Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Def Leppard - album review

Hi everyone.

I hate to bring you this news, but these guys.. they just don't cut the mustard anymore.

Sure they were kings of Arena Rock back in 1988, and the previous year they had released somewhat of a "Hard Rock Thriller" album with "Hysteria,"... and they even managed a bit of a comeback when VH1 did their "Behind The Music" in 1997, which was quickly followed up with made-for-T.V. movie (also on VH1) about their early trials and tribulations coming up in the U.K. music scene in the late 70s. Since then, even as much of a joke as they may have been to you or me or anyone else, they've been able to ride a wave comprised of a devoted fan-base and State (and County) Fair gigs all the way to the bank.

But today, they've gone too far. Today saw the release of possibly their worst, most dated and lifeless album to date.

"Songs From The Sparkle Lounge" basically sucks.

It's pretty aptly titled, though, as "The Sparkle Lounge" certainly sounds like no place I'd ever want to visit or hang out or even enter to go see a show. So maybe they're just being honest. But in actuality... "In an interview with Billboard.com, [lead singer] Joe Elliott stated that the album title is a reference to an area backstage of gigs, where the band would work on new material. 'It was a mini (drum) kit, mini amps, a tape recorder and sparkly lights'." (Wikipedia)

Upon first glance at the track listing, I wondered "Are these guys making a SECOND covers album in a row?" because I noticed song titles like "Go" (which reminded me of, say, the recent Common release, featuring John Mayer, or possibly some old school Pearl Jam?), "Nine Lives" (like Aerosmith did 11 years ago), and... can you beat this? "Only The Good Die Young" (Billy Joel, anyone?)

But no - this is not another covers album. These are all totally original (yet cliche) tracks. Their last release however, 2006's "YEAH!", found the Lep' powerfully covering 14 tracks of their favorite grooves from yesteryear, and it seemed a worthy attempt at the contents of my wallet - albeit, a failed attempt. But 2002's "X" was a decent enough album, and I recall enjoying almost every song on it. So what happened?

I was surprised to read that lead singer Joe Elliot claims that this album's sound is reminiscent of "'early 70's AC/DC' and much like Led Zeppelin's song Rock and Roll." (Wikipedia)

I gotta call B.S. on that. No, it doesn't sound like AC/DC or Zeppelin. It's mostly boring cheese rock. You'd have to be 9 or 10 years old and JUST NOW discovering rock music to enjoy this album to any great extent. It's not that the musicianship is bad or the production is less than adequate. The songs are just boring, and the lyrics are cliche, meaningless and uninteresting. And, apparently, über-producer Mutt Lange (who is responsible for some of the band's greatest hits, as well as those of AC/DC, Bryan Adams, and Shania Twain) was supposed to collaborate on a few tracks here - for the first time in 16 years with Def Leppard - but for some reason it never came to fruition. Quite a shame!

If you want the best of this album, just download one song - track 10: "Come Undone" (not a cover of The Guess Who or Duran Duran, mind you). This is the only song that really stood out, and keeps that old flavor from the 80s and 90s in their awesome power chorus. But I also enjoyed the final track, "Gotta Let It Go", a bit as well. Maybe... just steal that one.

If you're a really die-hard Def Leppard fan, (though I happen to know that none of my readers are,) you might enjoy this on some other level. But for the masses, this is a MUST SKIP album.

ONE STAR, guys. One measly, little star.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Highrise Circus - an album review

My old Kids Country buddy, Jason Hurley, has been in this band for a while (formerly The Underground), but now they have a new name and they've just released a new album - both called "Highrise Circus". Here's a quick review.

This is a solid ROCK band - that much is certain. But there are things I like about this band, and things I'm not so in love with.

First of all, however, I should mention these guys have obviously tightened up and come a long way since 1999's indie record "The Underground". (I personally am unaware of any line-up changes, but obviously Jason is still rocking on guitars and backup vocals, while Christopher Lauer is fronting the mic.) And it's easy to say that this is a harder, louder, more professional album - in almost every respect - than the former record. The lyrics are more appreciated on this album, and the chord progression and changes are much more interesting on this record.

