Monthly Archives: January 2012

METAL MONDAY: Spooky-ass Ghost

Sweden is the land of ROCK my friends.  All the best bands seem to be coming from Sweden these days, I guess there’s something in the water over there.  Anyway, I’d been hearing a LOT about Sweden’s Ghost for a while.  Usually these buzz-bands disappoint, but Ghost proved to be a rare exception.  What I’d heard was Ghost was a “classic” metal band, like Black Sabbath.  I’d heard they were “dark” and very theatrical and, unlike most metal bands today, they actually sang.  Intrigued, I put Ghost’s debut record OPUS EPONYMOUS on my to-do list.  Some time passed, and then on New Year’s Eve I noticed that the band was listed on iTunes 2011 End-of-Year Rewind as “Best Metal Album.”

So long story short I used an iTunes giftcard I’d received for X-mas to download the album.  Everything about this album kicks so much ass. First, let’s talk about the album cover:

Scooby Doo where are you?

My good friend, Dr. Michael Wense, has dubbed the spooky character on the album cover “Ghost Pope.”  On first glace what you see is something that’s supposed to be scary but clearly looks like Count Chocula. Well this cover is a pretty good representation for Ghost as a band.  There is NO WAY that this band is serious.  I’m sorry, I know there’s dudes out there on the message boards saying bullshit like “these guys really are Satanists” or “this band isn’t a joke” but let me tell you: this band is a hilarious joke.  In fact, I’d say this is the greatest non-cartoon, cartoon metal band of all time.  I should be repulsed by this band, after all the satanic/evil/devil bullshit is pretty fucking stupid and the epitome of everything I hate about a lot of metal….

And yet, Ghost as a whole seems to almost be a parody of (what I think is) the worst of metal.

Okay, so what about the music? Well that’s the weird thing, I heard all these Sabbath comparisons going-in to the record…but honestly this band does not sound like Black Sabbath.  This band is a basically an tongue-in-cheekier version of Blue Oyster Cult.   The vocals and guitars sound just like BOC.   The songs are ridiculously awesome.  There are so many melty-velveeta moments,it’s hard to just pick one.  How about on “Stand By Him” where they sing “A Temptress smitten by the Blackest Force/A Vicar Bitten Blind in intercourse.” Or the second track, “Con Clavi Con Dio” which opens with a chugging, menacing  riff that is broken by the lead singer shrilly summoning “Lucifer!”  like his balls are in a vice.  It’s anti-scary and cracks me up every time I hear it.

The chocolate-loving father of "Ghost Pope"?

Now that’s not to say that this isn’t a good band, or that the album is a pointless novelty, cos it’s not…not completely.  The song “Prime Mover,” for example is a ballsy, super-melodic rocker.  These guys have the chops and regardless what you think of their shtick, you can’t deny them that. The fact that they wear costumes (I saw the lead singer on YouTube playing a concert in full “Ghost Pope” regalia) leads me to believe that Ghost really is more joke than some of the numbskulls online would have you think.  I would say that if, like me, you’re a fan of classic hard rock and/or early metal you owe it to yourself to give OPUS EPONYMOUS a listen.

Take a listen:

And what the hell, how about a freaky-ass Beatles cover?

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Defending Axl Rose has a PODCAST

As of today, this blog has a podcast! I stayed up super-late recording a first episode which is all Replacements music.  I’m using an all-new podcasting setup, so it’s not as polished as I’d like, but the sound quality is better than what I’ve done in the past. Enjoy.

To subscribe, go to iTunes and search “Rock ‘n Roll Jolly Roger Podcast.” Huzzah.

Woah!

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Your Next Favorite Band: The Replacements

I don’t even know where to start with this one.  The Replacements are like an institution in the pop/punk world.  I want to say something stupid like “they’re as important as The Beatles” or “they’re a bit like Nirvana” but that doesn’t do them justice.  The Replacements started out as a shitty punk band in Minnesota  and became something much more, so much more.  Without The Replacements there would be no fucking Green Day, I’ll tell you that.

So much hair-product, so little time.

Lead singer/song-writer Paul Westerberg is a genius.  You want catchy as hell songs that are also ABOUT something? Then look no further.  His lyrics are literate and biting…and yet also sweet and almost naive at the same time.   They’re tough as hell and soft as a pillow. He’s that special kind of badass that can write about how sad and lonely he is without coming off like a sissy.  For me this is best encapsulated by their song “Unsatisfied.” It’s tough as hell and makes me want to cry it’s so heart-on-their-sleeve the lyrics should be written in blood.

