review by Matt Tauber
“Wrecking Ball” is a great sounding album about disillusionment with Obama’s America, and the Boss is taking it right to the man himself. “I been knocking on the door that holds the throne,” he sings in the opening track, “We Take Care of Our Own.” I guess things didn’t turn out like Springsteen expected. “Where’s the promise?” he asks, “Where’s the work?”
It’s bleak out there, folks. Municipalities falling victim to unsustainable debt (“Death to My Hometown”, entrepreneurs stalled out by government over-regulation (“Shackled and Drawn”), some are left with nothing but love to fall back on (“This Depression”). “Hard times come and go,” he tells us repeatedly in the title track, but he warns us to stand up in the face of it and “hold tight to your anger.” Now is not the time to be complacent and stick with the status quo.
Springsteen’s songs bring out some interesting characters. The best we have here is the “Jack of All Trades,” who represents the spirit necessary to not only survive but thrive. He’s representative of the men who aren’t afraid to go to work and earn their way forward, whether the work suits them or not. “The banker man grows fat, working man grows thin,” he notes, referencing the massive financial bailouts; the campaign donors getting paid off at the expense of the working man. But it’s not all strife. “It feels like the world’s gonna change,” he says, like letting us in on his private secret. “There’s a new world coming.”
But near the end, Springsteen offers a light to break the dark. In “Rocky Ground”, the path has been difficult and things look desperate (“the stars have faded/the sky is still”). In a rap portion of the song, vocalist Michelle Moore sings –
“you try to sleep you toss andHaving been mislead and disappointed, Springsteen turns to God, and while he may not find all of the answers, he does find solace. He echoes the hopeful words that ended “Jack of All Trades.” “There’s a new day coming,” he rejoices at the end. “A new day’s coming.” Is it any coincidence this was released in an election year?
Turn the bottom’s dropping out
Where you once had faith now
There’s only doubt.”
Guest review by TED HAYCRAFT
I so vividly remember driving around late at night way back in 1987 with my cheap cassette player in my car blaring out, as loud as I could take it, “Mandinka” and “Troy” from Sinead O’Connor’s debut album "The Lion and the Cobra"!!! Sinead certainly busted out on the music scene with guns a-blazin’ and despite the (rightly deserved!) mega success of her cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” from her second album, "I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got," she eventually seemed to fall into a hidden valley of her own making (and do we really don’t need to go there, itemizing of all her antics that spurred this on – good, bad & controversial – that was covered to death in the press?). It even seems that it wasn’t too long ago that I remember sampling one of her albums of a few years back at a book store listening station trying to convince myself that I liked it and should buy it – alas I didn’t and couldn’t! However, with her new release "How About I Be Me (and You Be You)?", the Sinead we all (or certainly quite a handful) loved, adored and even were slightly intimidated by is back with all of her mojo returned and her muse working overtime. What made those early albums of hers so appealing was how she wrestled such strong and raw emotions into to very catchy melodies and anthemic sing-a-longs, and this album is a celebratory return to that. I hope that it is not overshadowed by her continuing up and down personal life that’s recently been playing out publicly. Right off the bat with the first totally infectious cut, “4th and vine”, we get a blissful Sinead exclaiming “going to put my pink dress on” in anticipation of a happy wedding and married life, though this tone is pretty much quickly dismissed overall in exchange for some much more somber and serious themes whereby the last cut, “v.i.p.” she really digs into her familiar accusatory mode confronting the hypocrisies of musicians that once “…always spoke their people’s needs, Now we’re gorged upon what devils feed, In the shallow form of MTV…”. But don’t let this scare you off from taking a chance on this album and indeed, one of the reasons we initially adored Sinead was her confrontational attitude on subjects that need confronting that would go down much easier with a beautiful voice and melody!!! So, besides these two songs that begin and end the album we get additional emotionally up front songs such as “take off your shoes” tackling spiritual matters, in her signature anthem mode; the infectious “the wolf is getting married” where another’s joy and hope brings her joy and hope; “I had a baby” where she cuts close to the bone admitting “…I was always crazy…”. This strong collection of songs were all either written or co-written by Sinead except for her cover of John Grant’s “Queen of Denmark” which ironically almost comes across as the centerpiece of the album and she really takes complete ownership of this song and its wonderfully provocative lyrics. You gotta’ love a song that opens up with “I wanted to change the world, But I could not even change my underwear…”?!??!! This song plays so perfectly into Sinead’s strengths and really announces her return to form – spewing out righteous anger leavened with humor and uncomfortable insight, tempered with an amazing voice (with that just detectable Irish lilt) that certainly makes all of the angels envious. A couple of lines also from Grant’s song states “…I don’t know what it is you want to want from me, You really have no right to want anything from me at all…” but unfortunately this is exactly what I (and we?) want from Sinead and fortunately this album delivers to us the Sinead we all use to know and love…hope she sticks around for a while!!!
