Michael Anthony of Van Halen and Chickenfoot

Cross-Pollination: Five Musical Autobiographies I Want to See (on Popdose)

Michael Anthony of Van Halen and ChickenfootWhen Popdose Grand Poobah Jeff Giles asked me to write a list article for his site, I couldn’t say no. The only question I had for him was, “what content restraints am I working under?” He said, “none.”

I’m sure he’ll come to regret that answer in the coming weeks, but hopefully not now.

For today my chosen topic is music autobiography, or musiphy as it’s known in the industry. We’ve seen some great ones in recent years — Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt, Ace Frehley’s No Regrets, and Bob Dylan’s Chronicles just to name three.

But what about all the legendary musicians we haven’t heard from yet? Like James Hetfield of Metallica, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, or… well, you can read all about that on Popdose.

Robert Plant, The Principle of Moments

My favorite music: 1983

If there’s one thing the internet lacks, it’s pointless music lists. So to fill that void, here’s a sampling of my favorite albums from some random year. Let’s say, 1983.

(Spotify users, check out the accompanying playlist and subscribe!)

Robert Plant, The Principle of Moments Robert Plant, The Principle of Moments — While I would in no way claim that Robert Plant’s solo output bests Led Zeppelin’s music, a lot of times I simply prefer to listen to Plant. In fact I’d say that Plant has enjoyed one of the most artistically rewarding solo careers of any artist who was part of a popular band that I can think of. The Principle of Moments is probably my favorite Plant solo effort (next to Fate of Nations) — he sounds freed from the constraints of creating larger-than-life rock and the music just crackles with energy. “In the Mood” and “Big Log” are all-time classics.

Iron Maiden, Piece of Mind — Four albums into their career, Iron Maiden had gone through just as many lineup changes. But when drummer Nicko McBrain replaced Clive Burr (trading Burr’s pocket groove for McBrain’s heavy metal thunder), the classic Maiden lineup was complete. With McBrain behind the kit the band released Piece of Mind, their most ferocious LP yet. While not the top-to-bottom classic that The Number of the Beast was, this album boasts some of the best songs in Maiden’s catalog — “Where Eagles Dare,” “Flight of Icarus,” and “To Tame a Land” just to name some. Even so-called filler songs like “Sun and Steel” or “Quest for Fire” are raucous fun.

“Weird Al” Yankovic, “Weird Al” Yankovic — It feels like Weird Al has been making fun of popular music forever, but in fact it all started with his modest self-titled debut in ’83. I can’t imagine this being of interest to someone just getting into his music, but I love all of it. The parodies are strong — “I Love Rocky Road” and “My Bologna” being the best — but the originals carry this disc. “Gotta Boogie” and “The Check’s in the Mail” are absolutely products of their time, but are musically strong. Capping the whole thing off is the absolutely twisted and hilarious “Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung,” a touching tale of the friendship between a young man and his terminally ill pal.

Yes, 90125 — I would have been perfectly happy with another album from the Drama lineup of Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Alan White, Trevor Horn, and Geoff Downes. I loved that album so much. But it’s hard to deny the greatness of 90125, even as slick and thoroughly ’80s as tracks like “Changes” and “Leave It” sound now (or perhaps because of that). This album (thanks in no small part to “Owner of a Lonely Heart”) achieved something most probably thought was impossible — it made one of the champions of ’70s progressive rock artistically and commercially relevant for a whole new generation of music listeners.

R.E.M., Murmur — There’s a small but vocal legion of R.E.M. fans who hold that nothing the band did after Murmur measured up to the group’s debut LP. I don’t buy that, but I can see where they’re coming from. There are just so many strong songs here — especially “Perfect Circle” and “9-9” — and they’re all delivered in such stark, simple fashion. And as I wrote in the second part of my ongoing R.E.M. exploration series, Murmur seems to get stronger as it goes on.

AC/DC, Flick of the SwitchAC/DC, Flick of the Switch — This is the last album AC/DC released in the ’80s that’s worth hearing, although admittedly it doesn’t stack up to Back in Black or For Those About to Rock We Salute You. Still, Angus Young’s thunderous riffing is mostly on the money on this record, and Brian Johnson still sounds energized behind the mic. Overall the tried-and-true hard rock-meets-blues formula feels fresh here, and songs like “Rising Power” and the thundering title track are the best examples of that.

