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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Month: April 2018

3WA 2018 #17: Queensrÿche – Promised Land

Remind me again why I agreed to pick the band with the random umlaut in its name?

What is it?

Promised Land is the 11-track 1994 album release by Queensrÿche, and yes I’m going to have to copy and paste that band name into this post over and over again.

How does it sound?

Here we stand at the sampler mix:

Why this pick?

I must confess that including this band in the lineup is the result of a dare. In our household, Kyla is the big Queensrÿche fan. When I was assembling the list last year she dared me to include one of their albums. So here we are.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I really do like a lot of the stuff on this record.

Which songs are the highlights?

“Damaged” is a good example of Queensrÿche dialing right into what I enjoy. It’s dense, but not chaotic. It has some neat sounds and ideas, but not so many that it overwhelms the listener.

I like “Disconnected,” as grim and weird as it is. It gets good mileage out of a simple riff and some vocal trickery.

The song many folks will know from this particular album is “Lady Jane,” probably the second most recognized song in their library after “Silent Lucidity.” Well, it’s still pretty good.

“One More Time” is, structurally, a mopey self-obsessed power ballad. Don’t ask me why it works so well in spite of that. I have no idea.

(For bonus points, go chase down the single for “I Am I” so you can get the full band version of “Someone Else?” because that’s a far, far better rendition than the one on the album proper.)

Which songs don’t work so well?

I can’t really ding the lead-off track, “9:28 A.M.,” because it’s one of those minute-or-so teaser bits of random noise going into the album proper. It’s a bit Pink Floyd but not as interesting.

I can, however, ding the following song, “I Am I.” It’s a prime example of a song that should work for me but doesn’t, in a way that happens over and over as I go through the band’s library. There are some interesting ideas and sounds, sure. The overall… randomness, for lack of a better term, drags it down for me though. There’s too much too-much-ing going on here. Maybe Queensrÿche would work for me more often if someone could just tell them to take one or two ideas out of each song? Maybe.

“My Global Mind” almost works. Almost.

The actual version of “Someone Else?” on the album consists of singer Geoff Tate and a piano, that’s it. Sometimes stripping a song down to bare essentials makes it more powerful, and sometimes you get… this.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

It could’ve been Hear in the Now Frontier, which isn’t great (and features a high percentage of duds) but I do really like a bunch of. With fifteen songs there’s a lot to choose from. Failing that, I would probably pick Queensrÿche (the album, not the EP) since that’s the first outing with the new singer who still sounds eerily like the original singer. Seriously, it’s amazing that they found a guy to maintain such a consistency in their sound.

Any final thoughts?

In this household the musical overlap is mostly theoretical. In theory, her hair-band tendencies and my prog-rock tendencies should mesh reasonably well. In practice, not so much. (The same goes for her Japanese boy-bands and my Japanese idol singers, as it turns out.) Queensrÿche almost bridges one of those gaps for us. She’ll always be the bigger fan, of course. I enjoy a few songs here and there and that’s about it. I didn’t even know the new singer’s name until working on this write-up.

And that’s okay!

I mentioned the lead teaser track as being “a bit Pink Floyd,” which makes me think of “Promised Land” which has a whiff of Pink Floyd’s “Welcome To The Machine” about it as well. There are worse albums to emulate than Wish You Were Here, I suppose. Oh yeah, Queensrÿche did a cover album about a decade ago and the first track is… a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Welcome To The Machine.” Go figure.

 

A strange choice for high visibility

I want to talk about underwear for a moment.

Now, duly warned, you have the option to click elsewhere on the dub-dub-dub before reading further. Right? Right.

Anyway.

Men’s underwear usually comes in two color schemes: All white, or a variety pack of colors. The colors are, for the most part, something on the white-to-black greyscale spectrum or a subdued kind of blue or green. None of it really matters because ninety-nine days out of a hundred nobody’s going to see the underwear anyway.

Okay, except those dudes who still insist on doing the saggy pants thing. I have never and will never understand that, but whatever.

Why, then, did the makers of my current brand of underwear decide to throw bright orange into the mix of available random colors? I’m not just talking about kind-of-orange, oh no. This is high-vis orange. This is “it’s hunting season please don’t shoot me” orange. This is a kind of orange which, were it any louder, would require donning protective eyewear before pulling the garment piece out of the drawer in the morning.

It boggles the mind. I wonder how this got past the committee which almost certainly was in charge of approving color choices.

