Tuesday, May 16, 2006

CD reviews

Hey all!

Just finished a great night of TV. Scrubs was awesome, as usual, and a double dose was very welcomed. Yup, it was the season finale, so we got a full hour! It is, without a doubt, the best show on TV right now. I just can't believe that NBC will put it only in their winter lineup again next year. So now I have to wait till January 07 for the next new Scrubs... the only good thing about it is there never any reruns. But I digress... Law & Order: SVU was pretty good. They didn't save their best show for the finale, but it was good nonetheless. "Above par" is how I would put it.

Now, I said you (whoever is reading this, if you're out there) would get some CD reviews, so here they are...

Pearl Jam - Self Titled

Without a doubt, this is their best release since Vitalogy, if not better than that one. It starts off with a vengeance, which is very refreshing. In their last few releases, the band seemed to have taken a more progressive, somewhat expiremental approach. But for the first half on this record, that's all out the window. We're talking full-on 70's infused rock n' roll here. Rockin' riffs, guitar solos, and Eddie Vedder yelling out his lyrics like only he can. Indeed, he is singing with a purpose here. His lyrics are politically challenging, if not confrontational, but in a more universal way than what Green Day or Neil Young have managed to come up with. Check out these lines form the song 'Marker in the sand': those undecided... Needn't faith to be free/And those misguided, there was a plan for them to be/ Now you got both sides claiming to be killing in God's name/But God is nowhere to be found, Conveniently. This is some good stuff.

The second half of the album is a bit more mellow, and takes us back to albums like 'Yield' and 'Binaural'. But still, the songs have an urgency that we haven't heard from Pearl Jam in a long time. There are rumors that this might be the band's last album, and they are truly playing like a band with nothing to lose, trying to leave one last mark on rock music before they leave the scene. This is a record that is filled with highlights. 'Life Wasted', the lead-off track, begins the album in force. The first single, 'World Wide Suicide', is one of the best rockers I've heard this year. 'Marker in the sand' has a melody that will hook you and you'll find yourself humming those notes before you know it. 'Army reserve' is a mid-tempo rocker featuring almost The Cure-ish guitars and Vedder at his best, both lyrically and vocally. 'Inside Job', the album closer, is an epic 7 minute journey that builds like a crescendo and, in the end, leaves you wanting for more. 'Severed hand', 'Big wave', 'Come back' (that one reminds me of 'Black', one the band's biggest hits ever) and 'Unemployable are also very solid songs.


Red Hot Chili Peppers - Stadium Arcadium

When I heard the Chili Peppers were coming out with a double album, I was ecstatic. Now that I've listened to the record a few times, I wish they had put back about half these songs in a desk somewhere and released a single album. A lot of these cuts sound like a variation of one another. Make no mistake, the Chili Peppers are one the best rock bands out there today. They mix funk and beautifully crafted melodies better than anyone else out there. And like on 'Californication' and 'By the way', John Frusciante guitar work is at his best once more. He is truly the star of this band, even though he doesn't get half the attention Flea gets. But unlike their 2 previous releases, this album seems stretched out for too long. By the time it ends, you've had enough. Anthony Keidis' vocals haven't lost a step, but he seems to be stuck in the same place. His lyrics still sound like juvenile poetry at best, and he doesn't seem to be gaining any range either.

Still, there are some very solid cuts in there. 'Dani California' is clearly a single, and a good one at that. It hooks you and doesn't let go and features a great guitar solo at the end. 'Snow (Hey Oh)' has such a beautiful melody you want to put it on repeat and listen to it time and time again. 'Charlie' starts off as a simple, funky number and grows into this wonderful, beautiful sonic attack led by Flea and Frusciante. And Keidis' vocal harmonies act a sort of a glue that holds the whole song together. 'Stadium Arcadium' is a slower number that stands as one of the band's best, as does 'Wet sand'. On the second disc, 'Desecration smile' is clearly a standout number. Frusciante's acoustic work is amazing, as is his electric guitar work. And he provides great depth to the song with his backing vocals. 'Tell me baby' has some addictive hooks. 'Hard to concentrate' is another beautiful cut in the vein of 'Dosed' (By the way) and 'Californication'. 'She looks to me' is a pretty good mid-tempo rock song that is made so much better because of Frusciante's presence alone. 'If' is a very slow number featuring Flea's great bass work, and it's a good one. 'Especially in Michigan', 'C'mon girl', 'She looks to me', 'Make you feel better' and 'Animal bar' are also worth checking out.

In the end, this is an album that lacks the kind of "make-you-fall-out-of-your-seat-this-is-so-amazing" songs like 'Under the bridge', 'This velvet glove' or 'Minor thing'. But again, the Chili Peppers are clearly in the prime of their career, continuously coming up with great songs. It just makes me wish they would've been a little less adventurous and made this a very solid, excellent 1-disc album.


Tool - 10,000 Days

Tool are known as the premier metal band, mixing the genre with alt-rock and progressive rock better than anyone else can. And with '10,000 Days', they prove they are still on top of all 3 worlds.

