Tag Archives: Metallica

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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HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT by Metallica

What’s that old saying, better late than never? I feel like at this point just about everyone and their mother has put forth their opinion of the new Metallica album, so why should I even bother writing a review? The delay in this review is mostly due to the Thanksgiving holiday and my own somewhat busy schedule. But, if I’m being honest, it’s also due in part to my mixed feelings towards HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT.

Let me begin by stating that I am far from the world’s biggest Metallica fan. And let me follow that confession up with another: I’m a pretty casual metal fan. I like the so-called classic metal bands like Sabbath and Iron Maiden. I enjoy some newer, hipster-ish metal bands like Mastodon and Ghost (ha! that just shows you what sort of metal fan I am, I consider Ghost metal). There are some small-ish indie metal bands that I also really like, such as Red Fang and Kvelertak. But I’ve only been to one metal concert (Motorhead, RIP Lemmy) and I only own a few Greatest Hits type collections of a few metal bands. I only really knew Metallica from their massive hits, like “Enter Sandman.”

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Look, we can all agree that this is a terrible album cover, right?

Prior to 2005, I had probably seen more Metallica t-shirts than I had heard Metallica songs. But then, around the release of ST. ANGER I started paying attention to Metallica, but for all the wrong reasons: I wanted to hear the shitty album that everyone said sounded so shitty. I was surprised to find that I didn’t think it sounded that bad! Emboldened, I checked out the band’s earlier albums and discovered a solid thrash metal band that seemed to evolve into the cartoonish stereotype I was familiar with over the course of their career (and tremendous success). So once I was steeped in the band’s classic output I understood why people were so down on the newer stuff, but because I’d been exposed to ST. ANGER first I still found qualities about it I liked. I also wasn’t terribly let down by ST. ANGER, because I had only just started to explore the band’s music. I guess I should just jump in with the review, rather than waste a bunch of (digital) ink on a rambling preamble.

HARDWIRED… is way better than ST. ANGER and DEATH MAGNETIC (the album the band put out after ST. ANGER). That right there makes HARDWIRED… a success, a win for a band sorely in need of a win. And leading up to the album’s release, every song the band put out seemed to indicate that that album was going to be fantastic. And when the album was released and I pushed play I thought “holy shit, these guys totally did it!” But then the album continued to play. And play. And play. And play. HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT starts strong, and I don’t just mean the first track “Hardwired.” The first 6 tracks are absolutely fantastic. The lead single/title track is a great return to thrash and works well for many reasons but mainly because it clocks in under 4 minutes. The dark and moody, Sabbath-like “Dream No More” is great (love metal songs about Cthulu). The Maiden-esque “Moth Into Flame” with its chugging riff is totally rad, I loved it. The aggressive, fist-pumping “Now That We’re Dead” has a great lyrical hook and makes me want to see this band perform live. The quieter, ballad-like “Halo On Fire” is also a solid track.

All of these tracks, it should be mentioned, have fantastic guitar solos. Kirk Hammett famously lost his iPhone in a taxi cab and with it all the songs he was writing for this album. Despite not having any song credits, Hammett is all over this album, his guitar playing  elevating the somewhat pedestrian lyrics, spinning the songs like straw into gold. None of these guitar solos sound alike and are all thrilling. James Hetfield’s voice, it should also be noted, sounds fantastic. Usually they old metal guys sound, frankly, like shit. Their voices get raw with smoking and overuse, but somehow Hetfield still sounds good. His familiar growl just as vital as it was when the band began.

So if I have no issue with the first 6 or so tracks, the vocal performance, and the guitar work…what’s the problem? The problem with HARDWIRED… is that other than the first track, all of the songs are over 5 minutes in length. “Halo On Fire” is over eight minutes long. As the album trudges along, the songs begin to sound samey and overstay their welcome by droning on and on. Honestly, had the band decided to put out 10 or 12 songs rather than a 16 track double-album, HARDWIRED….TO SELF-DESTRUCT might have dethroned THE LIFE OF PABLO for my #1 album of 2016. The beginning is really that good, really it is. The only track from the second half of the album that is worth mentioning is “Murder One” and that’s only because it’s a tribute to deceased Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister. The song isn’t particularly great and kinda embarrassingly name-checks a bunch of Motorhead songs…but it was clearly included because Metallica has great love for Lemmy. This bit of humanity really touched me and reinforced that despite their status as metal gods, Metallica, in the end, are just flesh and blood people.

HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT isn’t quite the home run I was hoping it would be, but it certainly isn’t a terrible album. I can put it on and go running and enjoy myself. The album whirls into a blur during the second half, but that first part is glorious and makes me want to catch the band’s tour. Better than average, but less than legendary. Faint praise, but praise nonetheless. At this point in their careers, after more than one disappointing release, Metallica fans can’t complain. Now if only they hadn’t gone with such dreadfully awful cover art…

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Controversial Opinion: “St. Anger” is better than “Fuel”

With a new Metallica album nearly upon us, I’ve been spending the past few days revisiting the metal giant’s previous works. I write about metal every now and then, mostly because I’m a pretty casual metal fan. A real n00b if you will. I tend to like the classic metal acts like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, and Metallica. But that said, I really only played through Guitar Hero Metallica once and that was strictly for the achievements. My favorite Metallica album is their 1983 debut record KILL ‘EM ALL which is an economical, no-thrills thrash metal classic that stands as one the best examples of the genre. Love or hate Metallica today, there is no denying that in 1983 the band was simply amazing.

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Complex, insightful lyrics.

Anyway, as we all know, times change and bands develop. Metal fans are some of the worse when it comes to accepting the passage of time. And I don’t really blame them, after all when you begin your career with KILL ‘EM ALL why change things? Prior to 2003’s ST. ANGER, I think the band’s worst album is RELOAD from 1996. RELOAD is pretty pompous and finds the band doing sequel songs which I can’t believe is even a thing (“The Unforgiven II”). The album is also much longer than KILL ‘EM ALL…longer by a staggering 20 minutes. That’s a lot of fluff and filler to sit through. The worst song on the album, in my opinion, is the ridiculous first track/single “Fuel.” I remember when this song came out and I wasn’t even listening to metal at the time. The song was everywhere and from what I remember people liked it at the time. But boy does “Fuel” sound stupid today. Basically a Nike or Gatorade jingle, “Fuel” is a dunder-headed faux-tough guy anthem. It’s weightlifter music, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but the idea of “Fuel” and the reality are two separate things. On paper, the masculine word salad appears hyper-masculine and aggressive. Listening to the song just makes me giggle. And I’m not giggling with Metallic I’m giggling at Metallica.

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Remember that time Spider-Man punched Metallica? That was so cool.

Compare that to ST. ANGER’s title track “St. Anger.” The song deals with similar tough-guy themes and has a schizophrenic fast/slow thing going on but I don’t crack a smile listening to it. I pick “St. Anger” because I feel like it best encapsulates the album, which prior to 2011’s LULU, was considered to be the band’s weakest album.  I don’t even know what to think about that mess of an album and frankly can only fall asleep most nights by pretending that it never happened. ST. ANGER is all about well…anger and mental issues and stuff. I know this because the band had a documentary come out (Some Kind of Monster) that explained all this to me. I think the frantic yoyoing of “St. Anger” fits with that theme and even though it was recorded in the crappiest way possible (modern metal production usually sucks) I think “St. Anger” actually accomplishes what it sets out to do. I’m also not embarrassed to get caught listening to “St. Anger.” When “Fuel” is on and somebody enters the room, I turn that shit down and hang my head.

I still feel like many people hate ST. ANGER so much they’d do or say anything rather than admit that parts of it aren’t all that bad. I know that I will lose what little metal credibility I have by writing this but: I don’t actually mind ST. ANGER that much. It’s far from the heights of KILL ‘EM ALL, but then again I think most of the band’s output falls into that category. Regardless, neither “Fuel” nor “St. Anger” are the worst Metallica songs…that would be “I Disappear” from the Mission Impossible II soundtrack. Holy crap is that a bad song.

So how clickbait-y is my click-bait title? Have you any opinions about either song? Let me know down in the comments. And stay tuned for my shitty, uninformed review of the new Metallica album later this week!

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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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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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I Made Jack White’s Guacamole Because…Rock ‘n Roll!!!

When I first heard “Fell In Love With A Girl” way back in 2002, I had no idea that people would still be talking about Jack White in 2015. I liked the song well enough, but I wrongly predicted that White’s career (and impact on the music industry) would be as lengthy as The White Stripes breakthrough hit. I was thoroughly puzzled by White initially. I remember seeing White creepily perform “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” on Saturday Night Live and writing The White Stripes off completely. Look, we at Defending Axl Rose can’t all be right 100% of the time. Sometimes things slip by me. And don’t forget, when The White Stripes came on the scene there was a lot of strange rumors about Meg being Jack’s wife-sister…so you can’t blame me for dismissing them.

