King Crimson – Lizard

Greetings, fellow persons!

Sorry about the delay in updates, but this whole week was spent doing some awesome stuff like “modding” my Mp3 player to do amazing things like play video game soundtracks and Bejeweled on top of its already awesome audiophilic capabilities (I’m totally a FLAC fiend now). Also I had to do holiday shopping, attend parties and, oh yeah, finally obtain some gainful employment, since this blog doesn’t pay for itself unfortunately.

Thus, it’s been a hectic, confusing, yet ultimately rewarding week for me, so I have decided to top it all off with an album that… well ok I selected this at random, but here you go, King Crimson’s Lizard:

Yeah keep telling me you miss the olden days of album covers. I'm listening.

While looking back at old entries of this here blog, I was surprised at first that I never wrote about this album, but then I remembered the very important reason why: I had no idea what to say about it.

All I could remember about my first listen to Lizard was NOTES and then NOOOOTES (Notes). I really don’t think any coherent thought entered my mind in the 42 1/2 minutes of the album’s run-time, which is odd because this blog might show you that I have a lot of thoughts about music usually.

Fast-forward a year or so, and something magical happened: a guy from a prog group called Porcupine Tree decided to work with Robert Fripp to painstakingly remaster, from the original master tapes, ALL of the King Crimson catalogue. Despite this being a very good idea, since master tape remasters are practically the only way to get these ancient albums to sound good on modern mp3/vgm/Bejeweled players, it was also kind of a predictable idea, since King Crimson had already issued 30th AND 35th Anniversary remasters of their old material. Still, from the master tapes, maaaaan.

Among the first albums to be remastered, quite mysteriously, was Lizard, so this is where I gave Lizard what I would consider my first true listen. Then again. Then again. Then again… to be honest, I’m not done listening to it, but at least I’ve finally formulated enough opinions to write a blog entry!

Fact is, I had so much trouble coming up with a single coherent thought about the album because there isn’t a single coherent thought IN the album. I have now listened to the album dozens, possibly hundreds of times, and I know every single note by heart, but I can’t begin to try and guess why any two of them are put together the way they are.

Of course, the 40th anniversary re-issue of the album comes with some  pretty interesting liner notes (penned by Fripp himself) which, when paired with the Internet, paints a rather interesting story about the album’s production.

Without going into too much detail about the band’s personnel problems in those early days between 1967 and 2009, I will say that King Crimson were basically like watching a typical teenage garage band go through the motions of getting together, going nowhere, and breaking up, except instead of that middle bit, you’ve got “becomes the biggest rock band in the world for a while”. Despite having the world in the palm of their hands through a combination of VERY quickly cultivating a uniquely complex sound the likes of which had never been heard, showcasing extraordinary musicianship with even more extraordinary focus on music rather than image, and as Fripp put it himself, being in the right place at the right time, King Crimson simply could NOT get started on that crawling thing before they were already running.

At the time that Lizard was being recorded, they had already lost vocalist/bassist/donut fiend Greg Lake to a little-known band whose name escapes me at the moment, and that was after losing everybody else as well. Basically, Fripp was a man without a band (but his non-musician lyricist remained, more on that later), so he decided to rebuild from scratch.

Apparently Fripp didn’t get the memo that you’re not supposed to include a jazz pianist and four woodwind/brass players in your hard rock band, so that’s exactly what he did. Still, if you were the only member of a garage band that left you and the only other musicians you know from school are in the marching band, are you going to say no?  Also joining the fray is, not kidding, his actual highschool bandmate/roommate Gordon Haskell on bass and vocals, and the only drummer he could find who would take part in this mess, a hero by any standard named Ian McCulloch.

With this motley crew of masterful musicians, Fripp finally had a force to be reckoned with; a band that would record an album that, maybe this time, would not sound quite so much like a repeat of In The Court.

Well, it sure wasn’t a repeat of In The Court, in sound or amount of success, but the fact that the album even happened is perhaps even more a miracle than the huge success that was the band’s first album. Basically, let’s just say that collecting such an assorted cast of kids did not lead to a lot of civilized agreement of ideas, and when your vocalist/bassist is only good at one of those things and doesn’t even like the music, well… let’s talk about the music!

It starts off with some synthy kind of harp strumming sounds, which is not bad, and then Haskell’s voice kind of staggers into the door spilling cough medicine (the type that they ban in most countries) all over the place, and your first thought might well be “Dude, do you need to lie down or turn on a humidifier or something?” And then he punches you and you can hear the wail of ambulance sirens as the paramedics revive you and, oh wait, that’s just Fripp’s guitar playing brash, diminished bits on his guitar as Gordon’s voice comes back in with all the clarity of a wet shoe.

Still, it’s hard to tell what’s more congested, Gordon’s voice or Peter Sinfield’s lyrics. The first track is called “Cirkus” (back before Mortal Kombat made it decidedly un-cool to replace c’s with k’s willy-nilly), and is full of rather obnoxious words strung together by pure pretense, which would seem like faulty songwriting if not for the fact that the same can be said about the music itself.

The material gets even more ridiculous afterward, in fact the song “Indoor Games” ends with a genuine burst of laughter from Haskell as he attempts to figure out how best to emotionally deliver the line “Hey ho”. An understandable bemusement, to tell the truth. Add to this some rather intriguing clean guitar riffs trading off with the saxophone, and you’ve got a song that is by no means bad, if bad songs are something you like.

