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Album Reviews


Paul's colaboration with Brian Eno

Posten on: 2006-05-25 04:35:36

Surprise - 2006Let’s discard our surprise over why rock’s most infamous mild-voiced pseudo-intellectual would choose rock’s most infamous mild-voiced pseudo-aesthete as his newest collaborator. Ever since he realized that Art Garfunkel’s perfectly boring pipes imbued his penses with a crippling solemnity, Paul Simon has hopped from textural bed to textural bed, never sticking around long enough to say thank you to Dixieland, mbaqanga, Nile Rodgers-Bernard Edwards, and Brazilian percussion. Besides, isn’t this what ‘70s singer-songwriters do when bored with acoustic guitars? Ask Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and Neil Young. Call it 50 Ways to Leave the Straitjacket of American Rhythms.I suspect that the wary are more concerned about Brian Eno’s name on the credits anyway. Sure, they’re both fat and balding, but what’s His Holiness doing with such an icon of middlebrow sophistication? The same thing he did with David Bowie, Ultravox, and U2 (and, lest we forget, James): remind middlebrows with highbrow aspirations that their business is writing good songs, while his is to let these good songs float in a sea of permutation. The trouble is, the seas have been calm for years; these days Eno the highbrow parvenu is more comfortable at the lectern. Thus, a collaboration with Paul Simon makes sense: put two artists who’ve been boring for years together and you get enviable symmetry, as delicious in its way as David Byrne-Brian Eno—with better hair.Surprise sounds a lot like 1983’s Hearts & Bones, Simon’s first commercial bomb, forgotten when Chevy Chase sold Graceland to the MTV generation a couple of years later. A funny thing, though: nowadays everyone seems to own a copy of Hearts & Bones, making it his most overrated album. H&B is dense, quiet, and insular, so cheerful in its narcissism, so maladroit in its yearning to be cool (check out Simon’s shirt on the cover: New Wave!). Gauche too: playing a Syclavier like an electric piano won’t turn you into Suicide. Surprise commits no such missteps. It’s almost as good as H&B, and likely to be as undervalued, but don’t worry: give it 20 years and its cadenced ruminations and instantly dated production will get some love from the usual suspects.The processed guitars of “How Can You Live in the Northeast?” begin the album with a convincing clang, while the lyrics just clang: “If the answer is infinite light / Why do we sleep in the dark?” This and “Wartime Prayers,” an attempt at 9-11 come-on-up-fer-a-rising, yearn for a metaphysical uplift which Simon’s pedantic humanism can’t summon. Fortunately Simon devotes most of Surprise to his two favorite subjects—Paul Simon and Guys Who Act Like Paul Simon—with most of his considerable acuity. We learn what tears are made of in the fragile “Sure Don’t Feel Like Love”; the schmuck in “Outrageous” with dyed hair the color of mud wonders, “Who’s gonna love you when your looks are gone?” Throughout Eno keeps his trademark whoops and bleeps under control, although his idea of sonic innovation these days is to emulate William Orbit circa 1998, or to filter Simon’s powdery voice.Two exceptions dramatize the quandary facing a musician whose ambitions collide with a sixtysomething’s natural inclination to cling fiercely to old verities. It’s no coincidence that both songs are about children (perhaps grandparents are nicer to kids because they’re one stroke away from reverting to children themselves). The horrible “Beautiful” revives the colonialist canards first raised upon the release of Graceland, as the smug protagonist extols his Bengali and Kosovar babies, beating the redoubtable Angelina Jolie at her own game. “Father and Daughter” is sweeter: a basic bass-drums groove with a lovely East African electric guitar motif that evokes the pathos and mystery of the relationship as subtly as the lines, “There's nothing scary hiding under your bed / I’m gonna stand guard / Like a postcard of a Golden Retriever.” Fittingly, Eno is nowhere to be seen on this track. Middlebrow art that transcends itself doesn’t need another middlebrow muscling in.

