Monday, February 27, 2017

Music Review #111:
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Island Records

The Carousel Ballroom, a San Francisco-based music venue that mainly held blues performers such as B.B. King and other African American jazz artists in the 1960s, found itself under the control of a musical conglomerate composed of bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, among others in 1968. These bands intended the venue to be a socio-musical experiment to attract audiences in the San Fran/Haight-Ashbury area. Needless to say, the idea wasn't too successful. Former promoter, Bill Graham, took the reigns in '68, hoping to achieve some success similarly with the hall. However the seating capacity of the hall was lackluster at best, and was not nearly grandiose enough to attract the atrophying community surrounding it. In New York City, Graham owned a similar auditorium by the name of Fillmore East which he had acquired not four months earlier. Deciding to seek a better location, the newly-born Fillmore West was born less than a mile away from the original Carousel Ballroom's location.

Fillmore West would go on to host a variety of performances, such as Californian regulars the Grateful Dead, as well as Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service, etc. It should be noted that this performance hall came at a very special time, one known to birth many prolific rock bands all across Europe and North America -- the late '60's. Taking place well into what was colloquially referred to as the Psychedelic Era, rock bands of the time were keen on trekking the globe on large extensive tours, where droves of audiences happened to follow them wherever they went. One of the younger of these acts was King Crimson, who, in December of 1969, co-headlined concerts at Fillmore West with London-based jazz rockers The Nice, a band apart of a similar progressive mindset as Crimson. It was there that keyboardist Keith Emerson from The Nice and bassist Greg Lake from King Crimson met and struck up a quick and steadfast friendship. As their series of performances came to a close, Emerson and Lake were already discussing the prospect of forming a new group. The one musician the band the two needed was a drummer, and after a series of unsuccessful tryouts and careful consideration, the band decided on Carl Palmer, known for his work in both The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster. The trio was now set in stone, and a debut album was set in motion. Lake, similarly to how he had in King Crimson, acted as producer, began collecting songs performed previously in the band's gigs, and began executing them in the studio format. Thus, in November 1970, the band's self-titled studio work was born.

Emerson Lake & Palmer, and by that I do mean the album, is perhaps the purest form of skill, intelligence, and understanding of zeitgeist the band ever cared to show. With a 6-track runtime (par for the course for any semi- self-conscious progressive rock band in 1970), the album doesn't exude any overbearing smugness that the band would come to be criticized for. From beginning to end the album is very poignant musically, aside from hitting a few snags and some inopportune times. Starting with the crunching proto-metallic surge of 'The Barbarian', a rock arrangement of ethnomusicologist Béla Bartók's 'Allegro barbaro', ELP manages to pack a big punch in a short amount of time. Unlike many latter releases, ELP's debut does not contain huge quasi-orchestral suites, instead opting for simply semi-lengthy tracks. The majority of the tracks tend to be a mix of clear songwriting and extensive jams. This is clear from the second track, the epic 'Take a Pebble'. Also clear is a certain dichotomy that only got more pronounced as the band aged; because the band is comprised of only 3 admittedly skilled musicians, each member makes what is almost a silent effort to outdo each-other in terms of unabashed bravado. This especially rings true for Keith Emerson, who not only has a luxuriously no-holds-barred piano solo what seems like every 3 minutes, but also permeates the rest of the album with a multitude of synthesized soundscapes that, with multiple listens, can get extremely grating. This relationship between the band members also can create unenjoyable pandemonium, which it seems the band is blissfully unaware is in fact unenjoyable, especially on songs like 'The Three Fates' (said pandemonium occurring funnily enough directly after one of Emerson's solos). This is all prone to subjectivity though, as the band still manages to hit some rather great points. The heavy riffs that the band occasionally pumps out like on the aforementioned 'The Barbarian' and 'Knife-Edge' are much in the vein of Greg Lake's parent band Atomic Rooster, and are thus very well received. 'Tank' may pleasure me with a bias -- as a drummer and a certain fan of Greg Lakes work I'm easily enraptured by a drum solo from the man coincided with some bouncy synth. 'Lucky Man' seems to hold a certain amount of bad blood with prog-fans, however I personally found myself rather warm towards the track's cheesy qualities, not to mention I'm a sucker for some good vocal harmonies.

