End of September 2016 New Song Round-Up

Well, it’s officially autumn! As summer fades into the distance, a middle-aged rock nerd’s thoughts turn to assembling a Best of The Year list. I haven’t done one since 2012, mostly because I wasn’t focused enough on music throughout the year. I’ve slacked off a bit this month, hence a New Song Round-Up post for September. I wish I could say I was busy doing something awesome, but the sad truth is I just couldn’t get myself focused enough to sit down and write anything up. Some big albums dropped in the last two weeks and I’m determined to get at least two album reviews out before October. We’ll see if that pans out (don’t hold your breath).

Anyway, without further ado, here are some new songs that hit the airwaves (???) and my radar this month. I’m sure I missed something, let me know what I should have paid attention to down in the comments.

The Defending Axl Rose End of September 2016 New Song Round-Up

“I Love the USA” by Weezer: You know that Best of 2016 list I mentioned above? Weezer’s latest THE WHITE ALBUM is 100% a lock for a top 5 spot. I can’t believe how much I disliked it upon first listen and how much it’s grown on me. Seriously, if you haven’t checked it out do yourself a favor and pick it up. It’s great. What’s not so great is this B-side, “I Love the USA.” I really don’t know what to make of this track, to be honest. Apparently, this song was written to commemorate a successful NASA mission to Jupiter. You really wouldn’t get that from the lyrics (at least, I didn’t), but luckily Rivers Cuomo was nice enough to tweet an explanation. The song starts off as a soft piano ballad before building into a super-jingoistic guitar jam. With lyrics like “fuck yeah, this place is great/God save the King/God save the King” it’s easy to see how I missed the whole NASA commemoration point. This track probably would have worked better if it was ironic (maybe a scathing indictment of how messed up the country is?). The whole thing ends with a line about a missing boy who “didn’t make it.” What does this have to do with the Juno probe to Jupiter? I have no idea, and frankly, I don’t care. Sadly, “I Love the USA” isn’t the outlier in the modern Weezer canon, but instead that new album is the odd duck out (because it’s good).

Am I being too hard on Weezer? Let me know, I honestly can’t tell anymore.

 

“Hyper Dark” by Sleigh Bells: I really, really, really, really loved that first Sleigh Bells album. I had high hopes for the band but three albums in, I’m starting to lose faith. Modern bands that explode onto the scene seem to have a dismal track record for sticking around. It’s not that these bands aren’t talented, I think the issue is that labels don’t let bands percolate long enough. Then again, The Beatles cranked out hit after hit at a breakneck pace. Maybe the problem is that most of these bands are really only  capable of one good album? That’s exactly one great album more than I have inside of me, so forgive me if that seems judgmental.

Anyway, this new track from Sleigh Bells, “Hyper Dark” is ushering in a fourth album JESSICA RABBIT (which comes out in November). The song starts off a bit boring but rebounds into something almost interesting. It’s missing the brash brutality of TREATS, instead favoring an 80’s-ish dream pop quality. I wish the guitars were a tad louder, like on the band’s other new track “It’s Just Us Now.” That track had the bombast that made Sleigh Bells famous and got me excited about this new album. If JESSICA RABBIT strikes an equal balance between loud/fun Sleigh Bells and the quieter, more experimental stuff (like “Hyper Dark”) then this might be the follow-up album I’ve been waiting for.

 

“Waste A Moment” by Kings of Leon: If you’d gone back in time and told me how lame Kings of Leon were going to become when I first heard “Red Morning Light” back in 2003, I would have laughed in your face. YOUTH AND YOUNG MANHOOD is a stone-cold classic, a truly fantastic southern fried garage rock album. “Waste A Moment” is bland vanilla pudding. I’m not sure what about this song’s production is sapping it of all of its visceral energy, but this song could possibly put me to sleep. There’s no passion, no urgency to this song. I think the last Kings of Leon album I gave a fuck about was 2007’s BECAUSE OF THE TIMES. What happened to this band? They lost their balls and got dump trucks full of money. I don’t begrudge them from making a living, and hell yes I’m super jealous they have millions of 50-year-old women swooning at their shows now, but where is the band that wrote a song about Molly’s…ahem…chamber? The band has a new album, WALLS, coming out soon but just like the last two records, I’ll be sitting WALLS out. The only reason I even wrote about this track is because I wanted to mention how fucking great YOUTH AND YOUNG MANHOOD is. It’s great. Go listen to that, skip this song.

 

“Perfect Illusion” by Lady Gaga: I bet you think I’m going to trash this song, but I actually really dig it. When I saw that Lady Gaga had a new single out I decided to give it a listen mainly out of curiosity. Okay, I’ll admit…I wanted to see just how bad it was. I really like THE FAME and thought that Gaga was going to be my generation’s Madonna or whatever…instead she kinda became a disappointment/one trick pony whose only real talent was shocking little old ladies with meat dresses. To my surprise, Lady Gaga decided to channel Bruce Springsteen (and 90’s R&B)! While it’s a typical our-love-was-a-lie song, there’s passion in the vocals. I honestly wouldn’t have known this was a Lady Gaga song had I not known it was her. I guess I’ll have to give the new album a listen (barring any sort of freaky ass album art).

