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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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The Worst Opening Act

I try to keep it positive here at Defending Axl Rose, but sometimes you have no choice but to be negative.  We’ve all been there: hot, sweaty, pressed up against complete strangers in a darkened room desperately waiting for your favorite band to take the stage.  But before they can rock your socks-off, however, you gotta sit through the opening act.  There was a time when I didn’t care much for seeing opening bands.  Most of the time, when you see a “big” artist in a “big” venue, you only have to sit through one band that you didn’t pay to see…but if you’re a club-rat, seeing a shitty band in a shitty dive, you usually get to see TWO opening bands.

So there’s two ways to look at this: there’s the glass half-full and the glass half-empty approach.

1. Half-Empty: You got to sit/ stand-pressed-against-a-fat-guy-you-don’t-know through two bands you didn’t pay to see and probably don’t care about.  

and

2. Half-Full: You get to sit/stand-pressed-against-a-fat-guy-you-don’t-know through two bands you didn’t pay to see and probably don’t care about.

Now what’s the difference? Your attitude.  Once I grew up and actually wanted to TRY and EXPERIENCE new things, I found myself actually excited to see what the opening bands had to offer.  In most cases the opening band is related, in some way, to the headliner.   That relation might be tangential at best*, but there is a relationship.  Once I started opening my ears and my mind, I found myself often walking out of dive-bars/clubs with a new favorite band.  In some cases, I actually liked the opening band better than the headliner.  Blasphemy? Only if you’re 13 years-old and you only want to hear the headliner’s latest hit-single.  Me? I’m a deep-album cut sort of fellow.

A few years back I took my wife to see The Kings of Leon here in St. Louis.  The Kings of Leon were good but the opening band, The Features, blew us both away.  We fell in love with them and they soon became her all-time favorite band.  We’ve since seen them five or six times because we love them dearly (and they tour like madmen).  Now, what if we’d have skipped the opening act? What if we’d showed up just as Kings of Leon took the stage?   The Features are the better band and the only reason we ever heard of them was because we showed up early for the concert and politely listened to a band we’d never heard of.  The sad part is, I think that happens a lot—and by that I mean really great bands opening for ones that are just “alright.”  In a perfect world, The Kings of Leon would be opening for The Features, not the other way around.

The Features, 1000% better than any headliner.

Want another example? I saw Rooney back in 2003/2004** and was really impressed by their opening band The Redwalls.  The Redwalls had better songs and rocked harder than Rooney***.  To this day, I own more Redwalls albums than Rooney albums and I feel that my life has been enriched by waiting patiently through an opening act that turned out to be damn sweet.

Of course, there have been some really awful opening bands I’ve had to suffer through.  The worst of all-time was a band called White Williams.  I was seeing Vampire Weekend (again with the wife) and White Williams was the first of two opening bands.  Actually, that’s not right…White Williams was not a “band” but rather two dudes in sweaters.  One had a laptop and the other had a guitar.   I’m all for experimental music, and I think there’s some really awesome stuff some artists are doing with loops and simple guitar licks, but these guys weren’t actually doing anything.  One guy just stood there with his guitar, looking like he was asleep, while the other dude dramatically pressed a few buttons on his laptop.  When I say dramatically, I mean this guy was pressing one button on his laptop every few seconds like he was Eddie Van Halen SHREDDING on a solo.  He had that intensity on his face like he was lifting the continent of Antarctica on his shoulders while at the same time working on a cure for cancer. In short, he was a acting like a complete douchebag: all he was doing was standing there with a sweater…pressing buttons.

The lead-laptopist of White Williams, taking a rare break from lap-topping.

What does the name White Williams evoke? Does it make you think of bland, vanilla, anglo-static?  Well that’s what I think that name evokes for me, and it turns out that’s what White Williams sounds like.  They’re the worst, bland electronica you can imagine.  I seriously hope one of the guys in White Williams is in a relationship with someone in Vampire Weekend, because if having them on the bill that night wasn’t a John-making-Yoko-happy-by-letting-her-sing-on-the-album situation then Vampire Weekend are idiots****.  People often talk and check their cell phones during an opening band, but I saw people drift dangerously close to falling asleep during White Williams’ set.  I don’t think rock bands should do idiotic stunts, but you’ve got to do more to wow an audience than simply show up with your sweater and laptop.

Another mistake White Williams made was essentially play one song for twenty minutes.  During their set they said nothing to the audience, for all I know they really did only play one song.  The only reason I know they’re called “White Williams” is because the guy with the laptop mouth-breathed it once just before exiting the stage*****.

I know all of that seems pretty harsh, but you have to understand, I did not pay to see White Williams.  I didn’t make that choice, they were thrust upon me.  I think if you’re going to be in the ENTERTAINMENT industry you should, at the every least, be ENTERTAINING.  But there’s a bad apple in every bunch, and for the most part I still maintain that opening bands are worth your time and your respect.  Be an adult and let the White Williams’ of the world actually let you down before you completely dismiss them outright.

ENDNOTES:

* Like they’re represented by the same management or were called last-minute to fill-in.

**It was a long time ago, I can’t really remember.

***Who eventually turned into a just okay pop band, which by the way is not a crime.

**** Read: I hope the dude in White Williams is blowing someone in Vampire Weekend.

****That’s a systemic problem in rock shows these days, nobody bothers so say who they are anymore.  I can’t count the number of really cools bands that get onstage, rock my world and then leave without adequately explaining who the fuck they are.  Don’t want me to buy your records, visit your website, blog about you, become your fan? Okay dude, good luck with that. TELL US WHO YOU ARE MORE THAN ONCE!!!

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