Upon release, this album was hailed as a mighty fine one, and it's not hard to see why. Right out of the gate Emerson, Lake & Palmer is passionate and alight with unbridled genius. ELP now had a tight grasp on the attention of the outside world, and nearly everything was set up in anticipation for the band's next big hit.

 2016 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Music Review #110:
All The Right Reasons
Roadrunner Records

This is a re-write review for an album by one of the most hated bands in the circuit they proclaim to be a part of.

Nickelback have been controversial characters for much of their career. At the time of their inception in the mid 90's, they weren't payed much attention to as many post-grunge bands erupted out of the woodwork in the wake of Nirvana's dissolution. Some heavier than others, some lighter and sweeter for a commercial taste, the scene was infested with either mediocre acts or surprisingly good ones. Nickelback, and their debut Curb (1996) directly had the heavy edge but appealed very well to those craving commercial alt-rock tunes. Thus, Nickelback went flying past others on the charts at mach-speed, becoming a concrete part of the 90's hard rock and post-grunge scene. But now it's a few years later, specifically 2005, and Nickelback had released one of their biggest cash-cows yet, All The Right Reasons. This particular album struck gold numerous times, spawning a whopping 7 singles from the 11-song tracklist. The album has become rather infamous for housing 'Photograph', which subsequently became one of the biggest joke songs in the mid 2000's.

To say the album is represented by this song however would be wholly disingenuous, as there are some rather good songs that do deserve to be appreciated. All The Right Reasons is contrived to a borderline insulting degree, but it also is able to have a punch that the band's other albums failed to have. All The Right Reasons starts off with a rumbling double kick thump by the honestly pretty talented Daniel Adair with 'Follow You Home', one of the darkest and likewise aggressive tracks of the whole album. Adair is noted for having performed in the insufferable 3 Doors Down prior to joining, and it's clear that he does a much better job with Nickelback than he did in his parent band. The title track continues this trend, being an unabashed alternative metal riff-off that, while having some pretty soft vocal segments, hardly takes a breath while dealing out some kind of heaviness. But then we hit a wall.

You see, this album is plagued with goody-goody fluff-pieces that can appear at the most annoying of times. In this case, the track that succeeds the title track is the aforementioned 'Photograph', an acoustic memoir piece that has Kroeger melancholically reminiscing out about a childhood that's more bland than the bands music. Apart from the the lyrics being generally uninteresting, Kroeger's genuinely hardcore vocal style juxtaposed with cheesy pop rock acoustic guitar is laughable at best. This tonal shift is prevalent in many annoying spots on the album, making it a rather uncomfortable experience in an album playthrough. Unfortunate yes, but that doesn't mean that there aren't diamonds in the rough still. 'Side of a Bullet' is a tribute to the late Dimebag Darell of Pantera, even featuring an overdubbed guitar solo of his. It really shows that even though Nickelback are known as the unbearable pretty boys, they have their roots in very genuine musicians. To a lesser degree 'Someone That You're With' and 'Animals', the two libido-centric songs are pretty catchy in their own right even though they have about as much subtlety and artistic merit as a piece of cheesecake. There is one exceptional ballad, being 'If Everyone Cared'. Not only well-meaning, the vocal harmonies of Chad Kroeger evoke a very passionate message, even with how heavy-handed it may be. Other than these the album is heavy will vapid material that is unlikely to convince anyone who already hates the band to change their opinion.

Safe? Yes. Predictable. Extremely so. But All the Right Reasons is a guilty pleasure that borders on being actually extremely well thought-out at certain points. If you can get past it's polarizing nature, you may have a decent experience.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Metal Music Archives on 2/18/2017.
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Friday, February 17, 2017

Music Review #109:
The Guess Who
So Long, Bannatyne
RCA Victor

Goin' a little crazy ain't too bad...

So Long, Bannatyne came in the wake of a huge international success that was American Woman, an album that blew up a band that had previously only had a few extraneous hits here and there. Randy Bachman, once perceived as the creative muscle behind songs like 'Undun', took his leave following his bout of Mormon fever that infected his view of the band's then unruly lifestyle. This left The Guess Who to pick up two guitarists from their home city of Winnipeg, Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw, to take his place. Bachman's departure had not left the group quite in dire straits, as not only was Share the Land with this new lineup. Released in the same year of 1970, it itself spawned more singles that kept The Guess Who in a continued state of success.

