Tag Archives: David Bowie

My Top 10 Albums of 2016

Hard to believe that another year has come and gone. I won’t beat around the bush, 2016 was a hard year for me (and the world at large) and I’m not sad to see it go. That said, there was some fantastic music released this year. I haven’t done a Top 10 Albums list since 2012, the biggest reason for that being I am super-lazy and didn’t make much of an effort to listen to stuff as it came out. But this year I made a real effort to listen to as many new releases as I possibly could and I also kept a running list of what I heard and what tickled my fancy.

Please keep in my that this is a music blog, first and foremost, so even though it’s called Defending Axl Rose I listen to many genres of music. Meaning: all you racists fucks that want to complain that I have rap albums on this list can just stop reading now. I can (and do) approve pretty much every non-spam comment I receive on this website, including all sorts of hateful comments attacking myself (or my shitty writing) but if you leave a comment bashing me for including non-rock artists on this list I’m going to delete it.

Lastly, I feel the need to address what’s not on this list. Specifically, the album everyone seems to think was “the best” album of 2016: David Bowie’s final album BLACKSTAR. Just before he died, I remember a creepy music video was released to promote the album. I recall vividly pushing play with eager anticipation. I silently prayed that the Thin White Duke still had it. Then the video started and…I wasn’t impressed. It’s just not my cup of tea if I’m being honest.  BLACKSTAR, which is described by many as “jazzy” is just too avant-garde to me. I tried as recently as last month to make it all the way through the album in order to “get it” and include it on this list…but I just couldn’t. Sorry, Bowie. I love the glam-rock era stuff, but I just couldn’t connect with this final effort. I will say that the album now sounds terribly sad now that he’s dead. The album is riddled with allusions to death and passing which does change the way BLACKSTAR plays.  He truly was writing about the end of his life on that record. Anyway, I know some of my music loving firends are going to comment “Where is BLACKSTAR?” and I just wanted to address that now rather than later.

So without further ado…

 

 

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10. TEENS OF DENIAL by Car Seat Headrest. I kept hearing good things about a band called Car Seat Headrest, so I checked out TEENS OF DENIAL and was surprised the album lived up to the hype. What really piqued my curiosity was the band’s use of The Cars track “Just What I Needed,” however by the time I got around to listening to the album the song “Not What I Needed” had been gutted of The Cars lyrics following a massive recall on the album. Turns out The Cars (or whoever owns the rights to their music) hadn’t approved the use of their music. Bummer. Anyway, this band has been around for a while (Wikipedia states this is the 13th album!?) but these guys sound young. TEENS OF DENIAL reminded me of the early 2000’s garage rock revival with a dash of Moldy Peaches Adam Green thrown in for good measure. These songs tell little stories and are kinda funny/strange at times. “Destroyed By Hippie Powers” has a great riff and the lyrical hook to the semi-epic “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” reminds me of all the great indie music I was listening to in my early 20’s. A throwback album for sure, TEENS OF DENIAL is a fun one that gets better with each listen. Definetly check this one out if you’re still listening to the Juno soundtrack.

 

 

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9. SHAPE SHIFT WITH ME by Against Me! Though I don’t typically go for aging punks there’s something very charming about Against Me!’s latest record SHAPE SHIFT WITH ME. Part of what I find so appealing about this record is its unrepentant pop leanings. (Because aging popstars are fun, aging punks are sad, get it?) Songs like “Boyfriend” and “Crash” are damn good fine pop songs, the kind that stick in your head for days and make you wonder what the hell is wrong with pop culture that these things didn’t break through. Though many of the songs deal with the lead singer’s transition from male to female (which, what could be more punk than being true to yourself?) there’s something universal in the album’s awkward and angry-ish songs. So while SHAPE SHIFT WITH ME does have flourishes of aging-punkism, there’s a lot more going on throughout the album. The spooky “Dead Rats” is also a bitchin’ tune that, in addition to “Crash,” is what convinced me that I liked this band and loved this album.

