Monthly Archives: January 2012

Guilty Pleasures: 5 Artists I Reluctantly Admit to Liking

Look, I like what I like. I’ll be the first to admit that I have great taste…and I also love the worst shit.  One of the nice things about being a mature adult, as opposed to a scared little boy, is that I just don’t care what people think.  Which is why I’m able to speak openly about so-called “guilty pleasures.”  You know, those things we all like but wouldn’t necessarily admit.

Well, no one’s twisting my arm, here are 5 of mine:

1. ROBBIE WILLIAMS: Britain’s most popular entertainer is also one of my all-time favorites.  The bravado. The ego. The amazingly catchy (and increasingly kitchy) songs. The positives are also the negatives when it comes to Mr. Williams.  Though he started out in a dopey boy-band, Robbie’s been realeasing consistently great pop records since the late 1990’s.  Too bad his fey, anglo-saxon schtick didn’t catch on over here in America. Oh well, I guess it’s just another example of Europe’s superiority.

Robbie Williams, man-above-town

CHECK OUT:  2002’s ESCAPOLOGY is probably the best “mature” Robbie record to date.  You should also pick up THE EGO HAS LANDED which is an American-only compilation of hits from first few British releases.

AVOID: The over-the-top dance/techno record RUDEBOX is awesome, but will probably turn most people off.

2. GENESIS: Everybody agrees that after Peter Gabriel left Phil Collins ran Genesis into the ground.  Well guess what? I find myself listening to “I Can’t Dance” way more than “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.”  There’s a reason that Genesis went double-mega-ultra platinum after Collins took the helm: I only sometimes want to hear a 7+ minute prog-rock song…but I always want to hear a 3 minute pop song.

Gabriel took all the pink hearts and blue horseshoes.

CHECK OUT: INVISIBLE TOUCH and 1983’s GENESIS are pretty much the gold-standard when it comes to Genesis.  Sure, they’re mostly Phil Collins solo-records, but who cares?

AVOID: STATION TO STATION the record the band released after Phil Collins left in 1996. No Collins? No Gabriel? No dice.

3. LADY GAGA: This one surprise you? Well it shouldn’t.  Lady Gaga’s first two records are pretty damn good.  “Bad Romance” and “Paparazzi” are great, catchy songs. The production alone is fantastic, period. I’m seeing a pattern here with these guilty pleasures: they’re all “pop” music.  What is it about a good pop song that makes us love it despite ourselves?

This is the stupidest cover for this album I could find.

CHECK OUT: THE FAME and THE FAME MONSTER.

AVOID:  BORN THIS WAY. My how the mighty have fallen.

4. METALLICA: Alight, now we’re getting to embarrassing. I think I’d rather tell people I like Lady Gaga before I told them I liked Metallica.  Why? We’ll besides being pretty meat-headed, Metallica has cultivated a reputation over the years as pretty much hating their fans (see Metallica vs. the Internet and LULU).  That said, once upon a time Metallica WAS metal.  To this day I get goosebumps listening to “One” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”  Sure, “Enter Sandman” has been overplayed, but that’s because it’s an awesome song.  It sucks to admit it: but I like Metallica.

A graveyard. How prophetic for Metallica's future artistic endeavors with Lou Reed.

CHECK OUT: MASTER OF PUPPETS and RIDE THE LIGHTNING.

AVOID: For crying out loud stay FAR away from LULU. If you don’t know what that is, consider yourself a lucky (better) person.

5. BREE SHARP: This is totally random. I almost didn’t put her on the list because she’s pretty obscure.  I decided I liked Bree Sharp after hearing her do a cover of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” on an all-covers podcast a few years back.  I downloaded her album MORE B.S. and thought it was fantastic.  Songs like “Everything Feels Wrong” and “Morning in a Bar” are melancholy yet kinda dreamy at the same time.  I then proceeded to do a little research and found out that she’s mostly known for her semi-novelty song “David Duchovny” which is about her infatuation with the former X-Files star.  Yikes girl.

Look at that front-end! Oh, and there's a nice cab too.

CHECK OUT: MORE B.S. and her live album LIVE AT THE FEZ (if you can find it).

AVOID: Her 1999 debut record, A CHEAP AND EVIL GIRL, is pretty lame and dated.  A song about Agent Mulder, seriously?

(DIS)HONORABLE mentions must also go to: Van Hagar/Sammy Hagar, Jay-Z, Duncan Sheik, 14:59-era Sugar Ray, Lilly Allen, Sade, Mick Jagger (solo), and Ben Folds rapping.

