Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Carl's Jr. Prime Rib Burger

This may be the tastiest burger I've ever had.  

If you're not gonna do the "Six Dollar Burger" version,  then just try the Single.  There's no need to do the Double, they just double up the beef.  The chiabatta roll is a great change, and the "creamy horseradish sauce" adds a real nice spice.  Grilled onions - MWAH!  The swiss cheese is perfect and, as much as this seems like an imitation of the Jack in the Box Sirloin Burger, the substitution of all the veggies with Prime Rib makes this burger a whole new ball game!

Keep in mind, though, that this is TOTAL JUNK FOOD.  It's terrible for you.  But in a pinch, (and in my humble opinion,) it's the best bang for your buck.

The next time you're at Carl's Jr., give it a try.  And post a comment here about how you liked it.  THAT'S AN ORDER!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW - WALL•E

"I don't want to survive!  I want to live!" – Captain McCrea

I just got back from seeing this movie, and I can easily say without hyperbole that WALL•E is my favorite Pixar movie yet.

SYNOPSIS:

The year is 2815 A.D.  What's left of the Human Race no longer inhabits the Earth.  Only one being now wanders the vast wasteland of our home-world: a little robot classified as “Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth Class” or WALL-E, for short.  His job is to gather, crush and stack cubes of our garbage into piles that rival the abandoned sky-scrapers that are now the ruins of some ancient American city.  (But is it even America anymore?  We’re not sure.  Only a giant company looms as the dominating identity – “Buy-N-Large” or “BNL” – an obvious statement about our country’s vast consumerist identity, and based on the Costcos and Wal-Marts of our time.)

WALL-E and his only friend, a chipper little cockroach, scour the Earth’s rubbish all day long, digging through our discarded treasures and trash, and saving the most interesting bits for his own collection.  But when the whistle blows, and the daily sandstorms come blasting through, WALL-E and his trusty cockroach take refuge in his little storage space, where he watches video tapes of old movies (“Hello Dolly” to be specific) that teach WALL-E about love and romance.

But soon, his whole world is turned upside-down.

A spaceship lands and deploys a much newer model robot.  Her name is EVE, and she’s here looking for something.  WALL-E is instantly smitten – she’s sleek and shiny, she can fly at the speed of sound, and once provoked, can blast a hole through a huge boulder in a flash!  (What a woman!)

When EVE finds what she was looking for (in what is arguably the sweetest parable for a “love scene” in cinematic history), she automatically goes into sleep-mode. (Usually, that’s the guy’s role, isn’t it?)  WALL-E is beside himself with worry for EVE and he takes very loving care of her until her spaceship reacquires her.  WALL-E, madly in love, refuses to let EVE be taken away, and gives chase.  Hanging on to the side of the giant craft as it rockets out of Earth’s satellite-covered atmosphere, WALL-E’s adventures are only about to begin.

CRITIQUE:

Pixar’s animators and technicians have - in the process of telling a great story - inadvertently bested themselves once again.  Even the film’s pre-show short – a brilliant little piece called Presto – demonstrates the leaps and bounds that the studio has made in the field of animation.  There are scenes in WALL-E that look too real.  The lighting, texture and “camera movement,” (complete with realistic imperfections like inaccurate focus pulling and shaky hand-held motion,) gives the film a strange sense of reality that our logical minds tell us shouldn’t even exist here.

Thomas Newman’s score compliments the entire mood of the story perfectly from beginning to end, especially with bits like the “BNL theme song” and WALL*E and EVE’s “First Date” – perhaps an homage to the Burt Bacharach score from Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (1969).  His compositions soar, serenade, and summit supremely everywhere else.

The sound design is amazing as the voices of all the various little machines and robots, all digital bleeps and boops that we can’t help but mistake for English words, create an atmosphere of anthropomorphism essential for a Pixar film. (When EVE first encounters WALL-E, for example, we hear only a simple “BEEP BOP BOOP” that sounds almost exactly like “WHO ARE YOU?”)  Special thanks go to the original “voice” of R2D2 – Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt – who voiced all the little creatures in this film, as well.