The next song, “Happy Family“, doesn’t feature any corpsing, but does contain some thinly-veiled allegorical statements about The Beatles, a somewhat well-known rock band from whom Fripp apparently derived the idea to make an entire band around recreating the musical shock that was the ending to Sgt. Pepper. To be honest, the lyrics might be terrible in this piece as well, but Gordon’s voice is so well hidden behind a rather tasty synthesizer effect (plus his own natural store of phlegm and wintertime nuts) that, mercifully, not a word can be understood by humans.

After all that fun nonsense, we go into WHOAH WHERE DID THAT FLUTE COME FROM… I mean, “Lady of the Dancing Water”, a song that calms the storm of weirdness either to prepare the listener for what is to come, or to try and make up for the rather melody-free events that had previously transpired. It’s a very pretty song, but I wish anyone other than Gordon Haskell had sung it, because seriously somebody give him a shot of adrenaline; I think he’s had some kind of reaction.

Finally, the fifth and final track of the CD (or the entire B side to the record) is a 23 minute opus called “Lizard”, wherein Gordon Haskell was kindly shuffled off the roster to make room for a real singer, Yes’s own castrato sensation Jon Anderson. Funny enough, after several songs’ worth of passages go by, Gordon breaks back into the studio to sing for a bit before disappearing forever and ever, missing and presumed eaten by bears.

So I have written all of this to kind of give you a sense of the chaos that has unfolded in this album, but did you see that bit up there where I said I listened to it again and again? That’s because I completely love this album.

Seriously! Sure I may idolize strong melodies, and some of my very favorite songs can be played within a single octave on a piano, but something in my brain simply becomes obsessed when weirdness, the abstract, obtuse, endlessly and needlessly complex musical ideas come into play, and boy do they come in with this album.

Your average music listener, even one who otherwise enjoys King Crimson and their razor’s edge approach to pushing the envelope into the seat of their pants, will probably detest Lizard for any number of good reasons. It sounds out of tune, it hunkers down into rather long passages of go-nowhere note tinkling, hell, it sounds like Jazz in places, but the confusion and befuddlement is what keeps me coming back for more. The anticipation of another sequence of bewildering notes is a rush to me, and thanks to the amazing remastering job in the most recent re-release, the textures and tones really sing out in a good set of headphones. All 23 minutes of the album’s ending track keeps me thoroughly entertained, which turned out to be really good training for becoming an actual Yes fan, turns out.

I truly can’t knock this album for what it is, because it really shouldn’t have been, and I am so glad it was anyway. Apart from being musically one of the most interesting things I’ve heard, it’s also a rather clear window into a band that was falling apart before it even came together, and sure enough, only 1 member of the band remained to help Fripp through the next album, and it was the damn flute player.

Also, in true garage band fashion, when drummer Ian McCulloch left the group, he was immediately replaced with his ex-roommate, who could also play the drums. God bless King Crimson.

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Travis – Good Feeling

I, like many of my contemporaries (that means socks) first got into the (only famous) Scottish band Travis after seeing their video for “Why Does It Always Rain On Me?” back when anything on television played music videos. Though the album that song appears on is great, it’s not the album I’m going to talk about today. I purchased another album that day, which was the only other one available, the band’s debut called Good Feeling.

Is this really the album cover? I could have SWORN I have a different cover on my album, but I am not going to even try digging that case out.

I am not even going to hide the fact that I love this album. Do I love listening to it all the way through every single time? Well… ok not really, the thing suffers a bit from Late Album Slowdown, which is a shame because “Happy” is one of my favorite tracks on the thing.

The first two tracks stand out as two of my favorite songs by anyone from Scotland (that is a joke, there are no other bands in Scotland). First off, we have “All I Want To Do Is Rock“, which is rather slow in tempo, but not compared to the rest of the songs on the album, really Travis like to take it easy on the rockin’. The real strength is also not in the lyrics (I think singer Fran Healey spents an aggregate total of 30 seconds singing just the word “Girl”), but rather, in the delivery. The vocal work in this and many other Travis songs is a thing of pure power, particularly at the end, which is illustrated in the video as a car exploding. Really I could write an ADJ entry about that video alone, it’s so awesome, but instead you should just watch it.

The next song is a song about lovin’ a girl who is too young for lovin’, “U 16 Girls“. Though perhaps not as touching of a jailbait song as some, it’s still a great song and perhaps one of my favorites by Travis in general (also, with a number in the title, it was a shoe-in for a numerical playlist I’m working on). Like the previous song, this song has a high note at the end that is so powerful it distorts the studio equipment (perhaps an intentional move) and could probably also explode a car. I have not tried playing the note for a car because such a thing would be automotively irresponsible.

Then we have a track that I like on most days, but on others consider kind of a weak track, “The Line Is Fine”. It could be because Fran’s often whiney delivery is a little too whiney on this track, it could be because I can’t make head nor tails of the lyrics (due in no small part to English not being the primary language of the Scots), but like I said, most days I think the song is quite all right.

The next song is much better, “Good Day To Die“, which is always a grand title to have on an album called Good Feeling. It features the same mountain of distorted guitars, only they’ve added in some organs and other things and Fran’s voice is particularly suited to the power-pop sound of the whole thing.