But just as the 5 years between 'Aenima' and 'Lateralus' provided growth and maturation for the band, making 'Lateralus' a more melodic, polished record, this last 5-year hiatus seems to have had little effect on the band's sound. Make no mistake, this is a Tool album, and so it is a great one, but one that seems to rehash the same ideas and sounds we have heard before. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. The songs still flow seamlessly from one to another, making this a true record, and not just a collection of songs, like most bands have gotten us all used to. Danny Carey is still the best rock drummer out there, supported more than adequately on guitar by Adam Jones, he is the driving force behind this record. Maynard James Keenan, one of the best singers out there, is more subdued this time around. His lyrics are more direct and personal that they have ever been. And while anger still is a part of his repertoire (on 'Vicarious': The Universe is hostile/So Impersonal/Devour to survive/So it is, so its always been), his lyrics have grown to be a lot more personal and introspective (on 'Wings for Marie, Pt. 1': Vacant, Broken/Fell at the hands of this moment so I couldn't see/It was you who prayed for me so/What have I done/To be the son of an angel?/What have I done/To be worthy?).

It is amazing again to hear how Tool can continue to shift from slower, more subdued moments to absolutely bombastic and hard-rocking ones in the blink of an eye, seamlessly. And not just from song to song, but within the confines of one song as well. They've been doing it for years, but it never ceases to amaze. 'Wings for Marie, pt. 1' is a perfect example of that. So is 'Ring in two'. But where Tool is at its best here and where the whole band truly shines is on the heavier numbers. 'Vicarious' is the first single, and it is probably the best song of the lot. 'The Pot' is also excellent. But Tool's best attribute is not in being able to craft songs, but in crafting a true record, a body of work that truly stands as one, from start to finish, like so few bands are able to do. And in this light, this record is a smahing success from a band we've come to expect no less of.


Jeff Martin - Exile and the Kingdom

When Jeff Martin left The Tea Party, I wasn't too concerned. I had always thought of The Tea Party as "The Jeff Martin Band", being that Martin was the main creative force behind the band's work and that the music always put his guitar and vocal work front and center. And while I still I think I wasn't completely wrong, I have found that I wasn't completely right either. Clearly, the material on this record is still very strong. This album is full of beautifully crafted songs, as one would expect from Jeff Martin. But while Michael Lee's (Page and Plant) drum work is solid, it is nowhere near as spectacular as Jeff Burrows' used to be. And even though Stuart Chatwood's bass work was always understated, it was clearly superior to Martin's, who plays all stringed instruments here, including bass. But the one thing that The Tea Party's last few records had (Triptych, The Interzone Mantras and 7 Circles) and that is truly lacking is the superior quality of the production. And that is particularly confusing since Martin produced all his previous band's records. But while this album does have its weaknesses, it is still an above average output compared to what the music world is giving us year in and year out.

The lead-off track, 'The World is calling', is a typical Tea Party song, reminiscent of numbers such as 'Walking Wounded'(Tangents) and 'Luxuria' (7 Circles). The time signatures are unusual, to say the least, and this is truly where Michael Lee shines the most. Also, the string arrangements are marvellous, and this is also where Martin does his best work behind the console. 'Butterfly' is the first song that takes us to where the heart of the album lies, in folk-rock land. While it is far from being one of the best cuts here, it does feature a nice guitar line and some fine lyrical work. 'Where do we go from here' again veers back into later Tea Party work. Originally set to appear on '7 Circles', it has a bit of a pop rock feel to it (a la 'Heaven Coming Down'). And towards the end, as the song builds, martin's vocals truly shine.

'Daystar' is one of the real highlights here. This song takes us back 10 years in The Tea Party's catalog, featuring a mix of Tabla, sitar, sarod and acoustic guitar we haven't heard in years. The melodies are absolutely beautiful, and the lyrics, while simple and understated, are quite touching (this song was written for Martin 1-year old son). 'Lament' takes us to another country, namely Ireland. This song has irish folk written all over it, and again, Martin's guitar melodies are at their best here. 'Angeldust', a song that deals with the breakup of the band, takes us back to Led Zeppelin's 'Bron-y-aur', off of Physical Graffiti.

'Black Snake Blues', a delta-blues number in the vein of Robert Johnson, is not for everyone, but fans of the genre will find this is a good one. The album also features a collaboration with Jenny Laws on the song 'Stay inside of me', and it works relatively well. And in a bit of a departure for the former Tea Party frontman, the album closer is called 'Good Times Song' and is a hillbilly styled hoe-down featuring Ritesh Das (who plays Tabla all throughout the record) on table. Yes, he plays on a table. And while it is somewhat weird and unexpected, it does have a nice, happy feel to it and a nice hook to top it off. But clearly, the standout track is the epic 'The Kingdom'. Written with his new home (the Irish countryside) and his old friends in mind, this song is as beautiful as they come. Oddly enough, it is perhaps the only overproduced track on the album. While the string arrangements are beautiful and most welcomed, the choir seems to be a bit of a stretch. Yet, the song features such a nice, gentle melody and some of Martin's most touching and moving vocals.

So, while this album does not stand shoulder to shoulder with The Tea Party's best work, it does deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. One has to wonder what would have become of these songs with Jeff Martin's former bandmates standing behind him, or if the same attention to detail had been put in the production process. But this collection of songs still manages to stand well on its own, and provides great hope as to what the next record will bring.


Come back thursday, as I will review what I hope will be Edmonton's 4th win in their series versus the Sharks.


At 10:15 AM, Blogger Veillotron said...

You should have been a music critic, but where's the report on Snoop Dogg's latest album???

At 10:17 AM, Blogger Veillotron said...

What's this? I get a message that all comments must be approved by the bolg author? Where's the freedom of speech???

Peace out to the Nation


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