I quickly corrected my view of The White Stripes when the band released ELEPHANT in 2003. When  Mojo magazine declared it the band’s “British” album, I quickly went out and bought it on CD and red-and-white colored vinyl. That’s right, I dropped $45 on the album before I’d even heard “Seven Nation Army.” ELEPHANT was rousing, epic rock album that blew me away and immediately made me a fan and follower of White. I still think he’s weird (sometimes a little too much for his own good), but he’s the closest thing my generation has to a true rock god.

Oh my God, do a Google image search for "Jack White Guac."

Oh my God, stop reading and go do a Google image search for “Jack White Guac.” Seriously.

I’m still heartbroken that The White Stripes are no more, if you want to know the truth. I like The Raconteurs and love The Dead Weather, but I miss those glory days of red-and-white albums. White’s solo records haven’t really done much for me, but to tell the truth I’ve never really given them much of listen. White has given me so much over the years, I really owe it to him to sit down someday and study both BLUNDERBUSS and LAZARETTO in depth before writing them completely off.

Anyway, like the rest of you, I have been breathlessly following Guacamole-Gate, the dip-themed scandal that has embroiled Jack White these past few weeks. For those of you living under a rock, here are the basics: Jack White played a concert at the University of Oklahoma earlier this month. The school’s newspaper used the Freedom of Information Act to acquire the contracts involved with the concert. These documents were published in the school paper and revealed the amount of money the school paid to have White perform, as well as White’s tour rider. While I was a bit surprised it only cost the school $80,000 to have Jack White perform, the press (small and large) have jumped on the tour rider which included a recipe for Jack’s guacamole.

Ah, tour riders. Do these things ever not make an artist look crazier than a bag of cats? The purpose of tour riders is to ensure that bands and their staff are comfortable while setting up and waiting to perform  a gig. Let’s face it: being a traveling musician is not fun and glamorous. Can you imagine sharing one bathroom with everyone in Metallica? Or splitting a meal with Wolfgang Van Halen*?  Then there’s the small army needed to setup and tear down even the most modest of stages. Tour riders ensure that these hardworking folks get all the brown M&M’s they so desperately need.

Speaking of brown M&M’s, the most famous rider in all of rock history is the Van Halen rider that specified that the band have a large dish of only the brown colored candies. This demand made the band  poster children for rock excess, but over the years Eddie Van Halen has claimed that his odd request was made out of safety! According to Eddie, the band used this request to judge how compliant venues were with all of their requests. If the brown M&M’s weren’t done right, the band reasoned, then maybe the super dangerous lighting rigs weren’t done correctly either. I hate to side with Eddie (because agreeing with him stokes his ego) but the dude has a point.

Jack White’s rider requested that the venue make a bowl of homemade guacamole and included details instructions on how to make it. These instructions are Van Halen-specific, going so far as to tell venues what sort of knife to use on the avocados (a butter knife, presumably to avoid smooshing the soft fruit). The recipe even includes instructs venues to use the avocado pits and lime juice to prevent the guacamole from browning.

jackwhitetourrider1

“Subject to budget and advance” naturally…

When the rider hit the interWebz, the music world was shaken to the core. So much ink was spilled over this non-story that earlier this week, Jack White issued a long, semi-rambling statement about this rider. Essentially, he was sick of being asked about the whole affair and chastised the student reports for making something out of nothing. White’s management group issued a statement saying that White and their other artists would be boycotting the University of Oklahoma because of this incident. Of course, White had nothing to do with that particular decision. He even went so far as to say that he’d forgiven the student reporters and holds no ill will towards Oklahoma.

For such a strange guy, White’s response to the so-called scandal was surprisingly down-to-earth. The only disappointing part of White’s statement, in my opinion, was the revelation that the guacamole recipe wasn’t actually Jack’s:

“Anything on the rider is for the band and the crew. This “guacamole recipe” is my hilarious tour managers inside joke with the local promoters, it’s his recipe, not mine. It’s just something to break up the boredom, seeing who can make it best. Though I wouldn’t know because I’ve never had it. I can’t even make kool aid let alone cook any real food enough to have a “recipe.” sorry, I don’t have that talent.”

