Monday, November 11, 2002

Boston - Corporate America

Eight years after the release of their 4th album Walk On, Boston have returned with two new band members (Kimberley Dahme and Fran Cosmo's son Anthony) and a batch of 9 new songs. How will new band members and a prolonged absence affect the sound of Boston?

Corporate America opens strong right from the start with the catchy rocker "I Had A Good Time." This has everything you'd expect from Boston: tremendous guitar work, drums leading the way and great vocals. If this single doesn't get airplay near you, harass your local DJ. "You Gave Up On Love" is the definitive spurned lover's power ballad. Odd for a band to spend so long on a studio album but put a live version of a song from their last album on it but this version of "Livin' For You" is a treat. Also interesting is the Kimberley Dahme-penned and sung "With You" which I could see getting good airplay on a country radio station if someone snuck it in the programming. "Didn't Mean To Fall In Love" begins as a beautiful ballad with a lot of promise but the additional big top organ sound makes me cringe. The remaining songs on the album are fair to decent including the overly-dramatic title track and the Oasis-esque "Cryin'."

I can't recommend this album unless you are a fan and even then some of the tracks will remind you where the skip button is on your CD player. This isn't because the songs are bad... some are just musically more advanced than the lyrics which come across amateurish. I'm sure part of Corporate America is a Boston album yet for some reason amongst some good songs and classic harmonies are the stuff B-sides are made of.

Friday, October 11, 2002

Soft Cell - Cruelty Without Beauty

After releasing Last Night In Sodom in 1984, Soft Cell's Marc Almond and David Ball went in different directions. Almond had success with his solo career and brought his flare for the theatrical performances on tour with him. Ball went on to do a lot of writing, remix and production work along with a few 'one-off' projects. By 1990 he had joined up with Richard Norris as the ambient/techno/dance duo The Grid until 1996. After an 18 year break, a reunited Soft Cell return with Cruelty Without Beauty.

When I listen to a comeback album, I am judgemental. I think about what the artist last sounded like and what people remember them sounding like. On Cruelty Without Beauty, Soft Cell kick things into gear with "Darker Times." Darkness and seediness aren't new to the band that brought us "Sex Dwarf" but it seems to have entirely infected songs like the sordid "Caligula Syndrome," the humor-tinged ballad "Last Chance" and even the sleazy "Desperate." This isn't a bad thing. It seems to be balanced by the dance romp "Sensation Nation" (I mean, come on... they even mention happy shiny people) and the closing track "On An Up." As strong a song as "Monoculture" is... the deep and beautiful dance track "All Out Of Love" (no, it's not an Air Supply cover) would be my pick as first single. "The Night" brilliantly takes one eerie (almost Phantom Of The Opera-esque) keyboard line and converts it to an aggressive dance track. Although I'm still trying to understand the lyrical complexities, "Together Alone" is a song that I still find myself singing along to anyhow.

I recall reading about a new sugar substitute is being worked on that is 1000 times sweeter with no calories. For some reason, distance and time not only concentrated Almond and Ball's talents but when returning... but made them (if possible) even more Soft Cell. If you are a fan, you should have slept in front of the store to buy this disc when it came out. This isn't the album you waited 18 years for... it's better.

Monday, August 05, 2002

Bruce Springsteen - The Rising

The Boss has returned with his first new studio release since 1995's The Ghost Of Tom Joad. Possibly more important is that this is his first new album with The E Street Band since 1987. What does Bruce Springsteen, one of America's true song writing talents, have to offer the new millennium?

Springsteen couldn't open this 15-track album better than with the magical "Lonesome Day." Songs like "Waiting On A Sunny Day," "Let's Be Friends (Skin To Skin)" and "Mary's Place" are the uplifting fun songs that make you feel good to be breathing. It's great to have songs like those to break an emotional roller coaster spiking with a dagger-sharp emotional song like "You're Missing." "Further On (Up The Road)" is the dark gritty no-nonsense rocker that you knew Bruce had in him. "Counting On A Miracle" wraps you up a rocking love song disguised in fairy tale imagery. "Paradise" is exactly as it's titled yet soft, sultry, sexy and touched by sadness. You never get a sense of overproduction even with the abrupt change when you hit the stand-out track "Worlds Apart." The world music feel is something you don't expect and you have to wonder if Peter Gabriel slipped this song to Springsteen (kept checking the credits for Youssou N'Dour.)

This album was a great surprise. Upon listening, you can't predict anything to come. The song writing is crisp storytelling that grabs and holds you fixed. You can almost forget there the whole E Street Band in the mix until repeated listenings. The only thing rising here is Bruce Springsteen's career... again.

Def Leppard - X

Def Leppard have clawed their way back up from what many may call commercial missteps and (following up the success of 1999's Euphoria album) they now release their tenth studio album, aptly titled, X. Oddly enough, this is their first studio release with more than one producer.

With a mix of producers, you'd obviously hear some style differences. One example is "Gravity" which makes use of some slight electronic touches with a near rap-paced chorus. The beautifully crafted first single "Now" contains guitar-work that goes from beautiful harmonics to aggressive near-Metallica moments without losing a step. Joe Elliot shows he still has amazing pipes as the band rips through the catchy "Torn To Shreds." "Scar" is a bittersweet gem with scorching solos. The haunting acoustic ballad "Long Long Way To Go" is a hit just waiting to happen (it is rumored to be the second single). The energetic rocking "Cry" is good reminder of where the band has come from while "Four Letter Word" has a ballsy strut to it (even though I think I missed what the word was somehow.)

