Holy crap I bought a lot these past four months! Some of these were on my “Just buy this already” list, because I had been playing them on Spotify or Tidal a lot. Others were provoked by my rediscovery of a band I enjoyed a lot when I was in my late teens; it is sad that it took the passing of one of their members to trigger this, but that is what happened.
Nicole Atkins - Slow Phaser (CD, on my “Just buy this already” list)
Björk - Vulnicura (Download, Hi-Res, Society of Sound)
D’Angelo and the Vanguard - Black Messiah (CD, on my “Just buy this already” list)
Day One - Intellectual Property (download, Society of Sound, Hi-Res)
Deep Purple - From The Setting Sun… (Live at Wacken 2013) (CD/DVD) - This album has a companion called "…To The Rising Son", a live album recorded at Budokan at the end of the same tour. That one hadn't arrived in the store yet, so I'll pick it up early September.
Deep Purple - Long Beach 1971 (CD, on my “Just buy this already” list)
The Crimson ProjeKct - Live in Tokyo (CD)
The Crimson ProjeKct - Official Bootleg Live 2012 (CD-quality download, Bandcamp)
Ghost - Meliora (CD)
Bernard Haiting, London Symphony Orchestra - Beethoven Symphony No. 3, Leonore (download, Society of Sound, Hi-Res)
Ibeyi - Ibeyi (CD)
Jethro Tull - Minstrel in the gallery box set edition (2CDs/2DVDs, includes Steven Wilson Remixes, live concert from 1975)
Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba - Ba Power (CD)
John Metcalfe - Kites and Echoes (download, Society of Sound, CD quality and Hi-Res vinyl needledrop)
Hannah Peel - Rebox 2/Fabricstate (download, Society of Sound, Hi-Res)
Songhoy Blues - Music In Exile (CD)
Richard Thompson - Still
Wilco - Star Wars (free download from their website)
Yes - Yes (Hi-Res download, HDtracks)
Relayer (Hi-Res download, HDtracks)
Relayer (CD/DVD, 2014 edition with Steven Wilson Remix)
Original Album Series (5-CD set in cheap package, includes Going For The One, Tormato, Drama, 90125, Big Generator)
I’ve decided not to count frequently-streamed items as acquisitions. In fact, I’m giving up on streaming. I’ve canceled Tidal and Spotify though I still have a week to go on the latter. Don’t know how I’ll explore new music from now on- probably Apple Music until the end of September when my free trial runs out. Or maybe I’ll use Bandcamp exclusively for music discovery. I had no problems finding new stuff before the streaming era, so I’ll manage.
Most years, I barely buy enough new albums released the same year to put together a top 10 at the end (I buy a lot of reissues as well as many albums released during the previous few years, and the total number of albums purchased each year is very large, but I'm usually a little behind the curve), but most years, I try anyway. This year, I had a bit of a budget squeeze as I was preparing for a move, which is now canceled. Over time, I was able to relax the budget restrictions; also streaming has made it easier for me to stay up-to-date under those conditions, so I can at least present some sort of Top 5 for the first half of 2015:
Bassekou Kouyaté is the best blues guitarist who doesn't play the blues, or guitar. His band/clan consists entirely of virtuoso players of traditional and newly developed Malian instruments, discreetly complemented here by a rock drummer and some horns and keyboards. Normally I am quite wary of the practice of having West African music overdubbed with Euro-American instruments, but in this case, the additions complement the rock feel that Ngoni Ba were already moving towards.
(There is an official video for the opening track, "Siran Fen" on YouTube, but embedding is disabled on it, so I'm showing the teaser vid instead)
You've heard about this one, I'm sure. I've only listened to it 3 or 4 times since it became available on the streaming sites, but its woozy, detailed compositions live up to the hype. I'm not even a fan of Björk, normally, but this album just works for me. Best listened to with good headphones.
A more energetic take on Malian blues, with Dan Auerbach's production footprint. This one does fizzle a bit after a very strong start, but that start is very strong indeed.
5. King Crimson - Live at the Orpheum (Not available on Spotify or Tidal)
(No officially sanctioned footage with sound that is representative of the 2014/2015 Crimson appears to exist, and I won't be linking to clandestine recordings)
With only six songs, this live album is more of a teaser for greater things to come, and I'll honestly be surprised if it makes my end-of-year list. But it is a sign of life from the Crims and it showcases a tight, powerful new version of the band.
