Monday, 24 December 2012

Green Day - ¡Uno! ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! (Album Reviews 2012)

I have been a Green Day fan since I discovered Dookie in 1994 and the songs Welcome To Paradise and Basket Case. Since then, before the band discovered the concept of prog-punk, only Nimrod is consistently impressive. From here, something strange happened. Green Day made the album Cigarettes and Valentines which was never released. It was supposed to be the antidote to the disappointing Warning but never saw the light of day - someone stole the master album from the studio. So they decided to start again, with new ideas and a new philosophy. The band describe this as a 'blessing in disguise'. No official versions of the album exist and it is now lost to the mists of time. So began the new era of Green Day - the album they went on to make, American Idiot, remains the most ambitious and musically accomplished collection of songs the band has made; a furious mix of fast energy and honest reflection. After the tour of American Idiot, Green Day repeated this process to make 21st Century Breakdown.

¡Uno! ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! are three separate albums, a trilogy of new songs to celebrate how Green Day got to where they are. The making of these albums turned the band paradoxically from a trio to a foursome as long-time touring guitarist Jason White joined the band. The debate about the nature of these albums rumbles on but they work as a trilogy in spite of some dodgy lyrical moments and ¡Dos! running about twenty minutes too long. ¡Uno! is a spirited start to the 'project' and ¡Tré! is the best of the three in terms of individual songs, and a great album to add to the Green Day catalogue - a solid mix of formulae, ideas and musical consistency. But the trilogy is bloated, self-indulgent and narrow.  Thirty-seven songs should be about twenty-five with some 'mashed' together; as the chaos and ambition of American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown has not been translated here. Many of the songs are around three to four minutes (arguably the perfect length for powerful punchy pop) and get straight to the point lyrically.

The highlights of ¡Uno! include the wonderful and ironically offensive single Kill The DJ, the fast pop-punk of Angel Blue and Rusty James - a great chorus framed by a tuneful no-nonsense delivery. Nuclear Family is a great introduction (complete with countdown ending) and another tuneful chorus is at the heart of Stay The Night. The change of pace comes with the retrospective love song Sweet 16 and the cool guitar stomp of Carpe Diem. Closer Oh Love is good but not as great as it could be; "I'm wearing my heart on a noose" is an interesting line among the stomp. But songs like Troublemaker (American Idiot's younger brother), the empty Loss of Control and the air-headed chorus and expletives of Let Yourself Go are a step backwards. But, in terms of energy and commitment, you can't fault Armstrong, Dirnt, Cool and White.

¡Dos! suffers from no consistency - leading to mixed results. See You Tonight is a great start; a fragment of Simon & Garfunkel while Lazy Bones is more of what we expect from Green Day but in between, F*** Time is a poor idea, badly executed and Stop When The Red Lights Flash is dull and lacking ideas. Stray Heart is a cracking pop song and an instant highlight. This is one of the best songs from all three albums but Ashley and Baby Eyes are annoyingly one-dimensional and Lady Cobra doesn't work at all - a shame as this is supposed to be a tribute to the album's 'guest' vocalist. This is the part of ¡Dos! that fails to engage and drags the whole album down badly. Nightlife attempts to do something different (with the aforementioned Lady Cobra) but ends up like the uneasy mix of Eels jamming with Madonna. There are a few saving graces here. Wild One is well-paced and tongue-in-cheek with "She gave up on Jesus for livin' on Venus...I'm drinking the Coolade, I've jumped on the grenade, knowing my mind's gonna blow..." a good line. And Makeout Party is messy 50s rock 'n' roll. ¡Dos! goes for the big finish. Wow! That's Loud would be good with some original melody and Amy (for the late Amy Winehouse) is hard to criticise for its open-hearted approach - vocally this is Armstrong's finest hour. 

