Two tracks from Little Earthquakes and three covers. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” seems completely predictable, but I know it really messed people up at the time. “Angie” (The Rolling Stones) and “Thank You” (Led Zeppelin) are both excellent.
For their fifth album, The Bad Plus brings us a pretty big letdown. Aside from “Physical Cities,” you could listen to this CD in the background, or pretty much even the foreground, and never really know it happened. You’d probably perk up a little bit due to recognition of Burt Bacharach’s “This Guy’s In Love With You” or Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” but where their last two albums provided plenty of powerful rock, there is little to be found here.
One of the most amazing things about The Bad Plus is that they can get crazy avant garde on you, but always didactically, by which I mean that they’re always guiding you up to and sometimes even through their freest, craziest parts. In the span of a song, the band is skilled at hooking you in with the familiar and/or accessible, holding your hand through a compelling thematic development, and then kicking off an explosive party in your brain of nutso experimentation before ushering you back down again.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case with this disc. It’s pretty much all either boring muzak delivered straight without a hint of irony, or it’s gonzo, off-the-rails, atonal blathering with no hinge or bridge between the two. Some of this has to do with their source material. Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” is inherently a cool, laid-back sort of thing, and I don’t really find the original of David Bowie’s “Life On Mars?” all that compelling, but the former could have been tweaked more and the latter almost assuredly should have been modified far less.
– “Physical Cities,” “Mint,” “Giant,” “Thriftstore Jewelry,” “Tom Sawyer,” “The World Is The Same”
– “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” “Life On Mars?,” “This Guy’s In Love With You,” “1980 World Champion”
Filed Between: Suspicious Activity? and For All I Care
Song Notes: After the jump
The Beatles’ fourth album leads off with probably the best album side of their career to this point. The first three songs are dark, dark, and dark. “No Reply” starts off spooky and just gets spookier. The narrator calls on a girl, both by phone and in person, only to be told she’s not home, but he knows that’s a lie because he saw the light, he saw her in the window, he “knows where she’s been,” and he “saw her walk in her door.” After that it gets explicitly threatening, “If I were you, I’d realize that I/Love you more than any other guy.” Hard to imagine a girl wouldn’t react positively to that. That’s followed by “I’m A Loser,” sung from the depths of dark loneliness post-breakup, and then we have “Baby’s In Black,” about a girl who won’t stop wearing black for her dead boyfriend.
And then, pow, just like that it’s into the upbeat “Rock And Roll Music” by Chuck Berry, the best song on the album. Paul’s “I’ll Follow The Sun” is an awful like George’s “Here Comes The Sun” from 1969’s Abbey Road. Then we have three great R&B covers to top things off: Roy Lee Johnson’s “Mr. Moonlight” and Leiber and Stoller’s “Kansas City” in a seamless medley with Little Richard’s “Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!”
That first side is seven great tracks, one after the other, bam bam bam. And from there they start of side two with the only song from here you know, “Eight Days A Week,” which fits squarely into the band’s A Hard Day’s Night and Help! styles from this period.
And then after that…blum blum blumble blum…the album falls down the stairs. The last six songs are a mix of bad, meh, and the occasional good song. If they’d kept the worst few songs off the album (though it is only 34 minutes as it is) I’d say that they were just unable to keep up the momentum. As it is, though, it’s flawed.
It’s hard to believe that only two tracks after the primal swing of the medley the band is doing a tepid version of Buddy Holly’s tepid, mewly clunker “Words Of Love,” and then they follow that up with Ringo singing a completely forgettable (but not terrible) version of Carl Perkins’ “Honey Don’t.”
The rest of the album pulls everything up a bit again, though they don’t quite reach the heights of the first eight tracks until the album closer, a cover of Perkins’ “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby.” “Every Little Thing” isn’t great, but the little guitar licks that fill in the spaces around the vocals along with the two-note tom (tympani? kettle drum?) hits make it enjoyable. “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party” should have been named “I Still Love Her,” but it’s fine. “What You’re Doing,” the penultimate track, is another big dip in quality.
It’s interesting how, when The Beatles wrote mediocre songs, they still did it in such a mediocre way. Like, “Every Little Thing” and “What You’re Doing” are so unmistakeably Beatles. If they hadn’t written them and somebody else had, music critics would immediately call them Beatles-esque. And I guess it’s just bizarre to hear something that so inherently of The Beatles and yet not super, super good. We’ve just become accustomed to associating those qualities with their awesomeness, but these songs are examples that their great songs were, in addition to being arranged really well, just great songs.
– “Rock And Roll Music”
– “No Reply,” “I’m A Loser,” “Baby’s In Black,” “I’ll Follow The Sun,” “Mr. Moonlight,” “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!,” “Eight Days A Week,” “Every Little Thing,” “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” “What You’re Doing,” “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby”
– “Words Of Love,” “Honey Don’t”
Filed Between: A Hard Day’s Night and Help!
