The B&V Rock Hall of Fame 2023 Ballot Selections

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It’s February 1st and so that means the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio has announced this year’s nominees for the 2023 class. The Rock Chick actually surprised me with a trip to the Rock Hall a few years back and I was very impressed with it and pleasantly surprised by Cleveland. They’ve got some great Lebanese restaurants in that town. I know that a lot of people consider the Rock Hall to be as irrelevant as Rolling Stone magazine these days. Most people don’t care about the Rock Hall, and I get it. It was Ray Davies who said, when the Kinks were inducted into the Rock Hall, “Seeing everybody here tonight, it makes me realize that rock and roll has become respectable. What a bummer.” I keep a running list of acts that would be in the BourbonAndVinyl Hall of Fame (and perhaps some day I’ll write about that) because I feel the actual Hall is so deeply flawed.

And as much as I have maligned the Rock Hall’s nominees in the past – The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame 2018 Inductees: Getting It Wrong, Again – and lamented how many worthy rock acts who should be in the Hall, who aren’t inducted – The B&V List of Artists Who Really Should Be In the Rock Hall of Fame – I can’t help myself, I look for the announcement of the nominees every year. It seems when it comes to the Rock Hall, like Zeppelin sang, “I can’t quit you baby.” As a huge fan of this music I feel it’s incumbent upon me to vote every year like I’m voting for President or Governor, like there’s something important riding on it. The fan vote is mostly symbolic but I feel like if the fans vote the elitist journalist cabal who run the thing might hear us and actually put some of the great, deserving bands who aren’t in the Hall, into the Hall. And besides, as most long time readers know, if asked my opinion on a rock n roll question, um, I’m going to weigh in.

I actually think the Rock Hall has selected a great list of nominees. It’s a great diverse group of artists from 70s soul (The Spinners) to 80s pop (Cyndi Lauper and George Micheal) to Hip Hop (A Tribe Called Quest and Missy Elliott) to Heavy Metal (Iron Maiden) to 90s rock (Rage Against The Machine and Soundgarden).  Here are the 2023 nominees:

  • A Tribe Called Quest
  • Kate Bush
  • Sheryl Crow
  • Missy Elliott
  • Iron Maiden
  • Joy Division/New Order
  • Cyndi Lauper
  • George Michael
  • Willie Nelson
  • Rage Against The Machine
  • Soundgarden
  • The Spinners
  • The White Stripes
  • Warren Zevon

I can’t tell you how glad I am to see Warren Zevon on this list. I’ve been clamoring for his nomination for years to anybody who will listen… and well, most people don’t listen… You can cast your fan vote at: https://vote.rockhall.com/en/ and I hope you’ll vote as well!

Here were my votes, in order. You’re allowed 5. You can apparently vote once a day, which is extreme even for me.

  1. Warren Zevon – I have waited years to see this man’s name on the ballot. I jumped at the chance to vote for him. We posted about Zevon’s essential albums several years ago.
  2. The White Stripes – One of the best bands of all time. I hope both Jack and Meg White show up for the induction. If you haven’t gotten into the White Stripes, may I suggest their Greatest Hits.
  3. Soundgarden – I saw Soundgarden in concert for the final time on their next to last concert prior to the sad and untimely death of Chris Cornell. These guys should be a slam-dunk induction.
  4. Rage Against The Machine – I love Rage and even love Audioslave that featured Tom Morello, Tim Comerford, and Brad Wilk from Rage with the aforementioned Chris Cornell. Hard rocking and topical, these guys are one amazing band.
  5. Willie Nelson – It was a toss up between Willie and Iron Maiden, which is a sentence I never thought I’d type. In the end, with Willie getting up there in years, I felt I should cast my vote for him.

There are a ton of great nominees this year. And, I thought it was a fun break from the daily grind of my corporate masters to go out and cast my vote. I just look forward to seeing some of these performances at the ceremony. I feel like this post has been “A public service announcement with guitars…” as the Clash sang…

Cheers!

New Song: Dave Matthews Band’s First New Song In Five Years, “Madman’s Eyes” From Upcoming New LP

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“We live as if our hands are tied
Is it really so hard
To do what we know is right”

The Dave Matthews Band, “Madman’s Eyes”

Look who’s getting the band back together! The Dave Matthews Band has returned after 5 years with a new song, “Madman’s Eyes,” which also heralds the coming of a new album in May, Walk Around The Moon. If five years sounds like a long time between albums, let’s remember it was six years between 2012’s superb Away From The World and 2018’s moody Come Tomorrow. I was frankly surprised by this song and the new LP announcement – which seems to happen more and more to me despite my attempts to keep an eye on bands I like. I had minor surgery on Tuesday and have basically been asleep since then. I wake up and voila, a new DMB song! Prior to surgery I’d been lost in a David Crosby and Jeff Beck music binge in honor of those two great artists’ recently  lost… I had been reading that Dave was going to do another solo record like Some Devil and had that in the back of my mind as a possible release for this year. I wasn’t expecting a full-on band release and I’m delighted to hear these guys playing new music. Maybe I should schedule surgery more often?

I got in early on the Dave Matthews Band. Well, as early as most mainstream radio listeners could with the release of Under The Table And Dreaming. I was like everybody else 1994 to 2000, a huge Dave Matthews Band fan. But like many bands do, the DMB hit a bit of a mid career lull to my ears. Maybe it was the coming of the new millennium. 2001’s Everyday produced by Glenn Ballard was a huge miss for me. That one almost felt more like a Dave solo album than Some Devil. They rebounded with one of their finest albums on Busted Stuff, but once again lost me completely on Stand Up. There were a few tracks on Stand Up that I connected with – namely “Dream Girl” and “American Baby” – but the rest left me really cold. When I say they lost me completely, I mean it, I walked away from the Dave Matthews Band and left them for the soccer moms out there. Part of the problem was never being able to see them live – those tickets sold out faster than I could find a connection to buy from…

As usual, I chose the wrong moment to give up on a band. Describing their work since 2009s Big Whiskey And the GrooGrux King as a late career renaissance might be a bit strong but they’ve put out a string of really great records. After GrooGrux, which was dedicated to the late LeRoi Moore, the DMB horn player for years, who tragically died in an ATV accident, the DMB hit their stride again. 2012’s Away From The World kept the hot streak alive. And of course, 2018’s Come Tomorrow was another strong if moody and dark record. When I reviewed that record, I compared it in “attitude” to Lenny Kravitz’s Circus in that it has a rather dark perspective. There’s nothing wrong with dark perspectives, those are the only perspectives I held for a long time in life. And again, Come Tomorrow sounds nothing like Circus from a musical standpoint.

The Dave Matthews Band at this point is: Dave Matthews (vocal/guitar), the vastly underrated Carter Beauford (drums), Stefan Lessard (bass guitar) who have all been with the band since the start and Tim Reynolds (guitar), Jeff Coffin & Rashawn Ross (horns) who all joined after LeRoi’s passing. The band is rounded out by keyboardist Buddy Strong who joined the band after original violinist Boyd Tinsley left under a cloud of sexual harassment suits. They still have that eclectic, DMB signature sound.

I really like “Madman’s Eyes.” I feel like Dave’s vocals are buried a little too far in the mix but that may be because my head is slightly clogged after surgery. The song, like Come Tomorrow, is a bit of a moody track. It starts with Dave’s voice intoning a wordless melody. Then the song kicks in. It has an epic, almost cinematic sweep to it. It feels Middle Eastern to me, like it was torn from Lawrence of Arabia or it’s “Kashmir”-lite. I can almost feel hot desert winds full of sand on my face. Whatever was bothering Dave Matthews five years ago seems like it’s getting worse… when he sings, “I’m afraid, can’t lie, Momma said baby don’t you cry, In the dark be the light, Don’t let go baby hold on tight,” I believe him. It’s a hard time not to be concerned about humanity’s future.

Here’s the track:

It’s certainly an epic sounding track with strings, horns, keyboards all creating a palpable sense of tension. It’s perfect for these times. No band struggled to try and get out on the road the way DMB did during Covid and maybe that frustration is manifesting here in this song. It’s a tough time for an embattled collective Human Condition. It’s a really strong first single and it’s perfect for these troubled times. I love the Arabic flair here.

In dark times we need artists to reflect the darkness for us all to see it and to over come it. This track scratches that itch for me. I am really looking forward to late May when this album comes out. The DMB are on a roll and this song would indicate that’s going to continue!

Cheers!

The Very Old, Very False Myth That The Devil Isn’t In The Details, He’s In The Rock N Roll Music

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I was reading something the other day. It was a discussion of all the preposterous rock n roll rumors that have propagated over the years. Naturally my first thought was that myth that Zeppelin was booed off stage in Kansas City. That of course led me to the old rumor that Van Halen were actually Kiss without their make up. Gene Simmons financed their demo tape and on the debut album, Van Halen, they thank him which started the whole story. This was way before Kiss took their make up off on MTV. I know my friend Brewster was incensed by that rumor. He knew Ace Frehley couldn’t play guitar like Eddie. The only preposterous story I ever heard that seemed like it might be true was the story about a woman being murdered and recorded in the background during the recording of “Love Rollercoaster” by the Ohio Players. That primal scream a couple of minutes into the song used to scare the crap out of me.

The preposterous rumor that didn’t scare me when I was a teenager was the oldest story in the book. The myth that Satan was lurking behind all this rock n roll I loved. If anything those kind of rumors might have fueled my desire to hear more rock n roll. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not Satanist but neither is rock n roll in any real sense. Of course I have to admit the cover art on the Dio fronted Black Sabbath album Mob Rules did give my mother pause…”What the Hell is this you’re listening to?” I read one time that there was a spike in teen smoking after the they put the “The Surgeon General has determined that cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health” warning on the packs. We are collectively drawn toward danger and darkness. We thrive on risk. If they outlaw cigarettes only outlaws will smoke… or something like that? I will say, I think the professor in Animal House played by Donald Sutherland is right… The Devil is the most interesting character in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Who doesn’t love a well written villain? Paging Hannibal Lecter… Again, I’m not decrying religion of any nature… but “God makes me nervous when you get him indoors.”

The whole “Satan” thing really reached preposterous levels when I was in junior high. Supposedly, Rush, who had a pentagram in their logo actually stood for Ruled Under Satan’s Hand. It was said they held Satanic rituals in the arenas after concerts. The more I’ve learned about the guys in Rush over the years, they’re the nicest people in music this side of Dave Grohl. The most Satanic thing Rush ever did was brew their own micro beer. They said the same thing about Kiss. It supposedly stood for Knights In Satan’s Service. I mean, come on? The only thing that Kiss was in service of was commerce. Those guys had Kiss Koffins for sale. I’m willing to say that Ace might been a little dark but Gene Simmons was all about the benjamins. When I finally stopped listening to these rumors were when someone told me the exact same story – Satanic rituals after concerts – about… Journey. I was like, Steve Perry? The man has the voice of an angel? Maybe Satan was who he was singing to in “Don’t Stop Believin’?” Sorry folks this is where I get off the Satan bus.

Perhaps the first time the Satan myth popped up was about legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, pictured above. The story goes that he was an average to weak guitar player. He supposedly went down to the crossroads where he met the Devil, who tuned his guitar. After that his playing was amazing. It’s kind of a take on the whole Faustian legend if you ask me. Faust sold his soul to the Devil for ultimate knowledge and pleasure. After this alleged meeting with Satan or possibly Papa Legba, Johnson became quite the legend. I’m guessing the truth is a little different. Likely preachers, upset by the effect Johnson’s music and guitar playing was having on people – especially women – decided there must be demonic forces here. If the pretty woman in town won’t sleep with the preacher but will with the guy singing “Sweet Home Chicago,” the Devil must be at work here. And believe me, Robert was popular with the ladies… The preachers finally began to decry Johnson and blues music as the work of the Devil. And like that cigarette warning label, it probably helped his career.

It was a similar case in the 50s. When what we now call rock n roll sprung up it terrified the conservative establishment. Those folks thrive on fear in the masses. Fear divides us and keeps us docile to the powers that be. Preachers and elder statesmen in the 50s were decrying this new music as the work of the Devil to scare parents. It worked, to a degree. Frightened parents tried to keep their kids away from that primal music. Again I think they were particularly frightened of how women were reacting. Most of our history revolves around keeping women down, if you think about it. Why else would they insist that the Ed Sullivan Show only film the King from the waist up? Elvis the Pelvis as he was known. Anything that sexual has to be bad… at least it did in 50s, Eisenhower America where the female orgasm was still a myth. I’m beginning to think the Devil is the tool of the establishment. If anything parents trying to keep rock n roll away from their kids, making it seem more illicit, made the rebellious music take off like they couldn’t imagine. I know Frank Sinatra was dismayed. By the time the 60s hit, rock n roll helped lead a youth rebellion.

I remember Zeppelin was supposedly Satanic. Anybody that big had to be “in league with Lucifer.” I knew a girl in Arkansas who took my friend Doug and I out to a spot outside of town that she claimed was frequented by Devil worshipers. She said they all sat around listening to Zeppelin. I couldn’t help but think, why not Sabbath? Anyway, these “Devil worshipers” had written “Serve Satin” on the rock wall. I was like, “Satin? Like the sheets?” The young lady said they misspelled Satan’s name as “Satin” because it furthered their blasphemy. Sigh. Maybe they should have furthered their education to work on their spelling? Zeppelin’s lead guitar player Jimmy Page was into the occult and owned the former house of occultist Aleister Crowley. They had songs like “Black Dog” and “In My Time Of Dying” that scared people. This was the 70s where films like The Exorcist and Omen were current hits. There was always scary black dogs running around chewing up the good guys, Rottweilers if I’m not mistaken. Doug’s mother was fond of the movie Devil Dog, Hound of Hell. It was Zeppelin’s iconic track “Stairway To Heaven” that got the attention of everybody. Supposedly if you spun the record backwards you could hear them say “Here’s to Sweet Satan.” I will admit, when we did this when I was in high school I thought I could hear the word Satan but I think it was a coincidence. I don’t think it was planned. I remember jumping up on the couch in fear but I’m a lover not a religious crusader… yeah, I was scared. ELO made fun of it by doing a backward masking thing on “Fire On High.” When played backwards it said, “The music is reversible but time is not.” I don’t think, despite Page’s dark bent, that Zeppelin had anything to do with Satan.

It was Black Sabbath who realized the value of adopting that whole Evil thing. Instead of running away from it they realized that calling themselves Black Sabbath and having scary album artwork could actually work in their favor. Embrace the scary evil and it draws people in. So many heavy metal bands have adopted the same stance. It puts them outside the norms of society and makes them seem like outlaws and/or outcasts which is a vibe all teenagers can gravitate toward it. Let’s face it folks, Satan Sells. That’s why you’ve got Motley Crue singing “Shout At The Devil,” and people like Rob Zombie out there doing whatever you call what he does. We used to laugh at Iron Maiden and their mascot Eddie. We called them, amongst others, “Scary Monster Rock.” But you know what, they were the ones laughing all the way to the bank. The Devil is actually an accountant in a three-piece suit.

The next time you hear your grandmother or some preacher telling you that rock music – if anybody even remembers rock music anymore – is the tool of the Devil, please laugh that off. It’s the most preposterous thing in the world. Anytime the establishment wants to scare you away from something, run toward it. I’m going to spend my weekend cranking Iggy Pop’s new album Every Loser and anything by Jeff Beck, who just passed, that I can get my hands off. Because Jeff Beck played that Devil’s guitar better than almost anybody out there.

Be safe out there but break some rules this weekend. Be naughty because it feels so nice.

Cheers!

Review: Iggy Pop, ‘Every Loser’ – The First Great LP of the 2023 – Frenetic Rock n Roll Produced By Andrew Watt

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It was barely a week into 2023 (January 6th) and Iggy Pop released the first great record of the year, Every Loser. I knew the album was coming out but it still snuck up on me. Of course I’ve been in a bit of reflective funk of late brought on by the end of the year. Naturally we looked back over the past year when we did our 2022 “best of” list. And then we kicked off the year by looking way back (50 years) with a playlist based on the great music of 1973, which included “Search And Destroy” from Iggy’s first group, the Stooges. It seems I’ve come full circle in the span of a week and a half… If there’s anything that can pull me out of the backward-facing revelry that permeated the end of last year and the beginning of this year and force me to look forward it’s great rock n roll by the icon, Iggy Pop.

I’ve been looking forward to this album since Iggy dropped the first single “Frenzy” last October. I’d like to tell you I’ve been an Iggy fan since the 70s, refusing to wear a shirt in 3rd grade while bouncing around in my desk singing “Lust For Life” at the top of my lungs… “Eat it, Mrs. Peters.” But alas, that’s not the case. Even in my rebellious teen years I didn’t get into Iggy. You never heard him on the radio and you dig what you hear. It wasn’t until Iggy collaborated with Josh Homme on Iggy’s 2016 album Post Pop Depression that I jumped on the bandwagon. I had only recently gotten into the Queens of the Stone Age, Homme’s band, and when I heard he was producing Iggy’s latest LP I gave it a spin. Something clicked for me and it sent me crashing through Iggy’s back catalog like it was lunch and I missed breakfast.

If you’re talking about Iggy Pop you can’t start without first listening to the three landmark LPs he did with the Stooges which really set the pallet for punk rock – The Stooges (1969), Fun House (1970), and Raw Power (1973). Even though Raw Power was produced by David Bowie it didn’t get a lot of airplay. With Iggy’s solo career you have to start with his first two records, also produced by David Bowie, The Idiot and Lust For Life. I absolutely love those albums. But even though I have become a big fan of Iggy’s I have to admit, his career after those first two LPs has been… inconsistent. There have been great albums, New Values or Brick By Brick but there have been long stretches where he released less than stellar LPs. That said, I have been very impressed with almost everything Iggy has done since Skull Ring in 2003.

His last three LPs (if you include this one) have been really strong. To think that he can still surprise and show this much vitality this far into his career is amazing. I’m not sure he’s put together a hot streak like he’s done lately since he left the Stooges. I really liked Post Pop Depression, as mentioned. Although it felt almost like a farewell. Then he turned around and surprised me with Free. I’ll admit that Free was a bit of a detour from a sonic perspective – there were horns instead of guitar, a very jazzy affair – but there was a lot to like, especially the track “James Bond.” It wasn’t a perfect album – there were a few too many spoken word pieces for me – but it was atmospheric and interesting. But again, it sounded like Iggy saying good bye.

Which makes Every Loser that much more surprising. It’s full of harder edged, punk rock songs. There are still some atmospheric moments but again, Iggy’s power and vitality are on full display here. Pop brings all the pissy, irreverent attitude you would hope for from him. It certainly helps that the album was produced by my current favorite producer Andrew Watt. Watt also plays guitar, keyboards, bass guitar and probably “the kitchen sink.” Watt has recently produced a hard rock/heavy metal album with Ozzy’s Patient Number 9, a pretty straight up classic rock album with Eddie Vedder’s Earthling and now he’s going for punk rock with Iggy. What can’t Watt do? It doesn’t hurt that Watt has a collection of musicians, almost like a house band at a bar, that he uses for all these records. It’s a who’s who: Chad Smith (drummer from the RHCP), Duff McKagan (bass guitar from GnR), and Josh Klinghoffer (former guitarist for the RHCP). He augmented that crew on this album with members of Jane’s Addiction – Dave Navarro (guitar), Chris Chaney (bass), and Eric Avery (also bass). Stone Gossard, guitarist for Pearl Jam pops up as does drummer Travis Barker. The late Taylor Hawkins drums on “Comments” and helped co-write “The Regency.”

Having all of that talent really brings out the best in Pop here. Or should I say, brings out the rock in Pop. While I read somewhere that Iggy’s goal was to “beat the shit out of you musically” this album’s lyrics are much more thoughtful than you might expect. That said, there is plenty of vulgarity which goes down pretty fucking well around B&V. And like Free Iggy continues to like his spoken word pieces. There are two interludes here “The News For Andy (Interlude)” (where Iggy reads advertisements) and “My Animus” where he shares well, his animus and both are spoken word.

There are so many great rock songs. “Frenzy” is just balls to the wall rock n roll and reminiscent of the Stooges, but we’ve reviewed that previously. “Modern Day Rip Off” is a frenetic, lurching rocker. Chad Smith’s drumming on that one is volcanic and the guitars snarl. Hearing Iggy sing “I’m guilty as sin, but I know how to win, I don’t know how to cry, I don’t know how to die,” makes you believe it. At the end of “Neo Punk” you can hear Iggy laughing, he’s clearly having fun. It’s short, hard, fast and dark. He sings, “I get fucked up so I don’t kill myself.” Sadly, I’ve been there. If you’re struggling reach out to somebody. “Neo Punk” is the classic meet me at the finish line rocker. If you’ve come to, well, have the shit beat out of you musically, you will be satisfied by these tunes alone.

There is so much more here to like. “Strung Out Johnny” is an amazing song about addiction and I added it immediately upon hearing it to our playlist about heroin. Watt plays some keyboards on this track which makes the tune, they’re the perfect accent for this midtempo song. “You’re strung out Johnny and now it’s time to pay.” “New Atlantis” is Iggy’s love letter to Miami. Atlantis was the mythical Greek city that sank into the sea. Miami is a mythical party city that’s about to sink into the sea. It starts with a spoken word intro which lays out Iggy’s love of his hometown. I didn’t see a climate change anthem from Iggy coming but I dig it. Iggy croons and Watt plays a fabulous guitar solo. It’s a great tune. “All The Way Down” features Stone Gossard from Pearl Jam on guitar and it’s my favorite tune here. The song is melodic and unhinged at the same time. As Iggy wails “When I’m down, when I’m down” over and over you think the song is going to fall apart, but thankfully it doesn’t. “Comments” is wonderful commentary on our internet/social media society. “I’m looking for a soulmate in the comments…” Taylor Hawkins drumming propels the tune.

“Morning Show” is the sole ballad here. It’s got some acoustic guitar accents that I like. It’s about an old star pulling himself together despite the pain to go and do…well, the morning show. “The Regency” ends the album and as the longest tune on the record it feels like the big statement song. It’s basically Iggy battling the powers that be. It’s a battle cry against the phony status quo. It’s a fine place to end the record and another really strong track.

At this stage in the game I had no idea that Iggy Pop could still blow me away. He’s one of our most vital, important artists and I’m so glad that he’s going through this late career renaissance. Every Loser is yet another great, late-career album from an artist who should get even more attention. If you don’t believe me trust Anthony Bourdain, he loved the guy. Iggy is a true rock n roll icon and albums like this are why.

Cheers!

B&V’s Best of 2022: Our Favorite New LPs & Vault/Re-Released/Live Releases

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The beginning of every year is like a rebirth. It’s always something new and different despite U2’s old insistence that “nothing changes on New Year’s Day.” Whether it’s changes at work or the implementation of self-improving New Year’s Resolutions, the New Year always seems to bring the possibility of exciting change and rejuvenation and 2022 was no exception on that front. For me this year, I moved to a new residence, completely changed my job responsibilities at work (reducing my stress) and spent those early days in 2022 listening to David Bowie’s vault release Toy. No matter how different every New Year’s beginning seems to be, the end of each year tends to be exactly the same for me and like the beginning of the year, 2022’s end is no exception on that front either. Every year after the dreaded Christmas Holiday passes I find myself stuffed with leftovers and floating around the house like I’m Baron Harkonnen from Dune with a mug full of what remains of the eggnog, mired in reflection. Here it is the waning days of 2022 and I’m back in the same old mindset I was in last year…and the year before that one…and the one before that one, and so on… It’s like those old cartoons with Father Time holding Baby New Year to symbolize the passage of time. I hate to think of the end of the year is the opposite of the rebirth we feel on New Year’s Day… what would we even call that? But I have to admit with each passing year I hear Hannibal Lecter in my ear saying “Tick tock, Clarice.” It was Steve Miller who sang, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future,” and I can verify, he wasn’t kidding. Maybe that’s why I also spent early 2022 listening to my playlist of songs from 1972…always looking both forward and backwards.

I feel like I was happier in 2022 but there were so many bad things that happened over the course of this year. I’m still staggered that in the year 2022 there was a land war started in Europe. The immoral, illegal and insane Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a cloud over the entire year. There were elections in many countries that gave us uniformly terrible commercials and mixed results. The shadow of authoritarianism still lurks strong in the world. The world population reached 8 billion this year which sounds like too many people and yet we aren’t taking very good care of this planet of ours… there is no Planet B folks. In the world of rock n roll we lost the beautiful voice of Christine McVie who seemed like the only nice person in Fleetwood Mac. We lost so many other rockers, some who I wasn’t a big fan of: Meatloaf, Jerry Lee Lewis and Olivia Newton John and some who I liked: drummer Alan White of Yes, Ronnie “The Hawk” Hawkins who was backed by the Band when they were young and Pub Rock guitarist Wilko Johnson.

At least we had music. With the pandemic mostly behind us I finally got to return to going to concerts semi-regularly. I saw the Cult in both Denver and Kansas City, Starcrawler in a small venue, and I returned to my first big arena show in 3 years, Roger Waters. I can’t overstate how great it is to be standing in a darkened room – whether it’s a 20,000 seat arena or a bar – with like-minded rockers, facing the stage, arms raised and singing along. Although admittedly I feel sorry for anybody whose within earshot of my belting out any tune. There were some big acts who didn’t release albums but gifted us with a single this year. Beck covered Neil Young’s great song “Old Man.” Unfortunately it was for an NFL commercial and we know Neil hates rock n roll being used in commercials (crank up “This Notes For You” if you doubt me). It was still a great cover but then I love cover songs. And speaking of covers, Stevie Nicks dropped a cover of the Stephen Stills penned, Buffalo Springfield classic “For What It’s Worth.” With women’s rights being infringed upon from Iran to Ohio it’s a very resonant version and one that the Rock Chick surprisingly loved. Best of all, Pink Floyd reunited for the first time since 2014 (well, David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason anyway, Roger Waters was clearly not invited) to release a protest song to raise money for the Ukrainians, “Hey, Hey, Rise Up.” Other than Beck these great songs were done in support of something important proving that rock n roll remains a force for good in the world.

As I do every year in this reflective mood, looking back on the year that was, I can’t help but compile lists of my favorite albums of the year. It was a really nice year for rock n roll and many artists put out new albums. A few acts like Springsteen and the Smashing Pumpkins managed to somehow disappoint me. Like the past few years the vaults of some of our favorite classic rockers opened up and we got to hear unreleased gems, enhanced anniversary versions, and overlooked live performances from long ago. As I did last year, I split these lists between the new albums and the vault/live/re-released stuff. This year there were two EPs that I didn’t include on these lists of LPs, but deserve honorable mention as some of my favorite music of the year: The Black Crowes released a great EP of cover songs from 1972 (“Papa Was A Rolling Stone” might be my favorite) and Billy Idol released an EP of his best music in years, The Cage. Check out both of those!

Without further delay, here is our look back at the year that was 2022. These are in no particular order and this is not to be seen as a ranking… and as usual, please, no wagering. Maybe once I get these 2022 lists out of my system I’ll be free to look forward into 2023…

B&V Best New Albums of 2022 – New Music

  • Eddie Vedder, EarthlingEddie has always seemed a reluctant solo artist. He’s released stray singles, a soundtrack album and a full album of songs on ukulele so this feels like his first actual solo album. Produced by my current favorite producer Andrew Watt this is a great LP that shows the range of the things Eddie can do.
  • Scorpions, Rock BelieverA blast of classic 80s style hard rock/heavy metal. These guys still have plenty left in the tank and this album was great start to finish.
  • Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs, External CombustionIf you’re like me and you miss Tom Petty, his guitarist Mike Campbell can scratch that itch for you. This is good, straight up rock n roll which we can all use these days.
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers, Unlimited Love and The Return of the Dream CanteenMy Chili Pepper cup runneth over this year. The lads in the RHCPs celebrated the return of guitarist John Frusciante with not one but two double albums. As the cliche goes, there was probably a great single album lurking in each of these records but I’ll take all the Chili Peppers I can get. If pressed I’d probably say the better album was Dream Canteen, but there is plenty to like across the 34 new songs over both LPs. Only Prince would release this volume of music at one time…
  • Black Keys, Dropout BoogieThe Black Keys are so consistently good they don’t always get the attention they deserve. This was a great record and should be played at max volume.
  • Jack White, Entering Heaven AliveLike the Chilis, Jack White was prolific in 2022 and released two LPs. The first LP, Fear of the Dawn, was a crazy sound experiment that I just couldn’t connect to. I did like the single “Taking Me Back,” but felt I shouldn’t comment on the album as a whole, such was my dislike. This second, less experimental, mostly acoustic album was the best thing White had done in years. I knew from the first single, “If I Die Tomorrow” this was going to be a classic Jack White album.
  • Ozzy Osbourne, Patient Number 9This is another one produced by Andrew Watt (keep an eye on that guy) and features a laundry list of great guitarists: Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Tony Iommi, Zakk Wylde, and Mike McCready. A true heavy metal feast! Rumor has it Ozzy tried to get Jimmy Page to play on a song (which would have given Ozzy the ex-Yardbird trifecta) but alas he declined.
  • The Cult, Under the Midnight SunA truly sublime listening experience. They’ve come a long way from “Fire Woman” but I find what the Cult do a fascinating listen. I like to play this thing as a whole vs just a track at a time.
  • Bush, The Art of Survival – I had almost forgotten about these guys and then they release this heavy riff gem. If you’ve given up on Bush, give this album a spin, it will change your mind. They aren’t surviving, they’re thriving.
  • Neil Young & Crazy Horse, World RecordNeil & Crazy Horse (Nils Lofgren/guitar, Billy Talbot/bass, Ralph Molina/drums) return with their third winning LP in a row. This one is focused on the Ecology but also has a 10-plus minute jam about a Chevy. Who’d have expected Neil would be having a creative resurgence this far down the road?

B&V Best Archive/Re-Releases/Box Sets/Live Albums

  • David Bowie, Toy (Box Set)Early in the millennium Bowie went back and rerecorded songs he’d written back in the 60s. He got push back from the record company so went back to the studio and recorded the amazing Heathen. Toy was often bootlegged but finally saw the light of day with this great box that also has demos and different takes on the songs. Bowie was clearly enjoying revisiting these obscure tunes from his early songwriting days.
  • Keith Richards, Main Offender 30th AnniversaryKeef revisiting his oft overlooked but still sensational second LP complete with an unreleased concert. The X-Pensive Winos always brought it live.
  • Rush, Moving Pictures 40th Anniversary Deluxe EditionRevisiting Rush’s masterpiece 1981 album. This box has a complete concert from the accompany tour which puts Exit Stage Left to shame. The live disc is worth the price of admission.
  • The Rolling Stones, Live At the El Mocambo – This legendary club show recorded in 1979 finally sees the light of day! The Stones are loose in a club setting but play like the hungry young kids who took over London’s blues rock movement of the 60s. This is a must for Stones fans.
  • Neil Young & Crazy Horse, ToastAnother lost LP from the vaults for Neil with Crazy Horse. He went in and cut these songs but felt they were too personal to release so shelved the album. He ended up doing lesser versions of some of the songs for the album Are You Passionate? but to me these versions with the Horse are definitive. I love Neil’s vaults are releasing a torrent of previously unreleased music!
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival, Royal Albert Hall, April 14, 1970The Beatles had just broken up and CCR arrive in London for their first concert tour of Europe and proceed to tear the roof off the Royal Albert Hall like it was a Mississippi juke joint.
  • The Beatles, Revolver – Super DeluxeThe Beatles masterpiece, where they really came into their own in the studio, with outtakes and early versions of the tracks. The stereo version of the album here produced by Giles Martin (George’s son) may be the definitive version but just in case the mono version is included too.
  • Guns N Roses, Use Your Illusions Box SetWhile it lacks any unreleased studio stuff (which is disappointing) the two concerts from that era/tour are worth it. I like the New York show better than Vegas… but you decide. It’s a mess but it’s a hot mess.
  • The Jimi Hendrix Experience, L.A. Forum April 26. 1969 (Live)The Hendrix Experience were just that – an experience – especially when you saw them live. That’s why every show recorded is worth a listen. This is a very jam forward set for a very unruly crowd and some very uncomfortable cops.
  • Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Live At the Fillmore 1997Great compilation of live cuts from their legendary 20-night residency at the Fillmore West in San Francisco in Jan – Feb 1997. They scrap the arena set lists and play a ton of covers and deep tracks with unbridled joy. A must have for Petty fans and perhaps their greatest live document.
  • Paul McCartney, 7′ Singles Box (*Streaming Only) – I considered listing this one under “honorable mention” but it deserves at least a mention here. I would never recommend anybody paying $600 for a crate full of vinyl singles. But streaming these 159 songs gave me a real appreciation of how ingrained in my rock n roll life McCartney has been. There are some b-sides you may not get into… skip em. The overall body of work is extraordinary.

There you have it, our “best of 2022.” I hope everybody had a great Xmas and that some of these gems were wrapped under the tree for you. I hope everybody had a good and safe ’22. While I’m still looking backward in this reflective mood I’m in, I’m actually really looking forward to 2023. We already know we’ll see releases from Iggy Pop and Metallica in the near term, they’ve both released singles (“Frenzy” and “Lux AEterna” respectively). I appreciate everybody’s continued support and reading of B&V. I hope ’23 brings all of you only good things!

Happy & Safe New Year to all of you. See you next year at B&V and of course, Cheers!

Review: Paul McCartney, ‘7″ Singles Box’ – **Streaming Only** – A Monolithic Life’s Work As Told In 80 Singles

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Legend, ex-Beatle Paul McCartney turned 80 this year in June and to celebrate he put together the mother of all box sets. This new box in it’s physical form was way over the top. It’s entitled The 7″ Singles. He went back and put together a box – actually if I’m being honest it was a wooden crate, I’m not sure I could lift the thing – with eighty (80) old school, vinyl, 7″ singles. In the days before CDs and MP3 artists released vinyl 7″ singles that were also known as 45s… Open this crate and you find the actual, physical copies of 80 of McCartney’s singles with the original artwork from back in the day on the single sleeve. The crate doesn’t have every single he ever put out but the 80 singles – to match his age – certainly cover his entire career from his first solo record McCartney to his latest McCartney III. To add to it’s rather massive packaging, it came with a massive price tag, over $600. There were only 3000 of these produced, I think? These will obviously be instant collectors items. But alas, too rich for me.

My dad had a rack of singles that my brother sort of took over when we were kids. We had a little record player, I hesitate to call it a turntable and we’d listen to my dad’s old Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, and Elvis records. Well he’d listen, I didn’t pay as close attention as he did. When an artist was going to put out an album – or an LP in industry vernacular –  it was proceeded, like today, by the release of a single to get the buying public lathered up for the album. An album was vinyl, 12″ and spun at 33 rpms (revolutions per minute). In those days a single was also vinyl, but only 7″ and spun at 45 rpms. Singles ruled the world before the Beatles made albums artistically relevant instead of just mere collections of singles. The irony is not lost on me that one of the guys who made albums more relevant than singles has come back with a crate full of… singles. It’s the circle of life folks… All these years removed from sharing a room with my brother and I have such a complicated turntable I’m not sure I could even play a vinyl single any more. I would have to get under the hood and change some belts underneath to change the speed. Uh, no thank you… I’m not that technically proficient.

When I saw the price tag of this thing I was an immediate “No.” Even I have limits. But then I realized McCartney had also released it for purchase in MP3 format. That made me check the streaming service I use and yes, it was also released to all major streaming services. These “non-physical” formats contain 159 songs released over 80 singles during McCartney’s solo career. It’s close to 10 hours of music. Naturally, I knew I had to spend the next three or four days listening to it straight through. Someone had to do it, it might as well be your intrepid blogger. Who else is musically obsessed enough to endeavor to do this? I felt compelled to separate this collection from the gimmickry of the packaging and see if it had any merit as a listening experience. I’m just glad I didn’t have to get up and walk to the turn table 159 times to turn the records over and I’m a vinyl guy. In truth I don’t care how anybody gets their music as long as they listen!

As I listened to this thing, I couldn’t help but feel that this might be the biggest monolithic greatest hits album ever. I mean it has 80 of his singles. By definition, when an artist like McCartney releases a single it’s probably going to hit the charts, ergo it’s a hit, be it minor or major. But then he also included 79 B-sides. Those B-sides could be anything from unreleased gems to deep LP cuts that are throwaways, or deep LP cuts that are actually great songs, or remixed or mono versions of a song, or maybe a live track. B-sides can indeed be a mixed bag. Regardless of whether you consider this the largest greatest hits album ever released or not, it certainly tells us the story of McCartney’s solo career, post-Beatles in a pretty comprehensive way. And, when you think about McCartney’s solo career – he’s a legend but there were definitely low periods in his career – this is perhaps the most courageous box set ever released. This box really tells his story, warts and all, triumphs and misses.

I didn’t start listening to music until the late 70s when I was in junior high. We are a product of our past and at that point McCartney was the king of the ex-Beatles, charts-wise. Lennon had retreated into being a house-husband by 1975. Harrison had lost his way creatively and well, I never paid attention to Ringo’s solo music. I love Ringo but… McCartney was my favorite Beatle when I started listening to music because he was who we heard on the radio most often. He had more hits in that mid to late 70s era. Even before I had really listened to music McCartney’s music was ever present. I’d hear “Another Day” in my mom’s car while we were going to the market or “Band On The Run” over the loudspeakers at the neighborhood swimming pool. As I listened to the singles, arranged here in chronological order, I began to realize that McCartney’s music has been that way – ever present – my entire life. Whether he was producing chart topping, iconic LPs or critically panned schmaltz I have always been at least aware of what he was doing. If his latest LP was a dud (especially in the late 80s) there was always a good song or two on the album. McCartney was always such a master when it came to melody even at his worst I’d find myself humming his songs… “Press” comes to mind from when I was in college…

The start of this thing really is like listening to a greatest hits package. All of those iconic early hits from his early LPs – which were panned by the critics at the time – just roll out of the speakers. “Another Day,” one of my favorite B-sides “Oh Woman Oh Why,” “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” and “Hi, Hi, Hi.” I even liked the B-side, live track “The Mess” that I’d never heard before. There are just so many great songs here. I loved hearing “Mull of Kintyre” a song that was the greatest selling single in the UK until 1984 (and they may play at my funeral). I didn’t realize that McCartney hadn’t released any singles from his solo debut McCartney. It wasn’t until I heard the live version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” from Wings Over America that I realized that was the version that was the hit on radio. I couldn’t help but smile to think that bands used to actually release singles from live LPs!

Hearing “With A Little Luck” brought back memories of being in the backseat of dad’s Oldsmobile listening to Casey Kasem when that track was a huge hit. My brother had the album Back To The Egg which was supposed to be McCartney’s response to punk rock, and I used to go in his room to listen to that album just to hear the rocker “Old Siam Sir,” included here as well. My brother also had McCartney II and no one will ever be able to convince me that “Temporary Secretary” is a good song. I can’t believe it was a single.

The 80s are when the wheels came off a bit for McCartney. I have always felt that McCartney was more traumatized by the assassination of John Lennon than anybody ever realized. They were such dear friends at one time. He did respond with one of my favorite albums of his, Tug Of War. That was, for me, the highlight of McCartney’s 80s. I heard it playing in the record store when I’d gone to browse for music and I walked out with it. My girlfriend at the time was like, “You like “Ebony and Ivory”?” Well, no but listen to “Here Today.” While the 80s mostly sucked you’ll never find a better song than “No More Lonely Nights,” complete with David Gilmour on lead guitar. “Spies Like Us” from the movie of the same name is here too.

McCartney finished the 80s with his strongest LP since Tug Of War with Flowers In The Dirt where he collaborated with Elvis Costello. I love tracks from that era here – “My Brave Face,” and “Put It There” in particular. We all thought that was McCartney’s comeback but he continued to stumble until he immersed himself in the Beatles Anthology project in the 90s. He emerged from that project with (to me at least) his real comeback album Flaming Pie. Those singles are looser and rock more than anything he’d done since the 70s. Shortly after that we lost Linda McCartney and Paul recorded one of our favorite albums of cover songs and I was pleased “No Other Baby” was included here.

Since Flaming Pie McCartney has been on such a creative roll. There are so many great songs many of you may not have stuck around to hear after his creative dip in the 80s and early 90s. “Jenny Wren” with the great B-side “Summer of ’59,” “Fine Line,” “From A Lover To A Friend,” and all the tracks from Dance Tonight, especially the title track. They even included his hit from the side project The Firemen, “See The Changes.” For what it’s worth they also included tracks from his opera album(s) and his old pop standard album. There are a few non-album singles here as well. Artists used to not wait until the album was finished and would just put out a single and not include it on the next album, just a little something to keep them in the minds eye.

Over the course of listening to this monolithic collection of songs it dawned on me how breathtakingly wide the range of things McCartney can do is. Whether it’s a rocker, a classical pop song with strings, a ballad, folk, country, a few reggae moments, Christmas classics, opera, electronic pop – there’s not any genre of music that McCartney didn’t try. The man is truly fearless with a boundless imagination with a bold need to experiment and try new things. He is truly one of the most important artists of the rock era – in and out of the Beatles. While the set dips a bit in the middle, like his career, the singles are still very strong. While I can’t suggest anybody plunk down even the $80 for the MP3 version of this – it’s certainly a collection everyone should hear… maybe not all at once like I did – and explore. There may be a stray single you missed or a great B-side you’ve never heard. Like McCartney’s career in total, this set has so many gems and pleasures that I think everybody will find something to enjoy.

I want to wish everybody who celebrates it (or endures it like me) a very Merry Xmas and Happy Holidays. Having people read these crazy ramblings is the greatest gift I get every year so thank you all very much!

Cheers!

 

New Song Alert: Shirtless Icon Iggy Pop’s New Aptly Titled “Frenzy” – Primal Rock N Roll Recalls ‘Raw Power’

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“I’m the guy with no shirt who rocks…” – Iggy Pop, 2022

I must admit I spent most of last week still in that Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Dream Canteen haze I’ve been in lately. But then Friday, like a thunderbolt, Iggy Pop released a brand new song, the aptly titled “Frenzy” and the next thing I know I’m jumping around with my shirt off, pumping my fist in the air. Music just… hits me sometimes.

I’ve admitted in these pages before, I didn’t grow up listening to Iggy Pop. Growing up in a conservative, small city in the Midwest, Iggy Pop wasn’t something you were going to hear on the local radio. The powers that be – the suits – who tightly controlled what people hear on the radio, weren’t going to put something as visceral and subversive as Iggy on during drive-time. The suits likely thought Pop was dangerous. I’m not sure I knew who Iggy was until I got to college and started reading Rolling Stone. His 1977 albums (2 in one year!) The Idiot and Lust For Life produced by David Bowie were always in those Rolling Stone “Best Albums Ever” issues and in college I had started religiously reading Rolling Stone so I’d heard the name… well, I’d read the name. I sort of relegated Iggy to that list I had in my head of artists that critics dug but no one else did… although ultimately I did end up listening to most of those bands (Digging In Deeper: Artists/Albums To Expand Your Music Collection; Don’t Be Afraid!). And in those very same pages of Rolling Stone every artist who they interviewed, if they were punk influenced, hard rock at all, would mention Iggy Pop as an influence. I thought he was just one of those artists other people name-dropped to sound cool. I figured most of them had never really listened to him, they just wanted the street cred. Even on cooking shows I’d see Iggy – Anthony Bourdain worshiped him.  At best I may have heard Iggy on MTV, likely something from 1986’s Blah Blah Blah, his final collaboration with David Bowie but it didn’t connect with me at the time.

I don’t know how I avoided Iggy for as long as I did. I knew he was pals with Bowie and I’ve been a huge Bowie fan since the early 80s. I just never jumped the fence over to Iggy’s side. Sometimes we take circuitous routes to find an artist, but my journey to Iggy was beyond odd. In 2013 I was driving in my car and the local radio station had just got their copy of the Queen of the Stone Age’s then new LP …Like Clockwork and they went old school and played the whole thing on-air. I connected with that album immediately… I seem to remember pulling my car over and parking in a lot near my house so I could hear the whole thing. That sent me deep into the QOTSA catalog. Then in 2016 I heard Josh Homme of the Queens was producing and playing on a new album of Iggy Pop’s entitled Post Pop Depression. I figured Iggy and Homme would be an interesting pairing. I heard the single, “Gardenia” and I was hooked. I bought the album and man, I loved it. The next thing I know I’m buying The Idiot and Lust For Life, the very records I’d scoffed at in college. Those albums are simply put, masterpieces. Iggy’s career has been a little up and down since so picked up albums scattered through his solo career from New Values to Blah Blah Blah to American Caesar. I even dug parts of his last LP Free with it’s horns and jazz-style tunes. It was a cool stylistic left turn. At the time, I may have been clandestinely video taped by my daughter in Snapchat while dancing to “James Bond” from that record. I was doing a Travolta in Pulp Fiction twist thing… it felt right at the time… although I’m not sure I wanted that captured for posterity, there may have been drink involved.

It took me a while but eventually I took the plunge and went deeper into Iggy. I started buying albums from his first band, the Stooges. The Stooges were formed in Detroit Rock City by Iggy and the Asheton brothers after Iggy had seen Jim Morrison and the Doors in concert. The Stooges just RAWK. If you’re looking for visceral, proto-punk, off the chain rock and roll, it’s the Stooges you’re looking for. Listening to their three LPs – The Stooges (1969), Fun House (1970), and especially Raw Power (1973, produced in part by yes, Bowie) – you begin to understand why every punk rocker in the late 70s and hard rocker of the 80s would name check Iggy. The Stooges era was when Iggy would tear his shirt off and crowd surf… occasionally either cutting his chest with broken glass or smearing peanut butter thrown at him from the crowd all over his chest… which would have been my choice rather than self harm with broken glass. The Stooges were primal rock n roll. They tapped directly into the Id, into that lower brain stem. I’m not sure Iggy has worn a shirt since those days…

Don’t get me wrong, Iggy has really rocked hard in his solo career at times, but I don’t think too many will disagree with me that he hasn’t rocked as hard as the Stooges, well, ever since. And then yesterday I heard “Frenzy.” Oh my god does this song rock. It takes me right back to Raw Power. It’s produced by Andrew Watt who I have quickly become a big fan of. He’s produced some modern pop stars, Post Malone and Miley Cyrus but he seems to be a neo-classicist when it comes to rock n roll and produced stellar albums from Eddie Vedder (Earthling) and Ozzy’s last two LPs (the comeback Ordinary Man and the recently released Patient Number 9). Watt also plays guitar on “Frenzy” with what appears to be his “go-to” rhythm section of drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and bassist Duff McKagan (Guns N Roses). They make a helluva band. They played metal for Ozzy now they’re playing punk for Iggy. The circle is complete.

The track starts off with a dash of feedback before the heavy, fuzzy guitar riffs start. The drums and bass hit like a division of Panzer tanks invading the town square. Iggy sound viciously unhinged, spitting out lines like “I’m in a frenzy you fucking prick, I’m in a frenzy you god damn dick.” The man has never been known to mince words. And let’s admit it, we’ve all been there a time or two. For a guy who I thought might hang it up after Free, Iggy is back and better than ever and when he sings “My mind is on fire, I will not retire,” I think we have to believe him. Watt, with Chad and Duff, have captured the real spirit of the Stooges here. And I love that Iggy can still embrace that kind of well, raw power. Here’s the video:

Again, I thought Iggy had shuffled off into retirement. There’s no retirement shuffling for Iggy fucking Pop folks. The good news is that this isn’t just a one off single from Pop and Watt. It appears Andrew and his all star rhythm section are sticking around to record an entire album. I don’t know when it’s coming or what it’s called, but if this is how it’s going to sound it’s going to be a very, very rocking fall.

Turn this one up to 11, pour some Woodford, take your shirt off, get some peanut butter and behold the power (raw or otherwise) of Iggy Pop! And don’t be surprised if you hear me mumbling, “I’m a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm…”

Cheers!

LP Review: Red Hot Chili Peppers Return With 2nd LP of 2022, ‘Return Of The Dream Canteen’

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“I’m at the county fair, haystack ride, I pull your hair…” – Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Tippa My Tongue”

The Red Hot Chili Peppers have released their second double LP – yes their second double LP – of 2022. That’s a whopping 34 tunes – 36 if you count the Japanese bonus tracks – in one year. That’s 1972 level output, when artists put out two or three albums in a calendar year. Or maybe we should be comparing this to latter day Prince who was always extraordinarily prolific but especially toward the end. I had read before Unlimited Love came out that the Peppers had something like 50 tunes finished…which may mean a third LP is waiting in the wings? The auspicious return of guitarist John Frusciante really sparked the creative energy with these guys. I’m always a huge believer in the chemistry of specific individuals creating music together but man, there is A LOT to digest. But I can also say there is A LOT to like here.

I really liked Unlimited Love and having gone back and re-listened to it this week I stand by those feelings. I will admit I’m surprised they decided to release that album first. It was a little restrained and you had to hunt for Frusciante’s very distinctive guitar solos. This new album, Return Of The Dream Canteen, is to my ears more upbeat and bright. This is absolutely not an album of “leftovers.” It stands on it’s own artistic merits. I have to admit I like this album much better than Unlimited Love and I’m on record as really digging that album. This album does remind me more of Stadium Arcadium, but that may just come from the sprawling nature of this album. While Frusciante’s wonderful guitar is all over this album – and it’s glorious to behold – Flea is also all over this record as well. Or, as I described it on the first record of the year, this album is also very Flea forward… he is the greatest bass player of his generation. Drummer Chad Smith is also quietly becoming one of my favorite drummers.

I have heard many people complain – or in my case chuckle – about Anthony Kiedis’ lyrics. I’m beginning to think he just tries to find cool syllables that go well together than actual words that make sense. I mean, the guy has never been accused of being the second Bob Dylan… he’s no John Prine or Bruce Springsteen. Kiedis is more like David Lee Roth in that it’s all about vibe and feeling. All I can tell you is that I’ve been singing the words I quoted above for weeks…”Haystack ride, I pull your hair…” The words just put a smile on my face. I will say, while the Chili Peppers have always been the “Good Time Boys” – they’re only a few  years older than me and they remind me of cool upper class guys from my high school – there is a bit of nostalgia that has crept in, much like when I get together with my old drinking buddies from college. Kiedis references Van Halen, Hall and Oates, the Clash, Frank Sinatra and Cheech & Chong. Even these goofballs get caught looking backwards.

As I said, I probably like this album better of the two released this year. Frusciante in an interview about Unlimited Love said they’d left the best stuff for the second album and I’d say he was right. I think if they’d released this album first they might have seen a little more momentum – this stuff feels more summery and Unlimited Love seemed more autumnal. There’s a classic trope in rock and roll that in every good double album there lurks a classic single album. I was never sure that was really true until I heard the outtakes from Tom Petty’s Wildflowers. Yes, they were great but releasing only a single album at that time was the right move, Wildflowers as it was originally released is a stone cold classic. And just like Unlimited Love, I think Dream Canteen would have benefited from a few cuts/edits. I think you could amend the classic trope in this instance to say there is probably one classic double album lurking in these two double albums. I’m waiting to see people start doing their edited, combined playlists for these two records to refine them into one great album. “Tippa My Tongue” followed by “Black Summer” and such? Maybe I’ll take a stab at that like I did Springsteen’s Human Touch and Lucky Town, distilling those down to just one album. Personally, I like having all of this music, one big smorgasbord of funky tunes.

This album is, if anything, funky. It’s like the Peppers have rediscovered their funk-metal roots. There’s a bit more pop here than in the old days. There’s not as much menace in their tunes this time around. Perhaps they’re just happier or maybe they don’t rock as hard without their demons. I always thought Robin Williams was funnier when he was on coke, which is probably a terrible admission on my part. I do appreciate their willingness to experiment with different sounds. This album is certainly less… shall we say… monochromatic than their classic Stadium Arcadium. There were rumors Frusciante only returned because he’d gone through a messy divorce and needed money. Even if that’s true, he brought his A game to this music. I feared he’d lost his ability to write rock songs after Unlimited Love. He allays all fears on this record.

The album starts with the first single “Tippa My Tongue” which I already reviewed, but man it’s an earworm extraordinaire. It’s in my head most mornings when I wake up. “Peace and Love” is another great pop tune with a heavenly bass line. It’s laid back, midtempo, joyfulness makes me wonder if the Chili Peppers are actually… happy? “Copperbelly” is another great pop tune towards the end. It’s more of a ballad really. While there are some lighter, poppier moments, these guys still can rock with the best of them. “Reach Out” starts mellow but then Frusciante carpet bombs us with heavy riffs. It reminds me of “Ready Made.” “Fake as F@ck” is another great rock tune here. It also starts slow and then explodes. The tune just shimmies and shakes and has a really trippy ending. “Bag of Grins” is a throbbing tune with great tribal drumming from Chad.

I love the Van Halen tribute “Eddie.” Kiedis crams more VH references into that song than I can even think of. You can’t sing about the greatest guitarist ever without a tasty guitar solo and Frusicante blows me away on this track. It’s not an attempt to imitate Eddie, just a tribute about him. “Bella” is a funky track where Kiedis is trying to convince a young woman to move out of L.A., which is counter to everything he’s ever written about California. “The Drummer” is another cool throbbing track that sounds like a loose electric wire is shocking me…very jittery. I love that song with it’s soaring chorus. “Carry Me Home” has Frusciante’s most blistering solo of the album. “Afterlife” is pure funk and it’s impossible to stay seated while it’s playing. “Handful” actually conjures the aforementioned Clash’s song “Ghetto Defendant” but maybe that’s just me.

I could literally go on and on about the tracks on this record. There are a lot of great ones. If I was going to edit this thing, there are a few tracks that I didn’t connect with as much and might consider cutting. I didn’t like “My Cigarette” the first time I heard it but it has grown on me. I do like the sax solo on the tune. “La La La La La La” is a piano driven ballad that misses the mark, badly. The final track, “In The Snow” is just ok. It sounds like they employed a drum machine and Kiedis does some spoken word pieces that are… ridiculous. But those are the only misses to me on an album that stretches out over 17 tracks.

If Unlimited Love didn’t scratch your Peppers itch, Dream Canteen will certainly do the trick. This is truly the strongest album they’ve put out since Stadium Arcadium. It’s a real triumph. Would these two double albums been better as perhaps just one, more focused double album? Probably. But then it wouldn’t be the Chili Peppers if they’d shown some restraint. And believe me, restraint is overrated. Turn this one up loud with a tumbler of rye and get ready for the funky rock n roll, baby.

“Please don’t remember me for what I did with DavidYou know I’m talkin’ David LeeAm I ready?Please don’t remember me, for what I did last night, ohI guess I played a flying V.”

Cheers!

LP Review: The Cult, ‘Under The Midnight Sun’ – A Sublime Listening Experience

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I can’t believe it’s been six years since the Cult’s last album, Hidden City. As Dylan sang, “time is a jet plane, it moves too fast.” When a band I really like waits that long between LPs, and they all seem to wait that long between albums these days, I worry that my anticipation will get the better of me. Sometimes when we let our anticipation run wild we can be disappointed. I know that happens to my buddy Arkansas Joel every time U2 puts out a new LP, but then they did hit a rough patch there for a while so that’s understandable. The Rock Chick was disappointed with Unlimited Love from the Chili Peppers, released earlier this year but again, that was anticipation fueled by Frusciante’s return. I actually liked that album… But for every LP we’ve been disappointed by there are many albums that utterly satisfy – Ozzy’s Patient Number 9 or Billy Idol’s new EP The Cage were both wonderful recently released albums.

And yet, even knowing the Cult would likely deliver, I too was worried about that old monster, anticipation. My excitement for the new album was given a shot of jet fuel only a few weeks ago when I saw the Cult live here in KC at the Uptown Theater. It was a great, great show. I feared that anticipation would somehow cloud how I felt about the album. Then I saw that the album was only eight songs long. That’s what, barely over a song a year since the last record. I heard rumors that it was all pretty “midtempo” or “monochromatic.” Critics were a bit “meh.” And yet as I’ve spent the last four or five days listening to nothing but Under The Midnight Sun – a title inspired by a show they played in Finland where the sun was up all night – all I can think about the Cult (Ian Astbury, vocals; Billy Duffy, guitar; John Tempesta, drums; and I’m unclear who played bass… Grant Fitzpatrick may have played on the LP, Charlie Jones is touring with them) is “My God, they delivered.” The Tom Dalgety produced Under The Midnight Sun is a wonderful, nuanced, spiritual listening experience.

Inevitably when folks talk about the Cult, they’re thinking of their late 80s heyday when they released a trio of iconic albums: Love (1985), Electric (1987) and of course, Sonic Temple (1989). But back in those days, toward the end of my college party experience and the beginning of my corporate, first job exile in Arkansas, I wasn’t paying any attention to new rock n roll. I was immersed in the past. I was listening to stuff from the 60s (the Beatles, The Band) or the 70s (Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Faces, and the Allman Brothers). It’s like I felt I had to catch up on all the music that had passed before I started listening to rock n roll. And admittedly after my corporate masters exiled me to Ft Smith, Arkansas – something I’ve never forgiven them for – my main conduit to new rock was MTV. All hard rock bands basically made the same video so I became numb to the then current music… I should have been paying attention, especially to the Cult.

It wasn’t until I met the Rock Chick that I was turned onto the Cult. The first LP they put out in the new millennium, while I was actually paying attention, was Beyond Good And Evil. My main experiences with their music have been with their latter career. Don’t get me wrong, I love those late 80s masterpieces. I saw them on both the recent tours for Love and Electric when they played those albums in their entirety. But beyond that I have really enjoyed everything they’ve put out since Beyond Good And Evil. To gear up for the release of Under The Midnight Sun I put on Born Into This, not Electric. And so because of that, shall we call it, delayed perspective on the Cult I tend to look at their new albums in the perspective of what they’ve done since 2000 vs what they did from ’85 to ’89. And frankly I think 1991’s Ceremony deserves to be in the conversation as well – it’s a super album but Kurt Cobain and grunge killed everything that came before it including Ceremony.

Yes, I will admit I was disappointed we only got eight tracks on the new album. It is, as advertised, a mostly midtempo experience. There are two wonderful ballads that serve as great change of pace moments. And yet despite any hard rock anticipation I was fostering, I find this music utterly captivating. While the music is immediately identifiable as the Cult it only has echos of stuff they’ve done in the past. I feel like this is new ground for them. I’m like most Cult fans, I’d have loved a screaming rocker like “Dirty Little Rock Star,” or “Rise” to pump things up a bit… or yes a “Fire Woman” would be nice. But that’s just not where these guy’s heads are at. I would have thought they could have pulled a few more tracks together – at least two but I’d have loved four more to get us to 12, the standard CD length – and had they done that and made those additional tracks screaming rockers this album would likely rank amongst their best. In my mind, it still does rank quite highly.

There is a passion and urgency to the songs on UTMS. Billy Duffy is really the hidden star here. His guitar is less aggressive than what I’m used to but his playing is shimmering, smokey guitar riffs and solos. Maybe because half the band was in England and Astbury was in New York there’s a yearning in this music. Although it’s mostly a spiritual or universal yearning. A hope that we can come together on this planet. “Give me mercy, a new language.” That line, “a new language,” really resonated with me. It’s like we’ve forgotten about compassion and love and this music is a spiritual touchstone to guide us back. There is a certain majestic quality to this music that bores into my brain. Lyrically it’s as if Astbury – whose baritone is in fine form, what a voice! – is looking at the universe and needs to express the existential angst. And did I mention his voice? One of the best in all of rock n roll.

There were two songs released prior to the album coming out. I reviewed “Give Me Mercy” already so I won’t beat that horse but the more I hear it the better I like it. As mentioned, the lyric “Give me mercy, a new language, give me mercy, love will find you” is like a lost Buddhist mantra. The second track they put our prior to the album release was “A Cut Inside” which is probably the heaviest riffing, hardest rocking song here. Even I’ll admit it’s more of a simmer than an explosion but I still really connect with this song. It was both great in concert and in the car… some tunes just have to be cranked up while you’re speeding on the parkway… “A Cut Inside” has a soaring chorus, “Caught in a lie, tears in my eyes…” I love Tempsta’s drumming on the track. He now may be the longest tenured drummer in the Cult.

“Mirror” is the opening track and it sets the sound palette for much of the rest of the record. Duffy’s plaintive guitar weaves in and around of Tempesta jungle drumming. Billy plays a great solo on this track as well… Ian’s baritone is sensational, “Love, love, love, forget what you know…” “Vendetta X” may be my favorite track here. It’s got a slightly, dare I say, funky riff/drums thing going on. It’s got a low key intensity and kind of reminds me of some stuff on Dreamtime (for you really long time Cult fans). Astbury keeps singing “Sucking on a dirty blade, fighting over Love and Hate,” and you believe him the way he spits out the words. “Impermanence” is another great track in that midtempo vein. “Outer Heaven” is slightly mellower, but I wouldn’t call it a ballad. It starts with a nice wash of strings. Billy works up a bit of a squall on the track over Tempesta’s now galloping drums. That one ends as almost a religious chant. It’s another highlight here.

As mentioned there are two ballads on the record and they’re some of my favorite moments. “Knife Through A Butterfly Heart” ranks amongst their best ballads ever – right up there with “Edie (Ciao Baby)” and “Nico,” two of my favorites. It’s all haunting acoustic guitar – which we don’t get to regularly hear on a Cult album – and strings. Billy does lay in some nice electric notes weaving around the edges of the track until the end when he delivers the killer solo. It’s another personal favorite on this record. The title track, which ends the album is also a highlight. It’s a very cinematic track. It has strings that had me thinking about James Bond and the Rock Chick thinking about the show Dexter. It also has a lot of acoustic guitar. I’ve heard it described as a “spaghetti Western of a song,” and I get where they get that description. I just think it’s a cool. “Under midnight sun, with creatures of the wild, lost in love’s illusion, all will fade in time.” Damn, that’s some heavy stuff right there.

This is a really great album. Don’t let any of your expectations or anticipation get in your way on this one. It maybe a grower for some people. Put this one on and turn it up, pour something strong and let the lyrics and guitar was over you. It’s not going to rattle your fillings but it may just move your heart. I’m just happy we’ve finally got some new Cult to listen to.

Namaste!

Review: Billy Idol With Steve Stevens – The New EP ‘The Cage’ – Superb, Prime-Idol Rock n Roll, Yes!

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It’s been about a week and half since Billy Idol and his wonderful partner in crime, guitarist Steve Stevens, released their latest EP The Cage and man, it’s simply superb. It rocks so hard it makes me feel like it’s 1983 and I’m going to take the t-tops out of the Camaro and drive up and down Main Street with my car stereo turned up to 11… maybe grow my mullet back. I must confess, prime Billy Idol always puts a little steam in my stride.

I feel bad I’m only now getting around to writing about this new Billy Idol EP. With new LPs by Ozzy Osbourne (Patient Number 9) and Starcrawler (She Said) combined with going to see the Cult in concert here in KC last week (a very special evening) my rock n roll cup “runneth over” so to speak. Late summer and fall have always been my favorite times of year and this year is no exception. Great music to go with the great weather. Soon I’ll be sitting on the patio in the “wee small hours” with headphones and (yes!) a sweater on while nursing a tumbler of sour mash and ruminating on… everything.

Billy Idol burst onto the scene as a solo artist after leaving his first group, the English punk band Generation X in the early 80s. He somehow connected with guitarist Steve Stevens and things took off from there. His first album came out in the summer of 1982 and I’ll have to admit, I don’t remember hearing any Idol in KC on the radio at the time. Of course I was immersed in Van Halen, Journey and the Robert Plant at the time… I do remember after going to college in the fall of that year (gads, has it been that long?), seeing – not hearing – Billy Idol on MTV. You read all the time about how MTV helped certain artists’ careers and it’s true for many. For Billy Idol, to a bunch of beer drinkin’, Midwestern kids just out of high school I have to say Idol was kind of hurt by his videos in our circle. What can I say, we were small minded. Were we just afraid of punk rock? Punk had already affected all of our favorite bands, so why the fear? Idol’s blonde, severe crew cut and leather clothes put us off for some reason. He was always snarling and punching the air. We were used to rock stars that looked like hobos – long hippy hair, a couple of guys with beards (usually at least the bass player or the drummer), all dressed in blue jeans and tie-dye. Actually by the mid-80s it was more likely our rock stars were wearing spandex and yet we were still put off by Idol?

I remember working in the kitchen where I lived that fall of ’82 and hearing “Hot In The City” on the local (mostly pop) radio station and really digging it. Of course I had no idea it was Billy Idol. I remember thinking, while hearing the song and melting in the heat of the dishwasher (I could never get away from crappy kitchen jobs) and thinking, “This guy is a real crooner…he sounds a little like Jim Morrison.” Then I’d go to the common room and MTV would be on – because it was always on except football Saturdays/Sundays – and see “Dancing With Myself” and think, “This punk rock guy is crazy, he’s killing zombies.” I was listening with my eyes and not my ears. I don’t know if I’m the only one who let video imagery turn me off a band? I was the same way with Guns N Roses, I’m embarrassed to admit. If you’d blind folded me and tied to me a chair – and I had a girlfriend at the time who tried once – and made me listen to the music I think I’d have jumped right in on Billy Idol. I remember hearing “Eyes Without A Face” on my car stereo and then going to work and singing “Steal a car go to Las Vegas, oh the gigolo pool…” on the loading dock until my foreman Howard said, “Shut up and load the barrels on the truck.” It was then that I started to think Idol might actually be, well, “ok.” But of course by early 1984 everybody’s hair had kind of taken a step toward the more chaotic so maybe I was more emotionally prepared to accept a guy with a blonde crew cut by then. Finally, somewhere in there, a guy named Walt (name changed to protect the guilty) moved in with us and he had Rebel Yell on cassette. Man, we wore that thing out. “Blue Highway” is still my favorite track from that album and should have been a hit.

I have to admit, after Charmed Life in 1990, I sort of lost touch with Idol. He put out a couple album over the first 15 years of the new millennium and while I was hoping for the best I couldn’t connect with them. Then, last year in late summer he released an EP entitled The Roadside. I think he and Steve Stevens may have found the perfect vehicle to release new music. EPs only have four songs they have to focus on. The lead track from that one was “Bitter Taste” and it’s not only one of Idol’s best songs EVER, it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, period. Oddly, despite absolutely loving “Bitter Taste,” and shouting that fact from the rooftops, I didn’t review The Roadside. I’ve gone back and listened to it. “Rita Hayworth” and “You Don’t Have to Kiss Me Like That” are strong tunes. I remember being oddly disappointed when I heard the rest of the EP. I think “Bitter Taste” was so huge it eclipsed the rest of the songs to me. And admittedly, I didn’t like the ballad “Baby, Put Your Clothes Back On,” because… who says that?!? to anyone? But in retrospect The Roadside was a fine comeback for Idol.

The Cage is definitely a harder rocking affair than the previous EP. The lead off track, which is nominally the title track, “Cage” is just a huge hard rocking track that I can hear people in the arena singing along to. I can’t say enough about how great Steve Stevens’ guitar is. I have reviewed this song already, so I don’t want to beat the dead horse, but it’s a great rock n roll anthem. And I will say “Cage” was in high rotation here to end my summer.

The next track is “Running From The Ghost” and it’s a stunner. It covers a lot of the same themes that “Bitter Taste” did. A man looking back at his checkered past not with regret but perhaps more resolve. It’s a “yeah it was tough but it was what it was” kind of track. It starts with just Billy’s voice and a piano. I thought it might be a ballad. But then then some light percussion and strings come in. You can feel the track building. And then Steve Stevens’ guitar pops in and melts your face off. Guitar notes hitting you fast and furious. It’s a great, great song in the car. Billy sings over rumbling drums while Stevens weaves his guitar in and out through out the song. “I’m running from the ghost, the ghost inside of me, heavy on my mind.” Talking about ruminating over a tumbler of sour mash… Great guitar solo from Stevens on this track too. It ends the way it started, with just Idol’s voice (which may be treated) and that haunting piano. Splendid stuff.

The third track, “Rebel Like You” of course harkens back to Idol’s big song “Rebel Yell.” It starts with the sound of a motorcycle. It’s about the singer meeting his soulmate in the front row of a show. It’s an upbeat, bouncing rocker with an infectious chorus, “Yeah it’s alright, now you’re here.” I wish I could have written this track for the Rock Chick. I totally get the vibe. Like “Cage” I could see this track bringing the crowd to it’s feet with arms thrown in the air. I can’t get over how great Billy and Stevens sound on these rocking tracks. He obviously had some pent up energy to expend after the lockdown.

The last track is “Miss Nobody.” I’ll admit it’s a complete left turn. It’s still upbeat. Idol actually speaks the lyrics vs sings them. There are background singers… it’s kind of, well, Vegas-y. But I still really like it. I think the Rock Chick is a little more reserved about the track but while I blasted the new EP in her car on Saturday for her she could see I was into it and didn’t say much. Idol sets the scene in the first lyric, “I was walkin’ ’round MacArthur Park, It was late night and the streetlights sprayed the dark.” Idol just sounds like he’s having a great, naughty time and who isn’t down for that? The track is like nothing I’ve heard Idol do, and yes, when the back-up singers sing the chorus they overwhelm Idol’s voice a little and I understand if I alone dig this tune but I’m into it!

This is great new music from Billy Idol and I think none of us would have guessed he’d still be this vital in 2022… I’m sure many of us would have guessed he wouldn’t be here in 2022 but let’s not get negative. Everybody needs The Cage on high volume. When I reviewed the song “Cage” I said that Idol had arrived to “save summer.” He may just be saving my early fall as well! Turn this up to 11… get out the Camaro (but don’t drink and drive) and have a ball!

Cheers!