranged middle-aged men have been scouring the internet every day for a glimpse at Britney Spears’ exposed bosom for an entire decade (to apparently no avail),  but it’s only taken one Grammy win for Mrs. Winehouse to flail around completely topless on a beach without a care. Whenever we typically find out that our favorite celebrated persons are checking into rehab, it’s the topic on every gossip column in every magazine in every Wal*Mart for months, but Amy built her career on her lack of rehabilitation from her crippling disease.

But this blog is not called “Celebrities Du Jour”, so the big question here is, without all this backstory about Amy Winehouse being a diseased, mentally distressed young lady, is her album still worth listening to?

My answer is “sure”. It’s a relaxing album, full of great tones, inventive uses of horns, drums, and bass, and the “hits” of the album, “Rehab”, “You Know That I’m No Good” (in which she rhymes “bitter” with… “bitter”), “Tears Dry On Their Own”, are all so addicting you’d think you just scored a free sample of whatever she’s on. Even the lesser known songs from the album, “Me And Mr. Jones”, and “Back To Black”, are not only clever, but convey some emotions that seem to hit really close to home. Despite whatever problems the girl has, whether real or simply part of the “character”, she sings with an often-misguided optimism that things are going to work out somehow, without the conventions that weigh so many people down. Listening to the album is like lending an ear to a friend as well as being treated to some quality tunes, and that gives the whole thing an interesting and possibly unique quality.

I’d have to say that my favorite song is probably “You Know That I’m No Good”, which is about a girl caught in a vicious cycle of cheating on her boyfriend, feeling bad about it, and then doing it again. The lyrics are among the worst in the album as far as wanting to knock some sense into the lady, but in that way, it achieves the reaction it’s going for. The best part about it is really the arrangement and the instrumentation, which is mostly thanks to Mark Ronson, who apparently produced the thing, and the skillful playing of the legendary Dap-Kings (Sharon Jones’ backup band). Forget all that, however, as all it takes to please me with this song is the double-snare hit. Again, I’m a sucker for good drumming.

So good job to Amy Winehouse for coming out with a very worthwhile album while under the influence of very hard drugs. It’s more than I’ve done as a completely sober person, after all. She deserved to win the Grammy, and I would even venture so far as to say she should have been allowed to come to our country to actually accept it, but those pesky personal problems continue to rear their ugly heads. Even if the woman went from a very attractive almost mediterreanean looking beauty with an adorable hairstyle and disturbing tattos to a creepy emaciated scarecrow-looking chick who is prone to streaking, she seems to be coming back from that, public nudity aside, and I really hope she decides not to kill herself long enough to follow this album up with something that really shows off her true potential.

The Mars Volta – Amputechture

It’s time again, as it should be more often, to visit our little busy bees of rock, The Mars Volta. This time, we’re going to take a look at their seemingly second-most-beloved album, Amputechture:

This is apparently an homage to a certain kind of Mexican art, according to an art-savvy friend of mine. I didn't know Mexican art was awesome

Now, I mentioned in my other The Mars Volta writeup that the band can be characterized by lots and lots of rock, but the rock is occasionally broken up by a serene river of lengthy instrumental mucking about before assaulting your ears (in the kind of way that your ears are totally asking for, though) with pounding, fast-paced drums, crazy bass (including a solo this time!), and those wacky guitars being played like they were from another planet.

This time around, however, the serene river of mucking about actually more-or-less opens the album. “Vicarious Atonement” is a very slow, spacey, blues song that kind of messes with you if you aren’t already familiar with how these albums typically go. For this reason, I dig it. It’s good that I dig it, because it’s over 7 minutes long, and it’s nearly the runt of the litter.