But the biggest star on the screen here is the story.  WALL-E is not only a great science-fiction movie, but also a timeless love story.  WALL-E’s emotions are palpable on-screen.  He’s truly a robot that wears his heart on his sleeve.  You can always see in his “eyes” – a pair of stereoscopic electronic binoculars that flex and bend (he has no nose or mouth) – and hear in his voice everything he’s feeling.  “Feeling,” mind you.  Not thinking.  This little mechanical automated bio-engineer may not have a mind, but he has a soul.

And, although director Andrew Stanton, who already celebrated great success with his first film, Finding Nemo in 2003, will tell you that he’s not trying to make a social commentary film -- that he’s just out to tell a great story -- it’s impossible to ignore the eco-conscious message in this film.  The paradigm shift experienced by Captain McCrea (who helms The Axiom – the mega-ship that houses the entire living human race – and is voiced by Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Jeff Garlin), is the big shift in consciousness that our current human race is in dire need of having itself.  This is our planet and it’s our job to take care of it.

There are obvious nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in the form of AUTO, the ship's mutinous AutoPilot, and Alien (1979) in the form of Sigourney Weaver as the ship's computer's voice.  And the film's cinematography is heavily influenced from the look of many sci-fi films of the 60's and 70's, giving it a certain visual motif that no animated film has ever had.

WALL-E is Pixar’s most original, heartfelt and accomplished film to date.  It will be quite a feat if it is outdone by any of their upcoming projects, which include several sequels to hit films.  If you have enjoyed any Pixar film to any degree, or if you enjoy sci-fi, animation, or just a damned good story – you must see this film.

NEW ALBUMS - Mötley Crüe, Shinedown, Pixar's WALL-E Soundtrack


MÖTLEY CRÜE - Saints Of Los Angeles


S.O.L.A. is the best Crüe album since Dr. Feelgood (1989) and ranks among the hardest albums they've ever done!  The first album of all new material from this original Mötley line-up in 11 years (since 1997’s mediocre comeback effort, Generation Swine), Saints finds a Crüe that have rediscovered the soul of their glam metal sound.  This is the band we remember from the 1980s!

The big numbers on this collection are the title track – which I reviewed back in May here ( and who’s video can be viewed here) – and “Motherfucker Of The Year” – a concept so nonsensical and ridiculous, yet outrageous and brazen, that only this band could pull it off… and it rocks hard.

The album kicks off with the raucous “Face Down In The Dirt”, a heavy metal anthem declaring the sentiments that keeps a hard rockin’ kid from ever putting on a suit and getting a “real job” – the very sentiment that obviously kept these guys in business all these years: “Why would I wanna be like you? I’d rather be dead – face down in the dirt with a bullet in my head!”  An extreme statement?  Yes – but dramatically accurate!

Along with “Face Down”, the next three songs on the album – “What’s It Gonna Take”, “Down At The Whiskey” and “Saints of Los Angeles” – seem to carry a common theme: a relation of the band’s climb to rock stardom, or at least a fair warning of what its like to live the real rock n’ roll lifestyle in L.A.  Take it from these guys – they know what they’re talkin’ about!

The rest of the album is just the best kind of hard rock fodder this band has ever had to offer – “Animal In Me” is a more ominous rocker that soars with drama and cinematic imagery, and has a killer chorus.  “Welcome To The Machine” and “Just Another Psycho” are just purely awesome tracks that explode with the signature sounds of the Crüe.  The final four tracks are a bit more forgettable, but still rock hard and loud.

Even through all of the bands many outrageous trials and tribulations, (which includes everything from law suits to Involuntary Manslaughter,) Mötley Crüe has never sounded harder or better!  The production of this album is perfect, Tommy Lee is beatin the skins like no one else can, Nikki Sixx (who’s excellent side project - Sixx A.M - will be opening for the Crüe on the upcoming tour) is tearing it up on guitar, lead singer Vince Neil – a few pounds heavier these days – still sounds like he did on the first album, and despite severe spinal arthritis issues, bassist Mick Mars is still laying down the groove like nobody’s business.  If you’re not already a fan of the Crüe, or if you never enjoyed '80s Metal at all, you may not enjoy this album as much.  But if you’re even a fan of a couple of their songs, you’ll be able to appreciate Saints of Los Angeles for sure!  Check it out!  