The title track marks the middle of the album, and it’s a bit of a departure from the other songs as it features primarily piano (which includes a saloon-style solo in the middle!) The fact that it’s in a minor key and is another slow-moving number is a great if not slightly ironic mood to put a song called “Good Feeling” in. I dig, it’s a really fun track.

Next we’ve got “Midsummer Nights Dreamin'”, which is a fairly nice track, but slightly bone-headed as nearly the whole thing is accomplished in the 2 chords that pound away for most of the thing. It’s also at this point that you might have noticed, other than on “U 16 Girls”, the boys have been using the same beat for every song. They dropped that particularly nasty habit for all the future albums and fancied up the drumming a lot, but by this song, I get a little fatigued from the 1-2 stomping beat. Again, a real shame, because there’s some great stuff on the other side of this song.

For one, we’ve got the pop magic track called “Tied To The 90’s“, which is about ???, but I think most of the meaning can be derived from the song’s title. It’s also got a great video where many copies of members of the band are magically thrown together on the same film, which is incredible.

Then there’s the country-inspired “I Love You Anyways”, which I guess I say is country-inspired because it features a rolling guitar riff that reminds me of “Dark As A Dungeon” by Johnny Cash. It’s a very gentle song compared to the rest of the album, and a welcome reprieve from the oppressive beat I just mentioned, that is, if you make it this far. This is the kind of song that would appear at least a few times in every album from this point, it might wear out its welcome after 5 1/2 minutes, however, so buyer beware.

The next song, however, is “Happy”, which I mentioned before as being one of my favorite songs on the album. It’s as simple-minded as you get, the chorus being basically “I’m so happy, ’cause you’re so happy. HEEEEYYYYYY, ho” and that’s it. Really though, any further extrapolation from that theme would diminish its meaning. The beat even adds a few extra hits within the confines of its 1-2 punch, so happiness all around!

We then have a number that opens up with the sound of water falling, which I kind of hate in recordings, but I guess they are trying to manufacture the “rainy” sound intrinsic in their later work. Now that I think about it, that’s probably a rain-stick they’re using. This song, probably more than “I Love You Anyways” establishes the quintessential “moody” Travis song. It’s a great track and probably would have made a good ending to the album, but we’ve still two more to go!

The song “Falling Down” comes in with a spacey sounding piano, and if this song could be any slower it’d technically fall off the perception range of human hearing. To be honest, I have rarely ever made it to the end of this song, it’s like playing a Frank Sinatra song in slow motion.

The best thing to do in situations where the listener may be suffering from Late Album Slowdown on an album is to pep it up at the end, in order to give the listener something to look forward to. Travis does exactly NOT this, as the final track, “Funny Thing”, is a mostly-acoustic track that seems like it’s building up to something great, what with all the spacey sound effects in the background, but really all that happens in 5 1/2 minutes is a second guitar joins in to make some distorted noise.

So yes, Good Feeling is a good album, but about 3 of the tracks have to be listened to on their own to be even noticed in the mess of slow-down this album puts you through. I’m sure a lot of people dig it, but I am more willing to bet that most people, like me, kind of skip around until they hear their favorite songs and then move on to something like The Man Who which may also be a slow album, but it’s slow consistently, and doesn’t drop you from the high cliff of a rock song like “U 16 Girls”.

A lot of people claim up and down that Coldplay ripped off the Travis sound, but I think the only thing they really stole from them was the Late Album Slowdown of Good Feeling. At least Travis has a great singer!

 

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Muse – Showbiz

In my last post about Muse, it was pointed out that, when I called Origin Of Symmetry the “rockin” album, Absolution the “epic” album and Black Holes And Revelations the “pop” album, I didn’t say anything about Showbiz. So I decided to give Muse’s debut album a spin, not even a week after writing up Origin Of Symmetry. Oh yeah, I’m dangerous like that:

Cor blimey, I stepped in some kind of Photoshoppe thing, what a to-do!

Thing is, when a band comes out with a debut, the only classification that one can really give it is “The best stuff we used to play before we struck oil and got signed”. Bands like Muse who only took 7 years to get a debut album out tend to make for awkward debuts because they had been playing many songs for many years and in many styles, so really Showbiz is a collection of just a bunch of radically different styles thrown together to see what sticks.

Turns out, what sticks are songs like “Sunburn” and “Muscle Museum”, placed conveniently right at the front of the album. Man those songs are hot.

Sunburn” has an excellent if not simple (for Matthew Bellamy’s considerable piano skill anyway) piano riff that plays throughout, and the beat that comes in is also fantastic. Everything really comes together in the chorus with a nice rolling distorted bassline, and the noisy guitar solo would soon become a staple of the band’s more rockin’ hits. Even after becoming the hugest band in the gol’dern world, Muse still throws this one out at nearly every concert, as I understand.

Muscle Museum” is just about as impressive, even if the bassline is basically 2 notes. The guitar makes up for it with a super minory riff that makes for a great hook. This is the kind of song that should have been in the soundtrack to a Guy Ritchie film or something, you know, back when he made good films.

Filip” is a very good example of what doesn’t work with Muse. They can be really awkward with major keys, and aside from that, the entire thing kind of sounds like something hastily thrown together that doesn’t work, like a pancake salad. The bridge is “all right” but not worth wading through the terrible verses to get to. Ok, ok, I’ll stop with this one.

Seriously though, skip often. OK we’re moving on.