Next up, weighing in at over 16 minutes, is the first crazy mess of a song of the bunch, called “Tetragammatron”. At times, it’s a normal song with an interesting guitar arpeggio and drum part to match, but every so often it breaks into the great chaotic mess you’ve come to expect from our afro’d heroes. The first one, a mere 5 minutes in, starts with backwards-tracked guitars and ends with horns and guitars fighting the vocals for high-note space somewhere in the stratosphere (vocals win the first round). Then everything drops out except for the guitar, which plays notes as if the guitarist thought the recording was over, then the vocals come in, then the guitars finish that little quiet time by tuning the guitar and bass down until the strings practically come off, then it’s back to chaos, and we’re only half-way through the song!

At some point, the song goes through more things and then ends on some loud static, which is the cue for “Vermicide”, which starts off rather slow, which is strange, given that it’s merely a 4 minute song. The presence of saxophones is something I hadn’t really noticed on the previous albums, so I guess this is where it starts, because they’re definitely present on the most recent album. Really though, the whole thing kind of serves as a build-up to the next song, “Meccamputechture”, even if it is its own self-contained song.

Still, “Meccamputechture” is a fine song, and its 11 minutes of length contains some interesting rock-out portions. The horn solo that turns into a chaotic backwards-tracked mess towards the end of the song is a particular highlight. I know I try not to mention the lyrics to The Mars Volta’s songs, but this one has some interesting little phrases in it, and they’re highlighted in the mix enough to where you can understand them almost half the time.

We are then given the aptly-named “Asilos Magdelana”, which is a creepy acoustic “classical” monstrosity performed mostly solo (or with a second acoustic guitar) for 5 minutes. Of course, I mean “monstrosity” in the most caring way, it’s actually really well done, but just a creepy song. Maybe it’s because he sings it in Spanish. I don’t know if this is an “I use far too expensive of headphones” thing, but there’s a lot of studio noise in this particular track, creeks and movement and such. Anyway, eventually the other instruments join in and we’re ready for still more rockitude with the next track.

That track, after a bit of a groovin’ drum machine intro, is “Viscera Eyes”, which I am fairly sure is also at least mostly in Spanish. This song utilizes full-on guitar chords (more of a rarity with this band than you may think) in a very interesting way against the rhythm of the song. It’s kind of like both are in a race to each next measure and there’s never a clear winner. Half-way through this song, however, there’s a bit of a change of rhythm and the whole thing goes solo-crazy before ending on that stuttering beat we’ve all come to love so much.

Finally, we come to the best song on the album, “Day Of The Baphomets”, at least, the song most designed to please an audience of me. For one, it starts with the afore-mentioned bass solo, and you should know by now that I enjoy a good bass solo. The beat itself is both crazy, and seemingly inspired by a certain beat that Deep Purple’s Ian Paice tends to favor for instrumental jams. But oh, that’s not all. Amidst all the other rock-out portions of this 12 minute song is an amazing percussion added to the already trippy drums that are slightly ahead of the drums in rhythm, while lending it a really excellent almost tribal quality and making things generally awesome. It’s portions like that that make me wish I could describe music better, you know, so I’m not wasting everyone’s time every day on this thing. Such is life.

Also I am not a fan of saxophone solos in general, but the screaming solos on this song are a perfect fit, so you’ll hear no complaints from this lone blogger.

Finally, the song “El Ciervo Vulnerado” brings the album out the way it came in, on a slow note. This one is much more “space” than “blues” this time, and there is a bit of whispering involved here. I’ll be totally honest here and say that, on the average listen to a The Mars Volta album, I will eschew some tracks in favor of others since these albums are so long. This is possibly the only album that I can happily start on track 2 and end on the second-to-last track and be totally fine all throughout. I understand that some music fans appreciate half an hour of guitar distortion and sitars and whispering nonsense while the bass guitar sludges nonsensical note after note, and for those people, the final track of this album has been written.

Still, all in all, a wonderful album, and might possibly be my 2nd favorite of the 4, but I guess we’ll have to wait until I talk about the other two albums before I pass along that kind of judgment.

