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Essential Collection

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 2 September 2009 06:07 (A review of Essential Collection)

The Motels were the least plastic of the Los Angeles New Wave scene. While the Missing Persons sounded like a synthesizer run amok, and Oingo Boingo were too busy trying to fuse ska and New Wave into some kind of punk spiked hybrid, The Motels were bent on keeping as many real instruments on their records as possible. Martha Davis was a charismatic frontwoman – often sounding like a female vocalist from an older generation – who wrote consistently dark material. She followed in the tradition of The Doors and X and exposed the dark side of sunny southern California in three minute singles. “Only the Lonely” could be about the trappings of fame, could be about the death throws of a relationship, that ambiguity serves the song well. “Total Control” is an acidic ballad with a slightly cliché chorus (“I’d sell my soul for total control over you”), but Davis delivers it. “Kix” and “Mission of Mercy” find the band thrashing out punkier singles and leaving behind the stylized and brooding sonics they were known for. Often dark, troubling, melancholy and artsy, The Motels were a solid band that had an unfortunately short shelf-life. Don’t be afraid to add The Motels’ Essential Collection to your record collection. These fifteen singles are so L.A. in the best possible sense. DOWNLOAD: “Suddenly Last Summer,” “Mission of Mercy,” “Only the Lonely”

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Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 2 September 2009 06:06 (A review of Shine)

After nearly ten years in a self-imposed retirement, Joni Mitchell came roaring back with a vengeance on Shine. Yes, at times Mitchell sounds like she’s wagging her finger and saying that she’s knows better and is better than you, but when an artist sounds this reinvigorated and alive on record certain flaws can be ignored. This is the return of Joni Mitchell the singer/songwriter. The folk-meets-jazz arrangements are still there, just like her heydays with records like For the Roses and Court and Spark, and her voice sounds strangely beautiful in its new smoky contores. Years of smoking and aging will do that to your voice, along with whatever else caused some damage to her vocal chords. She no longer sounds like the folk-pop-jazz sprite of the 70s, but the regal Queen of them all filled with a life lived and experience. “Big Yellow Taxi” returns in a rearranged form, and its no longer a warning about ecological problems – it’s become a prophesy fulfilled. “Night of the Iguana” is a retelling of Tennessee Williams’ play of the same name, and is without a doubt an album highlight. But the title track is possibly the worst offender, not the only offender mind you. It’s filled with “I know better than you”-ism, and tells the sun to continue to shine down on all of us who sin against the planet…by using cell phones. Luckily for us, and for her, the music never sounds anything less than astounding. The newly discovered electro-folk on “Hana” points to a great new future, and it’s a wonderful character sketch. If Shine had more moments like that, it would have been a neo-classic. But, as is, it’s a most welcome return. DOWNLOAD: “Hana”

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Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 2 September 2009 06:02 (A review of Autoamerican)

AutoAmerican is a very difficult album for me to talk about. I love so many of the songs, but as a whole I don’t think that the album every really comes together. The pieces are great, the musical experiments yield some beautiful pieces of music, but something is always off about the whole affair.

If “Rapture” didn’t include the embarrassing rap section I might just love the song more than I do. The music and vocal delivers are just top-notch stuff. “The Tide Is High” is a glorious mid-tempo reggae cover. It’s almost impossible not to think of it as a Blondie original by the time the song reaches its close. But not every experiment is a success. The orchestral arrangement that opens the album is just bizarre. And when Harry comes in towards the song close and starts to ramble off something or another about a post-apocalyptic world, I just get lost. It makes no sense and it just doesn’t work on any level. The two jazz styled songs are hit and miss. “Faces” isn’t a good song, but “Here’s Looking at You” has its charms. It’s when Blondie goes back to the disco-rock hybrids that they sound at their very best. “Angels On the Balcony” and “Live It Up” are just as great as any of the album tracks off of Eat to the Beat or Plastic Letters. Debbie Harry never stopped growing as a vocalist, and by the time AutoAmerican was released, she had reached the peak of her prowess during Blondie’s original heyday. And Clem Burke and Jimmy Destri were always fantastic musicians. The problem was that the band was either running out of ideas, or being forced by the recording company to churn out too many albums too close together. I think that it’s the latter. Even to this day they can turn out a great single when given some time to work through their ideas.