Falling Down” is much more like it. It’s a very slow, bluesy number where Bellamy demonstrates just how much tremolo he can put behind that voice of his. I really like this song, and it’s too bad they never really repeated this style. It doesn’t really suit them nowadays, I guess. I am too lazy to check whether this song is a cover or an original, but the lyrics are unusually good!

We then move on to “Cave“, which is a good song but honestly they have done better songs like this. It’s supposed to be a total rock-out song but is kind of hindered by its plodding beat and repressed instrumentation. I enjoy the song (particularly singing along to the chorus) but I can’t help but feel like they already did way better than this just a few songs earlier.

I feel the opposite about the album’s title track, however, as “Showbiz” is slow but not “plodding”, and there is a lot of creativity in the song’s 5 minutes as it builds up and builds up to the first of many excellent vocal exercises on the part of Matt Bellamy. The final note the song ends on is meant to sound like a real strain (he almost sounds like he passes out at the end), and it possibly is, but he performs this song just as well in concert so who knows.  The bass is another interesting thing about this song, despite the lack of a great variety of notes, it sounds like he’s going from an upright double bass to a distorted electric bass, or possibly both. The tone is interesting, is all I’m saying.

Now that we’ve built the song up to a really rockin’ middle of the album, apparently it’s time to tone it all the way down with something that has become quite a rarity with Muse: the slow love-lorn serenade. Yep, even the rockinest rock trio in the world has one. “Unintended” is a beautiful song, too. I really have no complaints about it, except that they never tried to emulate it after this album. Again, like “Falling Down”, it doesn’t really fit in the grand scheme of their work I guess. Gorgeous melody though! Incidentally, the chords used were cannibalized later to make “New Born”, no lie!

The album, at least for me, makes a serious down-turn at this point. One could even call it a nose-dive. We start with the nearly-painful guitar screeches that open up “Uno” (the band would later use EVEN SCREECHIER guitar for the song “Ashamed” from Hullabaloo Soundtrack, just try and listen to that song on headphones). The bassline comes in to rescue the song and provide us with that ever-necessary hook, but it’s like a more boring ripping-off-Carmen version of the bassline for “Muscle Museum”. Now, I make a point not to criticize Muse based on their lyrics, but I have to say that, since there’s not much else going on in this track, that the lyrics are particularly cheeseball. As the song itself says:

This is nothing to me
And you don’t know what you’ve done, but I’ll give you a clue

Then we move on to a song I swear was recycled for parts of a few songs from Black Holes And Revelations. Really, “Sober” isn’t so bad, it just suffers slightly from too-many-choruses syndrome, and this isn’t the 80’s, so marks off for that.  I’m kidding, I don’t give/take away marks, in fact I’m liking this song slightly more than usual while sitting here listening to it.

Escape” comes not to take us away from this album, but to keep us here for another ballad-turned-rock song. It starts out as a fairly nice song, not quite gorgeous like “Unintended”, and then the riff comes in and the song prepares you to rock out, but then it just goes into a heavier version of the ballad, while the bassline wanders off the path and out of the song in that kind of way that basses shouldn’t (this move is one of the main reasons I hate most alternative rock actually). The vocals also kind of do the same at points, I don’t know it’s like the album is tired of rocking at this point.

Then “Overdue” comes in and is just… a generic alternative rock song with a bit of a fast-finger bassline. I mean, this song is ok I guess, but it could be on the radio, it’s so dry. Maybe that’s what the band was experimenting with.

The sound of crickets chirping brings us to the close of the album, “Hate This & I’ll Love You“. It’s not so bad, listening to it now though, it almost sounds like Muse’s attempt to do Jeff Buckley. Given that Muse has not failed to end an album on a “Holy man that is awesome” feel on any album after this, I wouldn’t consider this a successful end to the album.

So there you have it. I absolutely adore about half of this album, and the rest is a mess that Muse made no hesitation in cleaning up for every album afterwards. Albums that, in my little heart, are made of solid gold. So perhaps it’s not that I think Showbiz is a bad album, as none of the songs besides “Filip” are particularly terrible, but their sound grew and matured exponentially after this, so it’s kind of overshadowed by what Muse is actually capable of.

(Dedicated to the dude who introduced me to Muse officially, Justin P8)

 

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Coldplay – Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends

I was discussing something with a friend the other day, and I wish I could remember what the topic was (probably music), but the idea came up that the mark of a good artist is not necessarily what they can do, but what they do, whether they can or can’t. Success within one’s own limitations, that’s what it’s all about, and that made me think of Coldplay’s new album, which I had recently purchased in the Prospekt’s March edition on the week it came out a while ago. Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends is definitely a success story by possibly one of the most limited bands in popular music, and I say that in a caring way.

Putting a Spanish title about life over a French painting containing dead bodies for your enjoyment.

Now, when I first heard this album, I didn’t want to like it, or Coldplay for that matter. Call it whatever the musician’s version of feminine intuition is, but I can see through Coldplay’s tricks. There’s no reason at all that they should be as big as they are. Chris Martin is the most egomaniacal singer I’ve ever known who can’t actually sing, the guitarist is just fine with using a maximum of 2 notes per song (often the same ones), and the previous 3 albums the quartet have put out over the years are the laziest, most effortless recordings I’ve heard in their genre, in terms of arrangement and lyrics.

