Tag Archives: Music

“Crash” by Against Me!

I’d pretty much written off fun pop-punk as something that only existed in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Punk is one of those genres that really belongs to young people, and when a new crop of artists didn’t spring up to replace the old guard…well we ended up with old punks. Nothing is more depressing to me than old punks. I’m not going to hijack this post, which is about a great new Against Me! song, by bashing Green Day. But boy is it difficult for me to not bash Green Day.

 

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Young and old punks appreciate clean boots. 

 

Anyway, I was vaguely aware of Against Me! but hadn’t really heard them until a few months ago when a podcast I listen to turned me onto their latest single “Crash.”I was blown away not just because the song is catchy as hell, but because it seemed to reinvigorate my interest in the pop-punk genre. Leaning more pop than punk, this track has a nice buoyant quality to it. The lyrics, while pretty straightforward, do a good job of reflecting on getting older without getting bogged down in the typical old-punk lameness. This song impressed me so much, that I wound up listening to all of SHAPE SHIFT WITH ME, the band’s new album. It’s a great record, one that will definitely end up on Best of 2016 end of year list. I thought about reviewing it now but decided to focus on this song because it’s so damn good.

It’s been a tough week, take a moment to check out “Crash” and forget about your troubles for a while. The band released an awesome KISS-inspired music video for the song, check it out:

 

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NEW SKIN by CRX

Led by Nick Valensi, the lead guitarist of The Strokes, CRX’s debut album NEW SKIN is an interesting mix of Strokes-ish indie rock and a blend of influences ranging from throwback classic rock, shimmering pop, desert rock (!) and even metal. I didn’t have CRX on my radar until the official Strokes Facebook page mentioned that Nick’s album was releasing at the end of October. I knew that this was going to be an album for me when I saw that the first comment on the post bemoaned the fact that NEW SKIN had such a strong pop sound.

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At this point in time, The Strokes are a bit like the UN: a good idea in theory that doesn’t ever seem to pan out in the real world. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but the last record produced by the band was really forgettable. It’s a shame, too, because they’re a talented bunch of lads. This has been proved time and again as the various band members have put out great solo records. Guitarist and keyboard player Albert Hammond Jr. has put a couple of jaw-droppingly good records over the years (seriously, go check them out) and lead singer Julian Casablancas put out an electronic-infused album a  few years ago that had a couple of great tracks I still listen to today. Valensi’s band CRX now joins the esteemed pantheon of Strokes-solo projects that  make me miss the glory days of the band.

When NEW SKIN opens, it sounds like The Strokes doing The Cars with a dash of Cheap Trick. Because I’m such a fan of power-pop I got really excited by the album’s first few tracks. In particular, the album’s opening track “Ways to Fake It” which, if I’m being honest, sounds like a lost cut off The Strokes FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF EARTH. Rather than mumble and moan like Casablancas, Valensi’s voice is refreshingly presented crystal clear and I think this is what saves the song from being a straight-up Strokes track. “Ways to Fake It” is the best track on the album and the perfect choice for a single to entice Strokes fans to listen to the rest of the album. The second track “Broken Bones”is a moody slow-burn with some great guitar work. I also really liked the loopy New Wave “Anything” and “Unnatural” which reminded me of early Queens of the Stone Age (of all things).

The second track “Broken Bones”is a moody slow-burn with some great guitar work. I also really liked the loopy New Wave “Anything” which reminded me of Albert Hammond Jr.’s first solo record YOURS TO KEEP. The out-of-left-field”Unnatural” also tickled my fancy, mostly because it reminded me of early Queens of the Stone Age (of all things). I wasn’t expecting the album to pivot as much as it did near the middle and end, but pivot it does. The last few tracks on the album lean heavily on hard rock and metal side of things. Particularly “On Edge” which definitely has a Motörhead vibe and the final track “Monkey Machine.” Despite these variations, CRX never really enters the metal genre proper the veneer of pop polish coats all of these songs. And this is my biggest criticism of NEW SKIN is that it plays things a little too safe, Valensi gets right up to the edge of doing stuff his fellow bandmates aren’t doing (either in The Strokes or solo) but doesn’t commit and cross that line. Valensi, who I think has a good voice, just isn’t up to the challenge of coloring outside the lines of the typical indie-rock vocal performance.