Journey, Frontiers — I knew nothing of the older, more rock and fusion-oriented sounds of Journey before I bought this on cassette in ’83 and I didn’t care. Hell, I still don’t. I love everything about Frontiers — from the arena-ready rockers (“Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”) to the tender ballads (“Send Her My Love”, “After the Fall”) to the obscure, off-kilter cuts (“Back Talk”). In my mind’s eye, Journey will be forever rocking out on the pier with invisible instruments.

Frank Zappa, The Man From Utopia — One of the most-asked and most difficult questions in music fandom is, “Which Zappa album is the best for a non-fan to start a collection with?” There are a handful of outstanding options, one of them being The Man From Utopia. Zappa plays it relatively straight here — well for him anyway, although the music is unmistakably his. If the crude humor of tracks like “SEX” or “The Jazz Discharge Party Hats” isn’t your style, there’s always the excellent instrumentals “Tink Walks Amok,” “We Are Not Alone,” and “Mōggio.”

Genesis, Genesis — I’m not one of those Genesis fans who gnashes his teeth over any album that isn’t 100% prog rock. They have plenty of really good songs that are relatively straightforward and poppy. And this album (aka Mama) has very good pop songs (“That’s All”, “It’s Gonna Get Better,” and “Silver Rainbow”) as well as very good art rock (“Mama”, “Second Home By the Sea”). Yeah, “Illegal Alien” is a but much to take, but it’s the only really dodgy song here. It’s also a more consistent record than Abacab.

Paul Simon, Hearts and Bones — I’ve never been a huge Paul Simon fan but this album has resonated with me for some time. The title track alone is worth the price of admission, and ranks among Simon’s greatest compositions. The up-tempo tracks are uniformly good, but I go for the more melancholy numbers like “Train in the Distance” or the excellent “The Late Great Johnny Ace,” the latter of which was as much a eulogy to John Lennon as to the titular rock and roller.

Metallica, Kill ’em All — Raw, powerful, visceral. From the fade-in of “Hit the Lights” to the fade-out of “Metal Militia,” Kill ’em All is 50-plus minutes of some of the finest thrash metal ever recorded. Metallica wanted to release this with the title Metal Up Your Ass but was convinced by Megaforce Records to ease up a bit. But musically, there is no compromise on this album. And although guitarist Dave Mustaine was booted from the band just prior to the recording sessions, his fingerprints are all over it in the form of four co-writing credits and numerous uncredited guitar parts. (I’d include a song sample here but, you know, Lars.)

Randy Newman, Trouble in ParadiseRandy Newman, Trouble in Paradise — The sound is sleeker, and the arrangements are a little slicker, but this is Newman near the top of his game. This is worth the price of admission just for the timeless pop paean “I Love L.A.,” but the one-two punch of the melancholy “Same Girl” — his best ballad since “Marie” — and the acerbic yet mechanical “Mikey’s” is stunning.

Kiss, Lick It Up — A lot of people attribute Kiss’s resurgence in the ’80s to them taking off the makeup and getting out of the 1970s. That’s probably true, but I think it was also a case of them finally producing kick-ass rock for the first time in years. With short-timer Vinnie Vincent in the fold, the band effectively straddled the squiggly line between hard rock and heavy metal. Dismissing Lick It Up as mere hair metal is lazy and misses the point — groups like Poison and Cinderella never put out music with as much power or ferocity as songs like “Exciter,” Fits Like a Glove,” or “Young and Wasted.”

XTC, MummerMummer seems to take a bit of a beating from fans and critics who didn’t care for the more pastoral and introspective bent XTC took after Andy Partridge retired from public performing. As it turns out, this is the one album of theirs I never get enough of, and it’s by and large because of the pastoral and introspective moments (“Love on a Farmboy’s Wages” and “Ladybird” are simply divine). Of course if you like your XTC angular and nervous, there’s still the outstanding “Beating of Hearts” or “Deliver Us From the Elements” to satisfy.

