Latest Reviews

Album Review: R.E.M. – Lifes Rich Pageant [25th Anniversary Reissue]

By Philip Cosores; July 13, 2011 at 12:01 AM 

Lifes Rich Pageant is not R.E.M.’s greatest achievement. Commercially, both Out Of Time and Automatic For The People were bigger hits, proving that the band could reach a mainstream audience without compromising their artistic integrity. From an influence standpoint, it is hard to deny Murmur or Document as the most “important” R.E.M. records, with the former establishing a new brand of Southern rock that drew more from The Velvet Underground than The Allman Brothers, while the latter showed R.E.M. taking their trademark sound and bending it enough to reach the arena stages that seemed unrealistic at the time for something deemed “college rock.” Lifes Rich Pageant is almost a secondary album in the R.E.M. canon, yet a revisit to the classic reveals not only one of the most energetically fun R.E.M. records, but also showcases a band that might have been at their peak as songwriters, seeming to effortlessly layer melodies on top of melodies without the knowledge that what they were doing was special. Well, it was.

Now 25 years old, Lifes Rich Pageant gets a double disc reissue full of demos from the 1986 recording sessions that showcase this golden age of the Athens, GA band. Not that the album needs more to stand on its own. Written to be a more rocking counterpart to their previous effort, Fables Of The Reconstruction, Pageant starts off like a gun shot with the combination of “Begin The Begin” and “These Days.” The former is still a frequent opener to R.E.M. concerts, while the latter boils with intensity that the band has frequently tried to recapture (Monster, Accelerate), with mixed results. Later, deep cuts like “Hyena” and “I Believe” (a personal favorite) continue to apply the pressure, with “I Believe” beginning as a banjo diversion, only to come together with Michael Stipe’s recurring introduction of “when I was young,” reminding listeners now that this band used to be young, that the puzzle-piece perfect harmony of the chorus could only be made by a band that was “young and full of grace.”

Lifes Rich Pageant only contained two singles, both of which are mid-tempo, one being the Mike Mills-sung cover of The Clique’s “Superman.” The other, an environmental anthem, still remains one of R.E.M.’s finest accomplishments: the immortal “Fall On Me.” On the second disk of this collection, the demo of “Fall On Me” contains a different melody for the verse all together, showing a distinct direction the song could have gone and (probably) would have been every bit as successful. And while these two cuts might be the most recognizable for R.E.M. novices, a couple of others hold their ground the best through the harsh reflection of time: “Cuyahoga” and “Swan Swan H.” Neither song feels completely in place on Lifes Rich Pageant, but, rather, showcases a bit of the R.E.M. to come – what would happen when this direction of the band had come to completion and they would start a new avenue in the early 90s.

Most remarkable about the Lifes Rich Pageant sessions is the ease with which these songs seem to have been created. Two demos featured on this reissue’s latter half, “Bad Day” and “All The Right Friends,” would be a couple of the band’s finest singles of the 2000s, appearing on compilation discs with new life. Yeah, it is both sad and awesome that Lifes Rich Pageant‘s throwaways are good enough to be standalones. Other demos, like an early version of “I Believe,” show a song still in process. The verse of “I Believe” is hummed, with only the chorus holding proper lyrics. Michael Stipe’s words can often sound like a combination of words that sound good together (rather than actually mean something) and free-standing turns of phrase, something that Pavement would later demonstrate in direct influence. On the demo of “I Believe,” you can actually hear Stipe working on putting down words in a brief glimpse behind the curtain that listeners are rarely treated to.

Without even discussing the always-capable percussion of Bill Berry (who is the only member to be on the album’s cover) and the signature guitar leads of Peter Buck, and without criticizing the few demos that seem to be thrown on the collection for the hell of it (“Salsa,” “March Song”), this reissue of Lifes Rich Pageant stands as treasure in any record collection, because, when you take away record sales and historical context and leave the plain sounds that come out of the speakers, there aren’t many better products to be consumed than this album. Time has only been kind to Lifes Rich Pageant, and, hopefully, not much more time will be required to it to take its place in the rock and roll canon as the practically perfect album that it is.