 

 

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8. GOOD TIMES! by The Monkees. What a delightful surprise that a 2016 Monkees album is actually really, really good! Growing up, I was a Beatles-fan and always considered The Monkees to be lame imitations. But the concept behind this record was too intriguing for me to pass up: the reunited band (minus the deceased Davy Jones) would record songs written by their famous admirers. Admirers like Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), Andy Partridge (XTC), Paul Weller (The Jam), and Noel Gallagher (Oasis). The album works both as a modern album and as an artifact of classic 60’s pop. What’s more, there are even moments of real honest-to-god greatness on this record, such as the tearjerker “Me & Magdalena.” I think of all the albums on this list, GOOD TIMES! is the one that many people will be the most skeptical of, but give it a fair shake. Believe me, this lifelong Beatles fan wouldn’t have this album on his Best of 2016 list unless this was a legit, great record.  Read my original review here.

 

 

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7. WILD STAB by The I Don’t Cares. A fun, playful meeting of minds between singer-songwriters Juliana Hatfield (The Lemonheads) and Paul Westerberg (The Replacements) WILD STAB is great. I’m a big fan of Westerberg’s wryly earnest lyrics and WILD STAB has Westerberg playing off of the charming Hatfield quite nicely. In fact, the two go together so well one can’t help but wonder if songs like “Kissing Break” are even more intimate that they appear on the surface. Regardless of whether or not our two leads are an item, as The I Don’t Cares they make a great team. After Westerberg disbanded The Replacements (again) I didn’t expect to hear from him so soon. Thankfully, this stripped-down/laid-back album is the perfect capper to the ‘Mats reunion tour. The playful lyrics of songs like “Wear Me Out Loud” and “Sorry For Tomorrow Night” reminded me of how great a songwriter Westerberg can be. The single “King of America” is a fantastic example of classic-Westerbergian writing. The shimmering lyrical hook blended with the sneering, almost dashed-off disdain in the vocal delivery is everything I love about Paul Westerberg. I was so happy that this album came out, though it doesn’t appear to have made much of an impact, I could only find a few reviews of it online when researching WILD STAB in order to confirm it’s 2016 release date. Don’t sleep on this one, especially if you like The Replacements.

 

 

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6. COLORING BOOK by Chance The Rapper. A fusion of rap, pop, and gospel music, Chance The Rapper’s COLORING BOOK shares many similarities with another high-profile rap album released in 2016, Kanye West’s THE LIFE OF PABLO. But whereas Mr. West’s album is littered with the debris of hubris and unchecked ego, Chance’s album is more playful and has 99% less cringe-inducing moments. There are many parallels between the two albums, the opening “All We Got” (which features Kanye) is reminiscent of “Ultralight Beam” off LIFE OF PABLO. Both albums have a song about the transient nature of friendship (“Real Friends” vs. “Summer Friends”). But Chance’s song “No Problem” is the fun summer-jam  2005 Kanye used to make. In fact, despite tackling some heavy subjects (“Same Drugs”), COLORING BOOK is vibrant and makes you feel good as you listen. Had COLORING BOOK not been released the same year as Kanye’s latest opus, I can safely say it would have been my favorite rap album of the year. Hopefully, he’ll get that Grammy.

 

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5. iii by Middle Class Fashion. While not yet household names, Middle Class Fashion earned a spot on my Best Albums of 2016 by crafting clever, catchy songs. The band’s third album is a little darker than their previous effort, 2013’s JUNGLE (which is also fantastic), but still just as engaging and fun. These are songs that you’re almost instantly able to sing along with, this is most exemplified by the track “86.” It’s one of those songs you swear you’ve heard somewhere before because it’s immediately accessible/familiar. To me, that’s the hallmark of truly great songwriting. Middle Class Fashion sorta defy easy/neat categorization, but if I had to describe them I’d say they’re a piano-centric indie rock band that flirts with dance/electronic music. Some of the tracks on this album have a retro 80’s synth quality about them, but not in an annoying way (if that makes sense). Stand out tracks like “Runaway” and the aforementioned “86” were definitely in heavy rotation in my playlists this year. Even as I write this I keep thinking about how great the melancholic “Outer Space” is or how fun “Schoolboy” is…and how great is it that they appear back-to-back! I can’t recommend this album enough.

 

 

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4. HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT by Metallica.  It took me a long time to decide if Metallica’s latest album was worthy of this list. After issuing my final verdict on the album earlier this month, I went back and re-listened to HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT. Having removed myself from the sky-high expectations that haunted my first few listenings of the album, I can safely say that this is the best modern Metallica record. Overblown and overlong, but nonetheless a thrilling ride. There are very few massive album releases that impress me anymore, but Metallica has successfully pulled off a AAA-release in 2016 that’s actually worthy of all the attention. I recently learned that “Moth Into Flame” was written about the late singer Amy Winehouse, which adds a tragic dimension to the song. I’m not surprised that this album didn’t land on the Best of 2016 list for Heavy Metal Overload, this isn’t an album for hardcore metalheads but is instead for all of us filthy casuals. But at the end of the day, Metallica is keeping the torch of metal lit and that needs to be respected. The fact that they were able to put together such a solid album needs to be celebrated. I also still can’t get “Now That We’re Dead” out of my head. Read my original review here.