 

“Revolution Radio” by Green Day: You know, I think I was too harsh on Green Day last month when they released their song “Bang Bang.” I don’t think that “Revolution Radio” is the best Green Day song of the last 10 years, but it certainly isn’t terrible. And compared to “Bang Bang” it’s a 10/10 masterpiece. Sure, the cherry bombs and snarling is a bit cliche (and silly coming from dudes this old), this track sounds like Green Day. Not my little sister’s Green Day, but the version of the band that I remember listening to in the late 1990’s. The opening reminds me of the theme song for the old Colbert Show, but that’s my problem (not the song’s fault). “Revolution Radio” sticks with the protest themes we’ve come to expect from latter-day Green Day (“legalize the truth,” seriously guys?), but I can’t help but wonder what a snarling party anthem from old-ass Green Day would sound like. I wouldn’t mind if the band stopped being so serious and got a little fun. A little fun never hurt anyone guys.

So that’s it for the new songs of September! There was a new Beach Slang single released, but the album came out today and I decided to just do a write-up of that rather than feature the track here. Like I said above, I’m sure I missed something so please tell me below!

 

 

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Check Out This Video For “Approximately 900 Miles” by Harrison Fjord

Arizona musicians Harrison Fjord have a couple of really great things going for them. For starters, they have one of the best pun band names this side of Ringo Deathstarr. Secondly, they make awesomely atmospheric music that falls somewhere between jazz and psychedelic rock. The band sounds like a mellow, laid back Pink Floyd. I ran across them because they gained a bit of Internet fame thanks to a super-cool music video for their track “Approximately 900 Miles.” The song is a cornerstone of their most recent EP, PUSPA IN SPACE.

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The band apparently shot the video high up on the Mogollon Rim, bringing a generator to power their gear. I really dig the song and respect the hell out of them for putting out such a cool, creative video in this day and age (aren’t music videos all but dead?). If you enjoy indie rock that’s a bit quiet and a whole lot spacey, give Harrison Fjord a listen.

And even if you aren’t interested in jazzy-psych-rock from Arizona, check out this rad music video:

They don’t make ’em like they used to…

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METAL MONDAY: Mac Sabbath Is The Fast-Food Themed Black Sabbath Cover Band You Never Knew You Needed

Have you ever gotten something and wondered how you lived your life without it? I know I existed prior to getting an iPhone, but it’s changed how I live so fundamentally that I honestly can’t imagine going to back to a life without it. Well buckle-up kids, because you’re about to have a life-altering experience. Seriously, you’ll never be the same once you see and hear Mac Sabbath.

Well buckle-up kids, because you’re about to have a life-altering experience. Seriously, you’ll never be the same once you see and hear Mac Sabbath. What is Mac Sabbath? It’s a fast-food themed Black Sabbath tribute band. Well, I guess they’re kinda/sorta a tribute band. See, they don’t just dress up like McDonald’s characters and sing Black Sabbath songs, they change the lyrics in order to attack and expose the evils of the fast-food industry. The band is equal parts metal band, post-modern art, and political satire. Mac Sabbath is definitely one of those things that’s too good to be true.

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Take for example “Frying Pan” which is the band’s take on the classic Sabbath song “Iron Man.” Mac Sabbath turns the song into a (humorous) indictment of the fast-food industry from the perspective of the poor wage-slave making our pink slime-infused meals.

“I once burned your meal
My old job was cooking veal
Now it’s a culinary crime
All our future is pink slime”

And of course they’re able to work in a gluten reference:

“Everybody wants it
On gluten bleached flour bread
Everybody needs it
Till they’re fat and dead”

I can’t image writing lyrics to songs, let alone writing lyrics all around a single theme and making them fit into the framework of an established song. A lot of people try their hand at this, and while there are a few standouts who really do a good job, I feel like most comedic attempts at parody songs are just that: attempts. Mac Sabbath really hit it out of the park on their songs. I listened to six of their songs and all six were well-done (pun intended).

While the members of Mac Sabbath are talented satirists, it’s worth noting that they could also pass as a pretty decent Black Sabbath cover band. The music sounds remarkably good for something so batshit crazy. You can tell that besides really hating the fast-food industry, the members of Mac Sabbath really love Black Sabbath.  Sure, the drummer is dressed just like the Hamburgler, but he’s also a damn good drummer.

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Drive-Thru Metal is Finger Lickin’ Good

These guys are based in L.A. but apparently tour just like any other rock band. And just like Kiss or Ghost (B.C.) they stay in character most of the time and always appear on stage in full regalia. The band even has hilarious metal/McDonald’s mash-up stage names like Ronald Osbourne, Slayer McCheeze, Grimalice, and Catburgler.