Common Children – Delicate Fade

Today is a cold, rainy day, and I was outside for a good portion of it. It also rained in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, where my sister resides, and when I posed the question “What should I write about today?” she replied “something rainy”, so I picked the rainiest album that both her and I have enjoyed for many years, and is personally one of my top favorite albums:

Ah crap, someone spilled water all over the awesome painting of a giraffe making love to a squid

If you haven’t heard of Common Children, it’s quite all right, no-one has. They started in the mid-90’s as some bored musicians in Arkansas decided to rock out some progressive-flavored Christian pop/rock in the form of an album called Skywire, to at least enough success that there would be an even more popular follow-up album. Though I fully plan on talking about Skywire at a later time, it’s not as rainy of an album as Delicate Fade and anyway this is the album I heard first.

This album is put together really well as far as albums go. It combines ambient, artistic songs with hard-edged rock and even some early punk influence, and it spreads them out evenly enough to where the album’s rather hefty 1 hour and 9 minutes doesn’t get too boring. Like many albums of epic length (or epic albums of a much shorter length), it has an introductory track, an intermission track, and almost ends on a slow note, right after the lengthy jam, but not quite. Personally, this is about the best way to put together an album that can stand the test of time, in my opinion, but my opinion is very frequently wrong.

What I’m not wrong about, however, is that the album starts off with a lovely string arrangement with the song “Stains Of Time”. It becomes quickly apparent that the lyrics by one Marc Byrd are rather abstract and don’t really seem to be remotely connected with anything that makes sense. For this reason, one may argue that this isn’t a very “Christian” band for being a Christian band. If you read through the text, however, you’ll find enough references to make a solid connection, but until then there’s no much point talking about the lyrics.

With “Delicate Fade”, we’re introduced to the full band sound, and what a sound! Basically, it’s the ambient, arpeggio-driven guitar of Marc Byrd combined with a really unique bass player, Drew Powell, and the drummer, who has a very hard name to spell (Hampton Taliaferro), and tends to favor cadences and a lighter touch instead of total rocking out, at least until the entire band starts rocking out. It’s clear that there’s some jazz influence going on here, and that almost always translates to excellent rocking. With this track in particular, there’s a bit of a bass solo, and we’re given a closer listen to Drew’s style, which is more melodic than anything (and you know how I feel about melodic bass), and his playing style is very tough to decipher. Basically, it’s lightly distorted bass (weee) and he doesn’t actually sound like he’s playing it, it’s almost like he’s just moving around the frets without picking, but it could also be the effects. Either way, I rip this guy off all the time in my own bass playing, so I think about it often.

The next song is called “Indiscreet” and it’s the first of at least 3 examples of the band rocking out. It starts out innocently enough with phase-shifting guitars and Marc’s whispery vocals, but after the song’s bridge, suddenly there’s a great deal of screaming out the lyrics and the guitars are layered and distorted to the point where the whole thing becomes rather intense, and I like that.

Of course, to dispel the rockingness, we have the song “Eyes Of God”, an indisputably spiritual song but with a lyrical edge based in some of the more depressed states of existence, such as bicycling around a big city in the rain. It’s a great song, and actually gets a sequel in the way of an acoustic remix as the last track on the album. I don’t know why it has a sequel that is basically the exact same song, only acoustic, in the back of the album, I guess the band figured, after 1 hour and 9 minutes, either no-one would notice or they would have forgotten about this song by then.

We then get “Burn” which takes the screaming part of “Indiscreet”, adds in a punk-based (but still fancy) beat, and makes a whole song about it. It wouldn’t do to rock out for two songs in a row, however, so the mid-tempo and quite groovy “Firefly” follows this song. This song features some more great distorted bass with a different distortion and everything!

Probably one of the most “standard” rock songs on the album is the track “So Dream”, but like all the songs so far, is still great. I don’t know what it is about this track, however, but everything I listen to it on distorts during the chorus. Maybe the CD was mixed badly, maybe I ripped it badly to .mp3, maybe all my headphones are broken when it comes to this song? I don’t know.

