Thursday, March 12, 2009

Because It Is More Fun to Hate Than to Love...

I made a list of essential records not too long ago, and I'll refine that and put it on here at some point. I started looking at others' lists and realized that there are a bunch of albums that influenced people that I just never "got". either the music didn't move me, or it was just diametrically opposed to my mindset at the time. Many of these records have warranted re-listens over the years and, in one or two cases, I've flip-flopped a bit. In most cases, I stand by my initial assessment. A quick disclaimer, this in no way meant to slam anyone's opinion. As I have gotten older, I have honestly realized that music is a subjective thing and no two tastes are completely alike... I just like lists.

1. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
I was never a huge fan. I liked some of the Syd Barrett stuff, and kind of dug Animals and Wish You Were Here. DSOTM always seemed overblown, and it was certainly overplayed. The Wizard of Oz thing was just overkill.

2. The Grateful Dead - American Beauty
This was a product of hating a scene more than the music. I later grew a healthy respect for AB, Workingman's Dead and the acoustic live Reckoning. The rest of it, I could still do without. As to the live shows... if "every third show was brilliant" as the Deadheads claim, then every first and second show sucked donkey balls.

3. Phish - pick one.
See above but replace actual songcraft with incessant noodling. Exception: "Sample in a Jar" from Hoist. I liked that one.

4. Dave Matthews Band - Under the Table and Dreaming
I was living in Richmond whilst the DMB star was beginning to rise and watched as his Wednesday night residency at the Flood Zone grew from a smattering of somewhat interested drunks to a sold out every week affair. He was (is, I'm sure) a genuinely nice guy and deserves every ounce of his fame. His music, however, bores me to tears. It is as if Paul Simon only ever recorded Africaner-lite muzak.

5. Rush - anything that isn't Moving Pictures or Subdivisions
My distaste for Rush is well documented. I love Alex Lifeson, but Geddy Lee sings like a 6 year old child being run over by a combine and Neil Peart has clearly never watched Freaks & Geeks. I can get past it for the total riffest that encompassed their mid 80's output. To a degree.

6. Metallica - ...and Justice For All
Metallica was never the same after Cliff Burton's death, and that said... I had only marginal love for them before this. Aside from that... the video for "One" (taken largely from the film "Johnny Got His Gun" is unwatchable to me, as is the film.

7. Ween - Pure Guava
That voice. Why? WHHHHYYYYYY? Rush fans, to be sure.

8 The Beatles - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
My distaste for The Beatles is well documented. This album, in particular, is pompous and overblown. Brian Wilson beat this record senseless with Pet Sounds.

9. R.E.M. - Green
Oh I bought it. Pretended to love it. Now, other than one or two songs, it is nearly unlistenable to me. This was the beginning of R.E.M.'s foray into corporate rock. I could hear Stipe's lyrics and they still made no sense. Pete's guitar was LOUD LOUD LOUD. I had to pay a lot of money to see them live and it just wasn't the same. Hairshirt? Indeed.

10. Minor Threat - pick one
Nope. Never liked Ian's brand of preach-punk. Bad Religion never told me not to drink. Well, then he became Fugazi. Then I adapted and learned to love.

11. Paul Westerberg - Eventually
The beginning of the ex-Mat's Sinatra period. Forgettable songwriting, pithy crooning. He got better again later.

12. Liz Phair - Whitechocolatespacegg
After the one-two punch that was Exile in Guyville and Whip-Smart I couldn't get my head around this one. Did I just like her because she was hot? Nah, that couldn't be it... she got hotter later and made worse records. There are those that love this record. I am not one of them. The beginning of her ongoing overproduction period.

13. Jeff Buckley - Grace
The guy can write a song. And he can sing. Trouble is... he sings and I hear Freddie Mercury. I dunno why. I just do. I like Queen. But Brian May never guested on a Buckley record. Also? Can't swim.

14. Tori Amos - Under the Pink
Poor Tori is getting shafted for all of that "Lilith Fair" chick rock that I hate. Also for evoking Kate Bush to me (who I love) but kind of a poorer 'Muricun white trash version. I've had many try and change my mind. I do think that she is a powerful live artist. From what I've seen. On that video. That one time. Oh... Under the Pink largely because I really hated "Cornflake Girl".

15. Soundgarden - Superunknown
I never loved Chris Cornell's voice. It was okay in a I liked Led Zeppelin the first time kind of way. Still I loved Ultramega OK and Badmotorfinger largely due to Kim Thayil's guitar. then they went all Beatlesque on me. And you know how I feel about the Beatles. Right?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Steve Albini Kicks the Jams Outta Cheap Trick

The Internet combined with my shiny new iPod has given me an embarrassment of riches. I can usually find great pricing on lots of new releases via Amazon or the like, and good ol' iTunes itself is chock full of great music at a price lower than most places that I could buy them physically. The real treats lie in the unexpected ephemera floating on the fringes, however.

Last week, whilst visiting one of the many places that I find out of print, never in print, and long lost goodies, I ran across Cheap Trick's 1998 unauthorized In Color sessions with Steve Albini. Now, for those of you who never knew Cheap Trick worked with Albini, be not surprised. No album actually resulted from the sessions. What did emerge (via Internet leaks) was a complete re-recording of Cheap Trick's classic In Color record from 1977. The original In Color contained some of Cheap Trick's most memorable numbers including "I Want You To Want Me" and "Clock Strikes Ten". While the record is remembered fondly, it contained some clunky production by Tom Werman to include a horrible honky-tonk piano riff on "I Want You to Want Me". In re-listening to it, I found it pleasant but uninspired with a ham handed nod toward the Beatles' sound which detracted from the brilliant power-pop songs on the record.

The Albini sessions are another matter entirely. Albini has a notorious hands-off approach to recording bands. Stripped of all grandiose polish and gloss, the songs become the centerpiece. Robin Zander's voice has never sounded better, and Rick Nielsen's guitar has all the rifftastic chunkiness that you could hear live, but almost never on Cheap Trick's studio recordings. It simply sounds like a great power-pop masterpiece. If you can find the damn thing... this one comes highly recommended.

Original In Color: B- / Albini's In Color: A

My Life Would Suck W/Out Kelly Clarkson

Being the only one who enjoyed 2007's  fuck you to Clive Davis, My December,  I was a little hesitant to see the return of "American Idol"  Kelly Clarkson. Thankfully, six seconds into All I Ever Wanted I was as pleased as anyone to hear that she "seems" to be making peace with who she is vs. who they want her to be. The first single  " My Life Would Suck Without You"  is already a radio staple and deservingly so. It's another soaring anthem in the tradition of "Walk Away" and  "Never Again". I hope "I Do Not Hook Up" is the next single. Written by Katy Perry and new American Idol judge Kara Dioguardi, it is the highlight of this record. It's a great song about an alcoholic boy with as much talent as he has tolerance for the sauce. "Whyyawannabringmedown" rocks more than the last three Social Distortion records combined. Even the ballads (never my Kelly preference) on this record ain't that bad.  More Ann Wilson than Diane Warren. A special mention to the i-Tunes exclusive "Can We Go Back". I love this song and it should be included on any re-issued versions of this album. Good job, Kelly.B+