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Music Collection - Various Artists (Part 2 of 5)


Soundtrack - Gladiator -Hans Zimmer/Lisa Gerrard – This dramatic instrumental album accompanies one of my favorite movies. It accompanies the movie perfectly, and I’ll freely admit that whether I like a movie often has as much to do with the music as it does the plot or characters. Perhaps I should say that the movie accompanies the music perfectly. Many of my favorites here are those written by Dead Can Dance member Lisa Gerrard, especially Elysium and Now We Are Free, the stirring end-credits tune. Zimmer’s The Battle has some inspired moments, but is too long as a standalone tune. Much of it is a lesser retread of Holst’s Mars: Bringer of War4 stars

Soundtrack – Gosford Park – Patrick Doyle – Gosford Park is a movie about a murder during a party at a Victorian-style English manse in the early 20th century. The soundtrack alternates between period vocal-and-piano pieces, performed by one of the partygoers; and somber, minor-key ruminations that lent to the mysterious air of the movie. The trick is that both aspects actually work for me. The latter is more my style, and is no surprise, but the former are fun and engaging as well. 4 stars

Soundtrack - The Last of the Mohicans – Trevor Jones/Randy Edelman – This album has accompanied me through the last half of my life. I can listen to it attentively, as background music, or before bed. I remember the night after I went to my first concert (Smashing Pumpkins), my ears were ringing badly. I listened to it on cassette in my Sony Walkman to try and drown out the noise… but the walkman kept randomly clicking off and reawakening me. And I still listen regularly. Strings are the lead voice for much of the soundtrack, but there’s such a grandeur, drama, and beauty to it, it easily stands among the best soundtracks. 5 stars

Soundtrack – Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring – This is a very pretty album, with memorable themes pertaining to the Shire and the Fellowship, and with a sublime, moving end-credits song, Enya’s May It Be3.5 stars

Soundtrack – Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – The second installment in the soundtrack series is largely inessential, as it mostly rehashes themes already introduced more expansively in the predecessor. You may remember the editing pace of the Two Towers, at least in its cinema form, was frenetic. The soundtrack is the same; we segue multiple times between different themes in each track, as different characters arrive in the scene. Also, there are too many suspense-sound-effect passages to make it a good listen. The most notable addition here is the beautiful theme of the Rohirrim, but even that isn’t given proper time to develop. 2.5 stars

Soundtrack – Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – The third installment is more of the same, but with the notable addition of Annie Lennox’s masterful performance of the credits song, Into the West3 stars

 

Next Up – Various Artists (Part 3 of 5) – pirate songs, a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack, new wave, and sci-fi.

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Various Artists - Part 1 of 5


Soundtrack - Batman Forever – The tone of this soundtrack is muddy, edgy, and hip. Highlights are U2’s sexy Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, Seal’s surprisingly melodic Kiss From a Rose, and Michael Hutchence’s low-key version of The Passenger. For a more obscure favorite, check out the sweet-voiced Eddi Reader’s track Nobody Lives Without Love3 stars

Soundtrack – Batman and Robin – This soundtrack to the sequel to Forever is more up-front and poppy than its predecessor. Like the movie. There’s a lot to like here, including The Smashing Pumpkins’ The End is the Beginning is the End, R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi outtake Revolution, and cuts from Bone Thugs ‘n’ Harmony and the Goo Goo Dolls. My favorite Jewel song, Foolish Games, is over-the-top but delicious. Like the movie. A woman named Lauren Christy sings here, and she sounds just like Rush’s Geddy Lee. Strange. Me’shell Ndegeocello’s cover of The Coasters’ Poison Ivy takes on new meaning here, but it is ultimately more satisfying than the original. Not like the movie. 3.5 stars

Soundtrack – The Big Chill – Lots of old Motown hits are here, such as I Heard it Through the Grapevine, Tracks of My Tears, and Aretha Franklin’s version of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. Everything is good here, it’s just dated. 3 stars

Soundtrack – More Songs From The Big Chill – Essentially, this is a more rock-oriented counterpart of the other disk’s predominant R&B. I prefer its highlights – Bad Moon Rising, The Beach Boys power-poppy Wouldn’t It Be Nice, and What’s Going On. It ends nicely with The Band’s The Weight. But the quality is not uniform. The Steve Miller band’s Quicksilver Girl doesn’t exactly qualify as classic. 3 stars