I think that NEW SKIN is a solid debut that I hope is the first of many records. I’d like to see the band explore more of their roots and influences a bit more and challenge themselves with a bit of experimentation. Hopefully by doing this CRX will be able to justify their existence as more than just a placeholder until Valensi’s other band gets back to work.

 

 

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LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL by The Beatles

I can’t think of a band I associate less with live performance than The Beatles. That’s partly because the group was long disbanded by the time I was born in the early 1980’s (thus no chance of me ever seeing them live). But for the most part, it’s because The Beatles so famously turned their back on touring and became the quintessential studio band. Over the years I’ve heard a handful of live Beatle recordings, mostly from the LIVE AT THE BBC double-album. I remember getting my hands on that set way back in my early Beatle-years and promptly tossing it aside. It’s not that the band was bad in concert, it’s just that live recordings from the era in which the Beatles performed live are spotty at best. So when it was announced that LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL would be coming out in conjunction with Ron Howard’s Beatle documentary THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK, I bookmarked the release date but didn’t hurry to get around to listening to it until recently.

LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL documents several concerts from August of 1965, near the very end of the groups touring life. Released originally in 1977, LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL has been remastered and remixed. I was pleasantly surprised at how good these recordings sound. I would say that this album is 100% absolutely the best live recordings of The Beatles I’ve ever heard. That said, the performances are solid but ultimately pale comparisons of their studio counterparts. It’s been argued that George Martin is the so-called fifth Beatle, these recordings help make that argument in my opinion. It’s not that the band is terrible live, it’s just that the songs are so damn good on the studio recordings.

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I may be a bit biased, as live albums really aren’t my thing. The only way a live recording can move beyond the good and into the essential is when they capture the intensity of their performance and bring something new to the table. Many songs recorded live differ from their studio versions, either because of technical limitations (no string section? no problem!) or because playing the same song over and over  gets boring for bands and they do something a little different. These live embellishments separate the hacks from the great artists. A decent song can become sublime when stretched out into an intense extended jam. Guitar heroics/wankery can also take a live recording to the next level.  Sadly, LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL was recorded before the 1970’s, arguably the heyday of the live album. Thus, The Beatles are just performing their songs as best as they can like they appear on the albums.

What LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL is missing is between-the-songs banter. The few times Lennon announces the next song with a goofy voice is a real treat. It’s a shame that there isn’t more of this sort of stuff on the album because it’s something the studio albums don’t have. What there is plenty of, however, is screaming girls. Famously one of the reasons the band quit touring, the girls are screaming on LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL. And. They. Don’t. Stop. It almost feels like a parody there’s so much crowd noise on the recording. Though it never goes away, the audience never really gets in the way, either. I chalk this up to an expert remastering. Ironically, those who’ve listened to LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL have probably heard the concert better than those who attended the show. One of the Beatles (I think it’s Lennon if I recall correctly) even asks the crowd at one point, “Can you hear us?”

Overall, LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL is a fantastic musical artifact. The album is a bubble of amber perfectly preserving a fly (or Beatle) for all time. I’ve listened to it all the way through three times and frankly can’t imagine putting it on again. I’d much rather listen to the albums. LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL is really just for completist and band scholars (such as myself) and not an essential recording. The album has made me want to see Howard’s documentary, which apparently a Hulu-exclusive (which bums me out because now I have to wrangle a Hulu account in order to see it).

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METAL MONDAY: Mac Sabbath Is The Fast-Food Themed Black Sabbath Cover Band You Never Knew You Needed

Have you ever gotten something and wondered how you lived your life without it? I know I existed prior to getting an iPhone, but it’s changed how I live so fundamentally that I honestly can’t imagine going to back to a life without it. Well buckle-up kids, because you’re about to have a life-altering experience. Seriously, you’ll never be the same once you see and hear Mac Sabbath.

Well buckle-up kids, because you’re about to have a life-altering experience. Seriously, you’ll never be the same once you see and hear Mac Sabbath. What is Mac Sabbath? It’s a fast-food themed Black Sabbath tribute band. Well, I guess they’re kinda/sorta a tribute band. See, they don’t just dress up like McDonald’s characters and sing Black Sabbath songs, they change the lyrics in order to attack and expose the evils of the fast-food industry. The band is equal parts metal band, post-modern art, and political satire. Mac Sabbath is definitely one of those things that’s too good to be true.