And these are the thoughts that drift through my mind on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Aren’t you glad I’ve started using my journal again?

3WA 2018 #16: KOTOKO – Hiraku Uchuu Pocket

It was bound to happen eventually: At some point the writing project’s music-focused present was going to bump into the project’s animation-focused past. Kind of.

What is it?

Hiraku Uchuu Pocket is the 2011 album by the Japanese singer who goes by the name KOTOKO.

No, I don’t understand the all-caps either. Let’s not pretend I’m an expert on this sort of thing.

How does it sound?

Like… something I can’t make a funny lyrical reference to because I don’t know the language:

Why this pick?

KOTOKO is another example of an artist where fans tend to be nostalgic for the songs which hooked them back in the day, but the work still improves over the years. This album displays greater and more successful experimentation than ever before, even if there are no individual songs more memorable than past hits. (This is her fifth and most recent full studio album.)

Which songs are the highlights?

The lead off track, “TR∀NSFoRM,” is a prime example of the kind of songs KOTOKO made her reputation on: Upbeat, heavy synths and guitars, sounds like it probably could be the opening theme to an action-adventure anime show. Two tracks later, “Maeterlinck” is closer to being a straight-up rock-n-roll cut.

In between those two we get “Mirai Ressha,” which is KOTOKO in hyper-cute mode. I know that the statement “your mileage may vary” is a given for any of these project entries but it bears special mention here.

Partway through the album there’s “Mirror Garden,” showing off one of the other things KOTOKO’s known for: A kind of dark, almost grim, techno piece. Only “kind of,” mind you, because this is still a pop record at its core. Coming out of that we get “Command + S,” eight and a half minutes of trance-type noodling which works better than it probably should.

Speaking of anime, “Hirake! Sora no Oto” is the opening theme song for the series, Sora no Otoshimono, aka Heaven’s Lost Property. It’s a better song than the show deserves, really. Sprinkling a J-pop album release with the fruits of other paying gigs is traditional, and far from unwelcome. (Oddly enough, there’s only this one “anison” on the album.)

Hiraku Uchuu Pocket closes strongly with the power-ballad-ish “Chikyuu -TERRA-.”

Which songs don’t work so well?

“Aoi Jeep De” is just too chaotic, as is “Sa-yo-na…ra.” “X-kai-” is just too jarring of a collision between two competing styles.

Maybe someone who likes the slower pieces could get something from “Kikoeru,” but not this little grey duck.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

I could have picked almost any of the five releases so far and felt I was doing a good service by recommending it. If not for Hiraku Uchuu Pocket, though, I think it would’ve been the previous album, 2009’s Epsilon no Fune. It’s made up partly of material from some really good singles. One can’t go wrong with packing your album full of established hits, right?

While I love individual songs on the earlier records quite a lot, the last couple albums are more consistently good across the range of song styles presented.

Any final thoughts?

There’s always that one song which gets you into a new artist. You listen, you wonder if there’s more like that, you dive into the artist’s full catalog, and suddenly you’ve a few dozen dollars poorer but musically richer. With a J-pop artist like KOTOKO, the entree is often an anime theme song. In my case it was “Second Flight” (actually a duet w/ Hiromi Sato) from the Onegai Twins anime series. Go figure!

On the off chance that a J-pop aficionado comes along and wants to question my devotion to this particular artist: Yes, I know, there are better-regarded singers with greater range, yadda yadda. You’re talking to a guy who listens to Tony Banks solo records where he sings his own stuff, so just assume I’m a lost cause, okay? Okay.

Now’s a good time to bring up a part of my relationship to pop music which probably baffles people. How can I enjoy so much music for which I can’t understand a single word sung? That’s easy, since I really don’t process lyrics very much anyway, even when I know what the words say. As long as it sounds good, I’m happy.

3WA 2018 #15: Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand

I should take this opportunity to apologize to anyone I was friends with during the springtime of 2004. I was, in fact, just a little bit insufferable about this record. I know. I know.

What is it?

Franz Ferdinand is a 2004 eponymous debut record.

How does it sound?

It’s always better on sampler mix:

Why this pick?

Earlier this year I tried to make a point about later albums showing the strength and value of an ongoing artistic endeavor, and so on, and so forth. Thing is, though, I’ve never been able to connect with the later FF records like I did with this first one. Go figure!

Which songs are the highlights?

That first hit song, “Take Me Out,” still works for me. I still bop my head and tap my foot every time it comes up in rotation, and I still love the tempo change after the intro, and I just adore the whole damned thing. Can’t help it, won’t quit it.