Considering such how detrimental to our bodies and the environment fast-food is, making them the fodder of a metal band makes 100% perfect sense. McDonald’s is far more nefarious and scarier than say, popular metal villain, Satan. I would love to know what the good folks at McDonald’s think about this band (though I can guess) and I’d also like to know what Black Sabbath thinks about them as well. Considering that band plays with the intellectual property of two mega-corporations (McDonald’s being a tad bigger than Black Sabbath) I’m kinda shocked these guys are able to exist.

I’m probably late to the Mac Sabbath party, but I had to write about this band because it’s one of the more creative things I’ve seen this year. And, hilariously enough, they’re the most balls-out metal thing I’ve encountered in years (thanks to Cartoon Network canceling Metalacolypse). 

 

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ROCK ‘N’ MAILBAG #4: Chris Mess

Welcome to the fourth installment of my semi-irregular series Rock ‘N Mailbag! For a few months now, I’ve been getting solicitations via email from independent artists wishing me to review their albums.  I’m not sure how these people are finding me, but rather than dismiss them, I’ve decided to listen to them and give them a little love.

It’s been awhile since I fired up the old rock ‘n’mailbag so I decided to dip in and see what was inside. Back in March, I got an email from Chris Niccoli who headlines a Seattle-based glam rock band Chris Mess. First off, this band gets immediate points for having a pun-band name. I thought that perhaps that Chris Mess was a person but once I said it out loud a few times I got the joke. The Chris Mess Bandcamp page describes the band as “A bit loud Cheap Trick strut, with a smattering of absurdity and vocal craziness a la Queen, The Darkness, Ziggy-era David Bowie, and The Sweet.” I’d agree with that assessment and say that band’s sound is definitely reminiscent of all the bands mentioned. There’s a fun throwback quality to the band’s sound that I dig.

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Chris’s vocals aren’t quite as wild and crazy as bands like The Darkness, but there’s some high-pitched wailing going on. The CHRIS MESS EP is seven songs, five originals, one cover (David Bowie’s “Suffragette City”), and an acapella version of the first track. The production is clean and modernizes the band’s sound enough so you can tell that Chris Mess is a modern artist and not of the era they’re repping. I really enjoyed “Bong for your Mom,” which has a groove and some sweet harmonies. According to the Bandcamp site, the track is about Seattle’s cannabis scene. I also really enjoyed the manic, unhinged “Vitamin D” though I wished it was just a smidge heavier. The same goes for “Don’t Make Me Hate,” which is an okay track that could have been an A+ effort with a little less Queen and a little more Black Sabbath.

The Bowie cover is a nice tribute, but I have disagree with the band’s description that the track is “revved up.” It’s a  serviceable effort but doesn’t strike me as a particularly juiced-up version of the song. I think Chris Mess would have been better served by paying tribute to The Thin White Duke by perhaps choosing a more obscure song. Again, there’s nothing bad about their version, it just didn’t do much new and (of course) pales in comparison to the original.

Overall, the CHRIS MESS EP is hands down one of the better things sent into the ROCK ‘N’ MAILBAG. The original songs show real promise and the band seems adept at blending their influences together. I’d be interested to see the band live and hear a proper album from this band.

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Gonna be in the USA in 2017? Wanna see Metallica? I got good news for you!

I guess for the remainder of 2016/early 2017 I may have to change the name of my website to Defending Metallica. Since last week’s brand-spanking track release, I’ve anticipated more Metallica news. Well, today Rolling Stone reported that the band is planning a fairly extensive tour starting in January. No specific dates have been announced, but I’ll wager that Metallica is coming to a city near you, regardless of which city you live.

 

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Coming soon to a town near you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And me

 

How can I be so sure? The article quotes Lars Ulrich as saying “It’s time to come back and do some proper penetration of America.” Wow, that almost sounds like a threat, doesn’t it? I’ve yet to see Metallica perform live, but I have a feeling that’s about to change in a big way. Besides a list of actual cities, the thing I’m most eager to see are the bands that will open for Metallica. I’m hoping they pick some fairly obscure, up-and-coming metal outfit to feature.

Bottom line: start rolling those pennies, you’re gonna be buying tickets.

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Collins, Phil

A few years ago, I wrote about some of my musical guilty pleasures. Included on that list was the band Genesis. I’ve had Phil Collins on the brain for a few weeks now, and I’m not sure why. Then last week I read an article about how he’s planning on playing at the opening ceremonies of the US Open at the end of this month. It’s a big deal because Collins has all but dropped off the face of the Earth these past few years. The reason for this has varied, depending on who you ask: Collins can’t hold drumsticks anymore due to a crippling back/nerve issue, he wants to spend more time with his family, he’s near death after years of substance abuse, and he’s so rich he doesn’t need to perform or record music anymore. But the biggest reason given for his extended absence from the spotlight–he got sick and tired of all the criticism.