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Take for example “Frying Pan” which is the band’s take on the classic Sabbath song “Iron Man.” Mac Sabbath turns the song into a (humorous) indictment of the fast-food industry from the perspective of the poor wage-slave making our pink slime-infused meals.

“I once burned your meal
My old job was cooking veal
Now it’s a culinary crime
All our future is pink slime”

And of course they’re able to work in a gluten reference:

“Everybody wants it
On gluten bleached flour bread
Everybody needs it
Till they’re fat and dead”

I can’t image writing lyrics to songs, let alone writing lyrics all around a single theme and making them fit into the framework of an established song. A lot of people try their hand at this, and while there are a few standouts who really do a good job, I feel like most comedic attempts at parody songs are just that: attempts. Mac Sabbath really hit it out of the park on their songs. I listened to six of their songs and all six were well-done (pun intended).

While the members of Mac Sabbath are talented satirists, it’s worth noting that they could also pass as a pretty decent Black Sabbath cover band. The music sounds remarkably good for something so batshit crazy. You can tell that besides really hating the fast-food industry, the members of Mac Sabbath really love Black Sabbath.  Sure, the drummer is dressed just like the Hamburgler, but he’s also a damn good drummer.

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Drive-Thru Metal is Finger Lickin’ Good

These guys are based in L.A. but apparently tour just like any other rock band. And just like Kiss or Ghost (B.C.) they stay in character most of the time and always appear on stage in full regalia. The band even has hilarious metal/McDonald’s mash-up stage names like Ronald Osbourne, Slayer McCheeze, Grimalice, and Catburgler.

Considering such how detrimental to our bodies and the environment fast-food is, making them the fodder of a metal band makes 100% perfect sense. McDonald’s is far more nefarious and scarier than say, popular metal villain, Satan. I would love to know what the good folks at McDonald’s think about this band (though I can guess) and I’d also like to know what Black Sabbath thinks about them as well. Considering that band plays with the intellectual property of two mega-corporations (McDonald’s being a tad bigger than Black Sabbath) I’m kinda shocked these guys are able to exist.

I’m probably late to the Mac Sabbath party, but I had to write about this band because it’s one of the more creative things I’ve seen this year. And, hilariously enough, they’re the most balls-out metal thing I’ve encountered in years (thanks to Cartoon Network canceling Metalacolypse). 

 

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Collins, Phil

A few years ago, I wrote about some of my musical guilty pleasures. Included on that list was the band Genesis. I’ve had Phil Collins on the brain for a few weeks now, and I’m not sure why. Then last week I read an article about how he’s planning on playing at the opening ceremonies of the US Open at the end of this month. It’s a big deal because Collins has all but dropped off the face of the Earth these past few years. The reason for this has varied, depending on who you ask: Collins can’t hold drumsticks anymore due to a crippling back/nerve issue, he wants to spend more time with his family, he’s near death after years of substance abuse, and he’s so rich he doesn’t need to perform or record music anymore. But the biggest reason given for his extended absence from the spotlight–he got sick and tired of all the criticism.

This leads me back to my post from 2012 on my Top 5 Guiltiest Musical Pleasures. Genesis made the list, but why? It’s wasn’t because of their bizarre and sometimes beautiful early prog-records with Peter Gabriel. It was because of Phil Collins. I grew up on classic rock radio and Collins’ work with Genesis and his first few solo albums were in heavy rotation back in the 1990’s. Even today, his biggest songs like “In The Air Tonight” are played almost as often as FM staples like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Hotel California.” Growing up, Collins and Genesis never struck me as particularly cool nor did they strike me as uncool. This was not the case among my peers. I had a friend in Junior High who used to get teased mercilessly because his mother was a very, very big Phil Collins fan. I liked this guy a lot, but there were so many other things about him people could make fun of, so why was his mom being a Phil Collins fan such an issue?

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Is this the face of the most hated man in popular music?