Soundtrack – Garden State – The Zach Braff (of Scrubs)-produced movie about a man’s return to his home state sports a fantastic collection of soft and indie rock songs. In fact, it became a landmark album for the indie genre, turning a lot of people onto it, including me. I was already listening to similar music, like Guster and Death Cab for Cutie.  But this album introduced me to The Shins and Imogen Heap, and things went from there, to bands like The Decemberists and Band of Horses. Speaking of the Shins, they also have this movie to thank for their popularity, due to Natalie Portman proclaiming “The Shins will change your life, man.” In my estimation, they have three songs that live up to this praise, and one of them is here: New Slang. Their other song here, Caring is Creepy is also excellent. Also, check out Coldplay’s Don’t Panic, which reminds us of the band’s roots as an understated art-rock band. Imogen Heap’s old duo, Frou Frou, is featured with Let Go. It is keyboard pop like nothing you’ve ever heard.  In addition to a treasure trove of new material, it doesn’t hurt that my favorite Simon and Garfunkel song, The Only Living Boy in New York, is thrown in. 5 stars


Next Up – Various Artists (Part 2 of 5) –
two instrumental soundtracks, two with vocals, and one that’s half-and-half.

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Music Collection - W (Part 3 of 3)


Lo-fi rock band The White Stripes go to lengths to maintain their aesthetic: “No computers were used during recording,” they proclaim in the liner notes of Elephant. They are Jack White and his sister ex-wife Meg. Jack writes and plays various instruments, usually piano and guitar. Meg drums, badly, but to be honest Jack makes just as many mistakes, which are not corrected during production. The songs justify all the fuss, though sometimes one is infuriated that they didn’t take the time to perfect some of the truly great songs.

The White Stripes – White Blood Cells – Their commercial breakthrough album features raw, emotional lyrics, rawk arrangements, and insidious melodies. Highlights Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground, Fell In Love With a Girl, and I Think I Smell a Rat would be nothing in lesser hands, but in the White Stripes’ hands, they are stripped of everything but their impact. The softer material, like We’re Going to be Friends, is touching but not quite as effective. Also check out the bizarre The Union Forever, a send-up of Citizen Kane. 3.5 stars

The White Stripes – Elephant – Elephant is an electrifying listen. Check out the stomper Seven Nation Army and the tantrum version of Burt Bacharach’s I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself. Jack is at his best when he’s just belting it, as he does repeatedly, and the lack of production makes these deceptively simple songs sound like we’re listening at the key moment of fruition. Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine, Little Acorns, and Hypnotize all have this quality. The Air Near My Fingers is brilliant: listen to Jack musically mutter “I get nervous when she comes around.” Others are more distant, but have a stylish swagger that is no less effective: Ball and Biscuit and The Hardest Button to Button both assure us of The White Stripes’ power. Even the song Meg sings, the folky In the Cold, Cold Night, is effective, and a breath of fresh air to break up the album. This album is recorded more carefully than White Blood Cells, but it’s still not inviting, and that’s really the only relevant criticism I can level at this album. 4.5 stars

The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan – Nobody is better than Jack White at distilling pure emotion into a lyric and a melody, as evidenced on My Doorbell. It has the perfect hook: “I’m thinkin’ about my doorbell\When you gonna ring it?\When you gonna ring it?” It could have been an all-time classic if it just had professional recording quality, but the volume goes down in the middle, sapping it of its energy. Blue Orchid is a revved-up stomper, and The Denial Twist is classic White Stripes. Little Ghost hints at Jack White’s fondness for folk that can be seen in the movie Cold Mountain. Meg’s contribution this time is Passive Manipulation, which is effective, if slightly out-of-tune, in its deliciously creepy 35 seconds. Overall, this record is more diverse in style but not as effective, as Jack White tries to slow it down and be soft more often. 3 stars

