Tori Amos: God

god“God” might be Amos’ best-known single from Under The Pink, a statement to this angry, vengeful beast that maybe, you know, maybe he’d be able to chill out a bit if he let women have a bit more rei(g)n.

She keeps after the Judeo-Christian patriarchy with her version of “Home On The Range,” which quickly morphs from a faithful rendition to one that traces the genocidal history of the United States from Plymouth Rock through the Trail Of Tears. The lyrics are powerful (my favorite line is “America, who discovered your ass?”), and the reverb-induced ringing of the piano’s rich harmonies is a mesmerizing listen.

The CD single closes with two instrumental tracks that are listed under the heading Piano Suite and really might as well have been one track. The last three tracks are much quieter than “God,” and if you dutifully turned up your volume for “Home On The Range,” you should enjoy these last two tracks quite a bit. They feel a bit incomplete, but they showcase a nice range of moods as well as a wonderful interplay between what might be two different characters of the right-hand and left-hand.

Rating:
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Mix: “God”
Really Like: “Home On The Range”
Like: “All The Girls Hate Her,” “Over It”
Filed Between: Amos’ Cornflake Girl and the Little Covers bootleg from the Covering ‘Em bootleg series

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Reign Of Fury: Death Be Thy Shepherd

deathbethyshepherdWhy did all the good metal also have to die when grunge came along and killed hair metal? That’s the question raised by Reign Of Fury’s existence, and the answer is still a resounding, “It didn’t have to. Now let’s fucking rock.” It’s beautiful to hear a British band bringing back New Wave Of British Metal (NWOBM), picking up where Metallica left off when they veered off course to make The Black Album.

In my review of Reign Of Fury’s last album I held back a half-clown rating because, while I heralded the return to 80’s and early 90’s metal, I bemoaned that they weren’t pushing the genre forward in a way that was different from the way it has developed. That was idiotic. Who f’ing cares if it’s moving forward or not when it’s this good? Besides, this time around the band left out the 60 seconds of Cookie Monster vocals, so at least they’re cutting even more of the unfortunate developments of the last 20 years.

In that last review I also said that I thought they really didn’t outdo Metallica, Testament, et al. And, fine, maybe they still don’t, but I will put this right up there with the best of that era. This album is damned near perfect. It slips shy of five clowns by being a bit unnecessarily lengthy in parts. More specifically, I feel like the last verse often doesn’t add much to the build of the song. If you’re always going at 100 MPH, you don’t get much of a feel for the acceleration phase. And yet their main attempt at slowing down and having a huge build, “All Is Lost,” leaves me flat until the big build.

But again, who f’ing cares? This is the best thrash-heavy metal I’ve heard since, say, …And Justice For All and Rust In Peace. And some of these Really Likes might be Loves, but why get hung up on nitpicks when I could just be rock horning, head banging, and air guitaring? RAWK.

Rating:
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Mix: “Hypnotize The Masses”
Love: “Death Be Thy Shepherd
Really Like: “Faustian Mastery,” “Harbinger Of Decay,” “Gates Of Sanity,” “All Is Lost,” “The Love Of A Dying God”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Chavez: Better Days Will Haunt You

betterdayswillhauntyouFrom the opening minute of their very first single, with a high-pitched dissonant melodic interval in the guitar that makes a 3:00 AM car siren sound appealing, Chavez lets you know they are not going to be an easily digested band. Math rock, angular, dissonant, abrasive…pick your favorite term, Chavez are basically right there in your face with it all. Well, maybe not as fast as what I usually think of as math rock, but everything else, yeah.

I’d never heard of these guys until a few months ago, but apparently they were pretty big during their brief, mid-90’s career. I don’t feel like re-finding the reference, but I swear I read that they sold more than any other Matador artist, which is huge on its own, but especially so for a band I hadn’t heard of.

But those dueling alternate realities, one where Chavez was mega huge and another where there existence hardly registered a blip, converge into this universe where all of their recorded material is out of print and yet survives in a single, two-CD collection released a decade after their last new release was issued. It’s all here, that debut 7-inch, both of their LPs, the two songs from their EP that aren’t also on one of the LP’s, and some outtakes and contributions to compilations. It’s 28 tracks of odd time signatures, quiet-loud distorted guitars and vocals, and abstruse lyrics. It’s great, but if that opening fire alarm makes you think you can’t make it through 28 tracks, my advice is to start with track 14, a wonderful cover of Schoolhouse Rock‘s “Little 12 Toes” and then go on to tracks 15-26, which constitute their 1996 album Ride The Fader, which is easily the crown jewel of their discography.

