‘Third’- Soft Machine

Perhaps the leaders of the progressive rock scene out of Canterbury, England in the ’70s, Soft Machine’s stamp on the scene was far from accessible. In fact, the rules that the band played by weren’t really rules at all. Progressive rock and rules have always had a testy relationship, but Soft Machine were able to take that concept to a whole other level. Where was all of this coming from? Well, the outfit was essentially the brain child of Robert Wyatt. Listed as an influence by many artists over the years, including, not insignificantly, Roland Orzabal of Tears for Fears, Wyatt’s mind at the center of the band was able to further the intricacies of their overall center, their reason for existence.

The opening track on their third record, appropriately titled ‘Third’, released in 1970 is “Facelift” and immediately it becomes clear just why these guys were considered by many to be one of the foundations of jazz-fusion. The title of the track isn’t at all insignificant or misleading. You do indeed feel as if you’re receiving a facelift while listening to it. The sonic tonality of Soft Machine’s onslaught very much possesses the sensation of melting. Quite possibly, the reason for this is the fact that the band purposely thrusts this sensation upon the listener. On their first two records, though, the band would only hint at the full-bodied sensationalism that was to come on this third outing. Perhaps an appropriate way of viewing this record is to treat each of the four tracks as part of a much larger phenomena. Each one builds to the inevitable conclusion. Before you reach orgasm, as most of you well know, there are many sensations that pop up along the way. Like an eccentric orgasm, Soft Machine doesn’t go straight for the jugular. “Slightly All the Time”, at least initially, backs off on pace pushed ahead in the previous track. Like the sensation this record is being compared to, though, it doesn’t forget its central theme or purpose. The calculations and mathematical precision of this record are of such an astute profundity that it’s often difficult to fully intellectualize what it is you’re experiencing, much like… well, you get it. By the time the band break into “Moon in June”, it’s clear that they aren’t planning on slipping up on this record. Let your eyes not be mistaken, this is truly an example of what music is capable at the peaks of its power. Existence of God found in each carefully executed arrangement. Never fear, the moment you’ve all been waiting for happens during the final track “Out-Bloody-Rageous”, the record’s undisputed highlight and, of course, this isn’t surprising giving what this record sets out to do.

This is a flawless record of carefully crafted, well executed, not-of-this-world proportion. Soft Machine manage to make Yes sound like the Monkees on this record and you know what? Thank God for that. Many find Soft Machine to be too much. This is poorly-thought out judgment. What this band was, at the peak of their powers, was something truly extraordinary; something that didn’t understand or even care about the idea of conventional musicality. The jazz and classical sensibilities ring true throughout the full duration of this record and are, at the end of the day, certainly more telling to the band’s center of gravity than good ole rock n’ roll music. So, sit back, relax, and take your time with this one. This record is sure to be a slow-burner for most everyone, especially those unfamiliar with the Canterbury scene or progressive rock music as a whole. If you stick it out, though, you just might find a little something about yourself that you didn’t before spinning this one. Perfection.



‘Crowded House’- Crowded House

When Neil Finn put Split Enz on hold for the much more straight-ahead pop sound of Crowded House, it shouldn’t have been as much of a surprise as it probably was. The frantic experimentation of Split Enz certainly differs from the simplistic sentimentality of this self-titled record from 1986. That’s a given. As time wore on, though, Split Enz did become noticeably more pop-oriented. Crowded House, if anything, served as the end product of Finn’s more accessible tendencies within his artistic capabilities. You can hear the transition from “History Never Repeats” to anything on this record as easily as you understand the flow of this record’s ambition.

