Tag Archives: Nine Inch Nails

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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Train Hilariously Cover All of LED ZEPPELIN II

“Dear God, why?” That’s what I thought when I logged into Spotify last week and spotted Train’s new album DOES LED ZEPPELIN II. I’m still not 100% sure why the album appeared in my feed. I know it’s not because I’m a huge Train fan…maybe it’s because I love Zeppelin? Just so we’re all clear, the Train in question (who just released a top-to-bottom cover of the second Led Zeppelin album) is the San Francisco alt-rockers best known for their 2001 album DROPS OF JUPITER.

I can’t believe that I’m writing a post about this band. Train is one of those incredibly forgettable bands that came and went without anyone really noticing because of how bland they are.  “Drops of Jupiter” is one of those obnoxious ear-worms that infect you and cause you to embarrass yourself in the grocery check-out line when you start quietly singing it under your breath. The only thing more vanilla-boring than Train are The Fray (don’t get me started). The more I think about it, the more I realize how the late 1990’s/early 2000’s were a truly dismal time for Top 40 pop-rock.

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The album artwork is just as inspired as the music.

Anyway, this complete cover album is totally baffling to me on two levels. The first is: why does this exist? I don’t think I’m being (too) cheeky when I pose this question. What does it serve to make an album that covers a legendary album like LED ZEPPELIN II? This ties into my second “why?” in regards to this album: why would you release an album of covers that sounds exactly like the original? If I want to hear the second Zeppelin album, I can go and listen to it anytime I want. It still stands up today as one of the finest blues-inspired hard rock albums. If I want to hear another artist cover songs that love, I usually want said artist to bring something to the table. DOES LED ZEPPELIN II is so ridiculously slavish to the original (fantastic) recording, that it literally does not need to exist. There is no point. Sure, the production is a little cleaner, the guitar playing not quiet as tight, and the vocals a pale imitation of Robert Plants legendary performance…but the whole package sounds so much like Zeppelin that most casual listeners might actually mistake it for the original album.

I think that most of us would agree that an ideal cover presents a familiar (or unfamiliar) song in a new light. The best covers are more interpretive than mimicry. That’s why something like Gary Jules’ cover of the Tears For Fears song “Mad World” is so outstanding. Rather than reproduce the song verbatim, Jules took a great track and slowed it down turning a sad song into a wonderfully somber dirge. The same goes for Johnny Cash’s cover of the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt.” When I think of both of those songs I almost never think about the original versions–that’s how good those two covers are.

Train had to have known that the kind of Gus Van Sant-devotion they were exhibiting on the Zeppelin project could only be viewed as an exercise in complete wankery. Surely the point of such a stunt is to show off that it could be done. I guess it is impressive that such a lame, mediocre band could record such an album…but the fact that they chose to record DOES LED ZEPPELIN II just goes to underscore why I find them so hilariously irrelevant. Hey Train, want to show smarmy bloggers like me that you’re not lame? Take the skill you used to create DOES LED ZEPPELIN II and make your own epic record.

 

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