Album Review: Diamond Rings – Special Affections [Reissue]

By Philip Cosores; June 24, 2011 at 12:00 AM 

There is nothing subdued about Diamond Rings and the debut record Special Affections, which after getting some attention in its initial release is seeing a proper reissue from Astralwerks. Seeing Diamond Rings live reveals a one-man-show, and that one man is discovering that he is, in fact, a star. And not one of those faint stars that crowd the night sky, but a star of such brightness that it can turn night into day, a star so bright that he can share a stage with Robyn and Twin Shadow, alike. Sure, it is more than just the music that turns Diamond Rings into such a full-bodied experience (think glitter, eye makeup, choreography), but a revisiting of Special Affections reveals an album that can stand alone, that presents all the drama and emotional immediacy that his live show encompasses. In short, Diamond Rings is the total package, even when he doesn’t need to be.

In our recent conversation with Diamond Rings (real name: John O’Regan), the songwriter spoke of a desire to break out of the Canadien mold of being withdrawn and introverted, instead seeking to externalize everything into this larger-than-life entity. Through this lens, Special Affections can be seen as nothing short of a complete success, but maybe not completely in the way O’Regan intended. While the record is filled with dancefloor-ready anthems (“You Oughta Know,” “Wait & See”), the most captivating aspect of Diamond Rings is how cold the warmth is. Sure, the synths are frequently bright (the carnival-ride bounce of “Wait & See”) and the choruses are often anthemic (the Deerhunter-ish refrain of “On Our Own”), but Special Affections is really bound by solitude.

From the get-go, O’Regan’s voice carries the listener to snow-covered streets and quiet barrooms. “Play By Heart” reimmagines some Phil Collins backing music with Matt Berringer on vocals, telling a story of heartbreak and reemergence, of loneliness and redemption. This theme reoccurs throughout the album, obviously on “On Our Own,” Diamond Rings’ current best song, and less obviously on “Give It Up,” which in turn longs for connection. But, the relative seriousness of O’Regan’s songs is balanced by a persona and over-all aesthetic that seems far away from genuine emotion and insight. But, in this seeming contradiction is where we often find great art, and it begs the question that because of the way an artist dresses or because there is something gloriously trashy about the way an album is produced, can we not take the overall sentiment of the words at face value.

And while this is interesting enough, perhaps the neatest thing about Special Affections is the potential of it. On “Something Else,” we get the fullest sounding and most polished track on the record, shedding any bit of homemade gloss that may be present on the rest of the album. And if Diamond Rings’ recent remix collection is any indicator, there is a movement to come in this direction for the artist, as more resources are allotted to him and he continues to shape both his own voice and his own style. Hopefully none of the charm of Special Affections is lost in the process, and the record is seen as more of a building block on which to add, rather than an early turn at which some distance is required. As the former, it is a great start to which greater things are implied, anticipated, and, eventually, expected. No pressure.

Album Review: The Tallest Man On Earth – The Tallest Man On Earth EP [Reissue]

By Alex Phillimore; June 22, 2011 at 12:00 AM 

Kristian Matsson, The Tallest Man on Earth to most listeners, is one of the most prolific and iconic folk musicians in recent memory. His two complete albums thus far, Shallow Grave and The Wild Hunt reveal an artist steadily gaining influence and popularity due to incredible song-writing and impeccable playing. His live shows are intimate, and his material harks back to times long since passed: popular comparisons to Dylan do not go without merit, with songs such as “King of Spain” directly alluding to Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather,” and yet Matsson still somehow sounds remarkably modern. Listening to The Tallest Man on Earth can be an emotional experience, as the heart and soul that he puts into every chord and every lyric is crisp and clear, and loses none of its clarity even in a studio setting.

Apart from his two albums, however, Matsson does not have a huge amount of external releases under his belt yet, with the exception of two extended plays which eager fans will have already greedily snatched up. Now that the original The Tallest Man on Earth EP is being reissued, it’s time to go back in time and see if Matsson’s older material is on-par with the newer stuff. And thankfully, after listening to the reissue on repeat, it’s quite clear that even from these humble beginnings Matsson knew exactly what he was doing: whether it’s the sorrowful “Walk the Line,” where Matsson growls to the listener bitter lamentations of, “Please don’t shoot me down,” or the comparatively optimistic, “Steal Tomorrow,” it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine Matsson playing songs such as these in a small pub or venue somewhere; certainly during an intimate situation.

This personal relationship with the audience that The Tallest Man on Earth creates is special, because every mood that he invokes seems genuine and masterful. He’s the sort of artist that seems incapable of making a bad song, therefore, as he channels personal exploits, grievances and emotions into every track. And that’s why “Over the Hills” is beautiful in its execution, and “Into the Stream,” although not quite as well-produced as the later studio version from Shallow Grave, is still equally as cryptic and ruminating in its dark lyrical content.

