Monday, November 01, 1999

Tina Turner - Twenty Four Seven

You may ask yourself, how could Tina Turner have her highest album debut in her career now after 44 years of performing. It's a pretty simple answer. Material. Like any actress eyes scripts before accepting a project, Tina has pulled together songs that really hit home. This is not meant to discount her performance. Tina just has an uncanny knack for finding her strong points and building on them instead of coasting on her latest release Twenty Four Seven.

You could start with the infectious "When The Heartache Is Over." With the Metro production team that helmed Cher's comeback hit "Believe" you might expect Tina might use some vocal manipulation but instead you get raw emotion with upbeat production in this optimistic 'love survivor's anthem'. The danceable "Whatever You Need," funky "Absolutely Nothing's Changed" and even the beautiful ballad "Falling" are classic Turner. Tina also reunites with Bryan Adams on the energetic angst ridden romp "Without You."

This album is phenomenal and in my opinion one of her best ever. Sometimes you can feel better hearing a song and knowing that someone else has been where you are. This will always be Tina Turner's best asset (yes, her legs run a close second) and why you can't help but connect with her.

Friday, October 08, 1999

David Bowie - 'hours...'

What keeps a Duke in power? Money? Political clout? No... I'll tell you what does - pushing the boundaries of your empire while not losing ground. And after 20+ albums the Thin White Duke has expanded his domain and solidified his community. We could spend hours just talking about but we won't. David Bowie has blurred genre lines with 'hours...' and that isn't as bad as it sounds.

The most noticeable change starts with the opening track and first single "Thursday's Child". I really don't know what to make of this song. The ballad's instrumentation reminds me of Sting's "Fields Of Gold" but vocally Bowie is bold and out in front with a strong presence. It's a beautiful song but seems so out of character that it makes you wonder where he's going with the rest of the album.

The rest of the album can be seen as an energetic rollercoaster. The song "The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell" is one of those high points where you see nothing but a steep drop ahead and you are going to enjoy the plunge. Reeves Gabrels' guitar rips through this rocker and is the metal bar keeping you in the seat. I will be shocked if this isn't a single.

One stand-out has a history to it. Bowie held a song contest on his web site in which the winning song would appear on this album. Alex Grant won the contest and provided part of one of the most predictable tracks on 'hours...' titled "What's Really Happening?" Bowie's vocal delivery fits this song's mechanical prose while pushing an atmosphere reminiscent of "Ashes To Ashes" and "Space Oddity". Definitely not memorable enough to be a single but it is a good break from some of the songs that seem like filler for the better tracks.

For a known musical chameleon, David Bowie has created an album that defies categorization upon every listen. I'm still left with beautifully haunting lines like "I've got seven days to live my life or seven ways to die." What that line from "Seven" means will probably forever evade me but it is just like this album. Somewhere between Rock/Pop and Rock, Bowie has claimed new territory but we just don't know what to call it yet. Whether you get sick or not on rollercoasters will help you decide if it's a keeper.

Friday, September 24, 1999

Nine Inch Nails - The Fragile

If you take into consideration that it takes Def Leppard 5 years to record an album, we expect it is because they are getting a quality product out. Trent Reznor took a 5 year hiatus from Nine Inch Nails, produced a few soundtrack albums and recorded a few songs for them. Instead of releasing standard album of 10 to 12 tracks, Reznor blasts back with a double-CD 23 track extravaganza.

Since 1989's debut Pretty Hate Machine, Nine Inch Nails has been about one thing - pushing the boundaries. The Fragile is no different. Reznor doesn't mince words and punches his way into reality from the starting track "Somewhat Damaged" right through to "Ripe (With Decay)". This is a sonic rollercoaster that has been unleashed on the world. This is the battered and bruised yet still fighting Nine Inch Nails that we've been waiting for.

Standout tracks include: the aggressive "We're In This Together", the lamentful "The Great Below", the infectiously danceable "Into The Void" and the funkfest "Where Is Everybody?" I will even go out on a limb here - this sonic soundscape is my pick as the best album released in 1999.

Monday, July 05, 1999

Gene Loves Jezebel - Desire: Greatest Hits Remixed

Sometimes you just can't take a key element away from something and have cohesion. John Mellencamp once said that in recording "Jack And Diane" they kept the beat with handclaps and when trying to pull them off - the song fell apart. This is one of those times.

The record label tries to promote the band as some sort of Bauhaus yet only sparse guitar remains on some tracks (if that.) Some darker bands can be hardened in a well-produced mix but here Gene Loves Jezebel has pretty much been cut out of the product. "Jealous" from what is arguably their best album Kiss Of Life is the only track from it on this collection. Yet, they found space for two versions of two other songs "Always A Flame" and "Desire". Three of those four were 'undesirable'. "Suspicion" is also missing when actually it could have used a remix. It also sounds as if the vocals have been re-recorded with less emphasis... the high notes are nowhere to be found. It's as if particular songs were meant to be slaughtered and thankfully they left the other songs alone! Even the signature howl at the beginning of some of the songs is missing.

There are some redeeming factors to this collection. Actually, the highlights are the first songs on this disc. The Mission U.K.'s mix of "Heartache" puts a very nice spin on a great song. The remix by Ex Voto of "Desire" and JLab of "Jealous" do the songs justice. They have subtle keyboard textures, a throbbing bass line and a kick beat that follows through the songs as it it were meant to be there.  Spahn Ranch put a great mix of "Motion Of Love" together into what could be a dance floor anthem.

