Friday, September 30, 2011

1991-20: 1991 in Music Pt. 3: The Year in Rock/Metal

Part 3: The Year in Rock/Metal

The year in rock for 1991 was a truly crucial year for the genre. While veterans like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Genesis, Rush, Ozzy Osbourne, and Van Halen released new albums that year that solidified their longevity. It was also a period where some of the 1980s heavy hitters would face new challenges. One band that emerged in 1990 to be bigger in the new year where the Black Crowes. The Georgian-based Southern blues-rock band hit it big with 1990’s Shake Your Moneymaker while landing a slot to open for the veteran power-rock trio ZZ Top for their Recycler tour. The tour however, got attention for singer Chris Robinson’s open disdain towards corporate sponsorship as his band was kicked off the tour.

Robinson’s criticism of corporate sponsors wasn’t anything new yet it would create a new division over what was becoming acceptable in the world of rock. Neil Young who gained a comeback in 1989 with his album Freedom reunited with Crazy Horse in 1990 as he was one of the new rock veterans that was acceptable to a younger audience. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Ozzy Osbourne, and Van Halen also proved to connect with a new audience in 1991 while Rush maintained their own cult status in their return-to-rock roots period with Roll the Bones that followed 1989’s Presto. Genesis meanwhile, continued with their pop approach with their album We Can’t Dance that ultimately would become Phil Collins’ last album with the band as he left the group in 1996 to work on his highly-successful solo career.

While a lot of the veterans were able to maintain their status as rock heavyweights. The same couldn’t be said another group of rockers who had dominated the 1980s as they were definitely on their way out in 1991. Since the emergence of pop-metal in the early 80s through bands like Def Leppard, Motley Crue, and Quiet Riot that helped put heavy metal to the mainstream. It created a new wave of band with big hair, spandex pants, some makeup, and a large sound to come out and dominate the 1980s. Often called glam metal or hair metal, it’s colorful videos filled with huge stage shows were the big thing in the late 1980s. Yet, glam metal had a formula for success where they release the big rock song first and then the power ballad to bring in the pop audience.

It was a formula that worked but for many bands that were a full-on hard rock/metal band from the start. Fans of their earlier work would accuse them of selling out as the ballads suddenly became acoustic where the band Extreme gained a massive hit with the acoustic ballad More Than Words that was followed by a more up-tempo acoustic song called Hole Hearted. While it may have given the funk-metal band success, it also pegged them as part of the hair metal genre. The commercialization of glam metal was taking its toll as groups were pressured to make rock ballads while the decadent lifestyle that they preached was finally taking its toll.

Many critics pointed the death of hair metal to a series of events from the arrival of Guns N’ Roses in 1987 and the release of Penelope Spheeris’ 1988 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. More signs over its death came in the form of the 1989 Moscow Peace Festival and the pressure from record labels to be more commercial to the masses. Spheeris’ documentary and the Moscow Peace Festival both presented cases about the decadent lifestyle for these bands. The latter of which was a festival to celebrate sobriety as all of the bands, with the exception of Motley Crue, didn’t get the message of the festival.

It was in this careless lifestyle of booze, drugs, and unsafe sex, at a time when AIDS was present with the public at large, was now seen as irresponsible and uncool as two bands of the glam metal genre were coming undone by their excesses. In 1990, Ratt released their fifth album Detonator as they were having trouble dealing with the substance abuse of their guitarist Robbin Crosby. During a tour in Japan in early 1991, Crosby’s addiction finally took a toll during a show where he was playing out of tune with the rest of the band that ultimately led to his departure. Even as it would lead to a period of the band unraveling as they would officially break-up a year later.

Then there’s Poison, the premier hair band who were huge in the late 1980s as their third album Flesh & Blood that came out in June of 1990 became another hit. Yet, the band was becoming undone from within by creative tension between vocalist Bret Michaels and guitarist C.C. Deville as well as excessive behavior from the entire band. During the tour to promote Flesh & Blood in 1991, dates were cancelled as fights were happening which culminated at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards. Deville, who dyed his hair pink, was shown seemingly intoxicated as the band played their hit single Unskinny Bop when they weren’t on the air and then they went into Talk Dirty to Me where Deville’s guitar got disconnected in mid-performance. Deville’s performance led to a backstage fight with Michaels as he was kicked out of the band for seven years.

Poison’s infamous 1991 MTV Awards performance was a sign of not just glam metal’s lack of musical evolvement but also the silliness it provided to metal fans that wanted serious metal music. Poison’s MTV Awards performance provided another nail in the coffin for the hair metal genre as metal purists were looking for something that could keep heavy metal alive.