 

 

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3. BOY KING by Wild Beasts.  Though I didn’t cite them in my initial review, I think the specter of Queen haunts BOY KING. Sure, Wild Beasts’ latest album may sound more like Trent Reznor-meets-Stereophonics at first brush, but the confident strut and purring sexuality are 100% Queen. There’s a theatricality radiating throughout BOY KING that recalls A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. I went from having never heard of Wild Beasts to falling head over heels for them in 2016. This is a great record to run (or do other things) to and was my #2 most-listened to album top to bottom (see #1 for my most listened-to album). “Big Cat” and “Get My Bang” are essential tracks, but there’s something fantastic about “Eat Your Heart Out Adonis” and “Alpha Female.” If you like (dark) Brit-pop or just pop with flair, give BOY KING a listen. Read my original review here.

 

 

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2. WEEZER (The White Album) by Weezer. The first time I heard the latest Weezer album I had it on softly while I did other things. I only really gave it a shot out of habit. “Oh, the new Weezer album? Yeah, I heard it…” I remember being pretty unimpressed and wrote the band off as finally no longer worth the effort and moved on. Then something strange happened, I started seeing it pop up online and on a podcast or two that I listen to. Word on the street was that this new Weezer album was the real deal. So I sat down and gave WEEZER (The White Album) another shot. Boy, am I glad I did because this was one of the best albums I heard all year. As is the case with most modern Weezer albums, the singles are the worst songs on the record. “Thank God For Girls” is pretty cringe-worthy, no matter how big a fan you are. But 90% of this album is a pleasant return to form for the band. “Endless Bummer” the album’s final track, is a spooky campfire song that builds into a crescendo of awesomeness. I also really enjoyed the 60’s throwback “(Girl We Got A) Good Thing” which could have been a cut on the #8 album on this list. This is the sort of album that reinforces my belief that it’s never okay to write a band off.   Read my original review here.

 

And finally…

 

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1. THE LIFE OF PABLO by Kanye West.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s never been harder to be a Kanye West fan than it’s been in 2016. I was introduced to Kanye in the fall of 2005, and since that time he’s been the most consistently great artist of the past decade. Every new Kanye West album pushes forward–Kanye never back-peddles or plays it safe even when many in the record buying public would prefer if he stopped experimenting and just got back to writing summer jams like “The Good Life.” I take the good with the bad and largely ignore everything not music related when it comes to Mr. West. So no, I don’t want Keeping Up With The Kardashians and I don’t follow him on Twitter. Critics of Kanye West focus on the over-sized ego, but listening to his songs provides a clearer picture of just how fragile and insecure Kanye can be. Like many great artists, Kanye no doubt suffers from some form of mental illness and should be forgiven for some (but not all) of his transgressions. And as far as the out of control ego goes, if you take the time to study his catalog you’ll notice that the best parts of all his albums always go to his guest stars. Usually, these are up-and-coming rappers whose careers get a much-needed shot in the arm by appearing on a Kanye track. Chance the Rapper first appeared on my radar this year after his amazing turn on “Ultralight Beam,” the opening track of THE LIFE OF PABLO.

THE LIFE OF PABLO is tour de force, one that perfectly showcases the fragility and the bravado raging inside Kanye West. The album paints the picture of a man who is at war with himself and his shortcomings. Yes, there are some truly awful, cringe-worthy moments on this album, but there are also wonderfully sublime, beautiful moments, too. I won’t defend “Famous,” where Kanye continues to publicly harass Taylor Swift. I can’t claim that “Father Stretch My Hands” isn’t creepy as shit (a gospel song about fucking models? Okay, Yeezus). But these unflattering moments sit along tracks like “Ultralight Beam” which is about as divine as music can get. The brilliant “Highlights” feels like the old Kanye everyone’s also saying they miss, its celebratory message wouldn’t be out of place on any of the early, so-called classic Kanye albums. “Real Friends” and “Wolves” offer a glimpse beneath the bravado, showing us a lonely, isolated individual. One who can’t even rely on family. The capper, of course, is the now famous (infamous?) “I Love Kanye.” An a capella track, “I Love Kanye” is West at his most painfully self-aware. The first time one listens to the track it feels like a joke. A playful jab at his own public image. But upon repeat listens the song turns tragic, “I Love Kanye” is the work a man who knows he’s damaged but feels powerless to change.