For me, AutoAmerican is an album that I respect more than I like. I love that Blondie found so much AOR success with “Heart of Glass” and Parallel Lines and rebelled against by releasing albums with difficult songs. AutoAmerican is not the product or sound that one would think would follow a massive success like Parallel Lines or Eat to the Beat, but this is why I love Blondie. Even when their music doesn’t totally work, you must respect them for trying and never giving up their art-school credibility. It’s just a shame that their last few albums have turned out more misses than hits. DOWNLOAD: “The Tide Is High”

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All Summer Long

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 31 August 2009 11:45 (A review of All Summer Long)

All Summer Long is the best pre-unofficial Beatles rivalry album. Naturally, it was also the first Beach Boys album to be released during the Fab Four’s American takeover. It should surprise no one that the Beach Boys were the only group who could put a dent in the Beatles’ chart success.

With the one-two punch of “I Get Around” and “All Summer Long” you know you’re in for a good album. And it is. “Little Honda” is one of their greatest car songs, and “Girls On the Beach” is a great good-times-and-party song. There are just two problems with the album, luckily they’re buried on the second half of the album, but they do dock the album a few points. “Our Favorite Recording Sessions” is fun as a novelty, but questionable as a time waster on an LP. Why was this included? There doesn’t seem to be any point. It should have been left off and another song added on in its place. And “Do You Remember?” is just plain awful. It’s a little kiss-ass and comes complete with a shit-eating grin. They rebound themselves with “Drive-In,” which is pure fun and a silly teenage story, and the aforementioned “Girls On the Beach.”

All Summer Long is, without a doubt, their best pre-1965 album, and in the glorious pop moments that cover the album you can hear the beginnings of Today! and Pet Sounds. DOWNLOAD: “I Get Around”

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With the Beatles

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 31 August 2009 11:44 (A review of With the Beatles)

With their second album The Beatles continued with their tradition of mostly-covers-and-a-few-originals. They could pull some great material – Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles and a few girl groups – and delivered some even greater originals.

This was before Bob Dylan started to influence John Lennon and Paul McCartney got into a one-upmanship with Brian Wilson, so their originals are very simplistic little pop-rockers. That doesn’t make them any less influential or even any less fantastic than the later psychedelic Beatles. In fact, I think this is pound for pound just as great as any of the post-Rubber Soul albums.

From the opening “It Won’t Be Long,” which aimed squarely at a teenage girls heart, to the closing “Money (That’s What I Want),” an oddly out-of-character song giving the later Beatles penchant for ranting against materialism, With the Beatles flies by at too quick a pace. You’ll want to hear more of the songs. Especially the singles recorded around the era that weren’t included on the disc. Imagine how much more wonderful this album would have if “I Want to Hold Your Hand” or “She Loves You” were placed on the album. But for the purity of their innocent good time rockers you can’t do any better than their second album. It’s almost impossible to believe that this was just their second album. DOWNLOAD: “Hold Me Tight”

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America's Sweetheart

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 28 August 2009 08:29 (A review of America's Sweetheart)

In my opinion, America’s Sweetheart was written off and ignored unjustifiably. It’s a great Courtney Love album. All of the glowing reviews will attest to that. Her personal life took over the good press for the album, and the fact that there was even an album coming out. She finds a balance between the uncaged hellion of Live Through This with the California pop sheen of Celebrity Skin, and mistakes 2004 for 1994. It’s exciting, but scary, stuff.

