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Alright, Still

Posted : 9 years, 1 month 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 : 9 years, 1 month 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 : 9 years, 1 month 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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Time Capsule: Songs For a Future Generation

Posted : 9 years, 1 month ago on 28 August 2009 08:11 (A review of Time Capsule: Songs For A Future Generation)

Time Capsule: Songs For a Future Generation is a great collection of the quirky and strange New Wave act’s, The B-52’s, best known hits. With every album represented the correct amount and no big songs being obviously omitted – cases could be made for the exclusion of “Dance This Mess Around” and “The Girl From Impanema Goes to Greenland” – this perfectly summarizes their dance-oriented alternative rock career.

Their debut album and career comeback Cosmic Thing get the most amount of songs represented here, and that is exactly how it should be. “Rock Lobster” still sounds like nothing else – the strange voices, sound effects and lyrical subject matter are just odd. It’s also way too much fun. “Deadbeat Club” is lovely and wistful. I think it’s one of their more underrated songs. It’s also one of my absolute favorites. “Love Shack” is the party jam that everyone somehow knows all of the words to. I could go on talking about just the songs from these two albums, but the ones that come between these two albums are just as noteworthy. “Private Idaho” and “Songs for a Future Generation” are just as great, just as weird, just as kitschy. That’s why I love them.

Everything that’s great about pre-Beatles pop culture and music is thrown into the blender. Call and response, faux-dance crazes, 50s sci-fi obsessions – and that’s just the first four songs. It just keeps getting stranger and stranger the further down you go. Also, any band who writes a song all about Debbie Harry, “Debbie,” both praising and idolizing her at the same time is my kind of band. DOWNLOAD: “Rock Lobster,” “Deadbeat Club,” “Love Shack”

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Dream of Life

Posted : 9 years, 1 month ago on 27 August 2009 08:40 (A review of Dream of Life)

Dream of Life is not an ambitious comeback album in the way that Gone Again is. This is Patti Smith peaking out of her house, waving hello and saying that she’s still here. I think that this could have been a great record, if someone didn’t go into the studio and polish everything within an inch of its life. Smith always sounds at her best and most exciting when she’s got at least a little bit of dirt on the track. She started life as one of the many punks at CBGB’s, give her that edge.

That’s not to say that there are no great moments on the record. There are, they’re just few and far between. “People Have the Power” is a cliché, but a cliché can have a tremendous amount of power when given the right amount of fury and passion behind it. Patti Smith obviously believes in what she is saying. The music is a little bland, but her delivery and lyrics elevate the song behind it’s too polished production and into one of her classic tracks. “Looking for You (I Was)” is a nice rocker. Nothing too crazy, it does sound a little like a Pretenders song too often though. That’s a problem throughout the entire album, Smith sounds too much like her spiritual daughters (Chrissie Hynde being the most obvious example), instead of leading the pack and charging ahead holding the white flag.

It’s alright though, a bad Patti Smith album is still better than most albums of the era. Or any era, really. While this might be a slight effort, she came charging back with passion, emotion, purpose and ambition with Gone Again. Dream of Life just serves as a reminder that Smith was still kicking around some ideas and still had some drive as an artist, just needed to let go of the MOR sound. DOWNLOAD: "People Have the Power"

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Radio Ethiopia

Posted : 9 years, 1 month ago on 27 August 2009 08:40 (A review of Radio Ethiopia)

Not even the great and wonderful Patti Smith is immune from the sophomore slump. Radio Ethiopia is great in pieces but lacking as a whole – too many half-formed ideas and not enough of the song quality that made Horses so classic. It keeps the ambitious song lengths and rambling poetic nature of the songs, but forgets to give them a structure to be built on. This may have been her intent, but it makes for a difficult listen.

The straight headed punk rockers like “Ask the Angels” and “Pumping (My Heart)” are fantastic. Smith’s ferocious delivery and guitar wails show you why she’s the grand dame of punk. The hyper-literate and religious minded lyrics tell you why she’s the poet laureate. But it’s once we venture out into songs like “Radio Ethiopia” and “Distant Fingers” that things start to get murky and difficult, even for me. I love a good noise rock song, I even like “Radio Ethiopia,” but at times, the record gets way too pretentious and insular. It’s hard not to blame her for wanting to do something darker after Horses, deservedly, caused every rock critic to fire their loads and proclaim her the greatest thing to happen in American music since Dylan.

I keep practically the whole album on my computer, I’ve even given it a few listens the whole way through. I respect her artistry and intent, but I don’t quite like the whole. Still, it’s better than Wave and Dream of Life, which were just too polished and bland. I prefer Patti Smith being pretentious and batshit crazy while noise rock blasts behind her Beat poet-like rantings. She’s more exciting that way, and it’s why I fell in love with her in the first place. DOWNLOAD: “Ask the Angels”

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Posted : 9 years, 1 month ago on 27 August 2009 08:39 (A review of Wave [CD] 1996)

Patti Smith’s fourth studio album, Wave, is missing some of the messy, anarchistic folk-punk that made her previous albums so compelling (even if some of the songs worked better as experiments than as actual recordings). Yes, this is the album that began her move towards more radio-friendly sounds. Yes, it’s the most polished and pop oriented album she’s ever cut. But that does not mean that it is without it’s charms and merits.