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SHINEDOWN - The Sound of Madness


You've probably never heard of this hard rock powerhouse from Jacksonville, Florida before, have you?  (If you have, then you're more of a music connoisseur than I was giving you credit for.)  That's okay - I'll give you a quick update here:  The Sound of Madness is their third album, and another in what seems to be an unstoppable line of loud, strong, well-crafted, catchy hard-rock albums.  They've already had minor successes with tracks like "45," (a cover of Lynard Skynard's) "Simple Man," and their first Billboard #1 (US Mainsteram Rock category) "Save Me."

With their seemingly "just-on-the-verge-of-super-stardom" status holding steadily, it's hard to tell how well this accomplished new album will fare in this topsy-turvy music industry - what with the Internet-piracy, over-saturation of terrible pop, hip-hop and Disney music on the radio, and some impostor television channel calling itself "MTV" which is ruining young minds with utter crap!  But, nonetheless, this album rocks hard.

I first heard of these guys in 2004 when they opened a number of Van Halen concerts (when that group had briefly reunited with former front-man Sammy Hagar).  I saw a couple of shows in the San Francisco Bay Area and became an instant fan.  They owned the stage, and in an unprecedented stunt, lead singer Brent Smith (who sounds like he should look like Scott Stapp or something, but looks more like that goth kid from high school who ate lunch by himself everyday, but then worked out pretty hard for most of his Junior College career) sings on stage exactly as you hear him on the albums!  This guy's voice is incredible!  If he wasn't already in such a successful rock band, he could easily win the rock competition on any season of American Idol.  His range covers everything from the metal-est rock song to the most balladic serenade (which also rocks, in most instances).

The Sound of Madness opens heavy with the first single, "Devour" and rocks hard, fast and loud into the title track.  But then they slow things down a bit (for the Rock Radio crowd who eat up the sappier rock ballads) with "Second Chance" - and, as previously stated, this one kicks ass, too.  At times, it feels like a cross between the hardest of Collective Soul's hits combined with the chorus of a classic Nickelback chart-topper.  Very pop-metal, but its Smith's vocals that stands out and makes this one irresistible!

The rest of the album is incredibly consistent, even if repetitive at times, but never feels boring or as though any member of the production team ever got lazy on the job.  Any of the tracks on this album could be a huge hit single - it's that good! 

The only thing lacking here is a distinctive sound.  As good as it is, it still feels a bit derivative of the aforementioned bands or possibly many others out there.  But this is a problem that I've noticed tends to go away over time, as a band like this builds their name with hit after hit, until their once-derivative sound is now assigned to them, and them alone.

It's another smash hit by the budding Florida hard-rock band.  They're big in many parts of the country, but it's only a matter of time before they're selling out arenas and doing the big hit single on the next big budget super-hero movie.

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THOMAS NEWMAN - Disney/Pixar's WALLE, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack


I'm going to leave out the obligatory pop-music star's phoned-in track (Peter Gabriel's "Down To Earth"), or the old Musicals standards that are tossed into this soundtrack because they appear in the film in a romance motif, and just get down to brass tax; namely,  brilliant composer Thomas Newman's latest score. 

WALL•E, which hit theaters this past Friday, is the latest in a continuous stream of box-office smashes from the preeminent animation studio in Emeryville, California, about a robot in the year 2815 A.D., who has been left alone on Earth for the past 700 years, to clean up the unbelievable mess left behind by the emigrating human race.   I have yet to see the actual film, but I've listened to interviews with the director and I do plan to see it.  I thought, however, that this review would be best left untainted by the actual story that Newman's music accompanies, leaving the score as an actual album of music left to criticism on it's own merit.

And how does it stand up that way?  Not well.

Thomas Newman's crowning achievements, in my humble opinion, still stand with his scores for American Beauty (1999) and The Shawshank Redemption (1994) (and, to a lesser extent, the theme from HBO's hit series, "Six Feet Under" (2001)).  But Newman's aspirations of musical artistry seem to take a back seat to the story that it underscores - in this case as well as in his past collaboration with WALL•E director, Andrew Stanton, on his previous Pixar film, Finding Nemo (2003).  It feels that most of these tracks are simply "mood music" for something happening on-screen as opposed to an abstract piece of pop music laid into an already-existing scene.  (Or, in the terms of the industry, this music is more diagetic than the almost non-diagetic, more-palpable pieces from Shawshank or American Beauty - songs you felt you could reach out and touch as the notes danced in the air.)