A fun, sax heavy, snotty punk record from San Diego with plenty of grunge-era downtuning in the guitars. It’s like Seaweed meets Morphine meets Green Day. Abrasive enough that it should get fatiguing, but it doesn’t. Really well crafted, nice attention to sonic design. They’ve got a dirty sound covering a good part of the frequency spectrum. It’s probably not palatable to everybody, but if you dig the sound you’ll find the hooks pretty catchy while also unexpected.
At 38:51, it’s a tight little package that has purpose and a clarity of vision. Every sound here is intentional, every song is good. With the exception of the three worst songs being lumped together in the middle of side two, there’s no fat.
I’ve been really grooving on this one.
– “Don’t Darlene,” “Dollar”
– “Short Lip Fuser,” “Hippy Dippy Do,” “Ditch Digger,” “Killy Kill,” “Hairball Alley,” “Sturdy Wrists,” “March Of Dimes,” “Little Arm,” “Glazed”
Song Notes: After the jump… Continue reading
Just some notes on the songs included on the very good mix CD my sister-in-law gave me last Christmas. Yeah, I’m slow.
- Brand New: “Tautou” – Rough start. Only about 100 seconds. The song’s good, or at least okay, but the lyrics make it broken. “I’m burning like a bridge for your body.” That has to be the worst simile for burning ever.
- The Format: “Inches And Falling” – Oh I hate that voice. Good song, good parts, kind of annoying in parts. The rocker parts are the best, not too sure they nail it on the silly breakdown parts. Not sure I agree with the lyrics, “I’m love being in love./I don’t care what it does to me,” in particular the latter half doesn’t apply to me.
- Metric: “Gold Guns Girls” – This is awesome. One of the two best songs on the disc. Maje international disc, these guys are from Canada.
- Billy Joel: “Only The Good Die Young” – I think I covered this before at the old place, right? On My Baby’s Joel’s Greatest Hits disc? Good, though.
- CSS: “Rat Is Dead (Rage)” – Isn’t that the title of a Smashing Pumpkins song? I feel like I know this. I def feel like I know her voice. The other best song on here. Band is from Brazil. I love the way she can’t pronounce the English interdental phone (e.g., “th” in “the” becomes “d”). Can’t think of this band without thinking of cascading style sheets. Also love the lead singers breathy inhales before singing a line.
- The Dandy Warhols: “Bohemian Like You” – There’s a classic rock song (I think) that this reminds me of. Pretty good.
- Fleetwood Mac: “Dreams” – I think I always thought this was a Stevie Nicks song. You know what I mean. I hate it. I have never understood the appeal of Rumours.
- Operator Please: “Catapult” – Pumpin’. Australian.
- Jenny O.: “I’m Gonna Love You Too” – Did this chick do an iTunes commercial? Can’t find any evidence she did, but she’s got that wispy voice they love. This is a Buddy Holly cover, and I can’t think of what this song sounds like if I’m not listening to it. Unsurprisingly, the Buddy Holly version is better, which is what makes this broken, but I’m not even crazy about that gaspy performance.
- K’s Choice: “Until I’m Fine” – Very nice and continuing with the slowed down thing. From Belgium.
- The Cardigans: “I Need Some Fine Wine And You, You Need To Be Nicer” – Great. Might have been full if not for that weird dog part at the beginning. Yes, this is the Swedish band that did “Lovefool.” And no, that song is not nearly as good as you remember it. But this is probs my third-fave song here.
- Metric: “Black Sheep” – Good, but you hardly notice it. I mean, I can never remember what’s going on with this song when I’m not listening to it.
- Operator Please: “Volcanic” – A little annoying. It’s not terrible, but it’s not very good, either.
- She & Him: “Sentimental Heart” – Bleh.
- Metric: “Help I’m Alive” – Pretty sweet. Takes a bit too long to get going. And there are some draggy parts. It’s like the germ of a great song is there.
- Ben Folds: “The Luckiest” – Ugh. It has some redeeming features, like the melody of the verses is sweet and the lyrics are sentimental if a little overdone and awkward (it is Ben Folds, after all). But I can’t say I like this.
