N.W.A.: Straight Outta Compton

straightouttacompton

N.W.A.’s debut album came out a couple of months before I turned 14. As a privileged but angry suburban teenager, I could basically either be into this or metal. I despise stupid genre battles, but I’ve honestly never heard of anybody who liked both metal and rap in the late 80’s (Anthrax and Public Enemy being the exceptions that prove the rule). Well, you know how this story goes: Queensrÿche’s Operation:mindcrime wins.

Of course, over the years hip-hop has proven its staying power, and it’s painfully obvious to me that I missed that critical period where I could get this stuff into my bones. But as I’ve slowly perused some of the monumental releases in the canon I have legitimately enjoyed quite a bit of it while gaining a feel for walking around the halls of the genre.

Straight Outta Compton is the biggest rap album I don’t know, and with last year’s movie, it’s long past time I tried to figure it out. Unfortunately, I went about it the wrong way. My normal method of introducing myself to records didn’t work here. When this would come up on shuffle, mixed up with other records in my distant to-be-reviewed queue, it clunked pretty hard. Part of that was because it was hip-hop amid a bunch of indie and metal. Another part of is that the 70’s samples and 80’s production feel dated, especially when put up against new releases of 2015. Things got much better when the record got into my now-being-reviewed queue where it got closer listens. It also helped that before then I nixed the bonus tracks from the 2002 re-release, as my phones really liked to play the ridiculously misogynist (and just plain stupid) “A Bitch Iz A Bitch.”

So four paragraphs in you think I can get to the review? Probably, but so much has been written about this album, and I’m not qualified to add to that conversation, so I’m going to try to keep it short.

What works is the confidence. And I don’t just mean the “nine inches of limp dick” type braggadocio typical of hip hop even thirty years later, though these guys do seem to wear that better than just about anybody else. No, I mean the rhymes and the way they fall confidently around the meter and even moreso the sampling and the way they rock harder than any rap group save Beastie Boys. “Straight Outta Compton” is a straight-up fire, inspiring the suburban vision of an urban nightmare far more effectively than Public Enemy’s overplayed siren ever did. After that you’ve got a series of vignettes of their lives done to varying degrees of success. The characters are the police (“Fuck Tha Police”), gangsters (“Gangsta Gangsta”), drugs (“Dopeman (Remix)”), alcohol (“8 Ball (Remix”), and girls (“I Ain’t Tha 1”). Then all the MC’s get a highlight track(e.g., “If It Ain’t Ruff” and “Parental Discretion Iz Advised”).

What doesn’t work is some of the DJ and sampling work, which are firmly rooted back in 1982 and sound anything but tough, severely undercutting the theme of this album. (Seriously, how scary is that album cover, especially to white parents in the 80’s?) Along those lines, some of these tracks’ lyrical content just seems silly and out of place. Until you realize it’s the last track on the album, maybe kind of a farewell mood lightener, “Something 2 Dance 2” is a head-scratcher. “Express Yourself,” with its bizarre empowering message, Madonna song title, and anti-drug message never does make sense in the context of the rest of these tracks. And then of course there’s the misogyny, racism, and glorification of drugs and violence.

This album and I got off to a rough start, and getting past those marks against it took a while. But if I don’t listen too closely to the lyrics, I can listen to this straight through from start to finish and enjoy myself thoroughly. I’m glad I took the time with it as I do think it makes pretty much all of hip hop that followed make more sense having this touchpoint in my brain.

Rating:
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Mix: “If It Ain’t Ruff’
Really Like: “Straight Outta Compton,” “Parental Discretion Iz Advised”
Like: “Fuck Tha Police,” “8 Ball (Remix),” “Something Like That,” “Quiet On Tha Set”
Meh: “Gangsta Gangsta,” “Express Yourself,” “Compton’s N The House (Remix),” “Something 2 Dance 2”
Dislike: “I Ain’t Tha 1,” “Dopeman (Remix)”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

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King Diamond: The Best Of King Diamond

thebestofkingdiamondAlways got King Diamond mixed up with King Crimson. Still don’t know much about King Crimson except they’re prog. Part of why I don’t know much about them is that they don’t allow their music on streaming services, so screw you guys, I’m going home. But anyway, an intro to King Diamond. You see that picture above? Well, that tells you pretty much all of it. The only thing that’s missing is timeframe (mostly late-80’s) and the fact that there’s a ridiculous amount of falsetto in his style. Growly stuff, too, but it’s the falsetto that really stands out.