This leads me back to my post from 2012 on my Top 5 Guiltiest Musical Pleasures. Genesis made the list, but why? It’s wasn’t because of their bizarre and sometimes beautiful early prog-records with Peter Gabriel. It was because of Phil Collins. I grew up on classic rock radio and Collins’ work with Genesis and his first few solo albums were in heavy rotation back in the 1990’s. Even today, his biggest songs like “In The Air Tonight” are played almost as often as FM staples like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Hotel California.” Growing up, Collins and Genesis never struck me as particularly cool nor did they strike me as uncool. This was not the case among my peers. I had a friend in Junior High who used to get teased mercilessly because his mother was a very, very big Phil Collins fan. I liked this guy a lot, but there were so many other things about him people could make fun of, so why was his mom being a Phil Collins fan such an issue?

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Is this the face of the most hated man in popular music?

I have two theories about why people hate Phil Collins so much. The first is that Collins was simply just too damn successful. The ubiquitous nature of his music during the 1980’s and early 1990’s made people sick of him. The same reasoning can be applied to The Eagles, who also have gone from beloved to hated by the culture at large. Getting over-played on the radio isn’t the band’s fault, but the listening public can only take so much before a backlash begins. Modern radio with its limited song rotation certainly did nothing to help either Collins or The Eagles. By playing “Life In The Fast Lane” 50 to 100 times a day, people got sick of The Eagles. Likewise, Collins was overplayed both as a successful solo artist and as a member of Genesis. Collins was a double-threat releasing hit songs by himself and with Genesis, though many people might have trouble telling them apart, especially near the end of both his solo career and his life with the band. Collins became a symbol of the old guard, his success was so great he became locked in an ivory tower. This made him the perfect target for the younger bands emerging in the 1990’s who showed real disdain for him (specifically Oasis, who were merciless in their public criticism of Collins).

The second reason Collins has become so hated has to do with Collins the artist. Phil Collins has two modes: mindless pop and painfully earnest sincerity. People can handle one or the other, but when an artist tries to exist in both worlds people start having problems. A good example of this is “Another Day In Paradise.” The song was written by Collins at the end of the 1980’s and tackles the issue of homelessness. It’s a serious subject, one that is undercut by the fact that it’s being done by a millionaire who made his fortune off of bubblegum pop like “Sussudio.” Collins tried to make both serious art and product, essentially trying to exist in two different boxes. This was something that people simply couldn’t reconcile. Making matters worse, a large swath of the listening public finds earnest sincerity fake when it’s attached to a smarmy-looking millionaire.

But none of this is very fair to Collins, is it? After all, it’s not his fault that he was so successful. And it’s not his fault that he’s able to make simple pop music and music with a bit more weight behind it. I don’t think the man’s career is unblemished (it isn’t) or that he hasn’t recorded more than a few stinkers (he has), but I do think the level of hate for Collins is simply disproportionate to his contribution to popular culture. Even if you don’t particularly like him or his music, you can’t help but admit that “In The Air Tonight” is an interesting, cool, song. In fact, I can’t think of another song that’s like “In The Air Tonight” that became a massive hit.

So I’m removing both Genesis and Phil Collins from my list of Guilty Pleasures and instead owning the fact that I like a large portion of the music he’s created. There’s been a sort of ironic appreciation of his career over the past few years, but I want it to be known that there is not a drop of irony in my love for Phil Collins. Human beings are petty, sometimes jealous creatures, and my guess is we needed a whipping boy. I’m sorry that person had to be Collins, but at least he seems to have been able to take it. Imagine someone like poor Morrissey saddled with a Phil Collins-level of public malice! He’d have thrown himself under a bus or train decades ago. I suspect that there are more than a few people placed in that awkward situation of secretly liking something that’s seemingly universally despised. If you’re such a person, my recommendation to you is to cast off the shackles of conformity and own your opinion. Unless you like Nickelback, in which case you’re not right in the head.

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Metallica’s New Song “Hardwired” is really, really…

Boy did this catch me off guard today, but Metallica released a brand-spanking new track today. We’ve known for some time now that Metallica was working on a new album (their tenth) but I honestly didn’t have it on my radar. Turns out that was a mistake! It’s coming out this November. I’m not sure what was so special about today, after all, the music industry switched the day new releases come out from Tuesday to Fridays, but I’m not complaining. A band like Metallica are legendary enough to drop new stuff whenever they please.

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Alright, enough preamble, let’s get down to brass tacks! The real question here isn’t “why wasn’t this song on your radar?” nor is it “why did they choose to put it out on a Thursday?” No, the real question is: is “Hardwire” any good?

Let me first come clean and say that I am far from the world’s biggest Metallica fan. A few years ago, however, I got into the band’s first few albums particularly their 1983 debut KILL ‘EM ALL (which I am exactly one month and two days older than). The later stuff is, as I think most sane people will agree, a bit hit or miss for me. I actually kinda dug 2008’s DEATH MAGNETIC and the hyper-homoerotic (trust me on this) BEYOND MAGNETIC EP the band put out in 2011. So that’s me, I’m a guy that likes the first album and the last batch of material the band released (LULU does not exist in this dojo). I mention this because put my opinion into perspective.