Fortunately, the arrival of new bands like Type O Negative and Sepultura helped keep metal vital as it also brought out new sub-genres that would emerge in the coming years. Another new band that emerged was Kyuss, a band that brought a stoner element to metal as it featured future Queens of the Stone Age mastermind Josh Homme. The 80s thrash metal band Anthrax scored a major hit with their collaboration with Public Enemy on the latter’s song Bring The Noise that would help lay the groundwork for the fusion between metal and hip-hop. Another band that helped maintain metal’s vitality is Skid Row. Though Skid Row were considered to be a hair band in 1989 with their debut album, it was their sophomore release Slave to the Grind that showed a more aggressive side as it was the first metal album to debut at number one.

Yet, the year of hard rock and metal would anticipate to massive releases that would help shape the music scene from two of its biggest bands. The first was Guns N’ Roses who spent the large part of 1990 recording a brand new album that was to be their major follow-up to their 1987 debut album Appetite for Destruction that was also followed by their 1989 EP G N’ R Lies. The recording of the new album was difficult largely due to original drummer Steven Adler’s drug abuse as he was kicked out of the band and replaced by Matt Sorum. The band also added keyboardist Dizzy Reed to the mix as singer Axl Rose wanted to create album that had more ambition than the hard and heavy Appetite. The result would be the double album Use Your Illusion I & II.

While both albums would prove to be major hits, it also marked a change of pace as their blues-heavy hard rock sound was mixed in with orchestral, piano-driven ballads reminiscent of Elton John as some felt the band got bloated. Within the band, things were unraveling as Axl Rose’s desire for control led him to gain the band’s name for himself. Founding members Slash, Duff McKagan, and Izzy Stradlin reluctantly convinced him to give him the band name so the band wouldn’t break up as the album’s September release was preceded by a tour that featured an infamous riot in St. Louis caused by Rose. The Use Your Illusion tour lasted through nearly two years as in late 1991, Stradlin left the band due to Rose’s behavior and the substance abuse relating to the band as he had just became sober. Stradlin was replaced by Gilby Clarke as the end of the year saw GN’R be the premier band of hard rock/metal as they would share it with another band.

Since the release of their debut album Kill ‘Em All, Metallica had been one of the most revered bands of the 1980s with a string of influential albums that won the hearts of true metal fans. After 1988’s …And Justice for All, the band took thrash metal to new heights but felt that there wasn’t really anywhere to go with the genre. Collaborating with producer Bob Rock, the band’s fifth album would prove to make a change in the band’s sound and fortunes. A self-titled release that is often called The Black Album would become the band’s biggest success of their career that was followed by a massive world tour that lasted for nearly three years.

While The Black Album would yield major hits for the band, not everyone was happy with Metallica’s new direction. The simplified songs and polished production was part of the criticism that some fans had though the band didn’t change their sound completely as it reached a worldwide audience. Metallica’s success would also inspire bands to aim for ambition but also not betray their sound as it helped keep metal alive.

Despite these big moments for rock in 1991, there were also some sad moments in the world of rock music. The rock band Kiss suffered a major loss with the death of drummer Eric Carr on November 24, 1991. Carr’s death was a big deal to hard rock but his death was overshadowed by another individual who was bigger than life. Queen’s Freddie Mercury died that same day just a few days announcing to the world that he had AIDS. Mercury’s death proved to be tragic as the band had released their album Innuendo earlier that February which was a major hit that year. Though Queen would release another album that featured Mercury’s vocals in 1995 entitled Made in Heaven. It would mark the end of one of rock’s greatest vocalists as a tribute concert was held in Wembley Stadium a year later.

The end of the year saw metal still moving forward while the end for the hair bands was just approaching. Some of rock’s veterans continued to thrive proving they still had a place in the changing times while the loss of Freddie Mercury proved to be the end of an era. While it was clear that rock was about to emerge into a new direction, it would part of an entirely different movement that would change everything about what rock music is.


20 years later as pop, rock, and hip-hop has evolved through many trends and ideas, some things have changed while some things haven’t. The end of that year saw new things happen but also some harsh realities of what was happening. With the new Soundscan sales tracker, it became clear that album sales were in decline not just due to trends that were overstaying their welcome. It was also because the desire for something new to happen as the concert industry was also struggling despite successful tours from established acts like Van Halen and ZZ Top along with packaged tours from Metallica and other thrash-metal bands.

Yet, both album sales and concert attendances couldn’t deal with the recession that was happening that year as people stayed home during that year. The year itself proved that things were changing as Michael Jackson’s reign as the king of music was coming to an end as the events that were happening proved to have an impact in the 20 years since. Pop music remains more vital than ever though many of the stars that became big in 1991 didn’t survive with the exception of Mariah Carey. Some like Natalie Cole, Gloria Estefan, and Amy Grant strayed from pop music while others chose to capitalize on their brief fame through movies or TV shows. Other such as Michael Bolton ended up becoming a punch line though his career has had some resurgence through shows like Dancing with the Stars and Saturday Night Live.