That's not to say that Newman doesn't bring his A-game, here.  A good musical score will serve it's purpose best when it knows its place in a film.  In Pixar films, however, a good score needs only to re-assure the viewer that they should indeed be feeling the feelings they're already having, as opposed to creating that feeling itself.  And there are a few key tracks that do stand out - Wall•E's theme, as well as "The Axiom", "72 Degrees and Sunny" and the climactic "The Halo-Detector" each have a huge burst of personality.  And none of the tracks comes in over 3-and-a-half minutes, so the entire 34-song collection is just over 50-minutes long.

As an album, this score only makes me want to see the movie - it doesn't work as well on it's own as past Newman albums may have.

(Coming soon: A movie review of WALL•E!)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

DISMAL trailer!

Check out the new trailer for DISMAL - the new film directed by my buddy, Gary King!

CLICK THE PIC!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Three dead dudes.

They say "deaths always come in threes."
















In the last week or so, we lost Tim Russert, one of the brightest American newsmen in television history. We also lost comedy legend George Carlin, who - along with visionaries like Richard Pryor and Sam Kinison - forever changed the face of stand-up comedy from safe and cute to dangerous and hilarious. (I know I'll remember him most of all for his role as Rufus in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989).)

And, although he wasn't a huge celebrity to most people, I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that the third in this Trilogy of Death is cinematic special effects guru, Stan Winston, who died on June 15th after a lengthy battle with multiple myeloma. For those of you who may not be familiar with Winston's work, let's just say that without his brilliance and creativity, we probably wouldn't have many of the iconic images seen in the following films over the past quarter of a century...

The Thing (1982)
The Terminator (1984)
Aliens (1986)
Predator (1987)
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Batman Returns (1992)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Interview with the Vampire (1994)
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Pearl Harbor (2001)
A.I. (2001)
Jurassic Park III (2001)
Big Fish (2003)
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
and yes, even...
Iron Man (2008)

Rest in peace, guys.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

MORE NEW ALBUMS - Coldplay, Judas Priest and The Offspring

COLDPLAY - Viva la Vida or Death And All His Friends

I'm not a huge Coldplay fan, so this is the first full album of theirs I've ever listened to.  So, I'll give it my best shot.

Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends is Coldplay's fourth album in 8 years, and their first collaboration with famed U2 producer, and the father of modern "ambient music," Brian Eno.  Thus, this album delves into some atmospheric ambiance at times, to be sure.

The album opens with an instrumental track - "Life In Technicolor", which sets the scene for the entire album: fresh, upbeat, incandescent, optimistic and brimming with a tone that could best be described as "new life".  Perhaps thats exactly what Coldplay is experiencing with this new sound.

Eno gave an artistic flare to a young U2 with albums like The Unforgettable Fire (1984) and The Joshua Tree (1987), and eventually again on Achtung Baby (1991) and (most noticeably) Zooropa (1993), all of which utilized the natural talents and instincts of the band itself against a background of Eno's transcendent atmosphere.  He seems to do the exact same thing here with Coldplay, as evidenced with tracks like "Lost!" and "Violet Hill".  

Much of the album is sleepy and dull, as well - like with "Cemetaries of London", "42" or "Strawberry Swing".  But, just as was the case with U2's Zooropa, these are the tracks that tend to grow on you after the shadow of their bigger brothers on the album - hits like "Viva La Vida" - have worn away.  As subtle as they may seem upon the initial listen, they become so much more powerful as you "get to know" the record.

Viva La Vida isn't, however, going to score the kind of radio hits that U2 enjoyed from Eno's work.  The aforementioned title track is already committing commercial suicide by being horrendously overplayed in the most recent Apple iPod commercial, and "Violet Hill" just isn't good enough to be timeless.  If anything on this album could get some more attention, it's "Lost!", which features a hip and ultra-modern beat (complete with hand-claps), as well as a dense saturation of what sounds like a huge church organ, and a very catchy chorus and verse.   I also love the gentle simplicity of the guitar-riff in the chorus.

