Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Not-Necessarily-New Releases Tuesday ...

I'm a bit of a music junkie. When I transitioned from dial-up to DSL, I feared for my AmEx. Able to download songs in seconds, I thought I'd do a lot of damage on iTunes. To date, I've been remarkably restrained.

But there's been a spate of new albums released lately, and well, hell. I don't smoke, I rarely drink, I don't buy expensive shoes. A girl's gotta have a vice. And hey, I sing. So CDs are like, uh, research. Yeah, research.

I'm not a music critic, but I know what I like. And what I don't. Here, then, are my takes on some recent releases:

♪ KT Tunstall, Drastic Fantastic: Her sophomore effort falls rather flat, if you ask me. Which you didn't. But you're still reading, so it's kind of the same thing. It's not that it's a bad album, it's just that her debut was so spectacular, so fresh, that, as I once wrote about the author Barbara Kingsolver, "it's hard to measure up, even to yourself." Hold On is the single and it sounds a lot like her first album, but the rest of it is just kind of "eh." And it's petty, but I hate the font on her album cover. Seriously, with all the royalties the girl's rolling in (Suddenly I See and Black Horse and the Cherry Tree were used in just about every movie and television promo last year), you'd think she could afford some better album design.

♪ Bruce Springsteen, Magic: In 2002, I went through a later-life Bruce conversion. In the span of a few hours at the United Center on The Rising tour, I received the spirit of Springsteen and the E Street Band and wondered how I'd managed to go through life to that point so unmoved by his music. The key, of course, is seeing him live, which I've done six times so far, with my seventh experience slated for later this month when Bruce and the band and me and about 25,000 others will descend once again upon the United Center for Bruce's unique blend of revival, anti-war demonstration, consciousness-raising, and house-lights-up Born to Run adrenaline rush. All that said, I'm not in love with the new album. There are excellent Bruce moments, but for all the hype and good reviews, I was expecting to be flattened by every track and I'm simply not. I own a lot of Bruce, but I'm not the quintessential fan. My friend Jeff, though, is the quintessential Bruce fan, and he's not in love with the album either. Still, I'm psyched to see Bruce in a couple weeks. If you've never seen Springsteen live, I encourage you to find a ticket to a show near you. Even if you're not a huge fan of his music, it will be impossible for you to be unaffected by his passion.

♪ Chris Botti, Italia: I bought this CD for one track, Gabriel's Oboe. You know what? It really should be performed on an oboe, not a trumpet. Yes, I could have bought the track on iTunes, but my mom likes Chris, so I'll give the disc to her. Or maybe I'll actually listen to the rest of it and like some of it and keep it and buy mom another copy.

♪ Eddie Vedder, Into the Wild: Though some of my friends do not understand why, I am a rather big Pearl Jam fan. I have, oh, I dunno, eight or nine albums, and two of those are two-disc sets, so I have a lot of PJ in my collection. But my love of the band is almost entirely about Eddie's voice. I love his voice. I love it because it's so real and raw. This is Eddie's first solo effort and I'm knocked out. I'm especially nuts about Far Behind, a great on-the-road tune. Oh, but Setting Forth is great, too. And Society is haunting. And The Wolf's organ and vocals are at once spiritual and primal. Eddie and Dave are good friends, and he wrote the other night to encourage me to see the movie and experience Eddie's music as part of the film. Maybe this weekend.

♪ Annie Lennox, Songs of Mass Destruction: I love this woman from all the way back in the '80s when she burst onto the scene with her orange crew cut and men's suits. Her voice amazes me, the range she can cover and the ease with which she can float through octaves. Her Oscar-nominated Into the West from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a good example of that gift. And her voice has a fullness that I envy and can't duplicate. And I've tried. Several Annie Lennox tunes are on my if-only list. This album is like a Diva/Bare hybrid. She covers a lot of musical ground. You might know Dark Road (and if you don't, and you're a fan of hers, you'll want to know it; it's another showcase for her range). Love is Blind has amazing energy. I love the piano. (Damn. Why did I quit lessons when I was a kid?) But my hands-down favorite is, well, I'm going to keep that a secret for now. Though if you know me at all and you hear the album, you'll be able to figure it out.

♪ Fiction Plane, Left Side of the Brain: Fiction who? Fiction Plane is the band fronted by Sting's son, the band that opened on The Police's world tour. Nice gig, eh? I didn't catch much of their set when I saw The Police at Wrigley, as Tracy and I grabbed a bite to eat before the show and got to the field as FP was finishing their set, but I liked what I heard. And then I forgot about them. And then, the other day, it suddenly seemed very important that I download this album, so I did. And you know what? It's one of the best albums I've heard in years. I love it. Sting's musical influence on his son is clear in several places, but this band is not The Police 2.0. For one thing, it's more profane that anything The Police ever produced. Not that it's exclusively expletives, but several songs would require edits to make them suitable for commerical radio, such as this verse from Death Machine:

you keep your shoes so clean
fuck you and your death machine
oh I ain't gonna fight no more
explosive obstacles fill the fucking hospitals
oh I ain't gonna fight no more

How's that for an anti-war anthem? If you're looking for something a little less political, check out Anyone. The bassline kills me. So cool. And Drink, Cross the Line, and Fake Light from the Sun all add their own flavors to the brew. This is not a band that produces 10 variations of the same song and calls it an album. There's a lot of range here. That said, the song that first hooked me was Two Sisters which opens with a reggae riff that's clearly inherited from Sting.

And on that note, can we just take a moment to discuss the recent story that Sting topped Blender's list of the worst lyricists, "thanks to lines that betray 'mountainous pomposity (and) cloying spirutality.' " Sigh. For the love of God, the man was an English teacher before he became a rock star. So sue him if references to Nabakov and Chaucer show up in his songs. Are we instead supposed to congratulate the lyric-writing genius who penned the chorus to Britney's latest single: "Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme more"? Yep, that took a heap of talent.

I'd rather be too smart for the room than insipid.


Blogger J. Marquis said...

Good reviews. I guess I'm a bit more excited about the Bruce cd, especially "Your Own Worst Enemy"...it sounds like what Brian Wilson would have written if he'd grown up in New Jersey instead of California.

7:38 AM  

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