Picks of the Week 10/21/14

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This week is a little all over the board; featuring a comeback album from an 80’s icon, as well as a covers album of a favorite childhood movie. Billy Idol, Primus, Slipknot, and Transit are this week’s New Music Tuesday Picks of the Week.

Billy Idol’s new album Kings and Queens of the Underground is only his second album in the last 20 years. I went into my first listen with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised by what I heard. This album is very good and probably his best work since 1983’s Rebel Yell. Working again with Steve Stevens could be a contributing factor to the sound. The album kicks off with three great songs. Bitter Pill is the opener, followed by Can’t Break Me Down and Save Me Now. There’s some vintage Idol sound, as well as some updated modern sounding tracks as well. If you’re a fan of the old punk rocker, I suggest not sleeping on this one and giving it a shot.

Primus decided to have their way with the songs from the classic movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Primus & the Chocolate Factory is as bizarre as you would expect. As a huge fan of the movie, I can appreciate the album without being a huge Primus fan. It’s weird, creepy, and a little all over the place, which I think is exactly what they’re shooting for. Recorded by the classic Primus lineup, together for the first time in 20 years, they are preparing the take the show on the road for an interesting live experience. They have even hidden 5 Golden Tickets in a few copies of the album and if you find one you get lifetime admission to Primus concerts. It’s best listened to as a full album, but I put 4 of my favorites below.

Slipknot returned this week with .5 The Gray Chapter, their first album since 2008’s All Hope Is Gone. Since that album’s release a founding member died and the drummer left the band. With two new members on board, they are back and sound angry as usual. Featuring more melody than their early albums, it sometimes seems a bit of Stone Sour has bled over.

Transit is an indie punk band from Boston. Joyride, their 5th album, follows the steps of last year’s Young New England. However, they are missing a founding member in Tim Landers this time around. The album may differ slightly from Young New England, but the album is not unsettling to long time fans. Songs like Saturday Sunday are the same melodic punk they’re known for. Catchy upbeat choruses fill the album on tracks like Rest To Get Better and Too Little Too Late. If I hadn’t known ahead of time that Landers had left, I would not have noticed a difference in the album.

Below you will find an hour long Spotify playlist to sample these albums. Enjoy!

Picks of the Week(s): 10/7 & 10/14

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Last week I didn’t get around to posting my usual Picks of the Week and playlist, so I doubled it up this week.

Included in the playlist for last week are Weezer, Linus Young, Broods, & Hozier. Representing today’s best new releases for the week are You + Me (Dallas Green and Pink), Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Mary Lambert, & OK Go.

Sample these albums by clicking the link below.

The Day of Bowie (Part 4: 1980-1984)

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Welcome to the 1980’s. Bowie’s final album for RCA was Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). It’s No Game (Part 1) starts the album off and is partially sung in Japanese, and I still think that guitar at the end reminds me of Slash in Sweet Child O Mine a bit. Title track Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) is another guitar heavy song. Guitars had certainly been lacking in the Berlin trilogy, and this one provides the most since Diamond Dogs. Ashes to Ashes was a hit and even references his musical past with the line “Ashes to ashes, Funk to funky. We know Major Tom’s a junkie, Strung out in heavens high, Hitting an all time low”. Teenage Wildlife is the longest song on the record and shows some similarities to Heroes. Because You’re Young is another solid song too. I enjoyed this one much more than The Lodger. Now it’s time for Bowie to rest for a bit.

