‘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.

4/5

 

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‘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.

3.5/5

‘Jess and the Ancient Ones’- Jess and the Ancient Ones

Perhaps proving further that the current narration of rock music is considered by the elites to be of a sour, distraught, incorrect path, Jess and the Ancient Ones released their self-titled record in 2012. Many will cry out loud, “Nostalgia! Nostalgia!”, but maybe that’s the wrong reaction. Perhaps the more appropriate reaction is a pondering on whether or not the sounds dominant in late-’60s/early-’70s rock music were forced out of the public eye before their time was up. Nevertheless, those listeners out there who continue to have a craving for Grace Slick and the more eccentric corners of her mind are in for a healthy indulgence with one listen to this record.

This record opens with “Prayer for Death and Fire” and in case the cover art wasn’t enough of a giveaway, here is where you will find all of your occult-driven psychedelic fantasies put into overdrive. Why, of course there is a guitar riff that conjures up the early days of metal in a smooth, believable sensation! It’s of course the bigger societal questions surrounding this musical approach that make it all the more interesting, though. The above pondering is something we should all perhaps look at with some kind of legitimate context. Meanwhile we move to the following track, “Twilight Witchcraft”, for a midnight stroll through the forbidden alleys of black magic. To those crying foul and barking about how they’ve heard this all before, how about a resounding response of “So what?” and hey, who in their right mind hasn’t found themselves at the mercy of this subject matter? The conditions of this record don’t change throughout its duration and on “13th Breath of the Zodiac”, Jess proves that she has the pipes to conjure up this record’s main points. It’s the hypnotic nature of “The Devil (In G Minor)” that goes on to steal the spotlight on the second half of the record, though. Longtime listeners of this branch of rock n’ roll already know that a healthy dose of mysticism is a good thing, often times at the expense of a sort of control or certainty. The cynics probably won’t ever care to grasp this mentality, but you don’t need their approval now, do you?

If there are any reasons why this record should receive a cold shoulder, they certainly don’t present themselves upon impression. Perhaps oddly enough, as contentious as much of the occult-driven subject matter inevitably is to the safest ears, there isn’t a whole lot of obvious provocation within this record. It happily maintains a definite stance of indifference towards its critics. So at the end of the day, what is this? The future? Nostalgia? Is psychedelic rock/proto-metal fodder really on the way up again? Some would argue that it most certainly is and has been for quite some time. Others may have a differing opinion on the matter. One thing that is clear in the immediacy of this review is that this is a pretty good record. Far from being an absolute essential, it nevertheless is a highly enjoyable journey into the realm of that forbidden fruit that so gloriously reared its head between the years of about 1967-1972. The other ponderings will certainly sort themselves out in the future, but for right this moment, what more could you possibly want?

3.5/5

‘Sounds of the Universe’- Depeche Mode

Depeche Mode had long been one of the more singular acts in popular music by the time they released ‘Sounds of the Universe’ in 2009. Though technically a synth pop outfit, they’ve often maintained a much more cynical worldview than their average contemporaries. The world of Depeche Mode is a world that feels out of reach from the happenings of daily living. It’s a world fully realized in a dream, yet it’s a dream that you only sometimes wish you were having. Such is natural in human existence, though, we are drawn to the more forbidden aspects of living and in dreaming.

The opening track on the record is “In Chains” and as vocalist, Dave Gahan, chases Martin Gore’s muse through the predictably bleak atmosphere of the band’s typical soundscapes, it just might be so that the stakes aren’t quite as high on this record as they were on the previous one (2005’s ‘Playing the Angel’). A bit of a playful imagery carries the listener right into the next two tracks, “Hole to Feed” and “Wrong”. Even if “Wrong” is, at its very core, a track that carries its alienation at the forefront, it’s presentation isn’t one of self-pity. These guys have been around long enough to know better than to fall into that miserable trap. While the track “Little Soul” reminds us all that U2 took this platform from Depeche Mode in the ’90s, there is an obvious reality that shines through with this record. These guys have continuously proven to have much deeper subject matter than most of their synth pop contemporaries. Think about it. How many ’80s synth pop groups are still around and, if so, how many are continuing to pump out material of this quality? A necessary pondering dareth rear itself in understanding the legacy of this band. What the track “Peace” accomplishes is presenting the band’s own trademark, albeit bizarre, sense of emotional resonance. Many Depeche Mode tracks over the years have been, seemingly simultaneously, emotionally distant and emotionally present; cold and warm; alien and yet, somehow, human enough that the listener understands where their material is coming from, or at the very least, understanding where its coming from on the surface of things.