A lot of the music of that era would be sold as compilation CDs all over television or appear as jingles for ads. Yet, many of the changes that 1991 brought for pop music is still relevant through artists like Lady Gaga. While some believe she’s making it interesting again, some feel that she isn’t really doing anything new. Even as the idea of dance music and pop has now become synonymous with what is hot on the charts.

Hip-hop since 1991 has become the dominant music force of the last 20 years as it grew worldwide. When it went into 1992, the idea of the slick-flashy rap music that M.C. Hammer was synonymous with became irrelevant with the African-American community. Instead, gangsta rap became more dominant since it played true to the events that was happening that year as it helped drive hip-hop sales despite the controversy it courted.

While the music itself has been going through some creative issues over the years between commercialism and artistic integrity, it has reached an audience bigger than what people has expected in the past 20 years. While gangsta rap managed to die out in the mid-90s and it became more acceptable for hip-hop to be in ads or be played on top-40 radio. Still, there is a conflict among purists about the music as well as its association with pop which remains an ongoing debate.

While pop and hip-hop has managed to evolve throughout the past 20 years, rock music however has been the one musical force that hasn’t done a lot to change itself. Since the arrival of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, rock music went into a big change as all of the hair bands that had dominated in the 1980s pretty much found themselves playing arenas one day and could barely fill a club the next day. Many of the hair bands of that era either broke up, went through line-up changes, or fell back into obscurity. Motley Crue and its singer Vince Neil split up in 1992 as they didn’t speak to each other in four years while they hired a new singer in John Corabi that didn't list very long. The only hair bands that managed to maintain some commercial power during the 90s while finding a home in the international market were Def Leppard and Bon Jovi as they both made changes to their sound.

In the world of metal, Metallica’s success would help usher in a brief period for metal’s dominance into the music scene for bands like Megadeth, Pantera, and many others. Yet, metal struggled to maintain an audience and a commercial profile through advent of grunge rock and alternative music. It took one of metal’s forefathers in Ozzy Osbourne and his wife/manager Sharon to create the metal festival Ozzfest to help keep metal alive in the U.S. Since then, metal still remains vital while the hair bands has had a resurgence through nostalgia tours and reality TV shows.

Rock music itself however since the arrival of grunge and alternative rock had a good five-year period of dominance until pop struck back in the late 1990s along with hip-hop. Many felt that since the arrival of grunge and its commercial impact, the music itself became more watered down for the masses. Bands that have been successful by 2011 like Nickelback and 3 Doors Down spouts not just grunge’s sound but also the sappy power-ballad elements of hair bands to create something that mainstream audiences like. Yet, rock purists find them to be unoriginal and moronic as they offer nothing new to the sound as the music itself has gone through various trends since 1991 but not a lot of it stayed except for the safe-grunge sound that is commonly known as post-grunge.

By 2011 as rock, hip-hop, dance, and pop music still becoming vital to the public at an age where the music industry is dying. It’s clear that 1991 has had a lasting influence on the music that was made at the time. Yet, the impact of that year didn’t really dwell much on rock and pop music. Hip-hop was the real winner along with another music scene in alternative/indie and electronic music where it was pushing boundaries with the music. Even heavy metal has somehow managed to stay alive by 2011 by refusing to go away. Still, it was an incredible year in popular music and probably one of the last great years in that ever changing world of music itself.

1991-20: 1991 in Music: Pt. 1 - Pt. 2

1991-Indie: Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3 - Pt. 4 - Pt. 5 - Pt. 6

The 50 Best Albums of 1991: 50-26 - 25-11 - 10-2 - Favorite Albums #1

© thevoid99 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Talk Talk-Spirit of Eden

When Talk Talk emerged in the early 1980s, they arrived as a British new wave quartet that was reminiscent of bands like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. Yet, that wasn’t what the group wanted as they became a trio that featured vocalist Mark Hollis, bassist Paul Webb, and drummer Lee Harris. The band’s meeting with up-and-coming producer Tim Friese-Greene would change their outlook as 1984’s It’s My Life saw the band take a broader approach to new wave. 1986’s The Colour of Spring saw the group abandon new wave for more organic music as Friese-Greene would become Hollis’ key collaborator. The success of that album would allow the group to take on new musical heights for what would be their fourth studio album entitled Spirit of Eden.

Produced by Tim Friese-Greene with songs written by Friese-Greene and Mark Hollis, Spirit of Eden represents a huge departure from the band of where they were musically. Stripping down the ideas of traditional song structure in favor of more improvisation with organic instruments. The album showcases the band with various sessions musicians to display a more dissonant yet esoteric sound that recalls ideas of ambient and jazz music. With more emphasis on guitars and atmospheric sound textures, the album also features a much broader take on spirituality that is reflected on Mark Hollis’ lyrics. The result would be an album that was truly ahead of its time in terms of what could be done in the ideas of popular music.