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David took some time off for a bit. He had released at least an album a year since 1969, I think he earned a few years off. And when he returned in 1983 with Let’s Dance, he was thanked by having it become the best selling album of his career. Modern Love is a personal favorite, I have always loved this song since I heard it as a kid. It’s a throwback to the Young Americans era but more upbeat and poppier. Fun fact: Stevie Ray Vaughan plays on this album and it helped kick start his career. Bowie plays no instruments for the first time and just focused on songwriting and singing. Nile Rodgers co-produced with Bowie, and you can hear his contributions on the title track, Let’s Dance. A bit of disco flair from the Chic guitarist, it would become a very sampled song in hip hop for years to come. My vinyl copy of the album has this song at over 7 minutes, however CD versions have shortened it down to under 4. Cat People (Putting Out Fire) was used in the movie Cat People, and that’s the only reason why I can figure out it is called that. There’s no mention of cats in the song. It was a collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, but the original version used for the film had to be re-recorded due to contracts with their record labels. Also it should be noted that you should not follow Mr. Bowie’s advice for putting out fires with gasoline. It does not work well, it only exacerbates the problem.

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When you have the best selling album of your career and gain a whole new fan base what do you do? Well David was concerned about retaining those fans, and quickly recorded and released his 16th album, 1984’s Tonight. Most fans consider this his first major stumble in his career. Again, this is 16 albums and 17 years into his career, so not too bad in that perspective. He still scored a #1 album in his native UK too, but it never broke the Top 10 in the US. Loving the Alien is almost twice as long as any other song on the record and it kicks things off. Stylistically, it could easily go on Let’s Dance. Then he covers one of my favorite Beach Boys songs, but I don’t like it, so I’m not gonna talk about it; I’ll just pretend it didn’t happen. Iggy Pop was around a lot for the recording of this album, and co-wrote five of the songs. One of those tracks is Neighborhood Threat which starts Side Two, but unfortunately Pop’s contributions don’t save the album. Blue Jean is a bright spot though, completely written by Bowie and released as the first single. That’s all I can really say about this record. It’s my least favorite so far for sure, and even Bowie distanced himself from the record in later years owning up to it not being on the level with other work.

The Day of Bowie (Part 3: 1974-1979)

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Diamond Dogs is Bowie’s 8th record, and is half concept album based on George Orwell’s 1984. Originally thought to be used in a musical version of the novel, Bowie was not granted permission for the rights, and the songs were used in this album instead. Bowie is the lead guitarist for the first time following Mick Ronson’s departure. Before we get to the songs, I just have to say that this cover has always weirded me out. I’m not a fan of the Half Bowie/Half dog that graces the gatefold, it’s creepy. After a spoken word intro track, the album begins with the very Stones-esque Diamond Dogs, which features Bowie’s newest persona, Halloween Jack. It’s evident from the beginning that Bowie is moving away from his glam rock period and heading into a dirtier, bluesier rock and roll much like The Rolling Stones or The Stooges. Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise) is an epic 3 part story that takes up about half of the first side of the record. Gritty and angry at times, desperate at others, this could be as theatrical as anything Alice Cooper ever recorded. Rebel Rebel is another all time favorite, as it sounds more like his earlier glam rock work. As I’m listening to this record I am wondering why I don’t play it more often. I have a feeling it will get more spins now. When 1984 starts with the wah-wah guitar, it instantly reminds me of the theme from Shaft. “They’ll split your pretty cranium, and fill it full of air, And tell that you’re eighty, but brother, you won’t care. You’ll be shooting up on anything, tomorrow’s never there, Beware the savage jaw, Of 1984” It would’ve been interesting to see what Bowie would have done with the 1984 musical he wanted to create, but at least some good songs came out of the idea and found their home on Side B.

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I love glam rock, but I also love some blue eyed soul. Because of this, Bowie’s 9th record, Young Americans, is another go to album for me to play regularly. I just want to touch on the fact that all these great albums were being made and released within a calendar year of each other. Bands just don’t have that kind of output anymore. He toured, and continued writing, banged another album out, and then back on the road. In 8 years we got from a song about a gnome to a song like Young Americans. Some bands take that long to release 2 records, let alone 9. Former Bowie bass player Tony Visconti produced and mixed a majority of the album. Drawing heavily on American soul music, Bowie featured a lot of background vocals and horns on this record. It was the beginnings of the Thin White Duke. According to Visconti, 85% of the album was recorded live in the studio with the full band and Bowie playing together. Fun fact: Luther Vandross is one of the vocalists on the album. Luther also helped co-write the song Fascination, and it is just straight up funky. Fun fact: This song has never been performed live. How about a Beatles cover featuring John Lennon himself on guitars and background vocals? Well just check out Across the Universe then. Fame is another famous single off of this record, and was also co-written by Lennon.