Queensrÿche, Queensrÿche — While Queensrÿche’s debut EP did little to distinguish them as a metal act, it was a surprisingly mature and accomplished effort all the same. The entire band is ferocious, but it’s Geoff Tate’s soaring and Halford-esque vocals that push songs like “Queen of the Reich” into the stratosphere. The band’s full-length debut (The Warning) showcased their ambition much better, but the 18 or so minutes of this release are much more aggressive and laser-focused, setting the stage for things to come.

Pink Floyd, The Final Cut — Yeah it’s basically a Roger Waters solo album, so what? While more David Gilmour would have been welcome, it’s clear that the band was done by this point. Even so, this is a powerful album that is made all the more so because it largely bypasses the excesses of The Wall. Waters’ sense of weariness and betrayal is evident throughout the entire record on songs such as “The Hero’s Return” and it makes for riveting listening.

Mötley Crüe, Shout at the Devil — The amount of really good music Mötley Crüe released relative to their stature is not all that much. But this is one of the defining metal albums of the ’80s, and nothing can change that. This is the sound of a hungry and creative band, before drugs and glam metal excess took their toll. Side B runs out of steam just a bit, but there are so many killer songs on here — the title song, “Looks That Kill” and “Too Young to Fall in Love” just for starters — that you won’t even notice. And I still maintain that Tommy Lee’s name deserves to be included in the list of great metal drummers of all-time.

The Police, SynchronicityThe Police, Synchronicity — The transformation from the Police’s first album to Synchronicity is astounding. While some of the punkish aggression heard on Outlandos d’Amour is still present here (especially on the Andy Summers-penned “Mother”), there is a high level of gloss now. Sting is very clearly in the driver’s seat from a creative standpoint, although in retrospect it’s clear that Summers and Stewart Copeland kept him somewhat in check. How else to explain numbers like “Every Breath You Take” and “King of Pain”, which are still essential listening today rather than forgettable soft rock dreck Sting was to become known for?

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Texas Flood — I can count the number of blues or blues rock artists I like on one hand and still have fingers left over. And yet there’s something so positively mesmerizing about Stevie Ray Vaughan and his debut album. I guess the only way I can put it is that Vaughan just oozed authenticity. Oh yeah, and there’s that instantly recognizable playing style and guitar tone. How can a song like “Pride and Joy” not make you want to boogie? The best thing about this album is that as popular music was becoming buried in synthesizers and other artifice, this album took three musicians (Vaughan, bassist Tommy Shannon, and drummer Chris Layton) a total of three days to record.

Def Leppard, Pyromania — In retrospect it’s easy to see how Pyromania was just another step on Def Leppard’s road to blandness (under the guiding hand of producer Mutt Lange). But at this point, they still delivered the best pop metal in town. There’s enough crunch to please all but the most hardcore metal fans, and of course there are hooks and melodies to spare. You’d have to have a cold, cold heart not to love songs like “Photograph” or “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop).” And of course there’s my absolute favorite, “Foolin’.”

Billy Joel, "Tell Her About It"Misc. 1983 songs that I love:

  • U2, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
  • Black Sabbath, “Zero the Hero”
  • Frank Stallone, “Far From Over”
  • Tears for Fears, “Pale Shelter”
  • Culture Club, “Karma Chameleon”
  • Elton John, “I’m Still Standing”
  • David Bowie, “Let’s Dance” and “China Girl”
  • The Beepers, “History Lesson” (WarGames soundtrack)
  • Ozzy Osbourne, “Bark at the Moon”
  • Madonna, “Borderline”
  • Asia, “Eye to Eye”
  • Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson, “Say Say Say”
  • The Fixx, “One Thing Leads to Another”
  • Duran Duran, “Union of the Snake”
  • John Cougar Mellencamp, “Crumblin’ Down”
  • Dio, “Rainbow in the Dark”
  • Billy Joel, “Tell Her About It” & “Easy Money”
  • The Tubes, “She’s a Beauty”
  • Men at Work, “Overkill”
  • Talking Heads, “Burning Down the House”
  • Herbie Hancock, “Rockit”
  • Steve Hackett, “Bay of Kings”
  • Tangerine Dream, “The Dream Is Always the Same”
  • The Human League, “(Keep Feeling) Fascination”
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Jimi Hendrix

“Hope I die before I get old” — Do famous musicians really die young?