OLD IDEAS - LEONARD COHEN
Guest review by LUCAS HARDWICK
“I love to speak with Leonard / He’s a sportsman and a shepherd / He’s a lazy bastard living in a suit.” Mr. Cohen doesn’t waste time getting to the self-examination right off the top of this album, but throughout it’s a unique kind of inward look. A profound image on the album sleeve, that couldn’t be more clear with this confession, is calligraphy on a faded, green diary which reads, “Coming to the end of the book / but not quite yet / maybe when we reach the bottom.” This presents a used-up man who’s found his muse with the last years of his life. Even the album title “Old Ideas” suggests that he’s tapped out but perhaps amused by the notion...or that maybe he is the old idea.
Immediately, we know that Mr. Cohen is resigned to the fact that he has fewer days ahead of him than behind and begins to deconstruct exactly what he believes he is. Having written decades of divinely guided love songs, Cohen corners himself into having contributed to the world perhaps as a slave to his muse, and even the muse has no delusions about how insignificant Cohen is without her. Essentially, Cohen’s giving her all the credit, but it’s not been an easy go.
Throughout “Going Home,” Cohen makes no bones about his inevitable destiny and examines himself almost exclusively with the voice of the muse: “But he does say what I tell him / Even though it isn’t welcome / He just doesn’t have the freedom to refuse.” Furthermore, “I want him to be certain / That he doesn’t have a burden / That he doesn’t need a vision / That he only has permission / To do my instant bidding.” Another bit of calligraphy in the sleeve art reinforces this, reading, “this is the pen / to calm the crazy / master of your heart.”
Cohen’s enjoyed his time and the persona his muse has forced upon him, but admits he’ll be “going home without the costume that [he] wore,” suggesting that he’s not much of anything without her.
“Going Home” is the most poignant and telling song on the album, and each song after only strengthens that foundation. In “Darkness,” Cohen is very much in the spirit of full disclosure admitting, “I got no future / I know my days are few / The present’s not that pleasant / Just a lot of things to do / I thought the past would last me / But the darkness got that too.”
And this theme continues with more humility, forgiveness seeking, and self-projection of broken banjos floating on “dark infested seas.”
The album culminates in “Different Sides” presenting just that, with Cohen’s rebuttal that it all this doesn’t really matter in big picture...or the end.
Cohen’s tones couldn’t be more golden, and with great musical arrangements and perhaps deliberately angelic backup singers, there is no weak track on the album. The swaying, poppy “Come Healing” is certainly a musical highlight, but in its entirety, the album deserves a full listen with nothing to serve as “background music.”
In Cohen’s charming way, the album serves as a bleak reminder that all things end and when all is said and done aren’t we all just “lazy bastards living in suits”?
EL CAMINO - THE BLACK KEYS
Guest review by JIM BATES
Indeed this review is late, but I have good reasons. I’ve been spending too much time in Seattle, Washington and it’s hard to write a review of an Akron, Ohio blues band in Seattle. Grunge, sure...punk, yes...even metal, but Seattle has never been known as a big blues-rock kinda place. Maybe it is all the 737s or just the coffee... Anyway, I needed to have a few days in Akron, Ohio in order to be in the correct mind-space to compose this review. While in Seattle, I heard songs off this album in restaurants and stores...quite a few times, actually, but that just goes to show that the Black Keys have conquered the world. Who knew that a couple of guys from Highland Square could pull that off? Anyway...
Let’s get this out of the way first. Indeed the album is called "El Camino," but all the pictures in the liner notes, and on the cover, are vans. Yes, the Black Keys did this on purpose...they know what an El Camino looks like. So with the auto fixations out of the way, we can proceed on with the review.
With the release of "Magic Potion," the Akron based duo appeared to have painted themselves into a corner. How may times can you make a similar blues-based album as a guitar and drum duo and keep your career moving (unless of course your name is Jack White and you are a musical genius)? They answered those concerns by teaming up with Danger Mouse (what, exactly, is a Danger Mouse?) and tweaking their sound. Still based upon the blues and garage rock, they expanded their palette with keyboards, background vocals, and other such accoutrements. They never lost what made them interesting in the first place, but this new palette allowed them to expand their music such that popularity would call and old school fans would scream sellout.
With "El Camino," the band has become as big as a rock band can be in 2012. They are selling out Madison Square Garden and other areas. I never expected that back in 2002 when I first heard them on a local indie radio station. Anyway, yeah, they have kinda sold out. But they have done it with style. The songs on the album are a little more pop and the lyrics aren’t overly deep, but they are catchy and they do rock. (Actually I think the biggest sellout was getting a bass player for their touring band...but maybe there is something wrong with me?) The riffs in "Lonely Boy "sound totally familiar...hey, is that T. Rex?...but you want to listen again. I’m not sure who keeps "Gold On The Ceiling" or indeed what they are really talking about, but the riffs, vox organ, and vocals make this one killer tune. "Little Black Submarines" starts out all stark and acoustic before building killer momentum when the electric guitars and drums kick in. This stuff isn’t groundbreaking, this album isn’t a classic of all time, but it is just pure straight ahead rock and roll and the Keys deserve all the airplay and success they have received. Plus it is good to hear anything blues based on pop or rock radio...
More reviews from Matt...
Costello took a deeper romp through his extensive catalog on this last tour, thanks to the return of a past live experiment. Instead of a prepared setlist, he put 40 song titles on a spinning wheel and, throughout the evening, takes a chance on what song will come up next. Highlights of the tour have been released as a single CD or a CD/DVD set. The DVD version is basically the CD, but with eight different songs. It's a nice roll through his popular songs, more obscure recent work and a cover (the Rolling Stones' "Out of Time"). There's been no true Attractions/Impostors live record since 1978, and fans who've been waiting quite awhile won't be disappointed.
Ringo is a man who avoids ambiguity. Listeners know right away what year the music came out and also that he's sticking with a familiar sound. It's pleasant enough, but it feels like just a continuation of his past two studio albums with no desire to try anything differently. It's very brief, clocking in at just under 29 minutes, kind of a cheat in the modern CD age. He also repeats the Buddy Holly track -"Think It Over" that was already on a tribute album last year. I don't mind him remaking an older song ("Wings") from one of his worst albums ("Ringo the 4th"), but it is puzzling why he would write an all-new song that shares a title with a Beatles' standard ("Slow Down"). It's akin to Badfinger doing a song with the title "Love Me Do" when they were on Apple Records. Not to pile on, but I wish he would have one or two songs, as he's done before, without his vocal being processed or electronically altered. He's not known for his great voice or range, but we Ringo fans have grown accustomed to it. Props to Ringo for still putting out new material and rocking it at 70, but I'm hoping for a less 'by the numbers' approach next time out.
This is true buried treasure for Move fans. A 1969 concert from their only US tour, thought lost or never to be heard. Thanks to modern technology, the previously unusable master tape owned by lead singer Carl Wayne have been restored and the Move are in full vigour. Work on releasing this concert was begun by Wayne shortly before his death in 2004.
"[W]e were going to play the Fillmore West, where all the great American underground bands had played - and what were we gonna do? Forty-five minutes of our UK hits?!" With that, we get Wayne's explanation of why this live show is a divergence from their studio recordings, which were oddball pop tunes with precision harmonies. Here they went balls in on long, early prog rock jams. That's not normally my cup of tea, but they've grown on me. I wind up putting myself in the shoes of the Fillmore audience, there to see Joe Cocker and Little Richard (also on the bill), and here's this obscure British band doing a 10 minute song called "I Can Hear the Grass Grow." It's a freak out, man. It's amazing to me, with the band's own enthusiasm for their music so clear, that Wayne would leave the band in a dispute a mere two months after returning home. This opened the door for Jeff Lynne to join the Move for two albums until his E.L.O project with Roy Wood took their full attention.
A big thanks to all my guest reviewers! Let's do it again in six months, lads!