Brian Wilson – Smile – If you’re interested, read up on the web about how this is the Beach Boys’ long-lost classic that was shelved because Brian Wilson was going insane, only to be re-recorded and released 30ish years later. If you believe the critics, this is one of the best albums ever recorded. So let’s push hype aside a find out about the music. Smile plays like a devilishly clever children’s album that appeals to adults, leaving out teenagers who probably will find it too fun. Great hooks abound, set to silly Americana or nursery rhyme lyrics. Consider “I’m gonna chow down my vegetables\I love you most of all\My favorite vegetable” or “Rock, rock, roll, Plymouth rock, roll over.” With the exception of the last track, the adored Good Vibrations, there are no choruses or bridges. It plays more like a symphony, as a sequence of great ideas with abrupt transitions between them. It’s fun, beautiful, and engaging, and doesn’t cross the line to being to corny or earnest. It’s an album written by a great songwriter in his prime, but recorded this decade, which means it sounds fantastic. So while it may not be my favorite album, like, evar! it’s still a quiet classic. 5 stars

Amy Winehouse – Frank – Amy Winehouse is a sultry neo-soul songstress who’s as infamous for her tabloid life as she is famous for her music. Her debut Frank was a hit in Britain, and it’s easy to see why, with her jazz-informed pop tackling contemporary girl issues in a fresh and forward way.  Check out Know You Now for a fine example, lyrically and musically. Unfortunately, all the ingredients aren’t here yet. There are hints of great songwriting, but she sounds very young (think Corinne Bailey Rae) and her voice can get shrieky. However, stay tuned… 2.5 stars

Amy Winehouse – Back to Black – Back to Black is a fantastic, purposeful musical statement. The songwriting is more assured; her voice deeper, huskier, and stronger; the beats fatter; the jazz more jazzy. Frankly, it’s more frank than Frank. Consider the irresistible pop sensation Rehab, or the jazzy You Know I’m no Good. If you liked those on the radio, the quality of the remainder is only slightly lower. Me & Mr. Jones invokes the old standard of the opposite gender.  "What kind of fuckery is this?" she demands, and we all want to know.  Love is a Losing Game floats along majestically, and her vocal performance is brilliant. In Wake Up Alone, her stream of consciousness is buoyed up nicely by nice rolling arpeggios. She brilliantly invokes 60s pop with the horns and backing vocals in He Can Only Hold Her, and yet it sounds fresh. Wow. 5 stars

 

Next Up – Various artists (Part 1 of 5) – Some soundtracks from the 90s, plus an Indie rock touchstone.

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Music Collection - W (Part 2 of 3)


Weezer is an alternative rock band that has sounded more and more like a classic rock band as it matured. Weezer is best known for its geeky, offbeat lyrics, and an emotional core that is more personal than the bands it sounds like. It comprises singer/songwriter/guitarist Rivers Cuomo, and three others that lack distinctive voices.

Weezer – Weezer (a.k.a. The Blue Album) – Weezer first made waves with Buddy Holly, a tongue-in-cheek throwback with an undeniable hook. I think the video shipped with Windows 95. Say It Ain’t So, a rocker about alcohol addiction, appealed to a grunge audience. The album is peppy, jangly, geeky, romantic, and endearing. Every single song is a highlight. It was way more fun than the dire, angsty rock coming out c. 1994. From Buddy Holly “Oo-ee-oo I look just like Buddy Holly\Oh, oh and you’re Mary Tyler Moore.” From Undone- The Sweater Song: “If you want to destroy my sweater\Hold this thread as I walk away\Watch me unravel;I’ll soon be naked\Lyin’ on the floor, I’ve come undone.” From In the Garage: “I’ve got my Dungeon Master’s Guide\I’ve got a 12-sided die.” From No One Else: “I want a girl who will laugh for no one else\When I’m away, she puts her makeup on the shelf.” Each clever lyric is set to a catchy melody. The Blue Album walks that tightrope between fun and depth, and I still love this album. 5 stars

