George Harrison – All Things Must Pass

Today was a rainy day, which I always like to see closing out one of the hottest months of the year, so well played, Texas weather. Still, it was time for my daily coffee and I was faced with an archaic task that I thought was stricken from my routine forever upon acquiring a Zune with a tape-deck adapter; the task of selecting a CD from my monstrous collection to play in the car on my way over. The tape deck broke in the car, you see, so I’m left with just the CD player, and thus can only listen to one CD at a time. So prehistoric! I tell you, thumbing through a GUI with all of my worldly musical possessions right there is one thing, but sifting through all of my albums by hand, trying to find a “suitable for rainy days” album is quite another. I never found an album for the rain, but I did happen across this, an album I have been LONG overdue in listening to in its entriety:

George Harrison is still waiting for those garden gnomes to pass, is possibly considering re-thinking his theoryAll Things Must Pass, and really George Harrison’s solo work in general, is something of a cosmic joke on The Beatles, I feel. Basically, in all 10-ish years of the Beatles’ dicatorship over the minds and souls of the youth (now known as your grandparents), George Harrison was known as “The Quiet One”. He generally only offered about 1 or 2 songs per album to the group, and trust me when I say that nobody compares every songwriter in existence to “Harrison/Harrison”, oh no, any musician would consider himself blessed to be accused of ripping off “Lennon/McCartney”.

Imagine this, if you can, the “Lennon/McCartney” egos and general dissonance of the group’s mentality eventually drove The Beatles apart, scattering in all directions like some cosmic explosion of rock, where each one would contribute actual consistent material for once, so never again would there be a record where you might groove to a Lennon tune only to be derailed by one of McCartney’s oft-childish…err…whimsical concoctions.

It was after this time, in fact, less than a year after The Beatles’ breakup, that George Harrison pulled one of the biggest stunts in music: releasing a triple album.

That’s right, “The Quiet One” of the group, amidst all the fighting and lawsuits and poor management and songs about Octopus Gardens, amassed enough unused songs to create not one, but three albums, and had the guff to go ahead and release them all at the same time, a feat never before attempted by a solo artist. Here’s another kicker: the albums are all great!

There was a time when I, in my youthful audacity (mere days before starting this blog), would have merely reported that the album is “good”, and that’s because it features what used to be a real pet peeve of mine before I kind of “grew” as a music appreciationist. One of those pet peeves goes by the name of Phil Spector.

Now, it’s only an accident that this is the first time I would mention Spector. Basically, he’s the guy responsible for the “Wall of Sound”, which is the single-cell organism that would eventually “evolve” in the indie sound. It’s on a lot of recordings (even a Beatles album I haven’t talked about yet), and it involves lots and lots of recording, many instruments layered over each other, and everything is so echoey that it sounds like you left your speakers in the the bathroom on the other side of a warehouse. Most albums that have this sound achieve critical boot-licking the likes of which I have only seen lately with the advent of this afore-mentioned indie sound. I think it’s because most critics are afraid to say it, but I, as an avid music fan and in no way a professional writer, am not afraid to say: Screw you, Phil Spector.

Basically, All Things Must Pass would be the perfect album for me if it weren’t for all this echo. It’s like I’m caught in a network of tunnels, trying to find this amazing rock music at its source so I can rock out with it forever, but will never find it because Phil Spector has erected a wall to keep me from enjoying this album to its fullest. That’s right, I went metaphorical on you.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just check out the song “Awaiting On You All”, the fourth song on the “second” album. What is even going on here? I don’t know, but this song is otherwise so great.

The other pet peeve I used to have with this album was the repetition. Now, if you’ve read my cathartic Sparks writeups, you will know that I am now totally pro-repetition, if used sparingly and with adequate modulation. That is what George Harrison is all about, so songs like the accidentally-stolen “My Sweet Lord” and Lennon-rejected “Isn’t It A Pity” are bereft of the sting of having more than half of the songs dedicated to repeating a single line over and over.

Despite the production, there are some really inspiring and moving moments on the album. The song “All Things Must Pass” is a calm, wonderful tune about one of the most enduring ideas shared by most mindsets, philosophies, and religions, that everything comes in order to pass. The good, the bad, the endless choruses, the feeling of drowning in reverb, it will all pass. It’s a great idea, and not a lot of musicians take the time to acknowledge this simple truth.

Another great song to me is “Wah-Wah”, not so much because it’s inspiring, but because it’s got those wild Beatles-esque chord changes, and some really cool 7th-note-heavy harmonies. The album is not without its quirky moments, as well, as the whimsical e-piano heavy “I Dig Love” almost sounds like McCartney snuck into the studio and switched out some of the sheet music, which would be just like him.

Songs like “Art Of Dying” introduce an actual “jam” element to the second album, which I quite appreciate. Of course, the whole third album is known as the “Apple Jams” (which sounds delicious), as they were more just jamming with some top musicians than anything. The sequence on the CD version starts off with a horrible happy-birthday song to John Lennon which thankfully bumps right into a high-speed blues jam after less than a minute. “Plug Me In” is immense fun, and features best friend Eric Clapton swapping guitar licks with Beatle George.

The longer jams, “I Remember Jeep” with its white noise awesomeness throughout, and “Thanks For The Pepperoni”, keep the blues stuff going, and to enthusiasts of the sound (like me), is probably going to be the best part of the album. The whole thing ends (on the CD version, whereas it starts with this track in the 5th LP) with “Out Of The Blue”, which is more blues, but this time with a healthy dose of rock (and many more musicians) added.

