Classic Rock Review

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Genesis Wind And Wuthering (1976)

untitledFrom johnmcferrinmusicreviews.org

Blah. You know, I’m all for bands evolving over time. After all, if you use the same style again and again, eventually it’s going to grow stale. BUT, I also firmly believe that changing is not enough – you have to change into something that, at the very least, displays relative advantages over the style you’re discarding. Alas, with this album, Genesis threw away large parts of their classic style in cold blood, only to replace them with genericism and dullness. Now, instead of taking a song-by-song approach with this fact, I decided it would be better to run down the list of traits that made classic Genesis so great in my eyes (and ears), and then to compare them with the inferior doppelganger in this incarnation of Genesis.

Good Genesis: Lengthy compositions with a clear sense of purpose and direction, as well as a solid melodical base. The song-structures were complex, but they always resolved themselves eventually, helping the listener not feel overwhelmed by the difficulty of the pieces. Or, alternatively, compositions of short or medium length, complex yet overwhelmingly interesting at times.

Bad Genesis: Lengthy compositions that seem to be long and complex solely for their own sakes (One for the Vine). The melodies in these are only occasionally memorable even after repeated listens, and they lack any obvious sense of direction or purpose (One for the Vine). They try hard for some deep beauty, but come up short because there’s no there there (One for the Vine). One also discovers a fairly large number of instrumental tracks (3 out of 9 songs) that, on the whole, don’t make a tremendous amount of impact (not to mention that one of them, Wot Gorilla?, is a shameless rewrite of Riding the Scree, and another one strikes me as a shameless rewrite of Ravine). The only one that consistently keeps my interest at all is In That Quiet Earth, and that’s because it has a decent Hackett-led passage and a stretch where the rhythm section becomes inexplicably heavy; whenever it becomes dominated by Banks, though, it becomes less much less interesting.

Good Genesis: Fairly diverse instrumentation, with at worst an acceptable balance between Hackett’s guitars and the Banksynths (which showed an acceptably diverse pallette of tones), as well as a healthy amount of acoustic guitar. Hackett was regularly (if not frequently) given a chance to shine, while Banks would occasionally have some blisteringly good moments. In addition, Banks could also achieve a high level of spiritual catharsis with his keys when he wanted to, not to mention the images he painted on The Lamb.

Bad Genesis: The balance between the guitars and keyboards isn’t as off-kilter as I used to think, but there are still problems in this regard. Hackett has a number of standout moments, but uncovering those only emphasizes the sense that, when he’s not doing something to stand out, he completely disappears from the mix. Banks dominates as always, and this is a problem given that he really seems pretty uninspired most of the time (yup, I mean that), except for some decent keyboard riffs. There’s some piano, which is sometimes used to good effect, but he relies strongly on some awfully monotonous sounding synths most of the time. I get that the point of the synths is to create some atmosphere, but egads, anybody can create atmosphere – it’s the KIND of atmosphere you make that matters, not to mention that you need to vary it at least a bit from song to song. Nope, the arrangements on this album, on the whole, are just not that good; I end up spending my time waiting for an interesting Hackett part (like the great solo at the end of One for the Vine that’s by far the best part of the track), and feeling bored most of the rest of the time. There are a lot keyboard parts on here that just SCREAM out “emotionally manipulative” to me, and I mean that in the worst meaning of the term.

Good Genesis: Often bombastic, often humorous and usually clever lyrics (depending on the author). Though Banks could certainly contribute a lamer here and there, Gabriel could come up with clever, non-cliched texts to counteract whatever stinkiness Banks or Mike might produce.

Bad Genesis: There are a LOT of lyrics on this album that fall between mediocre and horrible, and few that ascend to good (Blood on the Rooftops is rather nice here). In particular, I really dislike the lyrics to One for the Vine. This “alternative” perspective of Christ has no interesting philosophical ideas and no clever individual lines, and sounds to me like Tony thought that writing about a Messiah in a non-mainstream way would be enough to make it worthwhile. I just feel like it’s full of cliches, and full of preachiness, and I hate it completely. As for other songs, there are decent lyrics here and there, but not much I’d find as interesting as Squonk or Ripples.

Good Genesis: Peter Gabriel as lead vocalist. I know that it may seem obvious or, depending on your perspective, the cry of a deranged fan, but you have to remember – Peter had the uncanny ability to make even the most obscure and ludicrous tales and lines come to life by the sheer power of his voice. Even Banks lyrics could come close to enjoyability (e.g. Watcher of the Skies).