¡Tré! has some of the best songs of the trilogy, starting with the mid-tempo cheesy ballad Brutal Love. This is Green Day striving for something different and mixing styles into their punk-pop formula. X-Kid is a great rework of Father & Son and Missing You is proper emo love-song. The guitar work on 8th Serenade is superb and the song breaks the verse-verse-chrous mould. Another song that tries to steer away from the back-to-basics Green Day template is A Little Boy Named Train - continuing the inventive, yet familiar guitars and drums, but weaving in Armstrong's nursery-rhyme prose. It's not all good news as ¡Tré! has a few faltering moments. Drama Queen is ultimately dull and lyrically uneasy and Sex, Drugs & Violence is empty-headed and obvious. Amanda suffers the same fate and Dirty Rotten Bastards is an inane mash-up - the only song to do this with varying results. The Forgotten is a solid, composed five minutes to end the album and the trilogy.

Ultimately Green Day are on top form. The creative process is alive and kicking but it feels like quantity over quality. The guitars shine with crisp punchy precision and as a quartet, the band now have depth and presence. In this digital age, it doesn't really matter if bands throw all of their ideas at fans (aside from cost of buying individual albums - if that's what some people still do) but when you can choose, this trilogy can be distilled into a single decent double-album. With ¡Uno! ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! out of the way, maybe the band can filter their creative urges into a single, solid, consistent follow-up.
-- CS

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill (Album Review 2012)

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill

Some musicians stand the test of time and only come along once in a lifetime. And it's even more wonderful when you can share that lifetime with them. Canadian legend Neil Young, now well into his late sixties, is back with Crazy Horse - the brilliant Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Frank Sampedro, who sound like a combination seventeen-piece folk orchestra/rock skiffle group - for his thirty-fifth album. Arguably Young's best work has been his own: After The Goldrush, Harvest and more recently Prairie Wind, but his work with Crazy Horse remains the most engaging and interesting. From the début Everybody Knows This is Nowhere to the brilliant Sleeps With Angels to the audio-saga of Greendale, the collaboration is the perfect musical-marriage. After the straight-forward Americana earlier this year, Psychedelic Pill is particularly ambitious, but at the same time, as the music is built on improvisations and jam sessions, entirely obvious and expected. Consequently the album is an enormous triumphant mess.

With a running time of an hour and a half, the nine songs boast an opening song of twenty-seven minutes. Driftin' Back is part retrospective, part protest at the state of the music generation and the invasion of technology. Young treads a fine line here, trying to balance his own musical philosophy and life-vision with the inevitable rush of technological progress. Young's mournful 'improvised' verses (in which he declares his therapy is to 'write it in my book' - a reference to his recent memoirs) are exquisitely framed with swathes of trademark Crazy Horse instrumentation. As the song unfolds, Young drifts between calm alto-voiced serenity and frustrated anger - his listeners are only getting five percent of his music when they 'used to get it all'. An exaggerated, but well-made, point. The guitar-work and percussion shine as the song enters its final journey in the twenty-second minute and four minutes later Young returns with talk of getting a 'Hip-hop haircut' and paganism. Genius with a sense of humour.

If this mini-album opener wasn't enough, there are two sixteen minute songs on Psychedelic Pill. Ramada Inn is a dark tale of love and family with a superb opening four minutes. From here the guitars and Young's vocals get wilder and more unfocused, but no less engaging and effective. This is followed by a massive guitar-fuelled section before the big finish: "He loves her so, he does what he has to...She loves him so, she does what she needs to". The second epic, Walk Like A Giant is the continuation of what began in Driftin' Back, taking Psychedelic Pill full-circle (if you ignore the odd inclusion of a different version of the title track). Again this is more remonstrating on the present and yearning for the past: "We were gonna save the world, we were tryin' to make it better...but then the weather changed.." before the emotional "It breaks my heart...". There is real passion for music and life here. After more brilliant guitar-work, the song grinds to a shuddering halt for the last three minutes of industrial noise.