There’s a relatively familiar verdict to be reached on this record. Longtime fans of the band will know this. Depeche Mode don’t really make poor records. This record maintains a consistency that allows it to be easily listenable and enjoyable throughout its full duration. Much of the material on this record falls short of being absolutely essential, but what the hell? They still sound quite inspired in the presentation of their material and as long as that’s true, they can continue to pile on as much fat to their legacy as they want. These guys are still pumping out reliable material when the timing is right and it’s important to note that the more time goes on, the more influential these guys are becoming. Electronic material is becoming more and more dominant at the forefront of popular music these days and arguably no band, especially commercially, has done more to be the main ambassador for this than Depeche Mode. If that’s not your thing, there’s no reason to worry. You can hardly blame Depeche Mode for Skrillex.

4/5

‘Lips Unsealed: A Memoir’- Belinda Carlisle

Belinda Carlisle, pop star as a solo artist and punk rock/new wave idol with the Go-Go’s (as well as muse of mine since childhood), published this memoir, titled ‘Lips Unsealed’, in 2010. Throughout this incredible, unbelievable memoir, we learn many of the highs and lows of Carlisle’s long career in popular music. Man, oh man, have there been a lot of lows. Many of which she had never shared up until the release of this memoir. There are many things that allow this memoir to differentiate from many other tales of rock n’ roll debauchery and this is primarily due to the character of Carlisle. It’s also highly probable that many of the events detailed throughout this memoir will be shocking enough in that few had any sort of suspicion about them. Contrary to what the current reality of the adult contemporary radio format will hint at, Carlisle was much more than just another pop singer in the ’80s.

There are, of course, many instances featured in this memoir to prove this idea, one of which being a hilarious account of Charlotte Caffey, Go-Go’s guitarist, being kicked out of Ozzy Osbourne’s dressing room at Rock in Rio. As pondered in the memoir, just how extreme do you have to be to be considered too extreme for Osbourne? Carlisle, as to be expected, starts from the beginning of her life, pointing out how significantly a role moving around a lot as a kid, as well as the alienation she felt from her birth father had on her early development. Perhaps another interesting contrast between Carlisle and and other pop stars is that, interestingly enough, she reveals that being constantly out on tour never bothered her, even in the early going, because she was so used to moving around a lot from her childhood. About this time in the memoir, she also reveals that becoming a superstar was never a question in her mind. She always knew she was going to make that an inevitability. This sort of self-assurance serves as the central irony and contradictory nature of her personality. In many ways, she’s a perfect example of a personality that has both a superiority and inferiority complex.

As the memoir progresses, so does her cocaine addiction. This serves as the single most heartbreaking aspect of the memoir. It becomes very difficult throughout the reading not to shout “Stop!” into the pages of the book, because her charm and her writing style is so irresistible. The thing about her is that she is one of the most lovable performers of the 20th century. That’s not up for debate (especially in my book). As a fan, it’s difficult not to cringe or even shed tears at some of the memoir’s more grimacing moments. It’s evident that writing this memoir was quite therapeutic for Carlisle, who clearly had a ton of things to get off of her shoulders. The writing is evidence enough of this. It’s also nice to hear the stories of triumph that she endured. Hearing the story of the success that her debut solo record, ‘Belinda’, became, for example, was quite a triumphant moment in this memoir. However, the large portion of the middle section of this memoir proves that fame, success, and excess doesn’t, in fact, go on to make you a happy person. There are many different rock n’ roll memoirs you could read to figure this out, but the way that she handles the material with her angelic charm, her wry sense of humor, and her direct honesty about her persistent confusion throughout the many years of her struggles, are things that separate this from its average contemporary.

After an absolutely heartbreaking episode featuring a monstrosity of a cocaine binge, the story of her salvation and rebirth begins to take hold. Her trips to India and what she experienced there are revelations of pure beauty that will have fans grinning ear-to-ear as she unveils to us the spiritual significance that began to envelop her life. This, along with the patching up of relationships with both her longtime husband (who I worked very hard not to be jealous of throughout the memoir) and her son, whose very existence turns out to be something of incredible magnitude, serve as the main victories that her rebirth and change of direction allowed her to take. There is truly no shortage of tears to be expressed throughout the reading of this memoir, both from a place of triumph and disaster. The one consistent thing throughout is Carlisle’s good-natured presentation of the facts of her often chaotic life. By the very end of the memoir, she reflects and reveals, once again, her own unique self-assurance that, it turns out, carries much more legitimacy now than it ever did in the past.