The opening track on the record is “Mean to Me”, which serves as the icing on the cake as far as Finn’s complete transition from art rocker to pop star. It’s also important to note that he sounds as if he’s been freed on this song and this record. You can feel the relief of being the part of a much simpler project in every note that he utters throughout this record. There is a freedom, a simplistic freedom that carries this record’s strongest moments. Keep in mind that there is an emphasis here on ‘strongest’. There is a certain amount of filler scattered throughout this record. Fortunately, this record houses “Something So Strong”, which is without question one of the most blissful pop songs of the ’80s. This is track is only to be outdone on the record by “I Walk Away”, a pretty similar track that just happens to do it a little better. Obviously, you can’t talk about this record without mentioning “Don’t Dream It’s Over”. This track, though loved by many less-than-demanding pop radio listeners of the decade, just seems to be a little off the mark. It’s an okay song, but it doesn’t share the sense of freedom that the two prior mentioned tracks do. There’s nothing wrong with the track, but this fact remains apparent. Is it the worst romantic ballad of the decade? Certainly not. Is it the best? Far from it.

At the end of its duration, this record leaves a mostly positive impression on the senses. It’s pretty good. It’s far from perfect, though, and one of the reasons for this is that Finn seems to have left his knack for quirk and adventure behind. Yes, there is plenty of bliss on this record, but too often the songs sacrifice any sense of adventure just to squeeze in a few more guaranteed spots on the radio. Some of the charisma is missing. It’s unfortunate to say, there are a couple of particular tracks that really shine. Another component of this criticism, though, is the fact that it’s difficult to feel too strongly for any kind of derision of the product. The uninspired moments aren’t usually too painful. For this reason, many of the record is easy to forgive. Finn and the band were looking to create a crafty ’80s pop master formula with this release and, ultimately, they don’t succeed. At all. These guys aren’t Marshall Crenshaw. What they are is a mostly solid band that, when they’re at their best, are pretty good at what they do. For many, this will be enough. It’s easy to be cynical with bands like Crowded House, but the ends rarely justify the means in this pursuit. What crime have they committed? If nothing else, you at least have to commend the two standout tracks mentioned above. You could do worse than this.


‘Lost Themes II’- John Carpenter

Horror film director, often identified as the “master of modern horror”, John Carpenter, released ‘Lost Themes II’ in 2016. The sequel to ‘Lost Themes’, released the year prior, the record is just what it says it is. Carpenter has famously composed many of the soundtracks that accompany his films. In this art, he’s long been one of the best in the business. The theme from his film ‘Halloween’ has become one of the most popular and recognizable themes in the history of cinema. Not to mention, one of the most spine-chilling and nerve-wracking. Carpenter manages to be an accomplished film score composer mainly because of his keen grasp of his own subject matter and an ability to transfer that into a musical setting. Carpenter balances being both a great director and a great composer, he’s an artist in the truest sense of its meaning.

The record opens with a piece called “Distant Dream”, which feels like a piece that could have easily fit in on any of Carpenter’s ’80s films. This track is full of all of the hideous wonder perpetrated in many of Carpenter’s films. Wonder is the correct word here. One of the things that made ‘Halloween’ such a frightening film was the fact that the overall violence of Michael Myers’ killings was understated. The film was much more enveloped in what Myers represented; a force of pure evil, a lifeform without conscious, understanding, or reason. Within the context of ‘Halloween’, which is what most aspects of his legacy end up leading back to, this sense of dread, wonder, and refinement is precisely the way this record presents itself. The following track, “White Pulse”, has an opening that will almost certainly go down as one of Carpenter’s creepiest pieces. One does begin to wonder at about this point in the record, what does this release mean for Carpenter’s overall career? Why has he chosen to deliver the ‘Lost Themes’ series to us now? Is his career as a filmmaker over? Or is this just something cool that he thought of to do? Aside from the bigger questions, though, one can’t deny the potency as vibrancy of this record. One other moment of interest and intrigue on this record is the track “Virtual Survivor”. With a seeming basis in the world of science fiction and a touching upon a robotic synthesis, images of Isaac Asimov and the Alan Parsons Project with their respective tellings of ‘I Robot’ wouldn’t seem too far off of what Carpenter appears to be aiming for here.