So all for the price of a Beatles album and a half, we get 2 great albums, one kind of folksy and the other kind of more rock-oriented, and then a third half-hour of instrumental blues, no wonder everyone loves this album! Yes, indeed Beatle George really showed the musical world what he was made of with this album and some of his subsequent releases, and if there were any justice in the world, his tag-line would have been promptly changed to “The Musician” of the group.

Pink Floyd – A Saucerful Of Secrets

Hoo boy, it’s time to talk about another early Pink Floyd album. I actually was GOING to write about Ummagumma, since I happened to stumble upon and purchase a CD copy of it today (kind of a rarity to see in stores, I noticed, unlike other Pink Floyd albums); however, I realized that I can’t really go into Ummagumma without talking about A Saucerful Of Secrets, at least to mention the demise of Syd Barrett:

Mom! Pink Floyd's being weird again, their album cover is LOOKING AT METhis album’s history is kind of a mess, so let me try to simplify things a little:

After the release of the band’s moderately successful debut, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, the band went out touring, doing promotions, you know, the usual. This apparently doesn’t mix well with drugs, as lead singer/guitarist Syd Barrett was starting to go a sickly shade of crazy.

The band goes into the studios to record their second album, the first (of two) albums featuring an indefinite article, A Saucerful Of Secrets, for a few months in 1967. They bring in bright-eyed, “chipper” young guitarist/singer David Gilmour (or, for this album, “Gilmore”), to secretly fill in for Barrett while he was on vacation in cartoon land.

Syd Barrett becomes increasingly erratic, sometimes staring into space or strumming only one chord while playing shows/recording sessions (while considered insane at the time, this would eventually become the template for indie rock), plans to write song with a chord change in every verse. This proves to be “last straw” for band, who oust him and permanently replace him with David Gilmour.

Recording finishes in 1968, with each member putting in a balanced amount of work, since bassist Roger Waters had not yet subjugated the rest of the band.

So, the bad news is that this is the album where Barrett leaves the group for good, leaving behind what would become the “definitive” lineup. The other bad news is that now we have to talk about the album:

To tell you the truth, when I’m feeling down and out, and feel like I haven’t got a friend in the world, it’s not songs that talk about loneliness, lost love, or isolation that I like to listen to. Nah, it’s mainly random noise and music that sound like a guitar lesson gone horribly wrong, and for that reason, I actually love Pink Floyd’s early stuff, and Saucerful is no exception.

It starts out with the cleverly-titled “Let There Be More Light”, a tune written by Roger Waters. It starts, like any good song, with a weird guitar riff that could be joined by a bass, it’s hard to tell, either way, it’s poundy and riffy, and people will like that. It eventually scoots over to the left channel as the keyboard “skills” of Richard Wright sneak into the right channel. The vocals are kind of a group effort, with everyone but drummer Nick Mason singing something somewhere. I honestly love this song, even if it does that stupid stereo-panning I typically hate. Still, it does it in a creative way, switching channels as it switches singers. The lyrics are kind of a poster child for psychedelic lyrics, talking about a “solar bear” and spaceships and even coyly name-dropping “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, a virtually unknown tune written by The Beatles.

The next composition is entitled “Remember A Day”, and was written and sung by keyboardist Richard Wright. The song, unlike many songs of the era, is written in a positive major key, except when it isn’t. This was one of the “1967” songs, and thus features Syd Barrett, in this particular instance, on a slide guitar. He seems to have some sense of where to put the notes, but actually about half of the notes are just aimless gliding, which to be totally truthful with you, is the way I play slide guitar. The temptation is too great to not do that! Especially going above the frets to the “squealy” bits near the pickups, so in that way, Syd Barrett and I are equally insane. I also don’t know what it is with that echoey “pop” sound in the background (for those listening in at home, it starts around the 2:18 mark and continues on for about 20 more seconds), but I keep hearing that on albums, and I wish it would end.

Next is a slow, rhythmic jam called “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”. It’s another “1967” song, written by Waters again, and is mainly based on a guitar riff, with a few modifications occasionally. This song is the only one in the Pink Floyd catalog to feature all 5 members of the band, but it’s hard to know whether it truly “involves” any of them.

“Corporal Clegg” is my favorite song on the album, and it’s the first of many anti-war songs written by Waters. The tune is nice and dark and actually rockin’, featuring some pounding guitar chords à la Hendrix in style. The lyrics are cynical and sort of humorous, but good luck finding any of them in the muddy vocal mix. One cool thing about this song is that it has the drummer singing background vocals, but that’s not to say there aren’t many other cool things about the song; I haven’t even mentioned the kazoos during the chorus, and I never will!

Next is the 11 minute epic instrumental “that tells a story”, which happens to also be the album’s title track. The song takes about 4 minutes to go from random percussion and organ nonsense (the “Something Else” section) to include a beat and some truly awesome noisy guitar effects while it sounds like someone is pounding the low octave on a piano with a cat held by its tail (the “Syncopated Pandemonium” section), and then someone falls asleep on the organ for about a minute and a half (the “Storm Signal” portion), and then a wonderful finish where there’s some angelic harmonic singing, if all the angels were greasy, drugged-out English dudes (“Celestial Voices”). All in all, I like this song, but 11 minutes is an awful long time to commit to now that I’m not riding a bicycle every day.

Nearly to the end, we get a nice spacey song in a major key, again written by Richard Wright, who also sings. The song kind of sounds like it’s being played against the sound of a noisy theater projector, but that’s just the cadence of the drums from Nick Mason, at least until the post-chorus “panning” sections, in which case the weird noise is the tape being awkwardly spliced together, thus creating unusual “pops”. I bet this is intentional, too, those wacky Brits.