Within these gargantuans are more gems. Born In Ontario is a spirited tribute to Young's roots and proof he can still rock like the best of them, albeit a bit steadier these days. Likewise the heavy over-produced swirling title track is a decent pop song and For The Love Of Man is the album's only beautiful ballad - and a definitive highlight, proving that there are still two sides to Neil Young.

Psychedelic Pill is terrifically balanced between moments of intimate songwriting and huge wandering instrumental breaks. No other collaboration on Earth can do this, and do it so well.

-- CS

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Music Chart - November 2012

New albums from The Album Leaf, Philter, Chelsea Wolfe, And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Andy Burrows, Steffaloo, Photek, Allah-Las, Ingrid Michaelson, Sam Russo, Crystal Castles, Green Day (again!), Kristina Train, Soundgarden, How To Destroy Angels (EP), El Perro Del Mar, Neil Young & Crazy Horse (again!!) and Deftones.
  1. Shallow Bed by Dry The River 
  2. Babel by Mumford & Sons 
  3. Jake Bugg by Jake Bugg
  4. Valtari by Sigur Ros
  5. The Lion's Roar by First Aid Kit
  6. Sugaring Season by Beth Orton
  7. Bloom by Beach House 
  8. Traces by Karine Polwart
  9. Ssss by Vcmg 
  10. The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind by Ben Folds Five 
  11. The Haunted Man By Bat For Lashes 
  12. Company by Andy Burrows 
  13. Psychedelic Pill by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
  14. Generation Freakshow by Feeder
  15. Celebration Rock by Japandroids
  16. The 2nd Law by Muse
  17. Cut The World by Antony & The Johnsons 
  18. Oshin by Diiv 
  19. Silver Age by Bob Mould 
  20. Electric Cables by Lightships 
  21. New Wild Everywhere by Great Lake Swimmers
  22. The Ghost In Daylight by Gravenhurst 
  23. Strangeland by Keane
  24. Lost Songs by And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
  25. Sun by Cat Power
  26. An Awesome Wave by Alt-J
  27. The Blossom Chronicles by Philter 
  28. A Conversation Well Rehearsed by The Birthday Suit
  29. Battle Born by The Killers
  30. Sweet Heart Sweet Light by Spiritualized 
  31. Ghostory by School of Seven Bells
  32. Charmer by Aimee Mann
  33. Born And Raised by John Mayer
  34. Coexist by The xx
  35. Like Drawing Blood by Gotye 
  36. Standing At The Sky's Edge by Richard Hawley
  37. Observator by The Raveonettes
  38. Now For Plan A by The Tragically Hip 
  39. III by Crystal Castles
  40. Race The Loser by Lau
  41. Southern Air by Yellowcard 
  42. Dead End Kings by Katatonia
  43. Banga by Patti Smith
  44. Instinct by Niki And The Dove
  45. Human Again by Ingrid Michaelson
  46. Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
  47. Privateering by Mark Knopfler
  48. The Unthanks with Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band by The Unthanks
  49. 20 by Kate Rusby
  50. Close Up, Vol. 4 - Songs Of Family by Suzanne Vega
  51. Even On The Worst Nights by Mixtapes 
  52. Koi No Yokan by Defones
  53. Unknown Rooms by Chelsea Wolfe
  54. Oceania by Smashing Pumpkins
  55. Blood Speaks by Smoke Fairies 
  56. Handwritten by The Gaslight Anthem
  57. Do The Struggle by Franz Nicolay 
  58. Forward/Return by The Album Leaf
  59. Stardust by Lena
  60. The Light The Dead Can See by Soulsavers 
  61. Hello Hum by Wintersleep
  62. Sounds From Nowheresville by The Ting Tings
  63. Lonerism by Tame Impala 
  64. Allah-Las by Allah-Las