It is entirely possible that Ibeyi are the best newcomers in pop music this year. At least if you ignore that they had an EP out in 2014, but the linked album is their full-length debut.
It is also entirely possible that I am the last person to find this out as there's been a bit of a buzz around them, they've already done a Spotify session and they were at Eurosonic. I have a long-standing habit of missing out on Eurosonic tickets and this year was no exception. Since moving to Hoogezand, I am also deprived of the free Eurosonic gigs, some of which were practically in my back yard when I was living at my old address.
The pace of my record-buying slowed down in the first trimester of 2015 as I focused on putting back more money to pay down my mortgage. Alsom I went on a physical media fast after I put my CD collection and my books into storage in preparation for a move. However, the budget did allow for a few purchases here and there, and now that tax refund/vacation allowance time is coming, I've loosened the restraints a little. Here's my list for the first few months:
Deep Purple - Stockholm 1970 (Vinyl)
Fatoumata Diawara & Roberto Fonseca - At Home Live in Marciac (CD)
Ian Gillan - Access All Areas (CD)
Zoe Keating - Into The Trees (Bandcamp)
King Crimson - Live at the Orpheum (iTunes)
Richard Thompson - Strict Tempo (CD). Strictly speaking, I ordered this from Bol.com in late 2014 but it only arrived early in the new year.
Tuner - Totem (Bandcamp). This one was technically free to download, but I dropped in a few bucks because I could.
Rokia Traoré - Bownboï (CD)
Stephen Wilson - Hand.Cannot.Erase (iTunes)
But that wasn't all the new (to me) music I added to my library. I also acquired the following releases through the Bowers and Wilkins Society of Sound, which I became a member of last year:
9Bach - Tincian
Berlin Philharmonic String Quintet - Antonin Dvorák - string Quintets
Edwyn Collins - Studio Live Session Liechtenstein
Samantha Crain - Kid Face
Sir Colin Davies, LSO - Sibelius Symphony No. 2 and Pohjola's Daughter
Valerie Gergiev, Marlinsky Orchestra - Shostakovich Symphonies Nos 1 & 15
Valerie Gergiev, Elena Mosuc, Zlata Bulycheva, LSC, LSO - Mahler Symphony No. 2
The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble - Undercurrents
Bernard Haitink, London Symphony Orchestra - Bruckner Symphony No 9
Ethan Johns - Live at Kings Place
Kalbata & Mixmonster - Congo Beat The Drum
Bernie Krause - Particles of Dawn - Scenes from the Great Animal Orchestra
Radiophonic Workshop - S/T
Roller Trio - Tracer
Roman Simovic, London Symphony Orchestra - TCHAIKOVSKY Serenade, BARTÓK Divertimento
Three Cane Whale - Holts and Hovers
Universal Togetherness Band - S/T
Samyel Yurga - Guzo
All of them digital downloads in CD quality (Higher resolution available but I haven't bothered with that). It should be obvious from the length of that list that it is the Society of Sound that, for a subscription price of EUR 40/year, supplied me with a large and incredibly diverse selection of music in a wide, wide range of genres. Several of these titles could be qualified as 'a bit quirky' and one of the things that I enjoy most about this is that month by month, you never know what you're going to get. Is it a band playing classical tunes on old monophonic synthesizers with only some of them having prior experience as keyboardists? Is it a bunch of old geezers recreating the creative milieu of the BBC studios in the 1960s? Or a carefully restored 40-year-old tape from a hot dance group that was tied to a school at the time of recording and was not intended for commercial release? I look forward to being surprised every month, even if not everything makes it to the regular rotation.
Everyone's doing their end-of-year stuff already. I don't feel like I'm done trying out new albums just yet. Below, however, is the full list of albums and singles I bought (yes, bought, though I've included all the freebbies I've got as well) in 2014. In most cases, they were tested on Spotify first before I bought them, so I already knew I liked them before I spent my money. This year, I kept track of what medium I bought them in as well. Turns out I do actually still like the CD format.