And if you can get past that falsetto and the cheesiness of the macabre lyrics (oh, gee, Greek mythology sure had some scary characters in it), you’ll find some late-80’s metal that still stands up almost 25 years later. But that’s a mighty big “if,” one I’m having quite a bit of trouble with myself.

Still, lots of listening has helped me appreciate what’s here. Sonically there’s a lot of overlap with the first three Queensrÿche releases, though of course Geoff Tate’s natural range is so much more appealing than any falsetto. Even lyrically, early Queensrÿche fits a bit here, with its evil woman and vampire themes, though Queensrÿche got plenty more sci-fi-y.

There are also some big concept albums in King Diamond’s discography, and that’s evident here, as songs repeatedly bring back the same names, characters, and elements. There’s lots of Abigail, Miriam, Jonathan, and a very disturbing grandmother that recur. Wikipedia gives run downs of the plots if you’re curious.

But all of that is far more enjoyable than what, from what I can tell, was King Diamond’s big break: “No Presents For Christmas,” a track that throws so much shlock into the mix that it becomes completely unlistenable despite containing some of his best riffs. To be fair, it’s obviously the great, thrashy riffs combined with the ludicrous lyrics that made it so popular. Too much for me, though.

Finally, by rating some of these as “Like,” I was rating them relatively to the rest of the album. It’s very hard for me to say I want to listen to any songs with his falsetto in them ever again. “Abigail” is the best.

Rating:
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Like: “Charon,” “Abigail,” “The Invisible Guests,” “Eye Of The Witch,” “Burn
Meh: “The Candle,” “Halloween,” “No Presents For Christmas,” “Arrival,” “A Mansion In Darkness,” “The Family Ghost,” “Welcome Home,” “Tea,” “At The Graves,” “Sleepless Nights”
Song Notes: After the jump

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Guns N’ Roses: Lies

liesI remember liking this a lot more. And that’s weird because I’m super familiar with it, having listened to it maybe even more than Appetite For Destruction, since when these two came out I was super price sensitive.

It’s amazing that Guns N’ Roses followed up Appetite just a year later, given that it would take an additional three years before they put out their next album(s). It may not seem like it now, but anything more than two years back then was shocking. Especially for a band whose iron was as hot as Guns N’ Roses’. Of course, then there was the additional 17 years before their next studio album came out, but much ink has been spilled on that.

Anyhoo, here’s my new take on this. The first side (trust me on this, kids) was a re-release of their 1986, four-song, live EP Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide. These tracks all reveal the instrumental and performance prowess the band had, but gave no hint into the songwriting brilliance they would later have. There’s an Aerosmith cover, a Rose Tattoo cover, and two other songs that kind of fit into that blues/glam metal style. Including one that covers Rose’s move from Indiana to L.A., a subject he never seemed to grow tired of writing songs about (“One In A Milllon,” “Welcome To The Jungle,” etc.)

Then there’s the 1988 side, all acoustic. You’ve got the mega-hit “Patience,” which is a cut above all of the other “power ballads” (scare quotes because this doesn’t quite fit the mold as it doesn’t bring as much power with its complete lack of electric guitar) of the time, adding a bridge that elevates it but also reinforces that the rest of it is too long for what it is. Then there’s a wonderfully-performed acoustic version of the Appetite cut “You’re Crazy.” And then there’s the shit you can’t avoid. In order of less offensive to more…

“Used To Love Her” follows its title up with the lyrics “But I had to kill her/She’s buried right in my back yard.” In interviews the band said this was about “their” dog, but that doesn’t jibe because whose dog? What was its name? Why does Rose cheekily add the line “Take it for what it is”? No, misogyny making light of domestic violence and murder. Not funny. Nice song otherwise, but that’s a big fucking otherwise.

