I've often felt that the best way to review music--to really get at the innate greatness or, for that matter, horror, of any new album release--is to completely flush your mind of all preconceived notions of what constitutes good, bad, or compellingly worthless!
And so it is that this evening, just a few short hours ago, I took the wearying drive home and enjoyed a complete listening of the third album by Blood, Sweat & Tears!
I'm happy to report that the album's many highlights--including "Hi-De-Ho," the boldly sexual "Lucretia Mac Evil," and simply the best version of "Sympathy For The Devil" that's ever been recorded--wiped me out emotionally, once again making me long for the innate charisma that BS&T vocalist David Clayton-Thomas almost evilly flaunted, and made me the perfect receptive audience for this week's new releases!
Just in case, I've decided to write this blog with a paper bag over my head!
The Black Keys: El Camino (Nonesuch) When it comes to garage/blues rock duos named after the piano keyboard, you can't get much better than the Black Keys! A collaboration between original duo Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney and world-famous Danger Mouse--the animated superhero who delighted British television audiences during the '80s--this new set is a rock 'em, sock 'em, thrill-a-minute display of no-holds-barred rock 'n' roll, pure and simple! Well, wait a minute...it is kind of blatantly derivative, so I wouldn't exactly call it "pure," and there are a couple of incredibly esoteric harmonies on display here, so it's probably not "simple," though cynics might cruelly call them "wrong notes" and be done with it...but, that said, I think the album boasts an absolutely lovely cover--and I'm sure the vinyl version of this set, which costs nearly $30, is chock full of those sort of pops and clicks and inner groove noises that convey the sort of authenticity that money alone can't buy! Frankly, I would buy several of these, and tell many of those people that I long to impress--that I want to like me--that I did! Perhaps then they'd accept me for what I am!
Neil Diamond: The Very Best Of Neil Diamond: The Original Studio Recordings (Columbia/Legacy) Track for track, you can't go wrong with this comparatively concise collection of Neil Diamond hits: It features most of the fantastic early Bang Records hits ("Sweet Caroline," "Song Sung Blue," "Solitary Man," "Kentucky Woman"), his latter-day tear-jerkers like "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" (with Barbra Streisand), and those inspirational verses from "Love On The Rocks" and "America" that sound particularly fetching when you catch yourself miming to them in front of a mirror with your favorite cocktail in hand! Plus, what I find especially fascinating is the reaction you'd likely garner were you to simply break out some of these songs in public, ideally addressing them to a woman you've never before seen in your life! "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon," you might casually announce to an unsuspecting elevator companion; "Forever In Blue Jeans," you'll cry, pointing downward to her slacks! Even the inevitable police escort that would follow might merit a heady chorus of "I Am..I Said"! I'd catch up on some Kahlil Gibran down at the station but, rest assured, I'd tell no one there...not even the frickin' chair!
The Roots: Undun (Island Def Jam) It is admittedly a pathetic world where I find myself praising a highly skilled and musical band not so much for the tremendous effort they've put into recording a brand new album--and the Roots are very good indeed--but merely because they played excerpts of Fishbone's "Lyin' Ass Bitch" when Republican president hopeful Michele Bachmann walked onstage during a recent Jimmy Fallon show! It's like...that alone makes them great! And their new record worthy! Do such feelings lessen my impact as a cutting-edge music journalist? Does my bold candor make you respect me less? Did I leave my pants in the back seat of your car? Who cares? This record is great in principle!
Korn: The Path Of Totality (Roadrunner) When all is said and done, is there any more avant-garde or daring band than California rockers Korn? At it for nearly 20 years, the cheery, good-times combo continue their peculiar quest to popularize breakfast cereals--as their name alone makes abundantly clear--and here have penned a rock opera about a young, tattooed gentleman who has spent his entire life in preparation for that fateful morning when his mother plops down two boxes of cereal at the breakfast table--Special K and Total--and forces him to make the choice of a lifetime! Does he shoot her? Heck, who wouldn't? With the ever-present wisdom of rock god Fieldy driving them on, the charismatic rockers bring along guest stars like Skrillex and a bunch of other dudes that, like, come on, no one in their right mind has ever heard of, and have produced a CD that will likely last forever! That is, if it's buried deep enough and the PVC never degrades! Here's hoping!