I have two theories about why people hate Phil Collins so much. The first is that Collins was simply just too damn successful. The ubiquitous nature of his music during the 1980’s and early 1990’s made people sick of him. The same reasoning can be applied to The Eagles, who also have gone from beloved to hated by the culture at large. Getting over-played on the radio isn’t the band’s fault, but the listening public can only take so much before a backlash begins. Modern radio with its limited song rotation certainly did nothing to help either Collins or The Eagles. By playing “Life In The Fast Lane” 50 to 100 times a day, people got sick of The Eagles. Likewise, Collins was overplayed both as a successful solo artist and as a member of Genesis. Collins was a double-threat releasing hit songs by himself and with Genesis, though many people might have trouble telling them apart, especially near the end of both his solo career and his life with the band. Collins became a symbol of the old guard, his success was so great he became locked in an ivory tower. This made him the perfect target for the younger bands emerging in the 1990’s who showed real disdain for him (specifically Oasis, who were merciless in their public criticism of Collins).

The second reason Collins has become so hated has to do with Collins the artist. Phil Collins has two modes: mindless pop and painfully earnest sincerity. People can handle one or the other, but when an artist tries to exist in both worlds people start having problems. A good example of this is “Another Day In Paradise.” The song was written by Collins at the end of the 1980’s and tackles the issue of homelessness. It’s a serious subject, one that is undercut by the fact that it’s being done by a millionaire who made his fortune off of bubblegum pop like “Sussudio.” Collins tried to make both serious art and product, essentially trying to exist in two different boxes. This was something that people simply couldn’t reconcile. Making matters worse, a large swath of the listening public finds earnest sincerity fake when it’s attached to a smarmy-looking millionaire.

But none of this is very fair to Collins, is it? After all, it’s not his fault that he was so successful. And it’s not his fault that he’s able to make simple pop music and music with a bit more weight behind it. I don’t think the man’s career is unblemished (it isn’t) or that he hasn’t recorded more than a few stinkers (he has), but I do think the level of hate for Collins is simply disproportionate to his contribution to popular culture. Even if you don’t particularly like him or his music, you can’t help but admit that “In The Air Tonight” is an interesting, cool, song. In fact, I can’t think of another song that’s like “In The Air Tonight” that became a massive hit.

So I’m removing both Genesis and Phil Collins from my list of Guilty Pleasures and instead owning the fact that I like a large portion of the music he’s created. There’s been a sort of ironic appreciation of his career over the past few years, but I want it to be known that there is not a drop of irony in my love for Phil Collins. Human beings are petty, sometimes jealous creatures, and my guess is we needed a whipping boy. I’m sorry that person had to be Collins, but at least he seems to have been able to take it. Imagine someone like poor Morrissey saddled with a Phil Collins-level of public malice! He’d have thrown himself under a bus or train decades ago. I suspect that there are more than a few people placed in that awkward situation of secretly liking something that’s seemingly universally despised. If you’re such a person, my recommendation to you is to cast off the shackles of conformity and own your opinion. Unless you like Nickelback, in which case you’re not right in the head.

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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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Mid-August 2016 New Song Round-Up

As we slowly exit Summer and near the holiday (silly) season, a band’s thoughts turn to new albums. What better way to prep the world by dropping a single on the unexpecting masses? After radio died but before we got music streaming services it wasn’t always super-easy for me to find these freshly released tracks. But now, every Friday Spotify curates them all for me! I’m sure no payola is involved…

Anyway, I never know what to do about these sort of things when it comes to the blog. I mean, I can’t possibly write 500 words on this new Green Day single. Luckily, I can just shamelessly copy another (some might even argue better) blogger’s format and apply them to this loose collection of songs.

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The Defending Axl Rose Mid-August 2016 New Song Round-Up

“Bang Bang” by Green Day: As soon as I hit play and heard the faux news broadcast, I knew we were in trouble. The intro reeks of trying too hard, and as we all know trying is pretty much the least punk thing one can do. That said, once the song starts “Bang Bang” isn’t a complete disaster. But all the talk of “World War 0” and “celebrity models” feels like the sort of empty criticism an 8th-grader would make about the current crop of senseless shootings. Somebody wake me up when September ends.

