Friday, October 21, 2011

Revised Early Thoughts

So, we’ve all heard about this Lou Reed/Metallica thing, right? I’ve chatted with lots of folks about this one, some decidedly bigger fans of one over the other, some indifferent to both, others rather fond of both, and yet all scratching their heads about as much as everyone seems to be outside of the five participants themselves, who claim it’s the best work they’ve ever produced (ok, Lou says since VU, he’s not that senile).

A more unlikely pairing of artists there is not, and while I can certainly see Metallica giving a nod to Lou, the reverse seems less likely…but obviously, what do I know? I mean seriously, on paper this does not work at all, and so my initial thoughts were that this was going to be the biggest bomb since the Hindenburg met flame (too soon?), or would be a surprise hit sleeper that was the greatest, most unlikely winner since I got my chocolate in your peanut butter, and you got your peanut butter in my chocolate.

Actually, that’s a no brainer…but how about since my dad once made scrambled eggs with clam chowder. It wasn’t bad at all. I’m never gonna eat it again, but it wasn’t terrible.

Ok, way off topic there…

So, a few weeks ago the first 30 second or so snippet came out and we all grappled for the play icon (the curious, the hopeful, the bored at work)…and we were all so underwhelmed that we couldn’t even make fun of it. The music was subpar by even the worst metal standards and Reed’s way too up front vocals just sounded like the incoherent ramblings of an ex heroine addict (and at least half of that last statement is solid truth).

And then today I got the full version of that song, The View, and because it’s Lou Reed, and in spite of the fact that it’s Metallica (who in my opinion lost everything under the bus with Cliff), I decided to give it a full and honest listen. I did twice. And I blew it off twice. But honestly, I didn’t.

Earlier this evening I tweeted that this song was growing on me, and later on was emailing my good pal MSP in response to his similar feelings to my realization. I thought I’d share that with you as well:

i was playing the lou-tallica song for karla (she's not overly familiar with either artist, but i was trying to "explain" it to her), and when playing it in the car it just sorta clicked with me. i mean when i first heard that one snippet i thought "ok, this is a red herring, they're just teasing us and the real deal will be something else." i mean seriously, that riff is what high school kids play over and over in their first garage band. if i could paint it white and stencil "metal riff" in black, block font, i would. but lou's delivery is, if nothing else, full of conviction, like he's believing it, behind it, inspired by it, etc, and when he starts yelling at the end, i think it really pulls it together. (i mean, has he ever yelled like that before?) so i got to thinking, this is a concept album, which in theory are supposed to flow and be cohesive as one unit, so to just pluck a song out of context so to speak, it's like a fish wriggling out of the can see it's colors and contours, but not in the right environment. so i'm officially intrigued by this album, unofficially looking forward to it and secretly hoping to champion it.

So, there you have it… And with the release just over a week away, I’m telling you right now that I’m not poised at the starting line to run out and buy it, but when given the chance, I will certainly listen to it with honest, open ears and maybe, just maybe…well, you know.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Curin' with JT - Part 4 – Decline and Resurgence

Bloodflowers (2000)

JT’s thoughts: Oh no! Robert is depressed again and instead of yielding an amazing album, what this album ended up being was, well, just depressing. Robert had hoped this album to be the ending of a trilogy that started with Pornography and included Disintegration; sadly, it was nowhere near the caliber of either and this album stands today as one of the worst Cure albums, and at times a real chore for the listener. (C)

Favorite: ‘Out of this World’

Least: ‘Watching Me Fall’

Gem: ‘Where the Birds Always Sing’

Me – This one was a real disappointment for me back when it first came out. I recognized it as sounding “classic Cure,” with all of the right elements in attendance, but that sound was so intended, so well placed, it was obviously forced (aka uninspired). This means that while it was good, it certainly wasn’t great, and so after a few listens I pretty much let BF fall by the wayside. I was compelled to tackle this one early on for this project because I wanted to start trying to familiarize myself with it as I listened through the rest of the albums. I have to say that I enjoy it quite a bit more 10 years down the line. The band is reaching back, with moments that grab from all of their previous three albums (for better or worse), which adds a sense of familiarity and cohesiveness. Robert is nostalgic in more ways than just the music, grappling with aging/mortality, his own relevance and what seems like writer’s block. It’s in these frank and revealing moments that his former glory shines through, though with a different hue, giving Bloodflowers a warmth and depth I had missed in my mid-20s, but still doesn’t beg it to be re-listened to with so many other choices. (B-)

Fave: Watching the Fall

Least: 39

Gem: The Last Day of Summer

The Cure (2004)

JT’s thoughts: This is to Bloodflowers what Wish was to Disintegration...and seeing how Bloodflowers was no Disintegration, this is no Wish. The songs on this album range from boring but listenable to forgettable to completely terrible. The few bright spots aren’t bright enough for me to ever choose this album over one of their classics and the bad songs are just enough to keep me away. By the time this album came out, the disappointment it caused was about enough to give up hope that the Cure would ever release another good album, much less a great album. (C-)

Favorite: ‘Taking Off’

Least: ‘Us or Them’

Gem: ‘Alt.End’