Listeners who have not yet had the privilege of picking up The Tallest Man on Earth should definitely make an effort to purchase this EP. However, for die-hard fans who already have the original pressing, there is still an incentive to buy the reissue: a track that Matsson wrote around the same session as the original EP but never committed to the disc is now included. “In The Pockets” is a lovely track; a little more upbeat than the relatively sombre tracks before it, but certainly worth the price of admission alone. The ending is especially fantastic, increasing in pace and volume, before fading out softly in a distinctly tender moment. To this particular listener, it’s the best track of the entire EP, making it something that a listener should cherish: it’s not just a tacked-on addition, but a thoughtful inclusion. You would be mad to miss out on this EP if you’ve never heard it before, and for those that have, it’s time to start falling in love with it all over again.

Album Review: Ride – Nowhere [20th Anniversary Edition]

By Luke Winkie; March 23, 2011 at 12:01 AM 

Retrospectively, shoegaze came and went pretty quickly; a burgeoning squall in the mid 80s, peaking with critical adulations (including a vintage NME overhype) in the early 90s, only to dissipate and be carried on by nostalgic revivalists throughout the 2000s. It was a blurry eruption of Brit-centric ingenuity before being muddled by the imperialistic grunge movement and Oasis/Blur subplots. Besides the music, one of the most lasting documents of the time is the images – Loveless’ phosphorescent magenta, the pale, walking corpses of Souvlaki – the record sleeves summed up the incurved peculiarities of the aesthetic, far from any meddling human interaction.

But probably the best example is the cover of Nowhere. An ominous, uncrested wave in the midst of a darkened sea, blending perfectly with the frigid sky above – the single word ‘RIDE’ delicately embossed in the horizon. It gels so naturally with the music within, you almost wonder how the band was lucky enough to find it. The image represents everything about the genre’s brief emergence – a quiet, mystic, effect-drenched ocean – 20 years later its effect is still lucid.

Nowhere will always be talked about second to Loveless in terms of relics of the shoegaze era, but it will always be the most tangible. Ride was much more of a band than the scene’s other champions, and their music had a locatable, youthful heart. And 20 years later it still sounds great, fitting naturally into the canon of English rock, amounting to something much different than a prime example of an aesthetic. Occasionally Ride sounds like their post-humously assigned hype, perennial visionaries who mastered untamed soundscapes far beyond their years, but sometimes they just sound like a group of kids playing rock music inspired by more natural means: The Beatles, The Smiths, and, of course, The Jesus and Mary Chain.

It’s especially apparent on songs like “Seagull,” the warped opener that tumbles into amp-busting feedback screeches, copied lovingly from the ramshackle pop of, say, “Tomorrow Never Knows” – listening to the album now sounds like a menagerie of disembodied influences. “Dream Burns Down” is probably the sweetest take of Sonic Youth noise-rock you’ll ever hear, “Decay” is essentially a surf-rock jangle scuffed-up with some electronics, “Paralysed” relates an entire history of dreamy, honey-dipped pop in 5-minutes. Ride weren’t visionaries as much as they were a tirelessly creative group of individuals with a deep love for their record collections. It’s hard to call Nowhere a watershed moment, as much as an effortlessly substantial work of songcraft.

The 20th anniversary reissue adds a number of bonus tracks, as well as a live recording taken from a stateside performance at the Roxy in L.A. – both of great quality and adding a nice bulk to the relatively lean 8 songs that made up the original album. It’s a well-deserved tribute for a band whose relevance sometimes gets lost in the scheme of things – there will always be trepidations around calling Nowhere a stone cold classic, primarily because of the long, fertile shadows of peers like My Bloody Valentine – but I’d rather listen to Ride anyway. They’ve always had the earnestness and the knack for melody, which the abstruse sounds of their fellows never had.

The song everyone (including me) always circles back to is “Vapour Trail.” And for good reason, Andy Bell’s suspended whispers easily resonate, and his flighty, levitated guitar is among the best sounds ever laid to tape, but it also gives the band a poignant conclusion. “First you come so fast, then you fade away” Bell admits among sighing, melancholy strings. As Ride drifted listlessly into nonexistence in 1996 following a couple of ill-received albums these words seemed awfully ominous, but their saga wasn’t cataclysmic, in fact is was rather wispy, a vapor trail if you will. Flying high, barely in eyesight, gently disappearing with no real beginning and ending in nowhere, just like the song – Nowhere will always be the extent of Ride’s legacy, but the music within will keep it agreeably eternal.