Don’t get me wrong, I am quite fond of at least 2 of those albums, for about half the albums anyway (seriously worst cases of late-album slowdown ever, which is a shame because the final track Amsterdam is the best track on A Rush Of Blood To The Head, but that’s another album for another day). Again, I see through the tricks, I’ve always seen Coldplay as trying to be the next U2 without the effort, riding in the coattails of bands who sound similar but are much better (particularly Travis, who have been caught speaking fairly enviously of Coldplay’s success in America). Their ex-sister band Travis makes a good point, however, that Colplay worked hard to promote and market themselves, and that’s pretty much all that is needed.

So what is different about their new album that I would not only purchase it and listen to it (I never gave the previous album, X&Y, such a chance), but actually really dig it? Well, the answer is that Coldplay seem to have learned, more than ever, how to work within their limitations, and how to apply the same energy they used whoring themselves around to market their product into actually improving the product itself. The result is an album that I can say, from atop my tiny box of judgment about the band, is really pretty damn good.

Is Chris Martin any better of a singer? Of course not, but I understand he was actually discouraged from singing in falsetto for this album. This makes his singing about 100% better, the fact that it doesn’t sound like he’s struggling with high notes that are meant for better singers. Is the guitarist still a 2-note wonder? Absolutely, but he makes up for it on many of the tracks by at least mixing up those notes or, in the case of “Strawberry Swing”, uses some interesting effect to make it sound like it’s looping backwards (if I were still current on guitar technology I’d reveal the secret behind this effect, but I’ve forgotten).

As far as arrangements go, I have to say that my first thought, upon hearing the opening tracks, “Life In Technicolor” and “Cemeteries Of London”, was “that’s more like it!” It could be producer Brian Eno’s hand in all of this, but honestly if you require Brian Eno to make your work more exciting, you’ve got some problems dude. Nah, I think it’s just a real effort on the part of everyone involved that made this album sound the way it does.

Of course, once the introductory tracks are out of the way (which, by the way, are linked with a musical segue that I highly approve of), the real meat of the album is presented in an organ-grinding song called “Lost!”, which contains fairly clever lyrics and a wonderful chorus. It’s a good song, and worthy of its “hit single” status, but really the song that impressed me the most is “42” (ironically, I’d call this an “old-style” Coldplay song, but to do so outside of these parentheses would mean deflating almost the entirety of this writeup so far). What I love about “42”, besides the obvious allusion to Douglas Adams, is that it’s a song about ghosts and death, and there’s something about the way English people sing about such dreary things that meets with my approval almost every time. I think it’s in the English blood, growing up around so much bad weather.

“Lovers In Japan/Reign Of Love” isn’t a favorite of mine for the “Lovers” part, but after 4 minutes, when (presumably) the “Reign Of Love” part starts up, it’s well worth the piano-pounding pop magic of the earlier part of the track. If they would have seperated these tracks, that would have maybe been nicer, but hey you can’t have everything.

The next song, a 7 minute 2-part epic called “Yes” is a much grander example of combining 2 songs into one track. Why did the band do this to us twice? You’ll have to climb to the highest mountain and ask their egos that, I’m afraid. This track is bumpin’ in both parts, though, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

“Yes” introduces an element that the next song, “Viva La Vida”, hits out of the park. What’s the best way to hide the limitations of a pop band? Hide behind an orchestra! Not only is a quite-well-arranged orchestra (which includes timpani, I LOVE those) the leader of most of the song, but the lyrics are actually really inspiring. I… don’t really know how to take that, even now with all my backhanded praise to this album, I am actually gol’dern impressed by how cool this song is. The only thing I’d take away from it is the less-than-stellar acappella ending. Still, that’s only 15 seconds of fade-out, so hey.

The next song, “Violet Hill”, marks the point that I never get past in other Coldplay albums… that’s right, the Late Album Slowdown. I have to say, despite a bit of plodding with the beat, this song accomplishes a first for the band: it doesn’t slow the album all the way down! So surely “Strawberry Swing” is going to do the job, right? Nope, thanks to that backwards-looping thing I mentioned earlier, the song starts interesting and stays that way.

So we’ve made it all the way to the end, where “Death And All His Friends” awaits. By this time, I don’t mind saying that the song is a bit boring and has a dull, meandering melody/instrumental hook, because by this time I am so happy with the rest of the album, it just fits along with everything and makes for a pretty good ending. Well, actually, the REAL ending is a reprise of “Life In Technicolor”, which is a slightly pretentious but all-around acceptable way to end an album.

I do feel kind of bad being such a fan of this album, as that just means I’m one of the millions of Coldplay detractors who have turned around after listening to this album. It’s really a matter of course, however, as the album reeks of effort on everyone’s part and I’m just fine with it being a success, even if Coldplay’s attitude about it is much loftier than I would like. Still, just in case you think they were done being marketing whores, listen to the companion EP, Prospekt’s March. Amidst some songs that are pretty good, one of the features is “Lost+”, which is the same as “Lost!” only features a retarded rap segment from Jay-Z. Coldplay, you’ve got a foot on the hill but you’ve still a ways to climb.