Chris Martin's voice is as good as ever, but the boring, dreary little piano tinkling sounds are put into such a more diverse space by Eno's production.

I wouldn't say this is a brilliant album, but its competent and very listenable.  It actually does remind me of the feel both U2 albums The Unforgettable Fire and Zooropa.  The brazen and unapologetic venture into this world of ambience combined with pop music has succeeded again in Coldplay's Viva La Vida.

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JUDAS PRIEST - Nostradamus


This is certainly not The Priest's breakthrough new album.  Then again, I'm not a huge J.P. fan, but I knows what I likes and I can't say I'm too impressed with this one.

It's 23 tracks long (or in terms of tangible recordings - like CDs or Vinyl - a "Double Album"), and for the life of me, I can't seem to find a track that's very catchy or interesting.  "Prophecy" is about as good as it gets, although it seems that the similarly-themed title track is the one all the kids on iTunes are grabbing up.

"Conquest" has some personality, and "Revelations" is not without it's metal charm, but all the single-word titles with religious overtones kind of makes it hard to distinguish and identify a good song's personality upon first glance.

Basically, this whole album seems like a big glob of of elementary metal music and some generally bland vocal arrangements.  As great as it is to have him back in the band again, Rob 
Halford - who does screech with his trademark wail here and there - seems to be kind of phoning it in on this one. And although there are a few very peppy guitar solos, they're nothing to go ga-ga over.  These guys are just playing the same old game.  

I get that this is a concept album (so it's basically reflecting the eerie, dark and destructive overtones of the prophecies of history's most-famous prognosticator, Michel de Nostredame), but, as far as the music goes, whatever happened to "Living After Midnight" and "rockin' 'til the dawn"?  Why aren't they ever "Breaking The Law" anymore?  Whatever these guys are screaming for these days, it ain't "Vengeance".  And I can't even remember the last time that I had "another thing comin'"! 

There was a time when this was less of a goth-rock band and more of a Hard-rocking Heavy Metal group, who's music was heavy and dark, but still full of life and fraught with flare.  It seems that the resurrected Priest is catering far more to the kids shopping at Hot Topic and wondering if there's something wrong with them because they don't feel the urge to cut themselves like all their friends do.  I even enjoyed 2005's Angel of Retribution more than this one.

I may need to take more time to get to know this 100-minute-plus monstrosity, but nothing's jumping out at me as of yet.  At this point, I wish these guys would take a page from their 80's playbook and remember the power of just good old fashioned straight-ahead heavy metal without all the constant doom and gloom.  It gets old pretty fast.

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THE OFFSPRING - Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace


I don't know much about these guys - just what I remember from high school and the radio and such - but I gotta say, this is a powerful new album!  And right off the bat, I'm recommending it for anyone who ever liked the band's initial sound.

The way I see it, these guys started out with a real desire to be a really good, hard-rock/punk band.  They put out their third album - Smash - in 1994, and it was their first big breakthorugh to the mainstream. They were quickly welcomed with open arms onto rock radio and the last dwindling years of Music Television.  Hits like "Self-Esteem", "Come Out And Play" and "Gotta Get Away" solidified the band quickly as more than a flash in the pan.

But since then, their ceaselessly hard-punk sound has been obscured by hits like the oh-bla-dee-oh-blah-dah-esque-"Why Don't You get A Job?" or 'Weird Al' fodder like "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)" - or just plain old bad songs like "Original Prankster" or "Hit That".  They still managed to rock with tracks like "The Kids Aren't Alright", "Gone Away" and "(Can't Get My) Head Around You", but even those didn't feel like the band we'd been introduced to with Smash.

Well, that all comes to an end with this 'back to basics' new release - Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace; arguably the hardest punch these guys have ever packed.

You won't find any songs on this album that are out to make you giggle or even think too hard - there's just a lot of good, hard-rocking, punkish music and almost every song is really catchy.

