Tag Archives: Brian Eno

Albums I Thought Were Terrible (But Aren’t)

 

Popmatters recently ran a piece on “Albums that Supposedly Suck (But Don’t) and it got me thinking of which albums I initially hated. Sometimes, it would take a few listens for me to warm up to the music, with other albums it took a bit of revisionist history and also a bit of perspective.

Passengers – Original Soundtracks 1

This side project by U2 and Brian Eno is one of the most confusing (and alienating) pieces of work by a major artist in the last 20 years. Larry Mullen has gone on record as stating that he absolutely hates this record with songs set to (mostly) imaginary movies. Indeed, anyone expecting an album full of the anthems U2 are known will be disappointed.It’s a mostly laid-back, atmospheric and somewhat ambient affair, the perfect soundtrack to a late-night. The songs don’t really seem to have any structure as most U2 songs do, but they reveal themselves with each subsequent listen. The obvious standouts are “Your Blue Room” which is one of U2’s most haunting ballads, and the Pavarotti collaboration “Miss Sarajevo”.  But songs like “United Colors” and “Slug” are inventive and groundbreaking anything U2 has done.

The Who – The Who By Numbers

With the exception of the pop-ditty “Squeeze Box” The Who By Numbers has mostly been forgotten about by the general public. It’s not hard to see why, as it lacks the firepower of albums like Who’s Next and Quadrophenia. Instead, Pete Townshend offers up songs about his mortality (“Blue Red and Grey”), alcoholism (“However Much I Booze”), his place in the rock world with the emergence of punk (“They’re All In Love”).  It’s certainly not as consistent as some of their earlier albums, but Townshend lyrics revealed a softer side (and more personal) that he further explored on solo albums like Empty Glass.

The Beatles – The White Album

I first this album when I was young. Even then, I knew there were great songs on it, but I couldn’t understand why the hell songs like “Rocky Raccoon” and “Wild Honey Pie” were included. The only version I had was a dubbed cassette I borrowed from my older brother. I was convinced that he must have taken these terrible songs from The Beatles Anthology and put them on the cassette as a joke. There could be no other logical explanation. In recent years, The White Album has grown to be one of my favorite Beatles’ albums. The quirky detours add to the charm of the record, and counter-balance some of Lennon’s heavier lyrics. And what other album could offer songs as majestic as “Julia” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and others as silly as “Ob-la-Di, Ob-La-Da”?

Beck – Midnite Vultures

I loved Odelay upon its release, so I quickly bought Midnite Vultures based on the bouncy and horn-heavy single, “Sexx Laws”.  I was quickly disappointed, as the rest of the album seemed to be a party album, without a party to accompany it. The songs seemed like Beck was trying to hard to be exciting, and unlike Odelay all the odd sounds annoyed the hell out me. In retrospect, Midnite Vultures is the soundtrack for the end of the party. It’s mesh of sounds while not groundbreaking makes it sound fresh and vital, and “Debra” is one of the best Prince tracks that Prince never wrote.

The Rolling Stones – Some Girls

I’ve always heard from various people that The Rolling Stones albums are almost unlistenable after Exile on Main St. While that is certainly their prime, some of their latter days are albums are quite good. I bought Some Girls after reading a positive review in a magazine. This shit didn’t sound like The Rolling Stones. Jagger’s voice was the same, but where was the classic sound? You let me down, rock writers! “Miss You” sounded like a disco song, and “Some Girls” while raunchy, was nowhere as good as “Starfucker”(aka “Star Star”.) As it turns out, I missed the point. “Some Girls” was probably the last time that The Rolling Stones could take a contemporary sound and put their own spin on it without sounding tired and out of ideas. And for the record, I now love “Miss You”.

 

 

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5 Albums For A Rainy Day

It’s raining here in Baltimore –  it’s the perfect day to sit down and read a book while listening to good music.  One of the great things about music, is its ability to pick up on a particular mood and can seep into your subconsciousness.   The mood of a song may feel like raining coming down, even if its lyrical content has nothing to do with the weather.

The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues

Fisherman’s Blues is the ultimate rainy day album. With the exception of the title track, and “World Party”, it’s a largely stripped down affair with emphasis on violins (or is it fiddle in this case?) piano and acoustic guitars.  The rhythm of “Strange Boat” unfolds at a snail’s pace.  Elsewhere, their cover of Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing”  brings tension like a torrential rain, but also leaves room for the inevitable clearing of the skies – reenforced by a coda that includes bits of The Beatles’ “Blackbird”.   The lyrics of “The Stolen Child” are adapted from WB Yeats, but with the dominating piano and mystical-sounding flute, its the soundtrack to the dreams you have on a rainy morning when you hit snooze and don’t want to get out of bed.

U2 – The Unforgettable Fire

The Unforgettable Fire is largely remembered as the album that contained the hit “Pride (In The Name of Love)”.   Thanks to Brian Eno’s production, it is also an album that finds U2 exploring sonic textures perfectly suited to a gray and wet day.  Bono is more hushed on this than any other U2 album – “Promenade” is  a whisper from the band that almost goes unnoticed if you don’t pay attention.  While the band occasionally slides into louder territory (“Wire” and “Indian Summer Sky” in particular) most of the album is a quieter affair with the emphasis on The Edge’s guitar effects as a musical paintbrush.

