The Beatles: Yellow Submarine

yellowsubmarine

My Baby: That’s really an…interesting…record.
Me: Yeah, well, most of it’s the soundtrack…
My Baby: Oh, that’s why it sounds like a soundtrack.

Saying that most of it is a soundtrack probably isn’t right. The soundtrack part, as I understand it, is side two, which, according to Wikipedia,  was written and composed by George Martin and was not performed by The Beatles. It’s like a pops orchestra thing. It’s good, I mean in a pops classical way, not serious brow-furrowing stuff, but good is good.

And Side 1 is awesome.  I’ve got my problems with “Yellow Submarine” and “All You Need Is Love” that I’ve written about in the past. In between those, you’ve got the pretty good “All Together Now” and “It’s All Too Much,” and plus the brilliantly unstable “Only A Northern Song” and the rocking “Hey Bulldog.”

Rating:
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– “Only A Northern Song,” “Hey Bulldog”
– “All Together Now,” “It’s All Too Much,” “All You Need Is Love,” “Pepperland,” “Sea Of Time,” “Sea Of Holes,” “Sea Of Monsters,” “March Of The Meanies,” “Pepperland Laid Waste,” “Yellow Submarine In Pepperland”
– “Yellow Submarine”
Filed Between: The Beatles and Abbey Road
Song Notes: After the jump
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Life, Sex & Death: The Silent Majority

thesilentmajorityThis is a truly unique album. If you like hard rock  and you’ve never heard this, you really owe it to yourself to give it a listen or two.

The band gained notoriety during their brief tenure because they supposedly had a homeless lead singer who would walk around in the crowd prior to shows mumbling to himself. I think the homeless part has been debunked and the crowd mumbling thing seems difficult to maintain as your fame grows. That’s a nice, grabby story to write about, but it’s not necessary to appreciate this band, which is all over the map and great everywhere on it.

Musically, this is mostly straightforward late 80’s, early 90’s metal. Anthemic. Huge sound. Blistering guitar leads. In your face drums. And all of that is done perfectly, but they’re so much more, too. The 18-year-old that bought this CD (on the strength of their video for “Tank,” if memory serves) loved all the rebellion and swearing. “Fuckin’ Shit Ass” starts off with the sounds of Stanley throwing things around his room and more and more agitatedly muttering then yelling the title of the song.  Like a lot of metal from the era, they cover the requisite topics like explicit sex (“Wet Your Lips,” “Big Black Bush”), but they also veer further afield. There’s rebellion in “School’s For Fools,” but it’s more of an anti-conformity thing a la “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)” than, say, “Smokin’ In The Boys Room.” Latin American social consciousness wasn’t confined to U2: “They shoot the children in Guatemala City,” Stanley sings in “Guatemala.” There’s a song about how great farm life is (the stripped-down “Farm Song”) and even the requisite power ballad (“Rise Above”) about heartbreak to close the album, which shouldn’t work, but is a really great song. Heck, very little of this should work. It’s just so scattered and so at odds with what was going on at the time (it was too smart for the metal that was on its way out and too rawk for the grunge that was coming in) that it’s almost impossible for me to believe this ever got made. But it did. And what a beautiful gift.

Rating:
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– “School’s For Fools,” “Telephone Call,” “Fuckin’ Shit Ass,” “Train,” “Wet Your Lips,” “Tank”
– “Blue Velvet Moon/We’re Here Now,” “Jawohl Asshole,” “Farm Song,” “Hey Buddy,” “Raise A Little Hell,” “Guatemala,” “Big Black Bush,” “Rise Above”
Filed Between: Jenny Lewis (promotional “Carpetbaggers”) and Lilith Fair, A Celebration Of Women In Music
Song Notes: After the jump
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Sunny Day Real Estate: Diary

diary I’ve had this CD since the beginning. One night on MTV I saw the video for the first song of this album, “Seven,” along with Tool’s “Sober,” and in both cases that was all I needed to know to go buy the CDs immediately. I’m still huge fans of both bands, though Tool hasn’t done anything worthwhile since Salival and Sunny Day Real Estate had the good sense to quit a second (third?) time after 2000’s uninspired The Rising Tide.

I digress. The point is this album and I go back to my senior … okay, I just realized that a lot of what I’ve written so far is wrong. Because this album came out in 1994 and Tool’s Undertow came out in 1993, which does match my memory. Okay, so the real point is that this album and I go way back. Let’s leave it at that. And I’m revisiting it now because it’s coming up as a review on the Dig Me Out podcast, which is a great podcast that reviews lesser-known albums from the 90’s (sound perfect, eh?). And, as I’ve been doing, I wanted to get my review down before I heard what they had to say.