I’ve stalled long enough, I a proud to say that “Hardwired” is great! The first thing that struck me about it is how well it was recorded. The biggest complaint lodged against the modern Metallica records is how shitty the production has been. ST ANGER had problems with the drum sounds and DEATH MAGNETIC was criticized for being overly compressed (i.e. they both sounded shitty). Well, “Hardwired” sounds crisp and clear, there’s no murky or computerized quality to the tracks’ sound. What we have here is a brilliantly simple thrash-metal song, you know the kind of song that originally made the band so famous. The new album is called HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT and that’s basically the hook of “Hardwired.” It’s fast and furious and without any pretension–there’s no overly-indulgent opening or anything lame like that. The song thunders along for a brisk 3 minutes and 11 seconds, there’s no fat on this track, it’s lean and mean. And I love that about it.

Metallica has really grabbed my attention with “Hardwired.” I can’t believe I’m going to write this in 2016: but I am super-excited about a new Metallica album.

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Mid-August 2016 New Song Round-Up

As we slowly exit Summer and near the holiday (silly) season, a band’s thoughts turn to new albums. What better way to prep the world by dropping a single on the unexpecting masses? After radio died but before we got music streaming services it wasn’t always super-easy for me to find these freshly released tracks. But now, every Friday Spotify curates them all for me! I’m sure no payola is involved…

Anyway, I never know what to do about these sort of things when it comes to the blog. I mean, I can’t possibly write 500 words on this new Green Day single. Luckily, I can just shamelessly copy another (some might even argue better) blogger’s format and apply them to this loose collection of songs.

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The Defending Axl Rose Mid-August 2016 New Song Round-Up

“Bang Bang” by Green Day: As soon as I hit play and heard the faux news broadcast, I knew we were in trouble. The intro reeks of trying too hard, and as we all know trying is pretty much the least punk thing one can do. That said, once the song starts “Bang Bang” isn’t a complete disaster. But all the talk of “World War 0” and “celebrity models” feels like the sort of empty criticism an 8th-grader would make about the current crop of senseless shootings. Somebody wake me up when September ends.

 

“City Lights” by The White Stripes: Oh, what a happy boy I was when I saw that there was a brand new White Stripes song on Spotify! Then I saw that it was “Previously Unreleased.” Well, no bother…even if Jack and Meg didn’t get back together at least I would get to hear a new song. Then I hit play and the soft, acoustic guitar ballad and I knew that I wasn’t going to get a new White Stripes song. This is a new Jack White solo track. Sure, maybe Meg is politely shaking maracas or whatever in the background, but this is about as far from an “Icky Thump” or “Seven Nation Army” as one can get. And while variety is the spice of life, I was really hoping for something a bit more explosive. “City Lights” isn’t terrible, it’s a great (albeit sleepy) track from Jack White.

 

“Put Your Hands Up” by The Struts: I’ve been hearing a lot of really good things about The Struts. There’s been many comparisons between them and The Darkness, one of my favorite bands. So when I saw that they had a new single I didn’t hesitate. “Put Your Hands Up” is a good rock song that could have been great with a slightly catchier chorus (though they do get points for rhyming “vibration” and “medication”). Still, the band has plenty of energy (and cowbell) to convince me that I need to give them a serious listen.

 

“Punks In A Disco Bar” by Beach Slang: Ten seconds in and I’m hooked. I’m so in the bag for this band, that I guess nobody should be surprised that I dig this song. But boy, do I dig this song. That vicious, angular guitar riff is fantastic. Beach Slang pack so much intensity into “Punks In A Disco Bar” that the track’s sub-three minute runtime doesn’t even feel too short. I really hope that this song isn’t some kind of leftover from last year’s record and that there’s a new one on the horizon. I missed seeing these guys back in April when my son was born, I really want them to hop on the touring circuit again so I can see them. Brilliant 10/10.

 

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BOY KING by Wild Beasts

Imagine if Trent Reznor-penned a concept album about masculinity and recorded it with Muse as his backing band. That’s a fairly close description of what Wild Beasts album BOY KING sounds like. Whereas Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails records have a gritty, cold feeling to them Wild Beasts’ BOY KING has a crisp but cold feeling to them. NIN is chrome smeared with dirt while BOY KING is pink neon light reflected in a puddle of still rain water.

Unlike Reznor’s work, the precise tracks on BOY KING have a decidedly poppier, almost hip-hop-flavored feel to them. Certain songs, like “Get My Bang” even reminded me of Britpop bands like Stereophonics (remember them? They’re fantastic, but that’s a post for another day). For me, it’s the shimmering pop heart beating just under the grime that makes BOY KING an enjoyable listen, rather than a painful sit through. The band described the album’s third single “Celestial Creatures” via Twitter thusly: “Organic but digital, aggressive but tender, hallucinatory but clear-eyed.” I wouldn’t argue with that assessment, both of the song and of the totality of BOY KING which is rife with duality.