Or, I guess as the band themselves say in “42”:
You didn’t get to Heaven but you made it close

 

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Deep Purple – In Rock

Ok, I know I JUST did a writeup on Muse, so throwing Deep Purple MK II music in right after that is in danger of being too much rock, but I am willing to risk that for you. I have been a fan of Deep Purple for a couple of years now (though a fan of Highway Star the song ever since its inclusion in the Super Nintendo racing masterpiece Rock N’ Roll Racing) , especially the “Mk II” lineup, which included Ian Gillan on vocals, Ritchie Blackmoore on guitar, Roger Glover on bass, Jon Lord on keys, and last but most certainly first, the ever-present Ian Paice on drums. Of the few albums (4, I think?) that this lineup put out, I have a lot of trouble deciding between the band’s Magnum Opus, Machine Head, and the album which directly precedes it, In Rock, which has what I consider one of the undisputed best album covers in history:

My friend Greg calls this picture Mt. Blackmoore which is SO FITTING

Albums like this are a little harder to write-up, I feel, because the fair, objective reviewer in me would simply repeat the word “YES!” about 1000 times to convey his true feelings about In Rock. I feel that that’s cheating, so I’ll do my best to describe what’s really going on here.

The first song, “Speed King” is a bit of a spiritual predecessor to “Highway Star”, in that it’s a song about partying and having a good time wrapped loosely around a central idea of moving really fast, presumably in a car. The first stanza refers to about 3 different rock songs, at least that I can tell:

Good golly, said little miss molly
When she was rockin in the house of blue light
Tutti frutti was oh so rooty
When she was rockin to the east and west
Lucille was oh so real
When she didnt do her daddies will
Come on baby, drive me crazy–do it, do it

The band, at this point, covered some old rock songs like “Lucille” so it’s a matter of course that they would pay omage to their forefathers. The song does what I love for a rock album to do: just drops you into the middle of the rock with no warning (I found out, however, that this is simply due to the American release cutting out the minute-long intro to the song, bastards) and doesn’t let up for quite a while, even when the song slows down to a jazzy drum beat with a light organ solo, you still know that the rock is coming right back. One of the main features of this song and perhaps most of Deep Purple’s early album is the “searing vocals” of Ian Gillan, one of the best screamers of rock when screaming was at its high-point (no pun intended). However, the vocals do not take the center stage, there’s still a smoking rhythm section (my favorite of the period aside from The Jimi Hendrix Experience) and the combination of distorted keyboards and distorted guitars to compete with. At least in the case of In Rock, those elements all come together perfectly, and give no indication of the ego-battles that would drive the band apart so many times that it’s a wonder they’re still around today. Still, that’s a story for another album.

The next song, “Bloodsucker”, again features very prominent, screamy vocals (especially the song’s hook, the “AHHH NO NO NO”, man I love that), but the bluesy guitar riffs that give way to a wicked cool solo halfway through bring it right up to the same level. The vocals just might win this one, over all, since towards the end they’re filtered through some really cool sweeping effects. It’s all right though, the guitar gets its turn in the next song.

“Child In Time” is a 10-minute long jam that starts off slow because that’s the only way to introduce the incredible instrumental jam halfway through. The vocals play an important, yet brief, part though as Ian hits some of his highest notes right before the song goes crazy/nuts. This song is so incredible I can’t hardly believe it’s real, but the live performance is even better. Seriously best 20 minutes you can spend watching a single song. I think this must be why some people label Deep Purple as “progressive” sometimes. Just in case the instrumental break wasn’t completely awesome enough for you, the song explodes at the end, which is the only way to really end a proper rock song, in my opinion.

This song may leave you feeling like this album may be far too intense for normal listening, which is why the “feel good” major keys prevail over the next portion of the listening experience. “Flight Of The Rat” is great in its own right, namely for the rotation of punchy solos from the keyboards and guitars, all kept together by a great upbeat rhythm delivered by Roger Glover and quite possibly my favorite drummer still alive today: Ian Paice, who gets his own little funk thing going right at the 5 minute mark and again at the 6 minute mark and AGAIN at the 7 minute mark of the song. It’s hard to call them proper “solos” however, since the average Ian Paice solo is about 6 minutes long on its own (if you’re wondering where his shirt is in that video, he rocked it off around the 3rd song).

The next song, “Into The Fire”, is a chunky, plodding straight-up rock number. If “metal” had been invented by this album’s time, one might consider it an early metal song. It’s not a particular favorite of mine, it’s at least mercifully short at about 3 1/2 minutes. Also, it serves as a great segue into the radical change of style between “Flight Of The Rat” and the super-funky “Living Wreck”, which contains one my absolute favorite bassline on the album and perhaps in Deep Purple’s entire catalogue. Man, what a song, the right combination of blues, funk, and some crazy-ass organ blats.

The final song (what, only 7 songs?) is a bit of a psychedelic track featuring lots of noise against a driving beat, with Ian Gillan once again bringing out the big screamy notes that had been a little more low-key in the songs between “Child In Time” and this one. Since apparently Jon Lord’s favorite keyboard solos have to do with crashy sounds and lots of chaos, this is probably his favorite track on the album, especially since he gets the most solo time. Honestly, since the song doesn’t change much and is about 8 minutes long, it’s kind of easy to pass this one up unless you are a really big fan of noisy solos.

This album in general is great though, and certainly cheap enough if you pick up the CD version released in ’95. I may have to check out the 25th Anniversary edition, however, since it has “Black Night” on it, which is a pretty great track. Well, until tomorrow!

Muse – Origin Of Symmetry

I can remember a time when I might have heard a song by Muse and though “Eh, just a Radiohead ripoff, not really worth paying attention to.”, and I really want to go back in time and defeat that version of me in a karate fight to the death. Of course, this would result in the present me, a Muse connessieur, to disappear from existence and my disappearance would result in me not being able to had gone back in time to kill myself and thus the feedback loop from a series of events would cause the entire universe to explode, and that’s coincidentally about what listening to Muse is like.