As the year winded down however so did this success. The group began to evolve slightly but quickly in to a much less commercially palatable sound with progressive touches here and there. The band went from scoring number ones on the Billboard charts to barely scraping into the top 20 in a year alone. Thus enter So Long, Bannatyne, what came out of this madness. To be blunt, this record has no right to be good considering the circumstances in which it was released. However it'd be foolish to judge a book, or in this case a large plastic disk by its cover.

If a word alone were given to describe this particular record, it would likely be "ambitious". It certainly embodies post-Bachman Guess Who better than anything that followed it- this has a much looser, experimental tone than the harder edged stuff on American Woman. It generally wanders the line between archaic, earthy rock 'n' roll and warm hints of progressive rock. When it comes down to specifics it's all over the place, with each song sounding relatively different and reflecting off of one another. For instance the second track 'She Might Have Been a Nice Girl', a bittersweet, regretful ballad is immediately contrasted by the elaborate and maniacal 'Goin' a Little Crazy'. It's quite hard to get over this seemingly halfbaked nature upon first listen, but after a few spins you begin to see how all of the songs are tied by a vague theme of retrospection and introspection. Though it's fairly known in the band's fan circle that this album's title track is written in relation to Kurt Winter's upheaval from Manitoba, the entire album tends to follow a train of thought that delves into sentimentality quite often. 'Sour Suite', a stunning piano rock ballad (and one of if not the best ballads I've heard) tells of a "runaway dad that took away the only thing that I never had". The more straightforward, floaty rocker 'Pain Train' has the lyric "We love the dollar more than the collar that Daddy used to wear". This whole lyrical theme the album uses not only, as aforementioned, ties everything in, but it also makes it thematically intriguing and keeps your intention extremely well. It doesn't hurt that songs like the jazz-rock of 'Grey Day' keep you on your toes with extremely impressive musicianship. Seriously, this song absolutely stunning. One of both Cummings' and Peterson's best work, as well as the song by the band that likely has impressed me the most to date.

So Long, Bannatyne is a comfort record, for sure. On the other hand, it's also a rocker. On the third hand, it also makes you think. You can take it however way you please. Or you can simply take all three in at once and listen to what a surprisingly beautiful and awesome show that this record is.

 2016 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
this review was rewritten on 1/21/2018.
Have a nice day! 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Music Review #108:
Feed The Machine (single)
Republic Records

"...and it's actually pretty good."

This statement to end all statements was bestowed upon the rock community a few days ago as infamous Canadian laughing stock Nickelback dropped their new single, 'Feed the Machine'. Debates raged, collateral damage ensued, "This is metal you dumbass!" and "This is still hard rock and it blows!" being the primary argument fodder to be launched like feces at the opposing side. This verbal warfare brings up one again the time-weathered fact of a sort of ingrained hate for Nickelback, even though they're not nearly the worst band in the rock circuit currently. Many studio albums and singles Nickelback have released in the past haven't managed to break this proverbial mold of dislike...that is, until now.

I suppose after over two decades the hate has died down a bit, and it appears Nickelback has become a bit of new outfit as of late. Though they haven't necessarily ditched the pretty-boy grunge atmosphere completely, they have managed to win many over with their more serious and blatantly heavy output. This I mean in most recent terms possible, as in this only applies to this track. Nickelback's 2014 No Fixed Address flew practically unbeknownst past the ears of everyone, and that includes me. So, Nickelback gets another chance to please people, and they manage to do it to a much greater extent than before.

'Feed the Machine' is one of the heaviest songs songs Nickelback has recorded in previous era. You know the renewed debate on Nickelback's metal credibility I mentioned before? Yeah, all sparked by this song. The damn album hasn't even come out and controversy is everywhere. But this spark has a clear cause- 'Feed the Machine' takes the quasi-political alternative metal vibe up to 11 as the the thunderous riffs blow through the the massive sounding double kick to a savage degree. Chad Kroeger has gotten a lot of blow-back and ridicule over the years because of his "golf ball stuck in the throat" technique that inspired countless others, but I and hopefully others believe that it actually fits much better the heavier the band. His voice's melodious yet no-holds-barred style is very good for what the band is currently producing. The song isn't a cop-out either, with a 5-minute runtime packed with a lot with a ferocious passion that some of the even most hardened of Nickelback cynics admit exists in much of their music.

There you have it. Check it out if you want. I don't know how to end this review. It's better than the last Machine Head single maybe? Yeah. That'll do.

 2016 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day!