This release is a solid one from Carpenter. Again, it would seem that his ability interpret full-length stories as instrumental pieces is something deeply instinctive in his personality. There are relatively few who have his level of competency in accomplishing this. Whether or not he will make another film and the bigger questions surrounding the implications of this release are totally irrelevant to the overall pictures that the pieces of this record pain in the mind. Other than a few moments, albeit quite brief moments, of sameness, this is about as good of a collection of instrumental pieces as you could possibly hope for. Carpenter does what he does best here. This is a hodgepodge of his imagination that is equal parts wondrous, horrifying, eerie, and inquisitive. For fans of his films, this is sure to be a real treat. Not only had Carpenter proven to be one of the absolute best, most imaginative filmmakers of the 20th century, but his powers aren’t limited to a single form of expression. This serves us all in a positive manner.


‘Altered Beast’- Matthew Sweet

Matthew Sweet’s 1993 release, ‘Altered Beast’, struts along with much of the same neurotic, off-kilter rock n’ roll attitude that had defined much of Sweet’s earlier output. Ever since the days of Buddy Holly, there have always been figures in rock n’ roll who aren’t, in any kind of traditional sense, cool. Most of these figures have, importantly, gone on to reinvent or adjust the meaning of cool in a rock context. Are Talking Heads cool? Well, yes. Elvis Costello? Duh. This sort of avenue of rock is exactly where Sweet fits in and thank God for this. Have you ever looked up at what is more traditionally accepted as rock God status and thought that, as cool as it can be at its most grandiose and otherworldly, that it just isn’t steeped in realism? Well, that’s because it’s often not. Generally, figures like Sweet are more understandable through the eyes of the typical listener (this is not meant to demean).

The opening track on this record is “Dinosaur Act” and it starts the record off on a typically high note within Sweet’s usual vein of power pop. The track that is the undisputed highlight of the record, though, as well as perpetrating a sense of blue-collar torture and everyman ‘lover beware’ kind of sentimental warning inside of its beautiful melody and infectious stylings. There were few pop songs in the ’90s that were better than this absolute gem. Another highlight is “Time Capsule”, which maintains its own center of gravity on a record that is full of center and gravity. It’s really no wonder why this record flows so easily. After all, with guests like Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac) and Richard Lloyd (Television) on a record, it’s fair to say that there’s an obligation to maintain some kind of head-above-water level of competency with your craft. One of the records more rocking moments is “Ugly Truth Rock”. In this track, you’ll hear more than a little bit of ‘Life’s Too Short’-era Marshall Crenshaw and there’s definitely no shame in that. Although Sweet doesn’t have the same level of magic with his craft that Crenshaw does, he does have enough of a pedigree to pull it off convincingly and without a shred of inauthenticity.

So overall, this is a good record. As is mentioned above, this record maintains a perfect center of gravity. This is quite an impressive feat when you account for some of the more neurotic songwriting and Sweet’s obviously ’90s aesthetic. The only real sin that this record commits is that it will throw some filler out at you from time to time. However, this is by no means prevalent or invasive on the overall standing of the record. Center of gravity, remember? The simple fact is that you could do a whole lot worse. There is an earnestness and a refinement to Sweet and his songs that make it difficult to not indulge. It would seem that he has found out and, even more importantly, not taken for granted the art of good ole simplistic rock music. You know, the stuff that made everything that came after it possible in the first place. He gets this, but of course puts his own unique ’90s touch on the formula. This is good stuff. You won’t make a cynic out of me on this one.