Wrapping up the trilogy of screamy, fantastic punk songs on this album is “Pulse”, which has a beat that reminds me a lot of early English punk like Nine Below Zero, only reverb and distorted bass has been added. I couldn’t be happier with this song, in fact, this is probably my favorite song on the album. The end is entirely screaming (with an accapella “IT DOESN’T MATTER NOW” which is always written in caps, even in the liner notes, if I recall).

Of course, after that is the “Reprise”, which takes a lot of the words from earlier in the album and throws them against some very ambient guitar. Soothing!

We then have a few songs that are in roughly the same style, moody and alternative, but smooth and relaxing. First is “Whisper”, then “Strange Rain”, which includes a nice low-key violin solo, and then “Drift”, the first instance of overt acoustic guitar playing on the album.

Then comes the 11 minute jam song (I detect some Smashing Pumpkins influence here). It’s called “Blue Raft” and for a while was my favorite song basically ever. It is nothing more than two chords until the verse (which isn’t terribly complicated either), but the very spiritual, poetic lyrics and interesting fill-heavy bass-line keep this dreamy song going. If you were wondering how this could be considered a “jam” song, just wait the several minutes to second chorus, after which a wall of effect-laden guitars jam out, only instead of using scales and crunch, use slides, effects, and after-fret high notes to play searing solos that almost register above human hearing as far as shrillness is concerned. It’s really fun, and after they all calm down and another verse and chorus plays, they do it again. Did I, as a just-learning 15 year old guitarist, learn how to replicate these solos note-for-note using nothing more than a slide and too much reverb? Why yes I did.

Finally, we have “Storm Boy”, a quite sad song about growing up with a “complicated” family and keeping your mind away from the abject misery that such a thing can provide. It’s a very slow song as well, but has its own worth in having a very pretty, haunting melody.

Then the remade “Eyes Of God II” and that’s it. I’d like to see the rainfall that could beat out an album of this length, and I’d like to be listening to this album while watching that rainfall. If you don’t mind a bit of Christianity in your music, I definitely give this album a recommendation, as it’s one of the top-ranking albums in my invisible top 10 list of Christian Albums you should listen to. Oh, and I should mention while I’ve got you here, in case you’ve been paying attention to my earlier articles, this album was made in 1997, which I have pointed out time and time again was a very good year for Christian Rock.

Alternately, you could listen to “Hammock”, Marc Byrd’s post-Common Children music which should be available somewhere on the secular market. I’ve never heard it, but I am going to check it out at some point, and maybe at that time I will write about it and then YOU will have heard about it!

Enjoy the rain!

Rage Against The Machine – The Battle Of Los Angeles

It’s been a bit of a fantasy of mine, for a few months now, to stand in front of a group of people say at a show or event or something, and greet them with one of the most popular phrases of the last decade:

“Hey guys, impeach Bush am I right?

If I were to do that, of course, it would be roughly the same as listening to Rage Against The Machine’s magnum opus in this day and age. If you don’t believe me, just try it!

These guys missed a HUGE opportunity. If I had a band called Rage Against The Machine I would make the album cover a fist punching an alarm clock.

Of course, back in the old days, Rage Against The Machine were the go-to band for unfocused anger against some ambiguous authority figure that middle-class suburbia (the band’s main demographic) couldn’t be bothered to stay awake through Government class to learn about. Oh sure, pretty much every time Rage Against The Machine would play a show about half the crowd would get arrested for rioting, but it seems like it’s just another way of getting everyone to do what you tell them, only instead of sitting quietly and enjoying a consumerist society where everything is handed to us on a silver platter in exchange for endless debt to corporations, it’s running around and attacking policemen in the street because you don’t like George Bush.

I guess it goes without saying that this band is political.

Still, it’s hard to fault them as a group called “Rage Against The Machine”, these guys, in the span of only 4 albums (only 3 of which containing original material) have dipped into the endless well of machines to rage against that their message becomes about as repetitive as their music. Repetitive, sure, but so dang awesome. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better sound against which to start your own highschool shootout. The band is equal parts funky, metally, punky, and downright angry.