Opening the album is The Rainbow that is led by a soft trumpet and ethereal guitar wails that is followed by a soft piano. The track then changes to a more mid-tempo track with a blues-style guitar wash with a wailing harmonica, a melodic piano, and a hollow drum fill. Mark Hollis’ crooning vocals take charge as he sings abstract lyrics filled with ideas of the world in despair as he is followed by an organ in some parts of the song. Eden follows through with siren-like guitars and a somber trumpet as a washy yet dissonant guitar starts to appear with soft, thumping beats and a piano. With another slower tempo change, Hollis’ vocals swoon through the song’s esoteric lyrics filled with dreamy descriptions as he’s surrounded by a heightened organ and charging guitars.

Desire maintains the soothing, ambient tone of its previous cut while spurting guitar riffs arrive as well as a piano and a smooth trumpet. Featuring lyrics of fragility, Hollis sings in a calm manner as the song becomes more aggressive during its chorus as it features thundering beats and blistering guitars as the song’s tempo goes back and forth that includes some walloping percussions in the mix. Inheritance is a piano-based ballad with droning guitar riffs and soft, pulsating drum fills. Hollis sings quietly to the song’s spiritual-driven song as the song’s chorus features flourishing sounds of keyboards and it is followed by sounds of clarinets and other brass and woodwind instruments to complement the song’s organic-driven presentation.

The album’s lone single I Believe in You is a reflective yet somber song that features a soft yet steady drum fill, a soothing piano, a soaring organ, and dissonant guitar washes. Hollis’ chilling vocals is a highlight as the lyrics tell a world that is troubled as Hollis yearns for salvation as it’s one of the album’s key highlights. The closing track Wealth has Hollis croon to desperate lyrics in his attempt for salvation. Featuring a soothing organ and a somber piano, the spiritual-driven song serves as a fitting close to an evocative yet haunting album.

After a year-and-a-half of production that included notorious settings for the recording in darkened roots only with candles and natural light filling the room. Spirit of Eden was finally released on September 16, 1988 following a dispute between the band and EMI which led to a two-year court battle between the two over contractual issues. The band’s refusal to tour due to Mark Hollis’ belief that the music was too complex to be played live as the band never toured again. While the album didn’t do well commercially, the initial critical reaction was mixed though reviews later on stated that the album is one of the key recordings of the 1980s. Many believed that it was this album that helped started a new genre that would later become post-rock.

Spirit of Eden is an intoxicating yet enchanting album from Talk Talk that is truly timeless in the way music is approached. Anyone interested in the post-rock genre will find this as a great place to start though the follow-up Laughing Stock is a better album. This is a record that isn’t easy to listen to at first due to the complexity and minimalist approach of the album but it’s a record that gets better with repeated plays. Particularly as it is a record that is very daring though in comparison to some of the recent post-rock recordings of bands like Radiohead and Sigur Ros. It makes a whole lot of sense of where some of these ideas that these bands among others got it from. In the end, Spirit of Eden is a glorious yet mesmerizing album from Talk Talk.

© thevoid99 2011

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Talk Talk-The Colour of Spring

1984’s It’s My Life and its title track helped Talk Talk gain international success as the band was starting to gain some control musically. Thanks in part to the contributions of unofficial member and producer Tim Friese-Greene, Talk Talk was able to move away from the world of synth-pop and new wave as singer Mark Hollis yearned for a more organic musical style for the band. With bassist Paul Webb and drummer Lee Smith, the band returned to the studio in 1985 with a group of session musicians for their third album The Colour of Spring.

Produced by Tim Friese-Greene and songs written by Friese-Greene and Mark Hollis, The Colour of Spring is an album where Talk Talk goes full-on into the world of art rock as the record strips down the synthesizers of its previous albums for a more organic yet massive sound. Featuring contributions from guitarist Robbie McIntosh of the Pretenders and Steve Winwood, the album shows a more evocative side to the band in terms of performance and musical arrangements. Lyrically, Mark Hollis delves into ideas of life from a more cerebral template as it plays to the album’s more improvisational yet adventurous presentation. The result is a sprawling yet soaring album from Talk Talk.