If you are a diehard collector, some of these remixes might be worth your while. Otherwise, I'd highly recommend waiting for a real "Best Of" collection. I feel more than half of these 14 mixes yanked the essence of the band out of the music for a chance at releasing a product. Give me the originals any day.

Friday, July 02, 1999

Styx - Brave New World

The first studio album since 1990 from the recently reunited Styx has one of the most apt titles I've ever seen. Brave New World starts with soul-infused track "I Will Be Your Witness" bears semblance of a classic Styx. If there is a hit on here this one is screaming "Play Me!!" In all honesty, I was expecting more after the first track. Maybe it was the rollercoaster intensity of the track order... I was ready to say hideous things about the album until my 8th listen.

It is like watching The Phantom Menace - the first viewing you are waiting to see characters you remember and remain judgemental about who looks like a Jedi or not. The second time you pull the expectations and see it for what it is. After repeated listenings, several tracks here start to grab your ears. You forget that you are looking for another "The Best Of Times", "Babe", or "Renegade" and see the songs for themselves.

James Young's dark vocals on "What Have They Done To You" are mesmerizing when countered with Tommy Shaw's own pipes. Shaw's guitar controls most of this album - sometimes so in your face that Dennis DeYoung ballads like "Goodbye Roseland" seem stark and empty. Yet, there is redemption with "While There's Still Time" which also has single written all over it.

The book Brave New World by Aldus Huxley described an inhumane society controlled by technology and a loss of soul. It can describe some of this album. But without the Huxley reference this is a brave attempt at changing the sound of a band that has spent three decades pleasing fans. Despite a few very notable tracks, I wasn't sure I liked where their new world was going. But, I'm starting to like it more and more.

Friday, April 23, 1999

Electronic - Twisted Tenderness: Deluxe

Raise The Pressure, Electronic's 1996 release, was met with mixed reviews as many felt it was less imaginative than their self-titled debut. Radio airplay didn't help the album either but it did hurt the release of the duo's follow-up album which wouldn't get released in the U.S. until nearly a year and a half after it's U.K. counterpart. Koch Records decided to not only release the album but to release a double-CD deluxe version containing extra tracks and remixes.

On the very first track, Electronic step out of all expectations and throw down the gauntlet with the rock meets drum 'n bass first single "Make It Happen." I will probably always be haunted by how the harmonica and keyboards meld on "Vivid." Who would have thought to add the harmonica mastery Johnny Marr had previously applied on The The albums to an Electronic album? The title track opens with keyboard stabs that I'd expect from Electronic or New Order but Bernard Sumner turns it into something new with a tremendous vocal performance on a throbbing bass line and rock drums. Actually, the rock edge is all over this album on tracks like "Prodigal Son" and "Like No Other." The only song that really sounds like any of their earlier work would be "When She's Gone." The beauty of "Warning Sign" (amongst the bonus tracks on the disc 2) alone makes going with the deluxe release worthwhile. My only complaints are with the 4 remixes of "Prodigal Son" (I mean, come on...there are 8 other tracks there without remixes) and "Radiation" which is definitely b-side material.

Lyrically, Sumner has grown exponentially. Marr's influence seems more present and adds some new sonic avenues to a duo that might have been pigeonholed by their name. I was wary of buying this album as an import ($30 for a CD? Shoot me now!) when it was first released. I'm happy that I didn't. I wouldn't have listened to anything else.

Tuesday, April 06, 1999

Various - Virgin Voices: A Tribute To Madonna: Volume One

You can go through life denying it but one of the most important performers of the 1980's was Madonna. Her music defined a female artists role in music during the decade. Everything from her attitude, dress, changes in musical direction and even the controversy has kept her in the public eye and ear. This brought her a total of 19 songs in the Top 20 of Billboard Magazines charts during the 80's. And with all this I have been burnt out on her since 1986. It wasn't until last year that I finally bought a cd of her's You Can Dance (a collection of dance remixes to dj.) Most likely the blame could fall on the radio overplay of her songs. I always figured that she never stopped long enough for a backlash to occur.

The release of Virgin Voices which is a tribute to the music and marketing genius of Madonna marks a change in my opinion. Voices contains 14 tracks from "Holiday" by Heaven 17 to "Frozen" by Gene Loves Jezebel. The artists on the cd also shows a great diversity in some of the people who she has inspired. Cleverly this 'then to now' collection is covered by some of the 80's finest artists and some upcoming ones. Dead Or Alive come up with a brilliant reworking of "Why It's So Hard" that makes you wonder where they've been hiding their talent. I can keep praising the likes of Berlin, Annabella Lwin (Bow Wow Wow), Front Line Assembly, KMFDM and even a bonus backing vocal on one track by Boy George... but you just have to hear it.

So the best and the worst of this collection... The worst Loleatta Holloway's cover of "Like A Prayer" could have been produced better. She has a soulful voice which could have been used better if the whole song was done in a gospel tone. Instead it's backed with something resembling disco and pretty much mocks the original. Unusual, but the best I heard here was Information Society's version of "Express Yourself." I don't know if this song ever could have been an anthem... but it feels like one now. This sounds like they wrote it! Which is a compliment to both Madonna and InSoc. I can only hope this is released as a single.

So I hit a crossroad with this album. It has opened my eyes to the 'Material Girl' in me and I have a renewed faith in the music of the 1980's. Also, I am very impressed by the recordings put forth by the performers here... there is a future beyond our last decade and this has helped them move right into it. This is a definite buy and I'm eagerly awaiting Volume Two which promises more of what I loved here. I feel like breaking out "La Isla Bonita" right now.