Me – This is the second “difficult” Cure album for me (the first being BF). But while Bloodflowers sounds exactly like a Cure album, this one does not. As is often the case, it’s the production that makes or breaks it for me, and the Cure is heavier in a way that is unlike Pornography or The Top or some of the more abrasive moments of Kiss Me, but more like “metal” and yet not like metal at all, just more “rock n roll” but not really that either. Skip it… To me the songwriting is more inspired than on Bloodflowers, with moments that hearken back to the jangle of WMS or even Wish, but when put through such a “heavy” production filter they lose the bounce that would have made them downer pop bliss, and instead come off as edgy and sludgy. At the same time, I really don’t mind the production at all. The hooks are still present, simply harder to get to as the “rockin’” sound rather muddles a bunch of pretty good tunes that should otherwise shimmer…well, like Bloodflowers does. But that’s really on the slower songs, ‘cos the more upbeat tunes benefit well from the crunchier shell, but it still doesn’t sound like a Cure album, just a rock band with Robert on vocals. I understand the step in another direction, the trying something new, and ultimately it works ‘cos the Cure is an engaging album, but without repeat (and deliberate) listens, it’s also a forgettable one. (B)

Fave: Before Three

Least: Us or Them

Gem: Taking Off

4:13 Dream (2008)

JT’s thoughts: As I said, I was just about to give up until William purchased the first single (‘The Only One’) from this album and let me check it out, and with each subsequent single that was released (‘Freakshow’ then ‘Sleep When I’m Dead’ and finally ‘The Perfect Boy’) my excitement grew. So much so that I actually purchased 4:13 Dream on the day it was release (the first time I had done this since Wild Mood Swings). What I found upon listening ranged from good to great with no real clunkers on the album...while the singles do stand out, the album tracks are solid and overall this is the best listen from beginning to end the Cure have released since Wish. (B+)

Favorite: ‘The Reasons Why’

Least: ‘It’s Over’

Gem: ‘The Hungry Ghost’

Me – I had a lot of anticipation for this one because of the whole singles release scheme they had going on leading up to the release of the album. I loved all four singles (and b-sides) that came out before the album, so my excitement was pretty high. Thankfully I was not disappointed. To me 4:13 Dream combines the better aspects of both Bloodflowers and The Cure (classic Cure sound, pop sensibilities) with overall better songwriting. Not every song is a knock out winner, but at the same time there are no standout losers either, and it’s a good flow from front to back. What that means is 4:13 Dream is solid, enjoyable, a return to form and a worthy “comeback” in my opinion of Mad Bob and his abilities. Everything sounds fresh if familiar and most importantly, effortless and fun, as if they band is enjoying what they’re doing for what it is instead of trying to make a pinnacle Cure album, and that in itself is going to make the difference every time. (A-)

Fave: It’s Over

Least: Switch

Gem: Siren Song

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Spoken & Spelled

In the 1981, anything goes world of post punk’s New Wave, which was just beginning to swell, Depeche Mode were a bit of a trend setter, trading in guitars for keyboards and a gruff, gritty exterior for a pretty boy glam that was as ambiguous in look as the music it fronted was androgynous in style. Of course the gun shot snares, bleep-bleep synths and expressive if coldly delivered vocals weren’t 100% original, as Kraftwerk and similar Kraut Rock outfits from the previous decade were a huge and obvious influence, but Depeche Mode also incorporated disco and dance pop that gave their sound a breadth and depth that was immediately warmer, more intimate and ultimately more front facing than what was happening on the continent.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Depeche Mode’s landmark debut, Speak & Spell, which first introduced the world to David Gahan’s hypnotic vocals (if in a less distinguished and still embryonic form) and (to a much lesser extent) the songwriting brilliance of Martin L. Gore.

Speak & Spell is an anomaly (among anomalies) in the Depeche Mode catalog for multiple reasons, the most noticeable being that this is the only album with founding member and (then) principle songwriter Vince Clarke, who after this album would move on to further success as one half of Yaz(oo) and even more so with Erasure.

Clarke’s songwriting style is markedly different from Gore’s, which is obvious by comparing most of the album with the latter’s compositions, most notably Tora! Tora! Tora! While still dark in delivery, Clarke conjures a "digital 50s" danceability and an almost whimsical playfulness in tracks like Boys Say Go!, New Life and the winkingly asexual What’s Your Name?, with themes often focused on life as a young man on the city social scene. And while songs like Photographic and Puppets do lean a bit more to the sinister side of things, they’re almost impish romps in comparison to what Gore would offer when at the helm just one year later.

Despite Clarke’s departure, the remainder of the band knew they had some winners to keep in their arsenal and Just Can’t Get Enough especially (aside from being an alternative rock classic) has remained part of their live roster into the 21st century. But from a legacy standpoint, Depeche Mode, along with New Order et al, were highly influential in making dance pop more than Top 40 filler, but something edgy, enduring and ultimately, well, punk. While Speak & Spell is not Depeche Mode’s (or Vince Clarke’s) best set of songs, the groundwork it laid for future New Wave, pop and dance acts (both good and bad) cannot be overestimated, and while it does stand somewhat separate and apart from other Depeche Mode classics like Some Great Reward, Violator and Playing the Angel, all of those albums owe at least a partial nod to the one that poured the concrete for the foundation, making the rest possible.