Then there’s “One In A Million.” Which is a fucking amazing song and moreso because it’s Rose being Rose. He’s being so true to himself and his core, inner, raw feelings, and that’s what makes this so fucking powerful…one of the most powerful artistic statements I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, you’ve got the N-word, the f-word that means homosexual men, and a horribly isolationist and xenophobic rant against immigrants. The band took shit about it at the time, rightfully so, but I can’t believe the shitstorm this would kick off now. (Would be interested to hear better lettered critics than me take a crack at it.) The band says they didn’t want to include it but Rose insisted. Slash’s mom is black, for Christ’s sake.

There’s no excuse for this, and in particular when this kind of speech comes out in popular media, well, I’m glad it gets shot down. But I think the reception of this track is a big part of what set Rose off on his current trajectory. You’ve got a ridiculously gifted “small town white boy” who’s been anti-authoritarian his whole life, has a bit of a Messiah complex, and is the biggest rock star on his planet while being (mostly) celebrated for an album that celebrates debauchery and rugged individualism and triumphing against all odds and all that. Then he bares his soul, we find out how disgusting it is and rebuke it and him along with it. Add into all of it that he probably didn’t have the most solid of mental foundations to begin with and then give him more money than God and, well, you’ve got the last 26 years.

Programming note: Windows Phone 8.1 took away my hearts, so now I’m ranking things as Mix, Love, Like, Meh, and Hate. “Used To Love Her” and “One In A Million” both get knocked down for their hatred, and not just as punishment, but because when I listen to them that’s how I feel. And I kinda wish I didn’t like “One In A Million” so much. But fuck god that’s a great song.

Rating:
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Love: “One In A Million”
Like: “Reckless Life,” “Nice Boys,” “Move To The City,” “Mama Kin,” “Patience,” “You’re Crazy”
Meh: “Used To Love Her”
Filed Between: Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction and “You Could Be Mine” cassette single
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Ministry: The Land Of Rape And Honey

ministry3Memory is such a funny thing. My memory of my relationship with this album is multi-layered. Going back to the first layer, I remember liking this a lot in high school. Or at least, I remember remembering that from the middle layer, at which point I remember thinking this didn’t hold up. But screw that, this is great. The only explanation I can give for thinking that maybe this wasn’t as good as I remembered was maybe I was focusing on the middle- to early-back-half of the album, where it does lose some steam. But that’s far from the full story here.

This is basically the first iteration of Ministry as they would be in their most successful incarnation. Drum machines are still prevalent, but there is a lot more guitar, it’s very up front in the mix, it’s distorted, and it’s fast and often played unconventionally. They wouldn’t break through until 1992, with refinements on this formula, and they were pretty out there even then, so these guys are way ahead of their time with this album in 1988.

Another big difference between this and their previous albums (and, by the way, I probably went too easy on Twitch after re-visiting how good this is) is that this has much less emphasis on VCV song structure. Here it’s pasted together riffs and sample-heavy soundscapes with an emphasis on sound design. It sounds as disturbing as the cover art. Speaking of which, I have no idea what it is and I’m still disturbed by it.

As I said before, there’s a gradual drop-off after you get past the first four songs of pure awesomeness. It never gets bad, though the plodding of “Flashback” comes close, but it gets less focused and more indulgent. All of the tracks sound better loud, when it’s at a volume where you can hear how the song is changing underneath; too quiet and it gets too repetitive. Thankfully, they pull it back for the last track, though, “Abortive,” which is very glitchy, much less heavy, and even has some jazzy elements to it. On a different day this might get 4.5 clowns.

Rating:
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Mix:”Deity,” “Abortive”
– “Stigmata,” “The Missing,” “Golden Dawn,” “I Prefer”
– “Destruction,” “Hizbollah,” “The Land Of Rape And Honey,” “You Know Who You Are,” “Flashback”
Filed Between: Mini Mansions (Mini Mansions) and Ministry’s The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste
Song Notes: After the jump
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King’s X: Out Of The Silent Planet

I started this trek through King’s X’s catalog because Dig Me Out podcast is going to review the band’s sixth album, Ear Candy and I’m kinda OCD. So I started listening to it and my first thoughts were on how familiar it sounded. I figured the band must have really borrowed heavily from these songs for their later releases, which I had. But it turns out I have this CD, too. Go figure. #MusicNerdProblems

This is a ridiculously good debut album. It’s obvious these guys had paid their dues before putting it together. The songs are all expertly crafted, catchy, well-layered progressive hard rock. They sound a lot like a less silly Galactic Cowboys (a much younger band also from Texas that they would tour with when I was in high school). In fact, you can hear how they influenced a lot of progressive bands in the decade that would follow…it’s like, even though Rush had a few good albums after this, this is where Rush should have gone.