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GBV on CBS tonight

Guided By Voices one of my all-time favorite bands has reunited and released a new album! In celebration of this momentous event, David Letterman has kindly invited the band to perform this evening. GBV is one helluva live act.  I can honestly say that the two times I saw them were the greatest night(s) of my life.  Lead singer Robert Pollard is white-headed now but I’m sure he can still swing a microphone with the best of ’em.

So if you’re suffering from insomnia tonight why not watch Letterman? You could seriously do worse…I’m looking at you Jay Leno.

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“Blodtorst” by Kvelertak

This song is awesome and the animated viking cartoon video is amazing.  You are all WELCOME:

 

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METAL MONDAY: Kvelertak, badass Viking music that’s good for punching stuff

Welcome to what I hope to be a (semi) recurring feature here at Defending Axl RoseMETAL MONDAY! I’m really excited to talk about Kvelertak, whose name is Norwegian for “Stranglehold.”  I gotta say, I love over-the-top metal.  In fact, I pretty much despise metal that takes itself too seriously.  Kvelertak is a six-piece Norwegian black metal band that are just the right amounts awesome and goofy as shit.  Their songs are all sung in Norwegian and from what I can decipher deal with Norse/Viking themes. I guess they could be saying anything and I wouldn’t know it, but honestly metal this powerful is pretty universal.

That owl is a pimp.

Kvelertak are most definitely a metal band but they have a lot of punk and hard rock sensibilities.  I really like their rich, diverse sound they have.  The band makes good use acoustic guitar and piano in some of their songs, without making them feel gimmicky or forced.  Aggressive (or high energy if you prefer) while at the same time very melodic, Kvelertak is great for working out or just punching stuff. These guys are damn fine musicians and their guitar riffs/hooks are pretty memorable.

My favorite tracks are  “Blodtorst,” “Mjod,”  “Liktorn,” and “Nekroskop.”  All of which are loud, complex, and in your face awesome.  All of the album tracks hit hard and fast and always leave you wanting more.  That last part is most important to me because unlike a lot of metal bands, Kvelertak tend to keep their songs right around the 3 1/2 to 4 minute mark. I find that by arranging their songs like more traditional rock/pop songs, Kvelertak keeps me from getting bored.  The usual metal tropes like stupidly long intros or overly lengthy solos pretty much absent from KVELERTAK.  Don’t get me wrong, I like a good solo but sometimes it’s best to be left wanting more. And Kvelertak definitely leave me wanting more.

Their first album, KVELERTAK came out this year in the US, but was originally released back in 2010.  I first heard about the band from Metalsucks (a pretty righteous metal website) who sang their praises.  After hearing a few of their songs I illegally downloaded the album and enjoyed it for an entire year. When they finally came to iTunes in America this year I instantly snapped it up (it came with 4 extra live tracks and 2 demos, but honestly it was so damn good I just wanted to give them my money).

And let me just say, I haven’t seen such an awesome album cover in quite a while, metal or otherwise.  It’s hypnotic and sexy.  I know it’s wrong to judge a book by it’s cover, but that cover art was one of the reasons I decided to give Kvelertak a listen in the first place.  Metal bands take note: sometimes a big bloody skull is not the best way to attract knew fans.

I was also impressed to see Kvelertak listed as “Breakthrough Artist of the Year” in the metal category on iTunes End-of-the-Year Rewind. Clearly they’ve made a big impact on the American metal scene, I hope they grow into a major metal act in the years to come.  If like me, you got some iTunes gift cards this holiday season you should pop over to iTunes and download KVELERTAK, if you like thundering Viking music you won’t be disappointed.

KVELERTAK gets an “A” for thundering through my brain for over a year and half. 

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2011: The Year of the Battling Gallagher Brothers

Sibling rivalry. 

 In my head, having a brother is like having a built-in best friend, though I know the reality is very different.  Everyone I know with a brother seems to have some sort of issue with him.  Noel and Liam Gallagher, the creative force behind the last great british rock band that mattered, have to my knowledge always been in a state of embattlement.  Locking horns over creative differences is one thing, giving each other brutal back-stage beat downs is something else entirely.

The Gallagher Brothers...in better days.

When the boys could work together, the music they produced was astounding. Oasis never was anything other than two British lads trying to out-Beatle The Beatles. In the 1990’s it worked and Oasis became a household name with hits like “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova.”  But then drugs and conflict pulled the band down a rabbit hole of mediocrity and diminishing album sales.  Initially I was not a fan of the brutish Brit-rockers.  I found Liam’s nasally, Lennon-obsessed vocals to be grating.  And I didn’t see much value in Noel’s rather by-the-numbers balladry.  I’d always been a huge Beatles fan growing up, and I found Oasis to be more  rip-off than torch-passing tribute.  I’ve softened on this position over the years and my appreciation of Oasis oddly grew as their general fame receded.