X is a triumph. This will go down as a classic Def Leppard album right next to Pyromania and Hysteria. The only negative thing that I could say about it is that X is heavy on emotional content but that's not entirely bad either. The trademark band vocal harmony isn't lost here and helps hold things together well. I will go out on a limb and say this is the best album I've heard this year.

Friday, May 24, 2002

Poison - Hollyweird

Poison return with their first full studio release in... well it's been nearly a decade since Native Tongue. Don't get me wrong. They have been releasing new studio material but the last two albums have been accompanied by live tracks and MTV Unplugged recordings. Which makes you wonder, what makes this album stand on it's own.

This album probably should have been titled Retro for many reasons. Lyrically, a lot of the songs are stuck in a time warp. Case in point: "Shooting Star" and "Wishful Thinkin'" (which follow each other in the track listing) deal with the same small town girl gets off the bus in Hollywood in search of fame that their 1988 hit "Fallen Angel" did. Even "Wasteland" refers to "...fallen angels and broken dreams." Then there are two songs about someday becoming rock stars with a drug references galore which makes me wonder if they forgot they are or were there already. "Stupid, Stoned And Dumb" is actually as retro as it can get with opening harmonies but also a cleverly wrapped band satire.

All the songs really gel in their arrangement. The band breathes new life into the classic Who track "Squeeze Box." But, it's C.C. DeVille's vocals that make this album. "Livin' In The Now" is creative writing and musically raw leaning more towards punk than metal. The most brilliant idea this album brings forth is two songs with the same beat, same chorus but different verses and different singers: "Home (Bret's story)" and "Home (C.C.'s story)."

There is very little weird to Hollyweird. If anything, it suffers in some spots from potholes filled with rock clich├ęs. Overall, this album has a fresh approach musically and shows hints of something far greater to come.

Friday, April 05, 2002

Pet Shop Boys - Release

Returning with their 8th studio album, the Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have added the familiar face and guitar of Johnny Marr to 7 of the 10 tracks on the album. That by itself should change the direction of the album but instead of going for a harder and more aggressive album, the Pet Shop Boys have decided to show a more refined and mature side of themselves that we haven't seen since Behavior.

The album opens with the first single "Home And Dry" which is by-and-far the best song they've recorded in ages. When I heard the background music to the track on their Web site during a visit, I overlooked it as their version of elevator music. Amazingly simplified and lush textures... beautiful. You hear the term Beatle-esque used a lot but "I Get Along" is a subdued Oasis/Beatle-esque arrangement that I can mentally hear Noel Gallagher singing it while on a baby grand. Seems like the effects of Cher's "Believe" vocal production was not lost on the Pet Shop Boys' "London." The song could have been just a beautiful acoustic ballad but the vocal effect and some creative mixing make it even better. Without Marr's guitar-work songs like "Birthday Boy," "Love Is A Catastrophe" and "You Choose," the songs either would not have happened or would have become dance tracks. The love anthem "Here" for some reason reminds me of an unmessy car accident between a PSB chorus and an Erasure verse where both cars wind up wearing each others paint and look good in it.

Aside from "The Night I Fell In Love," I was amazingly surprised and delighted with Release. Tennant is possibly at his best lyrically and comes across as a more confident vocalist. This is a triumphant moment musically for a band that just keeps getting better.

Friday, February 08, 2002

Daniel Ash - Daniel Ash

It's been 10 years since Daniel Ash has released a solo album. More intriguing is that since 1992's Foolish Thing Desire, Ash has embraced technology more than ever. You can sense that direction being slowly forced on the last three Love And Rockets albums (Hot Trip To Heaven, Sweet F.A. and Lift.) But with Love And Rockets now on a possible permanent hiatus, Ash returns with a new band and a new sound.

There is an unmistakable groove going on within this album as Ash plays his to strengths: strong percussion, haunting vocals and at least one classic remake. Songs like "Mastermind," "Hollywood Fix" and "Rattlesnake" all have a strong dance influence (almost house meets trance) to them with some of them depending more on the beat but it works admirably. "Ghost Writer," "Chelsea" and "Walk On The Moon" shine with terrific writing and the trademark chill he can lend to his vocals. They almost seem to be placed on the album as a foil to the other album tracks to bring you to the next phase. The percussive-oriented "The Money Song," "Come Alive," "Burning Man" and "Trouble" also lend texture and substance to this collection. But for some reason Daniel Ash has always had that golden touch when it comes to remaking classic hits. We aren't left wanting in that department with a cover of the 1968 Classics IV hit "Spooky."

This is a cohesive collection of songs that can be called a thrill-ride without the 10-story drops. "Spooky" is a brilliant inclusion and I can only hope for a video for the single (someone call Christina Ricci or Thora Birch quick!) I've always considered someone releasing a self-titled album later in their career as having a lack of creativity but here I can say that Daniel Ash redefines himself and it's a bold new starting point.