I generally like everything else here, but Ride The Fader is where everything came together for these guys, where their great riffs became incredible sections and their tracks became honest-to-goodness songs that you want to hear over and over and can’t get out of your head. Some of the tracks would even be rated higher if they hadn’t included non-sequitur sound effects at their beginnings and ends, but, fine, in 1996 bands were still going for that start-to-finish album thing. I get it. And I’m really glad I finally heard of these guys, even if it was 20 years too late.

(Oh, also, Shudder To Think. There are places where they are very reminiscent of that band, though I’m not sure reminiscent is the right word since they were contemporaries.)

Rating:
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Mix: “Little 12 Toes,” “The Guard Attacks”
Love: “You Must Be Stopped”
Really Like: “Repeat The Ending,” “Break Up Your Band,” “The Ghost By The Sea,” “You Faded,” “Top Pocket Man,” “Unreal Is Here,” “New Room,” “Our Boys Will Shine Tonight,” “Memorize This Face,” “Cold Joys,” “Flight 96,” “Ever Overpsyched,” “White Jeans”
Like: “Hack Away The Sides,” “Nailed To The Blank Spot,” “Laugh Track,” “Pentagram Ring,” “Peeled Out Too Late,” “The Flaming Gong,” “Wakeman’s Air,” “Relaxed Fit,” “Tight Around The Jaws,” “Lions”
Meh: “The Nerve,” “Theme From ‘For Russ'”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Led Zeppelin: IV [Deluxe Edition]

ivdeluxeI actually already reviewed my physical copy of the original CD release of IV over at the old place. But, you know, I’m walking through these Led Zeppelin deluxe editions released last year and, so, why not stop and see what they did with this one, too? Eh?

So over at the old place I gave it a rating of four [clowns], harped on its weaknesses, and basically said it didn’t deserve its enshrinement as like the greatest hard rock album of all time. Now, it may not be the best such record, but for the rest of the review, I don’t know what I was thinking. I criticized “The Battle Of Evermore” and “Going To California,” which I guess may be the two worst songs on the album, but they’re still both great.

I’m much more fond of the disc now. Maybe the biggest difference is my gained appreciation for much of Side Two. “Misty Mountain Hop” should be a drag, with its repeated, droney guitar line and vocals, but, on the contrary, I want to put it on my next mix. The first verse of “Going To California” is so precious and wonderful and … perfect. It’s just a perfect mood. And then there’s “When The Levee Breaks,” which is probably my new favorite Led Zeppelin song.

And that’s another thing, the sequencing here is perfect. There’s no other order these songs could go in and they just nailed it. The open to “Black Dog” is so unique that it can only go first, but then you want “Rock And Roll” as high as possible because that’s your barn burner, and so it comes in at number two. And you have to have “Stairway To Heaven” end Side One because (i) it’s definitely got to close a side but (ii) it obviously can’t close the album. So now you have to break up “Rock And Roll” and “Stairway To Heaven” because holy crap you need a palette cleanser, and “The Battle Of Evermore” serves that purpose best with its strong taste of mandolin. Likewise, “Going To California” is the only thing that can lead into what needs to be the album closer, “When The Levee Breaks,” which leaves only two songs for the last two slots and, hell, maybe those could have gone in either order, but I do think “Misty Mountain Hop” both leads off a side better and is the cleaner break from “Stairway To Heaven.”

Here’s the thing, not only do I have more of an appreciation for, basically, all of Side Two, I can’t really find fault with anything on the album. Honestly, the worst part about it is probably the legacy of “Stairway To Heaven” as the exemplar of all that’s overblown about big rock and roll, but even there I’ve always maintained that when I listen to it with the freshest ears I can (admittedly still encumbered by its punchline history), I still really like it.

I’ve hardly said anything about the bonus disc. It’s the same songs in the same order, just mixed differently. The songs all have a bit of a different sound to them but never really get to the point of being significantly worse than the original. Two have no vocal tracks: “The Battle Of Evermore,” which suffers quite a bit as a result, and “Going To California” which holds up pretty well.

To wrap things up, at its best, I think I still prefer II to this album. However, II has those last two songs, and in particular the wretched “Moby Dick,” bringing it down quite a ways. So, on the whole, this is probably my favorite Led Zeppelin album. Which feel so…establishment.