Finally, we get the only composition by Syd Barrett before his departure from the group. The song, “Jugband Blues”, is kind of sad in the context of Barrett being too insane even for rock music and trying to make sense in a world that doesn’t make sense to him anymore. In another context, nay, any other context, this song is completely bananas. Let me try and break it down for you:

First, it starts in 6/8 and Barrett’s vocals and acoustic guitar kind of dominate while he sings:

It’s awfully considerate of you to think of me here
And I’m much obliged to you for making it clear
That I’m not here

Then the song changes keys and the time signature is now 4/4 as Barrett is now kind of depressed yet resolute about things:

And I’m wondering who could be writing this song
I don’t care if the sun don’t shine
And I don’t care if nothing is mine

Then the song kind of becomes a mess of horns and kazoos, the horns provided famously by a Salvation Army band. They do this as the song kind of moves them from left to right as they’re chased by this strange keyboard and guitar sound. Then the tape rips, and the key is now a lower-key version of the first part, and we’re back at 6/8 with Syd’s final parting words:

And the sea isn’t green
And I love the queen
And what exactly is a dream
And what exactly is a joke

What exactly is indeed, Syd Barrett. I really feel for the guy, and despite being part of the partnership for a drug-free America, I feel like I relate to him in some ways. The band, of course, would never be the same after Barrett’s departure, but would go on to make more commercially successful albums, so that’s a thing.

Despite it being vastly unpopular in America (the only Pink Floyd album to not chart in its first printing), and “only” #9 in England, it’s numbered among the very few Pink Floyd albums I’m actually quite fond of. I feel that on days when one, like Barrett, may be feeling disaffected by reality and isolated from the world around, accompanies The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn quite well.

U2 – Zooropa

Today it’s time to talk about one of my favorite U2 albums… to talk about, that is. Zooropa is an interesting piece of the Irish mega-band’s history, and perhaps as a bonus, it’s a good album!

To be fair, they only had a few weeks to put this album together, I doubt the thought of making an album cover that wasn't retarded didn't EVEN cross their minds.

Now, if I listened to Zooropa like I listen to most albums by artists I don’t really care about, my writeup would be “sequel to Achtung Baby” stretched out to 1000 words. Thankfully, I actually know a thing or two about this album not only because it actually is one of my favorite U2 albums, but because I used to go out with a U2 super-fan, so I came into my own U2 fandom with lots of information already present.

This album contains not only a whole lot of unusual aspects for U2, but also for album-making in general. I can’t name you another band the size of U2 who, in the middle of a career-redefining world-wide tour, decide to take 12 weeks off to record another album. Better yet, since 12 weeks was hopelessly not enough time to finish the album, they went back to touring and flew out to Dublin to finish the album on their days off. To borrow a reaction from Eddie Izzard: I can’t even get out to the gym!

The other interesting aspects to this album are contained in some of its more interesting tracks. The opening song, “Zooropa”, was built basically out of a tape recorded sound check the band had done, and then they wrote in a bunch of commercial slogans to advertise this futuristic European (sorry, Zooropean) society where everything’s kind of crazy. I guess the album starts of being a late-comer to that “cyberpunk” craze of the late 80’s. Another crazy thing about “Zooropa” is that the drummer wrote and apparently performed the bass-line, adding substantial evidence to my theory that Adam Clayton (the band’s bassist and a man I consistently envy) has the easiest and best job in the world.

The second song, “Babyface”, may not be quite as interesting to the casual listener or fan of trivial information, but I personally think the song is great. It’s about the singer being obsessed with an image of someone, possibly a celebrity or just a beautiful woman, and like the song “Lemon”, is kind of about images of people, living with them, manipulating them, and so on. The only part of the song that sticks out to me, besides the fact that it’s a really fun-sounding song with great guitar effects, is the line “Babyface, babyface, slow down child let me untie your lace”, and like a few other songs, makes me think all these women keep outrunning Bono, it’s just kind of funny to me. I’m probably the only one who finds this funny.

The song “Numb” is probably the one everyone knows from this album. It was the first single, which itself is kind of a weird idea, since the lead “singing” is done by guitarist The Edge, with falsetto assistance from Bono. The song has a weird video, which was hilarious lampooned by, well, everyone (my particular favorite is Beavis & Butthead’s commentary, but I hear there’s a Weird Al parody out there that I really want to see), and it’s about as random as the song. It’s basically a string of “Don’t -” followed by just about every kind of verb. The idea behind the song is avant-garde and I think very clever, so I really have no complaints about this song, I could listen to it all day. It’s at least a nice change of pace from having Bono singing lead, plus there’s something inherently charming about dead-pan monotone vocals, just ask Cake.

“Lemon” is another unusual idea for a song, let’s just throw everything that makes U2 who they are out of the window and sing a falsetto-laden German techno-style song about a home video of Bono’s mother. Great! Let’s also make it unbelievably catchy, with spacey guitar sounds that nobody’s really ever used before that doesn’t even sound like a guitar. Super! Let’s end our shows from here on out by soaring in on a flying lemon! O…k?

It’s so very hard for me to pick a favorite song on this album, but I will say that the song I feel is the best one, outside of my own feelings, is “Stay (Far Away, So Close!)”. I guess the song kind of stands on its own, outside of the futuristic feel of the rest of the album, and is just this 7 minute song about a troubled soul with a lot of real feeling. This song also features a great melody and just overall great performances from the band playing their instruments with minimal interference from the album’s overall ambition. Maybe it’s because they had Frank Sinatra in mind when they wrote the thing, I don’t know. It’s just a great song.