 

“City Lights” by The White Stripes: Oh, what a happy boy I was when I saw that there was a brand new White Stripes song on Spotify! Then I saw that it was “Previously Unreleased.” Well, no bother…even if Jack and Meg didn’t get back together at least I would get to hear a new song. Then I hit play and the soft, acoustic guitar ballad and I knew that I wasn’t going to get a new White Stripes song. This is a new Jack White solo track. Sure, maybe Meg is politely shaking maracas or whatever in the background, but this is about as far from an “Icky Thump” or “Seven Nation Army” as one can get. And while variety is the spice of life, I was really hoping for something a bit more explosive. “City Lights” isn’t terrible, it’s a great (albeit sleepy) track from Jack White.

 

“Put Your Hands Up” by The Struts: I’ve been hearing a lot of really good things about The Struts. There’s been many comparisons between them and The Darkness, one of my favorite bands. So when I saw that they had a new single I didn’t hesitate. “Put Your Hands Up” is a good rock song that could have been great with a slightly catchier chorus (though they do get points for rhyming “vibration” and “medication”). Still, the band has plenty of energy (and cowbell) to convince me that I need to give them a serious listen.

 

“Punks In A Disco Bar” by Beach Slang: Ten seconds in and I’m hooked. I’m so in the bag for this band, that I guess nobody should be surprised that I dig this song. But boy, do I dig this song. That vicious, angular guitar riff is fantastic. Beach Slang pack so much intensity into “Punks In A Disco Bar” that the track’s sub-three minute runtime doesn’t even feel too short. I really hope that this song isn’t some kind of leftover from last year’s record and that there’s a new one on the horizon. I missed seeing these guys back in April when my son was born, I really want them to hop on the touring circuit again so I can see them. Brilliant 10/10.

 

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BOY KING by Wild Beasts

Imagine if Trent Reznor-penned a concept album about masculinity and recorded it with Muse as his backing band. That’s a fairly close description of what Wild Beasts album BOY KING sounds like. Whereas Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails records have a gritty, cold feeling to them Wild Beasts’ BOY KING has a crisp but cold feeling to them. NIN is chrome smeared with dirt while BOY KING is pink neon light reflected in a puddle of still rain water.

Unlike Reznor’s work, the precise tracks on BOY KING have a decidedly poppier, almost hip-hop-flavored feel to them. Certain songs, like “Get My Bang” even reminded me of Britpop bands like Stereophonics (remember them? They’re fantastic, but that’s a post for another day). For me, it’s the shimmering pop heart beating just under the grime that makes BOY KING an enjoyable listen, rather than a painful sit through. The band described the album’s third single “Celestial Creatures” via Twitter thusly: “Organic but digital, aggressive but tender, hallucinatory but clear-eyed.” I wouldn’t argue with that assessment, both of the song and of the totality of BOY KING which is rife with duality.

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The album swings between a kind of exaggerated pop star bravado and a gentler (but creepy) kind of feminism.  Lyrically, the songs are a mix of dark poetry and sexual innuendo, to the point where it becomes difficult to suss out what is sneering facade and what’s genuine. A good example is “Alpha Female,” a track that follows “Tough Guy” which is both a biting indictment of modern machismo. On the surface “Alpha Female” is a song about how men don’t know everything and how the song’s narrator isn’t going to hold his lady back. But the chorus “Alpha female, I’ll be right behind you” gets nastier and nastier every time it’s repeated.

There’s a real late 90’s U2-experimentalism on many of the tracks on BOY KING. Whether or not you think that’s a good thing or not is entirely up to you. There’s no denying that a track like “Eat Your Heart Out Adonis” sounds like something Bono could have crooned upon exiting a giant mechanical lemon. But whereas Bono and Co. played that phase of their careers a little too seriously, Wild Beasts appear to be in on the joke.  Also, the guitar solo at the end of the song is warmer than anything The Edge’s cold, cold heart produced during that period.

BOY KING ends on a soft, gentle ballad a stark contrast to the album opener “Big Cat.” I  absolutely love “Big Cat,” which might as well been titled “Alpha Male.” The song has a couple of double-entendre for sex and domination, and yet for all its big male bluster…the song is about comparing oneself to a big cat. That another name for cat is pussy can’t be overlooked amidst all the other sexual overtones. Just like the majority of BOY KING “Big Cat” has layers upon layers of complexity. And yet, it’s also just a damn fine pop album you can groove to.