  65. Mutual Friends by Boy 
  66. Devotion by Jessie Ware 
  67. Would You Stay by Steffaloo
  68. Moth by Exlovers
  69. Tramp by Sharon Van Etten 
  70. KU:PALM by Photek
  71. WIXIW by Liars 
  72. My Head Is An Animal by Of Monsters And Men
  73. Young Man In America by Anais Mitchell 
  74. Given To The Wild by The Maccabees
  75. The Sister by Marissa Nadler
  76. Americana by Neil Young and Crazy Horse 
  77. Unearth by Grasscut
  78. Little Broken Hearts by Norah Jones
  79. Gold Dust by Tori Amos and Jules Buckley 
  80. King Animal by Soundgarden
  81. Hot Cakes by The Darkness
  82. Synthetica by Metric
  83. Words And Music by Saint Etienne
  84. Wonky by Orbital 
  85. Crown And Treaty by Sweet Billy Pilgrim 
  86. Shrines by Purity Ring
  87. Internal Logic by Grass Widow
  88. ¡Dos! by Green Day
  89. Here Come The Bombs by Gaz Coombes
  90. Tough Love by Pulled Apart by Horses
  91. Interstellar by Frankie Rose
  92. New Relics by Errors 
  93. An Omen EP by How To Destroy Angels
  94. Dead In The Boot by Elbow
  95. Wild Peace by Echo Lake
  96. Dub Egg by The Young
  97. Born Villain by Marilyn Manson
  98. Let It Break by Gemma Hayes
  99. ¡Uno! by Green Day
  100. Life Is Good by Nas
  101. Living Things by Linkin Park
  102. Beacon by Two Door Cinema Club 
  103. Oh No I Love You by Tim Burgess
  104. Underwater Sunshine by Counting Crows
  105. Manifest! by Friends
  106. Clear Moon by Mount Eerie
  107. Tree Bursts In Snow by Admiral Fallow
  108. Human Don't Be Angry by Human Don't Be Angry
  109. The Family Tree: The Roots by Radical Face
  110. Weapons by Lostprophets
  111. Blues Funeral by Mark Lanegan Band
  112. A Monument by Tu Fawning
  113. Aufheben by The Brian Jonestown Massacre
  114. Have Some Faith In Magic by Errors
  115. Hello Cruel World by Gretchen Peters
  116. Voyageur by Kathleen Edwards
  117. Pale Fire by El Perro Del Mar
  118. Long Live The Struggle by The King Blues
  119. Fossil Of Girl by Sarah Donner
  120. Blunderbuss by Jack White
  121. Here I Am by Oli Brown 
  122. Spirits by Plankton Wat
  123. Visions by Grimes
  124. Come Home To Mama by Martha Wainwright
  125. Tales From The Barrel House by Seth Lakeman 
  126. Dark Black by Kristina Train
  127. The Temper Trap by The Temper Trap
  128. ¿Which Side Are You On? by Ani Difranco
  129. Eighty One by Yppah
  130. Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen
  131. First Serve by De La Soul's Plug 1 and Plug 2
  132. Kin Con by Alex Winston
  133. Not Your Kind Of People by Garbage
  134. Gossamer by Passion Pit 
  135. The Afterman: Ascension by Coheed and Cambria
  136. Siberia by LIGHTS 
  137. Ocean Roar by Mount Eerie 
  138. Europe by Allo Darlin' 
  139. North by Matchbox Twenty
  140. The Something Rain by Tindersticks
  141. Something by Chairlift
  142. The House That Jack Built by Jesca Hoop 
  143. Mirage Rock by Band Of Horses 
  144. The Savage Heart by The Jim Jones Revue
  145. Who Needs Who by Dark Dark Dark
  146. Anxiety by Ladyhawke
  147. Fear Fun by Father John Misty
  148. Transcendental Youth by The Mountain Goats
  149. Fragrant World by Yeasayer 
  150. Shields by Grizzly Bear
  151. California 37 by Train
  152. Break It Yourself by Andrew Bird
  153. Reign Of Terror by Sleigh Bells
  154. The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do by Fiona Apple
  155. Through The Night by Ren Harvieu
  156. Personality by Scuba 
  157. Storm by Sam Russo
  158. America Give Up by Howler
  159. Black Light by Diagrams