Bob Dylan – Modern Times

Modern Times finds Bob Dylan for exploring old blues records while also incorporating jazz influences. Even the blurry cover and title (which is a homage to the Charlie Chaplin film of the same name) suggest Dylan’s fascination with that era, which leads to one of his mellowest albums to date.  Even the rocker “Rollin and Thumblin” has a shuffle to it, never allowing the song to quite break through and roar. The album perfectly suits what Dylan’s voice has turned into in the past decade – a long, smoky drawl.   Dylan’s interpretation of “When the Levee Breaks”, titled “The Levee’s Gonna Break” travels at a speed which hints at the disaster up ahead, but never actually descends into it.  There might be a storm outside, but you can take comfort with this album.

Fleet Foxes

If I have any criticisms of Fleet Foxes, and their self-titled debut, it’s that their songs are hard to distinguish from one another.  But as a whole, their debut unfolds with lush harmonies and laid-back acoustics rarely since the early days of Crosby, Stills and Nash.  It’s the sound of a band searching for an overall feeling and mood as opposed to a killer single.  That may bother some, but Fleet Foxes manage to impress while being unassuming.

Tom Waits – Closing Time

Closing Time is not only one of the best debut albums of all time, it’s also one of the best of all time.  The combination of folk and jazz lends itself to just simply lounging around.  The trumpets and piano on “Virginia Avenue” and “Midnight Lullaby” get inside your soul in the way that the best jazz compositions do.  While Waits covers a lot of topics on this album, the arrangements and music say just as much.  This is the type of album where you just want to sit inside, look out the window at the rain, and simply listen.

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The 10 Most Important Artists of the Last Decade – 5. Danger Mouse

Like Phil Spector, George Martin, and Brian Eno, Danger Mouse has elevated into a realm that few producers have.  He’s created a unique sound for different artists and bands, while managing to become a star in his own right.  Dabbling in indie rock, hip-hop, and soul-pop, Danger Mouse has constantly pushed the boundaries of what modern can sound like.

In the past decade, he’s produced and worked with such artists as the Black Keys, Beck, Gorillaz, James Mercer of the Shins, and of course Gnarls Barkley, his own band with Cee Lo Green.  And none of these projects have sounded alike, partly because Danger Mouse doesn’t force his own philosophy and ideals onto his collaborators.  Rather he finds a particular sound that suits the artist while still blending his own dark soul-pop.  Unlike other super producers, Danger Mouse creates a sound that is dense and atmospheric, while still being sparse.  Even without Cee Lo’s paranoid lyrics, “Crazy” manages to be dark and foreboding with little instrumentation.

Danger Mouse first gained attention with the The Grey Album (the mash-up between Jay-Z’s Black Album and The Beatles’ White Album).  It should have been a novelty item – let’s face it most of these projects are.  Yet, there is a respect and knowledge for both artists that very of these project have.  “99 Problems” is given more bite when the screaming guitars and bounding drums of “Helter Sketler” teeter out of control underneath the lyrical rage of Jay-Z.  “Moment of Clarity” is even more poignant when it is driven by the opening riff of “Happiness is a Warm Gun”.

While Gnarls Barkley is mostly known for their monster hit “Crazy” (which Rolling Stone named the best song of the decade) the rest of St. Elsewhere is a minor masterpiece of funk, soul-pop, indie rock, and general weirdness. On the surface, Cee Lo’s soulful voice is the driving force behind the album , particularly on “Crazy” where comes off as both sympathetic and slightly insane. But the combination is deceiving it’s not really a dance-album – the production is too sparse for that.  And it’s not exactly indie-rock either.  Rather Gnarls Barkley is the sound of two men who are not bound by any particular genre – and simply creating music they like.

And that seems to be Danger Mouse’s credo.

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Bowie Collaborations Week: “Under Pressure”

A friend of mine has this theory about the Velvet Underground: what type of songs you like by them, determine what types of music snob you are.  If you like the noisy songs like  “Sister Ray” for example, you probably list Joy Division as one of your favorite bands. If you like  the softer songs such as “Femme Fatale” or Stephanie Says” you probably worship the old R.E.M. records.  I list “Sweet Jane” among mine for what it’s worth.

The Velvet Underground might be the ultimate music snob group.  But I also have this theory that in order to get to be a music snob, you have to like David Bowie.  He’s the gate-keeper to all things weird in music.  Bowie is poppy and melodic enough to attract a mass audience, yet extremely eccentric.  Without David Bowie, I probably would not like The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Roxy Music, etc.  Brian Eno’s music makes a lot more sense after you listen to Bowie’s Low.

This week’s posts are going to be devoted to Bowie’s collaborations with other artists.  Some times this might include him appearing on other records, or other appearing on his records.  Either way, Bowie’s presence lights up a song.

Queen & David Bowie: “Under Pressure”

For me, this song should not work.  (I rank Queen among the Eagles as one of the worst bands ever.)  There’s also the fact that both Freddie Mercury and Bowie, are two of the most excessive figures in rock.  For both of these guys, every single thing they did was bold, and over the top.  Bowie created Ziggy Stardust, and as “Bohemian Rhapsody” was an entire opera put into a 6 minute song.  Every single move they made was an event.

Until recently, I didn’t know that “Under Pressure” was recorded in 1981.  I just assumed that it was made in 1976 when Bowie was all coked up – why else would he make a song with Queen?  “Under Pressure” is perhaps remembered most for its famous bass-line, which Vanilla Ice may or may not have taken liberally for “Ice Ice Baby”. Ice famously suggested that there was a half-note difference between the two bass-lines.

What amazes me about “Under Pressure” is how it’s become a de facto party anthem.  In spite of (or perhaps because of) the familiarity of Ice’s song, “Under Pressure” has become a song that gets people up.  Everybody knows it, and everybody enjoys it.  Even me, the music snob, who hates Queen.

“Under Pressure”:

Two Kermits Singing “Under Pressure”

 

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