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It’s 1976, and David Bowie is not in a good place. He’s using drugs heavily, living in Los Angeles, and losing his mind. He recalls little of the recording of this album, mostly due to his heavy cocaine addiction. He had filmed The Man Who Fell From Earth shortly before starting work on songs which he originally thought were going to be used as the film’s soundtrack, but they weren’t. The previous album had hinted at the birth of the Thin White Duke, but this was his birth. The character is described as a hollow man who sings intensely about love, but feels nothing, “ice masquerading as fire”. He seemed to be living a life not unlike the main character in Pink Floyd’s The Wall, perhaps Roger Waters drew some inspiration from Bowie, as well as himself. The opening, and title track, Station to Station is 10 minutes long and practically two songs in one. It starts slow and haunting and evolves into an upbeat bluesy rock song. Fun fact: This album would be Bowie’s highest charting one in the US until last year’s The Next Day. Golden Years was the biggest hit off the record. I’m still unsure of what I think of the song, even after all these years. I like some of it, and some of it I don’t. I hate the repeated “Golden Years” lines sung throughout, but I love the bridge and chorus. I’m cool with the whistling bit too, nothing wrong with a good whistle break. TVC15 is based on a story involving singer Iggy Pop. Evidently during a visit to Bowie’s house, Iggy, under the influence of drugs, hallucinated that the television set was swallowing his girlfriend. This album set the table for his next three albums which are referred to as The Berlin Trilogy.

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Album 11, Low, was released in January 1977 and begins his collaborations with Brian Eno. Fun fact: The cover, much like Station to Station’s, uses photographs from the film The Man Who Fell To Earth. This one is supposed to be a pun; Low profile. The album opens with his first instrumental track, Speed of Life. At this point in time, Bowie had moved to Berlin to escape the cocaine capital of the world and kick his habit. Sound and Vision is an amalgamation of his Young American album mixed with the synthesizers of Eno. Always Crashing In the Same Car hints towards the direction he is going and would work with during the 80’s. A New Career In a New Town is another upbeat instrumental that closes out the first half. Most of the songs on Side One are quite short, and then Side Two features the mostly instrumental pieces he was working on for the film. Side Two begins with Warszawa, the most famous of the tracks on this part of the album. Very moody and ambient, it bares little resemblance to Ziggy Stardust from 5 years prior. I once played this album at the store while working with a former employee who suffered from depression. They told me if they played this album while in one of their down periods, it’d make them want to kill themselves. I believe it was Art Decade that would’ve sent them over the edge, so obviously the album title is appropriate. It reminds me of work Peter Gabriel, another favorite of mine, would be experimenting with around this time.

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Heroes, Bowie’s 12th album was released just 9 months after Low, in October 1977. Recorded 500 yards from the Berlin Wall, its content reflected the environment in which it was made. Beauty and the Beast stands out immediately after just playing the instrumental second half of Low. The snarling guitars grabbed me immediately. I will be honest and say the first time I heard Heroes it was sung by Jacob Dylan and The Wallflowers. However, that cover led me to the original song and I like it much more. (As I said, I had to find Bowie on my own since no one I knew listened to him, except for random singles on the radio.) Never a massive hit when released, it has now become one of his more iconic songs. Bowie again starts quiet and by the end he is belting out the song, straining to be heard over the music. From Wikipedia: “To achieve this desired sound Tony Visconti rigged up a system of three microphones to capture the epic vocal, with one microphone nine inches from Bowie, one 20 feet away and one 50 feet away. Only the first was opened for the quieter vocals at the start of the song, with the first and second opening on the louder passages, and all three on the loudest parts, creating progressively more reverb and ambience the louder the vocals became. Each microphone is muted as the next one is triggered. Bowie’s performance thus grows in intensity precisely as ever more ambience infuses his delivery until, by the final verse, he has to shout just to be heard….The more Bowie shouts just to be heard, in fact, the further back in the mix Visconti’s multi-latch system pushes his vocal tracks, creating a stark metaphor for the situation of Bowie’s doomed lovers.” Black Out ends Side One . Much like Low, Side Two features a lot of atmospheric moody ambient music composed with Eno. However, I find Low to be superior as an album.

