greyduck.net

Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Category: Music (page 2 of 8)

Pet Shop Boys – Super

There are three bands that I consider the core of my music fandom, bands that I got into heavily during my initial teen-aged self-propelled exploration of what pop music had to offer. Genesis and Midnight Oil are no longer active, yet the Pet Shop Boys endure. In all three cases most folks only know them for songs released in the 1980s. (That would probably be “Invisible Touch,” “Beds Are Burning,” and “West End Girls” respectively.)

Recently, Pet Shop Boys released Super and right off the bat let me be clear: the title is somewhat optimistic. It might have been more accurately titled More, in keeping with many of their trademark one-word album titles fitting nicely before or after the band name, such as “Pet Shop Boys actually” or “very Pet Shop Boys.” This is… “more Pet Shop Boys.”

Now. More PSB is generally a good thing! And this album is generally good. It falls short of super(b), though. The first four tracks are bright and upbeat and clever and engaging. You’ll probably end up with “Happiness” or “The Pop Kids” in your head for a bit, or maybe “Groovy.”

After that it’s… more Pet Shop Boys. “Pazzo!” is sort of like the old “Paninaro,” “Inner Sanctum” and “Into Thin Air” are decent little pieces, and so on. The only real downer on the album is “Sad Robot World,” and I guess the title warns you right up front what you’re getting. Your mileage may vary.

I think what’s going on here is establishing a return to form for a while after a few albums of trying more down-tempo tunes and some stylistic changes with mixed results. Nothing on this record is actually bad, and I can’t say the same for previous records like Elysium and Electric.

So, can I recommend Super? If you’ve ever liked a Pet Shop Boys song (or album) and want a bunch more songs like that, then yes, go forth and pick it up. It’s not a groundbreaking record, but it performs the job of “being a new PSB album” in solid, workmanlike fashion. After a career like Tennant and Lowe have had, I’m grateful they can still pull off the trick of crafting a dozen songs as good as these.

Garbage – Strange Little Birds

In case you thought you might be in for something of an upbeat barn-burner of a record, the latest Garbage album starts with a three minute quiet gloomy piece called “Sometimes,” after which you get the big pop single, “Empty.”

Strange Little Birds is the work of a band who sound like they just want to do whatever it is they do, and they feel no particular need to cajole listeners into liking it. (Barring the required “hit single” attempt, that is.) The album’s kind of grim, and there’s almost a prog-rock quality in places. Two of my favorite songs are “Blackout,” which is six and a half minutes of the most compelling music they’ve ever made, and “So We Can Stay Alive,” another marvelous six minute piece toward the end of the record. They’re both kind of dark but in an energetic and compelling way.

Garbage, in a larger-than-normal nutshell, I suppose.

Now, you can say that I’m predisposed toward longer experimental rock pieces due to all that Genesis and Pink Floyd and such in my upbringing. And you’d be right! What I’m saying is, the band managed to tap into some of that vibe without ever sounding like anything but themselves. It’s amazing and I love it.

It’s not all glaring sunshine and thorn-guarded roses, however. “If I Lost You” is a dreary sappy weepy four minutes of exactly what you’d expect from a song titled “If I Lost You.” While “Even Though Our Love Is Doomed” is a prettily-made track, I just bounced off of it completely. It’s not for me, perhaps.

Let’s be clear: If Shirley Manson’s vocal stylings and the band’s brand of social-commentary lyrical content have put you off of Garbage in the past, nothing about Strange Little Birds is going to bring you back. Hell, this album doubles down on all of that even more than did Bleed Like Me, the last of their albums to really pull me in.

So, should you buy Strange Little Birds? If you’ve ever been a Garbage fan, absolutely do it (if you haven’t already). If you were turned off from the band years ago, I doubt anything here is going to change your mind. If somehow you’ve never heard more of their stuff other than “Push It” and “Only Happy When It Rains,” and you’re wondering if this would be a good album to start with… yeah, do it. I recommend this album.

(Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go queue up “Blackout” and “So We Can Stay Alive” again. Damn, I love those songs.)

Kongos – Egomaniac

The guys with the breakout hit a couple years back, the ones with the heavy drums and frequent accordion, have returned with a second album release. How does Egomaniac stand up to what Kongos have done before?

Well, the lead single, “Take It From Me,” isn’t as deeply catchy as “Come With Me Now.” That’s not to say it’s bad. I enjoy the heck out of it! I’m just not compelled to listen to it on repeat like I was with their first big single. Maybe I’m growing up, finally?

Nah. That can’t be it.