Album Review: The Dismemberment Plan- Emergency & I [2011 Vinyl Reissue]

By Ricky Schweitzer; February 9, 2011 at 12:02 AM 

Doesn’t 1999 seem like yesterday and an eternity ago at the same time? Whether actually gearing up for the impending apocalypse and wearing out your copies of OK Computer and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, or merely imagining that you would have, it does seem in retrospect to have been a massively fruitful time for music. Instead of the fuzzy nostalgia one often feels when listening to these aforementioned masterworks, one spin of the vinyl reissue of Emergency & I might make you feel, more than any other emotion, angry. Where are all of The Dismemberment Plans now? This reissue reminds us of the possibilities of angular melodies, jarring rhythms, and anthemic choruses that went the way of Fugazi. With these traits practically overflowing on Emergency & I, one can’t help but feel that as virtuous as the musical landscape of 2011 is, we really need a band like The Plan to remind us just how to rock. Even if this reissue does little more than to call to one’s attention to the existence of such bands, instead of expanding upon our knowledge of them, it deserves your attention, your respect, and maybe a little of your cash.

Few bands in rock and roll history have united chaos, structure, melodicism, humor, and originality as keenly as The Dismemberment Plan. From the first moments of Emergency & I’s opening track, “Life of Possibilities,” this is all too clear. There is no intro, no build up. Instead, the listener is thrown directly into the world of Travis Morrison and his band. The first melody that we hear is so disjointed that it almost seems to be a mistake, but the song doesn’t remain merely strange for long. Soon, a guitar line so melodic that it couldn’t possibly be confused for anything else appears. Suddenly, the vocal melody takes on new meaning, and the song opens itself up to accessibility. When “A Life of Possibilities” finally climaxes around three minutes in, the simplicity of the progression and cohesion between all of the instruments is nothing short of breathtaking. This is only the first song on Emergency & I and the only thing more impressive than the trick that The Plan have just pulled off, is that they will manage to do it another eleven times before the album is over.

Emergency & I is a master-class in sequencing. Instead of blurring the boundaries between songs or including reprises as the best albums often do, The Dismemberment Plan coyly transfer the energy and thematic content from one song to the next. Most effectively, the sincere and devastating madness of “The City” makes way for the most intense and schizophrenic of all D-Plan songs, “Girl O-Clock.” Morrison’s identification with the isolation one can often feel in a large city, along with the abandonment that comes as a result of your loved one leaving the accursed place, feeds directly into a purely carnal desire for sex, a need that must be sated or the consequences might be dire. Elsewhere, the textural emptiness of the verses in “You Are Invited” only serve to make Emergency & I’s most anthemic chorus all the more powerful. A noisy synth grows ever louder while Morrison stages a conversation with an ex-girlfriend, eventually exploding to reveal and revel in the power of acceptance; and what a choice to place what might be The Plan’s most accessible song, right between the disorienting “I Love A Magician” and the frenetic “Gyroscope.” Their juxtaposition deepens the impact of all three songs. Earlier, the full gamut of 90’s frustration is expressed with brilliant simplicity in “What Do You Want Me To Say” and a chilling ode to anxiety is given all the more power by the band’s restraint on “The Jitters.” From beginning to end, Emergency & Ishowcases a balance between heartfelt emotion and biting wit in such equal measure, that no album by any of The Plan’s countless imitators can truly compare.

It is a testament to how great an album Emergency & I really is that the b-sides included with this vinyl reissue fail to make much of an impact. I say this because any of these songs would be highlights in the back catalog of any lesser band. Best of the bunch is live favorite “The Dismemberment Get’s Rich.” This distinctly meta, yet not quite autobiographical piece shows Morrison at the height of his acerbic candor. Such key lines as “Gave a quarter mil to the sound man Phil so he could run for Senate. He lost in the primary but we still love him!” will always be among the favorite lyrics of devotees. Nonetheless, as great as the song is, like the rest of this reissue’s bonus tracks, it does feel slightly out of place. The bookends of Emergency & I, “A Life of Possibilities” and “Back and Forth” work so well on their own that any addition, no matter how strong in its own right, feels unnecessary. Nevertheless, if one is to approach these extra tracks as a separate entity to the album proper, their inclusion becomes a welcome addition to any audiophile’s vinyl collection.