The main features that play against the superb rhythm section are the vocal/lyrical stylings of Zack De La Rocha, and the very strange guitar playing of Tom Morello, who, according to Guitar Hero, is a Legend Of Rock, right up there with Slash and nobody else, apparently. His claim to fame within the group is basically doing God-knows-what to his guitar in order to get this strange, toneless, bleepy guitar solos that serve more as something to scratch your head to rather than bang your head to.

Zack De La Rocha, while a fine lyricist and very clever with his wordplay for someone conducting so much raw hatred, has exactly two sounds that he makes with his voice. The first is where he’s whispering as if he’s hiding under blankets with his microphone so as not to wake his mother, and the other is like he’s shouting at someone across the street from inside a shower. Both sounds, while painfully predictable, also predictably work really well in this style of music.

Now, having lived painfully close to people who take this kind of music way too seriously, I have my reservations about the actual political influence this band has had over the years. If hundreds of years of corrupt systems designed to benefit one type of person at the expense of another could not be brought down by people coming up with ideas and assemblies and actually discussing solutions and changing the political climate for the better by actually utilizing the common will of the people, then I can hardly see what rock music hopes to accomplish by telling high-school kids to be angry and… do stuff. Unfortunately, that’s about all this band could accomplish in its brief run, and if you’re the type to take it seriously, well I’m sorry you wasted your time and money on all those tattoos.

Seriously though, I knew people that, inspired by this kind of music, actually considered getting into guerilla training… in a small suburban town in Texas. Actually, I guess Texas isn’t too far off of a state to get involved in that sort of thing in. Naturally, the almost annual glut of school shootings after the succes of The Matrix (featuring music by, well you know) more-or-less silenced this sentiment from the less hard-core, but as for me, I just like to listen to this music when I like really rockin’ music to listen to while riding my comfort bike down the road to Starbucks to give The Man $2 for a cup of coffee… with free refills.

Musically, however, it should not be mistaken that I am right with this band. It’s interesting to actually sit down and read about the problems they’re being angry about, but it’s far more interesting to air-drum to those infectious beats and try to scream along with the vocals or guitar, whichever is on at the time. Unlike punk rock, which is musically flaccid, or heavy metal, which is usually far too goofy to make any kind of real point, Rage Against The Machine struck a very accurate and delicate line between the two wherein ideas could be projected by shouting, but the whole thing is not lost in the wankery commonly associated with accomplished musicians.

The actual songwriting is not without its merits, either. In fact, whether they even make a valid point is beside the point, because the ideas, vague as they are, are presented in such vivid wordplay and downright cleverness that one can’t help but be swayed. Interestingly enough, however, my favorite song on this album is “Mic Check”, mainly for the groove, but it’s kind of awesome that the chorus is little more than “Mic Check Ha Ha Ha”.

It’s really too bad that, aside from Audioslave which was actually pretty good, none of the band’s members could work outside of the group to recreate any part of what made Rage Against The Machine great, then again I guess that’s why they got back together. Will they ever make another album? Who knows. Why should they? They tend to self-replicate worse than Country music, so a new album seems like a redundant thing. Nah, The Battle Of Los Angeles stands as a good enough encapsulation of what a band can do with The Machine… and that is to rage against it.

Hulk Hogan & The Wrestling Boot Band – Hulk Rules

Ok, I promised I’d do a terrible album weekly now, and it’s hard to imagine with our feeble human minds an album more terrible than one done by a wrestler. It’s actually quite the tradition for wrestlers to pile-drive their way into other forms of media, whether it be terrible movies, music, television, the Philips CD-i, or being elected heads of state. America loves wrestlers, and the fact that the sole album from Hulk Hogan (and, lest we forget, The Wrestling Boot Band) was not only made, but actually charted, just goes to show exactly what’s wrong (or irrefutably right) about America:

This cover is so perfect I dare not attempt to describe it with wordsBasically, this is an album where every song’s a winner. The pounding guitars and heavy 80’s drums that open the thing establish this point early on, and the chanting drives that point home:

The Hulkster’s in the house
Check him out, check him out
Get up off your seat
He’s got a brand new beat

And then Hulk himself comes in to roar “When the going gets tough, the tough get rough” before the next round of hard-driving nonsense starts. Yeah, it’s ridiculous, all right, but it does little to prepare you for what’s next.