No sir.

Muse rocks, let’s get that straight immediately. Many people compare them to Radiohead, and that’s nuts. Muse is everything Radiohead consciously tries not to be, and they do what they do far better than Radiohead could if they tried. The fact that the lead singer of Muse and the lead singer of Radiohead sound similar on some songs and the fact that they’re both British is the only factor that horrible, stupid American music journalists have to go by for comparison. I loathe these people and wish them the best on Earth since they’re assuredly going to Hell.

Ahem, so what Muse does, whether you like them or hate them, is to throw an encyclopedia’s worth of musical knowledge and prowess at you with the amps turned up to 11 and the distortion turned up to 12. Nothing is left to the imagination with this sound, it’s as if you were mixing Rachmaninov with Motörhead with an opera diva on lead vocals. Each song has a hook, whether guitar or distorted bass or classical piano, and none of it can be recreated by any but the finest of musicians, which is what Muse has in triplicate.

I often say about Muse, when they’re compared to Radiohead, is that they’re kind of like Radiohead only with half the members and twice the sound. The opening track, “New Born“, demonstrates that right out of the gate, as the song opens with a lovely piano piece and an addicting bass-line and Matthew Bellamy sings the words softly:

Link it to the world, link it to yourself
Stretch it like a birth squeeze

Ok, so I didn’t say Muse were lyricists. That’s possibly their only weakness, but like I have excused many artists before, Muse isn’t about the lyrics, because the voice is simply another instrument, and a grand one at that. Once the guitar comes in with that tasty riff, and the bass clicks on the distortion as the drums start wailing as hard of a beat as you can imagine, the song is ready to go, and the album hardly lets up after that. From the lead solo, which is admittedly much more impressive in live shows, to the ending vocal high-note, you can tell that the band is not out to make art, they’re there to impress. I’d say nice job, fellas!

The next song, “Bliss“, starts off with an electronic arpeggio which I believe is pre-programmed, to give it an outer-space feel (the video takes place in space, you see). Besides the fact that it’s awesome, I don’t have much else to say about it.

Following that is the song “Space Dementia“, which opens up with a classical piano piece that should sound very familiar to Classical music fans. It’s the opening to Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, one of his most famous works. Some may call it a ripoff, but I’d say it’s a combination of tribute and just showing off to the benefit of the song. I really don’t think Muse ever claimed to have written that piece, after all. If the question is ever asked “Is it possible to put heavy rock drumming over a classical piano piece?” the answer is right there. Also of note is the catastrophic ending to the song, basically it’s like the ship just got bombed as is going down in flames. Stunning!

I spoke of riffs and hooks earlier, and “Hyper Music” has both, if you can make it past the guitar feedback that opens the track. It starts with a fairly dissonant guitar pounding, with Bellamy’s patented vocal trilling as the bass calms down into a catchy riff indeed. One thing I appreciate about Muse is how willing they are to make the bass the melody instrument when the guitar is busy doing other more important things.

It’s really hard for me to pick a favorite song on this album, but if pressed, I might say “Plug In Baby” would be the one. I still haven’t figured out how to play the opening guitar riff, and the fact that the bass that comes in to join is equally catchy is just too much, man. The end of this song introduces an element to the Muse sound that would be vastly exploited later, but only appears once in this song, and that element is the soprano root note. I actually don’t know if that’s an accurate name for it, but basically it’s the highest note in the song, and probably higher than most men (or women) can sing. I wish the music video for this song was any good at all, but then Muse is better seen live than watched on film.

The next track, “Citizen Erased“, is a wonderful extra long track that features the 7-string guitar and a slow-down portion that I can’t help but dig. All’s I can say about this track is that you’d better be listening to it on something that can pound out the bass, as it makes use of some low frequency fun.

The next song is one of the most amazing tracks on the album. “Micro Cuts” doesn’t seem like much with its dire minor chords and minimal bass work, but when the vocals hit, particularly in the chorus, you get to see just how tight vocal cords can be pinched. This song is one of the reasons I say that Muse is out to impress you, and they do their job well.

The next songs, “Screenager” and “Dark Shines“, are good but definitely the weak point of the album. I typically skip them to prevent Late-Album Fatigue, but it’s worth noting that “Screenager” is much better played live, particularly on the Hullabaloo Soundtrack live album.

Muse apparently got a lot of attention for their covers, and I can see why. The penultimate track, “Feeling Good“, and old standard, starts off with an e-piano and after Muse is done giving the song the standard treatment, the distorted EVERYTHING comes in and indeed the result is good-feeling indeed. The bridge features megaphone-enhanced vocals, and on a particularly interesting televised version, Bellamy uses it to get back at the studio who tells the band not to curse on air.

The final song is “Megalomania“, which features some good ol’ fashioned Church organ and the best lyrics on the album, in my opinion anyway.

Paradise comes at a price
That I am not prepared to pay
What were we built for?
Could someone tell me please

Again, bass-pounding audio gear is necessary, those organ bass pedals are not messing around.

Origin Of Symmetry, in the grand scope of Muse albums, is what I consider the most “rocking” the band accomplishes. The next album, Absolution, I feel is more “epic” and perhaps should be taken more seriously, and Black Holes And Revelations is the “pop” album. Basically, if you are just getting into Muse or have never heard them, I’d say Absolution may be the best place to start, but you won’t be disappointed by what Origin has to offer, especially if you like having various bits of yourself rocked right off.

