Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Gary Numan - The Pleasure Principle

Decade - 1970's

Gary Numan - The Pleasure Principle (1979)

Boy oh boy, late 70's/early 80's synth electro-pop. I didn't recognise his name but mostly everyone will recognise one of the tracks, "Cars", which was the only hit off this album.

This album went to #1 in the UK (great, but um, so did Mr. Blobby!), and is the only Numan album that is purely electronic. I freely admit - I do not get it. I don't get the appeal, or why anyone who isn't part robot would want to listen. It's a very cold, keyboard driven album sung by someone who relates to androids way too much. It screams 80's (despite it's 1979 release) and not the GOOD 80's that gave us bands like The Cure & REM, but the 80's that produced leggings and ra-ra skirts.

Lyrically it's not too bad, a bit of a mixed bag. "Metal" is pretty nifty - it's about an android that wants to become human (Number 5 ALIVE!). The single, Cars is um, strange to say the least.

"Here in my car I feel safest of all / I can lock all my doors / It's the only way to live / In cars"

I'm not sure this resonates that well with a 90's teenager! (or a Radiohead fan - see Killer Cars)

To be fair, Gary Numan was quite influential at the time and paved the way for a few other synthpop acts and bands like Depeche Mode. He has also been covered numerous times, by Nine Inch Nails (Metal), Afrika Bambaataa, Basement Jaxx, Fear Factory and even credited by Bambaataa as influencing hip-hop!

I can safely say though, that Gary Numan will never make his way onto my ipod.

Score - 3/10

Genre - Synth-pop, Electro-pop

Best Tracks - Cars, Airlane, Metal

Recommended? Not unless you really wish it was the 80's again.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Jungle Brothers - Done by the Forces of Nature

Decade - 1980's

Jungle Brothers - Done by the Forces of Nature (1989)

This album was the second by Jungle Brothers, the first (Straight Out the Jungle) released the previous year. While considered a classic hip-hop release, it never reached the fame of other similar albums and groups around the same time (De La Soul for example).

This is a vastly different beast than my previous venture into hip-hop (N.W.A). For one, there isn't anywhere near the amount of copious swearing that occupied every second sentence of Straight Outta Compton. This album is very afro-centric, lyrically and musically. Sadly, it's also a lot less compelling.

That's right, I preferred the gangsta rap! I just got completely lost in this, I couldn't keep track of when one song ended and another began, and the rapping was mumbled or unclear, so I couldn't actually follow the song anyway. It's ok as background music, but I won't be listening again.

Score - 4/10

Genre - Hip-Hop/Rap

Best Tracks - I could tell if you I could tell one from the other!

Recommended? No.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication

Decade - 1990's

The Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication (1999)

Californication is the Chilli Peppers' seventh album and the second I have listened to (I already owned and enjoyed By The Way). I suppose my review of this is unfair in a way - I have little recollection of their previous albums (other than BSSM) and so can't really comment on how they have changed or grown. In fact I have the opposite problem - some of these singles have been so over-played that they already felt old and so "typical" of the RHCP that I found it hard to get excited about it.

Still, it's a solid album, with quite a few gems and no real duds. I loved Parallel Universe and it's already making its way up my itunes playlist! I had to hold myself back from giving the album an inflated score just on the strength of that track. The singles, like Around the World, Californication and Scar Tissue are all very well known and so a bit too familiar but they are still classic tracks.

Most of the tracks are strong lyrically too, which was a surprise. They don't lend themselves to line by line analysis, but the imagery is quite evocative and they certainly have not sacrificed lyrical competence for kick-ass rock tunes. Also surprising is that Anthony Kiedis actually sounds pretty good vocally in the traditional sense.

I still think their compositions are a bit too similar throughout, especially having heard By the Way before this. Funk-rap - > great hook/melody becomes a bit blurgh after a while. I think the album would have worked better if the track list was tighter, 15 tracks just doesn't have enough punch. An album should leave you wanting more, but still feel like an air-tight canon of goodness.

All in all, it's a keeper I will add to my collection.

Score - 7.5/10

Genre: Funk Rock/Alt Rock/Funk-Rap

Best Tracks: Parallel Universe, Otherside, This Velvet, Californication, Scar Tissue

Recommended? Yes

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Beck - Guero

Decade - 2000's

Beck - Guero (2005)

Poor Beck has the same problem as Radiohead - a massive single that the general public never forget and forever associate with the artist no matter how much they move on or change their style. "Loser" is that single for Beck and I have to admit that even though I knew Beck had long since moved on and had a prolific career, it was the first song I thought of.

Beck is one of those artists I've always thought I might like but just never got around to checking out. This album hasn't made me into a fan, but there are certain songs or aspects that will encourage me to check out his other albums.

Guero feels inconsistent, and not in a good way. It's main weakness is it's length - too many of the songs sound the same and have the same vibe for 13 tracks not to be a drag. The latter half of the album especially just drags and none of the last three songs make any impact. Sometimes the end can make or break an album, and in this case, it cast a shadow over the rest of it.

Still, there are lots of good things. Beck is obviously a very talented lyricist. The first track, E-Pro manages to appropriate a number of common sayings (" Shoot your mouth off but look where you're aiming") with just enough twist and edge to stop it falling into lame territory. It's interesting enough for a number of repeated listenings/readings too. Strangely, the music accompanying Beck's lyrics is often contradictory. E-Pro's music belies the darkness of the lyrics, as does track 3, Girl, which sounds exceedingly happy for such grave lyrics. It can be quite disconcerting.

Broken Drum is by far my favourite track, and other songs like Missing and Scarecow (which starts off sounding like Radiohead!) are great too.

Probably the first album so far I will be keeping - it's just a pity it didn't quite live up to what it could have been.

Score - 7/10

Genre - Indie Rock/Alt hip-hop/Electronic

Best Tracks - E-Pro, Broken Drum, Missing, Scarecrow

Recommended? - Yes

Friday, January 26, 2007

Battle of the Decades #1

Well, I've covered 1 album from 6 decades this one week and listened to albums I certainly wouldn't have without this list!

Here's a run down.

2000's - The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan - This will be deleted off my machine, never to be heard from again! 3/10

1990's - Sigur Ros - Agaetis Byrjun - One of my favourite albums that will remain so for a very long time.

1980's - NWA - Straight Outta Compton - I might keep one or two tracks, but I'm no convertee to gangsta rap! 6/10

1970's - The Specials - Specials - Deleted off computer - no fan of ska here yet but it was pleasantly happy music 5/10

1960's - Frank Zappa - Hot Rats - Not too bad, I might keep it though I doubt I'm going to listen much. It's worth it just for the Willie song. 6.4/10

1950's - Dave Brubeck - Time Out - Say bye bye, it's deleted. 3/10

WINNER - Sigur Ros - Agaetis Byrjun - 1990's

Dave Brubeck - Time Out

Decade - 1950's

Dave Brubeck - Time Out (1959)

Another day, another instrumental. This time it's jazz from the 1950's.

Now I'm not a jazz fan so far (nor a hater) - and this has done nothing to convert me. I listened
to this before I wiki'd or Amazon'd it and frankly the only things that came to mind was "boring, elevator music". I could not find much to enjoy about it.

I couldn't find much to hate either - it's simply pleasant sounding, background music. Now the amazon reviews talk about it's interesting time signatures and its historical place in Jazz music's history, but none of these things actually effect my enjoyment either way. If the complexity of music doesn't translate to "enjoyable" for me, then it becomes rather pointless. Perhaps this is simply music that doesn't age well - but for me the point of music is to express *something* emotionally (even if that's just plain and simple happiness) and this just doesn't.

Dave Brubeck was a Jazz pianist and the most famous track on this album is "Take Five". I recognised it, and that's probably why it's the only track I was slightly interested in.

Just not my thing.

Score - 3/10

Best Tracks - Take Five

Genre - Jazz, instrumental

Recommended: Only to jazz fans or elevator operators.

Frank Zappa - Hot Rats

Decade - 1960's.

Frank Zappa - Hot Rats (1969)

Instrumentals? Not really my thing. I usually spend entire albums just wishing there was a voice. I freely admit to being lyric and vocal driven in music, so the next two albums were defintely...an experience. Partly, I think instrumentals tend to be "musician's music" because every single review I read raved about the compositions and techniques involved. I'll take their word for it!

I'd heard of Frank Zappa but not enough to recall anything he'd ever done. Turns out he was far more prolific than I'd imagined and was a composer, guitarist, singer, film director, and satirist! Busy guy.

Hot Rats is "kind of" his first album and is an album of jazz-rock compositiosn with only one short vocal. Again, this is kind of background music for me, but I did like Willie The Pimp which is a great "song"! The others didn't hold my attention as much but it was fairly enjoyable background music to have on and there were parts of each song that brought back my attention.

It's not something I'd buy, or probably listen to again - but it's going to take an incredible instrumental to win me over. This isn't it.

Score - 6.4/10

Best Tracks - Willie The Pimp, The Gumbo Variations

Genre - Instrumental Jazz-Rock

Recommended? - If you like instrumentals, Jazz or Rock!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Specials - Specials

Decade - 1970's

The Specials - Specials (1979)

Well, where to start? This is certainly an acquired taste, and not one I'm going to acquire anytime soon.

The Specials were an English "Two Tone" band, which was basically the British revival of Ska in the 1970's. Ska was a Jamaican style of music which blended with American jazz and rhythm and blues. THIS particular style, "Two Tone", pretty much sounds like an alien mix of reggae with a punk vocal. If that sounds weird, it's because it is!

Now like any specialist genre, I'm sure this has it's devotees. I just don't get it. It was niceish, happy music, but it makes no sense to me. It's like the wrong parts of each genre mashed together just to confuse me. Imagine Johnny Rotten trying to sing Opera and you'll get what I mean.

A lot of the album just blends together - it's very similar in tone throughout and so inevitably, it's much better as background or driving music. It would certainly struggle to hold my attention for more than one song.

Score - 5/10

Best Tracks - Concrete Jungle, A Message to you Rudy

Genre - Ska (Two Tone)

Recommended? - If you like either reggae or punk, you can try!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

N.W.A - Straight Outta Compton

Decade - 1980's

N.W.A - Straight Outta Compton - 1988

Let me first say - the closest I've ever gotten to gangsta rap before is learning Salt n' Peppa songs off by heart in the 90's and Robbie Williams' Rudebox! I tend to hate anything remotely related to RnB and the mainstream rap I've heard on the radio does nothing for me. The closest I've ever gotten to Compton is watching Bring it On!

Gangsta rap is a whole other ballgame. I couldn't listen to this album and seperate the music from the greater implications of its subject matter - gang life, poverty, ghettos, violence and sex. One can't help but wonder whether this hardcore rap is a simple mirror and reflection of a terrible reality us middle class white kids know nothing about, or whether these "artists" are happy to glorify the violence so that they can turn into multi-millionaires. Are they simply "telling it like it is", or do they LIKE and thrive on how it is? Does gangsta rap glorify or reveal? Does it perpetuate the violence, or does it simply give voice to some angry young men? Is there something morally questionable about these men becoming insanely rich off a culture that has transformed entire surburbs into places no outsider would dare venture into at night?

I don't really have all the answers, or whether there ARE any answers.

N.W.A (Niggaz with Attitude) as I've found out through the ever-helpful wikipedia, was a hip-hop group formed in Compton, California in the 80's. Members were the well known Ice Cube, Eazy-E (now deceased), Dr. Dre and DJ Yella. Straight Outta Compton was their second album and was famous for the controversial track "Fuck tha Police".

Musically, I wouldn't say I enjoyed all of it - but I certainly didn't hate it. The first four tracks definately keep your attention, especially Gangsta Gangsta, which was fairly tongue-in-cheek and had me smirking. Fuck Tha Police is just an angry rant - but I could not quite figure out whether the irony was intended.

The appeal of the album is it's attitude, which tends to hit you over the head repeatedly until you admit they really are a bunch of tough motherf*ckers. I tended to zone out whenever Eazy-E began rapping - it sounded like one of their little brother's suddenly took control of the mic and refused to let go.

It's not something I could listen to all the time, regardless of the "issues" surrounding it. Three songs is about enough before the pounding of the beat and words makes me want to lie down and take a nap....or put on Enya.

Score - 6/10

Best Tracks - Straight Outta Compton, Gangsta Gangsta, I aint Tha 1, Express Yourself

Genre - Hip-Hop/Rap, Gangsta Rap

Recommended? - Only if you can listen to the word fuck over and over without having a hernia

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sigur Ros - Agaetis Byrjun

Decade - 1990's

Sigur Ros - Agaetis Byrjun - 1999

Sigur Ros is already one of my favourite bands and Agaetis Byrjun an album I already love. That said, I decided to listen more closely than I normally do, so shut myself in my room in the dark with my ipod.

Much has been written about Sigur Ros. They've been known to make perfectly sane people spontaneously burst into tears and make normally reserved music critiques write about them as if they are the second coming. Those who love them usually become insanely hyperbolic and throw around terms like "tears of God" and "soul crushingly amazing". Dectractors find them pretentious, boring and an emotional gimmick

Agaetis Byrjun (from hereon just AB because it's just TOO hard to type) is sung mostly in Icelandic, sometimes in Hopelandic (a made up language). For someone lyric driven like myself, it's strange to love a band that relies completely on the music to convey whatever they are trying to express. Lyrics usually guide our interpretations of the music (sometimes causing us to interpret the music itself contrary to how it truly sounds) - but Sigur Ros can make you realise you really don't need them when a band can articulate emotion this well. It's almost like learning a new language, and eventually you can read each song as well as you can read a lyric sheet and understand without thinking what the music is trying to do.

Sigur Ros & AB isn't perfect. There are times when they are guilty of over-emoting and contriving a response from the listener, as in the case of Staralfur, which can sound a bit like a Hollywood soundtrack at times. Flugufrelsarinn also shows up their occasional slide into over-repetitiveness.

Those times are rare throughout the album however and more often than not, Sigur Ros get it exactly right. The use of "amazing" stops being hyperbole and suddenly becomes insufficient when listening to Svefn g englar and Vidrar vel til loftarasa. AB manages to embody both grand and intriciate emotions at the same time, but this complexity never effects the listenability of the album. For all of its grandeur, it has melodies that stick in your head better than the most radio friendly tune.

Sigur Ros can take an open mind - tracks can last up to 10 minutes and take time to build. But they are worth it, and once Jonsi's stunning falsetto kicks in you start to wish the tracks were even longer.

Score - 9.5/10

Best Tracks - Svefn g englar, Vidrar vel til loftarasa, Olsen, Olsen

Genre/sounds like - Post-Rock

Recommended - Definitely

Monday, January 22, 2007

The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan


THE WHITE STRIPES - Get Behind Me Satan

I can't lie and say the first album I heard off this list made me want to keep going.

I've never heard anything else from The White Stripes other than a live show I saw on VH1. I can't say this album has convinced me to seek out anything further.

It's not TERRIBLE, but it's close. Ok it's terrible. With some albums you don't like, you can still appreciate the talent of the musicians, the clever lyrics or the melodies that just didn't quite get there for *you*. Not so with "Get Behind Me Satan".

Most of the lyrics are entirely forgettable and simplistic. When they're not, they're filled with terrible word plays like "And it's hidden in the wisdom in the back of your tooth". The Nurse, a song about betrayal, had lyrics bad enough to give me a flash back to year 9 English. The lyrics aren't clever, and some of the phrasing is downright clunky.
The kind of cute little ditty "Little Ghost" is fun for the first minute, but sounds like an average band's funny b-side they'd never allow on an album. The faux country sound only serves to make me cring.

They only seem to have one trick - when you want to get loud, bang really hard on the piano. This pretty much invades every song and so the entire album feels like one big thump thump. It is worse on "The Nurse", where for some inexplicable reason, big piano thumps and occasionally loud guitar playing interrupts what little "mood" the song was going for. This might have been an attempt to create a sense of madness/unpredictability in line with the psychotic overtones of the lyrics, but it simply doesn't work.

None of the songs really go anywhere. Many of them follow a pattern of THUMP THUMP, get quiet, MORE THUMPS, the end. None of this really creates any actual tension and release in any of the songs - it ends up just sounding like clunky noise.

There isn't much to redeem the album. The first track, Blue Orchid was fairly enjoyable and the guitar work was fun. My doorbell has the best melody, but it's not enough to save anything else.

A special mention needs to be made of track 9, "Passive Manipulation". Meg....cannot sing. And should never be allowed to sing again! Thank goodness this track was only 35 seconds long because it sounded like a lost audition tape they'd show on a "World's worst Idol" show.
The lyrics:
Women, listen to your mothers
Don't just succumb to the wishes of your brothers
Take a step back, take a look at one another
You need to know the difference...
Between a father and a lover (repeat)

One can only hope it was meant to be a joke of some sort.

SCORE - 3/10

BEST TRACKS - Blue Orchid, My Doorbell, Little Ghost

RECOMMENDED - Only to my enemies


I really know nothing about music other than how to listen to it. Like most average music listeners, I don't go out of my way to expose myself to genres I'm not naturally interested in, so my CD collection is really quite insulated. This is a way to listen to hundreds of CDs I normally would avoid and hopefully discover some gems along the way. My taste in music might even change by the end of it - OR I will wish I'd never heard some of the crap I found along the way!

You can buy the BOOK - 1001 Albums You Must Here Before You Die that leads to the list at Amazon

I will take one album from the end of each decade and work my way up. I'll choose the best album out of the 6 decades at the end of each week.