Finally, I would be doing a great disservice to the Plan if I failed to acknowledge the brilliance of the individual musicianship on display. Each member of the band gets a number of moments to shine, made even clearer in their fantastic live show. Drummer Joe Easley is the backbone of the group and without him, the incredibly complex rhythmic subdivisions on display would sound like a mess. Bassist Eric Axelson adds a funk edge that serves to further diversify the sound of The Plan and as such, his work has proved to be one of the most influential aspects of the band. These key players help to shape The Dismemberment Plan into who they were/are, but it would be a losing battle to argue against the preeminence of frontman Travis Morrison whose charisma is practically bursting at the seams on Emergency & I. Managing to blend the vocal stylings of Stephen Malkmus, Beck, and what sounds like a rapper from some bizarro dimension, Morrison’s presence permeates through every song on the album, even if he isn’t saying a damn thing.

Emergency & I is lightning trapped in a bottle. While the Plan’s other albums were never less than good, this was truly their moment. Even when performing live, these songs have a certain luster to them. The crowd clearly favors them and the band even seems to enjoy playing them more. When Morrison closed the night with “The City,” shouting “Goodbye” from the bottom of his heart, I prayed that this was just a lyric and nothing more. We need The Dismemberment Plan to rescue us from the endless and indistinguishable flood of garage rock and shitgaze and so this vinyl reissue could not have come at a better time. Maybe if we’re lucky, the future will hold more in store for the Plan than just another tour, but even if you don’t get the chance to see them live, you owe it to yourself to give Emergency & I a permanent spot in your record collection.

Album Review: The Beatles – 1962-1966 (Red) / 1967-1970 (Blue)

By Jason Hirschhorn; December 6, 2010 at 2:03 AM 

At a time when seemingly every artist of the classic rock era has seen their catalog repackaged and reissued for the umpteenth time as record labels try to squeeze every last cent out of the compact disc, the Beatles have remained comparatively quiet. That was, until last year’s much anticipated remastering of their entire catalog. Following closely behind is this remastered reissue of the Beatles’ classic companion compilations, 1962-1966 and 1967-1970. The former, the “Red” album as it has come to be known, documents the height of the Beatlemania period. The latter of these releases, the “Blue” album, represents the Beatles post-mop-top and decidedly more adventurous era. For many 20-somethings like myself, finding our parents’ copy of the Blue album was our first exposure to the Beatles as well as our first taste of baby-boomer culture.

What makes the Red and Blue albums different from most compilations before and after is how they attacked the band’s catalog. The Beatles songbook is as weighty as any out there. As such, finding a sample to adequately represent the band’s work, even over the course of four discs, is a daunting challenge. Surprisingly, it was Beatle villain and onetime manager Allen Klein who put this gem together. Outside of the four Beatles themselves, it was Klein (and not Yoko Ono) who was most responsible for the breakup of the band. This in no way a redemption, although the song selection on the Blue album is extraordinary. Not only are the key album tracks and singles well represented, but attention is paid to lesser known tracks and B-sides such as “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” and “Old Brown Shoe.” This works two-fold as it provides a deeper look into the band’s catalog and demonstrates how the band’s hyper-prolific production of great songs forced many other quality tunes to be pushed out of the fore.

Yet despite such an ambitious objective, most of the great Beatles songs of both eras are present. The Red album smartly spends the first third of its runtime on the songs the band played the first year or so of breaking America before giving way to some of the band’s early introspective songs like “Nowhere Man” and “In My Life.” It’s hard to complain much about the song selection, though having “No Reply” or “Run For Your Life” would have been fantastic. The Blue album, understandably, comes on a bit stronger as it draws from an even deeper pool of material. That’s no knock on the Red album, it’s just a statement of how great the Beatles of the late sixties were. Really, how can you start a compilation better than with the greatest double A-side of all time and the opening three tracks of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?

Yet all this begs the question: what’s different about the 2010 reissue? Why should anyone already in possession of the original bother with an update?

The answer is simple: the 2010 reissue is just a better digital representation of the Blue album than any previous version. It’s of great satisfaction that while the tracks are noticeably louder, they are not iPod remasters. That is, they aren’t always in the red just so they’ll come across better on cheap earphones.

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Audiophiles will testify that the empty space on audio tracks is just as important as the spaced reserved for the song. This allows for a more dynamic experience rather than just a brick wall of sound. It’s an example of the kind of care and consideration the Beatles catalog is treated with that all other artists need to emulate.