“American Made”, sung by none other than Rick Derringer, proves that there IS singing on this album, but it wasn’t the wisest idea. That didn’t stop this guitar solo-laden caterwauling from becoming the Hulkster’s wrestling theme for a number of years (or so I have read). The lyrics, however, are pure motivational gold:

He’s got the red, white, and blue running through his veins
He was born and raised in the U-S-of-A
He’s government-inspected, he’s U.S. Grade
If you mess with the fact, it’s like a slap in his face
He’s American made (American made)

Not too bad so far, but we’re still not at the best stuff.

Yes, that’s right, we’ve got rap next with the song “Hulkster’s Back”, which features Hulk Hogan’s rapping, which I’ll be honest with you, is a worthy competition to Mr. T’s rapping from the 80’s. The fake horns and keyboard instruments really add a touch of class to Hulk grunting “What’s up dude!” and “Wanna arm wrestle?”, and “Hey there’s a new vein in my tricept!” and various other phrases that invariably end with “Brother”.

The keyboards don’t stop there, except the rest of the music switches to… tropical? Yep, we’ve got the song “Wrestling Boot Traveling Band” which is sung by someone far wimpier (but, to his credit, far more capable of hitting notes) than Hulk Hogan, and it’s hilarious. This one probably features Hulk on bass, since that was the instrument he learned to play at some point. This song also features the most awkward key change I’ve ever heard right at the end.

That song was a bit too wimpy, however, so of course the sound of a motorcycle introduces us to the next song, “Bad To The Bone”. No, it’s not a cover of the George Thorogood hit of the 80’s, it’s another song sung by that guy who shouldn’t be singing BESIDES the wrestler, and if you can listen to this song and agree, based on the lyrics and the vocal delivery, that the singer is “bad to the bone”, you’re clearly thinking of the wrong definition of “bad”.

Finally, the hit of the album, another rap song called “I Want To Be A Hulkamaniac”, which was (hopefully) aimed at the kids. It goes:

I want to be a Hulkamaniac
Have fun with my family and friends
I want to be a Hulkamaniac
Have fun with my family and friends

And then Hulk raps, and in lieu of talking about it, I think I’m just going to transcribe it:

If you want to be a Hulkamaniac
I can sure tell ya how to stay on track
You gotta train, say your prayers, eat your vitamins too
These are all the things that the ‘maniacs do
Positive thoughts, and positive deeds
These are the things that make us succeed
Always be good to your family and friends
There the only ones who’ll be there in the end

Doesn’t really sound like very “maniacal” behavior, but whatever. The song goes on to provide a very clear anti-drug message, and then about 10 choruses, and then another message about making sure to always swim with a buddy, and various other things that “the maniacs do”. You could learn a thing or two from this album!

We then have another rap song called “Beach Patrol”, a song about… you know, I’m not sure, it’s just kind of disconcerted party lyrics about being the “Beach Patrol” and kind of sticks around the subject of a lifeguard trying to take Hulk’s girlfriend, which is not a good idea.

Time for another soulful tune, this time called “Hulk’s The One”, sung (I think) by Hulk Hogan’s wife and later ex-wife, after she filed for divorce and started dating a 19 year old (she’s 50). Still, in 1995, “Hulk’s the one for me”, and I think we can all agree.

