Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sebastian Bach- Angel Down

It’s easy to view Sebastian Bach’s new album with a haze of cynicism. Bach is in the middle of a publicity windfall thanks to his appearance on MTV’s Celebrity Rap Superstar, so a new record seems very convenient. However, Angel Down has been in the works for seven years, and is Bach’s first real solo record since leaving Skid Row in 1996. Although 1998’s Bring ‘Em Bach Alive contained five new songs, it was mostly a live record, with Baz shouting out Skid Row classics. The new songs were decent enough, but contained little of the fire of his previous band.

Angel Down is Sebastian Bach’s triumphant return to the metal throne. Bach has not sounded this focused since 1995’s Subhuman Race. With its lean production and razor sharp guitar riffs, Angel Down is almost an extension of that record. Bach’s titanium pipes are still in tact and he hits every high note effortlessly. Many of these songs have been floating through Bach’s live sets for several years, and they reach their full potential here.

The title track continues the grand metal tradition of a soft intro followed by a roaring chorus. This technique has been used by so many bands that it could easily morph into self-parody. Bach diffuses the cliché by using the intro as a warning. Once the guitars kick in, the song does not let go. The band spends about ten seconds on the opening riff before Bach comes in with a devastating roar.

One of the more puzzling aspects of Angel Down is the presence of Axl Rose. Rose comes out of his artistic coma to lend his voice to three tracks. Rose is in surprisingly good form vocally, but his contributions are a mixed bag. He fits in well with the album’s ridiculously titled first single, “Love is a B*tchslap,” a gleefully chauvinistic romp that sounds like a leftover from Appetite for Destruction. The lyrics cannot be repeated here, but it is impossible to take them seriously.

The album’s only misfire is Bach’s cover of Aerosmith’s “Back in the Saddle.” The song is performed as a duet with Axl Rose, and the dynamic duo completely misinterpret the song. The raunchy blues groove of the original is mutated into generic heavy metal. Every element of this song is out of place, from Bach’s overdrawn screaming to an embarrassingly metallic solo. When have you heard Joe Perry play a million notes in rapid succession? That’s right. You haven’t.

Fortunately, “Back in the Saddle” is one weak moment in an album of greatness. Angel Down won’t change the world and doesn’t have anything particularly “important” to say, it’s just a heavy metal record. Bach’s loyalty to the genre is part of what makes Angel Down such an enjoyable listen. This has everything you want out of a metal album: It’s fun, unpretentious and sounds best when played at high volumes. Sebastian no longer has the youth, but he remains forever wild.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Rock n' Roll Stormtroopers- On Fire

Author's Note: This review was originally published on The Label Project. It can be found here:

One look at the Rock n’ Roll Stormtroopers tells you what kind of band they are. The clichés are all present and accounted for. There’s hellfire, cutoff denim vests, devil horns and several assurances that this record will rock your face off. All of this is extremely charming and somewhat reassuring, because as Twisted Sister once put it: We all wanna rock. Unfortunately, On Fire doesn’t deliver. My face is still present and accounted for.

The main problem with On Fire is that the Stormtroopers are too self-aware. They know the image is ridiculous and every song is delivered with a wink and a nod. There is nothing wrong with being in on the joke, but there has to be at least one serious element. For example, 90% of AC/DC’s lyrical content is utterly ridiculous, but Angus Young’s guitar work keep them from being court jesters. The Stormtroopers don’t have that, and the shtick gets old very quickly.

The Stormtroopers’ saving grace is their boundless enthusiasm. Lead singer Tex Tornado (How’s that for a rock n’ roll name?) and the boys sound like they are having a great time. The band’s heavy German accents also set them apart from a million other bands, simply because you don’t often hear such heavy accents within this genre. Unfortunately this positive trait is undercut by static production that sucks the energy out of the songs

The album’s opening track, “Bulldozers on the Loose,” sets the tone for the entire record. Tornado repeats the title of the song for a minute or so, before crooning some generic lyrics about mindless destruction. Repeat chorus. Add in a few uninspired AC/DC riffs and you have the crux of the Stormtrooper sound. “Bulldozers on the Loose” is a catchy tune, but only because the chorus is repeated ad nauseam. Every other song on the record follows this basic template, with a few minor changes to mix things up a bit. The three themes: Rock, parties, and the almighty power of rock.

The Stormtroopers have the basic idea of party rock down but they fail to understand what makes it work. It’s not really about being original, but about taking the clichés and putting your own twist on them. All the elements are in place, but the Stormtroopers haven’t figured out how to make the genre their own.

Despite these minor setbacks, the Rock n’ Roll Stormtroopers have a lot of potential. If they lose some of the shtick and tighten up their songwriting, they could be a force in the sleaze rock scene. As it stands, they are all smoke and no fire.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Who- Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy

How do you start listening to The Who? This sounds like a stupid question right? Tommy, Who’s Next or Quadrophenia would probably be typical answers. Those records are incredible works of art and showed how far rock n’ roll could be taken. As great as those records are, they would not be a good place to begin. Why? The complexity of those records can be quite intimidating for a newcomer, and they would probably be turned off. A compilation would be a more logical choice.

Choosing a Who compilation is often more confusing than choosing a proper album. Most Who compilations tend to focus on their arena rock heyday, virtually ignoring their early singles. Instead of getting a balanced view of the band’s musical career, the listener is only hearing one side. Fortunately, one compilation distills everything great about the Who into a single disc.

Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy is one of the best compilations in the history of rock n’ roll. Unlike the later Who compilations, Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy has a purpose. Like their contemporaries The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, The Who’s early singles were never released on an actual album. Therefore this record was intended to collect all those early singles in one handy place.

Although it was a greatest hits collection in England, Meaty Beaty was considered a rarities album in the United States because none of the early Who records had charted. We tend to think of the Who as just behind The Stones in terms of popularity in the 1960s, but on their first tour of America they actually opened for Herman’s Hermits! Think about that for a second.

All of the major singles are here, from “I Can’t Explain” through “Pinball Wizard.” The songs are very poppy and on the surface seem like the typical British Invasion sound. The jangly guitars, high harmonies and catchy hooks are abundant, but the lyrical content sets them apart from peers like The Dave Clark Five. Although Pete Townshend was still finding his voice as a writer, his trademark vulnerability runs through the seemingly happy tunes. He is insecure in “Substitute,” (“I’m a substitute for another guy.”), and slightly paranoid on “The Kids are Alright,” (“I know I gotta get away/cause if I don’t I’ll go out of my mind.”). Even the sing-song chorus of “I Can’t Explain” is self-doubting.

The other element that sets The Who apart is the manic drumming of Keith Moon. In a time when drummers played simple beats, Moonie bashed the entire kit. His drumming gives the music a propulsive energy that other bands of the era can’t match.

This energy is the reason why Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy holds up better than other Who compilations. There is a visceral thrill in hearing The Who when they young, hungry and trying to prove themselves. Their music became louder and more complex, but The Who never rocked as hard as they did on these early singles. There is no pretension on this record, just maximum R&B.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Puddle of Mudd- Famous

Author's Note: This review originally appeared on It can be found here:

Nearly seven years ago, Puddle of Mudd released their debut album, Come Clean. Thanks to a couple catchy singles, the album rose to multiplatinum status, briefly putting Puddle of Mudd on top of the modern rock scene. Unfortunately, 2003’s Life on Display failed to set the world on fire, and Puddle of Mudd faded into obscurity. Five years later, they hope to recapture some of their former glory with Famous.

Five years is an eternity in the world of pop music, but Puddle of Mudd lives in a world of eternal stasis. From the first power chord to the final fadeout, you immediately travel back to the early 2000s. The cleanly sanitized grunge riffs, the snarling Eddie Vedder-like vocals, and bland arrangements hearken back to a time when Creed was king. The only difference between Famous and Come Clean is the lack of decent singles.

Puddle of Mudd can’t be faulted for having a signature sound, but their signature sound belongs to other bands. Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam are all present and accounted for. Lead singer Wes Scantlin cribs freely from these bands, but fails to pick up on the songwriting behind the riffs. Nirvana was loud and distorted, but the distortion was backed up with clever wordplay, irony and genuine emotion. There is nothing clever about Wes Scantlin’s lyrics; everything he says is meant to be taken literally. This results in one missed songwriting opportunity after another.