When so many other legendary bands continuously abuse their fanbases with senseless reissues to keep oversized, antiquated major labels alive, the Beatles prove that nobody else of their era knows how to treat their history quite as well as they do. They didn’t conform to any model of how to write their musical history, they invented one instead; there was no father to their style. To compare the Red and Blue albums to any other band’s attempt to compile their history is not only a waste of time but missing the point entirely. The Beatles were not peerless merely because of they stood above the pack, but because they were literally without peers.

1962-1966 (Red): 98%
1967-1970 (Blue): 100%

Album Review: Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine [2010 Remaster]

By Sean Highkin; November 23, 2010 at 11:04 PM 

It’s hard to talk about an album like Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine in a modern context. On paper, it has all the elements of a classic record that merits rediscovery: it was one of the first albums to make industrial music accessible to pop audiences in a big way; it launched the career of Trent Reznor, who at this point has to be the most artistically relevant of the ‘90s alt-rock survivors (I mean, who’s his competition? Chris Cornell? Eddie Vedder?); and it contains a few of the most enduring rock-radio staples of the last 20 years. Add to that a long, complicated history of ownership and legal disputes that kept the album from being reissued for years, and you have the recipe for a seminal album by a hugely important act that needed only a sonic update to cement its legacy.

But here’s the thing about Pretty Hate Machine: it really isn’t very good. It’s that simple. It’s not Reznor’s fault, either. This was exactly the kind of album a 23-year-old Ministry fan with girl problems should have been making in 1989, and the deeply tormented “Head Like a Hole” and “Something I Can Never Have” struck a nerve. But while Reznor’s other pre-sobriety full-lengths, 1994’s stone classic The Downward Spiral and 1999’s eternally misunderstood The Fragile, only get better with age, Pretty Hate Machine in 2010 plays like a collection of mediocre Depeche Mode outtakes.

“Terrible Lie,” “Head Like a Hole,” and “Sin” were permanent fixtures at NIN shows right up until Reznor put the group on hiatus last year, and with good reason. Given the proper full-band treatment, these songs are pretty ferocious. Listen to the studio version of “Terrible Lie,” and then to the one on NIN’s excellent 2002 live album And All That Could Have Been: the original is so toothless by comparison that it’s almost laughable. And these are the good songs. Reznor’s diehard fans swear by this record, but is anybody going to tell me with a straight face that “Kinda I Want To,” “That’s What I Get,” and “Ringfinger” aren’t the most embarrassing things he’s ever recorded?

The new remastering job is an upgrade from the original in that the guitars have a little more bite and the drum machines have actual dynamics, but the synthesizers date themselves painfully to the late ‘80s on most of these songs, something Reznor has basically admitted in the last few years. And his lyrics—let’s not even get started. Reznor’s never exactly been Lennon, but he was eventually able to turn his heavy-handed introspection into something at least reliable. This stuff is seventh-grade poetry: “How could you turn me into this?/After you’d just taught me how to kiss/I told you I’d never say goodbye/Now I’m slipping on the tears you made me cry.” Yeesh. I can’t even fathom how embarrassed Reznor probably was when he went back into the studio to remaster this album and realized that millions of people have heard these words coming out of his mouth.

But this is all hindsight. Just because an album doesn’t stand up 20 years after it was recorded doesn’t mean it didn’t serve its purpose at the time. Reznor truly mastered the recording studio when he made the still-astonishing Downward Spiral five years after this album; here, it’s painfully clear that there’s room for improvement. The only added track, a cover of Queen’s “Get Down Make Love,” is something most NIN fans already have, but it’s better than most of the songs on the proper album, and the ones that aren’t embarrassing can be heard in far superior versions on any number of bootlegs and official live releases. NIN completists could do worse than to pick this up for the improved sound, but I can’t see how this album would be of much use today to anyone who hasn’t already heard it.

Album Review: Weezer – Pinkerton [2010 Deluxe Edition]

By Brent Koepp; November 17, 2010 at 1:05 AM 

Pinkerton will go down for a lot of things, but it will most likely be remembered for being the beginning of the end for a once universally-praised band, leaving many music fans to ask: “What if?”. What if critics had not panned Pinkerton it upon release, and the band continued making music in this direction? Or: what if Matt Sharpe had not left the band after a falling-out with Rivers Cuomo? Simply put, Weezer’s quick departure from their Pinkerton-era style has made this album one of the biggest teases of all time. While at the time people might not have appreciated it for what it was, Pinkerton would end up being considered one of the best albums of the 90’s.