My only complaints would be these...

Lauer's vocals, though clear and distinct never venture out of a small range into the screams and growls for which the rest of the music seems to beg of him. The harmonies help, but I really wanted to hear him hold a high sustained note in many places - and he never does. As far as production, the instrumental stuff all sounds great and feels awesome when blasted at full volume while doing 95 mph on the open highway (umm... I would assume), but again, I feel the vocals could stand to be more raw. Perhaps they are over produced a bit, but the rest sounds great. There were moments where I wanted to hear the drums kick into double time or do an energized fill and I never got my wish.

On the plus side, though, the album opens strong, with tracks like "Empty Head" and "Cold Blood". ("The Thread" is not unlike a 3 Doors Down- or P.O.D.-type of sound.) The 4th track, "Down", takes me back to the early 90s with a very Candlebox type groove over the verses, followed by an optimistic Live-sort of chorus, complete with jangles and cymbal-crashes aplenty.

By time we reach the midpoint of the record, though, things get a little less engaging. "Snowblind"'s repetitive main riff diminishes the tight groove the band was in prior to this track, and the chorus lulls the song down even lower and the song never really climaxes or ebbs and flows. And "Nothin' Like It" is simply too mellow and subtle for my taste.

Things pick up slightly on "Easy" (a song seemingly about a less-than-reputable young woman's affect on the male ego), but again, the dreary vocals before the chorus (or is it a bridge? I can't tell.) keep this song from standing out. There's a rippin' solo on this one, though, so... brownie points, there.

"Jasmine" is a cool, trippy, psychedelic ballad that sounds and feels like a memory, with the sounds of running water, distant church bells and dreamily innocent guitar riffs overlaid in the opening. It's an interesting song that sounds like it could have been a cover of a Tears For Fears b-side or something, but it never really comes alive in the way I wanted it to.   Still, a groovy little mellow jam. I felt like, with a little re-structuring, this could've been a really unforgettable tune and a big hit.

"All In My Head" really struck me. This one is a grungy, melodramatic groove with a very cool bass riff pushing it along to a strong and heavy chorus and really shows off the band's gravitas.

Closing the album is the short and simple, "Blindman" - just a slew of strings and layered vocals put to the story of a narrator and his encounter with a proverbial character who's lack of sight is his portal to wisdom. "I hear the things nobody listens to," says the blind man, "and I feel the love nobody wants to lose."

"Before you take your pity on the blind man," sings Lauer at the close of the record, "take heart that I'm the one that pities you." It's a heavy way to end the album, but not a strong finish. Yes... heavy, but not strong. I guess I wanted this song to build into something huge, loud, heavy and drastically dramatic, and THEN end with that last line.

And one last complaint: these guys cut a bad-ass track for a movie trailer I made earlier this year, and it was called "Addiction". I'm sure they had reasons (artistic and/or legal) for not including it in this collection, but DAMN it was a rocker! I think people would have loved it. To hear the song in the trailer click here. (It starts 31 seconds in.)

Otherwise, I enjoyed this album. It is rare to find a band that can just rock a good solid riff with some screeching solos, solid rhythm work and decent vocals - but thats exactly what these guys do. I give this album, which feels like a new beginning for these guys, 3 stars out of 5.   Buy the album and hear it for yourself here.

Death By Starbucks


While driving home to the San Diego area today... (two big interviews up in L.A., but I have no idea how well I did)... I decided, while suffering from an overly-full bladder, to pull off the I-5 in San Juan Capistrano around 8 PM to use a restroom. I find a Starbucks and decide, "This will be a lovely place to order a refreshing beverage for the remainder of my voyage homeward before making use of their lovely, private, and always-clean facilities!"

So I walk in and step up to the counter. No line! Wonderful! The nice young lady takes my order and I request "a grande Green Tea Frappuccino, please!" The girl collects my three dollars and eighty cents (well spent, I assure you) and I then proceeded to venture toward the back of the cafe in search of the wash room.

As predicted, I find the restroom to be in tip-top shape.  Good ol' corporate dictatorship in action!  I love it!

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww..........................." Ah, sweet relief.