‘Priest=Aura’- The Church

In case ‘Starfish’ and ‘Gold Afternoon Fix’ didn’t carry enough of a dreamy, psychedelic, otherworldly vibe, the Church made sure to apply the necessary remedy for that on 1992’s ‘Priest=Aura’. It’s difficult to call this a rock album, as the Church seem to have had completed their transition away from rock n’ roll altogether with this record. It’s been noted over the years that the band’s leader, Steve Kilbey, was into heroin throughout the ’90s. This is not an insignificant soundbite within the context of this particular record. If there was ever a record that sounded as if it owed its very existence to the usage of heroin, this is that record. For Kilbey, it was a creative tool. He’s notable for having a view of the drug that is less than conventional in the eyes of the general public. Regardless, its impact on this record is evident.

The opening track on the record is “Aura”, a seven-minute ditty seeping in the sort of mysticism and spiritual nature that the band had become famous for over the past few preceding records. The following two tracks, “Ripple” and “Paradox” feel very similar in tone to this opening track. Thematically, “Ripple” is arguably the peak work of the Church’s mystical side while “Paradox” feels like an ode to the heroin use that was prevalent in Kilbey’s life at this time period. The rich, albeit gloomy textures of this record help to present a subject matter that isn’t of this world. In fact, it isn’t until “Feel” that the band treat the listener to a track that is somewhat upbeat (even this track is far from being traditionally upbeat). It should be noted, though, that the material present on this record isn’t purposely gloomy. The subject matter is often apparently motiveless. The elements of this record that give it the most character are Kilbey’s impassioned delivery and the rest of the band’s appropriate renderings of their own musical arrangements. Without this, much of the record’s lyrics would read as mystical poetry; omnipresent and without judgment one way or the other. The conviction belongs to Kilbey, who is utterly and passionately enveloped in the world that this record exists in. One other highlight on the record is “The Disillusionist”, telling the story of a mystical figure with such acute vision and lyrical imagery as only to persuade the listener once again the humor the vision of the band.

What this record represents is the culmination of everything that the band ever wanted to be. Kilbey has said with great assurance that he views this as the band’s greatest record. What is almost certainly true about this record is that it is the greatest record at portraying everything that the band had ever hoped to be remembered for. This record maintains a highly ambitious vision throughout its full duration and, most importantly, is capable of keeping itself on the right path and not straying off into the vast fields of confusion which often exist around projects like this one. Whether or not this is the Church’s best record is debatable (although probable), but what’s more important is that it is the record the best presents the band executing all of the bits and pieces of their repertoire that has always made them a highly unique musical unit. In that spirit and in the spirit that there are relatively few other records that truly sound like this (of which none are better), there is practically nothing negative one could say about this record.


Pallbearer at Vaudeville Mews (May 27, 2017)

Downtown Des Moines, Iowa was treated to a wide variety of heavy metal when Pallbearer came to town with Inter Arma, Gatecreeper, and local band, Green Death. There was a great range of moods being tested throughout the night and for anybody squeamish enough to fall for the “heavy metal is stupid” fallacy, I’m sure the sounds bombarding the streets were enough to keep them up at night. There are many facets of this show that warrant appropriate response, least of which being the up close and personal feel of the venue itself. This sort of phenomena, of course, is something that originated in the early days of punk and would become commonplace once punk became its more hardcore variant. This venue’s layout makes it highly conducive for moshing, which is another phenomena that we owe to hardcore punk. Personally, I stay away from the mosh pit, but this particular event had its fair share of animalistic, primal mischief going on in that circle.

The opening act was local band, Green Death. These guys play a brand of heavy metal that is in equal parts guttural and clean in its vocal delivery and taking equally from quick punk-type stuff and slow, sludgy metal-type stuff, musically. Although it seems to be quite commonplace for concertgoers to not be all that crazy about the opening act, you won’t find me sharing this contempt. Well, at least this time around. These guys are essentially about as solid of a heavy metal opening act as you could get. Are they fancy? No. Do they do anything original? Not really. What they do accomplish quite well is setting the precedent for the rest of the show to follow. They warm up the crowd and do it well, instinctively. The truth about an opening act is neither that they have a massive responsibility or no responsibility, the responsibility of the first band on the bill is to decide whether or not they’re simply passing time before the other acts come out or whether they want to impress the crowd in their own right. Depending heavily on this spectrum, the opening act can either decide to be the most important band on the bill in own unique reasoning. Green Death seem to take a lot of responsibility in this particular role.