Bad Genesis: Wind and Wuthering, for large stretches, pulls off an absolutely amazing feat. See, there are many, many albums where the lyrics take a back seat to the music, and where one can successfully hear and enjoy the vocals without hearing the lyrics. W&W, on the other hand, has the distinction of being the only album in my collection where I hear the lyrics but do not hear the vocals. A paradox? Hardly. Throughout the album, it becomes painfully obvious that Phil, who isn’t that talented a singer in the first place, hasn’t the slightest clue what to do with the lyrics Tony presents to him to sing. Hence, if you thought his singing on Trick was a bit flat and emotionless, you need to hear Wind to hear what it’s like for a singer to be totally afraid to try any expressivness for fear of “getting it wrong.” The song where this hurts the most, actually, is the middle track, All in a Mouse’s Night. The lyrics are actually somewhat cute (though a bit too dry to be as humorous as they could be), and in the hands of Gabriel, it could have become a minor classic (just imagine him squeaking as the mouse or screeching as the wife or hissing as the cat). But alas, Phil doesn’t change his tone one iota through the track, and the result is pure, unadulterated filler, albeit with another nice Hackett passage buried in the last minute of the song..

As you can tell, I’m not too fond of the stylistics of this album. Since I haven’t done much but bash it so far, though, I should explain why it gets a 6 instead of a lower grade. First of all, with regards to the last problem (the vocals) – because three of the songs are pop songs (or, at the least, songs with a relatively clear direction and with easily discernable hooks) instead of Banks prog-ravings, Phil is able to contribute fully solid vocals on each one of them. The first, the hit Your Own Special Way, is a decent Rutherford acoustic ballad, and although it’s certainly way too long (and the midsection way too soft and mellow), it also features a fully memorable chorus and a pleasant verse melody. Much better, though, is a classic in the Collins/Hackett collaboration Blood on the Rooftops. In addition to the aforementioned pretty acoustic intro, it also (a) features a well placed mellotron that sounds better than any of the other synths on the album, and (b) contains a beautifully romantic melody with some well-timed emotional climaxes. It’s EASILY Collins’ best vocal performance of the album, and if anything, makes me glad the band would start to shift towards pop from the next year onwards.

I’ve also developed some fondness over time for the closing Afterglow. I don’t think Collins’ vocal part is great here, and I don’t think it has as much power as was probably intended (especially with it following two instrumentals). In fact, truth be told, I don’t think it’s an amazing studio song … and yet, I’ve heard it and enjoyed it so many times as the closing part of live medleys that some of that fondness can’t help but wear off onto this version.

I should also give props to the album opener, Eleventh Earl of Mar, which has grown on me a lot through the years. I find the intro and outro a little annoyingly over-the-top overblown, but there are some neat Hackett effects that break through the synths, and give a deceptive sense of how much Hackett to expect on the album. I also think the vocals are pretty unremarkable (I feel like the song is better when I’m singing along to it), and I find it a little irritating that the vocal melody seems more than a bit borrowed from The Battle of Epping Forest. Still, it has some great organ riffs, more energy than the rest of the album combined, some powerhouse drumming and bass work, some decent lyrics (even if they don’t come through well), and a good balance between the intended beauty of Tony’s keys and the power of Steve’s guitar.

But again, there’s not much else positive to be found on this album, at least not to my ears. It’s not quite as horrendous as I initially thought, but egads, it’s definitely NOT deserving of being called a fan-favorite. I mean, if you like 70’s Genesis just because they were progressive, you could like this album. But if you like 70’s Genesis because they were a special kind of progressive, chances are good that you’ll be disappointed as hell in this.

Slight addendum: Many years after writing this review, while I still think that Unquiet Slumber for the Sleepers is distressingly similar to Ravine, I do kinda like the slow unwinding of the quiet melody in the background. To be honest, while I don’t find any of the last three tracks (Unquiet, Quiet Earth, Afterglow) individually very great, put together they make for a pretty decent 10-minute album-closing suite (nothing amazing, but definitely decent).

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Genesis Wind And Wuthering | | Leave a comment

Oasis Dig Out Your Soul (2008)

Oasis-Dig_Out_Your_Soul-FrontalFrom pitchfork.com

As startling as it was to see Noel Gallagher attacked onstage last month at the Virgin Festival in Toronto, it was arguably the most exciting thing that’s happened to Oasis in over 10 years. For a band that once valorized rock’n’roll stardom as a vehicle through which to escape routine day jobs, Oasis have gone about their own rock’n’roll stardom as if it were a routine day job, their last decade of recorded output amounting to a model of passionless, assembly-line predictability. And yet, the Mancunian rockers have mostly held onto their status as the People’s Band despite being 14 years and several million pounds removed from their scrappy, working-class roots– mainly because (as their concert set-lists and greatest-hits CD tracklists prove), much like their legions of fans, Oasis only want to hear songs from their first two albums, too.

No one knows exactly what compelled 47-year-old Daniel Sullivan to bodycheck Noel into his stage monitors (busting the guitarist’s ribs and forcing several show cancellations in the process); one can only hope he wasn’t so much a psychopath looking to off a celebrity as a concerned fan hoping to shake some life into his favorite band and literally push them back to the underdog position that inspired their most enduring anthems. But we’ll have to wait another album to see if the incident instills in Noel a newfound hunger and fire; for now we’re stuck with Dig Out Your Soul, which like every Oasis album from 1997’s Be Here Now onward, makes cursory gestures toward making the band’s mod-rock more modernist, before reverting back to the same ol’, same ol’.

