New Single: The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Solara”: The Original (3/4 of it Anyway) Line-Up’s Rocking Return

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“I’m not everyone…” – “Solara,” The Smashing Pumpkins

Thanks to my buddy Doug, I was an early adopter of the Smashing Pumpkins. He was the one who gave me their breakthrough album, Siamese Dream as a birthday gift in early ’94. Ok, the album was almost a year old, but I live in Kansas City, not Chicago. I quickly picked up Gish at the used-record store. I was also one of the throng of people who showed up at the record store the day Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness came out – it was truly the band’s magnum opus at three vinyl LP’s or 2 CD’s length.

In the ’90s, “grunge” was such an overpowering force that many bands, including the Smashing Pumpkins, got lumped into that category. That era when the Pumpkins came out was when I first began to hear the term “alternative rock.” Kansas City even got a new alternative rock radio station. You wouldn’t hear Foghat on that station, but you would hear the Seattle bands – Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and of course, Nirvana. That is also where I started to hear the Smashing Pumpkins. They were so much more influenced by classic rock – layered guitars, epic songwriting, and big drums – than many of their alt rock compatriots who were more influenced by punk, especially the grunge bands. I agree with the label alternative rock, but certainly not grunge for the Pumpkins. The Smashing Pumpkins were like the midwest, more specifically, Chicago’s answer to the Seattle music scene.

By the time ’95’s Mellon Collie came out the Smashing Pumpkins – principal songwriter Billy Corgan on vocals/guitar (and almost all other instruments), James Iha on guitar, D’Arcy Wretzky on bass and Jimmy Chamberlin on drums – were one of the biggest bands on the planet. That was the first tour I got to see them on and they were amazing. But alas, at their zenith is where the worm began to turn. It was on that tour Jimmy Chamberlin and touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin (brother of Prince’s old side kick Wendy Melvoin) both O.D’d on heroin, fatally for Melvoin. Chamberlin survived, but the rest of the band, who’d been dealing with his heroin and alcohol addiction for almost a decade made the decision to move on without him.

They followed up with the heavily electronica influenced album, Adore in ’98 as a trio with Kenny Aronoff on drums for the tour. I loved that record. The title track is the Rock Chick’s absolute favorite Pumpkins tune. For the Pumpkins next outing, MACHINA/The Machines of Gods, a now clean and sober Chamberlin was invited to return to the band. Chamberlin and Corgan were roomies when they were out on the road in the early days, and I think that bond brought them back together. However, just as suddenly as the foursome were reunited, bassist D’Arcy left the band. Rumors of crack cocaine use were circulating about her. Melissa Auf der Maur formally of Hole came in to replace her. It was after that tour the Smashing Pumpkins disbanded.

Chamberlin and Corgan worked together in the “supergroup” Zwan, but that ended up being short lived. Corgan released a solo album and I believe a book of poetry. Eventually, however, Billy put out a full page ad in the Chicago newspapers, stating he wanted to reunite the band. Unfortunately, only Chamberlin showed up for 2007’s Zeitgeist, an album best glossed over…

After releasing two very strong albums under the Smashing Pumpkins moniker (Oceania and Monuments to an Elegy) with Corgan as the only original member left, the rumors of a full on reunion began. The Smashing Pumpkins had really become Corgan and a loose collection of other musicians. The only guy who seemed to “stick” in the band was guitarist Jeff Schroeder. I think it was 2 years ago that both Chamberlin and Iha had signed-on to return and join Corgan & Schoreder. I was delighted to hear that, but I am still hugely disappointed that D’Arcy and Corgan couldn’t bury the hatchet. I loved their chemistry on stage. My friends Matthew and Stormin saw them in Denver and D’Arcy threw her bass on the floor and stormed off during the encore – you can’t buy that kinda passion. I’ll have to put her on my list of musicians left out of high profile reunions, My Proposed Supergroup: Those Band Members Left Out of Big Time Reunions.

There were rumors the 3/4 reunited Pumpkins would put out an album. Then I heard it was going to be a series of EPs… Who knows? Corgan, who I consider a genius, is a hard guy to figure out… he certainly means it when he says, “I’m not everyone…” While I was busy doing all my Dave Matthews Band research, LP Review: Dave Matthews Band, The Atmospheric ‘Come Tomorrow’, the Smashing Pumpkins – now Corgan, Iha, Chamberlin and Schroeder – released a new song, “Solara.” It’s our first tangible evidence of the reunion. I guess both or either Iha and Corgan played bass.

As a fan of the harder rock end of the spectrum, I like this song. It’s quite a layered, 3-guitar attack with Corgan/Schroeder/Iha all pounding out a giant riff. Chamberlin’s drumming, as always is fierce. The song actually starts with the beat of his drum. I will say, with all those guitars in the room, I didn’t hear a discernible solo. On his last few albums, the aforementioned superb Oceania and Monuments to an Elegy, Corgan’s singing has been sweeter and almost wistful. His nasally snarl is back for this track. And while “I’m not everyone,” may not be as menacing as “Despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage,” it’s nice to hear Corgan’s vocals have that old bite again. As guitar driven rock continues to seemingly disappear, I gotta say, I’m glad to hear a track like this. We need more rock n roll. It’s not on the level of that classic Pumpkins stuff, like, say, “Cherub Rock,” or “Today” but it’s a damn good Pumpkins’ song.

I urge everyone to check this out. Rumor has it there’ll be a tour soon. I’m just hoping whatever they’ve been doing in the studio will see the light of day… Corgan can be… mercurial.

 

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LP Review: Dave Matthews Band, The Atmospheric ‘Come Tomorrow’

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I can’t believe it’s been almost 25 years since the Dave Matthews Band’s major label debut, Under The Table And Dreaming came out. Dylan was right folks, “time is a jet plane, moving way too fast.” That album was so mid-90s it features a harmonica solo from that awful Blues Traveler guy, John Popper. Back in ’94 I was an early fan of the DMB. I loved “Ants Marching” and “Satellite.” That album was actually gifted to me by a sociopath, er, I mean a woman I was dating at the time. The sound was different from anything I’d heard before. A jam band who actually wrote hooks. Even the lineup was odd: Dave Matthews was on acoustic guitar/vocals, Carter Beauford on drums, Stefan Lessard on the biggest bass I’d ever seen, Boyd Tinsley on violin (violin?), and taciturn LeRoi Moore on horns. Not your typical 2 guitars, bass and drums lineup. The rhythm section jumped out at me, their sound had a rich, full bottom.

By 1996 when their second album, Crash came out, we all ran to the record store to buy it the day it came out. I actually gifted that album to a different sociopath I was dating at the time. The DMB was the soundtrack to every romantic disaster I encountered in the 90s…this one was a rebound from the first sociopath…it’s a wonder I still can listen to that album. I actually got to see the DMB live on that tour with my friend Judy’s husband and her two step kids, one of whom told me I had a big, pointy nose. Lovely kid. I prefer to think of it as a Roman nose…. Anyway, seeing these guys live was mind blowing. They did their cover of Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” and I spent months looking for that on CD. By 98’s Before These Crowded Streets DMB was on my exclusive list of favorites. And yes, by 98, I was dating someone different, a nice woman, who actually bought the album for me. “Don’t drink the water, there’s blood in the water…” That early DMB stuff was quite a 3 album run.

But then suddenly the hot streak ended. The DMB went through a mid-career crisis. They released the awful, Glen Ballard produced Everyday. It was glossy and slick and he’d removed all their rough edges. I took the Rock Chick to see that tour and she broke up with me a week later… the DMB and my romantic flame-outs continued working in tandem. (It was the last time I saw the DMB live, it’s too hard to get tickets since everybody loves these guys.) They rebounded with one of their best records, one everyone should own, Busted Stuff, most of which had been written and shelved in favor of the material that became Everyday. Matthews put out a solo album, Some Devil which was also better than Everyday, but didn’t grab me like the early albums or Busted Stuff did. When the DMB regrouped and released another clunker, Stand Up, I got off the bandwagon. I loved the first single, “American Baby” but there was little else to recommend the album. I walked away from the DMB.

It was my friend Judy, with the cruel stepson, who after seeing the DMB at the New Orleans Jazzfest, gave me their 2009 album, Big Whiskey And the GrooGrux King. It seems I rarely actually buy one of their albums. The band, never a stranger to tragedy, had been struck by the dark forces again when their horn player, the great LeRoi Moore died after an ATV accident. They replaced him with a horn section, two guys, Jeff Coffin on sax and Rashaun Ross on trumpet… Moore’s were big shoes to fill. Tim Reynolds, who had played acoustic and electric guitar on some of the early albums, and who toured as a duo with Matthews, finally formally joined the band. It was this new configuration that recorded Big Whiskey, which was a tribute to Moore. It was a fantastic album. I remember thinking at the time, they must have been inspired by their loss.

Oddly, I totally missed their next album, Away From the World. In my research on their new album, Come Tomorrow, I backtracked and spent some time with Away From the World, and I must say, it was another impressive outing. Both those albums, Big Whiskey and Away were the kind of records that caused me to start this blog. Great, later period albums in a band’s career. I would have never expected this Dave Matthews renaissance. Bands that have been around this long, who have such a huge live following, can settle in and just tour to make money. I was happy these guys still had the creative chops.

All of this leads me to the new album, Come Tomorrow. This is a dark, atmospheric little record. It reminds me, attitudinally, not sound-wise or style-wise, of Lenny Kravitz’s album Circus. There’s an undercurrent of sadness under a lot this music. That mood may be influenced by the band’s firing of longtime violinist, Boyd Tinsley under the cloud of a sexual harassment suit, bad juju indeed. All of that aside, this is a strong DMB album. It starts with a song I can only describe as hymn-like, “Samurai Cop (Oh, Joy Begin).” It’s quite an affecting tune, a cry to the heavens. That track drew me into the album almost immediately.

The emotional heart of this album for me were the two songs “Virginia In The Rain” and “Again and Again.” Those two tracks are stone-cold, classic, DMB songs. Atmospheric, brooding and catchy as hell. With a band of this skill and a songwriter as strong as Dave Matthews, there are always going to be gems like these on any album they do. There’s a lot to like here. “Can’t Stop” is a funky little number that proves Carter Beauford is an epic drummer. He never gets his due. He should be on everyone’s “best of” drummer lists.

There are two “Crash”-like ballads, “Here On Out” and my favorite, “Black & Blue Bird.” Beautiful, little, quiet ballads. The album also ends on a ballad, an almost sad, “When I’m Weary,” a piano driven track that oddly calls to my mind Simon and Garfunkel for no rational reason I can explain. The DMB can go from those quiet ballads to an almost metal-ish track like “She,” where Tim Reynolds gets to show off his chops. That song almost sounds like Green Day. These guys can do so much. “Idea of You” has a horn section that the E Street Band of the 70s would envy. “Come On Come On” is a beautiful wash of acoustic guitar, that calls to mind a flowing river, that allows the vocals to just flow over you. There are the typical Matthews’ excesses, like the track “That Girl Is You” where Dave’s high pitched vocals sound almost unhinged.

I would recommend this album, along with Big Whiskey and Away From the World. Come Tomorrow is a strong continuation of a great creative period for the DMB, outdone only by their first three albums. And luckily, when the DMB releases an album these days, as a married guy, there’s no relationship drama anymore, thank God… I am surprised that I’m not hearing more about this album in the mainstream rock press. When an important band puts out an album, it’s a big fucking deal…. It’s taking them longer to get these gems out, it’d been 6 years since the last release, so cherish this one folks. I’d like to say I’m going to see these guys live, but the Rock Chick doesn’t dig the “jam band” ethos… which is a little like saying you don’t want to see Springsteen because you don’t like car songs…marriage is compromise…

Cheers!

 

Concert Review: Depeche Mode, Tulsa, OK May 29th, 2018. Even Better the 2nd Time!

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*Picture of Dave Gahan’s silhouette taken by your intrepid blogger

What a difference good seats make at a concert. Nine months ago the Rock Chick and I jumped in the car and drove to see the amazing Depeche Mode, live in concert (Concert Review: Depeche Mode, Denver, August 25th, 2017: Mind Blown!). Unfortunately for us, we stood behind two men whose nicknames should be The Redwood Forest People. Those bastards were tall. The Rock Chick is only 5’5″ and even though I too am tall, these monsters made it difficult for even me to see the show. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that concert, but sitting on the floor can be dicey. Last night’s Depeche show in Tulsa, where our seats were lower level (first row, no one in front us!) stage left, where the walkway out into the crowd was, was such a better experience. Lesson learned… I’m past the need to be on the floor.

I saw that Depeche Mode was coming back for a second U.S. leg of their acclaimed tour in support of their latest album, Spirit (LP Review: Depeche Mode’s ‘Spirit’ – Simply Put, An Immediate Classic) and I sprung into action. We had a choice to make. We could fly up to Chicago for this upcoming Friday’s show or… less traditionally, drive to Tulsa for last night’s show. Going into Oklahoma to see Depeche felt like I was parachuting behind enemy lines to go to a rave at a gay club. Even the speed limit signs glare at you with their clear message: “No Tolerance.” My entire drive was spotted with churches on one side of the road and casinos on the other… one foot on the gas, one foot on the brake, Oklahoma! I’d never actually been to Tulsa, and navigating it’s downtown 1-way streets almost drove me to a nervous breakdown. I will say, the BOK Center, where the concert was is an amazing facility.

Seeing these guys a second time on this tour, from the aforementioned better vantage point, allowed me to step back a bit and take in some of the finer details of the show. I was literally so blown away by the aural and visual spectacle in Denver, and yes the fan boy thrill of seeing these guys for the first time, I’m not sure I was emotionally prepared to absorb it all. Last night confirmed to me how great this band is. The opening sequence, pictured above, where Gahan enters the stage above the rest of the band (Martin Gore on guitars/keyboards, the unflappable Andrew Fletcher on keyboards with Christian Eigner on drums and Peter Gordino on keyboards and bass) backlit by a multicolored Pollack-esque painting was visually stunning. The opening track, like last time, was “Going Backwards” from Spirit. It’s a politically charged song, but the thing I didn’t notice in Denver, as the song goes on, the colors from behind Gahan slowly disappeared until the screen was black with 1 white dot in the center… It was a strong visual accompaniment to the song.

By the time Gahan reached the front of the stage he was in full force. Part preying mantis, part Karate kid, part whirling Dervish, part cheerleader (the man shot off a t-shirt cannon at one point), part ass-shaker, he is the consummate front man. And what a voice. He and Martin Gore harmonize so well together. And speaking of Martin Gore, the man takes a minimalist (for the most part) approach to the guitar but coaxes exotic notes out of that thing. Fletcher is all over his multi-keyboard set up. And while we’re at it, Christian Eigner is a great drummer. That guy worked his ass off. And Peter Gordino, on the few songs he came out from behind the keyboards to play bass, treated that instrument like a lead instrument. The band was, as you would expect, 9 months and several legs into a tour, so much tighter this time around. They’re really hitting their stride. And the chemistry on that stage was fabulous –  it’s so nice to see a band who actually, and this may be cheesy, like each other. They’d smile at one another in passing, Gahan stuck his tongue out at Fletcher who laughed and returned the gesture. Almost a year in and these guys are having a blast. Gahan would always come out and ask the crowd to show their appreciation after Gore had taken his turn on lead vocals. Truly a gracious band.

But smiles and fun were not the only part of what was happening. Depeche Mode played a fierce 2 hour selection of songs, and while they don’t seem political in nature, ended up sounding like a decree. “Barrel of A Gun” near the beginning of the show was strong and strident. They followed that with “A Pain That I’m Used To” and the tone was set. I was thrilled that one of my absolute favorites, “Precious” from Playing The Angel made the set list, a definite personal highlight. That was followed by a great reading of “World In My Eyes.” It was during the Spirit cut, “Cover Me” that the Rock Chick turned to me and said out loud what I was already thinking, “This crowd seems a little dead.”

And while the two men beside me were having the time of their lives – those cats made the show for me – they danced to every song, sweating like they were on a summer jog, they knew every word and sang loudly – that energy seemed sadly confined to my row. The soccer moms behind me sat the whole time. Despite a somewhat less than involved crowd, or perhaps because of it, it felt like Depeche Mode took it up a notch. I think the true pros are like that… if an audience doesn’t respond, they work harder to make them do so. Gahan in particular seemed possessed. Denver was a sell-out and a very appreciative audience. It seems like last night Depeche played a little harder. I’m probably reading into it, it’s more likely that since they’ve been out playing for so many months, they’re rocking it up more.

By the end of the main set, Depeche was killing it. “Where’s the Revolution,” which not surprisingly didn’t get the response that I’d thought it would, despite Gahan’s crouching down with his fist in the air… I guess no revolution is forthcoming in Oklahoma. That great song was followed by the one pop moment of “Everything Counts,” which did ignite the crowd. Then they hit the crowd with an almost metal sounding rendition of “Stripped.” The band put their all into that one. “Enjoy the Silence” and “Never Let Me Down Again” were both fantastic jams, with Gahan racing down the catwalk in front of me, exhorting the crowd to get up and clap those hands.

As like last time, the encore started with a beautiful Gore ballad, this time “I Want You Now.” At this point, Gahan returned to the stage and they launched into “Walking In My Shoes.” I hate to say this, but I think they lost the Tulsa crowd at this point. Many of the songs had visual accompaniment behind the band… in some cases, videos of the band played. On the video screen for “Walking In My Shoes,” we followed a young boy with long hair, who gets out of bed as he gets ready for his day. It becomes clear that this is not a boy but a transgender woman. She puts on make up and high heels. It was a poignant video accompaniment to the song. I couldn’t help but sneak a glance at the shocked faces in BOK Arena. Maybe it opened some minds… hard to tell. After that the band rocked “A Question of Time” and ended with a flourishing jam of “Personal Jesus.” The last portion of the show saw some of the most aggressive guitar playing I’ve seen Gore do… he was rocking out.

I staggered from the arena even more impressed than the first time I’d seen them in Denver. The Rock Chick leaned over to the gentlemen beside us and said, “First time seeing Depeche?” The guy said, “I can’t believe I’m 40 and am just now seeing them…” Indeed, my friend, indeed. Everybody should see this band. They’re doing some of their absolute best, most important work.

Back at the hotel, the bar was schizophrenic. There was one corner where a dark cloud seems to have floated in… I heard angry remarks and arguing. One guy at the bar was bitching about U2’s recent show there… and their politics. There were a few folks with shaved heads, leather and black concert t’s on and they were clearly elated. I wanted to tell some of the people in that bar they needed to lighten up. Rock and Roll is a big tent, baby, and everybody is welcome.

 

 

Lenny Kravitz: New Single, “It’s Enough,” His Inner City Blues Are A Smooth Groove

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*Image above taken from the internet and is likely copyrighted

When it comes to Lenny Kravitz, I think I’m like most males, I was introduced to his music in the early 90s by a girlfriend. In the early days of his career I think he was the polar opposite of Aerosmith who once said the only “chicks” at their shows were the ones they brought with them – I feel like Lenny’s early fans were mostly female. I remember a woman I was dating putting on his great debut album, Let Love Rule. I really dug his hippy vibe and laid back grooves and who doesn’t love dreadlocks? The big hit from that album was the anthem, “Let Love Rule” and it was an instant classic. His music wasn’t all about love and peace, he could get topical and political in songs like “Mr. Cab Driver,” which was actually my favorite track on the album.

But after that, like the girlfriend who turned me onto his music, I lost track of Lenny for a few years. I vaguely remember hearing “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over” in the background, but his second album didn’t really pull me in. By then he was married to Lisa Bonet, which I truly envied, (she was my movie star crush) and he’d become somewhat of a tabloid star. I don’t know if I was put off by that, or I just wasn’t paying attention. Likely it was the latter. But then in 1993 (could it really have been that long ago?) the monster album Are You Gonna Go My Way came out. We were all on the bandwagon at that point. The title track is a ferocious rock song. I remained a big Kravitz fan through Circus, a dark little album which the critics hated and I absolutely loved, and his creatively titled fifth album. But once again, I started to lose track of Lenny. It may have been because was a bit uneven or maybe it was alternative rock radio beating “Again” the track from his Greatest Hits album to death. As break-up prone as I was, I couldn’t get away from that song…”will I ever see you again?” Let me answer that for you folks, for the most part, no, you won’t.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that, yes, once again a woman, the Rock Chick came home and said, you’ve gotta hear this album. It was Lenny’s 2014 LP, Strut. I loved that album, reviewed on B&V, LP Review: Lenny Kravitz, “Strut” – How’d I Miss This Sexy Album?. I’m still not sure how that album had come out and slipped through the cracks for me… I blame radio. That record sent me scurrying back to the record store to pick up a couple more of his albums I’d missed… It’s Time For A Love Revolution and Black And White America both of which are great records everybody should check out. After hearing those three albums, I was back in a serious Lenny Kravitz infatuation. It’s with high anticipation here at B&V that we look forward to his upcoming follow-up record to Strut, coming in September, named Raise Vibration. 

The first single from that album was released recently, “It’s Enough.” Now, I’ll be one of the first to admit that Lenny Kravitz wears his influences on his sleeve, as the saying goes. He’s often accused of being derivative, that’s the most common trope I hear from the critics. My thoughts on the matter tend to align with what Picasso said, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” I’m not suggesting Lenny is ripping anybody off, but this new song strongly reminds me of the late, great Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Want To Holler).” I’ve been going back and forth between both songs for the last couple of days and there are similarities.

All that said, I love this song. “It’s Enough” clocks in at almost eight minutes long and yet when it ends, I feel like I want it to keep going. Like the song it was influenced by, Kravitz’s lyrics address (literally) a world of problems we face today: gun violence, the middle east, greed, and the environment just to name a few. I think it’s pretty gutsy to put the following line in your chorus, almost ensuring this won’t be played on the radio, “it’s enough, it’s enough, and we are all just getting fucked.” Kravitz has done something unimaginable, he’s made a groove-laden protest record.

Musically, this is a nice slow groove. It starts with some nice percussive elements. Like “Inner City Blues” Lenny employs a lot of non lyrical singing that acts like percussion. The percussion and a subtle piano drive the song forward. The bass line is simply monstrous. There’s a spoken word piece in the middle. This song is so Motown there’s even a trumpet solo toward the end. If we harken back to the 60s, people tend to forget that’s when all the best protest music was recorded and that’s what this song evokes for me. Like “Mr. Cab Driver” before it, Lenny has his fingers on the pulse of how a lot of people feel today… sad that we’ve come this far and not gotten anywhere. The music and the lyrics of this song are so spot on. The Rock Chick likes her Lenny a little more hard edged and rockier, but I dig the slow groove of this song. Everyone should check this one out.

Cheers!

The Longshot Return (Already?) With A Single and 3 EP’s – Billie Joe Armstrong Can’t Stop!

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I was sitting in one of my favorite watering-holes recently, enjoying a mint julep with a friend. This is the kind of bar that has bottles from floor to ceiling. They even have an old-school ladder, like libraries of old, on which the bartenders scamper up and down and roll it left and right to grab those bottles on the higher shelves. It’s fun to watch but it all looked like a lot of work. My friend and I were discussing and of course lauding our wives for their love of activity. In my case I must confess, The Rock Chick is always busy doing something. I like to say that, like commercials for the Army when I was a kid, she gets more done before 6 am than I get done all day. I never understood why that was a selling point for the Army, by the way. My friend and I are both individuals who prefer a more leisurely approach to life… a nice cocktail, some music on the turntable and a calm moment to contemplate the joys of existence. My approach is more like Prince’s song, “I was busy doing something next to nothing but different than the day before.” There’s a scene in Ghostbusters where Bill Murray’s character, Peter Venkman says something like, “I want you to think, that Peter Venkman, he’s the kind of guy who gets things done.” That’s my wife. I don’t share that zeal.

However, it appears that Green Day front man and leader of the new band The Longshot Billie Joe Armstrong shares that love of activity. I know he has an addictive personality and I don’t know if that plays into this but you have to wonder. Merely a week after releasing the great, punky new album, Love Is For Losers, (LP Review: ‘Love Is For Losers’ From The Longshot, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong’s New Side ProjectArmstrong and crew are back with another single and three EPs. That Billie Joe Armstrong, he’s the type of guy who gets things done. I am having flashbacks to that whole Uno!Dos!, and Tre! episode with Green Day. It’s not unprecedented to release everything you’ve recorded, it’s just usually staggered over a longer period of time. The Red Hot Chili Peppers started releasing the b-sides they recorded during the I’m Beside You sessions, but it took a while.  It was with great surprise that I saw on social media the Longshot announce this flurry of releases.

The first single, which I found out actually came out almost simultaneously with Love Is For Losers is entitled “Devil’s Kind.” It’s another punky rocking song. I really like this track and frankly it wouldn’t have been out of place on Love Is For Losers. It’s a little harder edged, perhaps, but a great tune. I can’t find confirmation on line, but I believe this track is penned by Armstrong.

The first EP is entitled Bullets and has a mere two tracks. Both of the tracks on this EP, “Give It All To You” and “Keep Me Satisfied” have a strong, early-Beatles vibe. When I listened to Love Is For Losers for the first time, I mentioned that I got this vintage music vibe as well as a punk vibe. It was part punk, part 60s garage band. Although I admit the garage band vibe was more of an accent. The two songs on Bullets are all retro, Beatlesque tracks. Both songs clock in at under 2 minutes. They’re both good songs but literally sound like outtakes from Meet The Beatles. Both of these tracks, I believe are originals. While both tracks are interesting, I don’t think either is essential. They’re very different than the sound of Love Is For Losers. 

The second EP, entitled Razor Baby contains 4 tracks. My favorite of the four is probably “Fever Blister” another slab of slamming punk rock. They play this track fast and hard. I love a chorus that starts “I look so repulsive….” Like “Devil’s Kind” this track wouldn’t have been out of place on Love Is For Losers. The next track, another original, is entitled “Razor Baby.” It’s a more trance like track. The playing is slowed down and Armstrong’s vocal is slightly distorted. I wouldn’t call it a ballad, just mid-tempo. It’s got a very garage rock feel to it, just a lower energy vibe. Again, it’s another track I like. The third track, “I’ve Got Problems,” bursts out of the speakers like early Green Day. It rocks fast and hard. The riff slips and slides around. I’m not sure why this one missed the cut for the album. The final track, and perhaps the most surprising on this EP is the final track, a cover of Cheap Trick’s “Southern Girls” from their album In Color. They slow it down quite a bit and there’s even more distortion on Armstrong’s vocals. This version is far cry from the arena-rock style of the original, although it does slowly build. I like cover songs, it’s like a 2 for 1 special, and I did enjoy this track. Full disclosure, I do love Cheap Trick.

It appears the last track on Razor Baby, the Cheap Trick cover, was merely a harbinger of what was to come on the final, 5-track EP, Return To Sender. It’s a fascinating grab-bag of covers. This EP just sounds like a band having a good time.  They cover one of my all time favorite early Who songs, “So Sad About Us” in what is a very faithful rendition of the original. Of course Armstrong has covered the Who before with Green Day on a note-for-note version of “A Quick One While He’s Away.” From the Who, the Longshot heads to the Ramones and a tuneful “Can’t Make It On Time,” with a brief, tasty guitar solo, followed by a spot-on melancholy version of the Rolling Stones’ “As Tears Go By,” originally written for Marianne Faithful. As a Stones fanatic, I was really thrilled to hear that last one but in all honesty, I like all of these tracks. It’s like listening to a great bar band. The final covers on Return To Sender are perhaps the oddest selections – “I Am A Rock,” the Simon And Garfunkel ballad and the Plimsoul’s “Million Miles Away.” Like I said, Armstrong is clearly having a great time with all of this.

If you count “Devil’s Kind” and all the tracks on the three EPs, Armstrong and the Longshot have literally released the same number of songs that appeared on the debut record, Love Is For Losers. For all I know, this Friday we’ll be treated to another dozen tracks… that Billie Joe Armstrong probably gets more done before 6 am than I get done all day… Check these tracks out, I think you’ll find some things you’ll like. Covers songs aren’t for everyone, but there’s a wide variety to choose from. Meanwhile, I’ll be “busy doing something next to nothing….”

Cheers!

 

LP Review: David Byrne, ‘American Utopia,’ A Surprise Gem

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“Hear my voice, hear my voice, It’s saying something and I hope you’re concentrating…” – Talking Heads, “Warning Signs” Written by David Byrne

I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m surprised I’m posting these thoughts on David Byrne’s superb new album, American Utopia. I almost started with the Monty Python line, “and now for something completely different.” It’s been a weird year. I think it was, of all people, Don Henley who once sang, “It was a pretty big year for fashion, a lousy year for rock and roll…” Lately, I was struggling to find any music that I felt merited calling attention to. The Dead Daisies are a hard rock outfit who just put out a new album, but I didn’t hear anything that jumped out at me, it was all pretty meh. The joy of doing this blog is the actual musical spelunking I get to do. I spend my evenings and weekends locked up here in the B&V lab actually listening to music.

And so frustrated by this year’s music, I started casting a wider net on the music I was looking at. I discovered that merely 2 months ago, in March, David Byrne put out his first “solo” album in fourteen years. And while it’s true, his last actual solo album was 2004’s Grown Backward, it’s not like Byrne hasn’t been active with collaborations and scores. Although I hadn’t realized it had been six years since his St Vincent collaboration, Love This Giant. Full disclosure, Byrne’s solo career is one that I have never followed extensively. I actually found myself selectively going through a few of the albums in his back catalog to help frame the new record in my mind. His first “solo” record, Rei Momo was an album that completely slipped by me in 1989. It’s all Latino inspired music. It sounds like a Tex-Mex band playing at a Cinco De Mayo party, in a good way, and I really liked it. I’m sure it was thought of as a little eccentric in 1989 considering it was so far from his work in the Talking Heads. But he was always into world music and different poly-rythmic sounds. I also listened to his last solo record, Grown Backwards which is awash with strings and actually has Byrne doing a few opera songs. I have to say, I liked both records, probably more so because they were quirky. They stretched my concept of what a pop/rock song could sound like and I like that.

Byrne has certainly chosen a different path in his solo career. In my research I read the word “inconsistent” and “eccentric” or “avant garde” quite a bit. His solo career, a bit like Sting, took him in a lot of very different directions than the band that made him famous. Although in Sting’s case, his career always seemed calculated and pretentious… there were good songs but that “watercolors, light-jazz” thing didn’t do a lot for me. Byrne seems more truly the artiste than Sting ever has. One thing that has been consistent in Byrne’s career both with the Talking Heads and solo is that he returns to collaborating with the brilliant Brian Eno, but I’ll come back to that.

I grew up in the American heartland… The Talking Heads weren’t a band I heard a lot of in my hometown, Kansas City. They rose in the late 70s in the New York punk/post punk CBGB scene. I’d love to travel back in time and catch them, or Blondie, or Patti Smith at that bar… maybe in another lifetime. The Talking Heads were probably too edgy for KY/102, our radio station, but I still remember the first time I heard them and heard David Byrne’s voice. I always played my little clock/radio in the mornings when I was getting ready for school. It had to be late junior high/early high school, I was sitting on the bed pulling on my socks and this weird drum sound starts off… then this tremulous, nervous voice comes on and starts singing, “I don’t know why I love her like I do…” Yes, it was “Take Me To the River,” a Talking Heads song that was too big for our radio station to ignore. I had never heard this band before. If you’d have told me that song was originally by Al Green, I’d have thought you were crazy. For years I thought More Songs About Buildings and Food was their first album. In Kansas City, it was like Talking Heads 77 didn’t exist. Maybe that’s why Byrne has always expressed such disdain for where I come from, like on the song “Big Country” where he sings about us out here in fly-over country, “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me.” Ouch, David, ouch.

Admittedly, it wasn’t until I went to college, and started seeing the Talking Heads on MTV that I realized the depth and breadth of their work. I’d like to sound cool and say I was in on the Talking Heads from the beginning, but we just didn’t hear them. I didn’t even hear the song “Psycho Killer” until I was in college… and might I say, was there a more perfect singer in Byrne to sing that song. He sounded both psychotic and willing to kill. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t get on the bandwagon and start buying Heads albums until after Speaking In Tongues. That one and Little Creatures got me hooked. Although my favorite albums now would be those first two, Talking Heads ’77 and More Songs About Buildings and Food. Byrne’s vocals, especially on those early albums were jittery and edgy, like a young virgin who had unwittingly walked into his first orgy. Who knew what was going to happen next? And the band – Chris Frantz (drums), his wife Tina Weymouth (bass) and Jerry Harrison (guitars/keyboards) – I just loved that early stuff where it was just the four of them. Through the years they added other players, keyboardists and percussionists. I dug every left turn. Many of those musical explorations were a result of the band collaborating with Eno.

Which leads me to American Utopia. From what I read, Eno did the basic tracks and sent them to Byrne to finish up the melodies and the lyrics. I think there were some other producers, notably Rodaihd McDonald who worked on the album as well. I first heard the great song, “Gasoline and Dirty Sheets” in my car and for a moment thought it was an old Talking Heads song. I quickly pulled the album up and listened once. I found myself listening again. This is an album I keep returning to. The music is buoyant and the melodies are very catchy. Byrne’s lyrics are at times cryptic to me so it’s hard to know if he’s joking and fucking with all of us or he means what he sings. The album is tied to a multi-media project, Reasons to Be Cheerful, which can be found at reasonstobecheerful.world. It’s got blog posts by Byrne and others that are genuinely cheerful.

I do know the song “Bullet” had some heavy, if subtle anti-gun messaging. Or at least I thought so. I’m not smart enough to decode David Byrne. I do know he’s “saying something” and I am really “concentrating….” “Every Day Is A Miracle” seems like an anti religious song, but it’s gloriously up beat and frames the world through the eyes of various barn animals. Similarly, “Dog’s Mind” has a vaguely political vibe by framing the world through the eyes of a dog… it has my favorite line, “we are all limited by what we are.” Deep thoughts and great melodies… count me in. “Everybody Is Coming To My House” is a great big song that sounds like a party invite but ends with the words, “everybody’s coming to my house, I’m never going to be alone, and I’m never gonna go home.” So, if everybody is coming over and you’re never going home, is this invitation really a stiff arm? Its little subtle stuff like that I keep coming back to, like a riddle. While the track “Its Not Dark Up Here” seems like a happy song on first listen, the lyrics are unsettling as well… “there’s nothing funny about making money, it wouldn’t work if it was.”

While I have admittedly not followed Byrne’s solo career very closely, I was deeply impressed with this album. If you’re looking for thoughtful, well made music by a true artist, American Utopia is a must buy. Frankly, and I’m shocked by this as it kind of came out of nowhere, this album is a strong candidate to end up on the B&V “Best of” this year. I urge everyone to check this one out. I know I’ll keep listening to it and I plan on circling back and checking out his back catalog more extensively!

Cheers!

 

LP Review: ‘Love Is For Losers’ From The Longshot, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong’s New Side Project

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“I think everyone should spread as many rumors and lies about the Longshot as possible…” – Billie Joe Armstrong

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the ’90s music scene. The easiest and perhaps the laziest way to describe the ’90s is to describe it as the Grunge Era. And while Grunge was a powerful force in music, Kurt Cobain and crew certainly destroyed everything that came before them, there was a lot more going on in music at the time. There was a ton of what was described as “alternative rock” back then, which was basically anything that wasn’t “classic rock.” Or basically, alternative rock was anything that wasn’t say, Foghat. It’s easy to look at the ’90s as the last Golden Age of Rock. Guitar driven bands are few and far between nowadays… Thank heaven for Greta Van Fleet!

When I read about that era now, I notice a lot of bands get sort of lumped together. I see Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden all lumped together with Green Day, who were another ’90s powerhouse. And while Green Day got big with Dookie in 1994, I’ve always viewed them as being apart from the Grunge thing. Green Day were punk rockers, plain and simple. I’m not suggesting they were derivative, they were just clearly punk. While all the Grunge guys and especially Nirvana were influenced by punk, they were something different. Pearl Jam was more influenced by classic rock than they’d probably be willing to admit. Soundgarden, to me at the time, were Black Sabbath with a better vocalist (I’m talking about Ozzy here, not Dio, I love those Sabbath LPs with RJD…). I will also say, in terms of differentiating Green Day from the other bands of the era, I think that Green Day had a better rhythm section in Tre Cool (drums) and Mike Dirnt (bass) than the other bands… with all due respect to Nirvana’s Grohl/Novoselic, Soundgarden’s Cameron/Shepherd, or Pearl Jam’s Ament/plug-in-drummer-name here. Pearl Jam went through more drummers than Spinal Tap. None of those rhythm sections were bad, I’m just saying Tre Cool is a kick ass drummer. And I do like Grohl as a drummer more than I do as a front man…but I’m off on a tangent here.

If you listen to Green Day’s Dookie, their major label debut, or any of their earlier albums, they were very punk. There was a rawness to the music and a certain amount of menace. They’ve always had a good sense of humor, but it came with a great “fuck you” attitude. You could hear a definite influence of the Clash or the Sex Pistols in early Green Day. As the years passed, their sound evolved and expanded, I think, for the better. Listening to Green Day now, they sound more like the power-pop/rock of say, Big Star with admittedly more powerful guitar, arena-rock size choruses and stronger hooks. My favorite album from Green Day remains their most diverse musically, Warning, which at the time was their least selling album. After that they went heavily into the Rock Opera genre, with American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. Over their career Green Day has lost a bit of that menace in their sound but I’ve remained a big fan. I liked their last album, Revolution Radio (LP Review: Green Day “Revolution Radio,” They retrench and relaunch).

The mastermind behind Green Day is, of course, Billie Joe Armstrong. As those of you who regularly read B&V know, I’ve always subscribed to the “Great Man” (or woman, I’m using the generic term “man,” because its sounds better than Great Person) theory of rock. I cribbed the theory from a history class. It basically means that at certain points in history or in this case rock and roll, certain great men, er I mean people, came forward to have a significant impact on things. I consider, along with guys like Jack White or Eddie Vedder, Billie Joe Armstrong to be one of these “great” people. He’s now stepped out of Green Day and formed a new band or as they like to call it, a new side-project.

It’s not the first time Armstrong has done this. With the other members of Green Day, they put out an album of 60s style rock tunes under the moniker the Foxboro Hot Tubs. There are rumors a band named the Network was also actually Green Day out there, but it’s never been proved to the point I take that as gospel. Those projects (if the Network really was Green Day) were something more akin to the Beatles pretending to be Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, just a fun way to take some of the pressure off being Green Day. I loved that Foxboro album, it’s a lot of fun. I also followed Armstrong on his truly first “solo” album outside of Green Day, Foreverly, which was a cover album of an old Everly Brothers’ album (Songs My Father Taught Me), literally song for song, only in a different order. I loved that album, but that could be because in a stroke of genius Armstrong invited Norah Jones to harmonize with him. It’s a quiet little album in the vein of Plant/Krauss’ Raising Sand. 

So now we have the Longshot. So, in order “spread as many rumors” as I can, I’ll tell you what I know and what I think. Armstrong wrote all the tunes on Love Is For Losers, except for a curious cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Goodbye to Romance.” I suspect that he plays all the instruments on this album, although his son is credited as drumming on one song. They’ve done a few live gigs, and the Longshot, at least live, consists of long time Green Day touring guitarist Jeff Matika on bass, Kevin Preston on guitar and David Field on drums. Obviously Armstrong is on vocals and guitar as well.

Love Is For Losers is probably the “punk-iest” thing I’ve heard Armstrong do since Insomniac. The rock songs on this album don’t reach the punk menace of “Geek Stink Breath” but what songs do? This album is a blast of punk-y guitar-rock full of big time riffs. I will say Armstrong has not lost his ability to write hook-filled songs. My first listen through, I got an almost 50s vintage vibe running through the music, but I think that may be because I’ve been listening to a lot of Elvis lately… But when you think about it, the original punk rockers were really stripping away a lot of the artifice that had grown up in rock and roll and took it back to it’s simpler, less complicated roots, albeit with more attitude and well, menace.

I will say, a lot of this music, at least through the first few listens does seem, for lack of a better word, “monochromatic.” Rockers like “The Last Time,” the title track, “Cult Hero” and “Taxi Driver” all sound alike on first listen. The more I listen, the more I like these tracks, and I start to hear the different riffs emerge. There are a few stylistic breaks with that core sound, “Chasing The Ghost” still has guitars but Armstrong uses some vocal effects with interesting results. And, the aforementioned cover of the ballad “Goodbye To Romance,” which sent my wife running from the room, at least made me smile. I mean, who covers Ozzy?

Armstrong seems extremely energized by this creative outlet outside of Green Day. And while I’m not sure I’d say this is a 100% return to punk, it’s certainly got a lot of that swagger and energy. A lot of times side projects are half-assed, narcissistic projects, but you certainly can’t say that about the Longshot. It feels like Armstrong is really into this and is having a great time doing it. While Love Is For Losers isn’t going to change the course of music, it’s nice to hear Armstrong unleash the less polished guitar sound. God knows, we need more guitar driven rock out there. This album certainly deserves a listen.

Cheers!