Tag Archives: Lyrics

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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The Top 10 Post “Blood on the Tracks” Bob Dylan Albums: 7. “Street Legal”

After the masterpieces of Blood on the Tracks and Desire, it seems inevitable that Dylan’s follow-up would dip slightly in quality.  Blood on the Tracks was a naked emotional affair, and Desire was a wild, gypsy sounding outing – the perfect studio counterpart for the Rolling Thunder Revue.  And Street Legal?  Parts of it sound like a cross between E-Street Band (there’s saxophones) and a Vegas theme-show (the first appearance of the backing singers).

Lyric-wise the album finds Dylan swimming in similar waters as the past two albums – the break-up of his marriage, and his divorce.  He’s looking for new women in his life – even if it’s just for one wild ride as suggested in “New Pony”.  “New Pony” is among the grittiest songs Dylan has recorded. Its fierce riff and pounding drums perfectly suit the menacing equestrian/sexual theme of the song.  Dylan has written many songs about sex, but “New Pony” is probably his most explicit – it almost makes the listener feel dirty.

If there was ever a song that begged for the acoustic Dylan it would be “No Time to Think”.   “No Time to Think” is 1970s Dylan in full protest mood with views on mortality.  (In a way, it’s a sort of pre-cursor to the Christian albums, which would shortly follow Street Legal).  It’s a dense song – lyrics such as ” You glance through the mirror and there’s eyes staring clear At the back of your head as you drink And there’s no time to think” would have hit harder if it weren’t for the big-band production.

Street Legal finds Dylan at a cross roads.  Throughout the album, he’s taken the yearning for lost love as far it can go.  It’s not surprising that in the year (1978) when punk rock was at its apex, Dylan would go the opposite route and put out an album full of grandiose arrangements and a full-band.  Ultimately, Street Legal can be a rewarding album on its own merits, but unlike Dylan’s best albums, the gems aren’t on the surface.

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Nostalgic 1994 Songs: Zombie

After the success of their debut, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We, The Cranberries decided to tackle “serious topics” such as death and abortion on their second album No Need to Argue. Singer Dolores s O’Riordan laments dead family members in “Ode to My Family”; and later contemplates getting older in “21”.  With its heavy riff, “Zombie” exploded on the radio in the fall of 1994, and showed that the Cranberries could actually “rock”.

And it did rock, but it was also polished enough to be on the Mix Radio Station that was played on the bus-ride to school.  The guitars in the chorus may have had distortion on them, but they never overpowered Dolores O’Riorden’s voice. It also helped that the song was catchy as well.  (Who could forget the, “What’s in your head? In your head, zombie, Zombie, Zombie-ey-ey-ey-ey” chorus?)  On one bus ride, a friend of mine let borrow his Discman, and a copy of No Need to Argue, and I was surprised to find out that “Zombie” actually had an extended ending that was edited out of the radio.

Even at 13, I had a vague idea of what “Zombie” was about. Even if you knew little about the Irish Troubles, O’Riordan made it clear what her target was decrying their “their tanks, and their guns, and their bombs.”  I may not have understood exactly what events she was referring to, but I clearly understood the sentiment.

“Zombie” sounded great in 1994/1995 but time has not been kind to this song. While The Cranberries surely felt a need to take on such topics (like most good Irish bands), 16 years later “Zombie” sounds trite compared to other songs about the same subject.  Its title is just plain ridiculous considering the topic, and comparing the IRA to zombies in 2010 comes off as childish, as zombies have become mainstream and commonplace.  Perhaps because of O’Riordan’s accent a lot of the lyrics are sound slurred.  “Theme” sounds like “team” and you could easily replace “bombs” with “bongs”.  Any sense of urgency in the song is automatically lost.

In retrospect, “Zombie” seems like it was written to become The Cranberries’ version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. (Even the guitar riff during the verses uses The Edge’s trademark delays.) “Sunday Bloody Sunday” succeeded because U2 painted a grim picture of the violence contrasting it with religious imagery, and view of non-partisanship.   “Sunday Blood Sunday” is not only considered one of U2’s signature songs, it’s also constantly ranked among the best songs of rock.   “Zombie” on the other hand faded away, and remains stuck in 1994.

“Zombie”:

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Fall Songs: “Moondance” – Van Morrison

This week’s theme might, as week might as well be moon, since yesterday I reflected upon Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon”, and today I’m going to take a deeper look at Van Morrison’s “Moondance”.

A friend of mine commented on yesterday’s post that “Harvest Moon” was a classic; on it’s way to becoming a standard.  I don’t entirely disagree, but I feel that “Moondance” has already been a standard – and with the exception of “Brown Eyed Girl” – the song that is most associated with Van Morrison.