The precipitous quality decline in Oasis’ output since Be Here Now – whose increasingly uninspired successors make it seem not so bad in retrospect – can be measured two ways: the ballads got more overbearing (“Little by Little”, “Where Did It All Go Wrong?”), and the rockers more sluggish (“Go Let It Out”, “The Hindu Times”). At the very least, Dig Out Your Soul makes inroads to redressing both issues: the lilting sea shanty “Falling Down” is Noel’s most graceful balladic turn since B-side “The Masterplan”, while lead single “The Shock of the Lightning” is exactly the sort of tune Oasis needs more of to stave off impending geezerdom, a hard-driving strobe-lit rocker– complete with a rejuvenating vocal turn from Liam and a suitably Keith Moon-like drum solo from moonlighting Who drummer Zak Starkey. It could be their most robust song since “Morning Glory”; only a clunky middle eight lyric– “Love is a time machine/ Up on the silver screen”– keeps it from entering the highest echelons of their canon.

The song’s brisk velocity makes you wonder why Noel Gallagher doesn’t write in this mode more often, as it still seems to come easy to him; as usual, he runs into trouble when he tries to affix weighty themes to flimsy songs. Two songs in a row talk about “the rapture,” but don’t look here for any insights about the political dimensions of contemporary evangelicalism: While “The Turning” at least tries to back up its vague love-as-religious-experience imagery with some suitably stormy acid-rocked intensity (guided by Starkey’s loose rhythm, a backing choir, and a repeated single-note piano stab), the Noel-sung “Waiting for the Rapture” is just a limpid cock-rock stomp speckled with the usual Beatleisms (“revolution in her head”) and Lennon lifts (specifically, the guitar riff to “Cold Turkey”).

Sadly, this sort of lead-footed blooze seems to be Noel’s default setting now, from the opening “Fat Bottomed Girls” crunch of “Bag It Up” to the awful honky-tonk exercise “(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady”. Bassist Andy Bell likewise contributes the standard-issue “Nature of Reality”, a pub-rock slosh that never delivers on the promise suggested by its “Helter Skelter” intro. Guitarist Gem Archer fares better with his songwriting ration, “To Be Where There’s Life”, which at least hitches its Beatles reference of choice (the wiggy sitar drones of “Tomorrow Never Knows”) onto a more exploratory psych-funk rhythm, coming up with the sort of hypno-pop groover the Verve forgot to write for their recent album.

But while you’d think a band seven albums into its career would outgrow its formative influences (or at least try to), the Gallaghers’ Fab Four embrace feels more suffocating than ever, with Liam’s “I’m Outta Time” pushing Oasis to new depths of Lennon grave-robbing: just when you’re about to forgive the schmaltzy “Free as a Bird”-style arrangement and the cribbed piano chords from “Jealous Guy”, they drop an actual Lennon interview sample in the fade-out (because naming his kid after the guy clearly wasn’t tribute enough). While slavish Beatles idolatry has been Oasis’ stock and trade since day one, the band’s definitive early material at least roughed up the Fabs’ pop classicism with pronounced punk, glam, shoegazer, and Madchester influences. However, over the past 10 years Oasis have gradually curbed those corrupting devices without replacing them with any new aesthetic inspiration. So all we’re left with at the end of Dig Out Your Soul is a promise from Liam to “solider on”– not because the band sounds eager to take on the next generation of Britpop revivalists, but because at this point that’s all Oasis really know how to do.

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Oasis Dig Out Your Soul | | Leave a comment

Oasis Be Here Now (1997)

FrontFrom dailyvault.com

How do you follow up a multi-platinum masterpiece? The Beatles followed up Sgt. Pepper’s with the sprawling, flawed White Album. Fleetwood Mac followed up Rumours with the sprawling, flawed Tusk. And Oasis, that most classicist of Britpop rock bands, followed up (What’s The Story) Morning Glory with the sprawling, flawed Be Here Now.

Those first two follow-up records were double albums; this one is 71 minutes, close to double album length. It’s as if the band feels they have free reign to say whatever they want and that every note of it should be captured on vinyl. For a band with rampant egos such as Oasis, one can only imagine the spectacle and grandeur with which they would present their next slice of music…and Be Here Now does not disappoint on that level.

Four of the 12 songs here are around seven minutes long, one is nine minutes long and the rest are close to four or five minutes each, save for the closing instrumental coda. The music is blown up larger than life, with piles of instruments (guitars mostly), extended jams and long intros/outros that bloat this way beyond what it needs to be. Yet the hubris on display is exactly why people like Oasis in the first place, in essence making Be Here Now more of the same, albeit inflated to cartoon proportions.

“D’You Know What I Mean” starts things off with an airplane drone that crashes into the song, a swirling epic that is more about the production than the actual songwriting. Still, it sounds so good – and Liam Gallagher’s voice is as fine as ever – that it doesn’t really matter. As a leadoff single from the album, it was about as ballsy as one could get (7:41? Really?), but it’s pure Oasis.