– “Gold Guns Girls” (Metric), “Rat Is Dead (Rage)” (CSS)
– “Inches And Falling” (The Format), “Only The Good Die Young” (Billy Joel), “Bohemian Like You” (The Dandy Warhols), “Catapult” (Operator Please), “Until I’m Fine” (K’s Choice), “I Need Some Fine Wine And You, You Need To Be Nicer” (The Cardigans), “Black Sheep” (Metric), “Help I’m Alive” (Metric)
– “Tautou” (Brand New), “Dreams” (Fleetwood Mac), “I’m Gonna Love You Too” (Jenny O.), “Volcanic” (Operator Please), “Sentimental Heart” (She & Him), “The Luckiest” (Ben Folds)
Filed Between: Ravi Shankar (Incredible Ravi Shankar: Raga Charukauns) and Richard Shindell (Somewhere Near Patterson)
The band’s greatest hits album from 2000. They’ve released six studio albums since then, so I’m assuming that some kind of box set or something is due soonish. This one’s got all the ones you know. It’s Indigo Girls, it’s a greatest hits album. I can’t write anything more about that. If you don’t know what Indigo Girls sound like, this is not the venue.
Okay, one note. Based on my recent review of the album and what’s here, I think Swamp Ophelia may be the band’s worst album.
Song notes pre-jump since it’s a greatest hits disc.
- Strange Fire – Amy. Very good. From 1987 debut Strange Fire.
- Closer To Fine – Love this song, but this lyric just steers me balls: “The less I seek my source for some definitive.” Definitive what? Answer? This is probably their biggest hit, right? From their 1989 self-titled release. Interesting note on that album: It got them nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy, but they dodged a bullet on that one as they were one of the artists to lose to Milli Vanilli in that notorious vote. Emily.
- Kid Fears – Seems overwrought first time through. It is overwrought, plodding, but not altogether bad. Sounds like Michael Stipe might be guesting. They do have the Georgia (Athens?) connection. Yep, Wikipedia says it’s Stipe. Amy. From Indigo Girls. Dark-sounding.
- Watershed – From 1990’s Nomads Indians Saints. I would have preferred they include “Pushing The Needle Too Far” from that album.
- Three Hits – Like “Galileo” starts off with a David Byrne, Paul Simon, Mickey Hart, Peter Gabriel kind of psuedo-world drumming. Well, the first three of those guys, in particular Hart’s, were legit. Very cool. From 1992’s Rites Of Passage, which I reviewed on my original blog. Amy.
- Galileo – From Rites Of Passage. Had it as mix in original review. Hmm, okay, fine, I don’t want to overthink it.
- Ghost – Rites Of Passage.
- Reunion – From Swamp Ophelia. Definitely coming to the conclusion that Swamp Ophelia may be the weakest IG album.
- Power Of Two – From Swamp Ophelia
- Least Complicated – from Swamp Ophelia
- Shame On You – Spends the first 40 seconds or so promising a big eruption, but it doesn’t quite deliver when it heads to bridge/chorus. If they really pulled out into a huge rock there it would probs be a mixer. From 1997’s Shaming Of The Sun.
- Get Out The Map – Shaming Of The Sun. One of Emily’s best, along with “Closer To Fine.” Great road trip song, so it gets mixed for that.
- Go – Real nice heavy rock. Sludgy. Has some weight, mass. Nice bridge/key change thing going on, too. I’ll make this a mixer…very good. From 1999’s Come On Now Social.
- Trouble – “Get to the point of it”. Come On Now Social.
- Devotion – I’ma assume these last two are ones added just for this album. Maybe B-sides or something.
- Leaving – Sweet. Country nasal twang, but it works. They are from Georgia, after all (right?).
Mix: “Galileo,” “Get Out The Map,” “Go”
Keep: “Strange Fire,” “Closer To Fine,” “Three Hits,” “Least Complicated,” “Shame On You,” “Trouble,” “Leaving”
Like: “Kid Fears,” “Watershed,” “Ghost,” “Reunion,” “Devotion”
Filed Between: Indigo Girls’ 1200 Curfews and Jim Infantino (The World Of Particulars)
Whenever I comment on the tastiness of something My Baby’s made me to eat, her reply is always something along the lines of “I made it with love” or “It’s because of all the love I added.” It occurred to me the other night that the problem with this album, as well as that of its predecessor, is that it wasn’t made with love. There are some (some) good songs (mostly at the very top of the disc) and the playing is all just as technically competent as it always was. Gary Bennett’s voice has the same classic quality. But whereas BR5-49 was made with such care that it’s brimming with emotion at every note, these last two albums of theirs just feel so much more tossed off and by the numbers. No love.
I’m glad I came back to them, to get a better sense of where there actually were good songs, but it was never enough to change my opinion that the band took a serious drop after their first two releases.
Keep: “Tell Me Mama,” “Sweet, Sweet Girl,” “Pourin’ Pain”
Like: “Even If It’s Wrong,” “Better Than This,” “Big Mouth Blues,” “Six Days On The Road,” “You’re A Hum-Dinger”
Filed Between: BR5-49’s Big Backyard Beat Show and Brad (Shame)
Song Notes: After the jump