During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s Oasis put out a string of competent, though somewhat spotty albums that were both risky and highly indulgent.  Most people were turned off by albums like STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS and HEATHEN CHEMISTRY, but I found them to be much more interesting than their “safer” Beatle-esque material.  This period of the band’s life was marked by heavier (than usual) in-fighting and heavy cocaine abuse.  Then in 2005 the band released DON’T BELIEVE THE TRUTH and had a minor comeback.

In 2008 the band released DIG OUT YOUR SOUL and went on tour.  I was lucky enough to see Oasis perform in Chicago on what was to be their final tour.  The concert was great but the album they were supporting was lackluster.  When the band broke up in 2009 I was saddened but not surprised.   The boys had finally called it quits after some sort of altercation occurred back stage and Liam ended up breaking Noel’s guitar. These type of shenanigans, which seemed quaint back in the “Wonderwall” days seemed pathetic.  Especially when you consider that they’re both pretty damn old to still be getting in backstage fights.  If you can’t get along then move on.

Which is what both brothers said they were going to do.  I didn’t anticipate the both of them to release albums this year.  I figured, like I think most people did, that when Oasis broke up that would be the end of the brothers Gallagher.  I thought that perhaps they’d fight over the name Oasis, maybe even mount competing tours. I can close my eyes and almost see each of them proclaiming their version to be the “true” Oasis.

Liam, I was certain, was going to be fucked without Noel.  He was the principal singer but not the band’s main songwriter. All the big hits were Noel’s, who besides writing songs was also the lead guitarist.  In fact, when Oasis played live, Liam seemed very awkward just standing there, waiting to sing.  He’d often clutch a tambourine, to give himself something to hold, but for the most part he looked pretty lost.  When one of Noel’s songs came up (the ones he actually sang), Liam would leave the stage entirely.

So the brother who wrote less, played no instruments, and was generally regarded to be the chief fuck of the band was going to have a hard time as a solo act.  That much I was sure.  Noel, on the other hand, seemed more like George Harrison–a brilliant artist stifled by being in the world’s biggest band. Surely the break-up of Oasis would be a good thing for his career/music.  Without Liam constantly offering him roadblocks and hoging the limelight, he’d be free to become the star he always seemed to be.  That’s what I thought was going to happen.

But life is funny and people are always surprising.  Liam and the remaining members of Oasis formed the band Beady Eye and announced they were recording an album only months after the break-up.  Two years later DIFFERENT GEAR, STILL SPEEDING came out and was pretty damn good.  Not only did Liam beat Noel to the punch by having his album come out first, it wasn’t a complete distaster.  “Bring the Light” a rollicking piano number and “The Roller” were better than anything late-period Oasis were putting out, even on their “comeback” DON’T BELIEVE THE TRUTH.  Not every track was what I’d call classic, but the album didn’t disappoint. Liam hadn’t embarrassed himself.

Noel and Liam, wondering which them is inappropriately dressed.

So, if Liam’s album was great then Noel’s album was going to be FANTASTIC.  Right?  Well there was silence on the Noel Gallagher front for several months, then it was announced that his album and band was going to be called NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS.  When I finally got my hands on the album I recognized two of the songs.  Unlike Liam (who was not regarded as the writer) Noel had recycled two unreleased Oasis songs for his solo debut.  Those tracks, “(I Wanna Live In a Dream In My) Record Machine” and “Stop the Clocks.” These songs aren’t super-obscure either.  Hell, they played “Record Machine” when I saw them in Chicago and “Stop the Clocks” was the TITLE of their greatest hits compilation (though it was ultimately left off because Noel wasn’t done tinkering with it). Noel the master songwriter had taken longer to release an album of old songs?

Something didn’t feel right.  And while NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS is just as good as Beady Eye’s album, there’s still something very wrong with that.  I almost feel like Liam stepped his game up for the Beady Eye record and Noel slacked off and gave us something good but not his best work. The two Oasis-era songs were good and “If I Had A Gun…” and the single “The Death of You and Me” are very catchy…but ultimately I feel like by not completely screwing up his album, Liam stole some of Noel’s thunder.  Both Liam and Noel are busy touring and have announced new albums for next year.  Only time will tell if the Gallagher brothers will ever make amends and reform Oasis.  If they weren’t family, I’d say it was a remote possibility, but with blood you never can tell.

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