Chevelle: Hats Off To The Bull (Epic) When it comes to powerful Chicago-based rock band Chevelle, there are always surprises! And with their newly energized sound--which recalls their earlier work in terms of pure, burning intensity--and the marvelous album cover, which I assume is a deeply felt protest regarding the sadistic horrors of bullfighting and the pointless deaths it regularly celebrates, it's time to interpret the deliberately cryptic album title and determine its true intent, anagram-wise: Blastoff Hotel Hut? Football Heft Tush? Hot Ballet Shutoff? Both Lofts Hateful? Lethal Booth Stuff? Flab Elf Tooth Huts? Heck, I remember when I never even paid attention to this stuff!
Robin Thicke: Love After War (Interscope) This is admittedly a giant aesthetic leap forward--and whether longtime fans of R&B singer Robin Thicke can make that leap without scratching their heads and wondering where their longtime favorite singer is wandering off to, artistically speaking, remains to be seen! Still, from its hilarious cover parody of some "straight" guy right out of the '60s, and its oddly specific theme--a suite of songs about a party in which attendees feverishly argue about the relative merits of Jimi Hendrix, Arthur Lee and Eric Burdon--one gets the feeling that Thicke has finally found his artistic roots, has settled into a groove that is unimpeachably his and his alone, and that that is one heck of a funny last name! He sure has a high voice!
The Cure: Bestival Live 2011 (Sunday Best) In case you've forgotten, the Cure remain one of the biggest bands of the last few decades, and this new 2-CD live album--which catches Robert Smith & company headlining an Isle Of Wight-based festival a few months back--runs through 32 of the songs that have helped establish their longevity. While nothing is spectacularly new or shocking, it's a good career recap, all profits are being donated to the Isle Of Wight Youth Trust, an apparently worthy charity, and the sheer familiarity of most of these songs speaks volumes for the Cure's impact over the years. Recommended.
Shakira: En Vivo Desde Paris CD/DVD (Sony Latin) A worthwhile document of the live show lately given by international superstar Shakira--the bright, extremely photogenic performer whose hips are prone to occasional shaking--this live Paris concert performance is best enjoyed via the live DVD footage, which spotlights the singer most appealingly, features many of her best-known songs, and boasts an album cover uncannily reminiscent of what took place at this writer's house this Thanksgiving! That said, Shakira's take on preparing brussel sprouts with stout and bits of bacon goes tragically unexpressed, but I'd be willing to bet she has an opinion! She's so cool!
A Perfect Haze: The Illustrated History Of The Monterey International Pop Festival by Harvey Kubernik & Kenneth Kubernik (Santa Monica Press) Like to put in a plug here for this very well written, gorgeous book commemorating the historic Monterey Pop Festival; aside from being a joy to leaf through, it reinforces the strangely jarring feeling that holding an actual book in your hands--rather than a text file you can read on your Kindle, iPhone and computer--remains one of life's more subtle pleasures. The authors' exceptional work here (featuring contributions from no less than Lou Adler and Michelle Phillips), alongside the eye-opening photos and graphics, makes this one of the year's most essential book purchases. Do check it out.
Allman Brothers Band: S.U.N.Y. At Stonybrook (Peach Records Associates) Unlike the Grateful Dead, whose live work has been documented to the point of near absurdity--not to knock that, especially if you're a Dead fan--the classic Allman Brothers Band line-up, including late, legendary guitarist Duane, has been comparatively under-represented. This very welcome set, recorded in New York in 1971 just six weeks before the axeman would die in a motorcycle crash, showcases the band at the peak of their powers and is a reminder of all that band had to offer before fate unfortunately intervened.