Albums and singles bought/acquired in 2014, not including thrift store finds
Afterpartees - First/Last (Vinyl single, freebie, RSD, 2014)
Amsterdam Klezmer Band - Blitzmash (LP with download code, RSD) (2014)
Ian Anderson - Homo Erraticus (CD+DVD) (2014)
Ian Anderson - Thick As a Brick Live in Iceland (Blu-Ray) (2014)
Bombino - Agamgam 2004 (LP with download code, RSD) (2014)
Kate Bush - Hounds of Love (Audiophile Vinyl)
Kate Bush - The Sensual World (Audiophile Vinyl)
Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi
Collectif Africa Stop Ebola - Africa Stop Ebola (iTunes)(2014)
Deep Purple - Black Night/Woman From Tokyo (Vinyl single, RSD) (2014)
Deep Purple - Live in Verona (DVD) (2014)
Deep Purple - Made in Japan 40th Anniversary edition, deluxe edition (2014)
Fleetwood Mac - Rumours (iTunes)
Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita - Clychau Dibon (CD) (2014)
Peter Gabriel - Back To Front (Blu-Ray) (2014)
Macy Gray - The Way (CD) (2014)
Dorris Henderson & John Renbourn - Here We Go (CD)
Jethro Tull - A Passion Play (40th Anniversary Edition, CD/DVD, includes the Chateau D'Hérouville Sessions) (2014)
Salif Keita - M’Bemba (CD)
Seckou Keita - Tama-Silo (CD)
Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba - Jama Ko (CD)
Bettye Lavette - Change is Gonna Come Sessions EP (iTunes)
Shelagh McDonald - Stargazer (CD, 1999 reissue)
Opeth - Pale Communion (Vinyl) (2014)
Pink Floyd - The Endless River (CD) (2014)
Queen - Live at the Rainbow 1974 (2CD) (2014)
Queen - Live at the Rainbow 1974 (DVD) (2014)
Reveller - Pulse (2:51) (CD single, freebie, RSD) (2014)
Anoushka Shankar - Traces of You (CD, bought in London)
Nina Simone - Best of (iTunes)
Saffron Summerfield - The Early Years (iTunes)
St. Vincent - Digital Witness (Vinyl single, freebie) (2014)
St. Vincent - St. Vincent (CD) (2014)
Kate Tempest - Everybody Down (CD) (2014)
Thompson - Family (CD) (2014)
The Touré-Raichel Collective - The Tel Aviv Sessions (CD)
Rokia Traoré - Beautiful Africa (CD)
Rokia Traoré - Tchamantche (CD)
Rokia Traoré - Tuit Tuit (Smadj Remix) (iTunes)
Rokia Traoré - Wanita (iTunes)
Rokia Traoré - Mouneïssa (iTunes)
Various - Celebrating Jon Lord (2DVD) (2014)
Various - Desert Blues 3: Entre Dunes et Savanes
Various - Prog 26: As Sure as Eggs is Eggs (Free CD with Prog 26)
Various - The Dreamers (Free CD with Mojo, September 2014)
Kristeen Young - The Knife Shift (iTunes) (2014)
I'm not going to say anything about these records just yet - I just want to be able to show people this list if the topic of "what did you like in 2014" comes up, because I know it will, frequently. For convenience, here's a summary of records bought this year that were actually released in 2014:
Amsterdam Klezmer Band - Blitzmash
Ian Anderson - Homo Erraticus
Ian Anderson - Thick As a Brick Live in Iceland
Bombino - Agamgam 2004
Collectif Africa Stop Ebola - Africa Stop Ebola
Deep Purple - Black Night/Woman From Tokyo
Deep Purple - Live in Verona
Deep Purple - Made in Japan 40th Anniversary edition, deluxe edition
Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita - Clychau Dibon
Peter Gabriel - Back To Front
Macy Gray - The Way
Jethro Tull - A Passion Play (40th Anniversary Edition)
Opeth - Pale Communion
Pink Floyd - The Endless River
Queen - Live at the Rainbow 1974
Reveller - Pulse (2:51)
St. Vincent - Digital Witness
St. Vincent - St. Vincent
Kate Tempest - Everybody Down
Thompson - Family
Various - Celebrating Jon Lord
Various - Prog 26: As Sure as Eggs is Eggs
Various - The Dreamers
Kristeen Young - The Knife Shift
...I don't think I've ever bought as many albums in the year they were released as this year. On the other hand, it's clear that baby boomer music still has a massive hold over me.