The band evolved from spikey, angry-youngman punk (see the STINK Ep) to more refined power-pop  (PLEASED TO MEET ME).  Whenever a band changes so dramatically it usually means their is a real artist involved, because in my opinion, a true artist is never content to bang out the same crap year after year.  The songs were written 20+ years ago and yet they still seem fresh and relevant.  This is 80’s music that doesn’t seem to be 80’s music.

So if they’re so fucking great, why haven’t you heard of them? Well, they were so punk-rock they had this almost pathologically desire to ruin their careers.  I’ve seen old MTV footage of them cursing and carousing drunkenly on TV, just trying to piss people off.   They basically sabotaged their own careers at almost every turn.  They were young, dumb, addicted to drugs, and didn’t really fit any mold corporate America gave them.  If they’d come out just a few years later they would have been Nirvana, I’m convinced of that.  Really, The Replacements were an unsuccessful Nirvana–in that they refused to play the corporate-shrill game…but the zeitgeist wasn’t with The Replacements like it was with Kurt Cobain & Company.  But I don’t feel too bad for them, success would have just ruined the party.  It’s more fun to be the under-dog anyway, right?

Little did they realize they'd be naming their 1984 release LET IT BE. I'm sure if they knew they'd have dressed up...

There are so many good songs, so many 100% perfect albums from this band, I don’t even know what to recommend you check out.  I guess start with PLEASED TO MEET ME and LET IT BE. Oh yeah, The Replacements had THE TESTICULAR FORTITUDE to name their 1984 album the same as The Beatles final (chronologically released) album.  It would be like if Kanye’s next album was called SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND. Holy fuck, I’d like to have been there when the label found out.

There’s a Big Star connection in that, like most ’80s rockers, Paul Westerberg worshiped at the alter of Alex Chilton’s Band.  The Replacements kick so much ass, I haven’t done them any favors in any of this dribble: please just listen to a few songs and buy their albums.  They’re the real deal.

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New Van Halen Song SUX

Oh, boy. I don’t even know where to begin with this one…

A few years ago I found myself inexplicably drawn back into Van Halen.  Not the crappy “Van Hagar” albums, mind you, just the really awesome ones the original line-up did.  Then the much-ballyhooed “reunion” tour happened…yikes. The less said about that cluster-fuck/money grab the better.

That fat kid on the right is supposed to be the bassist...

Then things cooled on the Van Halen website and all was as it should be in the world. Then yesterday I was dicking around on iTunes and I saw that there was a “new” Van Halen song along with a new album available for pre-order.  Yes, that’s right kids…the tour has now spawned a new album, A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH which comes out February 7.  With great reluctance, I hit the “preview” button on the album’s lead single, “Tattoo.”  As I waited for the clip to load, I thought:  “This doesn’t have to be fantastic, just don’t be embarrassing…”

Well embarrassing would be a step-up from this piece of garbage. 

To say that this is a shitty song is an understatement.  It’s the worst fucking thing I’ve heard all year* and I feel both sad and angry at Van Halen.  I don’t understand why these Dinosaurs of Rock don’t just fade off into the sunset like they’re supposed to.  If, after 20+ years of silence you want to get together and make music that’s fine–but don’t hire your fat son to play bass AND DON’T CALL IT VAN HALEN!  Anyway, the song, “Tattoo” is basically just David Lee Roth singing “Tattoo, tattoo, tattoo…sexy dragon tattoo…I’m in love with you” over and over and over and over and over again.  There is  generic guitar and there are drums (hooray?).  It’s so generic and bland that it’s hard to even make fun of it (except for Lee Roth’s lame-ass vocals, which are pretty damn lame).

This track is really bumming me out.

What’s worse, according to Sammy Hagar (ha!) this “new” Van Halen album is just a bunch of old songs the band’s had for years.  Now I’m a Van Halen fan, but I don’t pretend to be a super-mega-hardcore fan that can tell that this new song “Tattoo” is just a reworking of a never-recorded, but often-played song from the 1970s called “Down In Flames.”  But apparently the Red Rocker’s claims that the rest of Van Halen are about to drop an album of Van Halen-leftovers appears to be true (you can read all about it over at MTV).  Why come out of record-making retirement just to release a bunch of warmed-over rejects? I mean, it’s not like they haven’t had enough TIME to write BRAND NEW music. The fact that this song has been around (in some form) for longer than I’ve been alive makes me even sadder. I mean, you can’t polish a turd…no matter how long and hard you try.  I think Van Halen knew this song sucked, which is why they’re releasing it in 2012 as opposed to 1984 when people still cared.

