The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Night

I know I’ve harped on this theme before, but it bears repeating: this album, the band’s third, came out a mere 16(!) months after their debut. And it’s not just the volume, what makes that so amazing is the progression the band has made. Arguably, this is the first album where the band really starts to look like the icon we recognize today as The Beatles.

The vestiges of the band’s teenybop era (and I don’t really mean that as a perjorative) are starting to fall away by now (again, 16 months!).  They have a couple of filler tracks that clunk a bit, “If I Fell” and “And I Love Her”, but the former is actually a pretty good tune whose biggest sin is its lyrics (which I’ll return to in a moment) and the second even has its moments as Paul still struggles when reaching out of his songwriting comfort zone.

Now, about these lyrics. Uff-da.  Here’s a sampling from the two worst lyrical songs. First “If I Fell”:

If I give my heart to you
I must be sure from the very start
That you would love me more than her

Basically the entire song is about how he wants New Girl to promise she’ll be better than Current Girl before he goes and dumps Current to be with New. There’s nothing salvageable in that sentiment.  Nor is there in this from “You Can’t Do That,” which speaks for itself:

Well, it’s the second time I’ve caught you talking to him
Do I have to tell you one more time, I think it’s a sin

Because I’ve told you before, oh
You can’t do that

Everybody’s green
Cos I’m the one who won your love
But if they’d seen
You talking that way they’d laugh in my face

Let the record show these are both John songs.  But to be fair, he’s clearly the star of this album, which, for almost its entirety is pure pop Beatles joy, where song after song you’re bopping along to perfectly crafted tunes that you’ll be singing for the rest of the day.  “A Hard Day’s Night,” the song, is easily the best thing they’ve done up until this point and, to my mind, foreshadows the second half of their career, probably landing in my Top Five Beatles songs of all time. “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You” is a candidate for the best Beatles song nobody knows. It’s full of guitar-driven strut, swagger, and confidence that belie its aw-shucks, dimpled lyrics. By the time we get down to “When I Get Home,” the swagger’s found its way into the lyrics in its promise of satisfaction.  (The confidence goes overboard for the next track, “You Can’t Do That,” but it’s a great tune.)

The album closes up nicely with the relatively sedate “I’ll Be Back,” and here I think you see Paul’s best contributions at this point were what he added to the John songs. Or maybe John’s biggest contribution is what he did to the Paul songs. It’s all works together so well that who cares, just enjoy the damn music.

– “A Hard Day’s Night,” “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You,” “Any Time At All,” “When I Get Home”
– “I Should Have Known Better,” “If I Fell,” “And I Love Her,” “Tell Me Why,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “I’ll Cry Instead,” “Things We Said Today,” “You Can’t Do That,” “I’ll Be Back”
Filed Between: With The Beatles and Help!
Song Notes: After the jump…
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Brad: United We Stand

I approached this album very apprehensively, what with the big let down that repeated listens to Best Friends? got me. And when I was greeted with an annoying, taunting “na na na na” on the opener “Miles Of Rope” I really put  up my guard.  However, this ended up being a really nice recovery for the band.  We’re not back to Welcome To Discovery Park or Interiors territory yet, but it’s right up there with Shame.  This album’s high points (probably “The Only Way,” which barely misses full heart status due to a chintzy beginning, “A Reason To Be In My Skin,” and “Through The Day”) aren’t as high as those of their debut, but it’s a more solid, even disc.  A mix of slow tempi and hard, swaggering rock, I end up feeling about this the way I do about a lot of the more recent albums by guitarist Stone Gossard’s other band, Pearl Jam: very satisfied if not shouting-from-the-rooftops inspired.

– “Miles Of Rope,” “Bound In Time,” “A Reason To Be In My Skin,” “Diamond Blues,” “The Only Way,” “Last Bastion,” “Make The Pain Go Away,” “Needle And Thread,” “Tea Bag,” “Through The Day”
Song notes: Below the fold
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Counting Crows: This Desert Life

When an album pains me to listen to it, I don’t have a lot of patience for creativity in my review, so I’ma make this quick: this is pretty lousy.  The songwriting shows no advancement or even much of a change from their first two albums, the sound is atrocious, and there are moments, particularly at the start of the last track and the ends of the first and last, where they seem to be intentionally annoying.

There are some decent songs on here and, while they probably manage to squeak out a couple of keepers, there’s nothing I couldn’t do without.  The best feature of the album is the lyrics, which seem to be almost exclusively about lead singer Adam Duritz’s dissociative disorder, an affliction that’s captured much of my imagination lately as I cannot seem to get my head around what it means to be so dissociated from oneself.

Anyway, meh songs, ass sound.  Sucks.

– “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby,” “Four Days,” “All My Friends,” “I Wish I Was A Girl,” “Speedway,” “St. Robinson In His Cadillac Dream”
– “Hanginaround,””Amy Hit The Atmosphere,” “High Life,” “Colorblind,” “Kid Things (Non-Album Version)”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

The Bad Plus: Suspicious Activity?

Only one cover tune (“(Theme From) Chariots Of Fire”) on this album for The Bad Plus, which is kind of odd because in a lot of places it sounds like exactly the album Radiohead would make if they were a jazz trio in 1998.  In fact, when I first heard the album opener, “Prehensile Dream,” I was sure it was a cover off of OK Computer, or maybe “Everything In Its Right Place” or something along those lines.  But no, it’s an original.  As is “Let Our Garden Grow,” despite the fact that the head is exactly the same as “Here Comes Santa Claus.”

This album wants to be great, but has to settle for being quite good.  “Rhinoceros Is My Profession” (naturally) and the three keepers are the album’s highlights, along with “Lost Of Love,” which is a great riff but has no business being run over and over for over eight-and-a-half minutes, with its tempo changes providing not nearly enough development to justify that length.  “The Empire Strikes Backward” and “(Theme From) Chariots Of Fire” are high likes, with the latter deriving its value mostly from the great source material.

The Bad Plus’ fourth album, Suspicious Activity? came out the year following their masterpiece Give, making this their third album in three years and fourth in five.  They obviously had no place to go but down after Give, but I’m chalking up this album’s significant step backwards to exhaustion after a grueling release schedule like that.  It’s good, with some great parts scattered throughout its 62 minutes, but it’s not in the same league as their two prior albums.

“Rhinoceros Is My Profession”
“Prehensile Dream,” “Anthem For The Earnest,” “Knows The Difference”
Like: “The Empire Strikes Backward,” “Lost Of Love,” “O.G. (Original Gentleman),” “(Theme From) Chariots Of Fire,” “Forces”
Filed Between: Give and The Bad Plus’ For All I Care
Song Notes: After the jump… Continue reading