Much of the swagger of this album comes from the band actually being the best instead of aspiring to be, the way they did on Definitely Maybe, so there’s a sense of invulnerability that pervades the music. Something like “My Big Mouth” would have fit in on that debut; here, it is given wall-to-wall guitar overdubs and played with absolute mid-tempo confidence. Actually, a lot of the songs are like that around the middle of the album, but none are truly memorable in the way the best early Oasis could be.

“Don’t Go Away” is one of the better songs, a relatively scaled back slower piece with some of Liam’s best singing to date and one that points the way the band’s music would eventually take from Heathen Chemistry onward.

The album closes with two epics this time around. The first is “All Around The World,” which starts slowly and continues to add on layers of sound (guitars, strings, brass Liam’s increasingly higher voice) for nine minutes, creating a soaring effect that sounds wonderful, even if it doesn’t have much to say or fails to create a mood the way “Champagne Supernova” did.

It would have been a fine album closer, but the seven minute “It’s Getting Better (Man!!)” gets that honor. Instead of a slow build, this one starts off loud and refuses to relent, even though it stays pretty safely hidden behind a wall of guitars the entire time. A change of dynamics would have helped, or some more chords, or maybe cutting out a couple of minutes and moving it up in the track listing.

The main problem with Be Here Now is not that it’s too much of a good thing, but that it’s similar to an Easter egg in that the delicious chocolate shell opens up to reveal a hollow inner core. Oasis didn’t have a lot of songwriting to do, so they instead piled on the sound to make what little they had sound good. It succeeds, but it leaves you feeling empty, and that ultimately keeps this from being the classic it so badly wants to be.

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Oasis Be Here Now | | Leave a comment

Al Di Meola Elegant Gypsy (1977)

325006176_fb9ae10669_zFrom jazzmusicarchives.com

For ‘Elegant Gypsy,’ Di Meola carries a similar line-up over from his first album and produces a more consistent record. While it follows a similar pattern in structure and sequencing, it’s more satisfying overall.

If the songs are much the same texture-wise, using percussion, a tight rhythm section and speed-driven guitar work, along with often atmospheric keys – it’s no surprise that he choose to refine the successful sound from ‘Land of the Midnight Sun.’

After the steady opening of ‘Flight Over Rio’ with its nice tempo shift in the middle, we have the more contemplative ‘Midnight Tango’ which is probably the highlight of the album. Smooth but still surprising, it’s graced with evocative solos from both guitar and piano, and seems to be a step forward in arrangement for Di Meola. Here he gives the song a lot of space, choosing his moments on electric guitar carefully, while also incorporating more acoustic playing.

‘Mediterranean Sundance’ continues the acoustic theme – in the form of a duet between flamenco legend Paco de Lucía and Di Meola. It’s stunning (and I do have a soft spot for flamenco guitar) perhaps not simply for their dazzling fretwork but the way it so effortlessly brings Spanish imagery to mind, it’s one of those pieces (a little like ‘Lady of Rome…’) that transports your mind. While it would be revisited and expanded years later on Friday Night in San Francisco, this version is still wonderful.

Following the duet is ‘Race With Devil on Spanish Highway’ a menacing track that features drummer Lenny White’s second fine performance on the album, and one that again displays the speed we’ve come to expect from Di Meola by now.

‘Elegant Gypsy Suite’ is a little more of a mid-tempo piece and a satisfying conclusion to the album, its bass and key sound hinting at material that would be covered on Meola’s follow up ‘Casino.’

Another fantastic album of Latin Jazz fusion, four stars.

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Al Di Meola Elegant Gypsy | | Leave a comment

Santana The Woodstock Experience (2009)

MI0000891922From musicbox-online.com

When half a million people clogged the highways, back roads, and surrounding communities of upstate New York in order to descend upon Max Yasgur’s farm in August 1969, the commercial aspects of the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival became forever overshadowed by the counterculture’s tilt toward mainstream acceptance. In fact, the event has received so much hype over the years that the public’s memory of what was supposed to take place has become somewhat skewed.

For the past four decades, consumers have been faced with a seemingly never-ending stream of products, services, and concerts bearing the Woodstock logo. Yet, even these attempts at leveraging a brand name in order to recapture the lucrative possibilities that were lost amidst the rain and mud have done little to diminish the misguided perception that Woodstock was meant to be an idyllic vision of paradise. In truth, Woodstock was, first and foremost, a massive outdoor gathering that was designed not only to make a lot of money for its promoters but also to showcase new albums from veteran acts as well as an assortment of promising, up-and-coming artists.

Santana’s popularity was virtually nonexistent when the group took the stage at Woodstock. Formed in San Francisco in 1966, the band quickly became a mainstay at Bill Graham-run events in the Bay Area. Outside the region, however, Santana had yet to find an audience. A marketing campaign was devised to raise the ensemble’s national profile prior to the release of its self-titled debut. In effect, its appearance at Woodstock was the first stage of this plan.