Trying something different: I got Spotify back in April and it's really helped open up my listening habits. I've since become a paying subscriber, because even though I only have it on my computer at home, it's helped me find new (to me) music and touch base with old favorites, while keeping cost down compared to buying records.
Spotify has playlist sharing as a feature, and I've enjoyed some blogs that use sharing to spread, such as Spotify Classical. I think even more than YouTube, this feature will change how people write about music, with 'music criticism as consumer advice' becoming completely obsolete, and 'music commentary as swapping notes' replacing it. So heres an attempt, and if it's not too much work I'll do it every week or so. Here are some songs that caught my attention in the past few weeks.
This is the playlist and because I don't expect everyone to have Spotify, I'll try to find alternate links for the songs as much as possible.
1. Nicole Atkins: Brooklyn's On Fire off Neptune City, 2007.
The opening bars of this, after the instrumental intro, just fill me with joy every time I hear them. While I'm still gushing over those chanted phrases, the song develops into a lush 6/8 melody with even lusher strings. And what a voice. The one thing I am not sold on is the lead guitar, but I can ignore it easily.
2. Kate Bush: The Song of Solomon off Director's Cut, 2011
The second song on Director's Cut, and the second song I ever heard on Spotify as the main trigger for me getting Spotify was to hear this album the moment it was available. As long-term readers may have guessed from the lack of a review of the album, I'm lukewarm about Director's Cut as a whole. Some of the songs work, some don't. "Song of Solomon" is one of the songs that do deliver on the album's promise: Kate has succesfully shaken the cobwebs off the original production and added gorgeous, sexy new vocals and understated live percussion. If all of the album was this good, I'd be all over it.
3. Unicorn Ensemble: Nevestinko Oro off The Glory of Early Music, 1997.
This instrumental tune is the traditional dance that Kate Bush based "The Sensual World"/"Flower of the Mountain" on, and it's quite gorgeous in its own right. The Glory of Early Music is a Naxos compilation of music from before the era of the Classical composers, and that colours this interpretation. The version in the Youtube vid is the same one, even if credited differently.
4. The Damned: Grimly Fiendish off Phantasmagoria, 1985.
(This is an actual video, so I'm showing it larger)
I saw this on Shakesville and loved it from the opening bars on. I did find myself checking the video to see where Captain Sensible was, before concluding that evidently he wasn't on it. That shows how little I knew about the Damned: I had some inkling that they'd had a bunch of line-up changes, splits and reunions, some of which did and some which did not include the Captain. I also knew that they were one of the legends of punk rock, that they'd changed styles a lot, and that they'd made quite a few albums that didn't live up to the group's reputation. But I was fuzzy on the details, and hadn't actually heard much of their music. After hearing this, I'm trying very hard to catch up.
To some people, this early goth hit off 1985's Phantasmagoria will be among the records that don't live up to the group's reputation, but I can't get enough of it. Musically, it sounds like a cross between Adam Ant and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, with harpsichords for extra colour. The delivery is confident, like a group on top of its game, and the singer's voice just fits. Phantasmagoria as a whole doesn't convince me yet, but this single is one I can listen to over and over again, and have.
5. Martyn Joseph: Giant Panda's Giant Thoughts off The Wildlife Album, 2005
I found the The Wildlife Album compilation while looking for Roy Harper songs on Spotify. The Wildlife Album is an acoustic, singer-songwriter oriented charity compilation including some big names such as Harper, Bert Jansch and Jan Akkerman, some second-tier names like Gordon Giltrap and Steve Ashley, and some artists that I hadn't heard of before at all. Martyn Joseph is in the latter category for me, and stood out because of his bluesy, tasty guitar playing. Nothing special, just very well done. Oh, and the lyrics made me laugh with their panda's-eye-view. I could not find this one on YouTube, sorry.
6. Movits!: Äppelknyckarjazz off Äppelknyckarjazz, 2008
My old friend DFG sent me this and I loved it at once. Sweden's Movits! Seem to be the missing link between Caro Emerald and Kaizers Orchestra - more polished than the latter, more edgy than the former.