Jimi Hendrix

With her tragic and untimely death, Amy Winehouse became the latest member of a grim group — the so-called Club 27, whose only entrance requirement is to be a famous musician and to die at age 27. The club also includes legends such as Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain. This got me to thinking — is it really true that the brightest stars burn out the earliest? Or does it just seem that way because of our fascination with stars who die young?

Curious, I decided to conduct a little research so I compiled a list of famous and influential dead musicians. Of course that list could be limitless, depending on your standards for fame and influence. I ultimately opted to use Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, first published in 2004/05 and updated in 2011. So yes, it focuses heavily on rock and pop, leaving out a ton of worthy artists from country, jazz, hip hop, and other genres. No Patsy Cline, no Biggie Smalls, not even Miles Davis. So if you want to complain that your favorite musician was left out, take it up with Rolling Stone. Sorry!

That means this data includes solo artists from Rolling Stone‘s list, as well as members of groups that made the list. And believe me, for some of those Motown and southern rock groups, it was not fun collecting that data.

What I Found

Here are some interesting facts I picked up from this list:

Sid Vicious

Sid Vicious

Youngest to die — Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols), age 21. On the evening of 1 February 1979, Vicious (born John Simon Ritchie) overdosed on heroin at his new girlfriend’s (Michele Robison) New York City apartment. He was reportedly revived by those in attendance, and went to bed with Robison at approximately 3am the next morning. On the morning of February 2 his body was discovered. No autopsy was ever performed.

Oldest to die — Bo Diddley, age 79. Diddley was one of the most influential guitar players in history, and his trademark shuffle is instantly recognizable to this day. His career spanned more than six decades, until a stroke and heart attack in 2007 put an end to public playing days. He finally died of heart failure on June 2, 2008, with more than 30 family members at home with him. His grandson, Garry Mitchell, stated that a gospel song was sung at Diddley’s bedside and afterwards the legendary musician’s last words were, “I’m going to heaven.”

Age with the most deaths — You guessed it, 27. Eight members of the RS 100 (Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Dave Alexander, and Rudy Lewis) died at 27, twice as many as any other age.

Most lethal age groups — Bolstered by the members of Club 27, the 26-30 group had 15 members. After that there is a pretty big dropoff until things pick up again in the 46-50, 51-55, and 56-60 ranges.

Lynyrd Skynyrd (1977)

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Group with the most deaths — Due in no small part to a tragic 1977 plane crash that claimed the lives of three members, seven members of Lynyrd Skynyrd have died since the group’s inception in 1964. Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines (as well as assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray) were killed in the crash.

Since then four other members of Skynyrd have passed — Allen Collins died in 1990 from chronic pneumonia, a complication from paralysis suffered in a 1986 car accident; Leon Wilkeson died in 2001 after suffering from suffering from chronic liver and lung disease; Billy Powell died in January 2009 of a suspected heart attack, but no autopsy was performed; Hughie Thomasson died in September 2007 of a heart attack; and Ean Evans died in May 2009 from cancer.

Collins, Wilkseon, and Powell were survivors of the plane crash in ’77, incidentally.

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Cross-pollination: My old-school metal mixtape on Popdose!

My last Popdose mixtape (five-star jazz) seemed to go over pretty well on Popdose, so I thought I’d mix it up this time and delve into my first true love — heavy metal. This mixtape focuses on the metal that was burned into my brain during its formative years. So it should come as no surprise that I included Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Metallica among others.

So bust out that denim jacket and head over to Popdose now to check out my metal mix. Because it’s what Dio would want you to do. But just before you do, as a super-special bonus here’s one of the tracks that very nearly made the cut. It’s the first track from Anthrax’s blistering 1990 album Persistence of Time“Time.”

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Platters that matter: 20 albums that changed my life (#10—#1)

At long last, I present the conclusion of my list of 20 albums that have had the most impact on me and my love of music. For a brief refresher, you can check the back half of the top 20 here. But for your convenience, here’s the list:

#20 — Queen, The Game
#19 — Seals & Crofts, Summer Breeze
#18 — Kiss, Creatures of the Night
#17 — Iron Maiden, The Number of the Beast
#16 — Run-D.M.C., Raising Hell
#15 — Kiss, Alive!
#14 — Rush, A Farewell to Kings
#13 — Miles Davis, Kind of Blue
#12 — Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pictures at an Exhibition
#11 — various artists, Jazz Master Files

OK, now that we’re all caught up, let’s finish this thing already. As a reminder, this is no particular order but I know people love countdowns so there you go.

