Sunday, June 28, 2009

It's a Roundup!

Here are a bunch of albums that I've checked out recently. In alphabetical order:
  • Arrested Development - The Best of Arrested Development (2005). This is one of those "oh, they did that song too?" albums. I bought this cheap for "Tennessee," lucked into "Mr. Wendal" and "Revolution," and ended up with a nice collection of songs from a talented and long-forgotten rap/soul group from the early 90's. I'll get more out of this than I paid for it. Not worth it for fans, great if you want an overview of the band.
    CD Placement rating: CD Rack.
  • Brendan Boogie Band - Disposable Pop (2008). Once again, if you send me your CD, I will review it. (Perhaps not in a timely fashion, but I will eventually get to it.) First of all -- the CD design and concept (it looks like a Bazooka Joe Gum CD sleeve) is one of the most eye-catching ones you'll see. Very cool. And the songs live up to the album title: it is "disposable pop" in many ways. It's got good harmonies, smart melodies, and pop-smart lyrics, and a good bit of self-effacing humor to boot, plus, it's always helpful to have a standout tune, and "Pharmaceuticals" fits the bill. I'd like some more variety in their sound, and they can be a little paint-by-numbers at times, but in the end it's still fun pop, and better than just "disposable." That's good enough for me to keep it.
    CD Placement rating: CD Rack.
  • Devo - Freedom of Choice (1980). Now despite the fact that my man Sean has "D-E-V-O" tattooed to his fingers... sadly, I had never listened to this album before I went to pick him up at the airport en route to our buddy Scott's surprise 40th birthday party. (My indie cred just took a serious hit, I know.) This is a great album; but "Whip It" and "Girl U Want" alone are worth the price of admission. I'm glad I picked up this old chestnut from Akron's finest.
    CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case.
  • Buddy Holly - The Definitive Collection (2006). We all know that Buddy Holly died in the plane crash that also killed the Big Bopper and Richie Valens in 1959. Even though I've been listening to him since I was six, I never realized his "career" lasted a little under 18 months, and that he was 22 (and Valens 17) when they died. Despite that, his creative influence on rock n' roll was huge in that very short period of time -- calls Holly "the single most influential creative force in early rock & roll." This is a great retrospective or introduction.
    CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case.
  • Parts & Labor - Receiver (2008). This one was recommended by Dan. I first heard this in the car and couldn't see what he was talking about, other than "Nowhere's Nigh." The big stereo revealed "The Ceasing Now" and "Wedding in a Wasteland"... and a good, low-to-mid tempo, layered indie rock offering with a lot of interesting sounds. As much as I was ready to kick this to the curb, it turns out I can't. Thanks, Dan!
    CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case. Who knew?
  • U2 - No Line on the Horizon (2008). Full disclosure: I have not been a fan of any album by U2 since Achtung Baby. They do remain one of my all-time favorites, and I have really liked some of their songs in the interim; they just moved in one direction while I moved in another. After listening to this in the car, I came to the conclusion that this one was doing nothing to change my opinion. I even wrote the review prior to the final big stereo listen -- conclusion: Pile of Death. Midway through the opening track on the home speakers, Mrs. Snilch and I had the same thought: this is much better than either of us had heard on the radio or in the car. I love surprises like this. This will not make you forget The Joshua Tree -- it definitely has its flaws -- but it is a good album. I'll take that, and keep it.
    CD Placement rating: Rises out of the Pile of Death and into the CD Rack.
- Snilch

Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy (2008)

Oh, you had to know this was coming.

When this album finally got released, it looked like the perfect target: a bloated turkey crossing the road, iconic in its dalliance. (I know what some of those words mean.) I bought this, with high hopes to blow this ridiculous, bombastic journey to Mecca through rock's desert to pieces as I rained my sarcastic machete down on its undoubtedly subpar musical gizzard.

Let's put this in perspective: when Use Your Illusion I & II were released in 1991, Guns N' Roses was the biggest band in the world. After Appetite for Destruction and Lies (which were both in the Top 5 in 1988, the only band in the 80's to be able to say that), there were people sleeping out on sidewalks to buy the double album... er, two individual albums. Now that's gumption. And they debuted at #1 and #2 on the charts, the first band ever to see that happen.

17 years later, this is their next album of original material. Think about that. Four #1 or #2 albums to start a career... followed by 17 years off. We will never see anything like this again in our lifetime, I'll wager.

And this album... 14 years in the making. All original members except Axl Rose gone as of 1997, with multiple, wild lineup changes (18 band members total) throughout the process. The album got an official name 10 years ago. The timeline:

  • 1999: song "Oh My God" released from "the forthcoming album." Axl tells reporters he has re-recorded almost the entire Appetite for Destruction album with his new band.
  • 2001: GNR shows include songs from "the forthcoming album."
  • 2002: GNR tour scheduled to support "the forthcoming album." Most of the dates are canceled.
  • 2006: Axl tells reporters that the new album will be out before the end of the year. European and US tours happen. In December, new release date announced: March 6, 2007.
  • 2007: Band announces mixing will delay release date. Australian, Mexican, and Japanese "Chinese Democracy World Tour" dates happen.
  • 2008: Dr. Pepper announces plan to give everyone in America free can of Dr. Pepper if the band releases Chinese Democracy before the end of the year. Except to former guitarists Slash and Buckethead.
The most surprising thing of all was that Dr. Pepper had to pay up.