Great. So first The White Stripes break up forever, and then I find out Jack White can’t even make the most basic of party dips. What’s next, Bono will never be able to play guitar again? I know I’ll never be a musical genius like Jack White, but if I realized that if I could make this guacamole then there would be one area where I’d have him beat! Thus, I decided to use the recipe to make his manager’s dip. I went to the store and acquired the ingredients necessary for this magical rock ‘n roll creation. Then I rolled up my sleeves, put on some White Stripes, and got to work.

When you follow the recipe, this what you end up with:

So how was it? Well, if you follow the directions to the letter, you end up with something less like a dip and more like avocado salad.

Sorry, Jack. That isn't how I like my guacamole.

Sorry, Jack. That isn’t how I like my guacamole.

I’ll be honest, I fully intended on following the recipe to the letter, but I couldn’t abide such hippy-dippy gauc. Also, I’m really lazy. It was so much easier to just shove everything into my food processor.So that’s what I did. The results, while not 100% Jack White approved, was still pretty stellar.

IMG_3190

 

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The serrano peppers added just the right amount of heat. I love spicy foods and this dip didn’t let me down. I would like to add that if you plan on making this dip, be sure to have a hungry crew of guitar techs coming over–the recipe yielded a ton of guacamole.

Delicious!

Delicious!

 

*I bet you thought I’d gotten over making fun of Wolfgang. You thought wrong.

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All I Want For X-Mas: 9 Terrible, Weird, Strange Rock ‘n Roll Gifts

As we approach the “silly” season, my thoughts turn to shameless consumerism. I’m not a “reason for the season” kinda guy, but the older I get the more gift giving turns my stomach. A once proud element of fringe culture, rock ‘n roll has long be co-opted by “Big Gift.”

Earlier this week I fell down the rabbit-hole of tacky/puzzling/bizarre rock gifts. Here are my favorites.  And please, if I’m on your shopping list this holiday season…take notes.

1. Rolling Stone Brand Wine: I don’t know about you, but The Grateful Dead I always make me think of red wine. Rolling Stone, the purveyors of cool since before I was born, must have thought the same thing because they now have a line of classic rock-themed red wines that includes the famous jam band. There’s also a SYNCHRONICITY wine featuring the artwork from the Police album. And a DARK SIDE OF THE MOON-themed wine called, naturally, The Dark Side of The Merlot. The Rolling Stones wine, FORTY LICKS, feels like a cash grab too late (that compilation came out 12 years ago!!!).  The wine is red but could this be any whiter? If you’re a rock band and you want to put your name on a beverage (please don’t) at least make it a beer or whiskey.

Because when you think Jerry Garcia you think wine.

Because when you think Jerry Garcia you think wine.

2. Holiday Sweaters: Nothing says the holidays like cold nights and warm sweaters. I personally own two: a way-too-big designer sweater I bought at a thrift store a number of years back and a nice charcoal-colored Hemingway I bought because I wanted to feel masculine. For the longest time I thought two sweaters was enough, but these music-themed sweaters have changed my mind. Can you believe there’s a MASTER OF PUPPETS-themed sweater?

Nothing says "Let's celebrate the birth of Jesus" like an upside-down cross.

Nothing says “Let’s celebrate the birth of Jesus” like an upside-down cross.

My friend Bianca is partial to the Wu-Tang Clan sweater, which admittedly does kick major ass:

This sweater ain't nothing to fuck with.

This sweater ain’t nothing to fuck with.

The Slayer sweater is probably the blackest, heaviest sweater of the bunch though.

Is that snow outside? No, it's RAINING BLOOD!!!

Is that snow outside? No, it’s RAINING BLOOD!!!

I hope they’re using wool from only the evilest, most brutal sheep they can find.

3. Merry Kissmas Blanket: We all knew that Kiss was going to be somewhere on this list, right? Kiss is without a doubt the most over-merchandised band in all of rock. In fact, the ratio of merch to music is probably so high kids today probably don’t even know that Kiss started as a band and not a brand of condom. I waded through a metric ton of crappy Kiss products and the one that made me laugh the most was this “Merry Kissmas” blanket. Can you imagine snuggling up beneath this thing on a cold Christmas Eve?  Gene Simmons is Jewish which makes this even more ridiculous. And “Kissmas” are you kidding? That’s some ballsy branding.

No phallic imagery here...