This is the only album on this list I both bootlegged and purchased legally. LIFE OF PABLO is a strange and hyper-modern album, both finished and incomplete, with West becoming the rap equivalent of George Lucas. The album is full of interesting samples and arrangements and sounds completely alien from the majority of modern rap albums. THE LIFE OF PABLO feels as though it could be the beginning or end of Kanye West’s career. On one hand, the album’s undeniable brilliance and fluidity could be the first salvo in a series of released and then post-released altered albums. The next few albums from Kanye could be less finished product and more like evolving conversations with the listening public. But the recent spate of bizarre news items relating to Kanye West the man (not the artist) could also mean THE LIFE OF PABLO might be the last album we get from him. I don’t blindly put faith in Kanye West’s music, I’m sure he’s more than capable of crafting a shitty album. But I do have faith that Kanye won’t release anything less than his pure, unadulterated artistic vision, which is exactly what THE LIFE OF PABLO is. So in that sense, he’s the last true artist working in mainstream music. And we’re lucky to have him while we do. Read my original review here.

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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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Can We Talk About Michael Stipe’s Beard?

Recently I was listening to a podcast and someone was talking about a benefit concert held on March 31st for the late (great) David Bowie at Carnegie Hall in New York. Among the many stars who came out to pay tribute to the Thin White Duke, was former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe. Stipe pretty much fell off my radar in 2011 when R.E.M. called it a day and ended their storied career. Growing up, my parents were really into mid-period R.E.M. going so far as to take me to see them play live in 1995 when the band was touring in support of their album MONSTER. Some of the later albums like UP and ACCELERATE were actually pretty good, even though most people probably didn’t take the time to listen to them.

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Winter is coming! Stipe is totes ready for Movember.

Anyway, Stipe’s bizarre rendition of Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” was a hot topic on this podcast, so I decided to pull up a video of it online. I found a clip very easily, and while the sound isn’t great, everyone who wasn’t there needs to watch it. Is the cover that great? It’s okay, I suppose (it’s a bit talky for my taste). But that’s not what I’m here to discuss today…no, I’m more interested in that beard Stipe is rocking.

When and where did he get that thing? My wife saw him and said he looks like fantasy writer/procrastinator George R.R. Martin (though not fat). Me? I think Stipe is slowly turning into a Jack Skellington version of Santa Claus. The beard/facial hair is all the rage these days, so I get why Stipe would sport a little growth now that he’s out of the spotlight…but the beard he’s rocking these days is epic. Believe me, as a guy who sometimes has a beard, it takes serious commitment to have a beard that full and bushy. Known for his shiny-happy-chromedome, hair is not the first thing one thinks of when thinking about Michael Stipe. This beard changes everything though. From now on, when I hear FABLES OF THE RECONSTRUCTION I’m going to think about Stipe’s bouffant, salt-and-pepper beard swaying back and forth to the rhythm.

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RIP David Bowie

I’m sitting at my dining room table on the Monday after the David Bowie has died and I’m trying to figure out what to write. “Heroes” is quietly seeping out of the wireless hi-fi I use to fill my house with music, and it feels both absolutely perfect and totally wrong. I think the problem is, like many people (I think), it wasn’t until he died that I gave David Bowie his proper due.

David Bowie was a rock star. David Bowie was a poet. David Bowie was an artist. David Bowie was an actor. David Bowie was a style icon. David Bowie was weird in a way that wasn’t always cool or accepted (at least initially) but he was always true to himself. When I think about all the ways he impacted me both as a rock fan and as a human being I find myself really amazed.

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1976: David Bowie poses for an RCA publicity shot in 1976. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

I laugh whenever someone says “that’s freaky” because I think about the Flight of the Conchords bit where “Bowie’s in Space.” My wife and I have a private joke about her driving related to the song “Moonage Daydream.” He played Tesla in my favorite Christopher Nolan movie. How can David Bowie be so many things? Because above all else, David Bowie was a true artist who managed to find a way to stay in the mainstream and on the outer edges of culture.