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Finally, Bowie wraps up the 70’s, as well as his Berlin trilogy, with Lodger. This album features no instrumentals and comes off a bit more accessible than the previous two. That being said, I find it to be a mediocre album. Most of the songs don’t jump out at me. Red Sails, which ends Side One, was the first one to make the playlist. DJ was a single and had a music video, but it peaked at only #29 on the UK charts. You can hear the 80’s approaching on this album, it has a slight new wave vibe to it. Look Back In Anger completes three straight songs in a row that in my opinion make up for the slow start. Honestly, this is the first one I’ve gotten a little bored with. I don’t think it’s because I’ve listened to nothing but David Bowie for 9 straight hours, it’s because it isn’t on par with previous work to my ears. Oh well, onto the 80’s!!

The Day of Bowie (Part 2: 1971-1973)

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Time for the RCA years and it begins with Hunky Dory. Changes has always been a personal favorite, and follow that with Oh You Pretty Things and that is a great way to open one of his best beloved albums. Bowie was beginning to find his voice and you can hear it on Hunky Dory. This album features the lineup that would eventually become dubbed the Spiders of Mars, with Trevor Bolder replacing Viscotti on bass. The ballad Life on Mars? has some great arrangement, done by Ronson, with beautiful piano and an orchestra accompanying Bowie’s soaring vocals. Fun fact: 90’s alternative rockers Bush quote the lyric “Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow” from this song in their track Everything Zen. Fun fact #2: Rick Wakeman, of the band Yes, plays a lot of the piano on this album. Song For Bob Dylan is exactly what it says, a song for Bob Dylan. I had previously mentioned that some of his early work seemed influenced by Dylan, so this was perhaps his way of showing that. Although, the chorus sounds more like a Stones song in my opinion. Queen Bitch is probably the first glam rock song he wrote and sets the table for the next album……

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It’s time for my favorite Bowie record. The one I play more than any other. I own at least two different tshirts for this album. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. I could put this whole album on the playlist and justify it easily, but I will do my best to only cherry pick my favorite tracks. It’s hard to believe this album only got to #5 on the UK charts and #75 in the US, since many consider it his greatest album. I’m a huge fan of Bowie’s glam period. I’m also a huge fan of Marc Bolan and T-Rex, I just love that 70’s British glam rock. Opening song Five Years comes in soft, just crisp drums, piano, minimal bass, and acoustic guitar. And it builds gradually until Bowie is shouting the lyrics rather than singing. The Earth is going to die in five years and he’s distraught about it. Violins come in to drown out his crying as he fades into the distance screaming, until finally it’s all as it was in the beginning; Mick Woodmansey with his drums. Polyphonic Spree do a great cover of this song as well. Soul Love has some great saxophone, played by Bowie. “All I have is my love of love, and love is not loving.” It has a retro 50’s vibe with the background vocals through the song. Starman is one of my all time Bowie favorites. It’s his second great anthem following the previous year’s Life On Mars.  It almost didn’t make the album, which would have been a shame. The song is about the character of Ziggy sending out music from space for the youth to listen to and boogie to. I also like the way he sings the word ‘boogie’, I don’t know why. It ended up being his first hit since 69’s Space Oddity and helped draw attention to his new concept album.Star is just a great glam song about becoming a rock star. You can’t not include the title track Ziggy Stardust. That iconic guitar riff, introducing Ziggy, with his God given ass, and the Spiders of Mars to their awaiting public. Classic. Suffragette City is another favorite deep cut off this album. And following Ziggy, it’s a great way to begin wrapping up the album. This was originally the B side for the Starman single, it’s just another great rocker, “Wham Bam Thank You ma’am!” OK, so I ended up putting 6 out of 11 on the mix, I’d say that’s pretty fair for a favorite album.