At this point, I zip up, flush, "wash hands thoroughly before returning to work", and exit the latrine.  And just in time! I notice that the barista  - a young man in a green Starbucks visor (although the sun has gone down some time ago) - is almost done preparing my drink! 

I step up to the counter just in time for him to ask me, "Would you like whipped cream on that?"

"Sure!" I reply.

He piles it high with fresh whipped cream and pops the clear plastic dome lid on top and then, with a broad smile, gives me this very interesting warning:

"Careful! It's dangerously delicious!"

I chuckle audibly at this ridiculous statement and inquire, "Do they MAKE you say that?" He assured me that they do not, so I just smiled, thanked both the people behind the counter, poked a straw into the lid and stepped out of the building.

But just as I was about to take my first step in the dark, deserted Starbucks San Juan Capistrano parking lot, a notion struck me blind.

"What if the barista's statement wasn't simply a cute slogan, but in fact a legally responsible warning?"

Now, I've enjoyed many Green Tea Frappuccinos at various Starbucks locations before, but could it be true that this particular drink, from this particular location, was actually more delicious than the others? Could it even be overly delicious? Even DANGEROUSLY delicious?

My heart began to palpitate as my mind battled with itself over the benefits of enjoying the sweet "adult-Slurpee" known as the Green Tea Frappuccino and committing a delicious suicide, or even any bodily injury so as to avoid letting $3.80 go to waste. I tried to calm myself and even commenced with some meditative practices upon which I've recently picked up. (Thanks, Mr. Tolle!) But, in the end, I would have to make my move and separate the men from the boys.

I stood in the parking lot for another 25 minutes before collecting the courage to take that first sip. By then, the intended frosty texture had melted to a creamy liquid from the equalization of temperature caused by the direct contact with my palm which held the drink all that time. But otherwise, it was of average deliciousness.

Sometimes I worry too much.

THE END

Rock & Roll Statistics

3 New Singles

Mötley Crüe - Saints Of Los Angeles

As though they never left...
Since their inception over 25 years ago, Mötley Crüe has continuously had trials and tribulations, ups and downs, success and failure - but like a cheesy movie, they've never given up and this new single, from the upcoming new album, The Dirt (based on the book, based on the movie) demonstrates their mastery of the "hair metal" genre and reminds us why they are the kings of their game.

Much like the two new tracks penned in 2005 for their Red, White & Crüe greatest hits compilation, Saints of Los Angeles finds the boys rocking their hardest, with more credibility and authority - as though finally realizing their true identity once and for all - than anything they've done in a decade or more.

It's a cheap little 99 cents well-spent. Check it out at iTunes.
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Madonna - 4 Minutes (feat. Justin Timberlake)


Ya know what? The ol' gray mare... she's still got it.

Of course, she needs to employ the talents of the youngest offspring of her very own labors (well, not Lordess). First that MTV stunt (and a few tracks) with Britney, and this time with the fallen Princess' ex-boyfriend, and arguably the best young performer out there (not to mention one of the greatest Saturday Night Live hosts EVER) - Justin Timberlake.

The narrative of this song? They've only got FOUR MINUTES to save the world! And what to do with those four minutes? (Say it with sass - ) DANCE!

Stupid? Maybe. Pointless? Perhaps. But maybe... just maybe... it's deeper and more poetic than we know. Hell, Price once sang about a prophecy of a millennium armageddon and all he wanted to do at that point was party. Maybe that's all there is to do at the last moments of existence.

Anyway, it's a groovy, fun tune. I think it was worth my 99 cents..... aaaat iTunes.
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Crown City Rockers - I Love Being A B-Boy (B-Boy Remix) (Feat. Chali 2na, Planet Asia, Zion I, The Grouch, and Mystic)

Okay, so this isn't a world-wide hit, but for my money, it's a sample of some of the best Hip-Hop out there today.

My cousin's boyfriend, Max, is the drummer in Crown City Rockers (and that's half the reason I dig them so much - they actually play INSTRUMENTS), so that's how I found out about them.