#10 — Genesis, Duke

If Rush was my gateway drug into progressive rock, then Genesis was my first major score (damn, I suck at drug references). Anyway, while Nursery Cryme opened me up to new possibilities in musical composition, it was the more straightforward and pop-leaning Duke that became part of the soundtrack of my life. Although it signaled a further break from the group’s progressive past, the dynamic performances and raw, emotional lyrics hit me like a bag of bricks.

I got into Duke during my freshman year of college, an emotionally turbulent time for me to say the least. While I loved the music on this record, the themes of troubled relationships and emotional loss really left a mark on me. Part of the album was informed by Phil Collins’ crumbling marriage, which was brilliantly reflected in “Misunderstanding” and Please Don’t Ask.” But the songs that will stick with me forever are Tony Banks’ dreamy and slightly morose “Heathaze” and the dense, dramatic “Cul-de-Sac.”

#9 — The Beach Boys, Endless Summer

This album is proof positive that compilation albums aren’t always a cheap record company money grab. I knew and dug a handful of Beach Boys songs when I nabbed this collection many years ago, but by the time I made my way through all of its 21 songs I was totally converted. This is no ordinary greatest hits package, rather it’s a document of much of the best pop music American had to offer in the 1960s (which is funny when you consider that I bought this in Canada).

I quickly moved to snap up as many classic Beach Boys albums as I could after hearing this, and I’ve never looked back.

#8 — Mr. Bungle, California

Some time around 1999—2000 I was in a huge rut with my music. I felt like I had explored as much as I could with pop, rock, and metal, and there was nothing left to discover. So I went to one of the few places on the internet you could go back then to research music — the All Music Guide. I started plugging in my favorite bands to see what it recommended, and it was likely my love of Faith No More that brought me to Mr. Bungle, Mike Patton’s “other” band. I read about their most recent album, California, and decided to give it a shot.

Good call on my part. I got no further than the second song, “None of Them Knew They Were Robots,” when I felt my passion for music rekindle. I felt like I had been dropped in the middle of a strange, exotic land where I didn’t know the language but I understood what everyone was saying. Bungle’s brand of schizo music jumps from gentle pop crooning to techno to surf music to death metal, usually in the course of a single song. California excited me like no album had in a long time, and led to my second Great Musical Awakening.

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2008 – The Year in Recorded Musical Performances

A few months into this year I couldn’t shake the feeling that 2008 just wasn’t going to be the great year for new music that 2007 was.  And so here I am, about a week away from 2009, and I still feel the same way.  It wasn’t a total wash mind you, as there was definitely some quality to be enjoyed.  So here’s my take on the 2008 music year – good, bad, and ugly.

The Best of the Best (Albums)

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)

Yeah, this seems like an obvious choice, but it’s also a damn good one.  I’m always up for listening to good vocal harmonies, and this band has them in spades.  The music is gorgeous to boot, and is a highly engaging blend of folk titans like CSNY, America, and early ’70s Fleetwood Mac.  The vocal round of “White Winter Hymnal” is worth the price of admission by itself.  And as a bonus, I’ve seen enough live clips of material from this album to witness that its beauty is not just the result of studio trickery.

Metallica – Death Magnetic (Warner Bros.)

You can accuse me of falling for the hype if you want, but this is an excellent album.  While it’s not enough to make me throw away my copy of Master of Puppets, it’s certainly strong enough to make me forget the group’s creatively dry Load era.  There’s a touch of filler present, but tracks like “All Nightmare Long” and “My Apocalypse” stack up against the best material Metallica has ever produced.  And most importantly of all, the group is once again relevant to the world of metal.

The only bummer regarding Death Magnetic is the craptastic mixing/mastering job, which like far too many modern albums is compressed to the point of being physically uncomfortable to listen to.  Fortunately there is relief in the form of an alternate mix produced for the Guitar Hero video game, which was widely distributed over torrent sites.  I’m not advocating that sort of downloading of course, but let’s just say it’s far superior to the officially released version.