The gambit worked, too, perhaps better than anyone had anticipated. Right from the start, Santana was a well honed and vibrant live act. Over the course of its career, Santana consistently has fared better on stage than it has in the studio. From beginning to end, its debut was remarkably strong, and it spawned a pair of hit singles with Jingo and Evil Ways. Yet, the effort still paled in comparison to the ensemble’s concert performances.

At Woodstock, Santana wisely treated the massive crowd to a slate of songs that highlighted the full breadth of its stylistic range. The muscular blues groove of You Just Don’t Care was situated next to the pop-imbued beat ofEvil Ways, and the thrashing, hard-charging Persuasion brushed against the seductive tribal rhythms of Jingo. The highlight, of course, remains Soul Sacrifice, a scorching instrumental number that suitably punctuated the ensemble’s brief eight-song set and left a lasting impression upon those in attendance.

In truth, there’s really only one difference between the studio tracks and the concert fare featured on Santana: The Woodstock Experience. Although both sets of material follow the same basic blueprint, the latter selections are edgier and more intense. Lined with the shimmering, soul-inflected sound of an organ, the furiously percolating rhythms and screaming guitar solos join together in a relentlessly compulsive dance of spiritual bliss. Santana: Legacy Edition offers a more complete portrait of the making of Santana’s eponymous endeavor, but the concision of Santana: The Woodstock Experience contains all of the important highlights from the era.

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Santana The Woodstock Experience | | Leave a comment

Lynyrd Skynyrd Gimme Back My Bullets (1976)

FrontalFrom Melody Maker

For such a great continent, America has given the outside world very few real rock and roll bands.

Many have watered down the true essence of rock to the point where it lacks attack. Lynyrd Skynyrd are one of the few exceptions.

Not many bands around play with such an earthy passion. The music is from the roots and gives the band a distinctive deep South sound, a sound that has, for the first time been captured effectively on record on this, their fourth album.

None of the three previous albums have come anywhere near capturing the potential of this wild bunch. Al Kooper, who produced them, didn’t show too much sympathy. Tom Dowd, who produced this LP, has managed commendably to discipline them and harnes the talent. Dowd has cleaned the sound considerably, but not too much. The grittiness that sets Skynyrd apart is still very evident. He’s put instruments in the proper perspective – lead guitars are heard only when necessary, the rhythm section is given a body that it previously lacked. It’s the first album Skynyrd have done without third guitarist Ed King, who quit during last year, and they’ve tailored their work so well that he is not missed. Gary Rossington and Allen Collins deal effectively with guitars, creating a beautiful marriage.

The band sound as a whole is more distinct than on any other album, due to the excellent vocals of Ronnie Van Zant. His unique offhand style must earn him a place with other great rock vocalists of today. Those vocals, combined with guitars that play mostly lead, set Skynyrd up as an outstanding rock band. The album’s failings are on side one. I’m left on occasions with the impression that Skynyrd are strangely trying to manufacture an anthem, bidding to record another ‘Freebird’ or ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. ‘Every Mother’s Son’ and ‘Trust’ are the tracks which offend. But the last track on that side ‘(I Got The) Same Old Blues’ by J. J. Cale could reach such status. The number is given a tremendous treatment – slide guitar on top of an infectious riff, a sluggish drum beat, a stop, and then Van Zant enters on vocals. The best track on the album.

The second side is virtually without fault. Skynyrd play at their best on songs which suit their style perfectly. It opens with the raunchy ‘Double Trouble’, with a female chorus adding the guts. The number was featured on the band’s last British tour. A screeching guitar solo opens ‘Searching’, another magnificent track. Drums are brought up in the mix to match the guitar work and thump the message home. The redoubtable Artimus Pyle, drummer, is at his crispest. ‘Cry For The Bad Man’ vies with ‘Same Old Blues’ for the honours. Again, it builds slowly to a crescendo, with the bass work of Leon Wilkeson well to the forefront. The highlight of the track comes with a joint lead from Rossington and Collins, notes come screaming out of the speakers. Gimme Back My Bullets will win Skynyrd many new fans in Britain. Southern Fried Boogie rules, okay.

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Lynyrd Skynyrd Gimme Back My Bullets | | Leave a comment

Santana Caravanserai (1972)

886978775023From fluffhouse.co.uk

Guitarist Carlos Santana and his band sound like they took a good dose of Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra and the like before making this classic album, a tasty mix of jazz fusion, psychedelia and Latin rhythms and melodies. The sequence comprising the first half is a whirling journey through contemporary jazz-rock, each short track offering a different view of the field.

Touristy and experimental it may be, but it shows that the strength of the rock heritage of fusion is in its conciseness, and it’s recommended if you find the likes of “Bitches Brew” too sprawling.

