Saturday, April 25, 2009

2006 Album Reviews: A-B

(As published in the Times of Acadiana unless otherwise noted...)

Atreyu: Death Grip on Yesterday (Victory)—The real reason lead vocalist Alex Varkatzas is depressed: every time he tries to sing, he sounds as if he’s going to throw up.

The Beach Boys: Songs from Here and Back (Hallmark)—Available at Hallmark Gold Crown stores until July 23 and selling for $7.95 (“with the purchase of three Hallmark cards”), this collection of seven 1989 live songs plus one previously unreleased track apiece from Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, and Mike Love will be of interest primarily to fanatics. Of course, as fanatics already own Good Timin: Live At Knebworth England 1980 and the Sessions bootleg, they already have ’80s live versions of four of this disc’s live seven and two mixes of Brian Wilson’s cornball “The Spirit of Rock & Roll” respectively. Fanatics will therefore have to content themselves with the live “Dance, Dance, Dance” (O.K.), “Kokomo” (nice), and Carl Wilson-sung “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (nicer). Even non-fanatics, meanwhile, will rightly suspect that the Jardine and Love cuts are cornball too. Rating: Two-and-a-half tropical drinks melting in our hands out of five.

Andrea Bocelli: Amore (Decca)—Julio Iglesias for highbrows; and why do they call this stuff “easy listening” when it’s harder to listen to than Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music?

Boston: Boston/Don’t Look Back (Epic/Legacy)—Recorded between 1976 and 1978 when the restrictions of vinyl imposed 40-minute limits on even the most self-indulgent acts, Boston’s first two albums would’ve easily fit onto one $18.98 CD. Yet Epic/Legacy has released these newly remastered editions separately at $11.98 a pop, essentially charging consumers five extra dollars, an amount which in these days of high gas prices actually means something. The aesthetically minded might argue that separately reissuing the albums in their original covers is necessary to recreate the sense of history-in-the-making that accompanied their first appearance. But the problem with Boston has always been one of form over content, so even seemingly minor details like packaging take on heightened significance. Remastered by the group’s technologically gifted lead guitarist Tom Scholz, the albums have never sounded better. Every detail of Scholz’s immaculate engineering glistens, making it easier than ever before to appreciate what one critic described as the group’s American Yes-meets-Led-Zeppelin fusion. Frankly, even thirty years later no rock band can touch it, and, given the ever-increasing preference for digital over analogue definition, it’s doubtful any rock band ever will. Unfortunately, the lyrics, which at their best were never more than functional, sound stupider than ever, a situation that will only worsen with each passing anniversary. Rating: Two-and-a-half stairways to M.I.T. out of five.

Chris Botti: To Love Again: The Duets (Columbia)—Foregrounding Michael Bublé, Sting, Paula Cole, Steven Tyler, and Gladys Knight, Botti’s easy-listening jazz beats Kenny G’s; it does not, however, beat the music that Bublé, Sting, Cole, Tyler, and Knight make on their own.

Bow Wow Wow: We Are the ’80s (RCA/Legacy)—“I Want Candy” and “Louis Quatorze” endure, and “See Jungle! (Jungle Boy),” “(I’m a) TV Savage,” “Elimination Dancing,” and “Go Wild in the Country” razzle if not dazzle, leaving eight others to remind one of how irritating Annabella Lwin and Malcom McLaren in tandem could be.

Buckcherry: 15 (Eleven Seven)—“Everything” is everything a great hard-rock song should be: simple but not stupid, empathetic, hooky, loud but not deafening, and faster than mid-tempo but slower than speed metal. “Carousel” and “Sorry,” which immediately follow, almost manage the same trick, except their lyrics are stupid, not simple, their emotional manipulation plainly discernible beneath their rote sweet-talk. True, Aerosmith could put them across, but Buckcherry hasn’t built up the stock of good will that Aerosmith has and therefore can’t pass off its dirty-old-man routine as a coded thank-you to its fans for sticking with them through the years. Also true: even if Guns N’ Roses could’ve gotten away with “Crazy Bitch,” and I’m not sure they could have, they could’ve done so only because they also had “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” and even “Everything” isn’t up to that standard. Rating: Three dobiddleys out of five.

T Bone Burnett: The True False Identity (DMZ/Columbia)—Burnett is a genius, but he hasn’t made a genius album since 1982, and this one, his first in fourteen years, is no exception. His knack for exploring religion, philosophy, and politics in a rock-friendly vernacular without oversimplification remains, but the music, instead of lightening the burden imposed by such weighty topics, mirrors it. Not since 1987’s The Talking Animals has Burnett put his name on anything this dark and dense, this baroque and overwrought, and, although (or maybe because) he's a genius, tends to over-think the problems of the world as well as his own. What almost redeems the enterprise is that sometimes when he thinks his about his own problems, he thinks about them humbly, even going out of his way now and then to see the log in his own eye as a log and the speck in his brother’s eye as a speck. Rating: Three parabolic parables out of five.

T Bone Burnett: 20/20: The Essential T Bone Burnett (Columbia/Legacy/DMZ)—Between playing in Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review and producing the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, T Bone Burnett released five albums and two EPs under his own name and three as the de facto leader of the Alpha Band. Other than relying overmuch on 1992’s The Criminal Under My Own Hat and not enough on 1980’s Truth Decay, this two-disc, forty-song overview faithfully chronicles his funny-sad, catchy-philosophical, and mostly otherwise out-of-print body of work, adding three previously unreleased songs (one with Magnolia Sister Ann Savoy) and re-recordings of several songs from 1983’s Proof Through the Night. If Burnett’s main themes were the wages of sin and the hope of redemption, his aesthetic challenge was the balancing of his pontifical tendencies (“Hefner and Disney”) with his roots-rock roots (“Driving Wheel”). His bull’s-eyes outnumbered his near-misses, which outnumbered his far-misses, and even atheists will thank God for “I Wish You Could’ve Seen Her Dance” and “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Rating: Four humans from earth out of five.

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