One of the recurring themes of Dig Me Out is that it can often be a drag to sit down and apply a critical ear to an album you loved when you were much younger. It’s a rich topic about which I could write for days. Wrapped up in it are how stupid you were when you were younger and how jaded you are now. There’s the calcification of the brain and the way that, after too much music everything starts to sound been-there-done-that and the excitement of discovery is replaced with a generational nostalgia combined with bitterness as you see the music industry cyclically preparing new versions of the same product for a new generation. Or maybe it’s the fact that music is for the young and by definition what youth are listening to is what’s good. Jealousy. Bitter regret. Chain smoking to hasten the inevitable lonely, painful end.

Sorry, I’m digressing again. What hit me particularly hard about hearing this again is what I read on the band’s Wikipedia page: “emo.” I had never considered SDRE to be emo. I don’t have a problem with emo as a genre (though I hate the moniker: isn’t all, or at least most, music emotional?), but I found that the word does carry a ton of negative connotation with me, largely due to the solipsistic excesses of the bands on the very emo end of the spectrum. And once I’d read that they were, like, proto-emo, I couldn’t help but hear it. Instead of a unique band with a singer who couldn’t sing in tune and constantly sang about heartbreak and misunderstandings and music written in complex song structures that ebbed and flowed in powerful ways, I heard self-indulgent lyrics, atonal screams, and noodling where I used to hear poetry, raw emotion, and meditation.

Of course, SDRE was one of, if not the, first to go here, making them still a unique band. So while I hear the youthful excess now, and Jeremy Enigk’s inability to carry a tune grates on me more than it did 19(!) years ago, I still proclaim it a great album, an important guidepost in the rock canon. This mix of quiet and loud, incomprehensible, off-key singing, and structural complexity shouldn’t work: it’s way too grandiose and should completely crumble under its own weight. But it does work. These kids pull it off. From the bombast of “Seven” to the garment rending of “The Blankets Were The Stairs” to the beautiful and resolutive (new word) unsettlingness (new word) of the album’s two closing tracks, this is the perfect album for recapturing just why 18 was such a wonderful and such a difficult age. You can listen to this and feel bitter at the kids for all of their youth and also be so happy that you’re at a point in your life where Friday night TV brings all the numbing happiness you could ever want. You can grow simultaneously bitterly and comfortingly old with this album.

Rating:
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– “Seven, “Song About An Angel,” “The Blankets Were The Stairs”
– “Seven,” “In Circles,” “Round,” “47,” “Phuerton Skeurto,” “Shadows,” “48,” “Grendel,” “Sometimes”
Filed Between: Sun 60 (Headjoy) and Sunny Day Real Estate
Song Notes: After the jump
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Sugar: Copper Blue

copperblueI thought I was going to like this a lot more than I did. I really like Bob Mould’s solo stuff, and I like the post-Sugar stuff more than the pre-Sugar stuff, so it seemed reasonable that this would be a nice transition. But, while it’s a fine album, it’s not something I look forward to listening to.

The good consists of the songwriting and the performances. In particular, Mould really shines on guitar. The bad, though, ends up overshadowing all of that. The album’s got a very clear same-tempo, same-pitch problem. From the first track to the last, the band settles into this incredibly loud performance where everything is insanely compressed and turned up to ten and the pitches are right in this incredibly fatiguing mid-high range. Mould has figured out a way to get the guitar to sound an awful lot like his voice, which is a pretty abrasive one, and on both he’s added plenty of reverb to accentuate their unique qualities. It’s a saturation of one particular sound for forty-five minutes without any kind of respite, so much so that one song is barely distinguished from another.  It happens mid-song, too. “Changes,” for example, the first single off of the album, has a cool second verse that happens after the choruses that changes the color of the song if you’re listening, but the effects on the instruments don’t change, so the song still feels like five minutes of constant assault.

To illustrate further, the three singles off of the album that I remember hearing a lot are “Changes,” “Helpless,”  and “If I Can’t Change Your Mind.” However, I had no idea they were three different songs until now. And even now I kind of have trouble telling them apart. I think a lot of R.E.M’s songs, in particular the slower ones, are interchangeable, but this album really shows how you can make ten different songs sound incredibly similar just by using the same effects and tempo for all of them.

On a final note, it seems relevant, given the nature of my review, to point out that I’m listening to the 2012 remaster on Xbox Music (ie, mp3). I don’t think the file quality would affect my review much, but it’s possible the original master sound is more tolerable.

Rating:
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– “The Act We Act,” “Changes,” “Helpless,” “Hoover Dam,” “The Slim,” “If I Cant’ Change Your Mind,” “Fortune Teller,” “Man On The Moon”
– “A Good Idea,” “Fortune Teller,” “Slick”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading