Tag Archives: Noel Gallagher

GOOD TIMES! by The Monkees

Can somebody please tell me when it was that nostalgia became such a huge commodity? I don’t remember there being so much reverence for the past when I was a wee lad. Sometime in the 1990’s when they started adapting shows like The Brady Bunch and Lost in Space into feature films is when I became aware of nostalgia for the first time. I used to think it was kinda sad/lame, but now that I’m turning into an old fart I’m beginning to see the appeal. Anyway, I bring all this up because when I first heard that The Monkees were going to put out a new album in 2016, I was pretty much nonplussed but I could smell the nostalgia in the air. These long lost reunions never yield anything close to good, so I wrote the whole concept of a new Monkees album off.

the-monkees-good-times-album-rivers-cuomo

The Monkees were never really my thing. Besides being too young to watch their television show, I was born in an era where they were considered a joke. A sad, pale corporate imitation of The Beatles. Growing up I was a Beatle-fan and had no time for The Monkees and their less-than serious 60’s shtick. It wasn’t until I got much older that I learned that while The Monkees weren’t exactly serious musicians, they had a ton of real talent backing them up. People like Carole King and Harry Nilsson were penning songs for the imaginary TV-band. It was around the time that Gorillaz came out that my attitude towards The Monkees started to change. Perhaps I’d judged them too harshly. Less of a band and more of a cultural happening, The Monkees occupy a very strange (very meta) part of 1960’s culture.

So what about this new 2016 album, GOOD TIMES? Well, I got interested in it a bit once I found out that Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne was going to produce the record. Then I found out The Monkees were tapping Andy Partridge of XTC and Rivers Cuomo of Weezer to write songs. Then I heard the album would feature new covers of Harry Nilsson and Carole King songs–and the deal was sealed for me: I had to hear this record. It’s a strange thing to log into your Spotify account and boot up a new album from The Monkees. But that’s the world that we live in now, so that’s what I did a few weeks ago when the album was released. To my shock, GOOD TIMES! is a fantastic pop album that’s a ton of fun to listen to. Is this groundbreaking, earth-shattering music? No. Is GOOD TIMES! a soul-lifting, life-inspiring album that reaffirmed my love of music? Not quite. Is it the best Monkees album of all time? Yeah, it is.

I realize that statement, “best Monkees album of all time,” might seem like faint praise…because it is…but remember this is band that put out “Last Train to Clarksville.” While not the greatest song of all time, “Last Train To Clarksville” is a one of the better bubblegum pop songs from any decade, not just the decade when Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney were at their pop zenith.

GOOD TIMES! opens with Nilsson’s “Good Time,” a soulful, sweaty party song. Lead singer Davy Jones has sadly left us, so Micky Dolenz does most of the singing (though Jones does appear posthumously on one track, the Neil Diamond-penned “Love to Love”).

“You Bring the Summer” is a lovely, charming pop ditty that recalls the quaint, innocent teenybopper party songs of the early 1960’s (read: before the drugs really hit). Written by Andy Partridge, the track sounds like it’d belong on the gentler-side of one of his Dukes of Stratosphere recordings. There are a couple of odd British phrases (i.e. “sun cream” rather than “sun screen”) that add a glaze of weirdness to an otherwise basic (albeit very proficient) pop song. Rivers Cuomo’s song “She Makes Me Laugh” is easily the best song on the album, a sunny song of love and devotion. The track artfully blends Beatle-esque rock with Beach Boys-like backing vocals. This is the sort of song you hear and when you get to the end you hit “repeat” so you can go again. The only part of “She Makes Me Laugh” that bums me out is the fact that Rivers isn’t able to conjure up a song like this for Weezer. Whatever happened to Mr. Cuomo and Co. can’t be blamed on a lack of talent–Cuomo can still write a really great song. I guess there’s always the next Weezer album, but I digress…

Another really great track is “Me & Magdalena,” a soft ballad written by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie. The song has a dreamy, twilight feel that’s very comforting…it took me a few listens before I picked up on the fact that the song is ostensibly about death/dying. It’s not the buzzkill that you’d think and is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the material on the album (i.e. it’s more than just a fun pop song). This song is so good, in fact, it’s got me thinking I need to revisit Death Cab (a band that I never really gave a fair shake to if I’m being honest).

“Birth of an Accidental Hipster,” the strangest track on the record, has the most interesting pedigree. Written by Oasis founder Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller of The Jam, “Birth of an Accidental Hipster” is weird. There are weird vocal effects and the song yo-yos between faux-psychedelia and campfire sing-a-long. The first time I heard it I was convince that it was the worst song on the record. Then I saw that it was written by two to of the best British songwriters of the last 30 years, so I gave the track another chance. Then I gave it another chance. And another. Eventually the song wove it’s magic on me and it’s one of my favorites on the record. But like “Me & Magdalena” it doesn’t feel like a Monkees track, it’s a bit of an outlier. But that’s a good thing.

“Wasn’t Born To Follow”is a Carole King/Gerry Goffin song that was most famously covered by The Byrds. The song has a pastoral, Kinks-like quality that I really dig. Like the Harry Nilsson track that opens the album, this older song is less bubblegum than those written by the youngbloods. It would have been interesting to hear an album of just these type of songs. I found the tonal shifting with these more meaningful songs and the new bubblegum was a bit dizzying. GOOD TIMES! is front-loaded with new, sugary songs and ends on decidedly more adult fare.

Overall, GOOD TIMES! is…well…a really good time! A handful of these songs will probably haunt my playlists for years to come. I wouldn’t call this an all-timer by any means, but for a 2016 Monkees album, GOOD TIMES! is pretty outstanding. Worth noting, there a bunch of non-album tracks that one can hear depending on the venue by which they consume the record. On Spotify/digital streaming services, the bonus tracks are “Terrifying” written by Zach Rogue of Rouge Wave and an electric uptempo version of “Me & Magdalena.” I’m not a fan of the latter, but “Terrifying” is damn good and probably should have been included on the album proper. I’m half tempted to seek out the other bonus tracks just to see what other fantastic nuggets were omitted.

Put aside your preconceived notions and give GOOD TIMES! a shot if you’re a fan of any of the songwriters mentioned above and/or if you’re a fan of old-fashioned pop music.

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BE by Beady Eye

BE

Beady Eye, the gutted remains of what used to be the Brit-Pop band Oasis, put out their second album this week.  Beady Eye’s first record, DIFFERENT GEAR, STILL SPEEDING was Liam Gallagher’s confident blast of bravado and proof that he could hold his own without his brother Noel.   Back in 2012 I proclaimed 2011 to be “The Year of The Battling Gallagher Brothers.”  Liam was the first of the Gallagher brothers to release a post-Oasis record and ultimately I felt his Beady Eye record was better than Noel’s strangely titled High Flying Birds record.

Fast forward to 2013, and my expectations were high as I fired up BE.  Would Liam be able to deliver another stellar album or would Noel’s absence be more fully felt?  My first impression was that BE was closer to the denser, mid-period Oasis albums like HEATHEN CHEMISTRY and STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS.   I love both of those records, but they took a couple of listens before I found myself singing along.  Similarly, BE lacks the big hooks of early Oasis.  Also toned-down is the usual Beatles-influence.

BE has a spacey, almost distant quality that frankly took me by surprise.  There are definite tempo changes throughout the record, but everything sounds quieter and more subdued that DIFFERENT GEAR , STILL SPEEDING.  Standout tracks include the Lennon-esque “Iz Rite” and the quiet, dare I say introspective “Soon Come Tomorrow.”

The album has songs that should be rockers, like the third track “Face The Crowd,” but nothing on BE takes off like on Beady Eye’s first album.  So initially I was a bit underwhelmed by BE’s low-key shift, but after a few spins I warmed to the album. BE feels like a transitional album for Beady Eye.  On one hand, I’m a little sad Liam isn’t just doing Oasis 2.0 music…but on the other hand I’m glad he’s branching out into new territory—even if he that means we don’t get a few less raucous rockers.

I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t address BE’s most interesting song: “Don’t Brother Me.”  This is the song all of us Oasis fans have been waiting for—the one in which one of the Gallagher brother’s waves a white flag.  With lyrics like, “In the morning/I’ve been calling, I’m hoping you understand/All and nothing, I’ll keep pushing/Come on now, give peace a chance, take my hand, be a man” this is song is 100% aimed at Noel.  I know what it’s like to have a tempestuous relationship with a sibling, someone who you can both deeply love and feel tremendous anger towards.  “Don’t Brother Me” probably isn’t going to mend any Gallagher family fences (Liam sings about being sick of  “your lying, skimming, and you crying”) but it’s a start.

The worst thing I could say about BE (and actually I did this during much of Noel’s HIGH FLYING BIRDS) is that during most of the songs I found myself singing the chorus of “Fade Away” that ultimate-classic of an Oasis song: “While we’re living, the dreams we had as children fade away…”

BE gets an (un-ironic) “B”.

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My Top 5 Most-Anticipated Albums

2012 is nearly over can you believe it?  Seems like only yesterday I was writing about 2011 (The Year Of The Battling Gallagher Brothers). Time flies when you’re having fun.  Speaking of fun, there’s a bunch of really cool records that are coming out at the close of 2012.  In fact, there were so many really awesome records about to  “drop” that I actually had trouble narrowing it down to just five!

So how does an un-released record get on my “Most Anticipated” list?  Well, it has to be an album whose release date I’ve been eyeing for a while.  The record has to have an “official” release date DAY and MONTH…none of this “September 2012” nonsense where the record company can repeatedly move the street date.  And lastly, the record has to be something I plan on going out and BUYING the day it comes out–that means it’s an album I’m super-duper stoked about.

My Top 5 Most-Anticipated Albums:

1. HOT CAKES by The Darkness (August 21): I don’t have very long to wait for this one, and yet it feels like I’ve been waiting for seven years.  I guess that’s because I have been waiting for seven years!  I seem to be in the minority that believe 2005’s ONE WAY TICKET TO HELL…AND BACK! was better than the british-rocker’s debut PERMISSION TO LAND (otherwise known as the album that spawned “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”).  The band broke up, but like a phoenix from the flames, The Darkness have returned.  The new songs are growing on me and all the reviews I’ve read have been positive.  Here’s hoping for an amazing comeback.

HOT CAKES

2. CENTIPEDE HZ by Animal Collective (September 4): I’m a late-comer to the greatness that is Animal Collective, but I’ve been voraciously consuming their entire catalogue.  They seem to be one of those rare bands that seem to get more daring and more creative the bigger their audience gets.  I was completely and utterly blown away by their last album, MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILLION, with it’s luscious electro-freak-rock vibes.  I really can’t wait to see what the band pulls out of it’s freak bag.  And with song titles like “Monkey Riches” and “Applesauce” how can this be a bad record?

CENTIPEDE HZ

3. TEMPEST by Bob Dylan (September 11): Alright, I know what you’re thinking…Dylan, really? Well I think Bob’s last few records have been just as good as anything he put out in the 1960’s.  There.  I said it.  Well, maybe not CHRISTMAS IN THE HEART so much as MODERN TIMES.  MODERN TIMES was the album that made me truly fall in love with Dylan and give into the fact that he really is as good as they say he is. TEMPEST is rumored to be Dylan’s final album (the title of the album being an allusion to Shakespeare’s final play).  This one is sure to be really weird and epic, just like a good Dylan record should be.  There’s supposed to be a 14+ minute song about the Titanic on the  album, if that doesn’t get your juices flowing I don’t know what will.  Another song is going to pay tribute to fallen Beatle John Lennon, which should be sweet (although he’s been dead for 30 years, what’s been the hold-up, Bob?).  Love him or hate him, if this is his final album don’t you wanna experience it?

TEMPEST

4.  BATTLE BORN by The Killers (September 18): I know, I’m just as surprised as you are.  Who’d have thought that the HOT FUSS boys would still hold my interest four albums into their career.  Sure, the band hasn’t lived up to the hype that singer Brando Flowers notably likes to cultivate, but I’ve really enjoyed watching them slowly morph into Bruce Springsteen-like “heart-land” rockers.  The album is named after the motto on the Nevada State-flag and comes after the band enjoyed a bit of a hiatus…that’s about all I know.  They released a serviceable first single back in July titled “Runaways.”  It was just okay, I know I shouldn’t be as excited about this record as I am but I just can’t quit this band.

BATTLE BORN

5.  LONERISM by Tame Impala (October 9): Australian psychedelic-rockers Tame Impala have mercifully recorded a new album! I am super-excited about this because I am in dire need of awesomely-trippy, chilled-out tunes.  If you haven’t experienced the band’s first album INNERSPEAKER I urge you to get a pair of headphones (really good ones) and drift off with Tame Impala.  I was worried that the band might not be able to live up to their amazing first album, but if the new songs are any indication, LONERISM is going to be just as good as the first record.  Go treat yourself to the glory of “Apocalypse Dream.”  You deserve it.

LONERISM

Honorable Mentions:

911 by Trash Talk (October 9)

PUSH AND SHOVE by No Doubt (just for the train-wreck factor) (September 25)

JACK SELLS THE COW by Robert Pollard (September 18)

SHIELDS by Grizzly Bear (September 18)

FOUR by Bloc Party (August 21)

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2011: The Year of the Battling Gallagher Brothers

Sibling rivalry. 

 In my head, having a brother is like having a built-in best friend, though I know the reality is very different.  Everyone I know with a brother seems to have some sort of issue with him.  Noel and Liam Gallagher, the creative force behind the last great british rock band that mattered, have to my knowledge always been in a state of embattlement.  Locking horns over creative differences is one thing, giving each other brutal back-stage beat downs is something else entirely.

The Gallagher Brothers...in better days.