Weezer – Pinkerton – Pinkerton was scorned (by me and many others) upon its release. It was darker, less geeky, and not as immediately catchy. Pinkerton, plus the four year wait until the next album, meant that Weezer lost the parts of their audience which were geek-first, music listener second. It didn’t help that the band got sued by Pinkerton, Inc.  for the title. I rediscovered this album maybe 6 years later. In the meantime, this album had slowly become a cult favorite, with some diehards claiming that it’s their best. Butterfly is a touching apology for cheating on someone. Pink Triangle is a hilarious rocker about how Rivers fell in love with a lesbian. The reveal: “pink triangle on her sleeve let me know the truth.” El Scorcho is also really funny and catchy: “Goddamn them half-japanese girls do it to me every time…” The first half is darker and filled with distortion – the first song, Tired of Sex, is a painful listen, and what a bad move to put it first!  I expect it’s largely responsible for the initial demise of this album. 4 stars

Weezer – Weezer (a.k.a. The Green Album) – By the Green Album, Weezer has completely opted for a darker, richer, rockier sound, leaving behind any fans who preferred the breezier Weezer. The lightest thing here is the excellent Island in the Sun, but with the inventive Hash Pipe, they also proved they could have a hit with harder material. They also corrected their error from Pinkerton: here, it’s the first half that’s classic. The second half is very solid, each song a good listen, but it’s not particularly diverse. That’s fine, as the album is quite short. 4 stars

Weezer – Maladroit – Maladroit is very similar to Weezer, but is heavier, with a fuller sound than anything previously. Bass and low guitars grind and crunch on the opener American Gigolo, where a high guitar flourish provides just enough levity. Dope Nose is a catchy sing-along that’s no less muscular. Basically, Maladroit a hard rock album with a soft rock singer who rocks just enough to pull it off. Keep Fishin’ continues the stream of excellent, catchy tunes, which continues throughout much of the album, but one wishes that the songs had been given more unique performances or arrangements, with a little less in the low frequencies. If they’re going to be a hard rock band, they need James Hetfield or someone. Therefore, Maladroit is not refreshing. It’s satisfying and rewarding, but not refreshing. 3.5 stars

The Roland White Band – Jelly on my Tofu – This is a really cool bluegrass band with contemporary-sounding performances on mandolin, banjo, bass, guitar, and fiddle. The vocals are too twangy even for me, and the singer just sounds like an old hick surrounded by younger talent, even though he still has his mandolin chops. Luckily, many of the tracks are instrumental, led by the title track. Others are sung by a better female vocalist, such as on the fun, bluesy Flesh, Blood, and Bone3 stars

 

Next Up – W (Part 3 of 3) – Divorcees, an ex-beach boy, neo-soul.

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Music Collection - W (Part 1 of 3)

The Wallflowers – Bringing Down the Horse – Jakob Dylan fronts this influenced rock band that was big in the mid-nineties. They hit here with the pop gem One Headlight and the rambling 6th Avenue Heartache. Jakob sings better than his dad (which isn’t saying much), and also has some of his songwriting chops. Touching moments intersperse this blue collar, folk-influenced effort. 3 stars

The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues – I know I already reviewed this album on my best-of list last year, but I’m going to write another review without reading that one, to see if I contradict myself. This Irish rock album is an amazing epic of stunner after stunner, beginning with the raucous title track, moving into the passionate, fiery We Will Not Be Lovers, and turning in a majestic performances of Van Morrison’s Sweet Thing and a stirring reading of The Stolen Child. The way they mix passion and bombast with a really interesting rhythmic playfulness fully appeals to me, like on When Will We Be Married?. This album is one that will eventually lead to me buying the rest of their catalog. So far, I’ve got just one other… 5 stars

The Waterboys – Book of Lightning – This recent effort by the Waterboys is a weird one, but really good. It rocks harder and simpler than Fisherman’s Blues, and singer/songwriter Mike Scott over-enunciates everything, which is weird at first, but ultimately really works as a way of putting some rock punch into intelligent lyrics. Check out the uncannily affecting Strange Arrangement, whose title could refer not only to the lyrics, but to the song itself. Also fantastic are the opening rockers The Crash of Angel Wings and Love Will Shoot you Down. With 19 years between this and the other album, I can’t wait to fill in the gap! 4 stars

The Waybacks – Burger after Church – McKenzie turned me on to this band by taking me to their concert at Bumbershoot a couple years ago. They have a laid-back flavor of bluegrass with a lot of melody and style. They are great in concert, and pretty good on disk, though at times are a bit too low-key. 3.5 stars

