Tag Archives: Paul Westerberg

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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Overpaying For Concert Ticket PreSales Suck Or How I Learned To Relax And Love LiveNation (NOT)

About a week ago there was a major announcement in Defending Axl Rose-land: The Replacements were going on tour. Luckily for me, one of the stops would be my hometown of Denver. The band reformed about a year ago for a few festival dates, but I wasn’t able to attend any of those. This announcement was the second-chance I never thought I’d get. Once the initial thrill of a Replacements tour dissipated I was left with one thought: these tickets are going to cost a fortune.

Anytime a legendary band re-forms and goes on a reunion tour there’s a ton of money to be made. The Replacements broke up in 1991 and though they’re highly influential, I don’t know anyone personally who actually likes them. So I had no idea just how highly coveted would these tickets be. I’m a terrible judge of popularity—the larger populace more often than not greets the things that seem incredibly important to me with a resounding “meh”. Still, there was no way in hell I was going to pass up a chance to see The Replacements, so I resolved to see them. No matter what. Come hell or high water. *Insert other cliché here*.

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My first move was to see when tickets would go on sale, so I hopped online and went to the band’s trusty website…which immediately linked me to LiveNation. Fucking LiveNation. When I clicked that link I swear my computer made a cash register sound. I won’t bore you with my own personal tale of poverty; I know that there are people worse off. But let’s just say that despite being paid a handsome salary as President & C.E.O of Defending Axl Rose Industries; I don’t have an unlimited supply of funds. Anytime I deal with LiveNation I end up spending double what I thought I was going to pay. Going on their website is akin to being pulled over by a police car. Scrolling through the website is just like rolling down the window and forking over my driver’s license. How much, I think, is this shit going to end up costing me?

LiveNation’s website indicated that The Replacements tickets were going on sale to the public on Friday but that there was a “Presale” the day before. Gripped with a nerdy fear that I might not get to go due to a lack of tickets, I instantly jumped on the hope that this mysterious presale offered. There was zero information explaining what the rules or requirements of the presale was, so I had no choice but to set a timer in my iPhone and check back at the time of the presale.

I know exactly none of you care what my opinion of presales is, but I’m going to tell you: I hate them. Essentially presales are insulting to most fans, rewarding the lucky few who possess a Visa Rapid Rewards Card or who belong to KQRC’s Morning Madness Fan Club. Want the privilege of buying overpriced tickets before anyone else? Sign up for our annoying ass mailing list. Despite being such a massive music nerd, I have no love for fan clubs and don’t think I should have to give the Kaiser Chiefs my personal info to score tickets to their show before all of you other sweaty basement dwellers.

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When the day of the presale came I hit up LiveNation’s website to see if they’d explain what hoops I’d have to jump through to score tickets. It turned out the presale wasn’t for a credit card or fan club I didn’t belong to…it was for a local radio station and users of the LiveNation app! The idea of downloading a free to app to score a code to buy tickets a day early didn’t seem so bad. I went to the App Store and quickly downloaded the app. Then I spent five minutes or so setting up an account with the app. Then I navigated to the Replacements concert within the app, thinking there I’d be allowed to purchase tickets for the show. Nope.

I was treated to a rage-inducing notice that tickets would go on sale the next day. Well played, LiveNation. The whole purpose of the app-only presale was to get me to stupidly download their app and give them my information, which I happily did. Too bad I wasn’t paid in kind for my cooperation. I double-checked myself, just to make sure I hadn’t missed something. When I was sure that I hadn’t, I angrily deleted the app from my phone. Then I went back on LiveNation to see if I was confused or had missed something. The website insisted that as an app user I’d be provided with a code I could use for the presale. I resigned myself to having to wait a day to buy tickets. Then about 20 minutes later I downloaded the app for a second time and tried it all over again.

Pissed off and feeling foolish, I decided to double-down on the amount of time I was going to waste on this presale and went back to LiveNation’s website in order to file a complaint. At the very bottom of their page I found a FAQ/Help link. There I found a section about presales which offered this nugget of wisdom:

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Guess what, LiveNation: FUCK YOU.

I couldn’t believe it, could it really be that simple? Did all I need to do was type “beatbox” and I’d magically be allowed to give them my money? Yep, it really was that simple. I deleted the app off my phone for the second time and swore under breath. Then I dropped $121 I didn’t really have on concert tickets. Much like songstress Jewel, these foolish games are tearing me apart.

I get that with this presale LiveNation wanted me to download and use their app, but without doing what they said it was going to do (i.e. give me a code to buy presale tickets) it makes it look like LiveNation doesn’t know what it’s doing. Being a multi-million dollar company, this level of incompetence casts LiveNation in an evil, manipulative light. So which is it, LiveNation are you incompetent or evil?

Sadly it doesn’t matter if they’re evil, because even though I wasn’t happy with them, I still gave them my money. What choice did I have? I guess I could have waited a day and half and gone down to the venue to purchase tickets, but I’m not even sure if I can do that anymore. And waiting on tickets can mean missing out on shows, especially when scalping computers swoop in to buy up all the tickets for those shady online re-sellers.

I can’t even remember the last time I bought tickets anywhere other than online. Much like cable companies, LiveNation and other giant ticket sellers have all us music fans by the balls. I love seeing bands play live, but I hate everything about buying concert tickets. As the music industry shrinks faster than the polar icecaps, I get understand that concert revenue has become increasingly important. I get that high tickets are paying for my evil, music streaming-ways. And if I truly love a band, I’ll pay way more than I should to see them in concert, but why do ticket retailers like LiveNation have to give me an electronic wedgie when I try to give them my money?

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“Valentine” by The Replacements

“If you were a pill, I’d take a handful at my will/And knock you back with something sweet and strong.”

Paul Westerberg perfectly captures the sleazy hopelessness of young, desperate love in “Valentine.”  The song was recorded by The Replacements for their 1987 album PLEASED TO MEET ME, and pretty much the only V-Day song I’m going to be listening to today. The song’s opening lines, in which a star wished upon turns out to just be an airplane tells you everything you need to know about this song.  I wouldn’t call Westerberg unsentimental, I’d just call him a realist.  Love’s a drug and we’re all junkies. 

These guys KNOW what love's really all about.

These guys KNOW what love’s really all about.

Valentine’s Day is just like all the other holidays: a good idea twisted into an excuse for people to spend money they don’t have. Take time to think about all the love you’ve had and currently have, but don’t buy a fucking greeting card.

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Your Next Favorite Band: The Replacements

I don’t even know where to start with this one.  The Replacements are like an institution in the pop/punk world.  I want to say something stupid like “they’re as important as The Beatles” or “they’re a bit like Nirvana” but that doesn’t do them justice.  The Replacements started out as a shitty punk band in Minnesota  and became something much more, so much more.  Without The Replacements there would be no fucking Green Day, I’ll tell you that.

So much hair-product, so little time.

Lead singer/song-writer Paul Westerberg is a genius.  You want catchy as hell songs that are also ABOUT something? Then look no further.  His lyrics are literate and biting…and yet also sweet and almost naive at the same time.   They’re tough as hell and soft as a pillow. He’s that special kind of badass that can write about how sad and lonely he is without coming off like a sissy.  For me this is best encapsulated by their song “Unsatisfied.” It’s tough as hell and makes me want to cry it’s so heart-on-their-sleeve the lyrics should be written in blood.

The band evolved from spikey, angry-youngman punk (see the STINK Ep) to more refined power-pop  (PLEASED TO MEET ME).  Whenever a band changes so dramatically it usually means their is a real artist involved, because in my opinion, a true artist is never content to bang out the same crap year after year.  The songs were written 20+ years ago and yet they still seem fresh and relevant.  This is 80’s music that doesn’t seem to be 80’s music.

So if they’re so fucking great, why haven’t you heard of them? Well, they were so punk-rock they had this almost pathologically desire to ruin their careers.  I’ve seen old MTV footage of them cursing and carousing drunkenly on TV, just trying to piss people off.   They basically sabotaged their own careers at almost every turn.  They were young, dumb, addicted to drugs, and didn’t really fit any mold corporate America gave them.  If they’d come out just a few years later they would have been Nirvana, I’m convinced of that.  Really, The Replacements were an unsuccessful Nirvana–in that they refused to play the corporate-shrill game…but the zeitgeist wasn’t with The Replacements like it was with Kurt Cobain & Company.  But I don’t feel too bad for them, success would have just ruined the party.  It’s more fun to be the under-dog anyway, right?

Little did they realize they'd be naming their 1984 release LET IT BE. I'm sure if they knew they'd have dressed up...

There are so many good songs, so many 100% perfect albums from this band, I don’t even know what to recommend you check out.  I guess start with PLEASED TO MEET ME and LET IT BE. Oh yeah, The Replacements had THE TESTICULAR FORTITUDE to name their 1984 album the same as The Beatles final (chronologically released) album.  It would be like if Kanye’s next album was called SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND. Holy fuck, I’d like to have been there when the label found out.

There’s a Big Star connection in that, like most ’80s rockers, Paul Westerberg worshiped at the alter of Alex Chilton’s Band.  The Replacements kick so much ass, I haven’t done them any favors in any of this dribble: please just listen to a few songs and buy their albums.  They’re the real deal.

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