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Album #6, 1973’s Aladdin Sane, A Lad Insane get it?! Taking a page out the the Rolling Stones’ book, Watch That Man is the first song to feature some female gang vocals, and that makes a noticeable difference in the overall sound of the track. The band storms out the gate on yet another great opener. This was his first album written after becoming a star, and it debuted as his first #1 record in the UK. Cracked Actor has some dirty bluesy glam guitar from Ronson. The Prettiest Star features some do wop vocals and saxaphone. “You and I will rise up all the way, All because of what you are, The Prettiest Star.” And why not throw in a rocking cover of the Rolling Stones song Let’s Spend the Night Together for good measure.

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Time for the covers album, Pin Ups. I know a lot of casual fans probably haven’t heard this one, and it’s not one of my go to ones either. This record saw the departure of previous drummer Mick Woodmansey, and the debut of Aynsley Dunbar. It is also Mick Ronson’s final album with Bowie before he left to work with Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter. I’ve included a few tracks that I feel are the stronger covers. Here Comes the Night was originally by Them, Everything’s Alright from The Mojos, a jazzier cover of The Who’s I Can’t Explain,  and Don’t Bring Me Down by The Pretty Things.

Thus concludes the Spiders From Mars era.

The Day of Bowie (Part 1: 1967-1970)

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Inspired by the recent opening of the new David Bowie Is exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, as well as the cover of his song Life on Mars in last night’s American Horror Story Freakshow season premiere, I felt I should listen to Mr Bowie’s catalog in proper sequence during my open to close shift today. It would provide a quick way to witness his evolution as an artist. I’m just gonna post some thoughts on each album  as they play. I think the movie Labyrinth is responsible for my love of Bowie. My parents never owned or played any of his stuff, in fact I recall my mom calling him weird back in the day. But as I grew older he became more to me than just The Goblin King and I began picking up albums from various times in his career. I thought it was cool when he worked with Trent Reznor when I was a teenager. He always did his own thing and seemed eternally cool the entire time, aside from that Dancing in the Streets video with Mick Jagger, let’s just not dwell on that. So, off we go……..

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First up is 1967’s Self Titled album. Rubber Band, gotta say I’m glad he didn’t stick with the tuba as the main instrumentation for his future songs. There Is A Happy Land has lyrics that set the tone for his Peter Pan-esque personality, “There is a happy land where only children live. They don’t have the time to learn the ways, Of you sir, Mr. Grownup.” A lot of this album is definitely dated, hippie folk of the late 60’s. Something must be said about the bonus track The Laughing Gnome. It features Bowie dueting with a gnome which basically sounds like Alvin from The Chipmunks. This is a song more typical of being heard on Dr. Demento more than a David Bowie album. In the Heat of the Morning is the most traditional 60’s rock song on the record. Featuring some great organ, violins, hand claps, and tambourine, it would sound right at home on a Nuggets compilation.

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Time to break out my vinyl copy of David Bowie/Space Oddity now, I have the renamed version. There’s not much else I can say about the opening track that hasn’t already been said since it was released in 1969. This set the template for his sound in the 1970’s and set him on his way to stardom. The next track, Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed, shows some Dylan influences. Featuring a killer harmonica solo and is very “jammy” for his work at almost 7 minutes long, it has some intriguing lyrics to say the least; “I’m a phallus in pigtails”. Well alright then. Letter to Hermoine is his ode to the Harry Potter franchise. I’m joking of course, it’s actually about an ex girlfriend of his, but if you listen to it from the viewpoint of Harry singing it to Hermoine about Ron, I’m sure it would compliment some internet fan fiction just fine. With a title like God Knows I’m Good, you would assume it is a boastful ode to himself. Nope. It’s about an old woman shoplifting because she’s poor and hungry.