Andrew Lloyd Webber – The Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber – Webber penned the music for a bunch of hit musicals, including the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, Phantom of the Opera, Evita, and Cats.  This has all his career highlights, and the songs and performances here are excellent. Arguably, they miss the best moments from my favorite, and easily the edgiest, Jesus Christ Superstar, but it doesn’t matter because I have that album too.  Check out Another Suitcase In Another Hall from Evita for a great pop tune that you may not know. 5 stars


Next Up – W (Part 2 of 3) –
Nerd Rock, Contemporary Bluegrass


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Music Collection - V

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend is an endlessly inventive indie rock band. Think of The New Pornographers, but with more expansive arrangements and an Afro-influenced sound, a la Paul Simon’s Graceland. Each track on their debut album effortlessly mixes various drums, keyed instruments, and strings into an exhilarating mix with traditional rock instruments. The songs weave in and out of different beats and melodies, but still stay grounded in fun pop. For good examples, check out the harpsichord-led tour-de-force M79, which mixes in some classical music, or the driving Walcott, a 3.5 minute song that plays like an epic. 5 stars
Eddie Vedder – Into the Wild – This soundtrack to a movie I haven’t seen sports a consistently appealing mix of Eddie Vedder’s signature baritone and chiming acoustic guitar and banjo. Within that motif are mostly fantastic tunes, most written by Vedder, such as the gorgeous Long Nights. Others, like the hit single Hard Sun and the preachy-but-beautiful Society, were written by others but performed with feeling by Vedder. The best Vedder-penned track is No Ceiling. It’s a stunning minute thirty. And that length is par for the course on what could almost be called an EP. So there’s not quite enough substance here to call it a classic, but it sure leaves me wanting more. 4 stars
Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing – Folk-pop singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega’s late 80s release surprised the world with a touching story about a battered woman, Luka. It’s effective because its bright 80s production forms an ironic sheen over its dark subject matter. The other notable hit here is Tom’s Diner, a rare a cappella tune to grace the top 40. (I’m trying to think of others: Billy Joel’s Longest Time comes to mind.) The remainder of the album is very different from both of those: it’s mostly soft, minor key ruminations which seem to be her bread-and-butter. They have some impact at first, but not much staying power. 3 stars
Vertical Horizon – Everything You Want – Rock band Vertical Horizon hit huge with the number one title track, as well as a slew of other hits that I still find myself coming back to, such as the ballad Best I Ever Had and the rockers We Are and You’re A God. The frontman has been compared, vocally, with Michael Stipe. They are a formulaic band, writing solid tunes and performing and singing them tightly, if unremarkably. But they’re hitting on all cylinders here. 4 stars
Vivaldi – Concerti Per Mandolini – I Solisti Veneti - Baroque composer Vivaldi appeals to me more than his peers because of a flair for the dramatic that pervades his work. There’s a quiet passion that grabs me, and as a bonus, it’s in the context of baroque music, which seems to enhance my productivity while I’m reading or programming. This album is well-performed, and I love the sound of mandolins in this context. 4 stars

Next Up – W (Part 1 of 3) – Celtic rock, Bob Dylan’s son, bluegrass, showtunes
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Music Collection - T (Part 2 of 2)


 

Progressive Metal band Tool perform an ambient, melodic flavor of rock, fronted by the beautiful voice of Maynard James Keenan, and backed by an inventive rhythm section.  Their dark, angry subject matter is not for everyone, but if it lends weight to some incredible music, I can put up with it.  They come out with a highly-wrought opus every five years or so.