The title track is the biggest misstep of all. In the hands of a more talented band, “Famous” could have been a sly nod the fact that Puddle of Mudd is losing ground. Nope. What we get is yet another song warning the world about the shallowness of the Hollywood scene. Gee, a song like that has never been written. The song would have comic value, except that Scantlin delivers each word with unnecessary seriousness.

The rest of the record alternates between shallow angst and shallow introspection. The problem is that it’s hard to tell what emotion Scantlin is trying to convey, since his vocal inflection never changes. The only time Scantlin’s voice shows any life is his occasional shouts of “YEAAAAAAH!”, which is supposed to signify anger. The charisma that the band showed on singles like “Control” and “Blurry” has disappeared and Puddle of Mudd seem to be content to sink into mediocrity.

Not all of the blame falls on the band. Corporate rock superman Brian Howes was brought in to give the band some hooks, but there are no hooks to be found. “Lips of an Angel” is a terrible song, but it least it was catchy. Howes leaves Puddle of Mudd to their own devices, and there is not a single memorable song on the album.

To be fair, nobody expects a classic rock album from a band like Puddle of Mudd, but the lack of singles is surprising. If the songwriting was better, if the riffs were punchier and the charisma was there, Puddle of Mudd could have made a decent little rock album. Instead, it’s just another banal slice of corporate rock n’ roll.

Rod Stewart- Every Picture Tells a Story

You think you know Rod Stewart, but you have no idea. There was a time when he didn’t sing torch songs to middle aged housewives. There was also a time when he didn’t strut around in pink spandex asking if he was sexy. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when Rod Stewart was….dare I say…cool. For a generation that has only heard his milquetoast ballads or his innocuous pop songs, this may be hard to believe.

Rod Stewart has been making mediocre records for so long that it is easy to forget how good he really is. Released in 1971, Every Picture Tells a Story is what Rod Stewart is capable of when he is motivated. The album is the perfect blend of impeccable song selection, musicianship, and interpretation. Musically, Every Picture Tells a Story is hard to define. The acoustic instrumentation is from the folk tradition, but Stewart and his band are purely rock n’ roll. After a few listens, Stewart’s approach becomes obvious: Rock n’ roll and folk music are the same.

This delicate balance is kept in check by Stewart’s backing band, led by Faces guitarist Ronnie Wood. Most singer/songwriter albums from this period use quiet, reflective arrangements. Wood tosses this unwritten rule aside, playing his acoustic guitar as if it was electric. Drummer Mick Waller also ignores the conventions of the genre, pounding the drums with reckless passion.

The band is the perfect compliment to Stewart’s emotive singing. His whiskey soaked vocal cords are an acquired taste, but they have a surprising amount of range. He goes from being a nervous teenager on the title track (“I combed my hair in a thousand ways/but I came out looking just the same”), to heartbroken in “Seems Like a Long Time,” (“Hard times are only the other side of good times”) and is able to make both convincing.

When most people think of this album, they immediately think of “Maggie May,” which has been played into oblivion thanks to classic rock radio. Overexposure aside, the song still packs a punch thanks to the Stewart’s “lovable rogue” persona. He would exploit this aspect of his personality for the next three decades and gradually use it as a crutch. The Rod Stewart sleeping with Maggie Mae is not the slimy cad of later songs like “Tonight’s the Night.” Rod sounds completely innocent as he comments that the morning sun really shows her age. Unfortunately, “Maggie Mae” was such an iconic song, Stewart unwittingly typecast himself.

“Maggie May” gets all the press, but the unsung highlight of the album is Stewart’s show stopping cover of The Temptations’ “I’m Losing You.” Backed up by his mates in The Faces, Stewart manages to out-tempt The Temptations. Stewart sounds as if his heart is being ripped out of his chest, as the band chugs along. The album’s best moment comes at the end of the song. Just as the band begins to fade out, they come roaring back for one final tear-stained chorus.

Every Picture Tells a Story is proof that you can’t judge an artist for their latter day sins. This record is timeless, and yet people tend to remember his most dated work (“Infatuation” anyone?). Listening to this album, you realize why Rod Stewart is so revered. Does Rod Stewart have a good record left in him? Let’s hope so, because he is too talented to be a lounge singer.

Monday, October 15, 2007

How to Make a Mixtape

One of the best things about being a music fan is the homemade music mix. I’m not talking about putting an iPod on shuffle and randomly putting songs on a disc. A true mix requires thought, sweat and a lot of frustration. The process has gotten slightly easier thanks to the CD burner, but making a mix can be a frustrating ordeal. In this week’s column, I will try to alleviate some frustration.

Step One: Start With A Bang

The first track of the mixtape should grab the listener’s attention. If you start with a ballad, there is a high probability that the listener will get bored and not listen to the rest. Therefore, it’s always best to start with an up-tempo number, because it gets the listener involved in the record. It also sets the tone for the rest of the tape. If you have a really great opener, the chances of a great tape dramatically improve.

Step Two: Cool It Down

Now that you have attention, you need to bring things down a bit. This does not mean you come out with ballad guns blazing. The third track is a good time to break out a mid-tempo song. It gives the listener time to recover from the opening onslaught and sets up the next up-tempo song. Here is an example. If I were making an AC/DC mix, I would open up with the double whammy of “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “Girl’s Got Rhythm.” Then I would cool things down with “The Jack,” which is the perfect lead in to “Givin’ the Dog a Bone.” Remember: The listener needs to catch their breath.

Step Three: Album Tracks Are Your Friend!

Let’s say you were making a Beastie Boys mix for someone who had never heard them before. Obviously you would need to include “Fight for Your Right” and “Sabotage.” However, The Beasties’ best work has always been the non-singles. Shake it up a bit! Use stuff like “Slow and Low,” or “Shake Your Rump” or “Johnny Royal.” “Fight For Your Right” is great, but it’s been done a million times. By using album tracks to your advantage, you introduce someone to songs they would never hear on the radio.

Step Four: Make Sure It Flows!

.You can have the best tracklist in the world, but if it doesn’t flow, it doesn’t work. How do you avoid bad flow? Every time you add a new track, listen to 30 seconds of the track that came before. Then listen to 30 seconds of the new track. Then ask yourself: “Do these go together?” If not, it’s no big deal. Either delete the track, or move it to a different spot. Before you burn the disc, give it a full listen. However, it should be noted that proficiency in this step comes with experience. If you don’t get it the first couple of times, don’t be discouraged.

Making a mix is not easy, but I think it is an important skill. You learn a lot about music, because it forces you to think about how each song fits within the context of a record. It’s also a great way to make friends and to introduce someone to music that they have never been exposed to. But most importantly: It’s a lot of fun.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Chaz Matthews- Amazing Graceless

Author's Note: This review was originally published on The Label Project. It can be found here:

Chaz Matthews has to be given credit for one thing: It takes a lot of balls to be a one man band. If the record sucks, you can only blame yourself. Matthews accepts this challenge with Amazing Graceless, his first solo record since the breakup of the Dimestore Haloes. The risk doesn’t pay off.

The logic behind this record was quite simple. Matthews was dealing with his personal demons, wrote a bunch of songs, and wanted to get them out. This approach often results in a classic album, because it is written and recorded in the heat of the moment. The problem with Amazing Graceless is not the music itself. Matthews is a talented songwriter, and the songs are some of the best of his career. He has a remarkable ability to put the listener in his shoes. You feel the pain, the angst and his desperation. When he croons “I need a fix and your kiss,” in “Girl From Detox,” he’s not just referencing The New York Dolls. So if the songs are good, how come the record gets a low rating?

The production on Amazing Graceless nearly kills the listening experience. One of the most appealing things about the Dimestore Haloes was Matthews’ knack for writing addictive guitar riffs. The riffs are still there, but you have to listen really hard to find them. The guitars are a buzzing wall of white noise, and it takes two or three listens before you find the riff. Matthews also makes the mistake of using a drum machine, which makes the drumbeats nearly inaudible.

The production is so bad that the sound quality fluctuates from track to track. On one track the vocals are louder than the guitar, on another the guitar drowns out the vocal. The bass is non-existent. You end up listening to the album in chunks, because you can’t take it all at once. Matthews’ ambitious decision to produce his own record and play all the instruments is admirable, but couldn’t he have ponied up the cash for a real producer and a drummer? Instead of listening to the songs, you end up thinking “Wow, I bet this sounds amazing live.”