Rating:
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Mix: “Black Dog,” “Rock And Roll,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” “When The Levee Breaks”
Love: “Black Dog (Basic Track With Guitar Overdub),” “Rock And Roll (Alternate Mix)”
Really Like: “The Battle Of Evermore,” “Stairway To Heaven,” “Four Sticks,” “Going To California,” “Stairway To Heaven (Sunset Sound Mix),” “Misty Mountain Hop (Alternate Mix),” “Four Sticks (Alternate Mix),” “When The Levee Breaks (Alternate U.K. Mix)”
Like: “Going To California (Mandolin/Guitar Mix)”
Meh: “The Battle Of Evermore (Mandolin/Guitar Mix From Headley Grange)”
Filed Between: Led Zeppelin’s III and Presence
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Tori Amos: Cornflake Girl

cornflakegirls“Cornflake Girl” was Tori Amos’ first single from Under The Pink. For the single, she packaged it a couple of very good tracks and one that was half-baked.

The half-baked song is the third track, “Daisy Dead Petals,” and it’s got potential as a whimsical little romp through the piano fields, but the verses are just biding time until the chorus and the bridge.

“Sister Janet” is Amos going after some of the themes she’d really blow open on Boys For Pele and much of her later work. There are shamans, blades, angels, wizards, and all kinds of esoteric references throughout a moody, harmony-heavy tune where Amos expertly creates a propulsive flow that belies the fact she’s only using her piano and her voice.  I keep going back and forth between Like and Really Like, so I’ll be interested to see what I write below.

The disc closer, “Honey,” is the track from this disc that’s had a very successful life as a fan- and Amos-favorite in her concerts. Western-themed in its lyrics, it also features what sounds like a steel-stringed guitar along with some synth strings and Amos’ piano. It’s sultry and even moodier than “Sister Janet.” I like it quite a bit, but I have to part ways with Amos and the fanbase here and say that if there’s a B-side here that stands above the others, it’s “Sister Janet.” (Though “Honey” has the best lyrics.)

Rating:
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Really Like: “Cornflake Girl,” “Sister Janet”
Like: “Honey”
Meh: “Daisy Dead Petals”
Filed Between: Tori Amos’ Under The Pink and God single

Madonna: Rebel Heart

rebelheartI usually don’t do this, but in preparation for this album’s review I checked out the Critical Reception section on its Wikipedia entry. And I actually kept doing that, going backwards through Madonna’s discography for a decade or so. And what I found is that every album Madonna releases post-fame-apex is “generally well-received by critics.” And every time those critics say it’s Madonna’s strong return to form after a couple of clunkers and that she’s hearkening back to her early hits and blah blah blah it’s literally the same damned section with every single album.

This time, though, one critic noted that Madonna “doesn’t sound desperate” anymore. And that’s where I’m like, whoa, no, you’re wrong, she sounds super desperate here. Just beyond the gratuitous and ridiculously conspicuous drug and sexual references, you’ve got modern hip-hop era boasting that, while it may fit a young rapper trying to make it in a tough industry on mostly just their rhymes (though I find it off-putting in those situations, too, but I’m old), does not become the greatest pop star of a generation. The most egregious example of this is “Bitch I’m Madonna” (which they actually rhyme really nicely with a taunt-y “Na na na na na”), and you can probably pretty much guess how that song goes, with Madonna and her girlfriends out on the town “makin’ all the ho’s know.” And then, two songs later, you’ve got “Joan Of Arc,” where Madonna takes on the martyr’s role while simultaneously explicitly saying she’s not…says she dies every time you take a picture of her…just two songs after she was “Bitch I’m Madonna” now she can’t take your criticism. FFS.

But, like I always do, Fat Clown has soldiered through to tell you what nobody else can, or nobody else is willing to do. I’m here to tell you what this album really is: a pretty-good grower.

Here’s the deal. You have to accept that Madonna is simultaneously a past greatest pop star, a current talented musician, and always somebody who deeply needs to be relevant in a very now way. And so once you get past the “notice me notice me” bits (and, hey, those have always been there, to be fair) and the ridiculous boasting, you get a handful of legitimately good songs, a handful of harmless filler, and then about half of it is the crap you’re trying to get past.