So what exactly makes Pinkerton so legendary? While The Blue Album had lyrics that most young adults could relate to, the themes always stayed fairly light. Pinkerton explores the tried-and-true frustration that all experience at lease once in their lifetime: love. But instead of making a clichéd interpretation of it, it’s there in its entirety, the good, the bad, and the fucked-up. It’s wonderful, it’s exhausting, it’s painful. But most importantly, it’s brutally honest. Pinkerton is best described as reading someone’s diary. You know the person really well, and now you are getting this insight to their thoughts and emotions. You know you shouldn’t be reading it, but you can’t look away. You almost start to feel embarrassed for yourself as you uncover these painful experiences.

Rivers essentially wrote an entire album about his life. Now, obviously most artists write songs that are based on their life, or at least shaped by their experiences. But never has there been seen such a painful record where the artist literally exposes their themselves to everyone. It’s no wonder that years later when asked what he felt about the album, Rivers would say that the experience of releasing the album was like getting drunk at a party, spilling his guts to everyone, people laughing and then feeling embarrassed and regretful the following day. When you put so much on the line, something so personal, it’s going to hurt that much more when people don’t respond well to it. And so this is the story of Pinkerton. It’s one of the reasons Weezer would never be the same again. It seems bittersweet and a bit ironic that the gatekeepers of opinion (critics) would be so wrong about this album back during its release, and will now finally be making up for it by giving it its due.

Almost everyone experiences heartache at one time or another; it’s why this album succeeds so well. While it might be fascinating to listen to an artist spill their guts on record, it becomes so much more when the album becomes about you. “Why Bother?” in particular comes to mind. The sense of hopelessness one might feel when striking out so many times or coming out of a nasty break up. Or how about the moment when someone realizes they are done being “over dating” and are ready to hit the scene again, as presented on “The Good Life”? This album chronicles the entire process one suffers through just at the hopes of finding a companion. However relatable this album is as a whole, not every element of it is.

The other side to it is experiencing Rivers insane psyche. Similar to Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, this album is very much about the twisted reality that the artist is willing to share. Down to the moment when Rivers declares that “we were as good as married in my mind, but married in my mind is no good” or “you think I’m some kind of freak” – this album explores a very desperate person. Someone so desperate that he’s afraid to leave someone he dislikes, for having a stronger fear of being alone.

Pinkerton was one of those albums disregarded on release because it wasn’t catchy or infectious the same way its predecessor was. People expected a set sound from them, and in some ways, maybe Rivers’ relationship problems turned people off at the time. But the best bands are bands that have the balls to change their sound drastically from one album to the next, even after finding success. Radiohead, for example, went from the The Bends to OK Computer, then, despite hitting #1 on charts worldwide, on to Kid A. The transformation from The Blue Album to Pinkerton can be seen as just as drastic.

This all bring me back to thinking “What if?”. Fans still salivate at the thought of: what if Songs from the Black Hole (Weezer’s unfinished space themed rock opera and the original follow-up to The Blue Album) had also been made? What if the band continued making the same kind of music, instead of veering off into generic/formulaic pop music? Of course hindsight is always twenty-twenty, and maybe it’s foolish to wonder what could have been. Maybe their destiny was always to go on to make albums like Make Believe and Raditude. Ultimately, the legacy Pinkerton leaves behind is it being one of the most emotional and raw albums ever made. It’s an album that many can relate to, even if you’re not on the same level of crazy as Rivers was back then. And when most pop music today is filled with personas and formulaic topics, Pinkerton stands out for being brutally honest, and for reminding us that sometimes girls fucking suck.

Album Review: David Bowie – Station to Station [2010 Special Edition]

By Sean Highkin; September 28, 2010 at 12:04 AM 

Is Station to Station the best transitional album in rock history? Even though it heralded the introduction of David Bowie’s latest alter ego, the Thin White Duke, it still falls in the grand scheme of the man’s career into the “lost” years between his first classic era (the genre-defining glam rock of Hunky Dory through Diamond Dogs) and his second (the Eno-assisted Berlin trilogy). I hate to call a David Bowie album from 1976 underrated, because there’s no serious rock fan who will disagree with the opinion that his ‘70s output is probably the greatest decade any artist has had post-Beatles. But because it doesn’t fit neatly into one of Bowie’s famous personas, a lot of people don’t realize that Station to Station is the best album he’s ever made, period.

As disheveled as his life was during the making of Station to Station (by all accounts, his cocaine intake during this period was somewhere between David Lee Roth circa 1978 and Tony Montana circa 1980), Bowie has never sounded more assured or locked-in. The music is an outgrowth of the so-called “plastic soul” of the previous year’s inconsistent Young Americans, but this time, Bowie wisely dropped the soulman presentation and focused on the songs.