The next band that performed was Gatecreeper who, incidentally, happened to steal the show. These guys were just as good as Pallbearer would turn out to be. Also, unsurprisingly, Gatecreeper were the most brutal band on the bill. Death metal to the core; in a concert environment, there are few settings more dangerous to be in. Something happened to click on for me during their performance: the dangerousness of this style of music is what makes it so enthralling in a live setting. The band almost certainly made the majority of the audience wonder if they were going to be making it out alive and that’s the testament of the band. They (along with Chicago grindcore band, Macabre) are without a doubt the most brutal live act I’ve had the pleasure to witness. Performing much of their debut record ‘Sonoran Depravation’ was perhaps more accurately described as throwing the audience into a meat grinder and smiling throughout the scene to see if there were any survivors in the aftermath of the event. This is somewhat indicative of the nature of humanity. We always have a soft spot for the mysterious and the forbidden. Perhaps in that reasoning, it’s appropriate to view death metal and bands like Gatecreeper as representative of an innocence long lost. A particular piece of ourselves and our own predicament that got lost out on the shores somewhere along the tides of life. This is a corner from which we become faced with the utmost blackest of our consciousness. Chances are that Gatecreeper are the band that your parents and your school guidance counselor told you to stay away from when you were a kid. Nevertheless, they’re here and it serves you right.

Inter Arma, a curious little concoction of a band, were up next. Experimental at their core with traces of death metal and stoner metal thrown in to shake things up even further, they served as a well-traveled bridge from Gatecreeper to the headliner. Aside from having the best drummer of any band on the bill, though, their set tended to be rather slow and full of testiness. Even with that said, there were moments in their set when true ambition was shining through. This is a band that clearly has some sort of vision, even if it, at times, seems confused and unfocused. Maybe that’s precisely the point. Who knows? Regardless, they pull some surprises out of their bag of tricks that, as the audience would soon find out, shocks you. The largest moshing event of the night occurred sporadically and out of nowhere just as the band seemed to be lightening up and winding down their set. The band’s versatility make them a band that would make sense on just about any heavy metal tour and/or festival (they did just get off tour with Carcass). It’s also highly likely that this band is on the upswing and that they will only get better as they continue to form their craft and deliver on the goods that their set list hinted at.

The headlining band, Pallbearer, certainly didn’t disappoint. Pallbearer have become quite the metal band over the past few years. Their strength in their performance as well as their strength as a band on their studio recordings is a sort of refined, understated brutality. They aren’t the kind of band that beats you over the head repeatedly with a hammer until you can’t take anymore. Their style is quite unique and though they are without question a metal band, a doom metal band, specifically, their vocal approach is something that wouldn’t sound out of place in any kind of alternative music circle. This adds an interesting dynamic to their music. Their music is of a highly emotional sort, best evidenced in the band ripping through “The Ghost I Used to Be” off their 2014 record ‘Foundations of Burden’. The band also treated the audience to material off their newest record ‘Heartless’, full of emotional interludes and instrumental passages of pure bliss that make you feel as if you’re soaring through the air. It became quite clear throughout their set that these guys are a band that is on the cusp of exploding into the stratosphere of popularity. Their highly emotional material is something that allows these guys to appear to a wide variety of music fans. Their onstage demeanor is also one that is in direct contrast to the other bands on the bill (especially Gatecreeper) in that they aren’t a band that goes straight for the jugular. This is a band that exercises great poise and patience as they perform. This poise and patience is what puts the audience in a sort of trance throughout their performance.