All in all, this is an absolutely incredible memoir, an undeniable cut above the rest. Much of the criticism surrounding this memoir was that Carlisle focused way too much on her cocaine addiction and that that became repetitive. Bullshit. Without the persistence of this fact, the memoir wouldn’t have been as easily capable of relaying the scope of its intentions to the reader. The language that she uses throughout the writing is also something of a strength in this memoir. As she has consistently been able to portray throughout her career as a recording artist, she simply has a way about her when it comes to getting her intentions across. Her warm charm and her self-awareness serve as fully-loaded weapons in relaying tales of her younger self, who was always full of a contradictory nature that, as it would turn out, had enough character and power to carry on and win the war. There is absolutely nothing about her that isn’t a triumph in one way or another. Many contemporary memoirs can only hope to be half as revealing, honest, and good-natured as this wonderful piece of literature turns out to be.

5/5

 

‘Hammerheart’- Bathory

Have you ever been so emotionally moved by a record that it brought you to tears? Has that record ever been a heavy metal record? Has it ever been by a band known for their influence in the extreme underground? In 1990, Bathory shed their skin as pioneers of black metal and arose from the rubble with a cleaner sound and subject matter that only existed in the realm of the most incredible, grandiose, and epic masterpieces of artistic expression. The scope of ‘Hammerheart’ is one of the grandest in all of metal and, given this, Bathory, throughout the duration of this record, was on the verge of creating something that would exasperate everyone who came upon its audio onslaught.

This record opens with the track “Shores in Flames”, which doesn’t take much time to present itself as something dramatically different than anything that had ever been heard before. The credit for this, in large part, belongs to the imagination of the band’s leader, Quorthon, who always maintained a reputation as being very mysterious and having a personality that was uncategorizable. One thing that is clear about him, though, was his love of Scandinavian paganism and viking traditions, both of which dominate the overall concept of this record. “Father to Son” celebrates these ancient traditions and presents them inside of a world that is unhindered by modernity. In order to fully grasp and understand this record, you must be able to take yourself out of the conventional mindset that we’re programmed to occupy in our current culture. This is precisely why heavy metal has long been misunderstood. It’s music that doesn’t exist on our playing field and, because of this, the listener has got to be able to follow the subject matter with their imagination in order to get it. The record also begins to reach for its immense emotional climax on the track “Song to Hall Up High”. This is a record where magic exists and gods reign over the earth, which will undoubtedly be unreachable for many listeners. Nevertheless, the record carries on to what is perhaps the most emotional, heartfelt heavy metal song ever written, “One Rode to Asa Bay”. This track is an absolutely spiritual experience; a perennial powerhouse of magical expression that just has to be heard to be believed. Within the telling of a people building a house for their god, Quorthon has given us an incredible story of faith, belief, and the power of family and community. It’s been said that music is proof of the existence of God. If this has any merit, this track does a great number in carrying that merit.

If you’re someone who thinks that heavy metal is nothing but a bunch of mindless phonies singing about dungeons and dragons or a group of oversexed buffoons who care about nothing but sleeping with as many groupies as possible, well, you’re an idiot. For more reasons than the scope of this review could express, but one of the many reasons exists inside of this record. This is an example of a perfect record. There is no filler on this record and each song serves its own individual purpose in building to its explosively spiritual conclusion. Another thing, much less important than the emotional ramifications, mind you, that Bathory accomplished with this record was the creation of the term ‘viking metal’, which would be used for describing this record and many others later on down the road. The religious nature of this record can’t be understated. This record exists in a place that’s outside of time or space; it’s infinite and eternal, much like the gods that exist in its world. Obviously this record won’t be for everyone and many will scoff at it on principle, but who are they?

5/5

 

’14 Songs’- Paul Westerberg

Paul Westerberg, who you might know better as the former lead vocalist for the snotty punk rock band out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Replacements, released his debut record as a solo artist (‘All Shook Down’ was technically a Replacements record), ’14 Songs’, in 1993. Westerberg wasn’t lying, indeed this record kicks out 14 songs. The significance that this record holds is in the versatility of the 14 songs within. Though he is still capable of putting out the snobby punk rock attitude that the Replacements’ early material is certainly marked by, he also has shown an emotional maturity with this record that is the icing on the cake as far as this being his ultimate departure from the world of the Replacements.