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The album swings between a kind of exaggerated pop star bravado and a gentler (but creepy) kind of feminism.  Lyrically, the songs are a mix of dark poetry and sexual innuendo, to the point where it becomes difficult to suss out what is sneering facade and what’s genuine. A good example is “Alpha Female,” a track that follows “Tough Guy” which is both a biting indictment of modern machismo. On the surface “Alpha Female” is a song about how men don’t know everything and how the song’s narrator isn’t going to hold his lady back. But the chorus “Alpha female, I’ll be right behind you” gets nastier and nastier every time it’s repeated.

There’s a real late 90’s U2-experimentalism on many of the tracks on BOY KING. Whether or not you think that’s a good thing or not is entirely up to you. There’s no denying that a track like “Eat Your Heart Out Adonis” sounds like something Bono could have crooned upon exiting a giant mechanical lemon. But whereas Bono and Co. played that phase of their careers a little too seriously, Wild Beasts appear to be in on the joke.  Also, the guitar solo at the end of the song is warmer than anything The Edge’s cold, cold heart produced during that period.

BOY KING ends on a soft, gentle ballad a stark contrast to the album opener “Big Cat.” I  absolutely love “Big Cat,” which might as well been titled “Alpha Male.” The song has a couple of double-entendre for sex and domination, and yet for all its big male bluster…the song is about comparing oneself to a big cat. That another name for cat is pussy can’t be overlooked amidst all the other sexual overtones. Just like the majority of BOY KING “Big Cat” has layers upon layers of complexity. And yet, it’s also just a damn fine pop album you can groove to.

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Classic Albums Revisited: REVOLVER

REVOLVER, The Beatles seventh studio album, just celebrated an impressive 50th anniversary earlier this month. Last night I sat down with my son and listened to in its entirety for the first time in many years. Growing up, REVOLVER was my very first Beatles album. It was one of two CD’s my parents owned for many years which means this is The Beatles album I am most familiar with. Because it was the first time my son Warren had heard an entire Beatles album, I decided to try my best to listen with new ears, not an easy task for an old Beatle-fan like myself.

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For starters, I was surprised at how clean and modern REVOLVER sounds. Sure, this type of rock music isn’t what’s in vogue today, the album could still have easily been released today. I know that this isn’t a new revelation, and is, in fact, the chief aspect that makes The Beatles and their work still so relevant. But I was still nonetheless impressed with how well REVOLVER holds up. I also noted, maybe for the first time, what a fantastic bridge album REVOLVER is between the early “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” Beatles and the drugged out later period. The band is still trading on their moptop image/sound but there is a clear effort to craft songs that are both sonically diverse and that cover meaningful topics outside of merely wanting to hold a girl’s hand and/or being in love. There are, history tells us, several factors that contributed heavily to this evolution in the band’s sound. The first is, of course, the band’s exposure to Bob Dylan, which began a sea change in the band’s writing on RUBBER SOUL released the year before. Lennon, in particular, was increasingly trying to say more with his music thanks to Dylan’s influence. Drugs, specifically LSD, and the psychedelic counter-culture movement also played a tremendous influence on the band and REVOLVER. Lastly, I’d also say that George Harrison meeting Ravi Shankar, how expanded upon and improved Harrison’s sitar playing during the summer of 1966 also heavily influenced REVOLVER.

REVOLVER might also best be described as Harrison’s coming out party. Though his best Beatles-era songs are arguably on ABBEY ROAD, I would argue that it is REVOLVER where it becomes apparent that Harrison is just as good a songwriter as Lennon-McCartney. It’s worth noting that this is the first (and only) time that a Harrison-penned song opens a Beatles album. And what an interesting choice “Taxman” is when you consider the song’s subject matter. This is the first time The Beatles get political and it’s not about war but rather their pocketbooks! I’m not sure I would be aware of the tax situation in the UK during this period of history were in not for this song and The Rolling Stones eventual decision to be tax exiles during the recording of EXILE ON MAIN ST. Interestingly enough, unlike many protest/political songs of the era, “Taxman” is probably the closest song to remain topical even to listeners today.

Though largely considered to be the pop Beatle, the one with the keenest commercial sensibilities, even Paul McCartney gets serious on REVOLVER. True, McCartney (like Lennon) had been maturing in his songwriting with each successive album, REVOLVER features one of his darkest songs ever, “Eleanor Rigby.” Though the song was written in conjunction with Lennon, who often gets credit for being the more artistically-serious Beatle, McCartney came up with the impetus for the song. Listening to “Eleanor Rigby” with fresh ears, I was struck at how hopeless the song’s characters are. That McCartney, a wealthy young rock star, would write such a sensitive song about ordinary, lonely people is still surprising to me. Though the similarly melancholy ballad “Yesterday” gets the lion’s share of accolades, I think “Eleanor Rigby” is the better song. The arrangement is more complicated and the lyrics are more evocative. Without devolving into a simplistic story-song, “Eleanor Rigby” manages to paint the listener a few sad vignettes that cut to the very heart of loneliness and the plight of people society at large has forgotten about. Sure, the song is a bit dramatic, perhaps even a bit melodramatic, but I still get chills listening to the track’s mournful strings.