In fact, after such a lovely song, one almost doesn’t want to go back for the second half of the album, since it seems to start off right where it left off with “Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car”. I know I, for one, kind of wandered off the album at this point many times, but really there are some great songs on the second half of this album too. I like “Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car” because the way they play with the electronic sounds and sequencing is really cool-sounding to me. The lyrics are a bit much for me, but still funny, particularly when sung by Bono’s little alter-ego, the less about which is said, the better.

“Some Days Are Better Than Others” starts, like many great songs, with the bass. This is not to take away from any of the other instruments, I particularly like the squeaky guitar in the chorus. The lyrics, well, they’re not very good but they are supremely quotable. Memorize the words and try to tell me I’m wrong. If you didn’t notice, the line “Take me to another place” would later be cannibalized for a later song, and I like how sneaky U2 is like that.

“The First Time” starts off slow and I will admit that I skip it often. How could you not skip a song that starts with a slow guitar and the words:

I’ve got a lover
A lover like no other
She’s got soul soul soul

(this is me skipping)

The song never really builds up either, so you had just better be in a mood for a slow song by this time, is all I’m saying.

“Dirty Day” is another song that kind of flies under my radar, even if it is a good song in its own right. This song is largely composed of things Bono’s father used to say, and it’s about a father returning to his estranged son, and I’m only telling you this stuff because there’s not a lot else to say about it. The song kind of plateaus early and stays there for about 4 1/2 minutes of the song’s total 7 minutes.

Finally, we have another oddity, a U2 song without Bono singing a single note, and without The Edge playing guitar. Yep, “The Wanderer” features the man, the legend, Johnny Cash on vocals, with The Edge backing up with ghostly “ahhhh’s” far in the background. The entire song is pretty much really light drumming, synthy bass guitar, and this constant siren-like sound created by a keyboard, and Johnny Cash’s vocals. It’s the strangest thing, but I kind of can’t help but love it, the lyrics are great, and of course this is one of the various elements that helped re-introduce Johnny Cash to the music mainstream, as this was recorded just before his first American album dropped. Sure, my dad probably wouldn’t have approved of all this, but I think it stands as a testament to Cash’s own feeling on the song that it was included on 3 of his own albums (1 re-issue of The Mystery Of Life and 2 compilations).

So there we have it, Zooropa is an album of oddities, and, save for a couple of boring tracks near the end, does a really good job of expanding U2’s overall sound far beyond what even Achtung Baby set out to accomplish. Of course, the band would ultimately abandon most of these directions by radically re-designing their sound again, but not before coming out with more ludicrous material, which we will surely cover on another day. Until then, keep on wandering!

Aaron Sprinkle – Bareface

Well, here it is, the last of the Aaron Sprinkle releases I can talk about on Album Du Jour. This, Fair’s albums, Rose Blossom Punch’s album, and Aaron’s other two solo albums is pretty much his discography of albums proper. There is of course a great solo acoustic live recording, a compilation called Lackluster that features only 1 song that hasn’t been done on one of the other three albums, and an EP here or there, and of course the rest of the Poor Old Lu catalog, but I’m saving those. Hence, this is pretty much it.

But what an “it” it is:

It took me a while to figure out this is a safety cover for a power outlet. Other theories have been a closed laptop and a flying saucer.Aaron Sprinkle has always been something of a hero to me in the realm of guitar-playing. An unlikely hero, perhaps, but he was one of the few stand-out excellent musicians outside of the Blues that I more or less grew up with. There’s a little something in every good artist that I can trace back to Aaron, especially when getting into the artists he himself is into, I can see a lot of influence there, but somehow Aaron’s music is always unique to me. I suppose it’s because I was listening to him before Nick Drake, before Leonard Cohen, Warren Zevon, Radiohead, The Beatles, hell, I was learning “Sweeter Than Me” note-for-note well before my spiral into Johnny Cash-a-holism.

So, you’ll have to forgive me for treating this particular artist with a great deal of reverence, especially given that he’s less than 10 years older than me and I’ve probably written more songs than he has by now. I can say with as much objectivity as I can muster, however, that Bareface is perhaps his most fully realized album, and certainly one to pick up if you are looking to get into the artist.

The album starts off, as the EP that preceded it, and the live album and compilation album that came after it start off, with the song “Really Something”. I guess the “really something” in this song means it’s the perfect song to start an Aaron Sprinkle set off with. It’s a good starting song though, kicking everything off in a minor key, and an obscure one at that! The song is a poetic yet down-to-earth examining of the singer’s life, and answers the frustrations he has with the mundane inconveniences therein with a recollection that:

Some days I actually forget
That this is really something
One look from you and that is it
And this is really something
Being hard is hard, so sick of it
And this is really something good
This is really something good

It’s a really good song, all around, blending folk with Aaron’s own rock-pop that strays far away from the trap of “indie”-style music by actually emphasizing melody and putting it above everything but the actual message of the music. What a pro!

The next song is one of the three that I have seen make an impact on people, myself included. It’s kind of the ultimate “sweet lover” song, so it’s appropriate that it should be called “Sweeter Than Me”. The song starts off with a kind of major-scale run down, utilizing a psuedo-country picking technique, and stays constant throughout the verses. The lyrics are poignant, heart-felt, and other pleasant adjectives as well. It’s a song clearly written about a girl by someone who cares, and the chorus is kind of a cheer-up from the “down” feeling this person is going through. The chorus reads, “You’re much sweeter than me by far, and you’re much stronger than me, you know you are”. Simple words, but I have always considered this song a favorite, possibly among all songs, to play on my own guitar. I played it once for a girl at a coffee house gig, and she became obsessed with that particular song, and reminded me of it years later when we ran into each other randomly. Not only is this the only time that’s happened with a song I actually have nothing to do with, but she’s only one of a few girls that have similarly fallen in love with the song. Fellas, take note, this song’s a lady killer.