The opening track on this record is “Knockin’ on Mine”, which is evidence that Westerberg still holds much of the volatility that he continually expressed with the Replacements. However, the difference this time around is that he expresses these feelings within a much more compact setting. This song rocks, but it doesn’t have the unrestrained madness to it that often defines punk rock. Furthermore, this arrangement is once again featured on “World Class Fad”, which also has Westerberg spitting out some of his trademark venomous lyrics, painting a reality that many of the bourgeois are just too blind and comfortable to accept in their minds. However, the undisputed highlight on the record is “Dice Behind Your Shades”. Not only showcasing the versatility of the record, it also resonates emotionally with some of Westerberg’s best songwriting of his entire career. In all of this, he is able to showcase a sense of himself that, no matter how much he attempts to break away from the Replacements, just won’t go away. After all, who would want to break away from this mindset? The world in which the Replacements existed, along with many of their contemporaries, was a peaking essence of cool. A couple of other highlights on the record are “Silver Naked Ladies” and “A Few Minutes of Silence”, both of which wouldn’t sound out of place on what is typically accepted as ‘classic rock radio’. In this fact, you can’t overlook the importance of Ian McLagan from Faces on the record’s material.

This effort has many shining moments and, overall, isn’t too bad at all. Much of the material moves with a freshness that every solo artist hopes of capturing when they strike out on their own. 14 songs, though, turns out to be quite a bit for this record and, not coincidentally, the record tends to suffer for it. It isn’t fair to be too cruel to the filler on this record, though, because much of it isn’t, by any means, bad. The only thing is that it’s quite clear what tracks on this record are supposed to be the obvious points of reference. The ultimate triumph of this record is that it proves that Westerberg is much more than just that snotty, unsettled singer in a punk rock band. If when digging into this record, the listener is willing to give Westerberg the benefit of the doubt on the filler material, then this record is certainly nothing short of a solid example of the early-’90s alternative/college rock scene. What more could you possibly want from the man?

3.5/5

 

‘Django and Jimmie’- Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard

The final collaborative effort between outlaw country legends, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, was released in 2015 to the title of ‘Django and Jimmie’, obviously referring to Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers. At this point in their respective careers, Nelson and Haggard had certainly transcended into that same realm that these two historic figures maintain vacancy in. They undoubtedly view themselves as the elder statesmen still hanging around and not without reason as this would go on to be Haggard’s final full-length record before his death the following year. Neither Haggard or Nelson attempt to fool the listener about their ages and it’s this earnest nature that allows this record to have one foot in the realm of success.

The opening track on the record is the title track which lays bare, with refreshing honesty, the scope that this record looks through. Man, what a refreshing honesty it indeed is; this is something that outlaw country handles with ease and grace (As has been made clear on a prior piece of writing for this page, country music doesn’t typically jive well with me). There’s just no way you can’t like a track like the following track, “It’s All Going to Pot”, which is essentially the telling of how Nelson plans to spend the end of days. There’s no better way to spend it, right? Another bright moment on the record is “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash”, which even brings fellow artist Bobby Bare into the mix. Bare, obviously, known for his history as a writer of novelty tunes. This features well into the mix, considering the fact that Nelson and Haggard both possess grounded senses of humor as they relay touching lyrics about their old friend Cash. However, the most touching moment on the record is the recording of a song that Nelson wrote back in 1957, titled “Family Bible”. Haggard takes care of the vocals on this version of the track and it’s representative of what this kind of music does so well when it’s at the peak of its powers. Haggard has arguably never sounded better than he does on this track.

This is a pretty good record. The great thing about this record, as well as Nelson and Haggard, in general, is that you don’t have to the world’s biggest country music fan to like them. This music hits at a level of blunt honesty that it should be refreshing enough for just about anybody to enjoy. There really isn’t anything to dislike about this record on the full scale of things, but some of the material does grow a bit tired at certain moments throughout. It’s certainly apparent that neither Nelson or Haggard had grown tired during this recording, though, and it seemed to be, at this point, an accepted reality that as these guys age, they only got better at what they did. The older they get, the wiser they get, and the more mature and unflinchingly earnest their material becomes. These old birds had been through quite a bit in their lives up to this point and this notion seems to drive the strengths of their best material. The conviction resting in the character of this record is more than enough to keep it relevant, even when the material tends to bore a bit. Still, the very notion that these two were able to come together and record a record of this quality at this point in their careers alone is worth the price of admission.

3.5/5

 

‘Fuckin’ A’- Anal Cunt

This 2011 release would go on to be the last full-length record from, arguably, the most offensive band of all time. ‘Fuckin’ A’ was an attempt at parody and satire of glam metal bands of the ’80s. Particularly, as is relayed in the cover art, Mötley Crüe. It goes without saying that there is a good portion of people who will hate this record and hate the band on principle. After all, these guys are so tasteless that they tend to challenge even the most calloused and black-humored of us. With that said, for those who can stomach the band’s most outrageous tendencies and who are able to get on the band’s wavelength, the chances are pretty good this will be an enjoyable listen. After all, this record is hilarious.