Ultimately Amazing Graceless is an album of “What if’s?” What if The Dimestore Haloes recorded this song? How would this sound with a real drummer? Where is the bass guitar? Raw production is a good thing for punk rock, but you should be able to listen to the songs. Amazing Graceless is proof that just a little production goes a very long way.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Motion City Sountrack- Even If It Kills Me

There is nothing particularly new about Motion City Soundtrack. You’ve probably heard it before: Poppy melodies, songs about girls, layers of Moog synthesizer. The lead singer has glasses; his voice is thin and somewhat grating. The sing-song choruses mask the melancholy of the lyrics. Despite the familiarity, Even If It Kills Me is one of the best power pop albums to be released in a very long time.

The thing that sets Motion City Soundtrack apart from a million other bands is their geeky charm. There is nothing cool about Jason Pierre and Joshua Cain, which is why their music is so likable. When Pierre laments about his love life, there is nothing but heartfelt innocence. The ultimate goal for these guys is not to get the girl in bed, but to get the girl. At times Pierre sounds like Peter Noone, sheepishly telling Mr. Brown that he has a lovely daughter.

A big part of this charm comes from the producers, Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne, and former Cars frontman Ric Ocasek. The biggest issue with 2005’s Commit This to Memory was that the songs started to blend together towards the end. Ocasek and Schlesinger have refined the band’s sound so the mid-album lull never occurs. This results in a tighter, catchier album. Sonically, the album isn’t much different than its predecessor. Fast tempos, Moog synthesizer and fuzz-toned guitars are in abundance. The band has learned how to use these trademarks without relying on them, and it results in more memorable songs.

While the music on the album is catchy, the lyrics are what make the album stand out. On Commit This to Memory, Pierre’s lyrics sometimes had a stream of consciousness feel, as if he was trying to get as many thoughts down as possible. His pace has slowed down considerably, and it pays off with more evocative writing. This new approach is exemplified in “It Had to Be You.” Lines like “Let’s save birds from Prince William Sound/And skateboard through the mall,” come dangerously close to being corny, but are delivered with heartfelt sincerity. On “Antonia,” Pierre describes his dream girl, mentioning her love of Cap’n Crunch and her fear of cobra snakes. These details seem mundane, but they make the girl seem real. You actually want Pierre to end up with her.

The only weak link on this album is “The Conversation,” a spare, piano based ballad. Jason Pierre doesn’t have a great voice, but it fits the band’s sound. With just a piano, his voice becomes grating and thin. Pierre attempts to channel Ben Folds, but fails pretty miserably.

Despite this minor flaw, Even If It Kills Me does everything a good follow-up should do. It keeps the band’s core sound while fixing the major problems of the previous record. Motion City Soundtrack’s songwriting continues to improve, and it will be interesting to see where they take it from here. But enough pretentious rock critic jargon: This record contains 13 songs about girls. Some things never go out of style.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ratt- Tell the World: The Very Best of Ratt

Author's Note: This review originally appeared on It can be found here:

Arriving on the coattails of Motley Crue in 1984, Ratt was the epitome of the first wave of ‘80s hair metal. The songs were poppy, but there was a sleazy undercurrent that made them seem tough. As the ‘80s wore on, they lost the sleaze and just followed the typical ‘80s metal formula. By the time they released Detonator in 1990, they were indistinguishable from Warrant. The band’s new hits collection, Tell The World: The Very Best of Ratt makes this painfully obvious.

The album’s track list is virtually identical to 1991’s Ratt n’ Roll 8191 but is out of chronological order. This seems ideal at first, since Ratt n’ Roll’s chronological approach dragged towards the end. Unfortunately Tell the World is so poorly executed, the best moments nearly get lost in the shuffle.

The album kicks off with “Dangerous But Worth the Risk and “Back For More.” These songs are ideal choices to open a compilation because they show what Ratt was at their best: a killer pop metal band. Both songs have raw production, huge hooks and impeccable guitar work. The momentum is ruined by “Loving You is a Dirty Job,” an overproduced, underwritten attempt at mainstream acceptance. The mediocrity continues until things pick up with “You’re in Love.” Once again, the momentum is ruined by “City to City,” the unremarkable opener from 1989’s Reach For the Sky

This is a shame, because a lot of the songs still hold up. The band’s signature tune, “Round and Round” is as infectious today as it was in 1984. “You’re in Love” and “Lay it Down” contain monster riffs and white hot shredding from guitarist Warren DeMartini. “Slip of the Lip” contains a sexy groove and one of the best choruses of the 1980s. It’s obvious the band didn’t want to go the chronological route again, but they could have arranged the songs in a way that emphasized their strengths. There is no logic in putting the songs from Detonator up front and putting most of the songs from Out of the Cellar towards the back. By making this careless decision, the band alienates the target audience for a compilation, the casual fan.

Although the sequencing is especially inept, the choice of songs is also flawed. While all of Ratt’s major singles are present, there are no tracks from the 1983 self-titled EP. There are two versions of “Way Cool Jr.,” but no “You Think You’re Tough.” The album is called Tell the World,, but “Tell the World” is not on the compilation. How do you name an album after a song and then not include the title track? It defies all logic.

Ratt intended Tell the World to become their definitive greatest hits album. Unfortunately, poor sequencing and missing tracks make it a subpar overview of one of hair metal’s greatest bands. There are some great songs on this disc, but there are much better ways to get a fix of Ratt n’ Roll.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Dimestore Haloes- The Ghosts of Saturday Night

Author's Note: This review was originally published on The Label Project. It can be found here:

Nothing will ever sound as good as the music coming from your first stereo. The sound quality was terrible, but the music coming from those speakers is the most important music of your life. In those early teenage years, your first cassettes and CDs shape your musical taste. These bands help you become who you are, which is why people become so nostalgic for the music of their youth. It’s the kind of experience that every human being has, but it’s almost impossible to capture on record. The Dimestore Haloes have found a way.

The Ghosts of Saturday Night is an album of teenage romance, alcohol fueled nights on the town and reflective laments. A large part of the band’s appeal is their sound, a mixture of Hanoi Rocks style glam and ’77 punk. The music sticks to that early punk ethos. Songs are kept short and simple, with attention to melody. Unlike a lot of so-called punk records, the production is basic. There is no overdubbing, no fancy effects and no cameos from Jay-Z. What you hear is what you get: guitar, bass, drums and a bit of piano thrown in for good measure. A large part of the band’s sound is guitarist Chaz Matthews’ whiskey soaked vocal cords, which give his words a layer of authenticity.

Matthews’ lyrics are what separate The Ghosts of Saturday Night from the pack. His lyrics are complex, evocative and honest. Matthews’ songwriting skills are best represented in “Hot Pink Stereo,” the album’s emotional high point. Matthews perfectly captures the American teenage experience of feeling alone and scared. His line about Joey Ramone’s “dyed black hair, a nest of dreams” is especially poignant. Most modern bands talk about rock n’ roll with a wink and a nod. It’s meant to be ironic, a joke. There is nothing ironic about “Hot Pink Stereo.” Matthews truly believes in rock n’ roll and his earnestness is exalting. If the rest of the album was filler, “Hot Pink Stereo” would save it.

Fortunately, the record consistently delivers. The opening track, “Black Glitter Baby Doll” is an addictive number about summer loving and having a blast. Matthews’ lyrical structure is especially interesting in this song, because he sings the first verse, then the chorus and then repeats the same verse again. This type of structure isn’t used very often in the 2000s, so the song really stands out because of it.

Unfortunately, the album nearly derails with the final track. “Adore Me” is the kind of off key punk tune in the grand tradition of Sid Vicious’ “My Way,” sung by drummer Jimmy Reject. The song isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s placement on the album was a grave mistake. The song should have been placed in the beginning of the record, where it could be easily skipped. As the final track, it disrupts the flow of the album and leaves a bad taste in the listener’s mouth.

Despite this flaw, The Ghosts of Saturday Night is full of everything that makes punk rock great. The band broke up shortly after recording this record, and it is a fitting swan song.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Elvis Costello- My Aim Is True (Deluxe Edition)

Date: 9/17/2007

Well, here we are again. Elvis Costello has re-released his debut album, My Aim Is True just in time for its 30th anniversary. This is not uncommon, most bands reissue key albums at some point in their career. It’s a good way to bring new fans into the fold and reward hardcore fans at the same time. However, this is the third time in 15 years that Costello has re-released My Aim Is True. This begs the question, is the new deluxe edition of My Aim Is True worth it?

If you don’t own a copy of My Aim Is True, you should know the answer to that question. Three decades after its original release, it remains one of the greatest debuts in music history. With biting cynicism and an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music, Costello created songs that have become standards. “Alison,” “Watching the Detectives”and“Less Than Zero” have not aged. Like all great debuts, there is a sense of greatness as if you know that the artist will continue to grow. So if you’ve never heard this record, the deluxe version provides the perfect excuse.

If you are already a Costello devotee, the answer is not as clear cut. What sets this reissue apart from the 1993 Rykodisc edition or the 2002 Rhino edition? The good news is that there isn’t much overlap. The demo versions of “No Action” and “Living in Paradise” are still present, as are the outtakes. One of those outtakes, “Radio Sweetheart,” is a classic in its own right. However, the song’s country twang doesn’t fit in within the album’s pub rock parameters. The first disc also contains Costello’s demos for Pathway Studios. Four of the songs on the demo tape are unreleased, but while they are good, none of them are forgotten classics.

The second disc is a live concert, recorded in 1977. This is the incentive for the hardcore fan to purchase this disc. Costello takes the stage backed by The Attractions, and the concert serves as a bridge between My Aim is True and This Year’s Model. Many of the tunes that would appear on This Year’s Model are on the setlist, and it’s interesting to hear them in their early form. The Attractions sound tight and professional, but haven’t quite gelled. Within a year they would become a force to be reckoned with, but at this point they are still feeling each other out.

The deluxe edition is not without its flaws. Rhino’s 2002 reissue contained a wonderful essay by Costello, along with several paragraphs explaining the various outtakes and B-sides. The booklet in this reissue just contains the lyrics and a few photos. The Rhino edition also contained nine unreleased songs that are nowhere to be found on this set. Because of this gap, there is still no definitive version of My Aim is True.

Despite its shortcomings, the deluxe edition of My Aim Is True is worth a purchase, both for hardcore and casual fans alike. The album itself remains timeless, and the live concert provides a fascinating glimpse of an artist trying to find himself as a performer. One question must be addressed however: Will the album be worth buying a fourth time? I certainly hope not.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Sixx AM- The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack

In 1987, Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx died of a heroin overdose. On a particularly decadent night out with members of Guns n’ Roses and RATT in tow, Sixx let a dealer inject him with a massive dose of the deadly narcotic. Within seconds, he was turning blue and having trouble breathing. Eventually his heart stopped and he was declared legally dead. Fortunately for Sixx, the paramedics were able to save his life by plunging two adrenaline needles directly into his heart. When he arrived home after this ordeal, he recorded a new message on his answering machine: “Hi, this is Nikki. I’m not home because I’m dead.”

This story sounds like a harrowing tale of rock n’ roll excess, but Nikki Sixx has told it so many times that it has lost all meaning. Despite the over exposure of his overdose, Sixx is taking us on the ride one more time with The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack. Designed as the audio companion to his new book, The Heroin Diaries follows Nikki Sixx from his darkest days to his recovery and eventual redemption

Redemption is the main theme of this record, but there is very little to redeem The Heroin Diaries. The record is marred with lazy songwriting, slick production and goofy interludes. There is nothing that separates The Heroin Diaries from a thousand other rock records to be released this year. It’s a shame, because Nikki Sixx is capable of so much more than this.

The problems begin right away with the opening track, “X-Mas in Hell.” Sixx reads his diary entry from Christmas of 1985, the lowest point in his life. The entry is dark, unflinching and honest. It would be quite effective on its own. Unfortunately, the entry is lost in a metallic version of “Carol of the Bells,” playing in the background. The effect is comical. These spoken word interludes occur throughout the record, each one meant to be a glimpse into the soul of an addict. Unfortunately, these interludes do nothing but break up the flow of the album.

“X-Mas in Hell” leads into “Van Nuys,” the first proper song of the album. The song begins with singer James Michael proclaiming that “he doesn’t want to die/out here in the Valley.” Michael is a major problem with The Heroin Diaries. He doesn’t have a bad voice, but it is completely devoid of charisma. He sounds like a million other rock singers, relying on the vaguely Eddie Vedder-ish tenor that has become an institution.

Michael is not completely to blame for this record. Guitarist DJ Ashba contributes nothing to this record, except for forgettable guitar riffs that are covered up by layers of effects. It’s almost as if Ashba thinks he can cover up his mediocre playing with Pro Tools Editing.

Ultimately, the blame falls upon Nikki Sixx himself. When he is motivated, Nikki Sixx is a great songwriter. It’s depressing to think that he has been working on this record for so long and the best he could come up with are clichés. “Life is Beautiful?” “Accidents Can Happen?” “Tomorrow?” This is all stuff you have heard before, and done in far more interesting ways. At times it feels like Sixx is cribbing lyrics from a Tony Robbins seminar.

The Heroin Diaries could have been a great record, but gets lost in a sea of clichés, Spinal Tap size pretensions and slick production. After 20 years, Nikki’s addiction stories have finally overdosed.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Joneses- Keeping Up With the Joneses

Author's Note: This review was originally published on The Label Project. It can be found here:

In 1986, the Sunset Strip was clogged with hundreds of ozone destroying hair bands. Big haired kids from all over the country arrived daily, hoping they would hit paydirt with their own raunchy tales of debauchery. While many bands had an idea of what sleaze was supposed to sound like, most of them failed in execution. On the rare occasion a band succeeded, they were largely ignored by the masses. The Joneses were one of those bands.

Keeping Up With the Joneses succeeds where many other albums of the genre fail: The recklessness of the band’s sound is kept firmly in tact. The production is raw and messy. The band plays each note as if it was the final note they would ever play. There is no pretension, no extended soloing, just straight forward rock n’ roll. This record pulses with the debauchery of the Rainbow and the filthiness of the mud pit at the Tropicana. This record is not sanitized for your protection, this is the real thing.

In the mid-80s, nearly every band that hit the Sunset Strip claimed The New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders as an influence. While these bands mastered the Dolls’ trash androgyny, very few of them understood their sound. The Joneses not only understand The Dolls, they have mastered their sound. Despite the obvious influence, Keepin’ Up With the Joneses never feels like a ripoff of the Dolls. The Joneses simply took the template already set, and added their own touches.

The record begins with “Miss 747,” a roaring rocker in the vain of the early Rolling Stones. The record really gets going with “She’s So Filthy,” a slinky slice of rhythm and blues. Singer Jeff Drake slows the pace of the lyrics, enunciating every word and showing the full effect of his disaffected bratty tone. “Stranded in the Jungle” begins with the intoxicating beat of bongo drums and monkeys before delivering an atomic blast of guitar.

The mark of a truly great rock band is to take something quite familiar and manage to make it their own. The Joneses not only leave their mark on the sleaze genre, they also manage to make a seemingly innocuous pop song sound dangerous.

When Elton John released “Crocodile Rock” in 1973, it was a nostalgic throwback to rock’s most innocent era. Elton and Susie had so much fun, holding hands and skimming stones. It was the kind of song that was meant to make the listener feel warm and fuzzy. In the hands of Jeff Drake, “Crocodile Rock” is turned into an anthem of teenage hormones. “Crocodile Rock” retains its basic musical structure, but the faster tempo, loud guitars and bratty street punk vocals give the song a nasty edge. Jeff Drake wants to do more than hold hands and skim stones.

If this album had been released in the wake of Appetite For Destruction, The Joneses would have been nipping on Guns n’ Roses heels. Unfortunately the album was released the year before; America wasn’t quite ready for such a dirty piece of rock n’ roll. For the fans of LA glam punk and sleaze, this is an essential recording.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Chris Benoit

I've been meaning to write this for a few days, but I just had to get my head around what has happened.

Besides music, there is nothing in this world that I love more than professional wrestling. Ever since I was six years old, it has been my obsession. Everyone in my life thought it would be a fleeting thing, like it is with most boys. My fervor has grown with each passing year. I love the athleticism, the passion and the pageantry. As a disabled person, I live vicariously through these men and imagine myself fighting alongside them. It has gotten me through many of the worst times my life, and been the icebreaker for my greatest friendships.

Wrestling fans become very attached to their favorite performer. Unlike conventional sports, where the team often overshadows the individual, fans have an intense bond with their favorite wrestler. Although we may not know the person outside of their character, they become our friends, our enemies and our rivals. When a favorite wins, we are right there with him, and when they lose we feel their pain. It's a passionate love affair.

In 1997, I was a hardcore WCW fan. This was during the heyday of the nWo, and the company was on fire. The shows not only had star power, but also had the best in ring action I had ever seen. I was exposed to wrestling styles from around the world. I saw lucha-libre, the Japanese “strong style” and British technical wrestling. That's when I first saw him.

He was a member of the Four Horsemen then, along with Ric Flair, Arn Anderson and Steve McMichael. He was non-descript and could not cut a promo to save his life. Then I saw him in the ring, and my jaw hit the floor. Everything looked legitimate. This man was an athlete of the highest caliber. I started to follow him, and I liked him more with every match I saw.

He didn't become one of my favorites until Bash at the Beach '97. I bought the Pay Per View to see Dennis Rodman get his ass kicked by Lex Luger and the Giant. However, after the midcard, the main event became an afterthought.

He was going up against Kevin Sullivan that night, in a retirement match. If I were 22 at the time, I would have called it "an old fashioned blood feud inspired by the likes of Magnum TA and Tully Blanchard." At the time, I thought they hated each other. The match blew me away. The two men tore each other apart, and every blow connected with a loud smack of flesh. These two hated each other, and you could taste it. My friend Jeremy and I were screaming as if this was the last wrestling match we would ever see. They went back and forth, back and forth. They kicked out of every pinning combination I had ever seen. Then he climbed the turnbuckles and hit his famous swan dive. Jeremy and I screamed the numbers we had heard a million times, our hearts stopping with each slap of the referee's hand.


Stay down Sullivan!


Would Sullivan get his shoulder up at the last second?!


Jeremy and I jumped three feet in the air when we heard the bell ring. We hugged each other and ran around the house screaming "HE WON! HE WON! HE WON! HE WON!" We would see Chris Benoit wrestle another day. We finally calmed down enough to watch him walk up the ramp. I had never seen such courage displayed in the squared circle. At that moment, I had someone new to look up to.

After his match with Sullivan, Benoit seemed to get better and better. I watched him have phenomenal match after phenomenal match. He helped make Booker T into a singles star with their Best of Seven series. He had a technical clinic with Dean Malenko at Road Wild. He was Bret Hart's personal choice for a tribute match for his brother Owen. Each time, Benoit showed respect and honor for his profession. The more I read about Chris Benoit, the more I liked him. There was no scandal. He seemed to be what he was on TV: A class act with profound respect for the fans and his sport.

When Benoit jumped to the WWF in 2000, along with Eddie Guererro, Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko I was thrilled. Finally he would be in a place where his skills would be appreciated. Once again, Chris Benoit proved that he had the skills to back up his reputation. He had fantastic matches with The Rock, Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho.

Although Benoit had the skills, I doubted he would ever be world champion. After all, he wasn't very good on the mike and was a cruiserweight. Cruiserweights never made it to the top of the card. However, in 2004, he did the unthinkable: he won the Royal Rumble. He entered the ring at #1, and lasted an hour against 30 of the biggest names on the WWE roster. When the bell rang and he collapsed from exaustion I had goosebumps. An actual wrestler had a shot at the sport's most valued prize. The title would be decided in a Triple Threat match with Shawn Michaels and Triple H.

WrestleMania XX was already shaping up to be one of the best nights I'd ever had as a wrestling fan. Eddie Guererro retained his WWE Championship in a great match against Kurt Angle. The Undertaker went back to his deadman persona, with Paul Bearer in tow. The magnificence of Madison Square Garden added to the aura of the event.

Shawn Michaels came down to the ring first, showboating as usual. Then Benoit, who looked like a man on a mission. Finally the champion strode down to the ring, confident in his abilities. As I looked at these three men in the ring staring at each other I remember thinking "This one is going to be special." I was right. The main event of WrestleMania XX is one of the greatest matches I have ever seen. Like Sullivan, it went back and forth, back and forth. There were reversals on top of reversals, kickout after kickout. Michaels and Helmsley both wore the crimson mask.

Towards the end of the match, Hunter had Benoit setup for a Pedigree. My heart sank, the dream had ended. At the last second, Benoit was able to reverse the hold and now had Triple H in the Crippler Crossface! I screamed with joy, but it looked as if Hunter had kicked Benoit away. My heart sank again.


My heart was beating so fast I thought I was going to have a heart attack.

C'mon Hunter, tap. Tap before I die.


I was yelling so loudly that my brother thought something was wrong and came in to check on me.

With one final burst of strength Benoit reared back, increasing the pressure on Hunter's neck. Finally he couldn't take it anymore and tapped his hand on the canvas. The Game was over.

I let out a scream of orgasmic joy. Chris Benoit won the World Title at WrestleMania. Referee Earl Hebner got the belt from the timekeeper and presented it to the new champion. Benoit burst into tears. I did too.

Confetti started to pour from the ceiling of the Garden. Benoit turned around saw his best friend, fellow champion Eddie Guererro. The two men stood in the center of the ring and hugged. The dream had come true. Then Benoit's family poured into the ring: His parents, his wife Nancy, daughter Megan, and sons David and Daniel. It was the most poignant moment I have ever seen in a wrestling ring.

As I watched Benoit walk up the aisle that night, I will never forget what I was thinking:

"This represents everything I love about this sport, and I am proud to call this man my champion."

All my life I had been made fun of for liking wrestling, and I finally had someone that I could show to people that weren't wrestling fans. After I would show them one of his matches, they would begrudgingly admit that Benoit was a legitimate athlete. Each time I saw Chris Benoit my respect grew. He earned every ounce of it.

In November of 2005, his best friend Eddie Guererro died of a heart attack in his hotel room. On RAW the next night, Benoit cried his eyes out and I thought I had seen a glimpse of the man behind the character. I felt empathy for everyone that night, but Benoit's tearful speech shook me to the core.

Benoit soldiered on, moving to Smackdown and winning the United States title once again. He seemed to be preparing the new generation of stars, feuding with Montel Vontavious Porter. MVP's ring presence improved with each bout.

Two weeks ago, Chris Benoit was traded from Smackdown to ECW. He looked CM Punk directly in the eye, and I anticipated Benoit's greatest feud yet. I had fantasies of hour long time limit draws, and respectful handshakes. The young lion and the cagey veteran were about to collide.

The feud never happened.

On Monday morning, I went to to read the Vengeance results. Nothing really stood out, except for the fact that Benoit missed his match with Punk due to "personal reasons." I thought it was odd, but figured a grandmother had died or something. I pushed the news aside and went on with my day. Around 5:30 PM, I checked my Myspace page and saw that Marty Jannetty had posted a bulletin. Marty's bulletins are usually overdramatic, so I gave it passing glance. The passing glance turned into disbelief:

"please tell me Chris Benoit and family is NOT really dead!!"

Oh God....not again. Not again.

I opened the bulletin:

"WWE is reporting that Chris Benoit and his family has all been found dead in their home...I'm just trying to get my mind right to be a pawl bearer at Sherri's funeral....and...Chris being another good friend...come on man..some one tell me either this is a stupid a I fuckin dreaming???? or in hell!!!"

No....No....This can't be true. Marty is probably just looking for attention. I'll go on and everything will be fine.

Marty wasn't lying. Chris Benoit was dead. Another piece of my childhood gone forever....and his whole family went along with him. I was dumbfounded. Was it carbon monoxide? A robbery? Had he been murdered? I couldn’t believe it.

My friend Shaun came over that night, and we watched RAW together. The show opened with Vince McMahon explaining what happened to an empty arena in Corpus Christi. McMahon scrapped his "death," and promised us some of Benoit's greatest moments. As I watched the ending of the 2004 Royal Rumble, I thought that this format had become too familiar. Benoit's coworkers delivered tear-filled speeches about what a great man Chris Benoit was inside and outside of the ring. Their stories reaffirmed my respect.

Shaun left shortly after the telecast ended. I was about to go to bed, but decided to check one last time. They now had more information. Chris Benoit had killed his wife and child before killing himself. I reread the sentence a million times, but it still didn't click. Monica IM'ed me and said the story was on CNN. I had to come to terms with the fact that I was guilty of mourning a murderer. I went to bed with a heavy heart.

I woke up the next day with the media in full swing. They didn't give a damn about Chris Benoit before, but were quick to judge the situation. Wrestling is a horrible redneck sport, so of course steroids and the WWE were to blame. I didn't know what to think. I told my mom what happened and she dismissed Benoit as "Just another whacko."

I went to work and tried to forget about the whole thing. My coworker Gina is a fan and she asked me how I was holding up. I looked her directly in the eyes and said: "I'm devastated." My coworker Stephen condescendingly asked me what was wrong and I told him. He dismissed my feelings. My coworker Lauren said that it was a tragedy, but with a smirk on her face. She is too smart for wrestling.

I went on the WWE website several times that day, and watched the company try to erase all traces of Chris Benoit from history. I watched the media turn the Benoit situation from a tragedy into another excuse to show the evils of professional wrestling. When I went to the wrestling websites, people were going through the exact same feelings I was trying to deal with. How can you forgive yourself for cheering a murderer? Should I even watch wrestling anymore?

The story kept getting more bizarre as the days went on. Vince McMahon went on the Today show to defend his company and got jumped on by Meredith Veira. Lauren made a comment about steroids in wrestling while I was watching it, and I childishly lashed out. I told her to shut the fuck up and yelled and screamed. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I quickly composed myself and apologized, but I felt as if I were being attacked as well. Our society is very hypocritical when it comes to wrestling. It's perfectly fine to watch a reality show with vapid Playboy Playmates, but if you watch wrestling you are the scum of the earth.

The media coverage of the event has only made this worse. It's too easy to say "just avoid the media" because it's impossible in our society. The talking head shows claimed that they were blaming Benoit, but were really going after wrestling. They hired bitter ex-wrestlers who lost their ride to substantiate their claim: Mark Mero, Lex Luger, Debra McMichael and The Ultimate Warrior. The only show that seemed to give the story a balanced approach was Nancy Grace, who admitted she didn't understand the business or the murder. Chris Jericho appeared on her show and actually told it like it was. The worst was Bill O'Reilly, who got Irving Muchnick, a respected journalist, to give another aspect to the story. O’Reilly never even let him speak, calling him a Benoit apologist.

I have had enough. This would be so much easier for me if I didn't like Chris Benoit so much. I know wrestling isn't real, and that these guys are just playing characters but until Monday night nobody had a bad thing to say about him. I'm not apologizing for Benoit at all, but I want there to be some explanation for why he did this. Why did he throw it all away? There has to be a better answer than steroids or prescription drugs.

This blog may be hard to understand if you aren't a wrestling fan. Chris Benoit killed his family, why are you upset? The man is a murderer, get over it. I am upset because I had a lot of honest emotion wrapped up in this man. His matches brought me a lot of joy, and they are some of the best times I've had as a wrestling fan.

I suppose I'll have to separate the performer from the person. I may be able to do that eventually, but it won't be for a long time. Right now, I'm too numb. I know Nancy and Daniel are in a better place, and I hope Benoit made peace with his maker.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Wildhearts- s/t

Author's Note: This review was originally published on It can be found here:

When the Wildhearts released their debut album in 1993, they seemed to be Britain’s answer to Guns n’ Roses. They had it all: Hard rock raunch, thunderous riffs, and an excessive lifestyle. While the band seemed like another Guns knockoff, it was their love of pop music that set them apart from their peers. The combination of riffs and melody seemed like a surefire recipe for success. Unfortunately band infighting and substance abuse tore the band apart before they made a significant mark on the mainstream hard rock scene. On their self-titled album, The Wildhearts have another shot at full-on rock stardom.

The Wildhearts is the best rock record to be released in 2007. Guitarist and main songwriter Ginger has cleaned up his act and it shows. This is his tightest collection of songs since 1995’s P.H.U.Q. The songs contain every element that make the Wildhearts so exciting: Bludgeoning riffs, pop harmonies and lyrics with rapier wit. The Wildhearts roar out of the speakers with the ferocity of a mechanized tank. This is not a halfhearted attempt at a comeback; this is an attempt for world domination.

While the band’s trademark sound remains in tact, they manage to throw some curveballs in the mix. The biggest change is the twin guitar duels between Ginger and second guitarist CJ Wildheart. The Wildhearts have never been afraid to solo, but the extended jamming on tracks like “Rooting for the Bad Guys” add another layer to the band’s dense sound. A five minute guitar solo might seem emissary and indulgent, but the music is so focused and intense that it breezes by. Every note has been meticulously planned, and each one has a place within the context of the song.

The twin leads of Ginger and CJ are intriguing, but the most interesting thing about The Wildhearts is how the band finds new ways to fold in their love of pop melodies. The band goes back and forth between the two genres, often several times within a song. Many songs contain musical references from the most unlikely places. “The New Flesh” takes its lyrical structure from Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

Lyrically, the band has grown up a bit. The decadent lifestyle portrayed on the early records is there, but not as prominent.. Ginger’s lyrics are more political, taking cunning swipes at the Bush Administration and the United States’ involvement in the Iraq War. He also tackles social issues such as welfare and religion. The strength of the political songs is subtlety. Ginger’s voice never rises above a laid-back drawl, so his anger isn’t apparent at first. After repeat listens, the depth of Ginger’s anger comes into full view.

The Wildhearts is a rarity in 2007: A rock record that never sounds forced. Everything from the solos, to the melodies to the lyrics is completely organic. The Wildhearts is a throwback to a time when rock bands worked to make artistic statements. This is an album, not a collection of songs. What a concept!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Marilyn Manson- Eat Me, Drink Me

Author's Note: This review was originally published on It can be found here:,-Drink-Me-Review-%5B2%5D.htm

Ten years ago, Marilyn Manson reigned supreme as every parent’s worst nightmare. Armed with industrial-tinged metal, androgynous makeup and mock Satanism, Manson became an icon for a generation of angry youth. By the dawn of the new millennium, Manson faded into the background, replaced by Eminem and 50 Cent. A decade after he proclaimed himself an “Antichrist Superstar,” Manson attempts to reclaim his position as the King of Shock with Eat Me, Drink Me.

Eat Me, Drink Me was recorded in the aftermath of Manson’s bitter divorce from striptease artist Dita Von Teese. The specter of the relationship hangs over every aspect of the record. The glossy sheen of his early albums is gone, replaced by a surprisingly lean sound. The heavy industrial rock influence is also gone, with droning flourishes of synth in its place. Manson’s voice reflects the bleakness of the music, croaking in his usual throaty growl. Guitarist Tim Skold adds another layer to Manson’s sound by introducing guitar solos. Skold is a fine guitarist, but his ‘80s inspired solos take away from Manson’s post-punk inspired vision.

While Manson’s musical experimentation works, his lyrics do not. Manson is trying so hard to be shocking that he borders on self-parody. Song titles like “If I Was Your Vampire” and “You and Me and the Devil Makes Three” were intended to be self-referential and ironic, but are earnest and hokey. Lyrics like “I want your pain to taste/why your ashamed” and “You press the knife against your heart/and say ‘I love you so much, kill me now,” sound like they were written by a third rate My Chemical Romance. The confidence, anger and swagger that transformed Brian Warner into Marilyn Manson are nowhere to be found. At times Manson sounds like a teenager who found his girlfriend sleeping with the captain of the football team. The invincible rock star who once proclaimed himself “The God of Fuck” seems like a distant memory.

Manson’s newfound immaturity is encapsulated on “Mutilation is the Most Sincere Form of Flattery,” supposedly meant to be an attack on My Chemical Romance. Manson charges the band with “standing in his shadow” and claims that they are “rebels without applause.” If Manson were on his A-Game, this song could have been scathing. Unfortunately it’s nothing but cliché insults and obscenities. It has the feel of playing the dozens, but kids are usually more creative.