I'm not just saying this because I'm casually aquainted with one of the members - this is some exceptional music! Crown City's jazz-fused hip-hop is fresh, stylized and always GOOD. That's not an easy statement for me to make, but these guys deserve it!

This is a remix of the original track from their 2004 album Earthtones, but this feels superior to the original because of it's star-studded cameos. Have a listen to the Remix and buy the album, Earthtones.

Also, check them out at their website and on MySpace.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

BEST DRAG RACE EVER

If you can't enjoy this video, your genitalia must reside on the inside of your body.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

HULK RULES!

The world hasn't seen such perfected drama ever since. (notice the religious overtones! Deep, man!)
I can't wait for The Survivor Series!!

Monday, April 7, 2008

W. - The Movie!

Oliver Stone is slated to direct and produce the bio-pic of President George W. Bush's life and times in the Oval Office.  I always thought this would make a great comedy (and someday I may make it myself), but Oliver went a different direction with it.  Different strokes, I guess.

Anyhoo, he's chosen an interesting cast list so far.  Check this out.













G-Dub will be played by
Josh Brolin

Papa 
Pres. (GHWB) will be played by:
James Cromwell

Babs will be portrayed by 
Ellen Burstyn

And listed to play Laura Bush...Elizabeth Banks (they're gonna have to age this girl - she's actually 33)















Those are the only four names that have been officially selected so far.  I think this film is being terribly miscast.  Here's what Casting Director Michael Wood will have to do for HIS version of this film:

Will Farrell and Dana Carvey will play The Father & Son President team













Laura Bush will be played by
Ana Gasteyer






















and Barbara Bush will be played somehow by
(The Late) Phil Hartman









(Don't you worry about 'how' - I'll worry about 'how'!)




That's right! An ALL-SNL alumni cast!  And why not?  Who else has been studying the mannerisms of these political figureheads closer AND has top-notch acting and improv training?  And it's about time there was a really CLASSIC SNL cast film again!  The last best thing was Wayne's World!  TOO LONG!

I'd round out the cast with the rest of the usual suspects, like...

Maya Rudolph as:
Condoleeza Rice

Kristen Wiig as:
Sen. Nancy Pelosi

Amy Pohler as:
Sen. Hillary Clinton

Fred Armisen as:
Sen. Barack Obama

and featuring Darryl Hammond as....
EVERYONE ELSE!
Dick Cheney,
Donald Rumsfeld,
Al Gore,
Chris Matthews,
Bill Clinton,
Donald Trump
and
(for some reason which I'll come up with later)
Sean Connery

Think about it!  It's perfect!  It'll be the first time past and current SNL stars could all be in a huge comedy together!  And you KNOW this would be a HUGE comedy!  Hell, I'd even toss in Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen as the Bush girls because, A) They've hosted SNL before and B) to keep their boney asses off the streets.  And maybe Kenan Thompson can be Colin Powell - I mean, we kinda need a black dude, and Tim Meadows and Finesse Mitchell... I dunno.  Let's just not over-think this.  Kenan it is.

What do you think?  Leave a comment with your dream cast for "W." so all the world can imagine along with us!

"...From my cold dead hands!"























Quick!  Now's our chance!  Grab it!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

GOOD GOD! MORE ALBUM REVIEWS!

Jeez!  This was a big week for new music releases.  So I'm gonna make each one short.

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R.E.M. - Accelerate

Great album!  As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm still just coming into my consciousness with these guys, but I really enjoyed this latest effort.  As the band said last night on The Colbert Report, the album is called "Accelerate" because they "just wanted to play a bunch of fast, loud songs", and that's kinda what this is.

Half the songs are fast, all of them become loud at least at some point, but they're all pretty decent.

My favorite tracks include, "Living Well Is The Best Revenge," "Supernatural Superserious," "Accelerate" and the all-out rocker "Horse To Water" which reminds me a lot of "It's The End of The World As We Know It" - that kind of energy.  "I'm Gonna DJ" is a fun tune, too - loud and brash and just a fun rocker.  The iTunes bonus track "Redhead Walking" is also very cool, in a 60's go-go rock/"96 Tears" kinda way, with that kinda organ thing beneath some heavy guitar riffs.  Very retro.