So to recap, “Tattoo” is just another nail in the Van Halen coffin as far as I’m concerned. Just when we all though nothing could be as bad as fucking Wolfgang…this had to happen.  The only silver-linning that I can see is that 99.999% of people will not actually hear about this. So there is that…I still love classic Van Halen, but this ain’t it.

I’m going to encourage you to NOT watch this video, as it is fucking terrible.

 
*To be fair, the year just started.

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Seu Jorge “Changes” [David Bowie Cover]

This is probably my favorite version of this song.  In my mind, it even trumps Bowie’s original version. Very cool.

 

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Tame Impala “It Is Not Meant To Be”

Fantastic Tame Impala song from INNERSPEAKER.  Stay mellow, kids.

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Sunday Morning Chill-Out

There’s nothing better than lazing around the house on Sunday morning.  I like to make a pot of coffee, stay in my PJ’s, and listen to some good music.  Not everything “chill” has to be “lame,”  there’s some really awesome mellow music out there.  But what does the super-hipster-rock dork listen to when he wants to both maintain credibility AND be mellow in the morning?

How about a little David Bowie…in Portuguese! Brazilian singer-songwriter Seu Jorge did a whole album of classic David Bowie covers for the 2004 Wes Anderson film THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU.  You want mellow? Wrap your ears about Jorge’s smooth vocals and crisp acoustic renderings of one of rock’s trippiest artists. All the classics are covered, from “Changes,” “Suffragette City,” and of course the epic “Space Oddity.”  This is probably the best covers album I’ve ever heard in that, the songs are truly interpreted rather than just covered.  I realize that the reason these Bowie songs sound so phenomenal is because they’ve been translated into Portugese (an achingly beautiful language) but I also think Jorge is a fantastic singer.  This way more than just an album of note-by-note covers.

Sue Jorge, prior to learning how to hold an acoustic guitar.

Those wishing for something trippy AND recorded in English  could groove to the cosmic-mellowness that is Tame Impala’s album INNERSPEAKER.  Tame Impala is a fantastic Australian band that makes a noise I would call “dream pop.”  There’s lots of 1967-type mysticism in their lyrics, which is always good for a Sunday morning hangover.  Turn it up a bit, and let the psychedelia wash away your weekend worries.  I really like the echo-y Lennon-esque vocals and the fantastic drums.  Seriously, this band manages to have great, boisterous drums while still maintaing a laid back sound. The songs are all around the five minute mark and manage to walk the fine line between “trance-like” and “coma inducing.”  Though it’s most definetly “rock”  the band’s arragements are very jazz-inspired.

Apparently this is what Australia looks like...if you're on drugs.

I find them hypnotic, my wife says they make her sleepy–drink plenty of coffee (preferably from Dr. Robert) and you’ll be fine.  What do you like to listen to on Sunday morning?  Sound off in the comments section below.  And remember, stay chill.

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“September Gurls” by Big Star

Awesome song by an awesome band.

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Your Next Favorite Band: BIG STAR

One of my favorite things to do is turn people onto the things that I love.  To that end, I’m going to use this blog to promote the stuff I like that’s  just as well known as it should be.  For my first installment let me introduce to you Big Star.

That is one big star.

I guarantee that you know at least one Big Star song, even if you’ve never heard of the band before.  Probably most famous for “In the Street,” which was covered by Cheap Trick and used as the theme song for THAT 70’s SHOW, Big Star continues to influence musicians today.  And while “In the Street” is a pretty bitchin’ song, it’s nothing compared to Big Star’s ballads.  Frontman Alex Chilton had this amazing, almost supernatural ability to write simple songs that were not only catchy as hell, but heartbreakingly honest.  I’m talking make-you-cry-it’s-that-beautiful.  The band only put out three albums #1 RECORD, RADIO CITY, and THIRD/SISTER LOVERS (the first two are sold almost exclusively together on one disc) but you know what they say about stars that burn twice as bright…

These men had the balls to call their first record "#1 Record".

As far as 1970’s rock goes, you can’t do much better than Big Star. The band’s production doesn’t sound particularly dated or cheesy, like a lot of 70’s music does (at least to these ears).  If you like The Kinks or REM you owe it to yourself to check out Big Star.

ESSENTIAL LISTENING:

1. “In the Street” off #1 RECORD

2. “The Ballad of El Goodo” off #1 RECORD

3.  “Thirteen” off #1 RECORD

4. “September Gurls” off RADIO CITY

5. “I’m in Love With a Girl” off RADIO CITY

6. “When My Baby’s Beside Me” off #1 RECORD

7. “The India Song” off #1 RECORD

I challenge you to all of those songs and not smile or tap your foot.  If you can do that then you are dead inside.