School of Language – Sea From Shore (Thrill Jockey)

Whether or not Field Music ever reconvenes under that name is sort of irrelevant since Peter and David Brewis, the creative energy behind Field Music, seem to be carrying the torch of top-notch English pop/rock as if nothing had changed.  Witness David’s first release as School of Language, a slightly more understated but still masterfully executed piece of pop bliss.

The Week That Was – The Week That Was (Memphis Industries)

Speaking of the brothers Brewis, August was Peter’s turn to knock one out of the park and he did with the self-titled debut from The Week That Was.  It’s a denser and darker journey than Sea From Shore, but no less rewarding.  Taking musical cues from early ’80s Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, Brewis has delivered one of the most satisfying and sadly overlooked releases of the year.

Russian Circles – Station (Suicide Squeeze)

You’d think that an album of metal instrumentals, averaging seven minutes in length, would not be particularly interesting or rewarding.  You would be wrong.  There is a craftsmanhip evident on Station that belies the fact that it’s only the band’s second album.  It sounds like thoroughly modern metal, but it feels vintage.

Randy Newman – Harps and Angels (Nonesuch)

2008 was the year I finally hopped on the Randy Newman bandwagon, and Harps and Angels played a large part in that change.  No longer is he just the guy from those Family Guy bits or the man I blame for a bunch of schlocky Pixar music.  Well, he still is a little.  But I’ve connected with his top-notch lyricism and easy-going, modernized New Orleans-style blues piano, which are in full flower on this record.  Newman thrives when he has nice, big targets for his cynicism, and he has plenty of material to work with here (from the Supreme Court to the Bush administration to their hypocritical pop music critics).  But the tender moments are just as effective, and songs like “Losing You” and “Feels LIke Home” will undoubtedly stand the test of time.

Dengue Fever – Venus on Earth (M80)

I predicted back in April that this would make my year-end list, and I called it (funny how that works).  This off-kilter blend of Cambodian lounge pop and psychedelia is one of the oddest albums to win my heart.  It was also good enough to get the attention of Peter Gabriel, who decided to distribute it on his Real World imprint.  It would be easy to focus your attention on the spellbinding vocals of Cambodia’s own Chhom Nimol, but the catchy musical arrangements are the real star of this effort.  Venus on Earth swings, it grooves, and it captivates.

Danilo Pérez – Across the Crystal Sea (Verve)

I was turned on to this release by the JazzPortraits blog (not updated nearly enough for my liking), and it’s a winner.  Pérez ‘s piano is backed this time by a string section led by the renowned arranger and conductor Claus Ogerman, known to many jazz fans for his work with Bill Evans, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Diana Krall among others.  It’s a subtle and gossamer work that never slides into the dreaded “easy listening” realm.  Guest vocalist Cassandra Wilson shines on a pair of tracks, “Lazy Afternoon” and “(All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings”.

Goldfrapp – Seventh Tree (Mute)

Seventh Tree is one of those albums that I suspect will only get better with age.  Everything is slightly muted here, from Alison Goldfrapp’s vocals to the arrangements themselves.  But in trading sex appeal and danceability for nuance and delicacy, Goldfrapp has produced their most rewarding album since Felt Mountain.

Build (2008)
Build – Build (New Amsterdam)

Recalling at times both the structured and subdued approach of Philip Glass and the sheer musical joy of Penguin Cafe Orchestra, the self-titled debut from Brooklyn’s Build can best be described as classical music for people who hate classical music.  It’s exuberant and poppy but never gimmicky, and I highly recommend it.

Jim Noir – Jim Noir (Barsuk)

The eponymous followup to Noir’s 2006 debut, Tower of Love, finds him mining the same sound as the first time – namely the ’60s salad days of ’60s British pop, Mod, and psychedelia.  The formula worked for Noir (real name Alan Roberts) the first go-around and it certainly works now.  The melodies are not awe-inspiring but the DIY charm still holds; don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming parts of “Don’t You Worry” and “Happy Day Today.”

Next: The best of the rest…

Album review: Metallica – Death Magnetic

Here’s the dirty little secret that both fans and detractors of Metallica seem to forget from time to time.  Rather than being a faceless musical entity, they’re really just four human beings who have grown and changed a great deal since 1983.  And don’t tell anyone, but so have their fans (well, most of them)!