The album opener Happiness is Easy starts off with smooth, pulsating beats from Lee Harris, Paul Webb’s jazz-wobbly bass, soft piano riffs, a flowing synthesizer, and acoustic guitar melodies. Mark Hollis sings quietly to lyrics filled with religious themes that includes a chorus that is partially sung by a children’s choir which also features a trumpet solo. I Don’t Believe In You is a mid-tempo track with bopping rhythms, smooth guitar swanks and wails, melodic keyboard swirls, and acoustic guitar washes. Featuring expressive lyrics of loss and disappointment, Hollis sings in an anguished tone that features a wide range of emotions. The first single Life’s What You Make It features a pummeling back beat, crashing piano melodies, a hypnotic organ accompaniment, and a wailing guitar solo. Hollis’ vocals play up to the song’s lyrics filled with ideas of life as it’s presented in a powerful yet direct approach.

The minimalist-inspired April 5th features a somber piano piece, a smooth trumpet, and a soft, shaky percussion as Hollis sings in a nasally-pitch vocal. With reflective lyrics that features abstract imagery, the song is one of the album’s key tracks as it plays as a simple yet very esoteric song. Living in Another World is an upbeat track with pulsating rhythms, striking piano chords, and brimming acoustic guitars as Hollis sings harrowing lyrics of despair. The song intensifies in the chorus with a wailing organ, Robbie McIntosh’s soaring guitar, and a harmonica solo as Hollis sings in a powerful vocal that recalls the world falling apart.

Give It Up has a throbbing yet smooth mid-tempo rhythm with a swooning keyboard and organ plus soft, walloping percussions and a melodic piano. The song’s lyrics reflects elements of disappointment and questionable lyrics of life that is exuded by Hollis’ hypnotic vocals. Chameleon Day is another minimalist-inspired track with esoteric lyrics describing nighttime as Hollis’ nasally yet powerful vocals is accompanied by a smooth trumpet, a soft piano, and a chilling organ. The album closer Time It’s Time is an eight-minute cut that features throbbing bass lines, soft yet walloping percussions, a soothing synthesizer, driving guitars that later changes into a more direct, mid-tempo track with wailing keyboards and powerful beats. Hollis’ soft yet hypnotic vocals take charge to the song’s changing rhythms while singing somber lyrics filled with reflective yet religious themes chronicling a world in despair.

Released in March of 1986, the album drew rave reviews as well as the band’s best international sales despite a disappointing reaction in the U.S. The band went on tour for the record which helped them become international favorites as a performance at the 1986 Montreux Jazz Festival was later released on DVD in 2008. The international commercial reception also gave the band unlimited control as they would spend the next two years reinventing themselves.

The Colour of Spring is a superb yet exhilarating album from Talk Talk. Featuring a layered yet textured production from Tim Friese-Greene, it’s the band’s most accessible album of their entire catalog. Particularly as it bridges the gap between their earlier, new wave inspired albums and the post-rock albums they would do in the coming years. While those later albums would be superior in comparison to their catalog, The Colour of Spring is a more worthy introduction of what Talk Talk was able to do when balancing minimalist music and the new wave style that they had done earlier. In the end, The Colour of Spring is a rich yet adventurous album from Talk Talk.

© thevoid99 2011

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Various Artists-Drive OST

The soundtrack to Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 film Drive is a largely electronic-driven record filled with 80s style synth-pop music meshed in with moody electronic pieces from the film’s score composer Cliff Martinez. The soundtrack adds to Refn’s unique yet dark visual style for a film about a driver who drives criminals to rob banks at night as Refn wanted an 80s musical style to the music. Featuring additional music from Kavinsky with Lovefoxx, Desire, College with Electric Youth, the Chromatics, and Riz Ortolani with Katyna Ranieri. The album is one of the best film soundtracks released in 2011.

Opening the album is Nightcall by Kavinsky featuring CSS vocalist Lovefoxx. Featuring a smooth, throbbing beat with wailing synthesizer riffs, distorted vocals, and Lovefoxx’s seductive vocals as it’s a chilling yet evocative song. Desire’s Under Your Spell is a hypnotic cut featuring swooning synthesizers and Megan Louise’s dreamy vocals that plays to the driver’s interest towards Irene in the film. A Real Hero by College featuring Electric Youth is an upbeat yet dance-driven song featuring bopping synthesizer melodies that is followed by fluid keyboards in the background and a mesmerizing female vocalist that plays to the driver’s chivalrous behavior.

Riz Ortolani and Katyna Ranieri’s Oh My Love is a somber yet operatic song where Ranieri sings to the song’s longing lyrics as the song plays to a key scene involving the driver taking charge. The Chromatics’ Tick of the Clock is a smooth mid-tempo instrumental with pulsating synthesizers and a bopping beat that changes back and forth from this chilling piece to a more ambient-like cut. The next fourteen tracks on the album are instrumental score pieces by Cliff Martinez with the ambient-driven Rubber Head kicking things off with its soothing keyboards and wailing feedback along with sprinkling synthesizers to play up the energy of the film.