Like the featuring of Mike Tyson on a song where he screams that he’s never gonna fall again and if he does he’s gonna come back because he’s the greatest ever and how the hell did Mike Tyson get this role? (Consider these lyrics from “Iconic”: “I can/Icon/Two letters apart”…how are those two letters apart? Seems like one to me.) Or take “Holy Water” (please) where it’s her pussy juice that’s the holy water and you’re supposed to bless yourself and genuflect and (it means eat her pussy DO YOU GET IT?!? because if not she comes back with “Yeezus loves my pussy best” FFFS [sic]). Or “Body Shop,” where she makes Bruce Springsteen’s worst sex-as-car-as-sex analogies look like fucking Walt Whitman. (“I heard a bump and then a knock/Ah ah/You work at a body shop/You can keep it overnight/You can do whatever you like/…/You can polish the headlights/You can smooth out the fender”…I think she even mentions a fucking gasket at some point). For some reason that song makes me think of like a mash-up of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” video and Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” video but A-Rod is the mechanic and Madonna is, natch, the lusty customer.

Lyrically this feels like it was written by a seventh grader. Most of it’s just stupid (see “Iconic” and “Body Shop” above), but often times it just doesn’t make sense. “Unapologetic Bitch” is a breakup song a la “I Will Survive,” which is fine, and I can see how all the nasty things you’re saying about your ex might make you a b-word, but where does the “unapologetic” come from…I mean, you kind of have to have something you’re supposed to apologize for and, that’s just not presented anywhere. Then there’s “Illuminati” which name drops a bunch of celebrities and says “everybody shining like Illuminati,” so it’s like she’s playing with “illuminate,” but then she also mixes in bits about an all-seeing eye like she really is talking about the Illuminati and IT MAKES NO SENSE.

So, anyway, I can listen to this and only really cringe on “Joan Of Arc,” Iconic,” and maybe “Unapologetic Bitch” and “Holy Water” if I’m listening to the lyrics. But look, there are four hate tracks, all in the fourteen tracks on the standard album (I’m reviewing the deluxe version with five bonus tracks, too). I hardly ever hate songs and I hate four of these. I just can’t justify this collection’s existence, despite its somewhat redeeming qualities.

Rating:
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Mix: “Living For Love”
Like: “Devil Pray,” “Ghosttown,” “Bitch I’m Madonna,” “Inside Out,” “Best Night”
Meh: “Hold Tight,” “HeartBreak City,” “Holy Water,” “Wash All Over Me,” “Veni Vidi Vici,” “S.E.X.,” “Messiah”
Dislike: “Body Shop,” “Rebel Heart”
Hate: “Unapologetic Bitch,” “Illuminati,” “Joan Of Arc,” “Iconic”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

The Airborne Toxic Event: Dope Machines

dopemachinesIt’s been a rough go for The Airborne Toxic Event on my blogs after their self-titled debut, which got five [clowns]. Their second album was All At Once, which had great songs but horrible sound. Then there was Such Hot Blood, which pretty much just sucked. And somewhere in there was their meh live album. So they’d been on a steady and marked decline since that awesome debut. I had just about given up.

And because of that, I’m sure, they went in a totally different direction and basically released another awesome debut album. I say debut album because this is sonically so different from their prior releases. Far more electronic, far less guitar and drums, Dope Machines sounds like its lyrical themes: feeling closer to our devices than we do to our human community (hence the album title) and the alienation and isolation that come with that.

Still, the band doesn’t take the easy route with that and write a bunch of distant, disaffected songs. No, the emotional presence, the raw nerves, those things are all still the same old The Airborne Toxic Event. The drum machines and synthesizers are beautiful and come together with personal, relateable lyrics about youth, relationships, love, and heartbreak to juxtapose such powerful emotion against such stark thematic imagery in a way that makes it all even more powerful.

The biggest problem with this album is that the quality goes way down for the last four tracks. I don’t even know if it goes down all that much, as I like every song here, and I kind of appreciate that they lumped the worst songs together at the end because it makes me so excited to listen to it every time, knowing I’m in for a good 20-25 minutes of awesomeness before coming back to Earth.

The Airborne Toxic Event is back. I hope.

Rating:
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Mix: “Wrong,” “One Time Thing”
Love: “California”
Really Like: “Dope Machines,” “Time To Be A Man,” “Hell And Back”
Like: “My Childish Bride,” “The Thing About Dreams,” “Something You Lost,” “Chains”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading