Review: Jack White’s Two New Songs

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I have posited many times in these pages that most of the music I like springs from the blues. No matter how far away the music gets from the blues, I can still hear the seeds of where the music came from… and that’s the Mississippi Delta or the south side of Chicago. The blues was the first musical form to popularize the guitar solo, where the solo and the style of playing were as important as the singer. Knowing this, it was with great confidence that the Rock Chick strolled into my office in 2001 and said, “I have something you’re really going to like…” She played me the White Stripes White Blood Cells. It was love at first listen. It was punk, it was blues, it was blues punk or was it punk blues. I can only say for certain, it was rock and roll. I purchased their first two albums, The White Stripes and De Stijl immediately.

It wasn’t until the 2003 tour for Elephant that I first got to see the White Stripes live in concert. I was lucky enough to see them in Kansas City’s tiny Memorial Hall, over in KCK (Kansas City, Kansas) which seats a mere 3500 people. There isn’t a bad seat in that tiny, ancient building… well unless you’re behind a steel girder. Jack and Meg White came out and lit the place on fire. Meg was primal and fierce on the drums. Jack was relentless on guitar, hopping around the stage like a frog on a hot stove. He brought out this wide-body, grey guitar that looked like it’d lost a fight and tortured it through the blues cut “Death Letter” and I reached blues rock Nirvana. I was totally blissed out at that show. He covered blues legend Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down” and finished the encore with Lead Belly’s “Boll Weevil.” I never missed them on tour after that and I own every album the White Stripes put out.

Now, it’s important to state that I’ve also always felt that there are certain individuals who are critically important to rock and roll. Their impact is artistically important. You can say that about Elvis, Bob Dylan, pick a Beatle (except Ringo, I mean, I love Ringo, he’s a beautiful soul and a capable drummer, but…), Mick or Keith, Bowie, Neil Young, or more recently Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder. I truly believe Jack White is one of those people. He plays guitar, keyboards, drums, bass and sings. He also produces, writes songs and owns his own, very vinyl-centric record company, Third Man Records. He’s like a white Sam Cooke. Jack is such a contradiction to me… part old soul/blues guy, part futuristic space alien.

Feeling that Jack White is an important figure in rock and roll has led me to follow him through all the different things he’s done. I always try to keep an eye on him… I followed the White Stripes religiously. I also followed his side-project, the Raconteurs through both Broken Boy Soldiers and after the Stripes had broken up, Consolers of the Lonely. Although, I always felt the Raconteurs were more a “buy by the song vs buy by the album” group. I only like the Jack White songs, but especially “Carolina Drama.” I even followed Jack to the Dead Weather, where he was predominantly a drummer. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit it was the Rock Chick who led me there. I even bought the album he produced for Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose. When Meg decided she’d had enough and the White Stripes disbanded, I followed Jack White’s solo career through not only Blunderbuss and Lazaretto but I sought out the various B-sides he released with the singles from those albums. They fell into two categories, the amazing songs that I still wonder why they didn’t make the album, like “Inaccessible Mystery” to the weirdly experimental, like say, “Blues On Two Trees.” While I love Jack’s solo work, I think I speak for the entire planet when I say, Meg, come home… all is forgiven. We miss you on drums…

I was delighted late last year when I read that Jack was in the studio recording a follow-up to Lazaretto. I had heard that after that record, White had taken a break to spend time with his daughter. Good on him for that. But it’s been four years and the world of rock just needs a new Jack White album. Last week he released two tracks from the upcoming album, “Connected By Love” and “Respect Commander.” While I felt Blunderbuss was an extension of what Jack was doing with the White Stripes, only with less primal drumming and additional instrumentation, Lazaretto found him stretching out sonically. I was intrigued to hear what was next.

The first new track, “Connected By Love,” at first listen was this crazy, psychedelic gospel benediction to love. The track starts off with an electronic pulse, and I thought perhaps Jack was headed off in a further direction from Lazaretto. But upon further listens, I realized this track wouldn’t have been out of place on either album. Jack’s lyrics are a plea to an ex or a future ex lover. The song stays sonically mellow until the middle where an organ solo that Steve Winwood would envy kicks in. It leads into a distorted, albeit melodic guitar solo. I like this track a lot but it’s a curious first single. It certainly opens up the sonic palette that Jack is working with. After three or four listens, the track just bloomed for me…

The second new track is an interesting little piece called “Respect Commander.” At first, I thought this was going to be another instrumental track like say, “High Ball Stepper.” Jack doesn’t sing until after the 2:10 mark in the song. And then it’s a distorted, multi tracked vocal. I didn’t like this track as much as “Connected By Love,” but I will admit it ends with a searing guitar solo. The guitar work at the end is certainly worth the price of admission, but with Jack, that’s usually the case. This song called to mind some of the more experimental B-sides I’ve heard from him, like the previously mentioned “Blues On Two Trees,” vs an actual track that makes an album. This might mean White is taking a wide-open, anything goes approach to this record…

What does this mean for the upcoming album? With these two diametrically different songs, it’s hard to say. I will state, emphatically, it’s nice to see Jack back in action. We need more rock and roll geniuses, especially now that Bowie gone. I look forward to hearing the entire new album. I would highly recommend “Connected By Love.” Give it a few listens before making a judgment. “Respect Commander” is one of those tracks for the true Jack White believers… like B&V…

Cheers!

 

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David Bowie: HBO’s ‘The Last Five Years’

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Like most red-blooded American males last night, I rushed home from work and staked out a spot in front of the television. I’d been looking forward to last night’s viewing for a couple of weeks… I was tuned in and psyched to see the Francis Whatley HBO documentary on David Bowie, ‘The Last Five Years.’ Oh, wait a minute, I think there was a football game on last night too. Yeah, I didn’t have a dog in that hunt and after my horrid Chiefs’ playoff debacle, it was just too soon for more football.

As any of you who have read B&V are likely aware, I’m a huge fan of David Bowie. I still can’t believe he’s been snatched away from us. Last night would have been his 71st birthday. Two years ago on his birthday he surprised us with his brilliant final statement, (ala Warren Zevon’s The Wind), the album Blackstar. I was in the process of pouring over that record and preparing my review, when two days later, on January 10th he passed away.  My review of Blackstar turned into part review, part obituary. (The Loss of a Titan: Bowie, #RIPBowie). Last year, on his birthday he once again surprised us with an EP, consisting of his last 3 tunes (along with “Lazarus” a Blackstar track) called No Plan (Review: David Bowie, The New “No Plan” EP, With His Last 3 Songs). It was then that I started to think that January 8th to January 10th should be some sort of religiously observed holiday, like Lent. Except instead of giving something up, everybody should listen to David Bowie for three days and do something completely unexpected. Maybe next year I’ll show up in the office in full kabuki make-up and a skirt… It’s just a thought.

I was wondering if the Bowie estate might surprise us with some new music from the vaults this year, but alas, no. They’ve been doing some great reissue work with Bowie’s back catalog, including the interesting Gouster. Instead, HBO aired this new documentary, ‘The Last Five Years’ which is a sequel of sorts to Whatley’s first Bowie documentary, ‘Five Years,’ named after one of Bowie’s Ziggy-era, iconic songs. ‘Five Years’ was focused on Bowie’s early years, and the 5 years in question weren’t sequential. The documentary merely highlighted key years during Bowie’s “heyday” in the 70s. What I liked about ‘The Last Five Years,’ and believe me, I liked it, was that this documentary actually was the sequential account of the last five years of Bowie’s life, which considering the lyrics of “Five Years” seems more appropriate, “we’ve got five years, that’s all we’ve got.” I think this documentary was produced a few years ago, but I believe last night was the first wide-spread showing in the U.S.

B&V has always been focused on artists who have been around for a while and the latter work in their catalog. That may be why I found ‘The Last Five Years’ so fascinating. I would say it’s a “must-see” for Bowie fans, and music fans in general. There is a lot of older, unseen footage from the 70s to help augment the story. So for those of you who are only into early Bowie, there’s something of interest here for you too. There is a lot of Tony Visconti, Bowie’s long time producer, friend and erstwhile bandmate sitting at the production console, pulling up vocal tracks. Bowie’s backing band is in the studio and jams along live to his recorded vocal tracks, and discuss how they came up with certain parts of certain songs, which is fascinating.

The documentary starts with what it calls a “prologue” that jumps back to 2003/2004’s A Reality Tour, in support of the album by the same name. The Rock Chick and I were lucky enough to catch that tour on May 10th, 2004 here in Kansas City at the beautiful Starlight Theater. I was really getting deeply back into Bowie. After the 1984 album Tonight (which wasn’t as bad as people say it was, it was just hard to follow up Let’s Dance with anything that wasn’t going to be a letdown), I lost touch with Bowie. Every now and then I’d hear a song that would penetrate my consciousness, like “I’m Afraid of Americans,” or “Absolute Beginners,” but as far as buying Bowie albums, I’d basically stopped. Then I heard 1999’s Hours and I was back in the bus. That album is criticized for Bowie being more craftsman than visionary, but it’s still a great record. I don’t care if most of the music was used in a video game. Bowie followed that up with one of his finest albums ever, Heathen. That is a must-hear for every Bowie fan. When Reality came out in 2002, I eagerly snatched it up and paid top dollar to see that show. It was amazing… He opened with “Rebel Rebel,” played a lot of music from Heathen and Reality (which older artists never seem to do, play the new stuff), and he played “Station To Station” in it’s entirety. He was confident, charismatic, and seemed to be really enjoying himself. The Rock Chick had to drive home that night, I was too staggered by what I had just heard.

Unfortunately, Bowie had a heart attack later on during that tour, and that was it. He never toured again. In fact, he went into seclusion. After the prologue around the A Reality Tour, ‘The Last Five Years’ follows Bowie’s seclusion from 2004  to 2011 when no one heard from him. He was the happy family man/hermit. It was in 2011 he finally began to reach out to his old band and Visconti… the next thing they knew they were all signing “non-disclosure” agreements and jamming with Bowie in the studio. The result was the fantastic The Next Day which, while nostalgic, is never maudlin, and looks back to Bowie’s Berlin days. I was fascinated to see details of how Bowie wasn’t just concerned with the music, he was concerned with the visuals – the album cover and the videos for the three singles, (“The Stars Are Out Tonight,” “Valentine,” and “Where Are We Now?”. He was the complete artist. Every detail came under his scrutiny. Bowie neither did interviews or toured for the album.

Shortly after that, Bowie took an acute interest in jazz. He reached out to jazz composer Maria Schneider and hooked up with saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his band to record some really different, dissonant, crazy jazz tunes “Sue (Or In A Season of Crime)” and “Tis a Pity She’s a Whore.” The documentary does a good job in positing the theory that Bowie was probably always into jazz under the surface and compares it to his experiments with new sonic textures from his Berlin days… It’s an intriguing argument.

Bowie then enlisted Donny McCaslin’s jazz band to record Blackstar. It’s cool to see the jazz band jamming in a dive bar, playing tunes they played with Bowie, over his vocal tracks. Both McCaslin and Maria Schneider talk about Bowie’s willingness to explore and stretch out the norm. I defy you to find an artist in his 60’s whose willing to take so many risks.

Finally, it was on Bowie’s bucket list to do a musical. The documentary also suggests this is something Bowie had in mind for a long time. His original concept for Diamond Dogs was to set Orwell’s ‘1984’ to music. Most of the concerts for Diamond Dogs were highly choreographed, something you didn’t see a lot of in the 70s… That footage, of those shows, is wild. The crazy stuff on stage, considering all the drugs being done, is pretty impressive. From there it leads into interviews with Bowie’s collaborators and cast of his musical play, ‘Lazarus.’ It was based on Bowie’s movie from the 70s, ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth.’ I thought the creative process and the work Bowie did on the play was another fascinating part of this documentary. The guy was a renaissance man.

It’s not new music, but another Bowie Birthday gift, the excellent documentary ‘The Last Five Years.’ If you dig music, and lets face it, it’s too cold to go outside, pull this up on HBO. When your’e done, you’ll probably be like me, listening to the albums mentioned and wearing kabuki make up… Just til tomorrow… It’s Bowie-Lent.

 

The BourbonAndVinyl Top Albums of 2017: From Allman to Plant to Neil Young

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I staggered through the living room last night, weary from the struggle that is my job, on the way to the sink for more water, when I saw the Rock Chick had the TV on. I get my water from the kitchen like a child avoiding bedtime because it’s just better than bathroom water, but I digress. Sadly, the news was on the TV. I have been conspicuously avoiding the news this year…none of it is good. I was stunned to see that it was Pearl Harbor Day in the U.S. I know Thanksgiving is supposed to be the “official” start of the holiday season – and besides St Patrick’s Day, it’s one of my favorites (I show up, eat, drink and then fall asleep watching football) – but for some reason it didn’t register to me that the holidays were upon me. Or should I say, the dreaded holidays, but that’s another post. Pearl Harbor Day, which was also my Sainted Grandmother’s birthday, always drives home the point that it’s fucking December, baby. I can’t believe the year of 2017 has sped by with such amazing rapidity. It seems like just yesterday I was celebrating David Bowie’s birthday in January. And now I find myself almost terminally behind on Christmas shopping. It’s going to take some real Houdini level stunt for me to pull off Christmas this year… but that’s my problem.

It was again a tough year for rock and roll. Among this year’s losses were guitarist J. Geils, rock and roll pioneer and Founding Father Chuck Berry, and founding Allman Brother’s Band keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Allman. Amongst the toughest of this year’s losses was the tragic suicide of Chris Cornell, the extraordinary lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave. That one is going to leave a mark. Such a gifted singer and wonderful human being. The one that really stunned me and left me in a funk that hangs over me even today was the loss of Rock Legend Tom Petty. Every time I see or hear someone do a Petty cover in tribute, the Rock Chick catches me tearing up. I was lucky enough to see Cornell and Soundgarden mere days before his loss and Petty on his farewell tour a month or so prior to his loss. Not a farewell I wanted but at least I got to see these old “friends” of mine once more… The lesson was not lost on me this year, buy the ticket – see the show. Live in the moment people, and cherish each one. More recently we even lost AC/DC rhythm guitarist/songwriter Malcolm Young… and while he’d been suffering from dementia for some time, the loss was not any less painful. I know there were many more we lost, alas, too many to list here. I wonder which acts will rise to fill the Rock void…

But amongst all that tragedy there was hope and there was light and most importantly there was some great music. Tis the Season for every publication from Rolling Stone to my mother’s neighborhood news letter to come out with their “best of” lists, ranking all the past year’s music. We’re no different down here at B&V, we just do it with a glass of strong drink in our hands. As you know, we focus on rock and roll here, so if you’re looking for Taylor Swift’s name here, you best move on. As I compiled the “best of” list, a couple of things jumped out at me. First and foremost, several of these acts had just put out albums last year. I like this trend, like it was in the 70s, of acts putting out records every year. Hell, Van Morrison put out 2 albums this year, within 2 months of each other. Very 70’s if not 60s of him, indeed. And while this is on the surface, a list of “best of” LPs, I’m including a couple of EPs and even a single. This is music you’re not going to find on the radio, but like last year, I’ll tell ya, however you get your music now – Spotify, CD, Satellite Radio, hopefully vinyl – you should seek this music out. I am not doing a stack ranking here. This is just good music… I’m just not into that competition thing this year… I’ve ranked these albums in a haphazard, alphabetical manner. Find this music, pour something strong if you’re so inclined and enjoy!

The BourbonAndVinyl Best Albums of 2017

  1. Gregg Allman, Southern Blood – A farewell note in the same vein of Bowie’s Blackstar or Warren Zevon’s The Wind. I especially liked the single, “My Only True Friend.” This was a gripping listen.
  2. David Bowie, No Plan (EP) – This isn’t an album, but this EP packaged the last three songs from Bowie’s Blackstar sessions (along with the previously released song “Lazarus”) that had only been previously available on the cast recording from “Lazarus,” the play he’d been working on. It was a nice Bowie Birthday surprise and I’m hoping there’s another waiting for us this coming January.
  3. Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie – Tired of waiting for Stevie Nicks to record some tunes to complete an intended Fleetwood Mac project (Mick Fleetwood plays drums, McVie bass here), Buckingham and McVie put out the music they’d recorded under the duo’s title. They don’t have the baggage Lindsey and Stevie have and it turns out they’re a great pair.
  4. Cheap Trick, We’re All Alright – A gleeful rocker from Cheap Trick was a wonderful surprise, considering they’d just put out a strong album in 2016. This band is on a roll and I’ve really enjoyed this late career resurgence.
  5. David Crosby, Sky Trails – Following 2016’s homage to If I Could Only Remember My Name (the roughhewn Lighthouse), Crosby returned with this beautifully sung album. There’s a Joni Mitchell cover and a Steely Dan influenced tune. An overlooked gem of a record.
  6. Depeche Mode, Spirit – This one might be my pick for “album of the year.” From the political, “Where’s the Revolution,” and “Going Backward,” to the personal, “You Move,” Depeche deliver a slinky, sexy, dark state of the union address.
  7. Liam Gallagher, As You Were – I find Liam as unpleasant as the next guy, but he’s delivered the best post-Oasis album of anybody from that band with As You Were. This was the Rock Chick’s favorite of the year, although she’s a bigger Oasis fan than I ever was.
  8. Greta Van Fleet, From The Fires – Billed as a “double-EP,” this album might be criticized for being somewhat derivative but I love where these kids are coming from. Anybody influenced by Zeppelin in these days of hip hop and electronic pop is ok with me. They even cover Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
  9. Mick Jagger, Get A Grip/England Lost (Single) – Yes, this was merely a two-sided single but it’s a great political broadside to his home country. Oh, and the songs kick ass.
  10. Little Steven, Soulfire – A big, bombastic, 70s, arena-rock, absolute blast of a listen. I was so happy to see Little Steven restart his solo career. It’s nice to see him step out of the shadow of his famous best friend… “Down and Out In New York City” is my favorite track here… although it’s hard to pick just one.
  11. Van Morrison, Roll With The Punches – The first of two LPs Van put out this year, merely twelve months after the very strong Keep Me Singing. While mostly blues and R&B covers, this is a laid blues party with Van singing his ass off like he wrote these tunes. He’s got a lot of friends here, but his most inspired choice was inviting Jeff Beck to play guitar.
  12. Randy Newman, Dark Matter – Newman’s first new album in almost a decade proves he’s still got the wit and sense of humor to take on any topic from politics to the personal. “She Chose Me” is one of his most beautiful ballads. He’s like Mark Twain with a piano.
  13. Robert Plant, Carry Fire – Like it’s primal title suggest, Carry Fire finds Plant in rootsy, exploratory mode, where he combines rock, folk, Welsh folk, and African music into a sound gumbo that is a delight to experience. His singing is right out front and I love where his voice is at this point in his career. A truly stunning album and like Depeche Mode’s LP, possibly my candidate for album of the year.
  14. Queens of the Stone Age, Villains – Josh Homme and company’s hard rock, swinging dance party. “The Way You Used To Do” is my favorite song of the year. A great, hard rock record from start to finish.
  15. The Rolling Stones, On Air – A BBC Recording (Deluxe) – The Stones from way back, from 1963 to 1965. Hailed for returning to their roots on Blue And Lonesome, this compilation of BBC live recordings are the Stones’ roots unfolding before your very ears… back when Brian Jones was as important as Mick or Keith. These recordings crackle with a youthful energy that is a wonder to behold.
  16. Bob Seger, I Knew You When (Deluxe) – This was a near miss of a classic record from Seger, but there are enough great moments here to recommend it. It’s a blast to hear Seger cover, of all people, Lou Reed on “Busload of Faith.” This is Seger’s best album since The Distance. 
  17. Bruce Springsteen, Live Archival Recordings – Springsteen has been quietly releasing a new live, archival recording every first Friday, each month. It’s the only reason that I’ve found to celebrate the turn of a calendar month. From early releases of the rarely heard 1977 tour, to another great show in Houston on the 1978 tour these live recordings are something special. The 1996 release from The Ghost of Tom Joad solo tour was another recent release. If you’re not checking these live albums out, you’re missing out.
  18. U2, Songs of Experience – The long awaited sequel to Songs of Innocence. Bono’s recent brush with death inform these lyrics, and they’re some of his best. I can’t stop listening to this album, their best since How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. 
  19. Roger Waters, Is This The Life We Really Want – It took 25 years between solo albums, but Waters has delivered his best album since The Wall. This magnum opus is truly his solo masterpiece. I only regret I didn’t get to see it live, which a friend of mine told me was like going “to church.”
  20. Neil Young, Hitchhiker – Neil went back to the archives to release this stunning acoustic album, recorded in one night back in August of 1976… the full moon really worked some magic. While many of these songs came out on later albums and in different versions, hearing them all in this original setting is the way God and Neil intended them to be heard. Neil’s just launched his own streaming, archival website which will likely provide me with hours of rock n roll spelunking joy…

 

There you have it folks, 2017 in a classic rock nutshell. Happy Holidays.

LP Review: U2’s ‘Songs Of Experience,’ Battling Ambition and Expectations

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Expectations can tough for anybody. I was a league bowler as a kid and I can still remember the pressure I felt when the team needed a strike to win the tournament. It felt like the whole bowling alley was watching me… The expectations and pressure were such that I rolled a gutter ball. I can’t imagine what the pressure on a band like U2 or Bruce Springsteen must be like. U2 is a group whose music is so transcendent, whose music has lifted the world up and whose music is so important to so many people it’s gotta be hard to live up to that. They are, as my friend The Accountant and I say, the soundtrack to our lives. With every new U2 album the expectations for a masterpiece rise to a dangerous level. It’s like the entire bowling alley is watching them… I know, in particular, Arkansas Joel and the Rock Chick always have such high expectations that U2 can’t possibly fulfill them. Their love for U2 is so intense that they are naturally set up for a disappointment with every new release that isn’t The Joshua Tree. 

Ambition is also a tricky thing. I love that line from one of U2’s songs, “Ambition bites the nails of success.” Make no mistake, U2 is a very ambitious band. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard different members of the band say, “we don’t want to be a crap band,” whatever that means. Their entire career can be looked at as the conflict between their ambition for popularity and their artful tendencies. Every album is almost a reaction to the last album’s reception. After the criticism that accompanied Rattle And Hum (which was overblown, that was a great album and “Heartland” remains one of my favorite songs), they retreated to Berlin and took an artistic left turn for Achtung Baby. They were still the serious rock band they’d always been, but they painted over it with a veneer of irony. Unfortunately the irony got carried away on Pop, which was one of their few weak albums. So, they reacted – they recorded the very serious All That You Can’t Leave Behind – an album that is always associated with 911, but was actually recorded before that. It was their reaction to the death of their friend Michael Hutchence of INXS and they’d purposely stripped away the irony because of the reaction to Pop. “Beautiful Day” is one of their best tunes and they almost left it off the album because it sounded “too much like a U2 song.” Thank God for Larry Mullen, Jr who intervened and insisted it be put on the album. Every band needs a Larry Mullen, Jr.

Part of the problem with U2’s ambition is that in order to gain the popularity they seek, they try too hard to be current vs doing what they do well, which is rock. How else can anybody explain the presence of Kendrick Lamar on two tracks here. His rap at the end of “Get Out of Your Own Way” and the beginning of “American Soul” are not only unnecessary but distracting. I’m not adverse to hip hop, I’m not that old, but it just didn’t make sense here. The list of producers on this album is longer than the stationary of most law firms. One can’t help but think U2 are trying too hard. I’ve heard the sound of this album compared to Imagine Dragons (and unfavorably at that). I can also hear a little Cage The Elephant here, but that’s probably just me. That’s the problem with multiple producers – they influence the sound of the band instead of the reverse of that. I’d like U2 to lock themselves in a room with Steve Lillywhite who produced their early stuff and just rock. If I was producing U2, I’d unplug most of the Edge’s effects pedals and turn his guitar up. When he flat out plays guitar he lifts the music beyond the ordinary much as he did on U2’s last masterpiece, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.

Bono’s lyrics on Songs Of Experience are nothing short of remarkable. The album has that same All That You Can’t Leave Behind sense of despair, hidden under big, sing-along choruses. Bono had a brush with death and it’s informed his lyrics. I even found the liner notes he wrote to be moving. Like Leave Behind, I think Songs of Experience happens to capture the current zeitgeist of most the world. Things are turning dark out there and these ruminations fit that mood. Bono has said these lyrics/songs were written as letters to those he cared about, or perhaps more accurately described, love letters.

With all of that said, I will say this is a good U2 album. It is not a masterpiece, but it’s good, probably very good. I think time will be very kind to this album. It’s flawed, as I said. The attempts at currency are a misstep, but when he occasionally plays his guitar, the Edge drives the music to fantastic places. “You’re The Best Thing About Me” remains my favorite song here. But I also really like “American Soul,” Bono’s love letter to America. “The Blackout” is a rocky, slinky affair that conjures thoughts of Achtung Baby. These guys are so good when they just rock out. I even like “The Showman (Little More Better)” a groovy little acoustic driven number. Its a joyful moment.

There are two great songs that address the refugee issue in Europe, “Red Flag Day” and “Summer of Love.” They are in the middle of the album and provide it with a real emotional center. There is a lot of love on this album… Of the ballads, I really like “The Little Things That Give You Away.” I think every musician whose ever made it from Motley Crue and GnR to U2, had a woman who let them sleep at her place… Bono chronicles his experience in a great song to his wife, “Landlady,” where he sings, “you always paid the rent…” I also found “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In It’s Way” to be particularly moving but I’ve always liked U2’s serious ballads.

So what are my complaints here? The album is on the mellow end. The Rock Chick, like most people, likes her U2 loud and rocking. And when they do – “Best Thing About Me,” and “American Soul” she was all in. But for the most part these songs are rumination on love and death and they are on the downbeat side. Other than “The Blackout” I’m not sure I could play much of this album at a party, which isn’t necessarily the measure of a good album, but I think most people get what I mean. The production is a little too glossy for me. And, as I’ve mentioned, I would have liked to have heard the Edge’s guitar featured more prominently on this record. U2 shouldn’t be aiming to get played in clubs, they should be looking to get blasted out of the t-top of a Camaro. U2 need to ignore what is current, and stop grasping to compete with Taylor Swift on the charts. If they’d return to their core skills as a rock band, they’d find what they seek. I remember when Mick Jagger’s first solo album came out. Keith Richards savaged it, rightly so. Keith said Mick was throwing away his critical reputation by shaking his ass and wanting to compete against Madonna or Prince. Sage words, Keith, sage words.

U2 has all it needs to conquer the world again. And while this album probably won’t do that for them, it will fill stadiums and get people singing along. If I was U2, I’d just listen to anything Larry Mullen, Jr suggested as a musical direction. Follow the drummer, people. What I’d tell U2 is, “Free yourself to be yourself, if only you could see yourself.” If only…

 

Review: U2’s Two New Songs from ‘Songs Of Experience’

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As happens this time of year, my corporate overlords have kept me out on the road all week. Traveling has taught me one thing: Civility and good manners are dead, folks. Anyway, I wearily returned home to find the great news that U2 have made a number of announcements in regard to their upcoming album, Songs of Experience, the “sequel” to 2014’s Songs of Innocence. It’s all so very William Blake of them… “Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night.” We have a release date of December 1 for the full album, just in time for Christmas. And, in other great news, U2 have announced a short spring tour through the United States beginning in May and running through June. Sadly it looks like I’ll have to fly somewhere to see them. Hopefully the early dates are just a framework from which they can hang additional dates in additional cities on to.

The build up for Songs of Experience has been impressive. I think this album is going to be an important one for U2… After two rather lackluster records, No Line On The Horizon (2009) and Songs of Innocence (2014) one gets the sense that U2 is bearing down to re-take over the world. These guys are like Muhammad Ali, they always seem to be fighting to regain the World Title. One could view their recent tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their landmark album, The Joshua Tree, as a concerted effort to reconnect with their fans and reignite the passion they so often inspire. (That tour was reviewed in B&V, Concert Review: U2 with Beck, Kansas City, Sept 12, 2017: A “Night of Epic Rock And Roll” – Bono, #U2TheJoshuaTree2017).

They released the first single a month or so ago. That song, “You’re The Best Thing About Me” is simply put, sensational and the best first single they’ve put out since “Vertigo.” I reviewed that single (U2: “You’re The Best Thing About Me,” The Strong New Single From ‘Songs Of Experience’) and it gives me a lot of hope for this new album. Never count U2 out, especially if they feel they have their backs against the wall. The announcements they made this week were accompanied by the album art, the track list and the release of two new songs. Looking at the track list, I don’t see much on the “Deluxe” version to recommend it, the bonus material appears to be all remixes. I say new songs, but one, “Get Out of Your Own Way,” they apparently debuted on The Joshua Tree Tour and the other, “Blackout” was out on YouTube and other social media platforms.

“Get Out of Your Own Way” is a mid tempo, ballad type track. It’s got big choruses. I usually love U2’s ballads, but this one is going to have to grow on me. The track fades in a little bit like “Where The Streets Have No Name.” I think my biggest obstacle on this song are the drums. They sound tinny or metallic. I think Larry Mullen, Jr is U2’s secret weapon so I’d like to see them let that guy go a little more. He does pick it up in the middle of the track. There is some good, signature Edge guitar in the middle and a nice but brief solo. The track is more polished than “You’re the Best Thing About Me.” There’s some audio tape of someone, a rapper, a preacher or somebody at the end that I could have done without. Like I said, not a great track,  but not bad.

“Blackout” is just a great song. The Rock Chick was in the B&V Lab when I played the two tracks and she took to this one immediately. It’s catchy and has some good guitar. I especially like Bono’s impassioned vocal on this track. I love the lyrics, “In the darkness is where you learn to see…” It’s a slinky, funky affair. I think you could dance to it or rock out to it and I mean that in a good way. If “Blackout” and “You’re the Best Thing…” are any indication, this album is headed in the right direction. Although, I will caveat that by saying, it’s hard to take a handful of songs and hear them out of the context of the full album and make any kind of guess about the overall package. I only have my hope for this album to go on and I haven’t had that on a U2 album since How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.

Keep your fingers crossed for a great U2 album! Cheers!

 

LP Review: Liam Gallagher, ‘As You Were’ A Pleasant Surprise From an Unpleasant Man

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I know that many of you out there have given up on Oasis and it’s famously feuding Gallagher brothers. When I posted my review of the first two tracks from Liam Gallagher’s superb ‘As You Were’ (Liam Gallagher: The First Two Songs From “As You Were”) one reader, commenting on something else I’d written, famously said, “Not even you can convince me to listen to Liam Gallagher again.” And I totally get that sentiment. I’ve posted before about bands formed by brothers and other than the Allman Brothers, it’s never really turned out very well. And when you think about the Allman Brothers, that didn’t exactly turn out well for Duane…but as usual, I digress.

As is well documented in the pages of B&V, I was never terribly into Oasis. However, with the dawn of the new millennium came my relationship and now marriage to the Rock Chick. While I remain delighted by this wonderful woman and all the great things and great music she’s turned me on to, she also brought Oasis into my life. And, as I’ve said before, if you put aside the stupidity and antics (fist fights on stage?), the music was really great. Now, I’m the first one to say they were somewhat derivative of the Beatles and later on derivative of the Stones. That said, 2005’s ‘Don’t Believe the Truth’ and 2008’s ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ were both great, largely ignored, late career gems.

After their rather nasty split, also somewhat reminiscent of how the Beatles split up (alas, without the hateful songs about each other), Noel Gallagher, the songwriter/guitarist formed Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. The rest of the band formed Beady Eye, led by Liam. While over the years the Rock Chick got me to warm up to Oasis’ catalog of music and she loved the Beady Eye thing, I was more lukewarm on it. There was nothing as grand as ‘Champagne Supernova’ to be found on their first LP, ‘Different Gear, Still Speeding.’ Beady Eye didn’t even release their second album in the U.S. I read an interview with Noel and he said something like, Liam needs to put out a solo album, step up and put his name on something. While apparently the two don’t speak, Liam must have been reading and now has delivered his first solo album, ‘As You Were.’

This weekend, as the Rock Chick and I are prone  to do, we got in the car and toured around Kansas City… we like to explore parts of the town we haven’t been to in a while. I believe the Rock Chick is secretly looking for a new place for us to move to, but I just roll the window down and turn up the music. I spent all day Saturday listening to ‘As You Were’ and I have to say, it’s a great album. Everything sounds better in the car… This new Liam Gallagher is a really pleasant, enjoyable listen… I probably can’t describe Liam that way, but hey, the music is great.

While I’ve only heard a few tracks from Noel Gallagher’s new band, I think I can state, without too much fear of being wrong, that this is the most Oasis-sounding record that either of them have made since the band broke up. Liam worked with a trio of different producers, each of whom was a multi instrumentalist. Greg Kurstin, Dan Grech-Marguerat and Andrew Wyatt all get a production credits for different tracks. The best track here remains “Chinatown” which is one of those great ethereal ballads with a great vocal from Liam. I was surprised to find that Andrew Wyatt actually wrote “Chinatown.” I mention this merely to point out what a large contribution the separate producers made to this album.

“Wall of Glass” is a squalling rocker and a great opening track. “Greedy Soul” is another great rock tune with a pounding drum beat. “You Better Run” is another driving tune, with big drums and an acoustic strum that carries Liam’s vocals forward. “I Get By” is another big loud Oasis-y rocker. “Come Back To Me” is another really great upbeat tune. I really like Liam’s vocal on “Come Back To Me,” he’s impassioned and the song is hooky as hell. I know I’ve described this as sounding like Oasis, but it definitely has Liam’s imprint.

While I like all those rockers, its some of the slower, more meditative songs that bore into my brain. As mentioned, “Chinatown” is just a great song that I can listen to all day. I’m stunned Liam didn’t write it… “Paper Crown” is a wonderful, spare acoustic ballad. “Universal Gleam” is one of the most beautiful things Liam has ever committed to tape. “I’ll give you universal gleam, I’ll help you fix your broken dreams,” is a just great lyric. It’s like he’s reaffirming his commitment to his fans. “I’ve All I Need” is the Rock Chick’s second favorite track, after “Chinatown” and it’s another great vocal from Liam. It’s a beautiful lyric as well, written as a plea to a lover… “If all I have is you, then darling please be true…” I will admit he name checks at least two Beatles songs in the lyrics, “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “All Things Must Pass,” but like Picasso said, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”

I was stunned, considering the multiple number of producers, what a consistently good album this is from start to finish. From the rocking tunes to the ballads this album is strong all the way through. Having literally spent all day Saturday with it in the car, this album grabs you on first listen but it’s the repeat listens that will reward you. I know that Liam and Noel’s public squabbling has turned a large majority of people off, but if you liked Oasis you will like this album. Hell, I wasn’t crazy about Oasis but I like this album. And yes, Liam’s stupid Twitter rants about his brother are hard to take, we have to set that aside and remain objective… And while Liam isn’t the most pleasant man, his album certainly is…

This one is a perfect album for a Saturday afternoon drive… roll the window down and turn this music up!

LP Review: Queens of the Stone Age, ‘Villains,’ Pure Hard Rock Groove

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I should go on vacation more often… I leave town to visit the in-laws and a slew of new music gets released. I’m not sure if I’m willing to suffer through another one of those trips even if it does mean a lot of new music… I can only take so many for the team, folks. I know I’ve been posting quite a bit lately but with all this great new music, I’m lucky just to keep up. As my buddy Matthew said to me when I was in Denver, “I can tell this is your passion…” Indeed.

One album I was really looking forward to hearing was ‘Villains’ the new QotSA LP. I absolutely loved the first single, “The Way You Used To Do” reviewed previously on B&V (Queens Of The Stone Age Release New Single, “The Way You Used To Do,” And Save Rock n Roll). My friend Drummer Blake says Queens are too musician-y for mass consumption but I tend to disagree. Yes, these guys are such master craftsman it would take an actual musician to understand what they’re doing sometimes but their last few records have been catchy as hell.

I had an odd introduction to QotSA… I was driving in my car and for once I was tuned into the local alternative rock station, “The Buzz.” When I was growing up, if a new album came out by a big band, the DJ would scrap the programmed stuff and drop the needle on the new vinyl. You could hear a brand new record the day it came out just by turning on the radio. In these days of pre-programmed, corporate owned radio stations, you’re not gonna hear that happen much any more. Hence, I’ve given up on terrestrial radio… Anyway, this DJ, Afentra announces they’ve got the then new Queens’ LP, ‘…Like Clockwork’ and much to my surprise, she played the whole album. I had to pull the car over. What I heard that day blew my mind. ‘…Like Clockwork’ plays to me like a Pink Floyd record, you need to hear the whole thing together as a suite. Well, almost, I can listen to “If I Had a Tail” or “I Sat By the Ocean” or even “My God Is the Sun” and enjoy it, but listening to the whole thing is the best way to experience it.

‘…Like Clockwork’ had a murky, ominous feel to it. Josh Homme, the leader and only permanent member of Queens had just survived a knee surgery that went bad, where his heart actually stopped beating. Then he suffered from a horrible auto-immune infection afterward. ‘Clockwork’ sounds like an “airing of the grievances” kind of album, especially “Fair-weather Friends.” I was blown away. Although I shouldn’t have been surprised, I was a big fan of Homme’s work on Iggy Pop’s ‘Post Pop Depression,’ that came out shortly afterwards. That was an inspired pairing, QotSA and Iggy… Homme brought out Pop’s best music in years. (Review: Iggy Pop, “Post Pop Depression”)

Naturally, hearing ‘Clockwork’ sent me back in their catalog. I landed on ‘Songs For the Deaf.’ Holy crap, that thing is a hard rock masterpiece. The album practically shrieks out of the speakers at you. Although the guitars are hard and loud, they’re kind of droning. It’s hypnotic in a way. “No One Knows,” “Go With the Flow” and “First It Giveth” are amongst my favorite tunes. Comparing ‘Songs For the Deaf’ to ‘…Like Clockwork’ is virtually impossible… It’s hard to believe those two records came from the same band… What can’t these guys do? With all that as a backdrop, I was looking forward to the new album, but I  had literally no expectations.

I read recently, probably in Rolling Stone that Josh Homme doesn’t want to hear anybody say that rock is dead. He’s willing to punch record company guys in the face if they so much as hint that they think it. Homme is a pretty big guy… best we not test him on this. However, seeing him in the Eagles of Death Metal documentary, “Mon Amis” I think Josh is a pretty good, stand-up guy…he’s certainly a good friend to have… but still, I don’t want him to punch me but I do worry about rock these days. I must admit, when I heard he’d hired Mick Ronson, who has produced Bruno Mars to helm this project, it raised an eyebrow for me. Is this going to be QotSA’s ‘Emotional Rescue’ or “Miss You,” a foray into dance music? I tried to imagine QotSA doing a hard edged “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”… the horror, the horror. I needn’t have worried. Rock will always be safe as long as Josh Homme is around.

The first two tracks on this album “Feet Don’t Fail Me” and “The Way You Used To Do” are big rocking tunes that groove. Yes, you can even dance to them if you’re so inclined. Myself, I gave up dancing years ago… paramedics always seem to try and force wood between my teeth when I do… While I love both those tunes, I really like the song “Fortress.” “If ever your fortress caves, you’re always safe in mine” sounds like the encouraging words of a father to a son. It’s a mid-tempo thing with a great guitar riff. The drumming on this record is sensational… I don’t know if it’s Homme or Jon Theodore who is listed as the QotSA drummer these days. Troy Van Leeuwen is listed as guitarist, Dean Fertita is on keyboards, and Michael Schuman is on bass. I’ve always thought of Queens as more of a musical collective than a band…

“Head Like a Haunted House” almost sounds like a harder rocking B-52’s song. There’s a great variance in the styles on this short set of nine tunes. Gone are the ominous, dark tones that graced ‘…Like Clockwork.’ QotSA are ready to party on this record. I don’t know how many times I’ve reviewed albums on this site and said, “well, this album is great, but you can’t really play it at a party…” This album, you can definitely play at a party… Well, I could, but most my friends are music nuts like I am. “Un-Reborn Again” is another stylistic turn and almost sounds like glam rock… the cadence of the lyrics are almost Bowie-esque. Well, I say that until he actually quotes the Georgia Satellites in the middle of the song. It’s that kind of “fuck all,” freewheeling album. This is fun music.

“Hideaway” is another standout track near the end of the record. It sounds like a modern spin on the Animals or the Zombies. It has that 60s guitar/keyboard vibe to it. It’s another great tune with a groove. I imagine a bunch of people on tequila dancing the Swim to this track. Yet even with all the groove I get from this record it most definitely still rocks. The guitar sounds go from fuzzy to beautiful leads all in the same tune.

“The Evil Has Landed,” which was the second single released prior to the LP, is probably the hardest rocking thing here. It wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘Songs For the Deaf.’ I love the riff on this thing. Homme’s lead guitar on this track is probably the most impressive on the album. “Close… come close…” he repeats… No thank you, Josh.

The album ends on the soaring “Villains of Circumstance.” It’s a great way to end the record… I can’t tell if it’s a love song to his wife or to his kids. (One might theorize that the titular ‘Villains’ Homme references might be his children…) It’s a wonderful tune and leaves me feeling 180 degrees different from how I felt after ‘…Like Clockwork.’ It’s impressive that a rock band/artist can put out such a wonderful variance of moods, tones and songs yet still keep that hard rock/guitar heavy sound.

This one gets my highest recommendation. It’s hard, it rocks, it grooves, it does a lot of different things. Turn this one up loud, invite over some friends, pour some tequila, mute the football on the TV and have a ball!

Cheers!