The infamous grindcore legends open this record with a track called “Fuck Yeah!” and, for those who find this kind of thing funny, it’s a total blast. There is definitely something to take note of here and that is the change in musical direction. The band have moved away from traditional, bone-splitting grindcore on this record for a sound that is more fitting for this record’s subject matter. Mind you, this record is still unbelievably heavy and abrasive, but it’s closer to crust punk than it is grindcore. This was no doubt a conscious decision from the band to fit the record, on a musical level, closer to the glam metal that it’s satirizing (even though crust punk and glam metal are a far cry from one another). Another highlight on the record is “Kickin’ Your Ass and Fuckin’ Your Bitch”, featuring lyrics that are so offensive and tasteless that it will be sure to make your average school girl question everything she’s ever been told. It’s a bit unclear whether or not this record exists in good spirit or general distaste for Crüe, but one thing is for sure and that is that this record struts along with such a gut-busting blender of disgusting humor that you might find yourself sickened by your own enjoyment of it. The track that seals the deal for this record is “All I Give a Fuck About Is Sex”. By this track’s conclusion, you’re granted full permission to like this record. Hey, there’s no shame in liking this band! Sure they’re disgusting, but they’re damn good at what they do. There’s no question about that. The band’s leader, Seth Putnam, is anything but shy with the pen.

The infamous Massachusetts grindcore trio treat us to what is a solid record on this outing. It does get a bit too repetitive at times, but generally speaking, this is a hilarious record and a record that is genuinely good. This isn’t a record for the thin-skinned, that’s for sure. After all, this band and many of their peers in the grindcore vein of extreme metal represent what is, almost unquestionably, the most extreme style of music ever to come out of a set of speakers. This alone will turn a lot of people off, but if you stick around (and you should), you’ll be treated to some of the darkest, most outrageous humor ever put to record. Perhaps enjoyment of this record is enough to cast a hideous shadow around a listener, but at the very least, that shadow will be a defining attribute to said listener’s character and worldview. Whatever you do, don’t be shy about it. Stand out. In its own putrid way, this record just about stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Crüe record it’s parodying.

4/5

 

 

‘Reality’- David Bowie

The last record before David Bowie’s ten year break from the music scene, 2003’s ‘Reality’, sees Bowie in typically fine form. This record is notable for betraying its own conditions and that’s precisely the point. What Bowie attempts to point out on this record is the concept that, in our 21st century world, there truly is no such thing as reality anymore. This theme is supported, musically and lyrically, through the revelations of filtering information in and out as we please. Bowie, of course, uses everything in his power to do a marvelous job of convincing the listener of his proposed theory.

The opening track on the record is “New Killer Star”, a rocking track that Bowie uses as the vehicle to present the record’s theme, albeit in a cryptic fashion. The theme of the record, however, is quite cryptic, incomplete, and versatile in its very nature. One of the things that is quite apparent throughout this record and is best represented in a track like “The Loneliest Guy” is that the warmth of Bowie’s baritone plays a vital part in the overall enjoyment of this record. Throughout this record’s uncertainty and confusion, it’s this warmth that allows the listener a place to rest in solitude. Bowie has never placed himself in the position of villain to the listener and this record certainly doesn’t alter this course. On “Fall Dog Bombs the Moon”, the straightforward motion of the track seems to exist in direct opposition to the narrative that the track projects through its lyrics. Bowie also finds an appropriate placement for a cover of George Harrison’s “Try Some, Buy Some”, first performed by Ronnie Spector. For seasoned Bowie listeners, the craft that he’s able to wield over this record’s central concept will come as no surprise; he had long been one of rock n’ roll’s great storytellers at this point. The one thing that does seem to have changed is Bowie’s presentation of himself. He isn’t interested in portraying himself as a youthful subject of rebellion on this record in any sense, even if he proves on the title track that he was still capable of rocking hard.

Here we have another damn solid record from the legendary Bowie. His ability to slip into a more age-appropriate role on this record (and throughout all of his latter-day releases) is something that arguably no other figure in rock n’ roll was capable of doing. Of course, the inherently enigmatic largess that always was Bowie was something that he was never able to shed. This record is just as good, if not a little bit better than ‘Heathen’, which had come out a year prior. Like that record, part of this record’s strength is its ability to handle its subject matter in an understated, subtle fashion. There is an acceptance perpetrated throughout this record that is, more than anything else, a testament to the maturity of Bowie. Throughout the later years of his career, he had become quite the classicist; an almost unbelievable staple of coolness and mature swagger that was, as was always the case with him, alien. Oddly enough, this alien was always more than capable of projecting genuine warmth and this record is definitely no exception, even if it isn’t a fully consistent effort.

4/5