Posted in: Album Reviews | Paul Simon | 0 Comments

A pioneering album

Posten on: 2006-05-22 07:14:41

The Kick Inside - 1978Kate Bush released her debut album at the tender age of 19 ; she had written some of the songs when she was only 15. The album opens with whale song, which leads into the first track, "Moving", inspired by her dance teacher, Lindsey Kemp. The album contains her biggest hit to date, Wuthering Heights, which went to number one in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere and a Top 10 hit in many other territories.Bush's work would mature and develop, but The Kick Inside remains a startlingly precocious debut and many of her trademark qualities were already firmly in place. Her cinematic and literary influences were most obvious in "Wuthering Heights". The song was not initially inspired by Emily Bront's novel, but by a television adaptation, although she did read the novel later to, in her own words, "get the research right". She namechecks Gurdjieff in both "Strange Phenomena" and "Them Heavy People," while the title song is based on the ballad of Lizzie Wan, the story of a girl who kills herself after being impregnated by her brother. The album is also very open about sexual matters, particularly on the erotic "Feel It" and "L'Amour Looks Something Like You."As part of her preparation for entering the studio, Bush toured pubs with the KT Bush Band, supported by her brother Paddy and close friends, but for the album she was persuaded to use established session musicians, some of whom she would retain even after she had brought her bandmates back on board. Paddy Bush was the only member of the KT Bush Band to play on The Kick Inside. Unlike on later albums where he would play more exotic instruments such as Balalaika and Didgeridoo, here he played the more standard Harmonica and Mandolin. Stuart Elliot played some of the drums and would become her main percussionist on subsequent albums, along with session drummer Charlie Morgan, who later went on to be a regular with Elton John. Preston Heyman was credited with some subsequent studio work but mostly performed on the live tour of 1979.The album was produced by Bush's mentor David Gilmour and Andrew Powell.The Kick Inside is Bush's only album to have a different cover in the U.K., the U.S., Canada and Japan.

Posted in: Album Reviews | Kate Bush | 0 Comments

Still an underrated band

Posten on: 2006-05-16 17:44:09

Canned Wheat - 1969The album starts out with a fiery "No Time," backed up by an intense fuzz-guitar sound and Burton Cumming's distinctive vocals. The aggression and power at the end of this cut are overpowering; at five and a half minutes, this isn't the track you hear on the radio. This is nicely contrasted by the somewhat repetitive "Minstrel Boy," which seems to get boring after a few cycles of the chorus. It's highlighted by a nice bridge, but other than that it's mostly forgettable."Laughing" is a pretty familiar song; it's easy for some songs, like this one, to slip quietly into the background when playing on the radio. That hardly does justice to it - this song is easily one of the best pieces of music still played on the dial. Burton's immense emotional shifts, the simple rhythms that pull together with organs, jazz guitar, vocal overdubs - all of these combine to create this masterpiece. We're given a piano coda immediately following.The mostly-restrained elegance of "Laughing" is followed up by "Undun," a very powerful and intense ride. It starts off with mere hints of its final throes. The scat, followed by a flute solo, highlights the middle section nicely. This song swaggers along for a while, until nearly the end, at which point the drums seem to become more urgent, the vocals more strained, and it builds to a slow intensity - not intense in volume, or tempo, but feeling. The coda, irrelevant as always, plays nicely with stereo effects and light guitar plucking. Listen through headphones. "6 AM Or Nearer" plays with flute, some pretty laid-back arrangements, and a chorus that doesn't really stick in the mind after the first listen. It's not a terrible song - but it does seem to be more filler than expected."Old Joe" is a pretty depressing song about an old man who, evidently, is pitied by the singer. It's a bit raw, which works well, and it doesn't linger - better than filler, but not outstanding.The next song, "Of a Dropping Pin" is everything a radio single needs to be. It's energetic, fast - and it has a hook-laden chorus that stays with the listener even after the first listen. "Key" - which ends up degenerating into a very interesting, extended drum solo - languishes at first, slow and majestic, until eventually transitioning into a sudden burst of bombastic and entertaining guitar, played back and forth from left to right, and then leaving off into the aforementioned drums. The closer, "Fair Warning," is a bit of an odd track. It's got a gravely voice and jazzy, bluesy guitar blended in the back. Ostensibly it warns the listener away from being a Rock Star.The two bonus tracks are good, and certainly a worthy addition, but they aren't of the level of most of the other tracks on the album. Canned Wheat truly is a continuous album; the interludes between just about every song reinforce this. It was meant to be listened to in a unit, and while listening from start to finish the impression of the music cements itself in the mind. Truly a classic - greater than the sum of its parts, although perhaps the Guess Who would do better.

Posted in: Album Reviews | Guess Who | 0 Comments

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