Tool – Aenima – This mid-nineties effort has epic after epic of mind-blowing rock music, on par with Metallica’s best albums.  It’s catchy, challenging, and engrossing all at once.  On Stinkfist, Keenan switches effortlessly between a metal growl and a charismatic, melodic voice that sounds like he might have sold his soul to get it.  He tends to process his voice slightly, giving the music an unsettling edge.  Eulogy is a bitter send-off for Christ which is hypnotic and creepy.  H., Forty-Six & 2, and Pushit are all career-defining epics.  But my favorite is Aenema, an apocalyptic song about how California will fall into the ocean – the album art even shows this happening as you look at it from different angles.  If you have any angry teenager left in you, or if you appreciate progressive, masterful performances and writing by professionals, or especially both: check this out.  5 stars

Tool – Lateralus – Lateralus was a rather crushing disappointment for me.  The epic-length, engrossing, interesting music is still here.  And the level of professionalism is still quite high.  And tracks like Schism and Parabol achieve the heights of their early albums.  But there is not enough energy to sustain such a long album – the performances are languid and distant.  3 stars

Tool – 10,000 Days – 10,000 Days feels like it’s the length of time between each Tool album.  Luckily, this effort manages to recapture some of their youthful vigor, and Vicarious hits home as much as their earlier smash, Stinkfist.  Roseta Stoned is a cathartic 11 minute epic that just goes by too fast.  Even the more ambient, instrumental numbers have an inherent passion.  And they’ve achieved a creepy sort of beauty on Right in Two, where Keenan laments about the human race: “Monkey killing monkey killing monkey over pieces of the ground.”  His magic is this: he sounds wise no matter what he says. 4.5 stars

Train – Drops of Jupiter – Train is another post-grunge rock band with a southern bent, which is odd since they hail from California.  But they broke into the mainstream with Meet Virginia, and on this album, they went for it again with Mississippi.  As much as I’d like to be cynical about them, both songs are absolutely gorgeous.  The title track is a soaring hit that appeals to basically everyone, even if some won’t admit it.  And this album runs surprisingly deep, with the soulful Let It Roll and the dissonant Something More as standout examples.  4 stars

Tina Turner – Simply the Best – This album chronicles soul singer Tina Turner’s comeback in the mid 80s.  It launches with the triumphant The Best and doesn’t let up until about three quarters through.  The album is instantly dated based on the production, and yet, it’s understated by the standards of the 80s. The power of Turner’s performances is undeniable.  What’s Love Got to Do With It is perfectly paced and voiced, and We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome) is easily good enough to overcome the many criticisms you might level at it (or Mad Max, the movie it’s from).  Private Dancer features her empathic channeling of a stripper, and it’s an amazing performance and tune.  I recently found out that Mark Knopfler wrote this song, which instantly raised him from Very Awesome to Most Awesome Ever status.  As a comeback career, this is astonishingly good, and we forgive her if she starts to sound too old for this stuff toward the tail end of the album. 4 stars

Type O Negative – Bloody Kisses – Type O Negative do theatrical goth rock with an ironic twist.  It’s clearly parody of metal and punk, gothic horror, Anne Rice, and the like.  Consider song titles Kill All the White People, Dark Side of the Womb, and Fay Wray Come Out and Play.  And yet it embraces many of the idioms it makes fun of: some songs are simply too good to pass off as merely fun stabs: Blood & Fire is riveting theatre.  Their terrifying and hilarious cover of Seals & Crofts’ Summer Breeze has to be heard to be believed.  The singer sings bass, which is fun for me because it’s easy to sing along.  Overall, this is one where you’re either in the club or you’re not.  I’m in, though I do feel a little bashful about it.  3.5 stars

 

Next Up – U – Bono and Friends

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Music Collection - T (Part 1 of 2)


Tally Hall – Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum – College party band Tally Hall dress in white collared shirts, each of the five with a different color of tie.  They are clean-shaven, well-mannered white guys that are so sincere-meets-silly, there is a sense of irony through it all.  Their music is catchy, and funny, and is really all over the place in terms of tapping various musical styles.  They are talented singers and writers.  There’s not a lot of replayability to the album, but it’s a fun ride for the first few listens.  3.5 stars

James Taylor – Greatest Hits – This album culling hits from James Taylor’s early career features his gentle, rich singing over beautiful folk melodies.  And for the first seven or so tracks, the choices are mostly folk classics.  Later on, he hooks up with different producers with very mixed results.  He comes off like a bad cover artist when he attempts to tackle Pop (How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You), Blues (Steamroller), and even Latin (the chorus of Mexico).  The fact is, he’s just not that versatile.  Still, the folk songs are essential for fans of 60s singer/songwriters.  4 stars