7. Janelle Monáe: Tightrope featuring Big Boi, off The ArchAndroid, 2010 Video here, embedding disabled
Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon repeatedly praised Janelle Monáe's concept album The ArchAndroid as the best album of 2010. I don't know if it's quite that good; it's not exactly genre-defying and the album drags a bit in the second half. But knowing me, the time to ask me what the best album of 2010 was will be around 2015. The ArchAndroid is good enough, though, to break my resistance to contemporary R&B, and this track in particular, with its funky beat, smooth bass line and Monáe's vocals, is one of the things that have been bringing joy to my life lately.
8. Corvus Corax: Satyricon, off Seikilos, 2002
Another band that I've known about for years now, but never got around to digging into. Aggie's seen these guys live in Germany and reports that they're very good and entertaining live. I now have a Spotify playlist for this genre of music, containing about 200 tracks. This instrumental is one of their most popular and it did jump out at me at first listening. I expect there'll be more of this type of music in Saturday Spotify posts if I do more of them.
9. Happy Rhodes: Ra is a Busy God, off Many Worlds Are Born Tonight, 1998
(Video is not the studio recording, but a live recording from one of Happy Rhodes' house concerts. These have probably reached more people than the concerts originally did).
I purchased about 60 Happy Rhodes tracks in one swell foop from both iTunes and Spotify, after doing price comparisons for each album to get the cheapest combination. This did result in me getting Happy Rhodes overload, and I still have a hard time identifying which of these 60 tracks are my favorites. This track from Many Worlds Are Born Tonight, her only album that charted, is a contender. But it doesn't really matter anyway, because what I love about Happy Rhodes is her voice. I don't really care what she sings, as long as I can listen to her singing.
10. Siousxie and the Banshees: Cities in Dust, off Tinderbox, 1986.
For years I had this mentally misfiled as being by Sinéad O'Connor. Upon hearing it again, it doesn't sound as big as I remembered it, but I also find it a lot more enjoyable now that I've stopped fetishising guitar-based rock like I used to. The mid-eighties generally were a much better musical period than I remembered them being.
11. Amy Winehouse: Rehab off Back to Black, 2006.
You know this. You've probably heard it enough to get sick of it. I for one am not sick of it yet. After Amy Winehouse was found dead in her hotel room, one of my Facebook friends referred to it as an "unintentionally ironic anthem to denial and an unexamined life" (among other unkind words), which did not make sense to me until I realised that what he actually meant, whether he realised it or not, was that "Rehab" was a completely flawless creation: a work of art so perfect that all the self-observation, self-reflection, and self-interrogation that went into making it have become invisible. What a compliment to pay to an artist on the occasion of her death! The song also has a good beat to it.
(This was written over the course of an afternoon inbetween doing about 500 other things, because there are two people in the house who are sick and neither of them is me. Perhaps I'm better off posting vids to Facebook/Waffle in drips and drabs like that Facebook friend does)
To fill the time while waiting for The Director's Cut, I'm gonna post a Kate Bush cover every day for a while. In the past decade, covers of Kate's work have proliferated and I expect to be easily able to fill a month.
Canadian singer Pat Benatar was probably the first person to cover a Kate song, back in 1980, so who better to kick off with. Until today, I had never heard this version in my life, but it's actually pretty good. Not the most imaginative one, especially tempo-wise, but pleasing to the ears.
Randy Newman (composer): The Princess and the Frog Original Soundtrack
2009, purchased via iTunes, January 2010
I used to dislike Randy Newman's music, or at least the music he released under his own name. I hated his voice: slurred, mumbly and capable of communicating only one attitude: sarcasm. I found his choice of subject matters lazy and the endless stream of character-based songs tiresome. I was aware that some or all of these criticisms could be leveled at some of my favorite songwriters (I'm a rabid Richard Thompson fan, and he writes in-character songs that he performs with a severely limited vocal ability), but in Randy Newman's case, I found the combination particularly grating.