And the songs are some of the best of his career. “Word on a Wing” is an all-time great Bowie ballad, up there with “Life on Mars?” and “All the Young Dudes.” The sprawling, 10-minute title track and “TVC 15” hit upon an absolutely devastating fusion of the R&B of Young Americans and the angular art-rock he would explore in greater depth on his next three records. And then there’s the straight-up funk stuff: Bowie’s falsetto shines on “Golden Years” and “Stay,” as does the guitar work of Earl Slick and Carlos Alomar. Discussing the best Bowie album is no small task—there are around 10 for which you could make a pretty convincing case—but to my ears he’s never been better than he was here.

As for this particular reissue of the album, Bowie has created an industry around repackaging his classic work that is rivaled only by Elvis Costello and KISS, but the three-disc Special Edition of Station to Station is probably the best of the bunch. The remastered version of the album sounds stellar, and it’s coupled with a blistering New York concert from 1976, often bootlegged but released officially here for the first time. Backed by a killer band, Bowie rips through most of Station to Station and revamped funk-leaning versions of Ziggy Stardust-era standards.

(It should be noted that an ultra-pricey “Deluxe” edition of the album was also released that adds vinyl versions of all three discs, a DVD of surround-sound mixes, and two extra CDs, one featuring the original 1987 reissue of the album and the other featuring single edits of five songs. Because, you know, who hasn’t said to themselves, “I really want to listen to Station to Station right now, but I don’t want to have to listen to full-length versions of the songs that add up to a total of 38 whole minutes. If only there was a disc of shorter versions of every song. Somebody at RCA needs to get on this”?)

Album Review: Oasis – Time Flies… 1994-2009

By John Ulmer; July 5, 2010 at 1:00 AM 

Beyond their first two records, Oasis were never much of an “album band” – they’re rather the perfect example of a great singles group (with the occasional unheralded B-side), which is why 2006’s compilation disc Stop the Clocks – a mix of the obvious hits (“Wonderwall”) and more choice ones (“Acquiesce”) — was entirely appropriate. Taken out of the context of less consistent records, which may have otherwise undermined their full impact, tunes like “Lyla” and “Go Let It Out” were reminders of just how strong the band’s songwriting chops were at its best. Stop the Clocks was a great retrospective, a fitting summary of Oasis’ career, and although Dig Out Your Soul had three rather good singles, they weren’t mind-blowing enough to be worthy of anything more than a selective iTunes download…let alone another two-disc best-of set.

But, see, Time Flies… 1994-2009 isn’t really being billed as a best-of (even though that’s essentially what it is) – the official tagline with this compilation is that it’s a “collection of the band’s singles,” most of which were on the last compilation anyway. It’s a clever bit of marketing that is essentially a method of justifying repetitive re-packagings to fulfill contractual obligations (then again, the Brothers Gallagher haven’t sunken to Aerosmith’s depths yet, so I suppose it’s unfair to criticize them too harshly for letting this happen).

The thing is, Oasis does have some actually-pretty-good B-side fan favourites and even unreleased tunes that have leaked in various forms over the years. As a matter of fact, Stop the Clocks was originally meant to include the long-awaited song of the same title, which had been written two years earlier for Don’t Believe the Truth, had only been performed live once or twice, and was supposedly Noel Gallagher’s most personal song. It’s rumoured that he decided to leave it off of both albums at the last moment, rendering the title for the former a bit anti-climactic.

As for Time Flies… Well, you’d think a post-band retrospective with underrated B-sides and unreleased rarities like the aforementioned would have been a wiser choice, and probably even a stronger selling point (because how many average fans who already dished out for Stop the Clocks are really going to be fooled by Time Flies?). Maybe the label has no form of cooperation from Liam or Noel right now and thus can’t acquire the rights to these rarities, but that’s not a valid enough excuse to sell the fans short.

The ultimate point to be made is that, yes, almost all the songs here are representative of the band at its best; and yes, based on the songs alone this would be a very solid album and I’d be inclined to give it a glowing recommendation; but it’s hard listening to this without recognizing its redundancy. Furthermore, the disingenuous approach of it all just leaves a foul aftertaste. It’s an easy cash grab for a label biding time until their golden goose of a band inevitably reunites. If that takes longer than expected, don’t rule out the emergence of another compilation within the next few years. Hopefully that one brings something new to the table.

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