From the sludge like intro of “Mono” towards the final heaving gasp of “Never Gonna Be the Same,” Courtney is grabbing you and pulling you into her world. Well past darkness, well past a descent, we’re entering into demons and personal hell territory. She’s shockingly candid – drugs come up in how many songs? – and almost little-girl-lost fragile. “All the Drugs” features her most honest declaration: “With all of my money, with all of my love/It doesn’t feel as good as the drugs.” The heavy metal guitar that assails you throughout the song sounds like what is played in Hell’s waiting room. “Sunset Strip” starts out cliché ridden before chugging along into a surrealistic trip inside of Courtney’s head where she proceeds to list off all of the reasons and causes of her addiction to pills. On “Life Despite God” her voice sounds shot – a voice hasn’t sounded like that since Marianne Faithfull croaked out any of the tracks off of Broken English. And Broken English is possibly a good comparison to this album. Both deal with the lives of junkies and their confessions. While Faithfull was talking about it from the perspective of recovery, Love is amidst the battle.

When she says that the only way to understand her is to ride through the depths of Hell she’s been through, you reconsider trying to understand her. How she’s managed to survive this long is anyone’s guess. DOWNLOAD: “But Julian, I’m a Little Bit Older Than You”

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Metro Station

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 28 August 2009 08:28 (A review of Metro Station)

Loads of fun and a great summertime listen, even though it’s obviously been auto-tuned and pro-tooled within an inch of their overly manicured bangs. Trace Cyrus can’t even whisper in key, but he makes for a nice emo-boy pin-up. I almost feel too old listening to this, since it seems so obviously aimed at the tween and teenage crowds. 

Think about it – emo boys who have MySpace plays, but little practice as a live band (have you seen/heard them live?), get signed and make a record about their limited life experience. “Seventeen Forever” and “Wish We Were Older” are exactly about what the titles suggest. There’s no deeper thought here, it’s all bright, bubbly surface. It’s a step away from bubblegum pop in the sense that they’ll get alternative rock plays and festival spots.

“Shake It” is as dirty as any of the dirtiest bubblegum pop songs, but it sounds like a Neo-Wave band rediscovering the fun that is a synthesizer. Or, well, about five of them layered on top of each other at once. “California” is wistful, romantic and another Neo-Wave jam session, this time not as dirty. And “Control” sounds like what would have happened if Joy Division decided they wanted to take loads of happy pills and play for scores of teenage girls. I’m not sure if that’s an insult to Joy Division, whom I absolutely adore, or a compliment to Metro Station. You decide.

Metro Station sound like they have a lot of potential, they just need to layoff the auto-tune and pro-tools, really dig deep for their lyrics and practice in their garages more. But keep letting your keyboardist go insane, he’s great as is. 


DOWNLOAD: “Control”

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Alright, Still

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 28 August 2009 08:28 (A review of Alright, Still)

Lily Allen is the ex-girlfriend from hell. She’ll sleep with your best friends, tell everyone within ear shot that you’re bad in bed and/or small, plus all of the general insanity and pettiness she packs into any of these songs. She’s a total product of the times – narcissistic and a firm believer that every detail of her life is worth blogging, ranting and getting as much attention as possible from. It’s a bitch to deal, but it makes for some entertaining songs.

From the heavy old school ska samples to the not-quite-right hip-hop swagger of her entire persona, Allen is an English girl trying too hard to be street. I wouldn’t call her chavy…well, actually, I might. She sounds like she’s a lot of snark and no bite. 

“Smile” is a nice example of this – she only smiles when her ex-boyfriend is unhappy. Allen sighs and coos it out over a ska/hip-hop song without the tiniest bit of irony. It’s a load of fun, but the remix at the end of the album is better. The old school, almost Motown-ish, vibe fits the song much better. “LDN” and “Everything’s Just Wonderful” find a better balance between her faux-bad girl posturing, potty mouth and sample heavy reggae bounce. Although anyone who’ll proclaim London as being bright and sunny might just be something of an original.

A part of me still loves the album, though. Allen just needs to take her songs somewhere more often. “Friday Night” ends with them getting into the club, proving that all of her trash talking is just that. She’s all mouth and no backbone, waiting instead to go home and blog about it in snarky and snippy comments. She needs to stop mistaking words like “cunt” as edge, biting from everyone else, gain some charisma and drop the prissy diva-tude unless she’s prepared to actually back it up.