The only complaint I have is that it’s missing a je ne sais quoi. I can’t find anything specific to criticize, but things are a little bit too sludgy/ploddy to excite me for more than parts of a song. They would somewhat publicly ditch Sam Taylor, the producer of their first four albums, stating that he couldn’t capture their live sound on record, and that may be them hearing the same problems I am. Given the excellent content, it’s hard for me to give this less than 4.5 clowns, but since the band themselves were unhappy with the production, let me use that to justify a half-clown demerit.

Rating:

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– “In The New Age,” “Goldilox,” “Power Of Love,” “Wonder,” “Sometimes,” What Is This?,” “Far, Far Away,” “Shot Of Love,” “Visions”
– “King”
Filed Between: King Can (Maximum Power Super Loud) and King’s X’s Faith Hope Love
Song Notes: After the jump
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Los Lobos: Just Another Band From East L.A. – A Collection

I can’t really do a full-on review of this because there are a whole bunch of songs that aren’t available on Xbox Music. I assume that’s due to publishing rights being goofy throughout this album, which is a bit of a compilation and a way to re-release one of their very early albums, Los Lobos Del Este De Los Angeles, whose title is obviously the inspiration of this collection’s.

It makes a ton of sense to do something like this for Los Lobos, whose style changed so much in the years covered by this collection. I think a lot of people who will like the rock stuff in the later part of that period will be turned off by all the bandoneon for the first several songs, but, you know, who cares, I guess?

Disc 1:

  1. Volver, Volver – N/A
  2. El Cuchipe – From Los Lobos Del Este de Los Angeles. Pretty sweet. A real nice feel to it. Upbeat.
  3. La Feria De La Flores – Slower, more like a ballad.
  4. Sabor A Mi – N/A
  5. Let’s Say Goodnight (Live) – Originally full-hearted on …And A Time To Dance, this one is fine but doesn’t sound as good. Loves the energy. The solos. Sweet.
  6. Anselma – From …And A Time To Dance.
  7. Will The Wolf Survive? – From How Will The Wolf Survive?
  8. A Matter Of Time – From How Will the Wolf Survive?
  9. I Got To Let You Know (Live) – Originally full-hearted on By The Light Of The Moon. Pretty manic here.
  10. Don’t Worry Baby – N/A.
  11. One Time One Night – From By The Light Of The Moon.
  12. Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes – From By The Light Of The Moon.
  13. River Of Fools (Live) – Full-hearted on By The Light Of The Moon.
  14. Carabina.30-30 – N/A
  15. Tears Of God – From By The Light Of The Moon.
  16. Set Me Free (Rosa Lee) – From By The Light Of The Moon.
  17. Come On, Let’s Go – N/A
  18. La Bamba – From La Bamba Soundtrack.
  19. El Gusto – N/A
  20. Estoy Sentado Aqui – From La Pistola Y El Corazón.
  21. La Pistola Y El Corazón – From La Pistola Y El Corazón.
  22. I Wanna Be Like You (The Monkey Song) – I like this way better than the Disney version. Which isn’t hard. But this is awesome.

Disc 2:

  1. Someday – Wikipedia says it’s an outtake from The Neighborhood sessions. Good but a titch boring.
  2. Down On The Riverbed – From The Neighborhood.
  3. Be Still – From The Neighborhood.
  4. The Neighborhood – From The Neighborhood.
  5. I Can’t Understand – From The Neighborhood.
  6. Angel Dance – From The Neighborhood.
  7. Bertha (Live) – Jerry Garcia credited as a songwriter. Thin sound. Definitely a good song, though. Would probs prefer a studio version, but this is what I’ve got, so full.
  8. Saint Behind The Glass – From Kiko.
  9. Angels With Dirty Faces – From Kiko.
  10. Wicked Rain (Live) – Kiko version is open. This is worse, but the chaotic jam and dirty solo are pretty cool. Love the energy, dislike the sound.
  11. Kiko And The Lavender Moon – From Kiko.
  12. When The Circus Comes – From Kiko.
  13. Peace (Live) – Kiko version is full.
  14. Bella Maria De Mi Alma – like a julio iglesias kind of thing
  15. What’s Going On (Live) – Yes, the Marvin Gaye song. A good rendition, I like it. But live sound makes it open. And, I mean, it’s so faithful to the original that, while it’s nice to hear David Hidalgo singing this song, I don’t really need it.
  16. Wrong Man Theme – 1:44 and instrumental. I think it’s the theme to the Alfred Hitchcock movie. It’s pretty cool to hear them do it, but not exciting enough to get a full heart.
  17. Blue Moonlight – Seems kinda lame. Pretty boring soft jazz kinda stuff. Not really my thing. And this is just too straight.
  18. Politician (Live) – May be a Cream song since Jack Bruce listed as writer. Sounds like Cream. Dirty blues. It is Cream. Like “Bertha,” would probably prefer studio version due to sound, but this is all I’ve got so full heart.
  19. New Zandu – Vocal effect makes it sound like from Kiko sessions. It’s pretty sweet. Really cool use of dissonance. Start could be a ZZ Top song, but then it gets wacky. Would have loved for this to be on Kiko.

– “El Cuchipe,” “La Feria De Flores,” “A Matter Of Time,” “One Time One Night,” “Tears Of God,” “Set Me Free (Rosa Lee),” “La Bamba,” “La Pistola Y El Corazón,” “I Wanna Be Like You (The Monkey Song),” “Be Still,” “I Can’t Understand,” “Angel Dance,” “Bertha (Live),” “Saint Behind The Glass,” “Angels With Dirty Faces,” “When The Circus Comes,” “Bella Maria De Mi Alma,” “Politician (Live),” “New Zandu”
– “Let’s Say Goodnight (Live),” “Anselma,” “Will The Wolf Survive?,” “I Got To Let You Know (Live),” “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes,” “River Of Fools (Live),” “Estoy Sentado Aqui,” “Someday,” “Down On The Riverbed”, “Wicked Rain (Live),” “Peace (Live),” “What’s Going On (Live),” “Wrong Man Theme”
– “The Neighborhood,” “Kiko And The Lavender Moon,” “Blue Moonlight”

Screaming Trees: Invisible Lantern

This is the sound of a band finding their sound. Despite it being the band’s third album in a catalog that also includes a preceding EP, this is the first one where they are, as I think of them, fully Screaming Trees.  And I don’t think I’m just saying that because this is the first of their albums that I listened to back in the day. It feels like the band is much more confident here, really strutting with forceful rhythms and muscular riffs.

The sound is pretty lousy. It’s lo-fi, but not in that fuzzed out good way, it’s really just more muddy. The nice thing is that singer Mark Lanegan is closer to the front here.

And there are a few weaker songs that, while inoffensive, aren’t really necessary to leading a full life. The line in “Even If” about how “all the animals come out to see” never fails to remind me of Get A Life‘s Zoo Animals On Wheels where the audience becomes the zoo and a fight breaks out–so that’s a good thing. “Direction Of The Sun” is probably the worst of the bunch. “She Knows” has a bit of a running-off-the-rails punk energy to it that works, but it just feels like an experiment for a band whose strengths lay mostly elsewhere.

Still, this album has some of the band’s best songs, and that’s what it will be remembered for. “Grey Diamond Desert,” with its prominent piano, is the first time the band really pulls off the epic track, and the sheer wonderfulness of that and the rest of the full tracks is what keeps some of the open hearts (“The Second I Awake,” “Invisible Lantern”) down at that rating just because they don’t measure up.

Rating:
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– “Walk Through To This Side,” “Lines & Circles,” “Grey Diamond Desert,” “Smokerings,” “Night Comes Creeping”
– “Ivy,” “She Knows,” “Shadow Song,” “The Second I Awake,” “Invisible Lantern,” “Even If,” “Direction Of The Sun”
Filed Between: Screaming Jets (All For One) and Screaming Trees’ Buzz Factory