I Drive is another ambient cut with ethereal keyboard textures and swirling bass to play up to the world of the driver. He Had a Good Time is another short ambient cut with swooning keyboards and high-pitch wails to emphasize the driver’s new bond with Irene and her son Benicio. They Broke His Pelvis is a chilling ambient track with swirling guitar textures and a flowing keyboard as it serves as a key piece between the driver and Irene’s husband Standard as trouble is brewing. Kick Your Teeth is a haunting piece filled with swooning keyboards, low bass, and a pulsating beat to the driver's dark personality. Where’s the Deluxe Version features more swirling keyboards and low bass that is followed by pulsating synthesizers to play up the planning of a heist that the driver is involved in.

See You in Four has soft, clanging beats that is surrounded by its atmospheric keyboard and screeching sounds to play up the suspense of the heist. After the Chase is a dark yet brooding piece filled with swooning keyboards, heavy bass, and soft metallic beats to play up the calm after the storm as well as the tension that surrounds the driver. Hammer has soft, swirling keyboards that is followed by pulsating yet smooth beats and synthesizers to play up the driver getting ready to handle his business. Wrong Floor is a soothing yet evocative piece filled with lush keyboard textures to play up the romance between Irene and the driver. Skull Crushing is an eerie yet heavy track filled with soft but pummeling beats, droning bass, screeching sounds, and soothing keyboards to emphasize the driver’s protective behavior.

My Name on a Car is a dark yet haunting piece filled with low keyboards and swirling textures that heightens due to the drama between two key characters in the film. On the Beach is another haunting piece filled with scratchy electronics, soft yet distorted beats, and soothing keyboards to play up the tense yet harrowing feel as the driver targets one of his adversaries. The closing track is Bride of Deluxe as its soothing synthesizers, high-pitch wails, pulsating synthesizer riffs, and driving guitar melodies play to the finale of everything that has happened.

The soundtrack to Drive is a superb yet intoxicating soundtrack that features an amazing score by Cliff Martinez. Fans of the film should definitely get this as it serves as a great companion piece to the film. Particularly for those that likes electronic score pieces and 80s-style electro-pop music. In the end, the soundtrack to Drive is a hypnotic yet enriching soundtrack album.

© thevoid99 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

1991-20: 1991 in Music Pt. 2: The Year in Hip-Hop/Rap

Part 2: The Year in Hip-Hop/Rap

When rap music entered 1991, it was clearly in a transitional period. While the music was bigger than ever to the public at large. Not everyone liked the public’s perception of what rap music and hip-hop is. The image of such mainstream artists as MC Hammer, Gerardo, and Vanilla Ice may have helped exposed hip-hop to a broader audience, particularly White America. There was a feeling that their success and image didn’t really come from the streets along with the fact that it seemed manufactured. Whatever rap purists felt about this perception of what hip-hop was. It would have a major effect of what was to come later in the decade as hip-hop would become the major music force of the 1990s.

While MC Hammer definitely helped rap music become bigger than ever and more present all over the world. He received lots of criticism from the hip-hop community despite the fact that he wanted to present a positive image. What bothered a lot of rappers and critics at the time wasn’t the fact that Hammer was so big with a very polished, pop sound. It was also the fact that he was making lots of money through endorsements from corporate sponsors and making songs for blockbuster films such as The Addams Family. While Hammer would drop the MC from his name a year later and present himself as a superstar rapper with slick, big-budget videos and songs that featured a massive production. He would alienate a large portion of his African-American audience and eventually lead to bankruptcy.

If MC Hammer’s success was bothersome to purists and rappers in the hip-hop community, that was small potatoes compared to Vanilla Ice’s success. Though Ice’s major label debut To the Extreme was a huge hit in late 1990 and early 1991. His career was already trouble around the time he was a big star with a number one album topping the charts for 16 weeks. Ice’s bio where he claimed to be from the streets of Miami and was a gang-banger proved to be false during an interview which revealed that he was really from a suburb of Dallas. For every interview Ice was doing, it felt like an interrogation as his credibility was shattered and everything about him was questioned.

Though Ice would become rich and successful due to the sales of To the Extreme and the single Ice Ice Baby, Ice’s profile would have dire consequences. Not only would he be parodied by shows like Saturday Night Live and In Living Color about his success. He was also dissed by the rap group 3rd Bass with their song Pop Goes the Weasel that featured a sample of Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer (w/ permission by Gabriel) as well as a cameo by Henry Rollins in the video for the song as Vanilla Ice. In early 1991, Ice would have an encounter with future Death Row Records co-founder Suge Knight who was asking for some royalties for Ice Ice Baby. While the legend was that Knight and his crew dangled Ice from a balcony to get the releases, Ice later shot that down years later as he gave away a portion of the royalties to Knight. Even as Ice said that it was a good thing because he helped invested money in Death Row Records.