At least she’s got a great set of producers behind the controls. The melodies and loops, bloops and bleeps are fantastic. I think that’s why I like it so much. But it does live up to its title in more ways than one, it’s just Alright, Still.



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Endless Summer: Donna Summer's Greatest Hits

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 28 August 2009 08:21 (A review of Endless Summer: Donna Summer's Greatest Hits)

Donna Summer is the queen of disco for a reason – no person released a better string of singles during the era than she did. She also pulled a nearly impossible trick, she managed to salvage her career after the disco backlash. In fact, her 80s hits are just as big as anything she did for the Studio 54 set.

Endless Summer is the single disc version of the Anthology set. It perfectly summarizes her career highlights, and it includes a great new song or two. “Melody of Love (Wanna Be Loved)” sounds just like anything she cooked up with Giorgio Moroder back in the 70s. Except her voice is even stronger, she’s one of the few people who seems to gain more power and passion in her vocals as time goes by instead of the opposite. It seems like an odd choice to start the album with a new cut, but other than this odd placement, the rest of the album is in chronological order.

My main problem is that after about “On the Radio,” the album doesn’t just lose steam, it seems to crawl and only gasp back into life with “She Works Hard for the Money.” This might be because the singles get less well-known the further down the album you go. At eighteen songs it feels and sounds like the appropriate length, but with the last five to six cuts being more obscure, it hardly holds up as a complete picture. You’ll listen to the 70s and early-80s cuts before moving on. But those first twelve songs! Those first twelve songs alone are worth seeking this out-of-print compilation and adding it to your collection.

The erotic club-diva of “Love to Love You Baby” practically gave Goldfrapp their entire gimmick. “I Feel Love” caused David Bowie to proclaim that synthesizers were the future and make Low. “Hot Stuff” is where rock and disco met up. And those are just my favorite songs from her. “Heaven Knows,” “On the Radio,” “Dim All the Lights,” “Last Dance” – classics one and all and proof that disco was here to stay. Madonna was surely watching her innovations and getting ready to copy some of her moves. While not definitive, there’s that problem with the track listing, it’s an excellent summary of her most well known cuts. DOWNLOAD: “I Feel Love,” “Hot Stuff,” “Last Dance”

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Chelsea Girl

Posted : 8 years, 11 months ago on 28 August 2009 08:20 (A review of Chelsea Girl)

Nico is an artist who doesn’t get the credit she deserves. Her albums are often too pretentious, artsy, weird and proto-punk for most people. Outside of The Velvet Underground & Nico, actually finding her material is criminally difficult. I firmly and completely believe that it is well worth the search. Her albums are pieces of art.

Yes, there is the matter of her voice. I think it works for her chamber-folk-noise rock-cabaret-pop hybrid, but it is an acquired taste. At times too deep, too strained in others, she over enunciates and tries too force the pronunciations of her words. Oddly, this leads to her cutting off her syllables (example: “I’ll be your mirror” became “I be your mirror”). She did have a knack for picking collaborators though. Jacksone Browne, Lou Reed and Bob Dylan are just a few of the songwriters credited to the album. The girl knew how to pick great material.

And, yes, the studio did tamper with the material. Upon hearing the title track, rumor has it, she broke down and cried, attributing this to the flute that added onto the record. It wasn’t just the title song, but according to Nico that was the biggest offense. I think the strings sound quite pretty, but I wonder what the material would sound like without the tampering. Her husky voice would probably sound quite beautiful with a sparse and simple arrangement. Of course, there is the noise rock song “It Was a Pleasure Then.” She nails it. That’s another great thing about a Nico album, since she was part of the Factory, a Warhol muse, and part of the Velvets for a short period of time, you can hear her influence on the alternative scene. The most obvious spiritual child would be Patti Smith – a combination of punk noise rock with a folk music foundation – but other offspring would be Kim Gordon and Leonard Cohen.

Find Chelsea Girl, it will blow your mind. It’s a companion piece to The Velvet Underground & Nico, just try your best to ignore the flute. DOWNLOAD: “It Was a Pleasure Then”

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