 

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Supergrass – Supergrass

I couldn’t help but notice I’m doing two eponymous albums in a row, which should be unusual, but come on there are SO MANY OF THEM. Leave me alone! Jeeze.

Usually self-titled (or EPONYMOUS for people who like to be smart) albums are debuts. I don’t know why that is, because you’d think a group or artist would put as much effort as humanly possible into their first album, and that would include a great title for the album that will really hook people in. Supergrass did the right thing in this regard, as they expended all their cleverness into their debut album’s title, which is I Should Coco. Indeed, Supergrass is the band’s third effort, and probably their best work to date. I say this because I have only heard their 2008 release Diamond Hoo Ha (absolutely the best title for an album I have heard if memory serves).

I know what you're up to, I can see right through... ahh forget itI never thought about it before, since I’ve been listening to this album since the 90’s, but a friend pointed out when I told her that I had just picked up I Should Coco that Supergrass is “such a stuck-in-the-90’s band”. Well, for one, that’s a pretty pretentious thing to say for a Flaming Lips fan, and for two, it’s actually kind of true. I certainly didn’t even think to check out the band’s releases after this one until just last year. I guess it’s just strange since I don’t feel like the 90’s are THAT far in the past, but it is true that Supergrass saw a lot of air-time at that time.

It really sucked for me to learn just how old the band is… the lead singer Gaz was a mere 23 years of age when Supergrass came out, which would have made him 19 when I Should Coco came out. I’m 26 and barely even qualify as famous! Still, he certainly got there on talent. From the opening notes of the first song of Supergrass, “Moving“, you can tell the guy has a remarkably clean voice and can hit some high notes ala early Radiohead. The difference is that Supergrass, on the whole, are remarkably fun. Even though most of the early tracks (including the next two songs, “Your Love” with its directly-ripped-off-from-the-Kinks harpsichord, and “What Went Wrong (In Your Head)“) seem quite serious amidst the funky basslines and cymbal-crazy drumming, there are a few surprises in store later on.

When the fourth track, “Beautiful People” starts up with its staccato guitar and minory piano, the album seems much more like a pop album than something really “alternative”, but there’s definitely something English about it all. The really unusual thing is that the status quo songs and the slower jams are all at the beginning of the album, a first-time listener might be confused when “Shotover Hill” appears in the middle, because it almost sounds like a song to end an album on. However, the real fun is coming…

The album’s 6th track, called “Eon“, starts off with harmonious guitar feedback and keyboard lines that crescendo with the bass and drums throughout nearly half the song, and then the singing takes place in a very calm area of the song, as if one has just been rocketed out of the mundane English Rock of the rest of the album, and off into orbit we go, sailing into the metaphorical B-side to the thing, to untold adventures of what Supergrass really has to offer.

First off is “Mary“, with its guitar feedback and E-piano bluesy riffs, to give us the first departure from the status quo.

I got a girl and her name is Mary
I like to shock her on a basis daily
I like to push her over into my stream
I like to point out that her teeth are green

Ahh, that’s much better! The song is so immensely cool, and features that wonderful mischief this young band is known for. Indeed, as the song’s last line dictates, “The back of every head holds something obscene”.

An awesome drumline opens up the next track, “Jesus Came From Outta Space” (some of those video images are hilarious), which is the first real “rock n’ roll” song on the album, and it is indeed rockin’. From the killer chorus about love and the verse lines about how we’ve lost our way (at least, that’s my best guess) to the percussive breakdown in the middle, the song harkens to a style older than the 90’s at least. I’d always considered the “fun” side of Supergrass to be something the Rolling Stones would write if they weren’t ancient.

Just in case you thought perhaps the band was only going to completely rock out for one track, then comes the best song on the whole album, “Pumping On Your Stereo” (seriously check out that video it is SO GOOD) which a friend swears they sing “Humping On Your Stereo” and I dunno that sounds unlikely. Everything about this song is amazing, particularly the way the bassline and guitar/keyboard work together to basically sound like a piano, so of course the piano should get its own moment in the spotlight before the final chorus. Of course, once all this rockin’ is over with, the best way to end the song, I feel, is to have a lot of studio-applause, so it’s good that Supergrass caught on to that.

Do you like cellos? In that case, you may be interested in the next song, “Born Again“, which starts off with a whole mess of them playing nothing in particular. The rest of the instruments come in to throw down a spacey ultra-cool minor-key jam with a thundering upright bass line as the cellos play away far in the background. The lyrics almost seem like we’re back on Earth, but not before the next-to-final song, which sounds a bit like it comes from the David Bowie part of space.

Faraway” is probably one of the best choruses on the album, particularly when played live. There’s also that move I mentioned a long time ago that I really like, where the song changes a bit in the vocal melody, and is then layered over the chorus for the final moments of the song. The instruments then crescendo into a crazy wall of sound, as if we are finally making our entrance back to Earth for one more song.

Indeed, the rockin’ really took it out of us, so the last song is a relaxing lullaby-like number, “Mama & Papa” about the singer missing his mommy & daddy. Quite unusual but very pretty, and that’s what I’ve come to expect from one of my favorite stuck-in-the-90’s bands. Honestly, I really should get cracking on hearing their newer stuff.

 

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