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Classic Albums Revisited: REVOLVER

REVOLVER, The Beatles seventh studio album, just celebrated an impressive 50th anniversary earlier this month. Last night I sat down with my son and listened to in its entirety for the first time in many years. Growing up, REVOLVER was my very first Beatles album. It was one of two CD’s my parents owned for many years which means this is The Beatles album I am most familiar with. Because it was the first time my son Warren had heard an entire Beatles album, I decided to try my best to listen with new ears, not an easy task for an old Beatle-fan like myself.

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For starters, I was surprised at how clean and modern REVOLVER sounds. Sure, this type of rock music isn’t what’s in vogue today, the album could still have easily been released today. I know that this isn’t a new revelation, and is, in fact, the chief aspect that makes The Beatles and their work still so relevant. But I was still nonetheless impressed with how well REVOLVER holds up. I also noted, maybe for the first time, what a fantastic bridge album REVOLVER is between the early “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” Beatles and the drugged out later period. The band is still trading on their moptop image/sound but there is a clear effort to craft songs that are both sonically diverse and that cover meaningful topics outside of merely wanting to hold a girl’s hand and/or being in love. There are, history tells us, several factors that contributed heavily to this evolution in the band’s sound. The first is, of course, the band’s exposure to Bob Dylan, which began a sea change in the band’s writing on RUBBER SOUL released the year before. Lennon, in particular, was increasingly trying to say more with his music thanks to Dylan’s influence. Drugs, specifically LSD, and the psychedelic counter-culture movement also played a tremendous influence on the band and REVOLVER. Lastly, I’d also say that George Harrison meeting Ravi Shankar, how expanded upon and improved Harrison’s sitar playing during the summer of 1966 also heavily influenced REVOLVER.

REVOLVER might also best be described as Harrison’s coming out party. Though his best Beatles-era songs are arguably on ABBEY ROAD, I would argue that it is REVOLVER where it becomes apparent that Harrison is just as good a songwriter as Lennon-McCartney. It’s worth noting that this is the first (and only) time that a Harrison-penned song opens a Beatles album. And what an interesting choice “Taxman” is when you consider the song’s subject matter. This is the first time The Beatles get political and it’s not about war but rather their pocketbooks! I’m not sure I would be aware of the tax situation in the UK during this period of history were in not for this song and The Rolling Stones eventual decision to be tax exiles during the recording of EXILE ON MAIN ST. Interestingly enough, unlike many protest/political songs of the era, “Taxman” is probably the closest song to remain topical even to listeners today.

Though largely considered to be the pop Beatle, the one with the keenest commercial sensibilities, even Paul McCartney gets serious on REVOLVER. True, McCartney (like Lennon) had been maturing in his songwriting with each successive album, REVOLVER features one of his darkest songs ever, “Eleanor Rigby.” Though the song was written in conjunction with Lennon, who often gets credit for being the more artistically-serious Beatle, McCartney came up with the impetus for the song. Listening to “Eleanor Rigby” with fresh ears, I was struck at how hopeless the song’s characters are. That McCartney, a wealthy young rock star, would write such a sensitive song about ordinary, lonely people is still surprising to me. Though the similarly melancholy ballad “Yesterday” gets the lion’s share of accolades, I think “Eleanor Rigby” is the better song. The arrangement is more complicated and the lyrics are more evocative. Without devolving into a simplistic story-song, “Eleanor Rigby” manages to paint the listener a few sad vignettes that cut to the very heart of loneliness and the plight of people society at large has forgotten about. Sure, the song is a bit dramatic, perhaps even a bit melodramatic, but I still get chills listening to the track’s mournful strings.

The Beatles dipped their toes into psychedelic music with “I’m Only Sleeping.” A John Lennon song about the joys of staying in bed, the song features reversed or “backward” guitar tracks, a touchstone of psychedelic music, and has an overall druggy feel to it. The song is one of the few Beatles songs that feature an explicit outsider perspective (“I’m a Loser” might be considered a proto-outsider song, “The Fool on the Hill” is a notable example, as is “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”). Was the world judging Lennon because all he wanted to do was sleep or is the song really about drugs (like most things)? It’s difficult to say. During this period Lennon did reportedly enjoy getting high and staying in bed, but I’ve also read that McCartney had to frequently rouse his writing partner from bed before working on their songs. Also worth noting, the interview Lennon gave around this time in which he famously declared The Beatles “bigger than Jesus” was part of an article that contains a quote from a friend of Lennon’s who declared him the “laziest man in England.” So perhaps “I’m Only Sleeping” really is just about napping in bed. Either way, the song’s inventive use of studio trickery was foreshadowing to surreal sounds the band would capture later on REVOLVER (and in their subsequent albums).