Over time, though, I did learn to appreciate that Randy Newman could put words together like few other songwriters could, and that his melodic and lyrical style and piano arrangements were always instantly recognisable. And I did like his soundtrack for the movie Ragtime when I watched that many years ago. Unsurprisingly, then, I was delighted while watching The Princess and the Froglast Christmas, to recognise Newman's style from the first few notes of the first song that was played. I would get to hear Newman's writing for characters that weren't set up for him to mock, and I would get to hear them performed by singers who aren't Randy Newman. In my review of the movie, I already mentioned that the songs fit the characters and pace of the movie well. A year later, I can also confirm that they stand up well on their own. My favourite of the songs is "Friends on the Other Side" performed by Keith David and with irresistably menacing, bass backing vocals that are just barely under control. "Down In New Orleans" performed by none other than Dr. John, is another great performance that makes me wonder what Randy Newman's regular albums would sound like if Dr. John performed them. On the other hand, it took me a while to warm to the instrumentals without the visuals to accompany them. They are perfectly listenable, but on their own, they are incomplete.
One odd track out is "Never Knew I Needed", which I don't even remember from viewing the movie, but which must have been played over the end credits. It's a straightforward R&B track written and performed by Ne-Yo. It's a good song that managed to break through my resistance against electronics-heavy R&B, but it does not belong in the same musical universe as the rest of the music on this record.
Lately I've been reading more music blogging, both from my perennial favourite Popular and the now defunct but fully archived The War Against Silence. Popular is of course Tom Ewing's rundown of every UK number 1 since the charts started. The War Against Silence was a deeply engaged, deeply subjective run-down of all the albums and singles glenn mcdonald bought and found worth writing about - and boy did he buy a lot! TWAS comes very close to my ideal of how to write about music, and indeed has already helped form that idea within weeks of me plunging into the archives: glenn's writing is passionate, informed, based on a catholic taste with few genre-related biases, and most of all explicitly rejects the Robert Christgau model of music reviewing as consumer advice, a model of which the limitations become painfully obvious from diving into Christgau's own online archives or checking his reviews of older albums that have since become foundational records for entire genres of music.
Reading TWAS has made me more interested in writing more music reviews myself, and writing them in a manner that is more similar to his approach, hopefully without copying it wholesale. So I've decided to go back to where I mostly stopped writing about music and review the records I've bought since, in more or less chronological order based on when I bought them. I rarely actually buy music the year it comes out and am often happy to get to know an artist more than a decade after I've become aware of them. This is why I don't do End-Of-Year-Lists: they'd all be full of albums released ten years before the year under review.
Richard Thompson: Daring Adventures 1986, purchased in Nashville, Tennessee, November 2009
Of course, the first problem I run into is that I might as well copy wholesale what glenn mcdonald wrote about Thompson's Amnesia, swap out the album title and call it my review of Daring Adventures:
I love [Daring Adventures]. I rarely see anybody else cite it as one of Richard Thompson's finest moments, and if I had to weigh in on that subject in front of a critical audience I suppose even I'd probably chicken out and side predictably with I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight or Shoot Out the Lights. Those are important albums. [Daring Adventures] is not important. But it is, I've discovered, [a] Richard Thompson album I [enjoy a lot], even more than Watching the Dark for all its stunning live recordings. I pull out a whole row of them, and look over their track listings, and even though there are dozens of great Richard Thompson songs that [Daring Adventures] doesn't have, I remember what listening to those ten songs in that order feels like.
And so on. See? That works quite well. The individual songs don't have exact analogues like that, but they do have "Jerry Scheff's gruff bass and Thompson's berserk solos". I don't quite see eye to eye with mcdonald about the other albums, mainly because I don't think the rest of Thompson's Mitchell Froom-produced work was on quite as bad a downward trajectory as he thinks it was (though as someone who got on the Thompson train with Mock Tudor - in the year it came out, no less - I was glad that he changed producers and approaches). But there is a freshness to both Daring Adventures and Amnesia that the albums from Rumor and Sigh on did not have. Some of the songwriting sounds like a repeat of earlier work: "Baby Talk" for instance has a clear ancestor in "Tear-Stained Letter" from Hands of Kindness, but is still enjoyable on its own terms. Daring Adventures is not a great album, but it is a very good one that fulfilled my need for Richard Thompson music between November 2009 and the day I bought Dream Attic.
Alice Cooper: Trash
Alice Cooper: Hey Stoopid
Alice Cooper: The Last Temptation of Alice
1989, 1990, 1994. 3-pack of CDs, bought in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in December, 2009
But by December of that same year, after months of buying no music because I was stashing all my disposable income into my savings account, I needed a larger music fix. At that point, it would not even have to be music I loved - I was quite happy to get some music I knew I would kinda sorta like, knowing it is cheese. So when I saw a rack full of cheaper-than-iTunes, 3-in-one CD packages and noticed that one of the items on sale was an Alice Cooper three-pack, I told Aggie: "I know this is cheese, but I'm buying it anyway."
