Hello and greetings from Austin, Texas--that marvelous city which once a year hosts the exciting South By Southwest Multi-Media Something-Or-Other Conference, where I am currently ensconced, preparing for a week of marvelous music, marvelous interviews and exclusive performances, and marvelous opportunities to toss a few down in the spirit of our marvelous music industry!
Incidentally, have I told you I own the rights to the word "marvelous"?
But before it all begins, before I solemnly walk the streets in search of the latest superstar-to-be from Chile, New Zealand, or Punta Gorda, Florida, I thought I'd examine this week's hottest new releases and help set the stage for what may be the most exciting 2012 in music history!
Perhaps I'll list a few interesting new releases and say a few words about each of them!
And with any luck, those words will be related to the albums themselves!
One Direction: Up All Night (Columbia) Rightly referred to as "the biggest UK breakout group of 2011," One Direction are a fascinating bunch indeed! Consisting of five charismatic youths all of whom are enormously tall--word has it somewhere between 7 and 8 feet each!--the band are an absolute smash overseas, and why not? With such a strong repertoire devoted to the peculiar problem of excess height, such songs as "I Want," "I Wish," and "Taken" have clearly resonated with an international audience themselves highly attuned to being "different," "not one of the crowd," "a troubled, sincerely haunted individual," and other such personal dilemmas! Title track "Up All Night"--a heartbreaking ballad recapping each of the guys' individual traumas the night they were each turned down for prom dates because they were "too tall"--says it all and then some: Today's best artists simply grit their teeth, accept life as it's been dealt to them, and then crouch with their shoulders stooped so no one will realize how tall they are! We've come a long way, baby!
Meat Loaf: Hell In A Handbasket (Sony Legacy) In many ways, the fact that Amazon customers who bought this also bought Bad Attitude, Bat Out Of Hell III and Dead Ringer by the same artist couldn't say it better! People who like Meat Loaf really like Meat Loaf! According to his label bio--and it's important to note that label bios are always accurate and never stretch the truth--this is the man's 11th studio album, and follows his groundbreaking Bat Out Of Hell, which sold more than 15 million copies in the US and over 42 million worldwide! In short, he's a frickin' legend, and I for one am glad we have him! Of course, Bat Out Of Hell came out in 1977, which was 35 years ago, so Meat's current platter, every bit as contextually captivating as "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" was in its time, now deals with the contemporary problems he and his peers face--so you can bet "The Perils Of Probate," "It's Time For That Unpleasant Physical Exam," and "Who Really Pays For Medicaid?" will enervate that loyal fan base yet to desert him! Do you think his real name is Meat?
The Decemberists: We All Raise Our Voices To The Air (Capitol) I do indeed like the Decemberists, and not just because of that moment some years ago when I mentioned to bandleader Colin Meloy that his music reminded me of the Incredible String Band's and he didn't look at me funny--and I think this new live album is an absolutely fab example of their quality, quantity and derring-do!
A 2-CD, 3-LP live set featuring some of the finest music from their now-lengthy career, this set showcases the band's best songs in admirable manner, played live compellingly, excitingly, and better than you might think if you're inclined to think everything recorded after 1992 is somehow handicapped by being recorded after 1992! Meloy is a fine writer and singer; the band's song's are subtle and, though they'd hate to hear it, slighty art-rockish veering on prog, and that they continue doing what they do despite absolute apathy from today's horrendous radio programmers, makes them veritable gems worthy of worship, high praise, and actual album-buying! They're better than almost everybody!
The Ting Tings: Sounds From Nowheresville (Columbia) A fine British duo perhaps most admired for the sexy surname of band member Jules DeMartino--so good, but still, somehow, not quite...right--the band returns here with a peppy second album certain to excite the many who purchased its predecessor We Started Nothing and, after several years of nothing more from the band, can now buy a hot new thing featuring skeleton faces and the word "Nowhereseville" in its title! Wisely, the cute Brit pair has realized that these days, artists are often held accountable for the work in actual courts of law, and by titling their album Sounds From Nowhereseville, they couldn't be held legally liable were there virtually nothing on this disc at all! That said, as virtual skeletons,with neither an esophagus or tongue to depend on, there's an awful lot of clicking and chattering to be heard here, but I for one think it's great clicking and chattering! How can they be so good?
Cannibal Corpse: Torture (Metal Blade) Certainly one of the more compelling Death Metal bands of our time--at least among those who favor wearing pink t-shirts and penny loafers--the dudes who continue offering up "maniacally precise, soul searing death metal" return here with a staggering concept album featuring faithful covers of James Taylor's "Fire And Rain," Harry Chapin's "Cat's In The Cradle," and--most diabolically--Rihanna's "Umbrella"! That their covers so faithfully evoke the actual originals is a true indicator of the band's sadistic genius: apparently, they don't like these songs--and by playing them virtually by rote, they've reasoned, they can make an aesthetic point that may indeed be beyond most other, lesser bands! Word is they may be guest judges on Idol next year!
Shooter Jennings: Family Man (eOne Music) An excellent new album from Shooter Jennings, famous not only for his celebrated parents Waylon and Jessi, but for the quality of his work, which has perhaps borrowed from the talent of his gene pool but never from its actual sound. Again veering off in unpredictable directions, Shooter is heard here with a superb band, singing meaningful songs veering more country-ish than has been the norm, but never to the point of cliché. He is not a small talent and is getting better with every album.
Big Brother And The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin: Live At The Carousel Ballroom 1968 (Columbia/Legacy) A fine recording that displays legendary singer Joplin in the context where she most excelled--with the strangely underrated Big Brother, who were a fine, bluesy noise band a little bit ahead of their time--this set depicts the group going through the not-inconsiderable motions that would eventually launch Joplin to worldwide fame. A perfect selection of tunes, the album is a welcome slice of the way things used to be, strangely marred only by the cover picture--an oddly "contemporary" portrait featuring Joplin midway between Kelly Clarkson and "hot babe" territory which, realistically speaking, was never what she was about at all. Still, good news that this exists in the first place. Recommended.
Michael Chapman: The Resurrection And Revenge Of The Clayton Peacock (Blast First Petite) I don't think anyone would have suspected years ago that British folkie Michael Chapman--whose classic Fully Qualified Survivor album might've inadvertently been picked up purely because of the involvement of guitarist Mick Ronson--would become such a latter-day object of fervent adulation, but indeed he has. After a significant run of high-quality albums on the Harvest and Deram labels, after a batch of guitar instructional and actual "new age" albums, the 71-year-old Chapman has been re-evaluated, deemed worthier than some might've thought, and is now featured in purely "improvised noise" format, via Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace label. I would heartily recommend you pick this up in MP3 format from Amazon at this moment, as it now costs less than $2 and is very much worth the money.
Robin Trower: Farther On Up The Road: The Chrysalis Years 1977-1983 (Capitol) The second of two worthy EMI collections of prime Robin Trower material, this 3-CD set wraps up the former Procol Harum guitarist's Chrysalis catalog very generously: Featured are 6 full LPs, including In City Dreams, Caravan To Midnight, Victims Of The Fury, B.L.T., Truce and Back it Up, and a few rare B-sides as well. Aside from being an exceptional player, Trower was an at times overlooked album-maker--most of these discs are well-thought-out, interestingly programmed sets that were historically overshadowed by his more commercially popular earlier albums. But in 2012 they sound substantial indeed--and kudos to his label for making them available in this generous format. Great stuff.
Say Anything: Anarchy My Dear (Equal Vision) Word is that the fifth album from Say Anything "finds the band attempting to write their first true Punk album, lyrically"! I'm, like, really excited and wish them the best!