Definitely worth downloading at least the most popular tracks.  Check it out.

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The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely

Jack White - back again - and this is definitely a group that has a slightly different edge than The White Stripes (maybe it's the bass guitar).  White's compositions are boldly experimental, but they rock.  This sophomore effort from the Detroit quartet is a great rock album, even if it gets pretty mellow at times.  (But even when things are mellow, you can't be sure that things won't kick into high gear at the drop of a hat... or vice versa.)

I'm still getting to know this album, but so far my favorite songs include "Salute Your Solution", "Old Enough", "The Switch and The Spur", "Rich Kid Blues" and "These Stones Will Shout".

This is an album that may not get a ton of radio play, but each track has a very distinct personality.  White is emerging as quite the rock prodigy and this is a collection of tunes that demonstrate his brilliance of composition.  He masterfully combines classical folk patterns with an alternative flair and his unbridled wailing vocals copyright the sound as all his own.

Great album.  I'll be exploring it for some time.

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Joe Satriani - Professor Satchifunkilus and The Musterion of Rock

Yep.  That's the title.  Awesome, huh?

This is, all-in-all, just another Satriani album; a bunch of instrumental guitar songs.  None of them stand out very far from one another, but the best track is definitely the album closer (not counting the iTunes Bonus track) "Andalusia" - a nearly 7-minute epic that starts off with a 2-minute flamenco-style clean acoustic sound, which is beautiful and tonally pleasing enough as it is, but then gets more aggressive and heavy with bass and electric guitar over the jangling acoustic rhythm, and things just continually climb until the end of the song, where things reach their climax and then smoothly close out.  If you don't listen to anything else on this album, this one song will be enough - "Andalusia".

Other mentionables, however, include the debut of Joe's son, ZZ Satriani, on tenor saxophone on "Professor Satchafunilus", a funky (almost porno-film-music, at times) playful little ditty, and the only non-totally-instrumental track, "I Just Wanna Rock", another one of Joe's cheezy "shoulda-been-left-in-the-80s" style jams - even the video for it on his website, though entertaining and cute, is just embarrassingly lame for such an amazing musician.  (But the sense of humor is always appreciated.)  

And, apparently, the sweet (but boring and typical) Satch-ballad, "Come On Baby," was the only track in the collection that isn't exactly new, but a dusted off from a 1993 session tape, included here at the behest of young ZZ.

Again, just enjoy Andalusia, and you won't be missing out on much.

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The Rolling Stones - Shine A Light

The second live album since the release of 2005's "A Bigger Bang" (and only the third double-live album in their history), finds The Stones doing their thing and there's not much out of the ordinary going on here... except for one little thing.  The album is a bit of a teaser for the long-awaited landmark documentary film (of the same name) by Martin Scorcese, from which the music is taken.

The most noticeable difference in this album, however, is the masterful recording of the band and the obviously small venue (The Beacon Theater in New York City, a 2,800 seat concert hall on upper Broadway) which gives a very intimate feeling for such a big band, but this is no unplugged or "Storytellers" session.

What's interesting is that the set list over the two-discs doesn't include any of their hits from the last three or four albums.  It's mostly the classics and a few obscure tracks, as well as the traditional guest performances, this time by Jack White (on "Loving Cup"), Buddy Guy ("Champaign & Reefer"), and Christina Aguilera rocking out hard on "Live With Me".  (Damn, that girl can belt it out!)

There's some "this is a movie" chatter going on here and there on the album - dialogue taken from the film - as when his cinematographer explains that "If Mick stands in front of the light for more than eighteen seconds, he's gonna burn", Marty responds, "You mean like flames?  We can't burn Mick Jagger!"

At a combined average age of 63 and a half years old, these guys prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Rock & Roll is The Fountain of Youth.  They don't miss a step and they have more energy than just about any band you'll find... anywhere!  Mick's voice, of course, is the big spotlight throughout the show, and he's in top form all through-out.  But this is nothing new.

More than anything, this is the rare live album who's production value feels head and shoulders above the others.  So yes, it's a great live album.  It sounds like it was a very special night.  I can't wait to see the film.....