The Beatles dipped their toes into psychedelic music with “I’m Only Sleeping.” A John Lennon song about the joys of staying in bed, the song features reversed or “backward” guitar tracks, a touchstone of psychedelic music, and has an overall druggy feel to it. The song is one of the few Beatles songs that feature an explicit outsider perspective (“I’m a Loser” might be considered a proto-outsider song, “The Fool on the Hill” is a notable example, as is “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”). Was the world judging Lennon because all he wanted to do was sleep or is the song really about drugs (like most things)? It’s difficult to say. During this period Lennon did reportedly enjoy getting high and staying in bed, but I’ve also read that McCartney had to frequently rouse his writing partner from bed before working on their songs. Also worth noting, the interview Lennon gave around this time in which he famously declared The Beatles “bigger than Jesus” was part of an article that contains a quote from a friend of Lennon’s who declared him the “laziest man in England.” So perhaps “I’m Only Sleeping” really is just about napping in bed. Either way, the song’s inventive use of studio trickery was foreshadowing to surreal sounds the band would capture later on REVOLVER (and in their subsequent albums).

“Love You To” is Harrison’s best song on REVOLVER and one of the most daring songs the band ever produced. Though he’d used the sitar on RUBBER SOUL, to great effect on “Norwegian Wood,” it was this track where Harrison truly brought Indian music to the band’s sound. Using a sitar, a tabla (hand drum), tanpura (a special rhythm instrument), and Harrison created a sound that no doubt sounded otherworldly to the majority of Western listeners of the time. Besides launching a whole new phase of the band’s creative life, “Love You To” single-handedly popularized the genre of World Music. A mix of philosophical noodling and romantic love, the track was the undoubtedly the most sexual song the band had recorded up to that point. Harrison repeatedly states “I’ll make love to you/if you want me to” in the chorus of the song.

Another key influence on The Beatles was Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who’s ghost is all over McCartney’s “Here, There and Everywhere.” The most obvious Wilson-trademark found in the song are the ethereal backing vocals. But the core of the song, being in love and having that love make you a better person is almost a reflection of the themes found in Wilson’s own “God Only Knows.” Though the songs were written and recorded around the same time, this can’t be accidental, can it? A more nuanced and mature love song, “Here, There and Everywhere” takes a larger view of the impact of romantic love beyond the early pleasures of love’s first blush (like most early Beatles love songs). The track is less about how love makes one feel and more about the impact love has on one’s outlook. I think that this song is probably a better example of The Beatles doing a Beach Boys-esque song than “Back in the USSR,” which is just straight parody. The song is nothing but further proof that the band didn’t exist in a vacuum and took cues from the work their peers (besides Dylan).

I can’t tell you how crushed I was when I first learned that “Yellow Submarine” wasn’t actually written by Ringo. The rule for 99.999% of Beatles songs is that whoever is singing lead wrote the track. Sadly, Ringo only wrote two songs during his time with The Beatles, “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Octopus’s Garden.” The song is a fanciful kiddie track that began life as McCartney trying to write both a song for Ringo to sing and a Donovan-esque number. To McCartney’s credit, even though the song is pretty much nonsense, it works wonderfully with Ringo at the helm (pun intended). That this song would later go on to inspire a super-trippy animated film is just icing on the cake. I’d like to hear McCartney sing this one, though I have a hard time imagining what that would be like. It’s odd that two of Ringo’s best known Beatles songs involve the ocean, but then again England is an island and Liverpool is a port city so I suppose it’s not so odd that the boys would have a healthy interest in the sea. I love the song’s goofy little extras, like the crashing wave sound and the ringing bell. Ringo play-acting as a sailor in between verses is also a really nice touch that adds to the song’s theatrical, almost pop-up book-like quality. The Beatles dabbled in so many genres that I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that they ventured into kids music.