The album opens strong with rock anthem "Half-Truism", heralding the re-alignment and return of the old Offspring spirit.  They quickly dive into the hard and fast stuff with tracks like "Trust In You" and the first single, "Hammerhead".  "You're Gonna Go Far, Kid" is among these, but with a more sing-songy verse and chorus, with a careful use of harmony vocals and an unexpected force of the pre-chorus, "Dance, fucker! Dance!"-part, keeping the pulse pounding.  "Takes Me Nowhere" rocks, and so does the title track "Rise and Fall", even if it's a pretty blatent Green Day impersonation.  (Seriously, it sounds a LOT like "American Idiot").

The pacing of this album is perfect, as things slow down a bit with tracks like "A Lot Like Me" and radio-friendly "Kristy, Are You Doing Okay?" peppered in at all the right places.  "Fix You" is the only sorta "love song" kind of thing going on here, but even that one is well-done and feels right in place here.  Very catchy.

The Offspring have definitely rediscovered their signature sound.

Mars sucks.

Hey Mars!  It's me, Mike.  How ya been?

I heard you have ice now!  That's what the news is saying here on Earth, anyway.  Congrats.

I hate to be a jerk, but... ya know what, Mars?  I actually have a box in my kitchen that MAKES ice! All day long!  In fact, it has a compartment where that's the ONLY thing it does! And the ice stays there obediently until I decide to use it to cool my favorite beverage of the moment - whatever it may be.
 
Ya know what else I have, Mars?  TREES!  Right in my back yard!  Like, FOUR of 'em!  Oxygen rules!

You suck, Mars.  Back o' the line!

Love,
Mike

Monday, June 16, 2008

NEW ALBUMS - Weezer, Mudcrutch and N*E*R*D


WEEZER - 'Red Album'

With '
The Red Album', nineties alt-rockers - Weezer - give us their sixth album in 14 years, following 2005's mostly-superficial, but still somewhat enjoyable, Make Believe album.

Like the other self-titled Weezer albums ("Blue" and "Green"), this "Red" album is great - just great.  Not 'Album Of The Year' material, perhaps, but in the catalogue of Weezer albums, it's pretty damned good.  Opening tracks "Troublemaker" and "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)" are a couple of brazenly bravado-laden self-aggrandizing rockers.  The albums first single, "Pork And Beans", is a highly definitive Weezer hit, whose chorus is quite reminiscent of 1994's "Buddy Holly".  Be sure to check out their well-crafted ode-to-YouTube-style video for the song HERE.

My favorite track is definitely the mid-tempo, mostly-acoustic, harmony-heavy Heart Songs, in which singer Rivers Cuomo takes a musical trip down memory lane siting a stream-of-consciousness list of the past songs and artists that made him fall in love with the musical arts, (with everyone from Gordon Lightfoot to Debbie Gibson - who is erroneously sited in this song as the singer of "I Think We're Alone Now" - but, we all know that was Tiffany)  and eventually, start a band of his own.  With three simple chords and a brilliant progression, the song never seems to seek to compare Cuomo's own talents with those of his musical elders, but only to pay homage to the musical landscape of his youth.  Brilliant!  (I smell a future hit single!)

"Everybody Get Dangerous" is an aggressive, edgy and loud nerd-rocker that reminisces about destructive teenage hi-jinx, and then projects into a potential future, where the singer is now responsible for his own kids doing the same thing.  But in the end.... screw it!  "Get dangerous!"

The album gets pretty mellow for a while after that, with mid-tempo grooves that just seem to cruise the album along to its ultimate conclusion of the powerful and almost epic rocker: "Automatic", and the album's closer: "The Angel And The One" - a longer, escalating, dramatic tune that finds Cuomo in harmonies, crooning and crying, "We are the angels and we are the ones that are praying."  Pretty epic.

There seems to be a big theme in the first part of the album of a rugged demand for individuality and an assertion of self-acceptance, or rather, "I don't give a fuck about what you think."  But that theme is deserted before it can grow stale and the album explores other subject matter in a healthy progression.

Pretty solid.




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MUDCRUTCH

Never heard of 'em?  That's because its a 40-year old band, and this is their first album.  