It begins with subtlety, gradually emerging from a desert haze to slow gloopy harmonies in the style of Miles Davis’s “In A Silent Way”. The second “movement” “Waves Within” cements the album’s jazz foundation even more firmly.

It introduces one of the album’s stars, drummer Mike Shrieve, thumping out an exhilarating rhythm to carry Santana’s crisp guitar flourishes. Dirty wah-wahs on “Look Up” then land us in the realms of funk. Which curiously was the direction Miles Davis was taking around the same time…

When the first actual song “Just in Time to See the Sun” arrives, I see why they did well to stick to instrumentals on this album. The songs are easy-going jazz pop in the manner of Canterbury prog (Caravan et al.), but the wispy and flat vocals, here and elsewhere, are the only thing to let the album down. So it’s a great relief when the climax of the sequence, “Song of the Wind”, arrives.

This must be the place to go to hear Santana’s renowned guitar, delivering a sequence of effortless, supremely lyrical bluesy solos. It’s heading towards symphonic prog rock in its scale.

The tunes of the songs themselves aren’t weak, and the pick of these is “All the Love in the Universe”. Here, yet again, they sweep away the relatively wet singing with a dazzling instrumental, propelled by a breathlessly sputtering bass line. This introduces the album’s darker second half, which enters a hazy psychedelic world with “Future Primitive”, a tentacled percussion workout for conguero Mingo Lewis and timbalero Jose Areas (the album’s cover notes taught me two new words!).

The most Latin of the songs, “Stone Flower” and another hyperactive instrumental “La Fuente Del Ritmo” keep the energy up before the massive finale “Every Step of the Way”. After teasing us with some Bitches Brew-fashion slow brooding in the first three minutes, they suddenly kick up the tempo and pull everyone together for a no-holds-barred conclusion.

Including yet another new flavouring in a band arrangement in the style of Gil Evans (the orchestrator for Miles Davis’s “Porgy and Bess” and others). And a psycho-eyed flautist doing inhuman things to his instrument.

Highly recommended, especially to prog lovers wondering what that jazz fusion thing is all about.

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Santana Caravanserai | | Leave a comment

Oasis (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? (1995)

tumblr_m98qfeU4Um1rd2fmzo1_500From about.com

With (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, Oasis build off the success of their sterling debut album, Definitely Maybe. Though less of a guitar-rock record than Definitely Maybe, Morning Glory boasts a more melodic, introspective quality with several spectacular ballads serving as album highlights. Oasis have never been shy about wanting to be one of the biggest bands in the world, and with Morning Glory, they’re well on their way.

Relationships Gone Wrong

Oasis are led by singer Liam Gallagher and his songwriting brother Noel. And while Noel’s lyrics aren’t particularly strong or memorable, the muscular power of his music, matched with Liam’s endearingly nasally vocals, help push the album’s themes across. Morning Glory deals largely with relationships, but rather than the typical lovey-dovey sentimentality of pop bands or the furrowed-brow angst of grunge, the group’s songs are wistful and melancholic.

If Definitely Maybe felt bratty and exuberant, like a fun-filled night out on the town, then Morning Glory sounds like the morning after, suffering from a hangover and assessing the damage done. Morning Glory may seem less exciting than its predecessor at first, but its rewards are deeper and more profound.

Beautiful Ballads

A trio of superb ballads form the heart of the album, and they offer three different viewpoints on the difficulties of making love last. “Wonderwall” is a nervous assessment of a relationship at a crossroads. Singing his brother’s words, Liam wonders aloud if love can ever heal the void within himself and whether his girlfriend still feels anything for him. “Don’t Look Back in Anger” is grander musically, conjuring comparisons to John Lennon’s “Imagine,” but its mood is much more downcast. With Noel taking over lead vocals, the song addresses a lover who has already abandoned the narrator, and now there’s only the wreckage of the breakup to piece through.

Finally, “Champagne Supernova” stretches past seven minutes for a psychedelic rumination that calls to mind what the Beatles achieved with their trippy “Tomorrow Never Knows.” The lyrics may be maddeningly vague – something about cannonballs and landslides – but the music creates a powerful mood of regret but also acceptance. As the last track from Morning Glory, “Champagne Supernova” ends the album on a note of reconciliation – even if the lovers can’t remain together, maybe there is still hope for a better day tomorrow.

A Song for Every Mood

Morning Glory’s hushed vulnerability may be the album’s most noticeable quality, but Oasis are just as comfortable in other modes as well. “Morning Glory” is a fierce rocker about drugged-out recklessness that’s compelling in its furious abandon, managing to make the jet-set lifestyle both frightening and weirdly exciting. And showing a droll sense of humor, “She’s Electric” rides a rollicking beat for a tale about one unusual gal from a “family full of eccentrics.”

More so than on Definitely Maybe, Morning Glory demonstrate a band that can easily transition across different genres, and consequently the album breezes from one fantastic track to the next.

An Oasis Triumph

(What’s the Story) Morning Glory? delivers on the promise of Definitely Maybe, proving that Oasis can write both propulsive hard rock songs and heartbreaking ballads. Beyond its great set of songs, Morning Glory is alive with the spirit of being young, celebrating the highs and mourning the lows with equal aplomb.