No phallic imagery here…

4. Daft Punk Action Figures: Kids today have it made. When I was a kid, I had to use my Chewbacca action figure as a stand-in for Worf (the STAR TREK character). When I played with my X-Men toys, Wolverine sliced through coathangers because they didn’t make toy Sentinels. The point I’m trying to make? Growing up in the late 80’s/early 90’s action figures were very protagonist-centric, meaning my Laura Dern JURASSIC PARK figure did a lot of double-duty (that is not a sexual pun or is it?). Anyway, kids today have access to action figure toy lines featuring thousands of characters. Every extra lurking in the background from the MATRIX sequels has his own figure.

The first rock band action figures I ever encountered was, of course, Kiss. I rolled my eyes and thought the notion of rock band action figures was stupid. But then I saw some really cool SGT.PEPPER-themed Beatles figures and changed my mind. I came close to buying those once, but I didn’t because I can never decide if I’m going to take them out of the packaging or leave them sealed up.  Anyway, the Kiss and Beatles figures sorta make sense…but Daft Punk action figures are too weird for me. On one hand I get it, with their trademark black helmets Daft Punk is the musical equivalent of Cobra Commander, so why not have an action figure? But Daft Punk’s funky club music makes me think of designer drugs and flashing lights…two things I don’t associate with toys.

These toys are out to get lucky.

These toys are out to get lucky.

5. Incubus longboard: Do people associate Incubus with skateboarding? I don’t. I associate it with crappy Junior High School dances and Smirnoff Ice. Anyway, if you want your…skateboard chums…to think you’re cool stay the hell away from this this board. I mean, check out the super-exaggerated poses of the members of the band. You got one guy about to take flight Superman-style. Another guy appears to be slipping on a banana peel. Then there’s the dred-head dude who’s hair appears to be attacking his bandmate. And don’t get me started on the frogman with his hands held over his head. What the fuck Incubus? This product is anything but “Stellar.”

Those dreds look like alien tentacles, right?

Those dreds look like alien tentacles, right?

6. Muse “booty” shorts: I look at Muse and wonder “who likes this band?” I’ve never met a Muse fan, let alone a Muse superfan that would want Muse-themed underwear. Seeing these underoos on a lady would be a total mood killer for me. At a certain point fandom stops being cute and becomes scary, I think band-themed underwear is that demarcation line.

Not sure if you want to associate your band with "ass."

Not sure if you want to associate your band with “ass.”

7. Green Day Coasters: First, let me make the obvious joke: who needs TRE drink coasters when you can just use the CD’s? Look, I’m going to be honest and admit I only listened to part of UNO, so maybe DOS and TRE aren’t that bad. Maybe Green Day really is still making good music. Maybe I’m actually getting more hair, rather than losing it. Maybe.

Now that I got that out of the way let’s explore punk and drink coasters. Is there anything more un-punk than worrying about those wet circles on your coffee table? Is there anything less punk than owning a fucking coffee table? At this point, music nerds will point out that Green Day stopped being punk back when Bill Clinton was president. Fair point, nerds. The notion that Green Day has entered the extreme merchandising phase of their career makes me feel old and sad.

Whatever happened to living without warning?                                     Coasters are not risky.

Whatever happened to living without warning? Coasters are not risky.

8. Guns N’ Roses Poker Chips N’ Cards: This is perplexing. Elvis themed cards and poker chips would make sense, after all he has a really famous song about Las Vegas. GNR? Not so much. I only associate GNR with Vegas these days because that’s the only place in North America where Axl seems to want to play live. Why not a Guns ‘N Roses handgun? Surely such a thing exists. Just don’t give one to Axl.

Insert joke here.

Insert joke here.

9. Nickelback Shot Glass: Now this product actually makes a lot of sense! The only way I’m going to listen to Nickelback is in a state of extreme inebriation. Really the only thing wrong with this shot glass is that it’s too small.  I think that they should have made this a 2oz. glass rather than a traditional 1oz. glass. Not that 2oz. of booze is going to be enough to get me in the mood to hear Nickelback, mind you. The website where I found this product was also selling “Official 2012 Tour Booty Shorts.” What is it with shitty bands and booty shorts? I opted to not display these here because the notion of women debasing themselves with Nickelback underwear is too much, even for a joke-post like this one. Please do yourself and favor and never Google “Nickelback merchandise.”

If somebody wants to buy me this shot glass I’ll totally use it though.

Their music sounds tolerable when you're black-out drunk.

Their music sounds tolerable when you’re black-out drunk.

So how about it? Which one of these things do YOU want Santa to bring you this year? Chime-in below in the comments section.

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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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