Okay, even though it's true, it's a bit misleading.  Formed in 1970 Mudcrutch (formerly The Epics, formerly The Sundowners) is the band to which Tom Petty (as well as guitarist Mike Campbell, and keyboardist Benmont Tench) belonged before forming The Heartbreakers.  They served as the house band at Dub's Diner in their hometown of Gainesville, Florida until they signed a record deal in '74 and relocated to Los Angeles.  

They never did release an album in those days, and the band's only single - "Depot Street" - failed to chart.  But things all changed when they started The Heartbreakers two years later.  In 1995, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers released the Playback box set, which contained a handful of rare Mudcrutch tracks, including the original, stripped-down version of  "Don't Do Me Like That".

In the 70's, Mudcrutch was quite simply a prelude to the familiar sounds of the Heartbreakers, But on this recent, eponymous 'debut' album, they take on a much stronger grassroots and "old school jam-band" persona, which one iTunes commenter compared to "an old-fashioned Barn Dance!"  As off-putting as that may sound to some, it's not far off... but in a good way.

The album opens strong with with the bluesy, cajon-style acoustic, harmony-driven "Shady Grove" - whose chorus will get stuck in your head - and the band's first single in 32 years, "Scare Easy", which was obviously chosen for its more contemporary style.  Hell, it even sounds like a classic Heartbreakers-style groove.  (If you've been missing the old Petty sound, you'll find it on this one.)

"Six Days On The Road" is a country-friend rock-a-billy tune, in the style of "Route 66", but with Petty's distinctive vocals, making him sound as young as ever, even in his late 50's.  And "Crystal River", like it's name suggests, is a long, flowing, moody jam that stands out with it's 6-minute-plus instrumental jam in them middle of the almost-10-minute track.  Very cool!  There ain't enough of this in rock n' roll, anymore.

"The Wrong Thing To Do" might as well be a Heartbreakers B-side from the late '70s, while "Lover Of The Bayou", a very cool minor-key rocker - from the '90s.

The remainder of the album is a bit rock-a-billy or even country for my taste, but if that's your kinda thing, you're going to love this album.  It's all that style with the timeless combination of Campbell's jangling guitars and Petty's vocals.  Who could ask for more?  I haven't enjoyed anything Petty has done this much since Wildflowers - 1995!

Pretty good!



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N*E*R*D - Seeing Sounds

I don't know much about this group.  I know they are The Neptunes, headed by Producer-wunderkind Pharrell Williams, and this is their funk-rock-hip-hop-alt-soul-blues outlet.  I know this is their 3rd release as N*E*R*D in 7 years, and that it's been 5 years since their last release, Fly Or Die (2003).

I also know that I loved that album and was excited to see that they'd finally made a new album, but was pretty saddened by the weird-as-hell first single, "Everyone Nose (All the Girls Standing In The Line For The Bathroom)" performed live on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.  It turns out a handful of the opening songs on this album follow suit with some of the most dull and boring noise-making tracks I've ever heard, as it seems Pharell is in full "experimental mode", on tracks like "Time For Some Action", "Anti Matter" and "Spaz" - I can't say I really enjoy these tracks much at all.

After this mess is put aside, the album jumps to life with some amazing songs.  "Yeah You" (about a clueless, obsessive stalker-type girlfriend-that-never-even-was) has an old school jazz loop kinda thing going on and is irresistible when the choral harmonies kick in in the chorus, and features the classic N*E*R*D sound.

"Sooner or Later" is a 6-minute, 43-second epic on this album, driven by smooth vocals, a powerful piano hook and some brilliant production of the entire orchestration.  After about 2 and a half minutes of this song, you're not listening to it - it has taken you over completely.

"Happy" is a very optimistic and celebratory, almost Lenny-Kravitz-esque mid-tempo tech-rocker.  It's atmospheric progression soars.  "Kill Joy" is a funky rocker that would make the Red Hot Chili Peppers proud and "Love Bomb" is a hippie love-fest ("We gotta make it right now - fuck what the Government say!") with nostalgic strings and Mariachi horns filling any empty space.  "You Know What" has a very fun, very dance-able '70s disco-funk flare (you can see the disco-ball swirling).  And the final track, "Laugh About It", is a little complicated but still good.

This album is totally worth checking out, even if it's only for the latter half.