“Love You To” is Harrison’s best song on REVOLVER and one of the most daring songs the band ever produced. Though he’d used the sitar on RUBBER SOUL, to great effect on “Norwegian Wood,” it was this track where Harrison truly brought Indian music to the band’s sound. Using a sitar, a tabla (hand drum), tanpura (a special rhythm instrument), and Harrison created a sound that no doubt sounded otherworldly to the majority of Western listeners of the time. Besides launching a whole new phase of the band’s creative life, “Love You To” single-handedly popularized the genre of World Music. A mix of philosophical noodling and romantic love, the track was the undoubtedly the most sexual song the band had recorded up to that point. Harrison repeatedly states “I’ll make love to you/if you want me to” in the chorus of the song.

Another key influence on The Beatles was Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who’s ghost is all over McCartney’s “Here, There and Everywhere.” The most obvious Wilson-trademark found in the song are the ethereal backing vocals. But the core of the song, being in love and having that love make you a better person is almost a reflection of the themes found in Wilson’s own “God Only Knows.” Though the songs were written and recorded around the same time, this can’t be accidental, can it? A more nuanced and mature love song, “Here, There and Everywhere” takes a larger view of the impact of romantic love beyond the early pleasures of love’s first blush (like most early Beatles love songs). The track is less about how love makes one feel and more about the impact love has on one’s outlook. I think that this song is probably a better example of The Beatles doing a Beach Boys-esque song than “Back in the USSR,” which is just straight parody. The song is nothing but further proof that the band didn’t exist in a vacuum and took cues from the work their peers (besides Dylan).

I can’t tell you how crushed I was when I first learned that “Yellow Submarine” wasn’t actually written by Ringo. The rule for 99.999% of Beatles songs is that whoever is singing lead wrote the track. Sadly, Ringo only wrote two songs during his time with The Beatles, “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Octopus’s Garden.” The song is a fanciful kiddie track that began life as McCartney trying to write both a song for Ringo to sing and a Donovan-esque number. To McCartney’s credit, even though the song is pretty much nonsense, it works wonderfully with Ringo at the helm (pun intended). That this song would later go on to inspire a super-trippy animated film is just icing on the cake. I’d like to hear McCartney sing this one, though I have a hard time imagining what that would be like. It’s odd that two of Ringo’s best known Beatles songs involve the ocean, but then again England is an island and Liverpool is a port city so I suppose it’s not so odd that the boys would have a healthy interest in the sea. I love the song’s goofy little extras, like the crashing wave sound and the ringing bell. Ringo play-acting as a sailor in between verses is also a really nice touch that adds to the song’s theatrical, almost pop-up book-like quality. The Beatles dabbled in so many genres that I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that they ventured into kids music.

“She Said She Said” and “And Your Bird Can Sing” are both ostensibly a dialogue taking place between a man (Lennon) and a woman. “She Said She Said” has a real druggy (acid?) feel to it in which neither party can properly connect or articulate a feeling that they are having. Though the “I know what it’s like to be dead” is definitely the proclamation of chemically altered mind, “I know what it is to be sad” is very real thought/feeling. The juxtaposition between the two has always fascinated me. Is the communication breakdown between the two parties the result of drugs or gender? Who can say? Further complicating matters are the fact that the song was inspired by Henry Fonda, who famously told Lennon at a party “I know what it’s like to be dead.” The song pairs nicely with “And Your Bird Can Sing” which is an indictment against materialism over a personal connection. Both songs share an awesome, iconic opening guitar riff (though “And Your Bird Can Sing” edges out “She Said She Said” in this department). In his book All We Are Saying, author David Sheff quotes Lennon as being dismissive of the song, essentially calling it all style and no substance. I disagree and think Lennon was doing what Lennon often did and disparaged his older work in favor of whatever thing he was doing at the time. The I’ve always really enjoyed the line “You say you’ve seen Seven Wonders/and your bird is green.” That image always stuck with me and I picked up on that line again when I re-listened to the record.