Ice’s career later fell hard in late 1991 due to a commercially-disappointing live album as well as a movie called Cool as Ice failed in the box office. Ice’s career cooled throughout the 1990s though he remained in the underground as he found his niche years later. Though Ice’s success was a big deal for the industry, it did hurt a lot of potential for emerging white rappers. Among them was Kid Rock who would finally break through in late 1998 while new yet more commercial white rappers would emerge in the coming years such as Mark Wahlberg under his rapper name Marky Mark and a Canadian rapper named Snow. Yet, they wouldn’t last long though Mark Wahlberg would have success as an actor. It did hurt the potential for white rappers to break into the hip-hop industry as a white rapper was a no-no for years. Even as Ice’s success was a thorn to the side of rap purists.

While pop-rap was helping the music gain wider exposure to the mainstream, there were other forms of rap and hip-hop that were starting to gain ground. Even as it led to a period of classic albums and new artists to emerge. Sub-genres were forming ranging from gangsta rap to jazz-influenced versions of rap music. One of the pioneers of gangsta rap in Ice-T released a new album called O.G. Original Gangster that was considered to be his finest album of his career. The album was considered to be a landmark for the gangsta rap genre while the album also introduced to a new project Ice-T created called Body Count. Body Count was a rap-metal band that allowed Ice-T to expand his musical horizons as he took the band on the road at the first Lollapalooza festival.

While Ice-T explored new avenues, Ice Cube released his sophomore album Death Certificate to rave reviews. Cube, who had left N.W.A. in early 1990 forged a solo career where he teamed with the famed production team the Bomb Squad for his solo debut album AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted in May of 1990 that featured a lot of social and political themes relating to what was happening in America. Death Certificate was released in October of 1991 that expanded on Ice Cube’s exploration with social and political themes while going more extreme about racism and violence. The album helped raise Cube’s profile as he also starred in the 1991 Oscar-nominated film Boyz n the Hood while Cube was also embarking on a personal journey with his conversion to Islam.

Cube’s former bandmates in the influential gangsta-rap group N.W.A. were forging ahead with the release of their second and last album entitled Efil4zaggin (Niggaz4life) which debuted at #2 in the Billboard 200 album charts only to go up to the top spot a week later which was considered groundbreaking for a release as extreme as this album. While the political elements of Cube’s lyrics were missing in the sophomore album, it did however expand the production style of Dr. Dre which leaned towards a smooth, funk-driven style. The album did receive excellent reviews though some critics felt the lyrical content became more misogynistic and more violent. It was during this time that tension between Dre and Eazy-E over money and various issues led to Dre leaving N.W.A. with a degree of controversy due to Suge Knight’s involvement as Dre and Knight eventually formed Death Row Records in late 1991.

If gangsta rap was gaining ground, other social-driven acts like the Geto Boys and Public Enemy upped the ante about issues that were happening in America. The Geto Boys released We Can’t Be Stopped which was their most successful release while its album cover was controversial as it featured Bushwick Bill in a hospital after he shot himself in the eye during a domestic dispute. Public Enemy meanwhile, released Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Back which many considered to be their last great album. The political-driven group had a song called By the Time I Get to Arizona which was a controversial track over Arizona governor Evan Mecham’s refusal to recognize Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, which was a national holiday. The album also featured a groundbreaking collaboration with the thrash-metal band Anthrax on a remake of Public Enemy’s old 1988 song Bring the Noise.

Another artist who came into the world of gangsta rap and hardcore hip-hop was a newcomer named Tupac Shakur under his alias 2Pac. Shakur was the son of a Black Panther party member as in 1990, he was a dancer for the rap group Digital Underground. He then became a MC as he rapped on the song Same Song for the 1991 film soundtrack to Nothing but Trouble where the group also appeared in the film. In November of 1991, Shakur would release his debut album 2Pacalypse Now. The album was a mixture of the socially-conscious, political hip-hop mixed in with the West Coast sound. What was more striking about the record were Shakur’s lyrics that made him stood out among his peers. Though it wasn’t a big seller upon its release, it did gain controversy in 1992 when Vice President Dan Quayle blasted the album for its violent content over a shooting from a Texas youth to a cop.

Shakur’s arrival into the hip-hop was one of many new artists emerging in 1991. A young budding entrepreneur named Sean Combs worked at Uptown Records where he helped develop the R&B group Jodeci and later sign Mary J. Blige to the label as she became the queen of hip-hop soul. Cypress Hill released their self-titled debut that brought a darker element to the world of gangsta rap mixed in with an element of psychedelia. Another new talent that was emerging as part of a group was Busta Rhymes as he and members of the group Leaders of the New School released their debut album A Future Without a Past. The album was considered to be one of the finest debut releases of that year as Rhymes would get more attention for a rap in the song Scenario in an album what many considered to be one of the greatest albums ever made.