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Oasis (What's The Story) Morning Glory? | | Leave a comment

Genesis Duke (1980)

dukeFrom johnmcferrinmusicreviews.org

Very, very badly underrated. With this album, Genesis took another sizable step away from the dregs of Wind, and hence from their progressive past, and that helps explain why so many people dislike this album. There are still some artistic elements, sure – the album is supposedly conceptual, there are lots of the traditional Banksynths, as well as some energetic drumming from Phil, and there are ten minutes of instrumental jamming at the end – but this is certainly the band’s first major move towards becoming the “pop” Genesis. Regardless of some of the cool instrumental parts, drum machines and various elements of synth pop (including simpler songs with more mundane lyrical topics) can be found in abundance throughout.

The thing is, this album gets hammered by even devoted fans of the pop-era of Genesis for a number of reasons (though I can share their chagrin with the fact that, since it hit the top #10 on both sides of the Atlantic, it helped launch Phil’s solo career). Supposedly, all of these songs are totally non-descript and lacking anything that makes them stand out in any positive way. Well, there are exactly two songs on here I don’t like, so I can’t say I agree with this. Like most people, I strongly dislike the mega-hit Misunderstanding, Collins’ first solo credit since Peter left: what can I say, it’s horrendously bland and has an utterly moronic melody. I’m also not really fond of Bank’s Cul-de-sac: it’s too clumsy to work as a pop song, and it just sees too dippy to work as art-rock (though I will admit that I kinda like the big goofy keyboard riff that pops up here and there). Not to mention that the lyrics are of his usual quality.

However, I cannot share these negative sentiments past those two songs. EVERY one of the other songs has at least a couple of good things going for it, and some are just terrific. For one thing, I must tell you that, for the first time since Lamb, I am not bothered by the Banksynths. Some see his tone as horribly cheezy on this album, and there may be something to that. However, there is one major advantage they have here over the past two albums – they’re much, much brighter and more cheerful than before. Maybe that’s why the base color of Duke’s cover is white, while the last two were so drab.

As for the songs themselves, the major highlight comes from track seven, Turn it on Again. Absolutely blatant pop, definitely disco-influenced, but how can I help it if the song is so friggin’ good??!! The main melody is amazingly catchy, the bridge is fabulous (“I I get so lonely when she’s not there, I … I … I ….”), and the chord progressions are nothing short of genial. Needless to say, it’s one of the finest pop songs the band ever did, and even haters of Duke rarely fail to tip their hats to it.

But while none of the others provide quite the same wallop, they’re all enjoyable. The opening Behind the Lines is a peculiar number that I keep liking more with each listen, opening with a couple of minutes of jamming in an “overture” of sorts, before settling into a neat pop song with a pretty verse melody (sung with lots of passion). Even better, though, is the following Duchess. Yes, it has drum machines, the first instance of them used on a Genesis track. But SO WHAT??!! The introduction is mellow in a creepy sort of way, and the melody is just wonderful. In particular, I love the “.. all she had to do was step into the light” parts, but the rest could stick in my brain for as long as it wanted for all I care. I actually really like the lyrics, too.

There are also a pair of Banks numbers on side one that cause me to take note. The one-minute Guide Vocal may seem like blatant filler at first glance, but one should note that it does a good job of creating the impression of Duke as a pseudo-conceptual album, not to mention that it has a lovely ethereal beauty in the pleasant vocal melody. This same ethereal beauty also helps lift Heathaze from the doldrums of the verse melodies. The counter-melody, the one that has the “The trees and I are shaken …” lyrics, is positively gorgeous, fully making up for the fact that I couldn’t remember the rest of the song with a gun to my head.

Mike also contributes a pair of solo numbers, and both times comes up a winner. Well, ok, neither one reaches the heights of Ripples or Snowbound, and both numbers are based on the same idea (unconventional verse melody, bombastic heavenly chorus) as before, but I still appreciate them. Man of our Times, in particular, is a standout on the album. The main melody, for lack of a better term, is very twisted, with Phil contorting his voice to match up with this fact, while the synth approach is in the “ugly” vein of Back in NYC, which means I can’t help but enjoy it. Not to mention that I greatly appreciate the way Phil sings the chorus. Likewise with Alone Tonight, which is perfectly pleasant in the verses and beautifully memorable in the chorus.

Heck, I even like Collins’ other solo credit, the piano-based ballad Please Don’t Ask. I used to find it overly rambling, but it’s got a ton of emotional power, driven by his recent divorce, and I’d never dream of skipping it.