James Taylor – Best Live – This is a 1994 live rehash of his Greatest Hits, both the good and bad tunes, but has to recommend it three worthy latter-day hits: Handy Man, Your Smiling Face and Shed a Little Light.  By this time in his life, his voice has thickened a bit, but the performances are still good, especially on the first half of the disk.  3 stars

Rob Thomas – Something to Be – Rob Thomas of pop/rock Matchbox Twenty went all-pop for his solo career, bringing in brass, synthesizers, and beats that make me think of Cora from the movie Music and Lyrics, who said “I want a beat that’s steamy and sticky.”   Top-40 listeners, or those that afford themselves an occasional guilty pleasure could enjoy this effort.  The writing is still good, and after all, it’s less over-the-top than the 80s.  3 stars

3 Doors Down – The Better Life – Arena rock band 3 Doors Down specialize in middle-of-the-road rock that channels the southern zeitgeist in traditional fashion.  The songs are edgy enough to appeal to the alternative rock crowd, and southern enough to appeal to country fans.  It was quite a trick to balance the two successfully on their debut.  They broke into the mainstream with the ubiquitous Kryptonite, which deserved its great popularity.  Other tracks such as Loser, Duck and Run, and Be Like That prove they are not a one-hit wonder.  3.5 stars

Toad The Wet Sprocket – P.S. (A Toad Retrospective) – This is a mid-nineties post-grunge band in the vein of Gin Blossoms or Goo Goo Dolls.  But Toad have more good songs than either of those bands, as frontman Glen Phillips has a gift for sublime melodies.  There’s nothing particularly unique or inventive about this band, other than the quality of the songs and the purity of the performances.  All I Want, Something’s Always Wrong, Walk on the Ocean, are all classic ballads, and Good Intentions and Fall Down are fantastic up-tempo tunes that prove this band was more than a one-trick pony.  The rest of the album ranges from very good to filler, but man are those five songs alone worth the price of admission.  4 stars

 

Next Up – T (Part 2 of 2) – 80s comeback, metal, goth rock

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Music Collection - S (Part 8 of 8)


Stone Temple Pilots – Tiny Music… Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop –  This album, one past their heyday, sports an increasing penchant for Beatles-y goodness, as well as several brash rockers that represent a great new direction for them.  Pop’s Love Suicide, Tumble in the Rough, Big Bang Baby, and Trippin On a Hole in a Paper Heart have Scott Weiland adopting an appealingly muted vocal over cacophonous guitars.  More melodic, and equally as effective, are bright pop tunes like Art School Girl and Lady Picture Show.  Weiland dropped the vocal affectation of his earlier hits like Interstate Love Song, and displayed over his career a remarkable ability to change vocal styles.  If you like STP but feel like you’ve heard enough from their mid-nineties heyday, check out this excellent effort.  4 stars

The Strokes – Is This It – Garage revival band The Strokes kicked a subgenre of rock into high gear.  Listening to their canonized debut is like listening to the same great song over and over.  The best prototypes are the hits Last Nite, and especially, the subtly rousing Someday.  They maintain their tightly-wound cool throughout the album, never truly rocking out.  I admire the dedication to restraint, but I sometimes wish they would just go for it a bit more.  One begins to suspect that they really can’t.  3.5 stars

Sublime – Sublime – “We like the music loud in this here band,” the late Bradley Nowell joyfully proclaims on Get Ready.  This diverse, ska-influenced Southern California punk is a lot of fun.  The lyrical content is a bit juvenile, but there’s no denying the hooks and the continuous stream of good ideas.  Santeria is the best pop tune here, and April 29, 1992, Wrong Way and Caress Me Down are great for different reasons.  The mellifluous Doin’ Time is an ingenious rewrite of the standard Summertime. And don’t forget the band’s calling card, What I Got.  The way the singer celebrates pot, petty theft, and his dog Lou, one would never guessed that he was a tragic heroin addict.  4 stars