I was just shy of 13 years old when …And Justice for All came out in 1988.  Imagine if I conducted my daily affairs as if I were still in junior high school.  How far do you think I’d get in life?  Not very far, right?  So why is it that it’s perfectly OK for people who grew up, grew older, and matured as people while listening to Metallica seem so unwilling to allow the band to do the same?

OK, I think I’ve made my point.  Now onto Death Magnetic.

Plain and simple, this is a good album.  Very good in fact.  It’s an interesting blend of some of the group’s styles over the years.  A ton of reviewers (myself included) have already noted that it’s sort of a hybrid between the straightforward, melodic riffs of The Black Album and the complex, pseudo-prog structures of …And Justice for All.

There’s an abundance of vintage thrash rhythms and blistering Kirk Hammett solos, which should please the diehards.  But it’s also got some of the grooves and more moderate tempos found on (gasp!) Load.  They’re blended together in a stew that sometimes tastes hearty and fulfilling, sometimes a bit forced and artificial.

Things start off very strongly, as “This Was Just Your Life” and “The End of the Line” showcase all that Metallica has learned over the years.  A cynic would accuse them of plagiarizing themselves on these and other songs, but I don’t look at it that way.  A lot of this music draws on the best of the band’s earlier incarnations and shows them doing familiar things in a new way.

I love the mix of vintage thrash and modern groove on “Broken, Beat & Scarred” and “The End of the Line.”  I appreciate how most of the songs here, averaging at about the 7-minute mark, at least feel like they merit the length.  By contrast, one of the major weaknesses of St. Anger was a lack of editing.  More than a few times I found myself saying, “enough already!” on that album.

Alas, this is not a perfect album by any means.  Fans may bristle at the many similarities between both the song sequence and structure on Death Magnetic.  Yup, “The Day That Never Comes” is a close cousin of “Fade to Black.”  And producer Rick Rubin’s decision to take a more natural approach to recording the always inconsistent Lars Ulrich’s drums backfires on occasion.  As is usually the case, the bass guitar is buried fairly deep in the mix.  New bassist Robert Trujillo’s presence is more felt than heard.

And lastly, this is not a uniformly strong effort.  The second half in particular is weaker than the first, save for the superb “Cyanide” and “My Apocalypse”.  Death Magnetic is definitely front-loaded, but the strength of that material is more than enough to compensate for the rest.  Sure it’s not Master of Puppets revisited, but that’s just fine by me.  I’m not a teenager anymore either.

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Six songs from Death Magnetic now available for streaming

The buzz behind Metallica’s new album, Death Magnetic, continues to build prior to its September 12 worldwide release.  This is easily the most hyped Metallica released since, well, St. Anger.  The stream represents 60% of the final 10-song product, an unexpected amount of accessibility for the band.  Here’s what you’ll hear when you visit their site:

  • “The Day That Never Comes” – Decent for the first 4 minutes, then it gets much better.  And hey, a Kirk Hammett solo!
  • “My Apocalypse” – Pretty kickass I must say.  Reminds me a lot of “Dyers Eve”.
  • “Cyanide” – I’ve heard this one the most, and it’s growing on me.  Love that drum/bass bit at the beginning and the end.  Very reminiscent of the Black Album era.
  • “Broken, Beat & Scarred” – Not totally feeling this one.  Feels a little unfocused to me.
  • “The Judas Kiss” – It’s pretty complex and doesn’t hit me immediately, but will probably be a grower.  Excellent soloing though.

It sounds to me like an interesting mix of past styles.  You’ve got some of the classic songwriting style, some Black Album stuff, and even some Load-era sounds.  It actually sounds pretty good to me.  It’s really interesting to hear the older style recorded in such a direct, up-front mix (which is a hallmark of Rick Rubin).  I can only imagine what this material would sound like were it produced by Flemming Rasmussen.

Of course, some of you more enterprising intertube users already have a full copy of the album thanks to a leak that originated in France.  I won’t say whether or not I have a copy myself, as the wrath of Lars Ulrich is nasty indeed (although he was surprisingly cavalier when asked about the leak).

Oh yeah, and this picture is hilarious.  Who knew James Hetfield and Robert Trujillo were so damn trendy?

James Hetfield and Robert Trujillo (Metallica) shopping

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