“Dancing Barefoot” at first sounds like a redo of “Because the Night,” but builds upon that song's promises of mystery and sexuality to become something even more beautiful and rich. It’s no wonder that it’s become one of her biggest songs, if not one of her more defining cuts. “Frederick,” a love song to her future husband, is also soft and AOR friendly, but just as quirky and slightly strange as any other Patti Smith song. And “Revenge” might just have one of the greatest lyrical intros to any song: “I feel upset/Let’s do some celebrating/Come on honey, don’t hesitate now.” If that’s not a call to arms and a kinky-dangerous come on, I don’t know what is. “So You Want to Be (A Rock & Roll Star),” a Byrds cover, and “Wave,” an imagined conversation with Pope John Paul I, are the only other tracks worth a listen on the album.

Sadly, the rest is just too bland and polished for any album, but especially for a Patti Smith. As a follow up to almost-as-great-as-Horses Easter, Wave fails to impress. It would be roughly twenty years until she came back with a vengeance, armed with an album anywhere as exciting or crazy as her greatest works. This always has been and always be one of the lesser works in her canon. DOWNLOAD: “Dancing Barefoot”

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More Specials

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 19 April 2009 09:18 (A review of More Specials)

The Specials is a frantic skank-romping good-time, More Specials is the subdued follow-up. It also branches out into more styles than the debut, which focused on the 2-tone/ska revival craze that they had helped usher in. Like the previous disc, More Specials opens up with a rocking cover of an older song, this time “Enjoy Yourself,” which gets a reprise at the end with the Go-go’s as guest vocalists. It was around this time that Terry Hall and Jane Wiedlin got into their affair and wrote “Our Lips Are Sealed,” but that’s another story and album. The sophomore effort is almost as good as, if slightly more uneven and less cohesive than, the debut. How did they manage this feat? Through sheer force of will, one would imagine. The bite and snarl of their music isn’t lost in the more pop leanings that debut here, and would come out in full-force on their next record. The most interesting new territory explored isn’t the Latin-tinged instrumental “Holiday Fortnight,” but the spaghetti western sounds of “Stereotypes.” Its familiar lyrical territory for the group, but it’s not less evocative or interesting. And Terry Hall could snap and put-down with the best of them. If Hall and Staples hadn’t had left the band shortly after this, who knows what the third record could have been like. DOWNLOAD: “Hey, Little Rich Girl”

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Greatest Hits

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 9 April 2009 07:03 (A review of Greatest Hits)

Finally a single-disc compilation that tells the entire Blondie story from start to finish, even if it is presented in a nonlinear fashion, it's all still there. The punk beginning (“X Offender”), the experiments (“Rapture”), the New Wave classics (“Call Me”), and the dance songs (“Heart of Glass”) held together by a great rhythm section and Debbie Harry's bad girl sass, brass, wit and irony.

Blondie started off as an avant-rock act between Harry and Chris Stein, and from there evolved into the hit-making machine it ended as. This is evident in the way that they experiment so wildly, not just with genres but with subject matter. Songs range from a noir-like girl-stalks-boy story to an alien landing on the ground and causing havoc to an armored car robbery. Few bands would experiment with such chutzpah. This is why, for me as a New Wave/punk enthusiast, Blondie remains the greatest band of them all. Even their cover songs are now forever tied-up with the originals and practically indistinguishable. (For the record the covers are: “The Tide Is High,” “Hanging on the Telephone,” “Denis.”)

I just wish compilers wouldn't be so afraid of including the full six minute long version of “Heart of Glass.” It's their biggest hit and should be represented as such. Besides, the abbreviated version takes some of the piss and vinegar out of the punk-disco hybrid. One needs to hear the full song to catch the way they don't play entirely with the typical disco song beat. Or the way that Harry so boredly yet vampily sends up the sex symbol-disco diva persona. Everything that is great about Blondie is in that song. It was too pop for the punks, too punk for the pure disco set, yet turned into a big hit. If that's not the perfect symbol for Blondie, I don't know what is. DOWNLOAD: “Call Me,” “X Offender,” “Heart of Glass”

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The Best of Blondie

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 9 April 2009 06:46 (A review of Best of Blondie)

An adequate introduction to the band, but it skews in favor of the more chart friendly later years and ignores some of the better earlier songs. Only one song from Plastic Letters? Were “Detroit 442” and “Denis” not good enough? I beg to differ. No love for “X Offender”? “Sunday Girl” is present, but it's the French version of the song and not the album track from Parallel Lines. Either version is fantastic, but it seems strange to include the non-album version on a ‘best of.’ This is, obviously, not everything you need to know about the band and their music. One doesn't get the sense that Blondie practically invented the skinny-jean, skinny-tie, icy-cool sound of New Wave from this collection. One does get twelve fantastic songs. All of them first-rate and among the group’s best. Yes, I have a bone to pick with the collection ignoring the early punk years, including single, or remixed, versions and ignoring some of the better album tracks, but that is from my perspective as a die hard fan. Later collections provide more bang-for-buck and tell the complete story, but this one will do nicely if all you want are the twelve biggest songs, or a nice primer for the albums. DOWNLOAD: “Call Me”

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