The first time I heard David Bowie and knew that it was David Bowie was when I got into Queen and heard his (amazing) duet with Freddie Mercury “Under Pressure.” That he steals the show out from under one of rock’s most charismatic frontmen should be all anyone should ever need when it comes to Bowie’s rock credibility. But then there were the albums, the width and breadth of which I have only just begun to fully examine. Would you believe that I only last month sat down and listened to DIAMOND DOGS? That’s a fucking brilliant album. David Bowie has at minimum six records most rock fans consider essential.

I wrote a review of ALADDIN SANE a few years ago and to this day it’s probably my favorite Bowie album…however in recent years I’ve started to reconsider HUNKY DORY. And then there’s ZIGGY STARDUST to re-evaluate and reconsider. The man’s catalogue is so expansive, I could spend the next few years just exploring his music. And I probably will. Last week, on his 69th birthday, David Bowie released his final album BLACKSTAR. I’ve only heard the title track, and even though it’s really freaky-man (ha!) I feel like I owe it to Bowie now that he’s gone to dive fully into his last album. Weird space jazz? Just another page in the book of Bowie.

Goodbye, David Bowie.

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Rock ‘N Mailbag! #1: PRIMAL RUMBLE by Gretchen Lohse

Welcome to the first installment of a new series titled 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.

This first installment of the Rock ‘N Mailbag! will be devoted to Philadelphia singer-songstress Gretchen Lohse’s latest album PRIMAL RUMBLE.  A little research shows that Gretchen was in a band called Yellow Humphrey prior to striking out as a solo artist.  Right away I was determined to review this album based solely on the David Bowie-ish album artwork.  Depicting Lohse as a medicine cabinet/astronaut, I was prepared for freaky stuff.  To my surprise, PRIMAL RUMBLE is a gentle folk and jazz tinged album full of quiet reflection.  The album is understated and tastefully produced with interesting, but not overbearing keyboards and a glockenspiel.  

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Gretchen’s voice is soft, but strong throughout PRIMAL RUMBLE and reminds me a bit of She & Him’s Zooey Deschanel.  But whereas Deschanel is at times annoyingly twee and indie, Lohse retains artistic credibility by avoiding clichés and staying interesting (read: slightly strange). Stand out tracks for me were the lopping, gentle ballad “Rings” and the flute-filled “The Cuckoo.” Both of these songs, like the rest of the album, seem both really sad while at the same time being upbeat.  The whole album feels this way, confusing but in a pleasant ethereal sort of way.

Really I only have one quibble with PRIMAL RUMBLE: for album with such a strong title, this album is way too low-key.  All the songs seem to float along at the same temp: slow.  I’m okay with albums having consistent moods, but I would have liked for a little bit more pep.  Just one or two perkier songs would have livened things up.   “The Cuckoo” and “Spider At The Gate” feature unique and interesting musical flourishes, but even these make it difficult to set these tracks apart from one another.  Remember, I’m a guy who has a Guns N’ Roses-themed blog, so take this complaint with a grain of (rock) salt.  I am interested in what Yellow Humphrey sounds like, only to see how Gretchen’s voice works in a larger band setting.

This sort of dreamy folk-pop isn’t my usual cup of tea, but I enjoyed PRIMAL RUMBLE enough to recommend it for people who like She & Him or Joni Mitchell.  PRIMAL RUMBLE is available on Spotify and you can download the album at Gretchen’s Bandcamp website for $6.00.

 

 

HAVE A HOT TIP? WANT ME TO REVIEW YOUR BAND’S SONG/ALBUM? HIT ME UP AT DEFENDINGAXLROSE@GMAIL.COM

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Classic Album’s Revisited: ALADDIN SANE

Maybe he's born with it, Maybe it's Maybelline.

In 1972, David Bowie toured the United States as Ziggy Stardust (his alien alter-ego). Both America and Bowie were never the same again. Bowie’s previous record THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS proved to be a smash hit–but the weirdness was only beginning.

God only knows what Bowie thought of mid-seventies America…his sixth album ALADDIN SANE (which is a play on “A Lad Insane”) is supposed to be/rumored to be Bowie’s take on the US…but Bowie is an enigma wrapped in a mystery–so to be quite honest, I don’t “get” it. I’ve never been real big on concept albums or story albums…or whatever. Some songs go together, they make an album–great.