Right afterward on the album is “The Dark of the Matinée,” which is almost as good. Not quite, but almost.

“This Fire” is a great barn-burner, if that’s not too close to a pun for your tastes. Likewise “Darts of Pleasure.”

My favorite song comes at the end, though: I love “40′” to pieces. The sound, the vibe, the styling, all the pieces come together here.

Which songs don’t work so well?

“Tell Her Tonight” leans a bit too far into the pseudo-1960’s styling and falls flat for me entirely.

“Cheating On You” is two and a half minutes of noise. It’s the one true dud on the record. Maybe it’s just too “punk” for me, or something. The lyrical subject matter is more off-putting than I can ignore, too.

(As an aside: Decades of Pet Shop Boys fandom left me inured to the “dude singing about how hot some other dude is” aspect of the song, “Michael.” I just shrug my shoulders and move on.)

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

This is another case where if I’d not picked Franz Ferdinand I wouldn’t have picked Franz Ferdinand, as it were.

Any final thoughts?

I still like the feel and the vibe and the sound of this record even as I recognize that it was a thing very much of its time. The band built a lot of their reputation on the style of the thing, at least as much as on the substance. Hey, it worked for Duran Duran so I’m not going to knock it.

With that said, sometimes the stylistic experimentation doesn’t land cleanly. The first track, “Jacqueline,” meanders through several styles and motifs in less than four minutes, and if they’d stuck with just a couple of them I’d like the song a lot more. The parts that don’t work, though, drag the whole song down a bit.

3WA 2018 #14: Men At Work – Cargo

Late April, 1983. An Australian band which had burst into the public consciousness of a U.S. audience with their previous record releases a follow-up, hopeful to continue and expand that level of success.

I’m reasonably certain this is the last time I’ll be able to use the preceding sentence during this year’s project. Reasonably. The previous two were on purpose, this one didn’t occur to me until I skimmed the spreadsheet weeks afterward and realized what I’d done with this pick.

What is it?

Cargo is the 1983 sophomore-effort album by Men At Work, the band best known for the hits “Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now?” from their debut album, Business as Usual, two years prior.

How does it sound?

Believe the sampler mix will eventually survive:

Why this pick?

Men At Work were, in a way, the Platonic Ideal of the early-1980s pop-rock band. They made reasonably catchy 4/4-time radio-friendly light-duty rock-n-roll songs. Of the three albums they created, Cargo is far and away the strongest.

Which songs are the highlights?

The album kicks off with the whimsical and delightful “Dr Heckyll & Mr Jive.” Yes, I very much adore a song which includes the lyrics, “He loves the world, except for all the people.”

Speaking of upbeat radio-friendly fare, both “It’s A Mistake” and “High Wire” fit the bill nicely, thank you. The latter features the other snippet of lyric from this album that I’m often prone to quoting: “I may be an idiot but indeed I am no fool.”

My favorite song on the record by far is “No Sign of Yesterday.” It’s a weird thing for me because usually I’m all about the upbeat higher-energy stuff. Yet here’s this unrelentingly melancholy piece with a six point five minute run time that hits me right in the soul. Go figure, eh?

Finishing off the album is “No Restrictions,” another solidly enjoyable tune.

Which songs don’t work so well?

Every now and then the band would let someone other than Colin Hay sing lead, and the results are a lot like what happened when The Police put someone other than Sting on the microphone: A sense that something’s off. That’s mainly the problem with “Settle Down My Boy.” Hay shows up for some backing lines and all I can think is, “Couldn’t we have, you know, let him sing the whole thing?” This applies doubly for “I Like To,” which a delightful and spectacular bridge section just can’t save, unfortunately.

“Blue for You” is a basically torch song; you may recall how I feel about those.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

It would’ve been the debut album, which I mostly enjoy in spite of the general ubiquity of “Who Can It Be Now?” and “Down Under.” You can’t really go wrong with acquiring either or both of these albums, honestly.

I’ve never seen anything nice said about the band’s third album, Two Hearts, so I figure that’s best left alone.

Any final thoughts?

Not all of the bands make the distance. A lot of what’s on my CD shelf (and in my digital library) is the work of long-term successful artists and acts. Sometimes, though, all you get is one or two solid records and that’s that.

In this case I consider that a shame because the world could’ve used more catchy, clever pieces sung by Colin Hay, I’m thinkin’.

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