At the time, that might not have been entirely fair on Alice Cooper. I knew the singles that came from these albums, "Poison", "Trash", "Bed of Nails" and "Hey Stoopid", but not much else. I knew that Trash was the third album after Alice had come out of rehab, and that the post-rehab albums tended to alternate between commercial (Constrictor, Poison) and heavy rock-oriented (Raise Your Fist And Yell, Hey Stoopid, but I had more or less lost interest by the time The Last Temptation came out, even though it was cross-marketed with a comic written by Neil Gaiman.
But even with that in mind, I realised that the only way I'd be able to handle three Alice Cooper albums at once was by sticking them in the random iTunes rotation. So I did, and a year later, each of the tracks on the albums has only been played six or seven times. And they're wearing out their welcome. There are a few standouts, mostly "Hey Stoopid" the single, but the songs from Trash in particular have started getting on my nerves. Back in 1988, I thought the combination of Alice Cooper's gruff voice and the writing/production of Bon Jovi producer Desmond Child was a brilliant idea, a good contrast artistically as well as a way to bring Cooper's ideas to market. Now, it sounds like Child has tamed Alice Cooper more than Cooper managed to adrenalize Child. The backing vocals grate, the drums reverberate to simulate power rather than projecting it, and the songs just plod along. Listening to the album on headphones is even more uncomfortable - Steven Thompson and Michael Barbiero's mix sounds anemic and unassured when listened to that closely. I am sure the album was exactly what Cooper needed and intended, and the formula worked as it was a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic. But to say it has aged poorly is putting it mildly. It's not so much cheese as sludge. I do like the guitar playing on this record, when it's audible, so it's not a complete loss. Those arpeggios in "Poison" never get old. Hey Stoopid is a big improvement. The sound is leaner, with the backing vocals in particular taking a step back, and the guest appearances on the opening title track by Slash and Ozzy Osbourne manage to catch my attention every time, and while nothing else on the album is quite as good, the songwriting, including the songs co-written by Child, is more varied and interesting. There are nice details in the intros and at the ends of the songs that reward listening on headphones, and I loved that moment when my oldest stepson walked by just as "Wind-Up-Toy" ended. "That is WRONG!" he said, clearly spooked. And it is. On the downside, there's a little too much reliance on epic ballads, particularly "Might As Well Be On Mars", which seems to go on forever, but I do like this one a whole lot better. Still, it's not much to get passionate about, which is unfortunate for the type of review I want to learn to write. Maybe it's simply not a good idea to buy records you expect will be cheesy, because you may end up being right? The Last Temptation also has the nice productional touches, decent songs, a guest appearance by Chris Cornell and slightly more time for ballads than it should have. It's a little closer to the sort of album Bob Ezrin would produce than to a real hard rock record, but that's not a bad thing. It lacks stand-out tracks but hangs together well and is easily the least cheesy one of the three albums. It's nice. Just right now, I don't want to hear any more Alice Cooper. Three albums in a row really is more than I can handle.
Fleet Foxes: Sun Giant
2008, purchased in Murfreesboro, Tennessee
So let's talk about Fleet Foxes instead! I first heard them in 2008 when my then driving instructor, of all people, played them in his car. He thought they sounded like the Byrds, I thought they sounded like Fairport Convention. I loved them right away. I bought their debut album on iTunes, loved it some more, but did not investigate them any further. The five-song EP Sun Giant was more or less contemporaneous with the debut album; Wikipedia says it was even recorded before the debut album. I like it every bit as much, but both records do have the same problem: the songs are very nice and pleasant to listen to, but don't really stick in my head afterwards. In this case, I don't think this is such a bad thing; I get enough of a kick out of the shimmering, stately, post-folk-rock sound they make not to mind that these songs are for living in for as long as they last, rather than for recalling afterwards. Both Fleet Foxes records remind me of the air vibrating off a hot pavement on a warm summer's day. Even without memorable songwriting, they have quite enough to offer.