Finally, the track we’ve all been waiting for, the second-to-last track, called “Hulkster In Heaven”, which is about a Make-A-Wish Foundation kid whose wish it was to see Hulk Hogan wrestle in the UK before dying. When the Hulkster got there, however, he saw an empty chair, as the kid had died before his wish could be granted. A sad story indeed, and it moved the 6’7 300 pound wrestler to pen an epic tune that he actually sings (as opposed to just… commanding), against John Lennon-style piano and fake horns, and these words are simply too good to keep to myself:

I read it in the papers
I saw it on TV
I guess there’ll be one empty seat
When I wrestle in Wembley
I used to tear my shirt
But now you’ve torn my heart
I knew you were a Hulkamaniac
Right from the very start

You were my friend
I’ll see you again
When the Hulkster comes to Heaven
We’ll tag up again

The world just lost another Hulkamaniac
A friend to the end, I’ll see you again
I wish Hulk’s love could bring you back again

You were my friend
I’ll see you again

When I climb back in the ring
You know we’ll win this fight
I wish you were here at ringside
To cheer me on tonight
The spotlight now grows dim
And now it’s not on me
The prayers we said together
Are still our guarantee

You were my friend
I’ll see you again
When the Hulkster comes to Heaven
We’ll tag up again
The world just lost another Hulkamaniac
(A friend to the end, I’ll see you again)
I wish Hulk’s love could bring you back again

And, well, random lines are repeated in order to flesh this song out to 5 minutes. This song goes to prove that the power of love is more powerful than any Atomic Leg Drop.

Finally, we have one more song, appropriately titled “Hulk Rules” and sung again by that metal singer guy. I’m a little too choked up from “Hulkster In Heaven” though so I should wrap this thing up.

If there were ever an album written by a professional wrestler and a washed-up 80’s rocker, this is that album. It’s hugely entertaining, however, and given the Hulkster’s recent problems with his family and friends, I think we should all lend him our support through these trying times. After all, this millionaire entertainer with a mansion and muscles that each could independently destroy you is still a person. A person with feelings.

Don’t watch his reality TV show, though, it’s terrible.

Weird Al Yankovic – Straight Outta Lynwood

Weird Al and I go way back, all the way back, actually. A 90’s compilation of his called The Food Album (aptly named because it was a sample of the deep pool of songs he had done up to that point that contained direct references to food) was the first CD I ever owned. Interestingly enough, it’s that, the music video collection, and Straight Outta Lynwood that are the only albums of his I own. Truth is, I’ve always been very fond of him, but the actual albums are a one-or-two listen affair, usually I was able to just borrow a friend’s CD and listen to it for a week and then send it on back.

But I actually own Lynwood so let’s talk about that:

Get it? He's a gangster, like those rapper fellas! He looks tough!This album might be more successful than the previous album, Poodle Hat, but that could only be due to the fact that I haven’t heard Poodle Hat and didn’t even see it in stores during its brief retail run. The big problem with that album is that it wasn’t given the exposure and thus moderate amount of success Weird Al albums usually get because there was no video for the Eminem parody that opens it, and Weird Al videos are made of pure gold, and are worth as much to him in terms of record sales. The whole reason behind this is that Eminem is a worthless human being and is not worthy of even being notorious for sucking, he’s a child of a man and has no sense of humor (his attempts at humor will back me up on this). At least Coolio (the other rapper who childishly complained about someone making a parody of his song) is more interesting, not least for his hair.

Anyway, all that aside, Weird Al had his trouble with this album, too. He wanted to center the thing around a track called “You’re Pitiful”, a parody of Coldplay wannabe James Blunt’s questionable hit “You’re Beautiful”. Unfortunately, Atlantic Records (not Blunt himself) denied Al permission to parody the song, which Al has brought up in the video for “White And Nerdy”. It’s ok, though, because he totally didn’t need that song to make a hit album.

In fact, the album is the only Billboard Top Ten album in Weird Al’s career. This is almost entirely due to the hit single “White And Nerdy”, which could very well be Weird Al’s magnum opus. Not only is it one of his most clever songs (I mean, just look at the topic!), but it’s so well put together and performed immaculately. Even Chamillionaire, the clean-cut young gentleman who first the parodied song, “Ridin’ Dirty” had to give Weird Al props for his rapping ability, and even credited his Grammy win for that song to Al’s version becoming so popular. It’s true that there are songs I like more from Weird Al, but I would have to say that he really hit his stride with that particular number.