But don’t try to tell some over-reaching narrative. It just doesn’ t work.

And neither should ALADDIN SANE. This thing is very much a “kitchen-sink” recording, meaning they threw in everything BUT the kitchen sink when they were recording it. So say that there is excess on this record would be the understatement of the decade…but hey, this is glam rock at it’s finest (meaning it’s supposed to be vampy and over-the-top). ALADDIN SANE has a surprisingly harder edge than I remembered. But I’ll get to that part in a minute.

More than about America, ALADDIN SANE seems to be about The Rolling Stones. Mick and the boys loom large over Bowie’s sixth record, no more so than on the record’s opening track “Watch That Man.” This song sounds EXACTLY like a Rolling Stones song. In fact, prior to researching the album for this blog post, I thought this was a cover. It’s not. The Chuck Berry-eque guitar licks, the frantic/half-muttered lyrics, the horns, the female backing-vocals…it’s all very Stones-ish. Apparently audiophiles (people waaay to into recorded sound) are split very heavily when it comes to this songs final mix. When you listen to “Watch That Man” on the radio you don’t notice it as much, but the instruments are pushed “up front” with Bowie’s vocals (rather than being on a separate channel, “pushed back” like in a lot of pop recordings). This means that for large portions of the song, Bowie cannot be heard as clearly as if he’d been bummed up a little “higher” than the music.

Bowie defended this (to his record label that wanted him to change it) by saying some crap about his voice being just “another instrument” (or some such nonsense). I think he really just liked it because it made the recording sound rougher, more crappy–like a Stones song.

Anyway, the Stones pop-up again a few more times on the record–once in “Drive-In Saturday” when he mentions Jagger by name, and again towards the end of the record when Bowie legitimately covers the Stones on “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” It was the latter that first attracted me to this album. There’s something about a good cover, I just can’t resist it. Most times covers blow–but there’s something special about Bowie’s unique take on “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Bowie’s version is spacier, but it’s more than just a few electronic whizzing sounds…Bowie’s attitude is softer, sexier than Jagger’s. Then there’s the little verse that he adds toward the end:

They said we were too young Our kind of love was no fun But our love comes from above Let’s make… love

Followed by an awesome guitar outro, this little bit of himself carries an otherwise awesome cover into legendary status and–in my book, is better than the original. A feat that almost never happens.

ALADDIN SANE is packed with interesting songs, with vastly divergent influences. There’s the blues-R&B stomper “The Jean Genie” that sounds like a Cream or Yardbirds songs. Bowie dabbles in doo-woop on “Drive-In Saturday,” which is about as far from the Yardbirds as humanly possible. This song, about a post-apocalyptic future-world where people watch porn at the drive-in to re-learn sex, gets the “Craziest song on this album” award. Because it’s really, really freaky man. Also freaky (but not nearly as freaky) is the cabaret/vaudevillian “Time.” Whenever I hear “Time” I think of Queen, the song’s sheer pomposity makes me think of Freddy Mercury. It’s that kind of song. It’s very long and strange, words really don’t do this song justice. I love it, and yet if I met it in a dark alley I’d probably run the other way.

“We should be home by now” indeed.

But the jewels in ALADDIN SANE’s crown are “Cracked Actor” and “Lady Grinning Soul.” Written in Los Angeles, “Cracked Actor” is a ballsy rocker–the hardest song on the album. It’s about an aging Hollywood actor getting serviced by a prostitute. With some drugs thrown in there. The song has fucking amazing guitar work and Bowie playing harmonica (of all things, I can’t imagine Bowie doing THAT). The lyrics are full of all sorts of loaded phrases and double entendres.

“Lady Grinning Soul” has been described as Bowie’s best attempt at a Bond Theme song. As in “Bond, James Bond.” It certainly is very cinematic and strange. This song is all about the lush piano and acoustic guitar. It’s very surreal but at the same time romantic–just like David Bowie. “Lady Grinning Soul” also has features the awesome “she will be your living end”-lyric. It’s about as far from traditional rock ‘n roll as music can get, and yet it’s on the same record as “Cracked Actor” and “Watch That Man.” It takes a big set of balls to pull something like ALADDIN SANE off.

I bet there are a lot of people that haven’t heard this record, if you fall into this sad category I urge to you go out and track down a copy of ALADDIN SANE. It’s a fantastic record that belongs in your collection.

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