All in all, this was a very good show that showcased a large variety of metal music. The highpoints of the show were undoubtedly dominated by the performances of Pallbearer and Gatecreeper. Putting these two bands on the same bill was something that just worked, even in all of their differences. More than anything else, what it proved was that metal is indeed not dead, contrary to what many of the cynics might think. What metal has done is quite spectacular, it remains arguably the only broad genre of popular music that has remained exclusively underground (well, for the most part). This element still lends a lot of strength and appeal to the metal subculture and shows like this are where all of these ideas become solidified objects. A metal show is something that everybody needs to experience at some point and those who don’t like the music will never truly know what they’re missing out on and furthermore, that they are missing out an entire portal of music that opens up a dimension of the mind and of the universe that no other genre of music is capable of opening. Perhaps this is yet another reason why metal will always survive changing musical tides, because it isn’t inhibited by what else is going on around it. It’s eternal, timeless, and is self-assured in its pathway and delivery. Expect much more from Pallbearer and Gatecreeper in the future, thank God.


‘Eat Me, Drink Me’- Marilyn Manson

The often overlooked (and underappreciated) 2007 effort from Marilyn Manson, ‘Eat Me, Drink Me’, showcases the first time the noted controversialist took listeners on a personal journey. This journey that Manson takes us on, though, isn’t a happy one. Not only does this record take a change of pace in Manson’s positioning of himself, but musically, this record represents a huge contrast from his previous record, 2003’s ‘The Golden Age of Grotesque’. Manson doesn’t go for the jugular as directly on this record as he has on preceding records. In fact, through Manson’s vulnerability, we’re opened to whole new windows that weren’t even offered to us on previous records.

The opening track on this record is “If I Was Your Vampire”, which paints the full picture of this record clearly. The idea of vampirism runs the course on this record, aiding in the weaponry that Manson equips to detail his complex state of suffering. Another of these weapons, as evidenced in the following track, “Putting Holes in Happiness”, is a sound that, perhaps unlike the subject matter of the record (or any Manson record, for that matter) is understated. This deliberately differs from past Manson records. Rather than his usual bluster and conglomeration of shock rock and industrial metal, Manson treats this record with a layer of a slightly conservative gothic rock sound (as conservative as that can be). Much of this lends itself to why many listeners didn’t warm to this record as much as Manson’s previous records, but, as can be the case with the general public’s view of artist’s branching out, this is a mistaken reaction. Moving further down the record, one of the undisputed highlights is “Evidence”. This is one of the grooviest tracks in Manson’s catalog and, lyrically, it should burn on contact. It’s the title track, though, that surpasses all other tracks on this record and will probably leave you sleeping with the lights on for the night. This shouldn’t be surprising. Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with Manson knows that he maintains an eccentric lifestyle and, one can imagine, this leads to some dark places. How romance mingles into this picture is something that is easier pondered than executed.

The critics got it wrong on this record (and many other Manson releases). This is an excellent record that has very few slipups. It should be noted, though, that if you can’t get on the level with the subject matter, this is probably going to fly way over your head. It can be an overwhelming record, but that’s a Manson trademark. It’s good for you. Consider yourself lucky enough that Manson decided to share this side of himself with you. If nothing else, that’s precisely what this record accomplished and, in that sense, this record represents a major turning point in Manson’s career. Since he released this record, much of his output has been more towards this vein. It’s been quite some time since Manson was capable of generating the kind of outrage that made him a household name and he’s clearly aware of the changes that time inevitably forces. There are those out there who will say that Manson is old news, that he peaked long ago. This isn’t the case. He simply has learned how to adjust with the changing times and alter his persona a bit, giving further credit to his longevity and powers as an artist. Besides, you’re smarter than “those out there”, aren’t you?