When the boys could work together, the music they produced was astounding. Oasis never was anything other than two British lads trying to out-Beatle The Beatles. In the 1990’s it worked and Oasis became a household name with hits like “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova.”  But then drugs and conflict pulled the band down a rabbit hole of mediocrity and diminishing album sales.  Initially I was not a fan of the brutish Brit-rockers.  I found Liam’s nasally, Lennon-obsessed vocals to be grating.  And I didn’t see much value in Noel’s rather by-the-numbers balladry.  I’d always been a huge Beatles fan growing up, and I found Oasis to be more  rip-off than torch-passing tribute.  I’ve softened on this position over the years and my appreciation of Oasis oddly grew as their general fame receded.

During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s Oasis put out a string of competent, though somewhat spotty albums that were both risky and highly indulgent.  Most people were turned off by albums like STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS and HEATHEN CHEMISTRY, but I found them to be much more interesting than their “safer” Beatle-esque material.  This period of the band’s life was marked by heavier (than usual) in-fighting and heavy cocaine abuse.  Then in 2005 the band released DON’T BELIEVE THE TRUTH and had a minor comeback.

In 2008 the band released DIG OUT YOUR SOUL and went on tour.  I was lucky enough to see Oasis perform in Chicago on what was to be their final tour.  The concert was great but the album they were supporting was lackluster.  When the band broke up in 2009 I was saddened but not surprised.   The boys had finally called it quits after some sort of altercation occurred back stage and Liam ended up breaking Noel’s guitar. These type of shenanigans, which seemed quaint back in the “Wonderwall” days seemed pathetic.  Especially when you consider that they’re both pretty damn old to still be getting in backstage fights.  If you can’t get along then move on.

Which is what both brothers said they were going to do.  I didn’t anticipate the both of them to release albums this year.  I figured, like I think most people did, that when Oasis broke up that would be the end of the brothers Gallagher.  I thought that perhaps they’d fight over the name Oasis, maybe even mount competing tours. I can close my eyes and almost see each of them proclaiming their version to be the “true” Oasis.

Liam, I was certain, was going to be fucked without Noel.  He was the principal singer but not the band’s main songwriter. All the big hits were Noel’s, who besides writing songs was also the lead guitarist.  In fact, when Oasis played live, Liam seemed very awkward just standing there, waiting to sing.  He’d often clutch a tambourine, to give himself something to hold, but for the most part he looked pretty lost.  When one of Noel’s songs came up (the ones he actually sang), Liam would leave the stage entirely.

So the brother who wrote less, played no instruments, and was generally regarded to be the chief fuck of the band was going to have a hard time as a solo act.  That much I was sure.  Noel, on the other hand, seemed more like George Harrison–a brilliant artist stifled by being in the world’s biggest band. Surely the break-up of Oasis would be a good thing for his career/music.  Without Liam constantly offering him roadblocks and hoging the limelight, he’d be free to become the star he always seemed to be.  That’s what I thought was going to happen.

But life is funny and people are always surprising.  Liam and the remaining members of Oasis formed the band Beady Eye and announced they were recording an album only months after the break-up.  Two years later DIFFERENT GEAR, STILL SPEEDING came out and was pretty damn good.  Not only did Liam beat Noel to the punch by having his album come out first, it wasn’t a complete distaster.  “Bring the Light” a rollicking piano number and “The Roller” were better than anything late-period Oasis were putting out, even on their “comeback” DON’T BELIEVE THE TRUTH.  Not every track was what I’d call classic, but the album didn’t disappoint. Liam hadn’t embarrassed himself.

Noel and Liam, wondering which them is inappropriately dressed.

So, if Liam’s album was great then Noel’s album was going to be FANTASTIC.  Right?  Well there was silence on the Noel Gallagher front for several months, then it was announced that his album and band was going to be called NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS.  When I finally got my hands on the album I recognized two of the songs.  Unlike Liam (who was not regarded as the writer) Noel had recycled two unreleased Oasis songs for his solo debut.  Those tracks, “(I Wanna Live In a Dream In My) Record Machine” and “Stop the Clocks.” These songs aren’t super-obscure either.  Hell, they played “Record Machine” when I saw them in Chicago and “Stop the Clocks” was the TITLE of their greatest hits compilation (though it was ultimately left off because Noel wasn’t done tinkering with it). Noel the master songwriter had taken longer to release an album of old songs?

Something didn’t feel right.  And while NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS is just as good as Beady Eye’s album, there’s still something very wrong with that.  I almost feel like Liam stepped his game up for the Beady Eye record and Noel slacked off and gave us something good but not his best work. The two Oasis-era songs were good and “If I Had A Gun…” and the single “The Death of You and Me” are very catchy…but ultimately I feel like by not completely screwing up his album, Liam stole some of Noel’s thunder.  Both Liam and Noel are busy touring and have announced new albums for next year.  Only time will tell if the Gallagher brothers will ever make amends and reform Oasis.  If they weren’t family, I’d say it was a remote possibility, but with blood you never can tell.

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