Possibly the best part about Straight Outta Lynwood, besides the presence of “White And Nerdy”, is the amount of original tunes and pastiche present, wherein Weird Al more copies the style of an artist rather than ripping off an actual tune. I’ve taken this as an indication that perhaps music is so dried up for legitimate pop hits that Al didn’t have much to choose from, or it could just be a change, perhaps even an evolution, in his unique form of comedy, I dunno. There’s a wonderful song about frivolous lawsuits in the Rage Against The Machine pastiche “I’ll Sue Ya”, and a very fun play on Brian Wilson’s “Pet Sounds” sound with a tribute to that most underrated of organs, the “Pancreas”. The best of the lot, as far as I’m concerned, is a parody of not only the unique musical stylings of the band Cake, but a dig at the singer/songwriter’s very strange and fussy standards with women represented in songs like “Short Skirt And Long Jacket”, and as a bonus, even throws in the “Ah yeah”, “Oh no” and “All right”s that are signature in the whole Cake universe. The song is called “Close, But No Cigar” and gives a few examples of women who are absolutely perfect in every sense of the singer’s ability to use hyperbole, but then one niggling irritation would bring about the chorus, an example:

Jillian was her name
She was sweeter than aspartame
Her kisses reconfigured my DNA
And after that I never was the same

And I loved her even more
Than Marlon Brando loved souffle
She was gorgeous, she was charming
Yeah, she was perfect in every way

Except she was always using the word “infer”
When she obviously meant “imply”
And I know some guys would put up with that kind of thing
But frankly, I can’t imagine why

And I told her, I said
Hey, are we playing horseshoes, honey?
No, I don’t think we are
You’re close (Close)
But no cigar”

The straight-up parodies are incredible in this album as well. My favorites include the Green Day parody, which simply takes “American Idiot” and moves it north to “Canadian Idiot”, and of course his parody of recent silver-haired American Idol winner(?) Taylor Hicks and his song “Do I Make You Proud?” which becomes “Do I Creep You Out”, which not only features some incredible stalker lyrics, but Weird Al sings it in that hammy American Idol style that I hate so much. He also makes an unofficial sequel to Usher’s “Confessions, Part II” with “Part III” which serves to not only list a bunch of really silly confessions, but make fun of the fact that there was a sequel to the first song, as if you need more than 1 song to confess things you’ve done.

The best, however, is the parody of R. Kelly’s unintentionally hilarious attempt at creating, simultaneously, the worst AND longest song in the world, “Trapped In The Closet”. Weird Al’s version, instead of being split up into 22 excruitatingly long parts, is simply 12 minutes long and is intentionally hilarious.

Finally, we’re given a wonderful gospel song about the dangers of illegally downloading music with the song “Don’t Download This Song”, which also has a brilliant video by Bill Plympton, if you didn’t know.

Speaking of, it saddens my heart, but it looks like, along with They Might Be Giants, Weird Al is trying to break away from doing live-action videos in favor of doing animated videos. This is tragic and should not be done (except by Bill Plympton) because apparently nobody knows how to make a good and FUNNY animated music video for his music (an exception, of course, is “Jurrassic Park” but that’s claymation). John K., creator of Ren & Stimpy and someone who has animated music videos before (for “Tommy The Cat” by Primus, most notably), failed to make even a half-decent video for “Close, But No Cigar” and the videos for the hilarious song “Virus Alert” and “Trapped In The Drive Thru” do absolutely nothing but make literal references to the text of the song. That’s not comedy! Comedy, in Weird Al videos, is suddenly having his face smashed by glass, having strange things outside the realm of what’s literally in the song, happen. What about guest appearances by Robert Goulet or Dick Van Patten or Dr. Demento? All of these things are a product of the brilliant mind who made the music, not some chump trying to animate jokes that are already there. Bring back the real videos!

Ok, now that that diatribe is over, you should really listen to this album. It’s pretty awesome, and thanks to the fact that Al found out just how easy it is to make parodies as the originals become hits using a sickening combination of Myspace and iTunes, it could be the last one!