The next song, “All You Can Give”, tends to be a bit of a downer at this point, with its slow beat and backing vocals being run through an aquarium. It’s a good song, I feel, but one must know it’s coming.

“Gravel”, the next song, is half-way between a downer and a rocker, but I feel it’s much more in line with the kind of Country tinge that “Sweeter Than Me” starts, and thus sounds more at home on this album. I am also a big time sucker for the electric piano sounds that back up the chorus. This song is also one of the songs that links Aaron to Neil Young, in my ears, as this song has that same reminiscent feel I get from Mr. Young’s recordings. This is most likely intentional, as I know Aaron is a fan.

“No Reason To Pretend” is Aaron’s one-and-only foray into 3 part harmony on his solo recordings, and it’s too bad he didn’t make more attempts. It’s a minor-key acoustic folk tune that I adore not only for the voices that close it out, but for the lyrics, a good straight-up mature “love song”.

“Running In My Head” is the first legitimately up-beat song on the album since the opening track, and this one’s in a major key, so it really is kind of a first. The song leans heavily on the lap steel for instrumental melody, so this song sounds very Country. Also, I feel terrible about this, but I stole the riff from the chorus entirely by accident for a song I have since scrapped. Fun riff, either way.

“Colorblind” is an adventure through harmonicas and trade-off vocals, Aaron vs. Aaron. It’s the only track I consider to be weaker than the others, but that still puts it above most other songs. It just kind of blends in between the best Country song and perhaps the best Rock song on the album, the latter of which is up next.

Ahhh, “Let Me In”. It starts with an epic acoustic guitar chorus-thing in the background before the ultra-catchy electric guitar riff comes in and steals the show. This is one of the songs I listen to exclusively when I’m sad about something, in particular, this song became one of my personal anthems during the only particularly messy break-up of my life, and that’s saying something. The other thing that says something is that I can listen to this song when the sun is singing and the birds are shining and still enjoy the hell out of it. If you couldn’t guess, the song is about being obsessed over a girl who has recently left you.

“The Patron” would be a perfectly good song if it didn’t have one of the cheapest sounding piano sounds backing up the first half of it. It’s seriously so good once that piano is drowned out by some drums and the chorus brings the thing up a few notches. Oh well, when one has been listening to an album consistently for 7 years, one may find the odd thing to nit-pick about it.

Finally, a lone acoustic guitar (ok two lone acoustic guitars) play an honest melody while Aaron sings some really challenging words that I promise you I have played for someone before and that person was in all kinds of tears, and no that person wasn’t me. Ok maybe:

Don’t think you could stop it now
I’d like to see you try somehow
But realize that it puts it all on you
There’s nothing you can do

Right now you’re sick and tired
You’re feeling sad, you’re feeling uninspired
And the clock just won’t slow down
Like it gets its kicks, pushing you around

This song is kind of relentless, but it may be at this point that you might detect the axiomatic Christian downer lyrics creeping up. I have mentioned this before when talking about Poor Old Lu, that no matter how bad a song can treat its subject (in this case, your aging ass), there merely has to be a line of redemption at the end and all is well. Indeed this is how the whole Christianity thing is supposed to work, so bear with.

Maybe in the morning it won’t be
Quite as bad as it seems…

But the fact that you can’t change
The speed of sound, the rate of age
Is an understatement to a state of mind
You’re not used to

Used to, you’d be forever known
As the boy who stopped the world
And made his own

Right now you’re sick and tired
You’re feeling sad, feeling uninspired
So I pray for you, my friend
That you’ll fall down, you’ll give in

You’ll give in

Wow, this song is either a spiritually powerful message of humility and redemption, or else the worst bully. Either way, I feel the song’s simplicity and powerful message are conveyed well enough to make this a great song, and a great end to a great album.

Ahh, I feel better already. This is for sure one of those albums I like to listen to while feeling down, and will probably be so forever, which is unfortunately the amount of time it’s likely to take Aaron Sprinkle to come out with another solo album. Still, we’ve got Fair to look forward to, hopefully that will arrive before I’m done writing up albums every day, but until then, have a good one!

Kiss – Destroyer

Well, now that I have exploded the internet with my news about Tool, I feel it only right to talk about a band we can all agree is the best rock band ever. Right?

Oh wait we’re talking about Kiss.

Only in Detroit... Ok, really Kiss is not that bad. Like many rock acts of the day, I consider them more hilarious than anything, but they managed to have a pretty unique act and I feel there are times that they legitimately rocked. Indeed, this album is one of those times, and I think the world would agree, since the album went platinum and all.

Of course, this album probably wouldn’t have gone platinum if it weren’t for the intrusion of its producer, Bob Ezrin, who had made a name producing, among others, Alice Cooper’s most famous albums.

Basically, Kiss up to this point had a unique thing going from day one with the makeup and theatrics and all that, and had even managed to pull themselves out of obscurity with their fourth album, a live album, of all things (mind you, it’s said that about 90% of that album was re-done in the studio, but the fact remains). It was basically do-or-die for the band at this point; their whole careers were riding dramatically on how well they would do in their follow-up album.