Despite all of its flaws Eat Me, Drink Me is still an enjoyable album. The post-punk theme is a welcome change for Manson, and creates a wonderfully dark mood. Manson still has the charisma that made him such a huge star, which is something that most modern rock singers lack. Even though the lyrics are some of the worst he’s ever written, Manson’s earnestness throughout gives them a bizarre charm. Manson may not be the most dangerous man in America anymore, but he’s still pretty fun to listen to.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Poison- Poison'd

Author's note: This review was originally published on It can be found here:

There are two types of cover albums. The first is meant to be a stopgap, whetting the appetite of the fans before releasing an album of all new material. The second is an attempt to revive flagging record sales by releasing an album of songs that fans are already familiar with. Poison's Poison’d falls into the latter category.

Poison has never been a band for the critics, but the carefree essence of their music put them above many of their peers. This carefree vibe is completely absent on Poison’d, replaced by cold calculation. Every part of this album was meticulously planned, designed to appeal to every type of rock fan. Nothing was left to chance, which makes for a bland, predictable listening experience. Poison’d isn’t so much a record, but a product

The calculation works to some extent. The Sweet’s “Little Willy” nearly captures the lighthearted sleaze of the original, and the ballads (Alice Cooper’s “I Never Cry” and The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See”) follow the successful "Every Rose Has It's Thorn" template. Bret Michaels' voice has gotten raspier, which gives the band a tougher sound. The highlight of the disc is Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers “I Need to Know.” Michaels and guitarist C.C. DeVille play off of each other like it is 1986, showing that their combustible chemistry isn’t completely gone.

Unfortunately, Poison’d suffers from many miscalculations. The first offender is The Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers.” The original appears on Sticky Fingers, recorded while The Stones were in the grip of heroin addiction. Mick Jagger sounds tired and worn, and sings the song as if he anticipates death. Keith Richards and Mick Taylor compliment the vocals, laconically strumming on acoustic guitars. Poison attempt to replicate the original as much as possible, but they come off as an amateur bar band. However, “Dead Flowers” is far from the most offensive thing on the album.

Poison’s cover of David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” is the worst thing they have ever recorded. All of the sleaze, camp and ambiguous sexuality of the original have been removed, replaced by generic Poison riffs. Bret Michaels goes through the motions, not even bothering to pick up any of Bowie’s nuances. Mick Ronson’s fuzz-toned custom Les Paul has been replaced by C.C. DeVille’s unnecessary wanking. Even the song’s final cry of “Wham Bam, Thank You Ma’am!” sounds forced.

Poison’d wraps up several previously released covers, dating all the way back to 1987. These covers add nothing to the album, and actually show how lame their cover songs have always been. The band’s great rendition of “Cover of a Rolling Stone” is nowhere to be found, but their atrocious cover of “Squeezebox” is prominently featured.

Poison has been firmly entrenched in the nostalgia circuit for several years now, and Poison’d ensures that they will stay there. This album does have some decent moments, but they are overshadowed by the misfires. If Poison’d contained half of the feelgood vibe of the early albums, it would have been a fun listen. As it stands, it’s just a way to promote a tour.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Music From and Inspired by Spider Man 3

Author's Note: This review was originally published on It can be found here:

The action movie soundtrack has become the last bastion of shallow cock rock in mainstream American pop music. Nothing accents the American male’s appetite for explosions like Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” or Disturbed’s “Down with the Sickness.” Songs like these help us relive the explosion of testosterone we felt in the theatre as we watched our spandex clad heroes dispatch the bad guys.

The previous Spider Man soundtracks fulfilled this stereotype, taking ponderous ballads by Chad Kroeger and Dashboard Confessional to the top of the charts. These songs fit the bill for an action movie soundtrack: Completely shallow and utterly disposable. The Spider Man 3 soundtrack attempts to resolve these sins by giving Spidey an indie rock makeover.

This decision is admirable, but fails in execution. When you think of Spider Man swinging through New York City on his way to battle The Green Goblin, do you hear the dulcet tones of Snow Patrol? There is nothing wrong with Snow Patrol, but how do they fit with Spider Man? This is a question that repeats itself throughout the record. How does this band fit within the confines of Spider Man 3?

The album begins with “Signal Fire,” from the aforementioned Snow Patrol. “Signal Fire” is a great song, but fails as an opener. The first rule of making a great compilation is to get the listener’s attention, which “Signal Fire” fails to do. The Killers’ U2 style rave-up “Move Away” would have been a better choice, because it helps to set the mood. “Move Away” is the perfect setup for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Sealings,” as the song expands on the darker tone of the film.

The problem with the Spider Man 3 soundtrack is not the music; it’s the sequencing. Songs seem to have been placed haphazardly on the disc, with little care for flow. There is nothing on this disc that is particularly bad, but many of the songs don’t belong next to each other. Some tracks should have been moved up, and some should have been moved down. An example is Wolfmother’s “Pleased to Meet You,” an acceptable slice of neo-stoner rock. However, it follows the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Killers, so you go from two detached art rock bands to a band that wants to be AC/DC.

The weirdest addition of all is “The Twist,” by Chubby Checker. “The Twist” is one of the most important songs in history, but considering the somber mood of the disc, the presence of Mr. Checker is confounding. The odd choice is amplified by its place on the album. Chubby Checker’s 45 year old hit is sandwiched between introspective ballads from Simon Dawes and Rogue Wave. Although “Sightlines” and “Scared of Myself” are pleasant, they don’t exactly make you want to twist again like you did last summer.

Perhaps the reason the Spider Man 3 soundtrack doesn’t work is because the film hasn’t been released. Therefore, the listener is essentially blind, hearing these songs without knowing what their context is. However, even if the songs work within the confines of celluloid, this is still a poorly planned soundtrack album. Saturday Night Fever, Empire Records and Dazed and Confused are considered classic soundtracks because the songs work within the film and as a cohesive album. Spider Man 3 feels like a random collection of songs. It’s a shame, because there is nothing particularly bad about any of the music here. At least Spider Man 3 is Chad Kroeger free.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Avril Lavigne- Best Damn Thing

Pop fans rejoice: Avril Lavigne’s period of introspective artistic expression is over. The world is no longer under her skin and she no longer wishes to be Alanis Morrissette. She has fully embraced the snotty brat persona that made her debut album so appealing. Avril’s third album is not the Best Damn Thing that she proclaims it to be, but there are a few enjoyable moments.

The Best Damn Thing should have been Lavigne’s second album, because it expands on the template set on her 2002 debut Let Go. On her 2004 sophomore effort Under My Skin, Lavigne tried to prove she was a legitimate songwriter, and although the record contained some decent singles, the “maturity” of the album felt forced. Lavigne makes no attempts to broaden her sound here, staying firmly within the bouncy pop/rock that made her famous.

The album explodes out of the gate with “Girlfriend,” one of the catchiest pop songs in recent memory. “Girlfriend” has all the elements of great pop music: A simple guitar riff, inane lyrics and a cheerleader chant that refuses to go away. To Lavigne’s credit, she manages to keep up the pace for a remarkably long time. The kiss-off anthem “I Can Do Better” is pop-punk in the blink-182 tradition, and “Runaway” manages to channel the Replacements’ “Within Your Reach.”

The album’s high point is “When You’re Gone,” a gorgeous piano driven ballad. Lavigne’s lyrics are very cliché, but the song’s lush orchestration and simple melody make up for it. Unlike the ballads on Under My Skin, “When You’re Gone never feels forced. Lavigne brings true feelings and emotion to the song, and that’s what makes it work so well.

The problem with The Best Damn Thing is that it gets old. Hearing Avril Lavigne tell a boy to go away the first time is great, the second time it’s fine, but by the third time you say to yourself “Wait, isn’t she married?” Lavigne’s voice is very thin, and it becomes grating. She is unable to hit high notes, and when she tries it’s pretty painful. Lavigne covers up her lack of vocal ability by adopting a faux-punk snarl. She compliments the vocal affectation with copious amounts of cursing. There is nothing wrong with cursing on a record, but Lavigne curses like a 12 year old who has just learned how.

The lack of maturity in The Best Damn Thing is what ultimately destroys its potential. The snotty brat persona is fine when you are 17 years old, but as a 22 year old married woman? It’s not only immature, it comes off as artificial. A lot of the appeal of pop music is that it is artificial, but Lavigne tries to convince the world that she is more than a shallow pop star.

