In some ways it feels as if the rock ‘n’ roll era is folding into itself!
In the same week I witnessed the extraordinarily famous Eagles performing live in L.A.’s newly revamped Forum, I can now pick up a brand new box set of most of the Beatles albums, or a superb DVD celebrating the history of the Doors, and eagerly await this weekend’s Grammy Awards--which all these years later will feature a performance by former Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr!
But between you and me, it’s the Super Bowl halftime show—coming Feb. 2 and featuring modern day titans Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers—that’s pointing the way toward pop music’s glorious future!
Oddly, that same future is bottled and sitting in my refrigerator!
The Beatles: The U.S. Albums (Capitol) Now that major labels have taken to boxing up the complete works of such artists as the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, it’s tempting for any rock critic to simply review one of these collections and say it’s no good! How could anyone sane resist? But instead, we must dwell on nearly everything but the music—the packaging, the liner notes, the sound, the price—and provide your standard consumer service. So to that end: What’s good? The music, of course. The packaging--for Americans of a certain age it will be a kick to again see such album jackets as Beatles ’65, Beatles VI, etc. And the sequencing. For a certain Stateside generation, this is precisely how we grew up hearing these guys. What’s bad? Some purists are decrying the fact that the actual recordings here are drawn from the recent British remasters rather than the original U.S. Capitol albums, and pointing out that 8 of the 13 discs here have already been released in two earlier Capitol box sets showcasing the band’s American releases. All of that may be true, of course, but then there’s this: The price is right, the sound is fine, and most Americans first heard these records on record players with miniscule, monophonic speakers. And for that matter, most of those people's hearing is likely shot. I’d call this a win in nearly every way.
Against Me!: Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble) After all the hubbub, a vital, very strong album and compelling testament by Against Me! Loaded with some intensely personal material penned by the band’s vocalist Laura Jane Grace—really one of pop music’s more interesting figures at this point—the album rocks, the songs are about things few bands have ever really sung about, and the emotion and intensity are everything anyone who likes rock ‘n’ roll could ever want to hear. There is no sense of compromise here—certainly not musically—but there is an accessibility that is surprising and likely to attract a number of new fans. A very good, out of the ordinary showing for a 2014 rock ’n’ roll band.
Mogwai: Rave Tapes (Sub Pop) There are a handful of bands that I’ve liked and, upon finally seeing them perform live, thought they might be the best live band ever, and Mogwai is one of them. Though I’ve lost track of them a bit, and had my memory rekindled by their work on the Les Revenants TV show, this—their second Sub Pop set—is just as good as I’d expect, comparatively low-key, colorful and moody, but subtly powerful all the same. Tracks like “Repelish”—with its narration re “satanic messages” and its recurring “we gotta live for Satan” passage—are one of a kind, an odd mixture of humor, electronica, exotica, death rock, and stuff that just really sounds good at this very moment. They are unusual, they are unusually talented, and they are, as always, better than most. Recommended.
Damien Jurado: Brothers And Sisters Of The Eternal Son (Secretly Canadian) An excellent showing by one of those comparatively unsung, pioneering singer-songwriters who’ve kept at it year after year—and amassed a considerable fan base in the process—this new set is one of Jurado’s finest. Intricately arranged, laden with the sort of lyrical imagery that would probably make a heck of a lot of sense with repeated listening, Brothers And Sisters is an expertly constructed set that will probably not bring him a wealth of new fans but is bound to enthrall his current ones. I like it very much, and suspect you might as well. Check it out.
Colin Blunstone: On The Air Tonight (Zip) Anything sung by Colin Blunstone—lead singer of the UK’s pioneering Zombies—is generally worth hearing and this new release, officially the singer’s 11th solo set, absolutely is as well. Featuring a mix of originals, tasteful covers, and a revisiting of prior classics like “Though You Are Far Away,” the album is fresh, upbeat and—considering that Blunstone was hitting the charts in 1964 with the Zombies’ “She’s Not There”—notably contemporary. I’m still amazed at how well the Zombies’ music has held up over the years, and albums like this only add to the legacy.
together PANGEA: Badillac (Harvest) A great showing on the newly revived Harvest label, Badillac signals the return of the vastly energetic, gleefully punkish California band that has already made a name for itself on the hip Burger Records imprint—and it’s good stuff. Out there, fun, deliberately unpolished but no less rhythmically precise, it’s a well-recorded capturing of a gleeful, inspired band that oddly invokes the past and the future simultaneously. I suspect we’ll be hearing lots more from them.
The Doors: R-Evolution Blu-Ray (Eagle Rock Entertainment) While it might appear that the Doors have been documented to death, I have to give a total thumbs up to this new video collection, which is offered in various formats—DVD, Blue-Ray, Deluxe with book, etc.—looks and sounds remarkable, and while not comprehensive, is admirably thorough in offering up the Doors’ career on video. While I’m personally thrilled to once again witness the band’s performance of “The Crystal Ship” on American Bandstand—which I last saw at my Uncle Joe’s house in Easton, Penn. on, apparently, July 22, 1967—I’m even more impressed by the bonus features here, especially the 1966 Ford training film Love Thy Customer and the 1967 Malibu U Doors outtakes. Can’t believe there was any more in the well, but here it is—and it’s good stuff.
Alcest: Shelter (Prophecy) Would be nice to fully plugged in and familiar with this French band from the get-go, but must confess that this set—their fourth—is the first I’ve heard. I like it lots. The word “shoegaze” keeps getting tossed up a lot lately, and you could easily say this fits the bill—that Slowdive’s Neil Halstead appears within helps—but between this and the latest album by the Cheatahs, which keeps getting played out my way, I’m inclined to suggest it’s feeling like the early ‘90s again. Which I can deal with.
Nashville Pussy: Up The Dosage (Steamhammer) Must confess to liking Nashville Pussy since their early days: goodhearted people, lots of fun live, the right approach to rock ‘n’ roll, and a sense of humor and subtlety to be envied, as indicated by tracks here such as “The South’s Too Fat To Rise Again” and “Before The Drugs Wear Off.” An unexpectedly polished but riff-filled collection, Up The Dosage and the upcoming Say Yes To Love by Perfect Pussy should both delight search engines worldwide!
Various Artists: 2014 Grammy Nominees (Atlantic) Jammed with 18 super hits by the likes of Bruno Mars, Robin Thicke, Lorde, Katy Perry and just about everyone else who’s popular, this album is all the music you need to buy this year! Particularly if you’re writing a thesis and want to prove a point!