‘Earth and Sun and Moon’- Midnight Oil

Midnight Oil released ‘Earth and Sun and Moon’ in 1993 and by this time they had become one of the leading forces of righteous ideology-driven rock music. A title they’d worked pretty diligently to grasp for over the years preceding this record. Could you call them Australia’s answer to U2? Probably not. That’s far too lazy of a connection, even if they share a sense of left-leaning political and social ideology. This particular record from the band does seem to present a different set of ideas than some of their previous records on how to go about laying out their conditions for the listener. This record doesn’t appear to share the sense of urgency and occasional bouts of irritability that ‘Diesel and Dust’ did, it often opts for a more restrained emotional center and sensibility. Nevertheless, they remain remarkably similar records.

The opening track on this record is “Feeding Frenzy” which is essentially what had been established as the signature Midnight Oil Aussie-rockin’ track. After all, this track is essentially the “Beds Are Burning” of the record. The Aussie element can’t afford to be overlooked, as it serves a seminal purpose to the sound of the band. One listen to this band and you’re instantly transported to the outback. The following track, “My Country”, is filled with band leader, Peter Garrett’s, ideology-driven social critique. This is something that will probably rub some listeners the wrong way, but hey, if you’re a fan of Midnight Oil already, then you already know what you’re getting yourself into. Needless to say, this familiar motive runs its way throughout the full duration of this record and it’s stacked with excellent tracks. One of the other highlights is “Truganini”, referring to the indigenous Austrialian and his struggle with the incoming European settlers. Another undisputed highlight on the record is “In the Valley” and what becomes clear more than anything else about this record is that Midnight Oil seem to have reached a peaking level of comfort within their own format and know exactly how to execute that format with an impeccable ease. It’s very easy to continuously compare this record to ‘Diesel and Dust’, but it’s necessary. These two records cover seemingly the same path throughout their respective durations.

This record is just solid enough that it might be able to win over the as of yet unconverted masses. Aside from the possibility of conflicting social and political views, there really isn’t a whole lot about this band that is blatantly unlikable. They definitely have a broad range of appeal and aren’t shy about this fact. Though this record exists in sharp contrast to the early days of the band, which were dominated by a pub rock sound, the tough Aussie roots of the band still remain intact. The difference between their earliest records and this record is that, by this point in time, their polishing of their own material was hitting a very high stride. There was definitely a Midnight Oil formula that had to, at the very least, be hinted at or accessed in some form on any of their records. Generally speaking, this is tried and true reality for many established bands and artists. However, it could be argued that there aren’t many bands who have been able to continuously pump out fresh, inspired material within the confines of such a format as Midnight Oil. No, this record isn’t quite as good as ‘Diesel and Dust’, but what is? As for those who don’t share that sentiment, there’s really no need to be so bullheaded.


‘Ultramega OK’- Soundgarden

Released on Halloween 1988, Soundgarden’s debut record ‘Ultramega OK’ set in place a new musical landscape to many listeners of rock/metal music. Predating Nirvana’s debut record by almost a year, this record paints the picture of a record that essentially set the rules for grunge music throughout the next decade that would soon follow. One thing that has always set Soundgarden apart from Nirvana, though, was the fact that Soundgarden were just as much a metal band as they were a grunge band. There is an awful lot of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to be found in the musical output of Soundgarden and, of course, Chris Cornell always howled and screeched like the ’90s version of Robert Plant.

The opening track on this record is “Flower” and though the title may suggest something delicate, this track is far from it. This opening track sets the tone for this record and really does quite the job in presenting the central musical philosophy for the band for many years to come. Of course, there was a bit of a precedent for this kind of thing, as personified by the Melvins, but Soundgarden managed to take that format and condense it into something that traded in a fixation with the avant-garde for a love of tackling the sick and the grimy with a cheeky grin and snarl. This idea carries itself into the next track, “All Your Lies”. One of the real strengths of this record lies, perhaps coincidentally, in its hodgepodge of musical styles. As mentioned, there is a lot of metal on this record, but there is also a healthy dose of punk rock (which would be a cornerstone of musical influence on grunge, though metal would prove to be an anomaly as an influence). Another undisputed highlight on this record is “Beyond the Wheel”, as Chris Cornell lets loose his signature howl and Kim Thayil proves that he was arguably (there’s no argument) the best guitarist of the grunge era of rock music. It’s when the band break into “Circle of Power”, though, that they showcase the visceral power that encapsulated their early output the best. Unrestrained. Unrefined. Rough. Tough. Anxious.