“She Said She Said” and “And Your Bird Can Sing” are both ostensibly a dialogue taking place between a man (Lennon) and a woman. “She Said She Said” has a real druggy (acid?) feel to it in which neither party can properly connect or articulate a feeling that they are having. Though the “I know what it’s like to be dead” is definitely the proclamation of chemically altered mind, “I know what it is to be sad” is very real thought/feeling. The juxtaposition between the two has always fascinated me. Is the communication breakdown between the two parties the result of drugs or gender? Who can say? Further complicating matters are the fact that the song was inspired by Henry Fonda, who famously told Lennon at a party “I know what it’s like to be dead.” The song pairs nicely with “And Your Bird Can Sing” which is an indictment against materialism over a personal connection. Both songs share an awesome, iconic opening guitar riff (though “And Your Bird Can Sing” edges out “She Said She Said” in this department). In his book All We Are Saying, author David Sheff quotes Lennon as being dismissive of the song, essentially calling it all style and no substance. I disagree and think Lennon was doing what Lennon often did and disparaged his older work in favor of whatever thing he was doing at the time. The I’ve always really enjoyed the line “You say you’ve seen Seven Wonders/and your bird is green.” That image always stuck with me and I picked up on that line again when I re-listened to the record.

Similarly, “Good Day Sunshine” and “Got to Get You Into My Life” are very similar McCartney tracks that feel almost like throwbacks to a quainter, simpler time. “Good Day Sunshine” has a very old-timey feel to it, both in its simplicity and with it’s twinkling piano and optimism. In fact, the track wouldn’t be entirely out of place on The Kinks magnum opus VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY. The shining horns on “Got to Get You Into My Life” has a similar effect, though “Got to Get You Into My Life” features a much rougher-sounding vocal performance from McCartney. It’s almost an R&B song and was famously covered by Earth, Wind, & Fire in 1978, so apparently I’m not the only one to pick up on this fact. Paul McCartney has gone on the record to state that “Got to Get You Into My Life” is about marijuana, which I find both perplexing and oddly satisfying. Both tracks share a youthful optimism and exuberance that an older version of the band probably couldn’t pull off. McCartney would later revisit this type of old-fashioned/throwback on The White Album (“Martha My Dear” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”) with diminished results.

“For No One” is one of the band’s most poignant and bare-bones songs. Detailing the end of a relationship, Paul McCartney’s song perfectly captures the sadness one feels when you realize the love is gone. Tastefully understated, the song is memorable for its achingly sad french horn solo near the end. The line “a love that should have lasted years” sounds less accusatory the older I get, which I get is an outside quality that I am bringing to the song. And yet, part of me can’t help but think that McCartney’s choice of words aid this phenomenon by being just a touch vague enough to avoid implying fault on either party. Even Lennon, who could be McCartney’s toughest critic, was a fan of “For No One.” Again, this is another track that lives in the shadow of “Yesterday,” even though I think it does essentially the same thing but better.

Much like “Got to Get You Into My Life,” the song “Dr. Robert” was about drugs. Though the latter was more obviously about drugs than the former, it’s still a bit of a secret drug song. A bit cornball in comparison to many of the band’s other drug songs, “Dr. Robert” is important because it’s ostensibly about the doctor that supplied the band with their first acid trip (a dentist who laced the band’s coffee with the drug after dinner one evening). This track is most notable (in my opinion) for the almost hypnotic quality applied to the lyrics”well, well well you’re feeling fine.” Despite not being as colorful as the band’s later substance songs, this one key feature of the song puts above most other songs of a similar theme recorded by other artists at the time.

The last Harrison-penned song on REVOLVER, “I Want To Tell You” is almost a rallying cry for his creativity. While not exactly stifled, Harrison also didn’t receive the full support of McCartney and Lennon when it came to his songs. “I Want To Tell You” is all about having a tremendous torrent of things to say and the struggle with which Harrison (and really all of us) have trying to express ourselves. There’s a dash of mysticism running through the song, no doubt an influence from his intense studying of all things Eastern. “I Want To Tell You” is a great song because even though it covers a very heady, intellectual topic, the song is still very humble in its presentation (almost low-key in many respects). While not Harrison’s best song, I’d say it was the most emblematic of who he was as an artist and as an individual: highly intellectual with a down-to-earth quality, mystical with an aura of practicality.

The final track on the album is also the best. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a tour de force and easily in my top 5 of all-time Beatles songs. Everything about this song is crafted perfectly, from the odd effect place on Lennon’s vocals to the Indian-influenced drum pattern that Ringo uses. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is probably the first truly great studio track from a band that would soon go on to do nothing but fantastic studio-driven tracks. Using looping tape, The Beatles create an otherworldly soundscape that must have scared the crap out of all the kids tripping on acid the first time they put REVOLVER on. That this is the track to close the album makes the songs feel like an odd, beautiful sunset. The strange, mystical poetry of Lennon’s lyrics are as just a good as anything the man ever wrote. I’m sure this song is highly regarded, but I feel like his later works like “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” are more lauded. And I find that sad in a way, because “Tomorrow Never Knows” is easily the equal of both of those tracks.

Perhaps I don’t run in the right crowds, but I feel like REVOLVER is almost a forgotten masterpiece by The Beatles. RUBBER SOUL is usually the transitional Beatles record that gets the most attention, which is a shame because I think REVOLVER is the superior album. Straddling the line perfectly between both periods of the band’s creative life, REVOLVER has everything one thinks of when they think of The Beatles.

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