Morrison’s music has sometimes been described as “Celtic Soul” – and “Moodance” is probably the epitome of that description.  The music swings and sways like jazz.  Morrison croons, but the flute that plays underneath him gives the song a Celtic feel – linking the song musically with the lyrics.  There’s no other song like – and it’s almost like it doesn’t quite belong in this world.  And yet, just as Morrison takes his love to the forest “Neath the cover of the October skies” – it feels entirely familiar.

Like “Harvest Moon”, the lyrics of “Moondance” centers on autumn.  For Morrison, autumn is a magical time – “and all the night’s magic seems to whisper and hush”.  The “leaves on the trees are falling to the sounds of breezes that blow”.  If Neil Young was interested in taking his companion out into the countryside to get away from the world, Morrison is taking his love into another world.

At the beginning of the song, Morrison is full on romantic.  The drums and the piano slide in as Morrison hooks the listener in: “Well it’s a marvelous night for a Moondance, with the stars up above your eyes, fantabulous night for a romance.”   It would be hard to resist lines like that.  By the time Morrison arrives at the second chorus, his love has given into his romantic gestures.  Most of “Moondance” is romantic and full of sincerity, but when Morrison tells his love that she trembles every time he touches her, there’s almost a hint of sexual menace in the delivery.  But the listener has no time to consider, because after the chorus there’s an extended jam, and then Morrison goes on full scat at the end of the song before delivering the final “my love” as the music ends abruptly.

 

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Top 10 Kanye West Songs

(Daily theme coming later.  But I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Kanye lately- yeah sometimes he can be a jackass, but as far as rap/hip-hop goes, he’s still the best out there.  Granted, I haven’t checked out his Good Friday digital downloads, so I’m perhaps a bit behind.)

My Top 10 Top Kanye West songs:

1.) Power

2.) Slow Jamz

3.) Get ‘Em High

4.) Diamonds From Sierra Leone

5.) Touch the Sky

6.) Barry Bonds

7.) Jesus Walks

8.) Stronger

9.) All Falls Down

10.) Through the Wire

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A Whole Week of Elliott Smith: Coast to Coast

“Coast to Coast” is kind of unexpected as the first song on the  album From a Basement on the Hill that was originally intended to be his next release after Figure 8.  Released in 2004, it ended up becoming a posthumous album, after he died from a stab wounds to the heart. 

“Coast to Coast” is a straight ahead rock song. It  has got big fuzzy, distorted guitars – and of course the multi-layered vocals which were one of his trademarks.  Smith also had his friend Nelson Gary recite some poetry explaining to Under the Radar in 2003:

“I asked this friend of mine to make up something he could say as fast as he could in fifteen minutes about people healing themselves or being unable to heal themselves. While he’s saying this thing there is a main vocal that goes over that.”

The song begins softly with what appears to sound like a distorted orchestra – something that would have been suited to a latter-day Beatles’ song.  And then the actual music kicks in, and the central riff pulls in you.  It’s chunky and distorted – confusing the listener, a theme which also appears in the lyrics.    

 Smith was known for his love of the Fab Four, even claiming that The White Album was the reason that he started making music in the first place.  Even the repeated non-verbal “ahhhhs” beginning at the 2:38 mark are very Lennon-esque.    The song even ends with piano gently playing while numerous voices speak over each other in the beginning – linking together a standard “rock” song with avant-garde effects.  It’s as if Smith was trying to combine the things that he loved about the Beatles in one song – the conventional song, the open heart lyrics, and the experimental.

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A Week Full of Hendrix: “Bold as Love”

If “The Wind Cries Mary” was Jimi Hendrix at his most naked both lyrically and sonically, “Bold is Love” is where songwriter Hendrix meets guitar-God Hendrix. 

Musically, the song is like an audio version of “The Wizard of Oz”.  The first half of the song begins with a blues-based riff – reminiscent of the black and white picture of Dorothy in Kansas.   When Hendrix explodes with extended guitar-solo that kicks off the second half of the song, gray shifts to full-on color, like Dorothy landing in Oz.  He even mentions a rainbow in the song.  It’s hard to know where he was thinking of the “Wizard of Oz” when he recorded this “Bold as Love”.  But Hendrix was probably all too aware that he was taking the listener to a place never heard before – “over the rainbow”. 

Even the song’s lyrics are full of color – “metallic purple armor”; “Queen Jealousy in her green gown”.  Hendrix sees the world in front of him as a canvas, and he uses his guitar to create a psychedelic sonic painting.  Every note is a beautiful, yet furious brush stroke. 

It is worth noting Hendrix’s use of the word “bold” in the song.  Obviously, bold could mean courageous.  But I tend to think he’s referring to bold as a type-face since a bold-face is meant to accentuate, and emphasis words or letters in typography.  Everything about this song is bold.  It’s meant to stand out from everything else, and be larger than life.  When Hendrix yells out, “yeah yeah yeah!” – he’s emphasizing everything that he’s already sung with each individual, “yeah”. 

Check out “Bold is Love”:

On a side note, when I searched  for  “Bold as Love” on Youtube, John Mayer came up first.  Seriously?

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