The band does not disappoint, Ezrin had a bunch of great ideas on how to make a great rock album, and some kind of stupid ideas that still worked, and he threw all of them out there to get this thing off the ground. He also ran the production like “musical boot camp” according to Paul Stanley, ridiculous lead singer of Kiss. He even threatened to oust guitarist Ace Frehley when he wouldn’t play ball, even replacing him on certain tracks with Alice Cooper’s trusty guitarist Dick Wagner.

Either way, the whole thing probably played out like one of those movie montages where Gene Simmons is punching meat and learning how to read the bass clef while Paul Stanley is running up stairs while shouting lyrics, and in the end, we get a finely-polished album that would become the template for most of the “good” Kiss albums (and some rock albums in general) to come.

The first track utilizes one of those “rock album” ideas that I actually really hate. It starts with someone doing dishes as the news tells the forboding story of a head-on collision that had happened, and then begins a lengthy process of the person getting into a car, turning on the radio (which is conveniently playing Kiss’ “I Want To Rock And Roll All Night”) and driving off as the music starts. Now, I would be all for these kinds of theatrics if they were tracked seperately from the actual song “Detroit Rock City”, because that is a damn fine song, but it’s not to be. The entire process has to be repeated or skipped in order to get to that juicy song at the center of this duldrom.

Either way, “Detroit Rock City” stands as my favorite Kiss song to date, mostly because of that amazing shuffle from Peter Criss, an underrated drummer if there ever was one. The reverb added to the drums even seems appropriate, and I almost never support echoey beats. Either way, besides the ridiculous shouty melody and lyrics from Paul Stanley, this is a great song by any standard. As it happens, one has to enjoy or at least put up with the lyrics and shouting, and maybe chuckle at the final line:

Oh my God, no time to turn
I got to laugh cause I know I’m gonna die
WHY?!

Of course, the song had been leading up to the head-on collision reported on the news, so at the end of this rock anthem we’re treated to a loud screeching and crashing. How fun, right?

Still, that crash introduces us to the next song, “King Of The Night Time World”, which is a nice over-the-top rock song, again with some great drumming throughout. There’s not a whole lot to this song, it’s just one of those big rock songs that probably means a lot to someone, probably at least Paul Stanley, who gets to shout “I’m the king!” for a while before the last chorus.

The next song, “God Of Thunder” is much more interesting, perhaps for its uncharacteristically “Dark” sound. The lead vocals are done by Gene Simmons, who tends to have this very distinct vocal style, kind of like a musclehead who has to read the lyric sheet phonetically. Either way, this song is apparently more-or-less the “Gene Simmons Anthem”, and mysteriously (ok maybe not, considering Ezrin’s hand in all this) contains lots of weird noises, children screaming, reverb noise, backwards drumming, and just all kinds of plod. Great stuff!

Simmons once again takes the lead on the kind of cheeseball and hilarious “Great Expectations”. This song’s lyrics are solid gold, and that’s about all I want to say about it.

Paul Stanley once again takes the lead (and introduces himself with a hearty “WHOAH YEAH!!”) for “Flaming Youth”, one of those cheesy, cliché-ridden songs designed to rile up the youth of America, and since this is the 70’s, it worked perfectly.

Simmons somehow rassles his way back into the recording booth for “Sweet Pain” to kind of mumble out the lyrics, which he wrote himself. Now, you might think that his references to his leather and whips and lines like “You’ll learn to love me and my sweet pain” may sound like childish Rock N’ Roll fantasies, but you have to remember that Gene Simmons has had sex with over 1000 women, so when he writes things like this, you’d best be taking it seriously.

“Shout It Out Loud” is kind of a shameless attempt to recreate “Rock And Roll All Night”, and yes it’s quite catchy, but one can’t help but think one has heard this before, maybe even on the rest of the album.

Of all the songs on Destroyer, an album presumably about destroying, the one I absolutely LEAST expected to be the top charter was the Peter Criss-sung “Beth”. It’s a song about a wussy drummer talking to his nagging girlfriend who is trying to get him to stop recording hit albums and come to listen to her nag in person. The instrumentation is very regal, with horns and strings and pianos all over the place, and well, it’s just the most ridiculous thing, is all. I kind of can’t help but love it because it really is a good song, and I know I have been in that situation before (only I wasn’t recording a hit album unfortunately), but jeeze. Just jeeze.

Of course, after such a sweet song about being pussy-whipped, the next song “Do You Love Me?” starts off with Paul Stanley talking about his limos and rock shows again. It’s kind of strange how the songwriting always seems to come back around to song about Kiss being rockstars as soon as they branch out into some other forbidden topic. Interesting that it seems to work, as well. They are a rock band, after all.

The album ends with some untitled noise that sounds like it comes from the end of “Great Expectations”, and that’s it. I honestly have only heard a few Kiss albums, and so far this is my favorite, though I consider it equal parts rocking and ridiculous, I guess most good rock is just that, Kiss just has the good sense not to talk themselves too seriously. I think we could all learn a lesson here.

Tool – 10,000 Days

Let’s take a look at how the year has gone so far here at Album Du Jour. Currently, I’m pulling in about 100+ views a day, which is borderline-respectable for a low-level never-promoted blog like this one, and whenever I talk about a band that is popular, those tend to pull in the most hits (go figure!). Generally people are kind in their comments, even if most of them already know me in real life. Occasionally I’ll get detractors who clearly don’t know me and thus take my jokey “negative” attitude a little too seriously, but such is the way of the internet.

Well today I plan to blow the minds of compatriots and enemies alike in stating right here and now that I am not and never have been impressed by the band Tool.

Uh oh!