Supertramp – The Very Best of Supertramp – Supertramp were British rockers that couldn’t figure out whether they wanted to be prog rockers or pop stars.  Their best stuff is their most poppy – The Logical Song, Give a Little Bit and Breakfast in America are all classics, and a few other recognizable hits are here as well.  The problem with Supertramp is that they had two vocalists.  One is instantly recognizable and irresistible, and one of them simply isn’t that interesting.  That results in a good deal of filler that makes the “Very” part of the title seem inaccurate.  I wonder if getting the pop-oriented album Breakfast in America isn’t a better way to be introduced, though that would, at the least, miss the essential Give a Little Bit.  4 stars

 

Next Up – T (Part 1 of 3) – folk singer/songwriter, pop/rock

glasses

Music Collection - S (Part 7 of 8)


Not that it wasn’t clear when the Police were together, but another Genesis, the Police were not.  All three members launched solo careers after the breakup of the band, but Sting outshone the others by orders of magnitude.  He racked up mind-boggling sales and Grammies while maintaining his status as interesting.  He is often accused of pretension for his later work, and rightly so, but he’s talented enough that I gladly put up with it.

Sting – The Dream of the Blue Turtles – His solo debut lost the propulsive energy of the Police, but he is less constrained by his band here, offering a more diverse and melodic effort.  Reggae is still an influence, but hardly noticeable.  One particularly notable shift in direction is a tendency toward jazz.  He celebrates that freedom on If You Love Somebody Set them Free, which became a template for many of his later radio hits.  Russians is a gripping cold war admonition, and We Work the Black Seam seems to be a lament by a coal miner about the encroachment of nuclear energy: it’s dark, disturbing, and wonderful.  4 stars

Sting - …Nothing Like the Sun – This disk features the worst song transition of any album I have.  Fragile is one of the most beautiful, poignant, understated pop songs ever written, but it is followed by the unbearably chipper We’ll Be Together.  It probably made sense on a two-sided cassette, but is comical here.  Sting turns in a classic vocal performance on Englishman in New York. Straight to My Heart and Be Still My Beating Heart are like prime Police material, but with different instrumentation.  Much of the rest of the album is either somber beauty, or light throwaways.  3.5 stars

Sting – Ten Summoner’s Tales – Nearly every song on this masterpiece is a tour de force, even though it’s still the case that Sting has never made an album where I like every track.  If I Ever Lose My Faith in You is a massive adult contemporary anthem.  Love Is Stronger than Justice is a song that alternates expertly between a rock beat and 7/4 time.  The effect is exhilarating.  Fields of Gold is a love ballad which nearly hits the sublime heights of Fragile.  Seven Days is a funny, engaging story about him competing with another man for a woman.  His rival is “Neanderthal.”  “IQ is no problem here\ We won’t be playing Scrabble her hand I fear,” he confides.  Shape of My Heart is my favorite Sting song.  It’s an entrancing tune about a poker player, featuring a stunning guitar line by Dominic Miller.  Here, casting himself as a summoner, Sting achieves the right balance of pretension and fun, and it works.  5 stars

Sting – The Very Best of Sting & The Police (1997) – A randomly sequenced greatest hits makes decent song choices, ranging from their breakthroughs, Message in A Bottle, to some of Sting’s best, like Russians and Englishman in New York.  However, leaving out Fragile is inexcusable; as is the inclusion of, I kid you not, Roxanne ’97 – Puff Daddy Remix.  This feels like an inessential cash-in rather than a necessary addition to the catalog.  Allmusic.com lists a 2002 version of this album which has more and better tracks, and rectifies both of the above problems.  3.5 stars [4.5 stars for 2002 version]

Sting – Songs from the Labyrinth – Sting joins lutenist Edin Karamazov to tackle 16th/17th century composer John Dowland in this uber-pretensious lute-and-vocal album.  It’s most enduring contribution to our culture was the brief popularity of the phrase “Sting and his fucking lute.”  Sting sings in his wispy low voice, which hasn’t aged well, and really, has never been as good as his higher, pained vocals.  The fact that he doesn’t realize that he is not the man for this job makes this effort problematic.  Even worse, interspersed among the songs are tracks of him reciting John Dowland’s letters to some English monarch.  Ugh.  1.5 stars

Next Up – S (Part 8 of 8) – grunge, garage rock revival, ska, pop/rock