Despite these problems, The Best Damn Thing is a decent pop record. It contains a great single, and a few solid pop songs. If you want a piece of musical candy, you could do a lot worse: Fergie for instance.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Good Charlotte- Good Morning Revival

Revival is a word with many different meanings and connotations. It can be used to describe a religious conversion, a renewed interest or a period of high emotion. Morning can be seen as a metaphor for a revival; the arrival of a new day brings a new start. On their fourth album, Good Charlotte attempts to revive their music, but fails in every aspect.

Good Morning Revival is a desperate attempt to be taken seriously. Everything that was remotely likable about this band is gone. The pop hooks and tongue in cheek lyrics of singles like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and “Girls and Boys” have been replaced with tired synthesizer riffs and dour lyrics Good Morning Revival was logical step-forward in the evolution of Good Charlotte, but it actually exposes what a mediocre band they are.

The most interesting thing about Good Charlotte is not their music; it is their ability to rip-off whatever is hip at the time. When the band came into the mainstream in 2002 with The Young and the Hopeless, they fit neatly alongside a million other blink-182 clones. Two years later, it was cool to name drop bands like The Cure, so the band became Goth for The Chronicles of Life and Death. In the two years since Chronicles, the stylish sounds of new wave have become hip, so Good Charlotte has picked up a synthesizer.

Unfortunately, Good Charlotte forgot the cardinal rule to being a stylish new wave band: Shallowness and glamour. To the band’s credit, they have the shallowness down to a science. However, no matter how many Hollywood parties they attend, no matter how many anorexic blond starlets lead singer Joel Madden dates, there is absolutely nothing glamorous about Good Charlotte.

On the album’s opening track, “Misery” Madden whines about the plastic, shallow people that populate Los Angeles. Madden fails to realize that he has become the epitome of what he is whining about. Lyrical missteps like this make the album unintentionally hilarious. “Keep Your Hands Off My Girl” is the worst offender. Madden glorifies the shallow Hollywood lifestyle that he scorns, gloating about his chains, his model girlfriend and his hot car. After that burst of male bravado, Madden morphs into a wounded puppy, claiming that he is a “Victim of Love.” Please.

Good Morning Revival is the worst album of 2007 so far. This may seem like hyperbole, but there is not one redeeming factor in this record. The music is dull and lifeless, and the lyrics are an insult to human intelligence. If Good Charlotte knew how to write a decent hook, or if they had an ounce of wit or humor, this album could have been saved. Unfortunately, Good Charlotte let their ego and self-importance drive this album, and it’s what ultimately killed it. The band meant this album to be a piece of serious art, but art requires craft, and Good Morning Revival has none.

Black Sabbath- The Dio Years

Author's Note: This review was originally published on It can be found here:

Black Sabbath was on the verge of death in the late ‘70s, worn out by years of constant touring and the pressure of releasing an album every year. Frontman Ozzy Osbourne was mired in substance abuse and had become increasingly unreliable. The band’s final albums with Osbourne, Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die lacked the fire and fury of their first five records, and sold poorly. In June of 1979, the band fired Osbourne and hired ex-Rainbow frontman Ronnie James Dio.

The Dio era often gets overlooked, simply because the Osbourne era has been so influential. However, the Osbourne era had one distinct advantage over Dio: It had been distilled and compiled numerous times. This made it easy for new fans to get their feet wet without jumping in too deeply. The Dio Years rectifies this, giving fans their first official compilation of post-Ozzy Sabbath.

The album is in chronological order, taking five tracks from 1980’s Heaven and Hell, four tracks from 1981’s Mob Rules, three tracks from 1992’s reunion album Dehumanizer and one track from 1982’s Live Evil. The album contains three new tracks.

The Dio Years kicks off with “Neon Knights,” the explosive opener from Heaven and Hell. Tony Iommi plays with passion for the first time since 1975’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. The riff for “Neon Knights” is faster than anything from the Osbourne era, taking its cues from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal rather than the blues. The band does not completely pander to this sound, but adapts it to fit their style. The rhythm section of Geezer Butler and Bill Ward is as tight and heavy as ever,

Although the sound of the band has changed slightly, it is Dio’s singing that carries it. Dio’s Herculean voice gives the band new life, especially after two lackluster performances from Osbourne. Dio hits some incredible notes, especially on the ballads. He knows how to get the emotion of the song across without oversinging. The only problem is that Dio’s operatic voice lacks the raw menace that Osbourne had. With Ozzy, you felt like you were in serious danger. Dio is generally unthreatening.

The band made a smart move by choosing most of the songs from Heaven and Hell. Each track shows the versatility of the band. “Neon Knights” and “Lady Evil” are both stomping rockers. “Heaven and Hell” is an old school Sabbath epic, with a slow and dramatic riff. “Lonely is the Word” is a showcase for Dio’s vocal techniques.

The Mob Rules begins with the title track, which is Sabbath at their most ferocious. The song is a showcase for drummer Vinny Appice, who replaced Bill Ward. He plays drums with alarming power and gives the band a Zeppelin-esque sound. The tracks are arranged in a similar manner; rockers up front, ballads towards the back. After Mob Rules, the album begins to fall apart.

The songs from Dehumanizer don’t have the passion of the first two albums, although “After All (the Dead)” contains a great riff, where Iommi borrows from himself. The album plunges further into the hole by including a version of “Children of the Sea” from the 1982 live album Live Evil. “Children of the Sea” is a great song, but it would have made more sense to include the studio version from Heaven and Hell

The band redeems itself with the three new songs. Things have come full circle, and once again Ronnie James Dio has revitalized the band. “The Devil Cried” is a great piece of old school Sabbath. Tony Iommi plays with all the doom and gloom of old. Dio’s voice has lowered slightly, but his older voice adds to the song. “Shadow of the Wind” is essentially a rewrite of “Black Sabbath,” and “Ear in the Wall” is a headbanger in the tradition of “Paranoid.”

The Dio Years is an incredibly effective compilation. It gives the listener an effective introduction to the Dio era of Sabbath without going overboard. If you already own Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules then there is no need to own this, but the new songs are definitely worth checking out.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Stooges- The Weirdness

The Stooges have pulled the wool over our eyes. When Iggy and the boys reunited for a series of one-off shows in 2005 and 2006, they blew fans and critics away with the same explosive energy they displayed in the early ‘70s. Invigorated by the public’s response, the band announced a new Stooges album for 2007. The result is The Weirdness, a half-baked attempt at a comeback.

There was no way that the band could top the visceral power of their first three albums, but they certainly could have tried harder than this. The Weirdness sounds very rushed, as if it were written in a few days. For a band like The Stooges, this would seem like a good thing, but none of the ideas ever take flight. The band tries so hard to sound like themselves that they come off as an imitation

The thing that made The Stooges so groundbreaking was their sound. Guitarist Ron Asheton created walls of distortion and noise. His guitar would produce squeals and moans that seemed to come from the depths of hell. He balanced the sheets of sound by creating riffs that become tattooed on the listener’s brain. On The Weirdness, Asheton’s guitar squeals in all the right places, but the riffs aren’t there. They are so bland that they sound like they come from an instructional video. All the songs bleed together. There is nothing to distinguish “Trollin’,” from “You Can’t Have Friends” or “My Idea of Fun” from “Greedy Awful People.”

Drummer Scott Asheton suffers from the same problem as his brother. His drums are exceptionally loud, but are incredibly robotic. Asheton seems to be going through the motions, not even bothering to create a groove. This is a problem, because the Stooges thrived on a groove; its part of what made them so appealing. With the lack of great riffing and robotic drumming, the mighty Stooges sound like just another punk band.

Iggy Pop could have saved this record. If he was on his A-Game, his charisma could easily transcend the banality of the music. Unfortunately, Iggy could care less, and it shows. Pop’s voice has lowered in recent years, but that’s understandable considering he is in his late 50s. However, his vocal delivery has nothing to do with nature. Iggy talks his way through each song, and his apathy for the material is palpable. The apathy extends to his lyric writing, which take arrested development to a new level. How do you respond to a 59-year old man spouting lines like “My idea of fun is killing everyone?”

When The Stooges reunited for those festival gigs last year, they proved that they could still bring the goods live. Their live gigs may still pack a punch, but the energy onstage no longer translates to a good record. Raw Power was a street walking cheetah with a heartful of napalm, but The Weirdness is a house cat with a firecracker.