Would you seriously pay 10 bucks to look at this cover in a church? DONATE TODAYNow, it’s not that I don’t like Tool, far from it. I rather enjoy this album, as it’s the only one I have. I would have the supposed “better” album Lateralus, but Zune Marketplace doesn’t really carry Tool and just because I like a band doesn’t mean I’m going to buy their CD. Maybe someday… but this one was borrowed for the purposes of this writeup from my brother, and this is the only Tool album he owns, hence it’s the one we’ll be talking about.

Anyway, back to the band. I enjoy their sound, it’s meaty, bassy, and really likes to play in the “alternative rock mud” of pick-scratching, low bass notes, and low toms on the drums. Any song by Tool, like your standard “new” Prog band, will start off slow and quiet, and then will alternate between angry whispering and angry singing as the instruments chunk their way through the “unusual” timing beats, and all the instruments will occasionally yell “SURPRISE” at you by getting louder. Problem is, the difference between low volume low frequency rock and high volume low frequency rock is that you can hear one better than the other. There’s not a lot of excitement in it for me, because “unusual” timing in drums are only thus until they themselves become the norm, and effect-laden arpeggios are fine for the first few minutes, but can really wear down on you after the first several repetitions. Ultimately, Tool songs for me have the opposite effect of most other music I don’t care about, instead of starting off promising and then disappointing, they start off disappointing and then, somewhere a few minutes in, become promising.

I always felt that if you were to combine the bass-heaviness of Tool with the high pitched whininess of The Mars Volta you would have the ultimate band, or Dredg, as it so happens.

Anyway, 10,000 Days makes for pretty good listening music, mostly because its low frequencies and constant beats (no matter what the time signature) is relaxing and easy to ignore, which is why I kind of wonder why their concerts are so popular.

I have a friend who went to one of these concerts last night, and she reported back that the show was good but a bit boring, which is what I would have expected, after all, the singer doesn’t even face the audience for most of the show, and there’s only so much “rock” that expensive light shows are going to replicate. It’s strange to me that this happens, because the band clearly have a sense of humor, just look at their name. Even Radiohead can manage to pull aside their “we’re making art here” attitude for a minute or two to have fun with an audience, and their music is miles better than this.

I’m convinced that Tool, whether you love them or hate them, really don’t like you. Maybe they suffer collectively from Nick Drake syndrome, where they feel like nobody “gets” their music, but since drugs have improved so much in the past 30 years, they haven’t died of an overdose, and instead withdraw into boring shows and even more boring side-careers as wine makers (at least in the case of the singer). I can understand this, with only 3 notable exceptions*, Tool fans I have come across are pretty hard people to be around. It’s the band’s own fault, really, if you’re going to put out this intense “serious” attitude and find that an army of teenagers with black t-shirts are doing the same, don’t be surprised if nobody’s actually having that much fun.

Anyway, at this concert, apparently they show an informercial about this project called The Chapel Of Sacred Mirrors, which is apparently going to be this church where life-sized paintings and artistic things by the guy who does design for Tool’s album covers, Alex Grey. The band is currently asking their fans for a $10 donation so that this church of pretentious new age art can be built.

Here’s the thing, if you’re a huge band like Tool, you don’t actually need to ask your fans for extra money, just come out with another album or some merchandise, or hell just charge $10 more per ticket. Either that or fund the thing yourself with your massive amounts of money you made from selling Hot Topic t-shirts of your band name. At least when bands/artists straight up beg for money from their cult following, they offer something in return, even Amanda Palmer (loathe as I am to even mention that name) will sell you junk to get free money. What you apparently get for your $10 is to have your name number among 10,000 other suckers in the building somewhere, but you know what? I bet you still have to pay admission to see it.

Oh well, I wouldn’t have really mentioned Tool except that everyone believes that it only makes sense that I, as a progressive rock fan and overall tolerator of Metal and chunky music, would just love Tool. They’re so complex! Well, I already like their music, without all that pesky “admiration” that is apparently expected of me, but if I’m to love Tool, it’s going to take more than “10,000 Days (Wings Pt 2)”, which is approximately 11 minutes of nothing really happening, to do it. I am fond of the bass-tastic song “The Pot”, even if I’m sure it’s about drugs, which also doesn’t interest me (I wonder if there’s a connection here).

Either way, I’m again not saying that Tool is bad, just arrogant, pretentious, and far too boring for the amount of adoration their bass-loving cult following showers them with. I tend to forgive these flaws in any musician, however, provided they have something to make up for it with. I guess I have yet to find that thing with this band.

* The completely non-annoying fans of Tool I have known are as follows:  the drummer for my old band who is a big-time fan of Tool and all-around nice guy who wouldn’t offend anybody, the second is the friend I mentioned who is a really cool chick, and the third is the lead singer for one of my bands and someone I count among my best friends. These guys are exempt from my scorn and have given ample reasoning as to why they like this band the way they do. You other Tool fans can probably suck it.

Deep Purple – Who Do We Think We Are

All good things must come to an end, except in music. Most good things eventually come to an end, but some good things have major internal issues and wind up having key members leave the group and the good thing turns into a bad thing for a while until that key member rejoins the group 10 years later but by that time it’s too late and now we’ve got a bad thing and not a good thing.

We apologize for the previous sentence, it was kind of convoluted and didn’t really do its job of introducing Deep Purple’s “final” “Mark II lineup” album, Who Do We Think We Are. Measures have been taken to make sure this kind of sentence doesn’t happen again in this writeup.

'Yeah yeah we'll put the band members in little red bubbles, and then put those bubbles against some weird background, and then the band's name will be unreadable somewhere in the middle there.' 'You're fired, Jim, but you're also BRILLIANT.'Tensions were running really high in the Ian, Ritchie, Roger, Jon, and Ian lineup of Deep Purple. The band was the most successful band in America at the time, having come out with Machine Head and Made In Tokyo right next to each other, so apparently the management felt that, in lieu of a vacation or something, the band should use the momentum from a year and a half of touring and squeeze out just one more album by the year’s end.

