Saturday, June 28, 2008

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!  


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.


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!)

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