And, of course, we have the jamming at the end, consisting of two tracks (Duke’s Travels and Duke’s End). The former, while not really structured in an immediately discernable way, has the benefit of having a lot of the energy that was sorely lacking on the instrumentals on Wind, and it also has an added surprise in a vocal reprise of Guide Vocal in the middle. And as for Duke’s End, it’s just a “capstone” to the themes of the album, bringing full circle the ideas first shown in Behind the Lines, but it’s still very good, leaving a pleasant taste in your mouth at album’s end.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not about to call this a peak of Genesis’ pop career or anything like that. It has several weaknesses, many of which would be corrected on subsequent albums. But I honestly cannot figure out why this album is regarded as one of Genesis’ biggest blackeyes or embarrassments – it’s just a very good album, which means I like it quite a bit.

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Genesis Duke | | Leave a comment

Oasis Dig Out Your Soul (2008)

Oasis-Dig_Out_Your_Soul-FrontalFrom The Guardian

It’s hard not to be impressed with the way Noel Gallagher has managed to turn Oasis’ apparently permanent state of musical stasis into a matter of class pride. “It’s a working-class thing … I’m not an experimenter,” he recently remarked, as if making interesting music was an unacceptable capitulation to bourgeois mores, like joining a snooty golf club.

I’s a smart bit of doublethink, but there’s something depressing about this not-for-the-likes-of-us attitude, not least the sneaking feeling that Noel Gallagher – clearly a sharp and intelligent man – doesn’t believe a word of it, that it’s bluster designed to hide fear, the knowledge that the one time he did try to experiment, the result was Oasis’s catastrophic 2000 album Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. The millions of records and tickets Oasis sell must come as consolation, but you wonder if Gallagher occasionally steals a rueful glance at his former Battle of Britpop nemesis – wistfully noting, say, the critically acclaimed Mandarin opera – before going back to dutifully promoting the new Oasis album with a single that goes “love is a litany, a magical mystery” and assurances to the press that it sounds like the Beatles.

At least he can console himself that he’s never going to get sued under the Trade Descriptions Act: Oasis’s seventh album arrives bearing Helter Skelter drum fills, a sample from John Lennon’s final radio interview, a coda to The Turning stolen from Dear Prudence and lyrical references to Lennon’s Gimme Some Truth and Ian MacDonald’s Fabs book Revolution in the Head. Complaining about Oasis’s lyrics seems rather like shooting fish in a barrel, or as Gallagher would doubtless have it, shooting fish in a barrel/ with a man called Darryl/ singing a carol/ in American Apparel. Suffice to say there’s a chorus that advises you to “shake your reptile” – Crocodile? Snake? Tortoise? – and that the younger Gallagher brother has developed a weird tic of continually reminding you that you’re listening to a song, as if concerned you might think you’re listening to a lecture on particle physics: “Here’s a song,” he offers on both I’m Outta Time and Ain’t Got Nothin’.

That said, both are among the album’s highlights, the former an effective exercise in shamelessly button-pushing balladry, the latter a two-minute brawl of a song, driven by an off-kilter drum pattern. It’s one of a handful of moments when Dig Out Your Soul works because it does precisely what Noel Gallagher says it doesn’t and experiments, at least a little, with the Oasis formula. The opening Bag It Up offers an impressively grimy, low-rent brand of freakbeat, while Falling Down is, by Oasis’s standards at least, opaque and oddly delicate.

Nevertheless, the other Liam contribution, Soldier On, highlights Dig Out Your Soul’s biggest problem: the mid-tempo plod that has become Oasis’s default rhythmic setting. There’s something trudging and weary about it, redolent of gritted teeth and furrowed brows, of labour rather than effortless inspiration. It’s further compounded by a surfeit of lyrical references to having a go, sticking with it and not giving up – “You’ve got to keep on keeping on”, “My head’s in the clouds but at least I’m trying” – and by the straining mannerisms of Liam’s vocals, which at their most affected sound less like bracingly abrasive sneering than the dogged exertions of a man who’s a little backed up.

Oasis can still occasionally produce songs suggestive of the breezy insouciance that marked their early years – the new single The Shock of the Lightning among them – but more often on Dig Out Your Soul, they sound as though they’re killing themselves trying to come up with something that’ll do. And sometimes what they come up with won’t do at all, as on Gem Archer’s To Be Where There’s Life, a song that signifies its mystical, psychedelic bent by opening with a sitar going sprrrrrroinnnnng. It’s the kind of hackneyed gesture that seems to underline Oasis’s reductive view of music, the nagging suspicion that, far from being steeped in the nuances of classic rock, they’ve only actually heard the Greatest Hits.

For more than a decade, Oasis have continued to sell millions of records while stuck in a musical holding pattern. It’s a perversely impressive feat, partly down to their fans, who, depending on your perspective, are either remarkably loyal or risibly undemanding. But it’s also down to Oasis’ willingness to graft, dutifully touring, never declining to play the hits. Neither masterpiece nor catastrophe, more experimental than Noel would allow but no one’s idea of adventurous, a lot of Dig Out Your Soul sounds like hard work, and not in the latter-day Scott Walker sense of unorthodox or avant garde. Perhaps that’s fitting.

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Oasis Dig Out Your Soul | | Leave a comment