The idea looked good on paper, and certainly the plan worked in a certain way, the band, tired and beat up and, at least in Ian Gillan and Ritchie Blackmore’s case, constantly fighting, actually did make an album. However, what the management should have figured out was that the pressure would ultimately blow the band apart in a way that would prove impossible to ever fully repair. Ian Gillan left the group soon after, and Roger Glover following close behind (though both would return at various points), and the group we all knew and loved who created Machine Head would never be the same, or even close, despite the fact that they’re still around to this day.

Well, screw all that right? This album destroyed a band, so it better be good right? Right?

Actually, the album she’s a not-so-good.

Oh there are brilliant moments in it; it’s technically fast-paced (in parts), has instrumental solos, and Ian’s signature scream-o-vision technology is at its height despite years of wrecking it with the previous three albums. The songs on the whole, however, are just kind of there and the filter to make sure they didn’t write inane garbage was worn thin from too many rock-fueled shows out in Tokyo and thereabouts.

Speaking of, the first song is a number called “Woman From Tokyo” (pronounced “TOE-KAY-YO”). This song shows a lot of promise, with a simplistic drum line and two-guitar riff sounding like it would be kind of fun and American-sounding. However, I personally consider the chorus to be one of the most annoying things Deep Purple had done up to this point, and unfortunately wouldn’t be the most annoying thing on this recording. Well, at least the production is really clean and the rest of the instruments are really well done. Still, the responsibility of the singer/songwriter of the group is to make sure singing something like “MAH WO-MAN FROM TOE-KAY-YO” isn’t decimating this otherwise good track. The other thing is that the song slows down to a crawl and kind of restarts itself right after the first chorus. I’m ok with songs doing stop-starting stuff, but not after the first chorus, and certainly not in a way that makes you kind of not care that the song just came back.

The next song suffers from the same problems, only this time it’s so much worse. The person Ian is singing about is a made-up politician named “Mary Long” who is actually a composite of two other politicians at the time, Mary *mumble-mumble* and *mumble-mumble* Long. Apparently they were doing some wack moral high-ground stuff and that always pisses off rock and roll stars. Still, the lack of a real person to protest against in this lukewarm rocker kind of deflates the thing somewhat. Of course, half of this song would be really scathing if it were directed at a real person:

When did you lose your virginity, Mary Long?
When will you lose your stupidity? Mary Long

Ok, maybe not. Either way, this song contains a legit guitar solo, which doesn’t really make up for half the lyrics being rushed and the other half… oh wait that’s all the lyrics. Yes.

“Super Trouper” is the first song where I feel one can legitimately rock out. It starts strong, has a nice psychedelic phase-shiftery chorus, and despite the lyrics continuing that whole “I just don’t care” theme, it’s of little to no importance at this time. Remember: one shouldn’t dissect Deep Purple lyrics until they become so annoying that you actually notice them, elsewise one may be tempted to look at a masterpiece like “Highway Star” and may be tempted to think that all the loose threads of free association contained therein are to the song’s detriment. You would be foul and of the internet to think so.

Honestly, this song is so good it actually makes me a little mad that we had to go through the first two songs to get to this point. It makes me equally upset that the song is only just under 3 minutes.

“Smooth Dancer” has such a hot beat that I don’t even care to say anything else about it. It’s a 4 minute slice of party Heaven with the most radical keyboard solo I’ve ever heard, so enjoy!

The real high-point to this album is the song “Rat Bat Blue”. On top of having an awesome blues-rock riff, a funky, unusually-timed beat, Ian Gillan somehow transporting himself back to when the band was at their height, you know, way back in 1972. I guess the one thing I can say about Deep Purple is that, no matter how far away from their height of fame they went, they always had Ian Paice’s amazing drumming to keep them working with at least a modicum of the rock flavor that made them big. By the way, I was wrong about “Smooth Dancer”, this song has the raddest keyboard solo ever, if not the fastest.

Well that’s the end of the album, wasn’t that great? Oh wait, there are two more songs, I was hoping you wouldn’t notice them.

This album started with 2 duds, and it ends with two more. “Place In Line” is a generic boogie-blues, which isn’t so bad really, but it really kind of grinds the whole thing to a halt to tell a 6 1/2 minute joke about how long lines are. The only problem is that Ian Gillan is more concerned with just moving the song along rather than making it entertaining at all. The “endless repetition” guitar solo from Ritchie and Jon helps things not a whit, either.

Finally, we get “Our Lady”, which starts with keyboard feedback, and only goes down from there. Ok, ok, it’s actually not as bad as the first two songs, it’s just boring and repetitive, and I can handle that. The choir of backup singers in the chorus is kind of confusing, especially when they hit what I affectionately refer to as a “Beatles chord”. Either way, Deep Purple had never really ended albums as great as they had started them, so the fact that this song is better than “Woman From Tokyo” at least stands on the merit of defeating that axiom.

So yes, Who Do We Think We Are, as an album, is great in the middle and rough at both ends, kind of like a metaphor I don’t have time to write. As a testament to the condition of one of the world’s best rock bands at the time, it is the setting sun on their hey-day, and though they would eventually come back together as the infamous Mark II lineup, it would prove too late, because they did so in the 80’s, the Dark Ages of music. Hopefully we will bring you some writeups from that period, but until then, keep doing what you’re doing, and do it with style.