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Defending Axl Rose: PART #1 “Chinese Democracy”

Well it’s been a week, I guess it’s time I start defending Axl Rose.  Welcome to the first in a series of posts that will examine CHINESE DEMOCRACY, track-by-track.:

I’m not going to sit here and try to tell you that CHINESE DEMOCRACY is a perfect album or that it’s better than APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION.  It is my belief, however, that people dismissed CHINESE DEMOCRACY too quickly.  For one thing, the long delay in it’s release did nothing but raise expectations to a ridiculously high, completely unattainable level.  Time was also an enemy for the album in that 15 years passed between GNR albums. That’s a long time and in the music industry that’s practically a lifetime.  Styles change.  Trends come and go.  When Axl Rose released “THE SPAGETTI INCIDENT?” in 1993 people were still listening to music on the radio and watching music videos on MTV.  I guess what I’m saying is: the world moved on.

I feel like a lot of the negative reaction to the album had to do with people expecting Axl to pick up right where GNR left off all those years ago.  But why did fans expect or want Axl to stay locked in 1993?  Anyway, I can’t really explain why it took 15 years to make CHINESE DEMOCRACY, and I certainly don’t think it “sounds” like it took 15 years to make. What did does sound like is an older, more mature rockers attempt at a comeback album.  It incorporates what was great about his old work and adds to it some modern touches.  I think it was those modern touches that turned off most listeners, especially the old GNR fans. People who expected or wanted the record to sound like “Welcome to the Jungle” are missing the point of art and artists. Wanna hear “Welcome to the Jungle”? Go put on APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION.

The first track on CHINESE DEMOCRACY is, fittingly enough, “Chinese Democracy.”  Axl has stated publicly that the song is about the Chinese government and their poor treatment of the Dalai Lama.  It opens with a faint and ominous siren-like noise.  A chorus of quiet voices bleed over the sound of a guitar for a few seconds before we hear a louder, more highly processed guitar.  That was the first thing that suck out about both “Chinese Democracy” the song and the album-there are so many different guitar tones on this record it’s not even funny.  At first these crashing/clashing tones are pretty jaring. It sounds initially that these guitar sounds are just tossed around haphazardly, like Rose just threw the kitchen sink at CHINESE DEMOCRACY, but really what Axl does throughout the record is to create a lush, pulsing wall of sound.  It’s not out of control or random, the entire record is highly organized.  It reminds me of the symphonic work Brian Wilson did on PET SOUNDS.

I guess the Brian Wilson comparisons are easy, after all Wilson’s magnum opus SMILE (in it’s original form) was only just this past year  made available to the listening public. Both albums are the singular vision of musical geniuses, the only difference is that Rose seems to have lost the war with a lot of critics.  That said, I think that in 20 years it’ll be as highly regarded as SMILE.  Why do I think this? Well genius is very rarely recognized, at least initially.  And Axl doesn’t bend over backwards to make CHINESE DEMOCRACY likable or “easy.”

Axl lets us know right off the bat, ending his 15 year silence with this pronouncement:

“It don’t really matter/You’re gonna find out for yourself/No it don’t really matter/You’re gonna leave this thing somebody else.”

The song goes on to point a finger a China’s government and it’s use of an “iron fist” to subdue it’s people.  It’s accusatory and at the same time resigned in the fact that ultimately totalitarianism fails.  I find it ironic that Rose’s first album in 15 years is called CHINESE DEMOCRACY and seems to stab brutish dictators…the irony being that Rose is something of a brutish dictator himself.  A quick look at the personal of the album reads like a who’s-who of rock musicians (studio hands or otherwise).  So many people have credits on the damn thing it’s unreal.  And you know that for every person given proper credit there must be two people who aren’t.  Maybe I’m wrong about that, but it would seem that 15 years is an awful long time to remember whom to thank.  “Chinese Democracy” alone is credited as having five different guitarists (not counting two different bass players).   And then there are the people who started on the project and pissed Rose off and were booted off…

Regardless, “Chinese Democracy” is a fucking great rock song.  It’s rebellious, scary, and when you finish hearing it you are left with no doubts that Axl Rose has come screaming back like he’d never gone away.  Ignoring the fact that the song bookends a 15 year period of silence, I think “Chinese Democracy” is a great opener and a worthy addition to the GNR catalogue.

Next week I’ll continue my strange, track-by-track odyssee through CHINESE DEMOCRACY by looking at the second track “Shackler’s Revenge.” 

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