This debut record from Soundgarden sometimes gets overlooked when talking about the musical landscape of the late-’80s/early-’90s, but it shouldn’t be. This was clearly the work of a band that felt like they had a lot to prove and wasn’t concerned about taking what they believed to be rightfully theirs. This record isn’t without forgettable moments, though. It would take a few more years before they would be capable of putting out an impeccable, spotless masterpiece of a record. The thing that stands out about this record in comparison to later classics ‘Badmotorfinger’ and ‘Superunknown’ is its lack of delicacy. Even ‘Badmotorfinger’ with all of its fury doesn’t carry itself with the lack of care and forthright intensity that this record often does. There is definitely a lot of potential to be found on this early record, much of which would rear itself in much more polished fashion later on down the road. This was, after all, a debut record, and it’s no secret that debut records are often (but certainly not always) sloppy, spotty efforts. They do, however, often give incredible and necessary insight to what a band/artist is going to do later on down the road and it’s in this sense that this record, in its own way, is a mini-triumph.



‘All You Need Is Now’- Duran Duran

New wave stalwarts, Duran Duran, were back to their bag of tricks on this 2011 physical release (a truncated downloadable version was released in late 2010), ‘All You Need Is Now’. If you know anything about these guys, then you know that they’re pretty reliable and often predictable with their format. If the question of whether or not the band was capable of carrying their infectious brand of new wave pomp into middle age with any kind of vigor or believable zest remained at the time of this release, the band doesn’t care too much to solidly answer the question. Rather, they gleefully dance around the question while giving the listener multiple answers to be applied.

The opening track on the record is the title track, which also happens to be one of its absolute highlights. In a musical climate that has seen more than its fair share of “boy bands” since the band’s glory days, it’s easy to overlook the fact that these guys pulled off that silly concept far better and far earlier than many other artists would willingly lay claim to. From the Backstreet Boys through One Direction and every other group in between, none of the so called “boy bands” ever wrote a song as charming and groovy as the title track of this record. Fortunately for the band, tracks like “Leave a Light On” actually showcase much of the maturity that these guys have employed since the release of ‘Duran Duran (The Wedding Album)’ back in 1993. Without this maturity, of course, the band wouldn’t have been able to survive the changing musical tides that took place in the early-’90s, which were obviously carrying a much more cynical tone than the peppy nature of a band like Duran Duran. However, this was 2010, and “Girl Panic!” makes it quite clear that the band is fully aware of what their legacy is going to end up being. Rather than shying away from this, as many former “boy band” musicians have (George Michael), Duran Duran choose to embrace it with an acceptance that isn’t the least bit apprehensive or reluctant. Even though this is true, the best track on this record is “Mediterranea”, leaning, of course, towards the more mature tendencies of the band’s later work.

Will all listeners like this record? Probably not. Then again, Duran Duran are probably considered to cutesy by many. The problem with that assessment lies in its decidedly nay-saying ambition. We may as well go ahead and face it: Duran Duran are stalwarts for a reason. With that said, this record is far from a perfect record and definitely far from the band’s best outing. Some of this material is tired and recycled from other outings. It’s refreshing, though, to hear the band sound this fresh on the record’s better moments many, many years after their career peaked. Logically and realistically, there is no reason why Duran Duran should still be putting out quality records that are popular. Perhaps it’s even true that popular music would be better off without the band’s legacy. That’s a pondering worth considering and maybe even granting a fair amount of truth to, but that misses the point. These guys have always been about fun and flash; the energy of the party zips through the night sky as it shouts out the band’s name. You might as well do yourself a favor and roll with it. It’s not likely to ever change.