So after all of this time, all this hype, all these stops and starts, the reported $13 million spent in the studio, it finally has arrived: probably the most dissected, longest produced, most legendarily anticipated album we will see in our lifetimes. The question is: after all that, exactly how good is it?

It all depends on your perspective. If you look at this as Axl Rose's masterpiece, an album 14 years in the making, the successor to the GNR legacy... you are going to be disappointed. Very disappointed. There are very few albums that could ever live up to that kind of standard, and this one ain't it. There are no hits here, no transcendental tunes, no timeless classics. It just does not justify the amount of time spent to create it. And at times Rose's lower range sounds like a dead-on impression of the lead singer from Queensryche.

However, if you listen to this as an album by "some guy" with a revolving cast of thousands, who has a voice that still has fantastic range (possibly unparalleled for male vocalists even to today), that is meticulously produced, recorded, and mixed, it's quite good. It's a very good, well produced album.

Rose's main disadvantage here is that this album was begun before the internet, Napster, or ipods, and it sounds like he chose to ignore that trend we like to refer to as "mp3's." In the car, it sounds terrible; but loud and on the big speakers, you can hear the nuances he was going for. Unfortunately, that's not the way most people listen to music these days... and my guess is that Rose has been listening to this album in big studios, from well-appointed stereos, and in car speaker systems that cost as much as my house does.

In the end, even if this album were terrible I'd keep it -- it's a piece of history. As it is, it's good enough that I'll listen to it as well. As much as I would like to wind up and just blow this album to hell, I can't. Damn.

CD Placement Rating: This is a borderline call, but I have to acknowledge this album objectively -- it goes into the Portable CD Case. Nicely done, Axl.

- Snilch

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bob Mould - Life and Times (2009)

It's a pretty quick turnaround for another album by Bob Mould -- after all, District Line was released just last year. Prior to that, it's three years back to Body of Song, then three years back to Modulate, then four years back to The Last Dog and Pony Show. (Of course, if you count his album under the name Loudbomb or his collaboration with Rich Morel for Blowoff, that throws this math off. So we won't count either.)

This album shares much in common with District Line, which is also a departure from the last 15 years -- each album since the breakup of Sugar in 1995 has been a bit different from the last. As you may remember, District Line confounded me for quite awhile, but I basically couldn't put it away. And it still sits in my CD Changer -- er, visor. As for Life and Times, I can sum up the pro and con views fairly quickly:

Pro - This is a very solid album.
Con - This is a very solid album.

It's that type of cogent analysis that keeps you people coming back here.

There's a fine line between endorsement and damning with faint praise. The real issue here lies in Mould's body of work. From Hüsker Dü to solo to Sugar to solo again, I count 17 studio albums and an EP in 27 years; of those, I only count two I don't go back and listen to. And those two albums STILL have three absolutely great songs each, as well as being better than most of the music that came out that year. Not bad for your two "worst outings"; in reality, there's not a bad apple in the bunch. That's going to make any future album evaluation pretty damn tough -- and that's why some fans would equate a "very solid album" with "failure."

So how does L & T stack up? All the tracks are solid -- it's consistently good front to back, and grows on you over time. The first four tracks are solid, and "Wasted World" and "Spiraling Down" anchor the back half of the album. The only thing the album is missing is a truly great track like on his previous 17 -- but maybe I'm just not hearing it yet. In any case, I'd highly recommend it as a starting point to listening to his work, or for someone who is a longtime fan. It's really... well, it's very solid.

CD Placement Rating: Where the rubber meets the road -- this goes into the Car CD Changer. I'm sticking with that term for my rating; "CD Visor" doesn't have the same ring.

Merch Rating: I always buy Mould's CD's when they come out, so that isn't fair; I'd love to see him release some b-sides on a single or two which I'd buy. (This hasn't happened since 1996, so I'm not holding my breath here.) I'll buy whatever is at the show in October in Boston; at the last show I bought a numbered and signed print by a then-unknown Shepherd Fairey. That worked out pretty well.

- Snilch

Monday, June 15, 2009

Car CD Changer: R.I.P. (1998-2009)

Any of you familiar with my respective ratings systems understands the key role my Car CD Changer has played in my ratings process. Sadly, it is no more.

To be fair, this changer has not lasted 11 years -- this is the 2nd one I've owned. Number 1 lasted six years, number 2 lasted five. Number 2, though, was plagued with cabling and playback issues over its brief existence. And once the original head unit, a radio/tape player, had to be replaced with a radio/single CD player, my tolerance for the CD Changer's idiosyncrasies reached its limit.

So when I was told Number 2 had gone rather meekly into that good night, I reluctantly decided to simply move on rather than replace it. It's a sad day. Instead, I'll have a 20-CD sleeve holder on my visor... but it won't be the same.

Feel free to pay your own homage to my late, great Car CD Changer via any comments. We both thank you.

- Snilch