Similarly, “Good Day Sunshine” and “Got to Get You Into My Life” are very similar McCartney tracks that feel almost like throwbacks to a quainter, simpler time. “Good Day Sunshine” has a very old-timey feel to it, both in its simplicity and with it’s twinkling piano and optimism. In fact, the track wouldn’t be entirely out of place on The Kinks magnum opus VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY. The shining horns on “Got to Get You Into My Life” has a similar effect, though “Got to Get You Into My Life” features a much rougher-sounding vocal performance from McCartney. It’s almost an R&B song and was famously covered by Earth, Wind, & Fire in 1978, so apparently I’m not the only one to pick up on this fact. Paul McCartney has gone on the record to state that “Got to Get You Into My Life” is about marijuana, which I find both perplexing and oddly satisfying. Both tracks share a youthful optimism and exuberance that an older version of the band probably couldn’t pull off. McCartney would later revisit this type of old-fashioned/throwback on The White Album (“Martha My Dear” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”) with diminished results.

“For No One” is one of the band’s most poignant and bare-bones songs. Detailing the end of a relationship, Paul McCartney’s song perfectly captures the sadness one feels when you realize the love is gone. Tastefully understated, the song is memorable for its achingly sad french horn solo near the end. The line “a love that should have lasted years” sounds less accusatory the older I get, which I get is an outside quality that I am bringing to the song. And yet, part of me can’t help but think that McCartney’s choice of words aid this phenomenon by being just a touch vague enough to avoid implying fault on either party. Even Lennon, who could be McCartney’s toughest critic, was a fan of “For No One.” Again, this is another track that lives in the shadow of “Yesterday,” even though I think it does essentially the same thing but better.

Much like “Got to Get You Into My Life,” the song “Dr. Robert” was about drugs. Though the latter was more obviously about drugs than the former, it’s still a bit of a secret drug song. A bit cornball in comparison to many of the band’s other drug songs, “Dr. Robert” is important because it’s ostensibly about the doctor that supplied the band with their first acid trip (a dentist who laced the band’s coffee with the drug after dinner one evening). This track is most notable (in my opinion) for the almost hypnotic quality applied to the lyrics”well, well well you’re feeling fine.” Despite not being as colorful as the band’s later substance songs, this one key feature of the song puts above most other songs of a similar theme recorded by other artists at the time.

The last Harrison-penned song on REVOLVER, “I Want To Tell You” is almost a rallying cry for his creativity. While not exactly stifled, Harrison also didn’t receive the full support of McCartney and Lennon when it came to his songs. “I Want To Tell You” is all about having a tremendous torrent of things to say and the struggle with which Harrison (and really all of us) have trying to express ourselves. There’s a dash of mysticism running through the song, no doubt an influence from his intense studying of all things Eastern. “I Want To Tell You” is a great song because even though it covers a very heady, intellectual topic, the song is still very humble in its presentation (almost low-key in many respects). While not Harrison’s best song, I’d say it was the most emblematic of who he was as an artist and as an individual: highly intellectual with a down-to-earth quality, mystical with an aura of practicality.

The final track on the album is also the best. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a tour de force and easily in my top 5 of all-time Beatles songs. Everything about this song is crafted perfectly, from the odd effect place on Lennon’s vocals to the Indian-influenced drum pattern that Ringo uses. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is probably the first truly great studio track from a band that would soon go on to do nothing but fantastic studio-driven tracks. Using looping tape, The Beatles create an otherworldly soundscape that must have scared the crap out of all the kids tripping on acid the first time they put REVOLVER on. That this is the track to close the album makes the songs feel like an odd, beautiful sunset. The strange, mystical poetry of Lennon’s lyrics are as just a good as anything the man ever wrote. I’m sure this song is highly regarded, but I feel like his later works like “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” are more lauded. And I find that sad in a way, because “Tomorrow Never Knows” is easily the equal of both of those tracks.

Perhaps I don’t run in the right crowds, but I feel like REVOLVER is almost a forgotten masterpiece by The Beatles. RUBBER SOUL is usually the transitional Beatles record that gets the most attention, which is a shame because I think REVOLVER is the superior album. Straddling the line perfectly between both periods of the band’s creative life, REVOLVER has everything one thinks of when they think of The Beatles.

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