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1970’s The Man Who Sold the World, album #3. An ex of mine once told me her favorite Nirvana song was The Man Who Sold the World. I should have known the relationship was doomed right there. I of course had to tell her that wasn’t a Nirvana song, it was a Bowie song. She said she’d never heard of it and it didn’t matter. *facepalm* The first thing you notice on this album, the production has gotten better and the band is rocking a lot more. Bass and drums are high in the mix on opening track The Width of a Circle. Mick Ronson shines on guitar, where he would remain for the next three years during some of Bowie’s best work. Tony Visconti’s bass playing on this album is a highlight throughout. All The Madmen keeps the rock vibe going. “Day after day, They take some brain away….Don’t set me free, I’m as helpless as can be. My libidos split on me, Gimme some good ‘ole lobotomy.”, proof the Ramones weren’t the first rockers doing an ode to being lobotomized. Savior Machine, great guitar work from Ronson. Man Who Sold the World, you can listen to the original version here if you’re only familiar with Nirvana’s unplugged cover. It’s identical in tempo, but Bowie has some vocal effects, and it has some extra instrumentation the cover lacks. Although the cover is good, I prefer the original.

End of Part 1. Next up…..1971’s Hunky Dory

Time Machine Concerts : Wish I Could’ve Been There (Part 1)

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Do you ever sit and wonder what concerts you would go see if you had the ability to travel in time? Well if you’re a music fanatic like me, you have spent more time than you probably should. So I figured I would post my list, and then see what some of your choices are. Mine will be in no particular order, because let’s face it, if I had a time machine I could go to any of them whenever I wanted.

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Prince & the Revolution: Purple Rain Tour – Of course I would go see Prince and the Revolution on this tour. Prince at his creative and commercial peak, with the original band. I’d probably go to all 5 shows they did at the Rosemont Horizon in December of 1984 and I’d buy a couple cool concert tshirts to wear now.

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Ramones: Rocket To Russia Tour – I never got to see the Ramones, and if I was gonna see them, it would have to be with the original 4 members. I could go see their earliest shows at CBGB’s, but I would rather see them after they had released their first three albums. More material to choose from and all classic songs.

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Nirvana: June 14, 1991 – Nevermind’s release was still 3 months away. This would have been the chance to see them before they took the world by storm. Dinosaur Jr as the headliner doesn’t hurt either. Four months later they would become the #1 band in America and their lives would never be the same, I’d love to see them before they got there. Great set list too: Blew • Been A Son • Negative Creep • Drain You • Lithium • Floyd The Barber • Smells Like Teen Spirit • School • About A Girl • Love Buzz • Sliver • D-7 • Territorial Pissings

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The Beatles: 1966 Tour, Candlestick Park – This was it. The final time the Beatles played in American soil. Until their reunion on the Apple Corps rooftop, it was their final live performance as a band. The stadium was half empty, so there would be plenty of good seats. The set was only 11 songs, so it wouldn’t be completely satisfying, although I would at least get to hear Paperback Writer, Nowhere Man, and Day Tripper. Short set aside, if you are a music fan and have access to a time machine and you’re not going to go see the Beatles, then there’s something wrong with you. The Ronettes as an opener makes the show just a bit sweeter too.

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Queen: The Game Tour 1980 – The set list reads like a Greatest Hits album, it is just one solid song after the next; 31 songs in all. Freddie was still commanding the stage like no other with that amazing voice of his. I don’t care where I would see the show because the set list was the same most nights.

More to come……