This is a band that sounds, to my ears lacking in ability to deeply parse lyrical content, like a group of brainy hippies with stupendous rhythm and a lot of ideas. It’s hard for me to tell how much is serious and how much tongue-in-cheek. Take “Autocorrect,” found partway into the album. (By the way, do not listen to that song at work. Lotsa cussin’, folks.) The general idea is that of living a kind of Matrix-like existence, downloading entertainment right into your skull, with the bonus ability to Ctrl-Z your mistakes. It’s a weird concept and a modern anthem and quite a toe-tapper and unconcerned with offending delicate sensibilities. Kongos, ladies and gentlemen, summed up in one tune.

Or how about “Birds Do It,” a very weird take on a pick-up line. It features one of the strongest accordion solos heard in a modern rock song, and that’s not the weirdest thing about the track, at least if you try to pay attention to the lyrical thread.

So on the one hand, Kongos have a sound and a style which if you heard “Come With Me Now” on the radio a few dozen times you’re plenty familiar with. On the other hand, on Egomaniac it sounds like the band is trying to figure out what that sound really means and where they’re going to go with it. Is it a “sophomore slump” record? I don’t find as many of the individual tracks quite as strong as I did on Lunatic, but this album is a bit more varied. The first album was mostly an exercise in establishing the band’s style and really getting it out there in front of people, and a side-effect of that is that many of its songs are quite similar. Great, but similar. This time it feels like they’re looking to work out the kinks as well as test their versatility without getting completely off course.

As a second outing, I recommend Egomaniac. There are some truly standout songs, such as “The World Would Run Better” and “I Don’t Mind,” plus the aforementioned “Autocorrect” and “Take It From Me.” No track clocks past the four minute mark so no single idea runs the risk of wearing out its welcome. Give it a spin, see what you think.

(NOTE: Later in the day, I discovered that Egomaniac is actually Kongos’ third album. I’m not alone in having made this mistake, but it bears correcting nonetheless.)

Caravan Palace – <|°_°|> (aka Robot)

To enjoy Caravan Palace, you need first be able to enjoy a genre called “electroswing,” which is basically old-timey swing-era jazz songs smushed together with electronic sounds & modern production values. It’s not my tip-top favorite sound, but sometimes it suits my mood for a while.

To enjoy Caravan Palace’s third album, the one with the unfortunate name, you not only need to enjoy electroswing but also enjoy hip-hop stylings, because that’s what gets thrown into the mix for nearly all of the tracks on the record. I give the band credit: Trying to make another album just like either of the last two would’ve been a mistake, so points to them for striding confidently in a new direction.

The results are… hit-or-miss. I’m not big on hip-hop so it turns out I’m not a good judge of what you should like on the record. I just know that past the first track, “Lone Digger,” I found the rest of the album’s pieces landing somewhere between “decent background music” and “no, no, next track right now please.” If hip-hop production values aren’t your thing either, I’d say you should buy the lead track on its own and skip the rest of the album. Save a few dollars.

Besides the B-Sides

Sitting here at work, my random playlist is churning out favorite after favorite to keep my musically steady through the day, and I found myself realizing that my favorite songs from each of the last two Phil-Collins-fronted Genesis albums are not, in fact, on those albums.

Let me explain. No, there is too much; let me sum up.

The Invisible Touch album is a fun piece of work, with some of my all-time favorite songs, let’s be fair. Heck, it was the start of my Genesis fandom. And yet, the song I love most is “Feeding The Fire,” which was a B-side on the “Land of Confusion” single.

Note that by the time the next Collins-led album arrived, vinyl singles had mostly gone the way of the Dodo(/Lurker).

While I’m at it, I think “Do The Neurotic” is a better instrumental than “The Brazilian,” though it’s a close thing and I’m happy listening to either one.

Many years later, the We Can’t Dance album arrived. When the single for “I Can’t Dance” hit the stores (oh, how some Genesis fans hate that song) it came with a wonderful gem of a companion track: “On The Shoreline.” I’m certain that I’ve listened to that one track more than any song on the actual album, probably more than all of them combined.

Is it the allure of the bonus hidden special gem? The curiosity over what didn’t make the cut? Who knows? It probably doesn’t matter. I know what I like.

(“And I like what I know…”)

One Night In Portland

I’m going on record (ha ha) with an unpopular musical opinion, and I don’t really care who knows it.

Back in early 1985 two singers released their own versions of the same song. I was thirteen years old at the time, right in the target demographic for Top-40 “Z” stations like Z-100 here in Portland. One of their gimmicks involved voting for the better of two songs via a phone-in tally. Since this one song’s two renditions came out within weeks of one another it probably seemed a brilliant idea to put them up against one another.

It’s possible that I still have my cassette tape recording of the event kicking around here somewhere but I wouldn’t put money on that bet.

Everyone who lived through the ’80s is familiar with and may even like the version that went on to become a one-hit wonder. Me? I still prefer this one, and I always will. So be it.

(For the love of your sanity, don’t seek out the actual promotional videos for either rendition. They’re very, very… ’80s. Hooboy.)

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2019 greyduck.net

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