That album is A Tribe Called Quest’s sophomore album The Low End Theory was a fusion of East Coast hip-hop with jazz. Creating a laid-back, bass-heavy sound courtesy of jazz double-bassist Ron Carter, the album featured lyrical content that went above the world of gangsta rap for something far more personal but also socially-conscious without an overbearing message. The record became a landmark release for hip-hop proving how wide the genre was becoming.

The Low End Theory brought a new era to hip-hop known as Alternative Rap as De La Soul released their second album De La Soul is Dead in reaction to critics claiming they’re hippies along with their own response to gangsta rap. With hip-hop flourishing into various sub-genres, there was still a commercial element that kept things going as there were alternatives to gangsta rap. Will Smith under his Fresh Prince moniker with DJ Jazzy Jeff scored a summertime hit with Summertime that was acceptable for all audiences.

The year ended as an important year for hip-hop but rising tensions over the Rodney King beating in March of that year along with a trial in 1992 was boiling. Even as hip-hop was becoming more aggressive in one spectrum as gangsta rap would become a dominant force in hip-hop. On the other side was a more laid-back approach of Alternative Rap with socially-conscious acts like PM Dawn and Arrested Development arriving in that year. MC Hammer’s pop-rap would see a decline as he was unable to reach the African-American audience he wanted to please. The next year would also see N.W.A. disband as Dr. Dre went solo and discovered a new rapper named Snoop Dogg.

1991-20: 1991 in Music: Pt. 1 - Pt. 3

1991-Indie: Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3 - Pt. 4 - Pt. 5 - Pt. 6

The 50 Best Albums of 1991: 50-26 - 25-11 - 10-2 - Favorite Albums #1

© thevoid99 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Thank You R.E.M.

After more than 30 years, 15 studio albums, two live albums, several best-of/rarities compilations (with another on the way), and more than 80 million albums sold worldwide, R.E.M. has announced that they're officially finished. Though the band will be no more, they have left a legacy that will be unparalleled with any artist or band that has come before and since. Sure, contemporaries like U2 had become mega-stars while others like the Smiths lasted for a few years. Yet, R.E.M. was a band that did things the hard way to fame and glory while proving themselves to be one of the world’s greatest bands.

From college rock favorites to the leaders of an alternative rock revolution, R.E.M. gave the music world something different from the leftovers of 70s rock. If it wasn’t for R.E.M., teenagers and college students from the 1980s would probably still listen to Poison, Loverboy, and all of those phony bands that wore leather pants, spandex, and such that kids couldn’t relate to. R.E.M. was different because they looked like the kind of guys that we know hanging out at record stores (when there used to be those places) and played at garages. They didn’t seek out to be the biggest or the best band in the world but rather just be a band that just wanted to have fun and play music.

After all, when the band released Radio Free Europe and it was played on American Bandstand back in 1983. The kids who were on that show ended up favoring that band over some no-talent ass-clown heavy-metal wannabe named Michael Bolton. Sure, that asshole may be singing dressed up as a pirate on the Emmys but no one is going to listen to any of his bullshit. People will still be listening Radio Free Europe while getting all the lyrics wrong because they have no idea what the hell Michael Stipe is saying.

Today, there’s bands that play with one original member and a bunch of nobodies singing songs that are now being sung on fucking Glee. R.E.M. was a real band that kept things going despite drummer Bill Berry’s departure in 1997. While they added a few musicians to keep things going for their remaining years, the band was at least respectful enough to not officially replace Berry by having some other guy on his drum kit. They decided to become a trio where they showed they had some juice left in them despite not having Berry at the time.

R.E.M. brought hope to young musicians that didn’t want to play just rock music. Michael Stipe was a unique vocalist that sang his heart out while starting off as this young shy guy that mumbled every word that he was saying. Then, he progressed to become more direct and open whether it’s about things he felt politically or what he wanted to say personally. Yet, he wasn’t this overbearing vocalist that wanted to be considered God-like but rather someone who is just like the person on the ground floor or the one at the nosebleed seat in an arena.

Peter Buck gave guitar players the idea that there was more to guitar playing than just the typical guitar solo or the power chord. He definitely had the best right hand in the business because he favored arpeggio melodies and rich arrangements that could be played on an electric guitar. Whether it’s in a song like Finest Worksong or Orange Crush to more delicate songs like Talking About the Passion and Driver 8. His guitar playing is truly his own while the stuff he did on the mandolins for albums like Out of Time and Automatic for the People showed his range as a musician proving that you could still do those same tricks on an acoustic instrument.

Mike Mills is definitely one of the best bass players to carry that instrument. Before people like Mills, Joy Division/New Order’s Peter Hook, and the Cure’s Simon Gallup, there weren’t really a lot of bass players that stood out against the guitar player, the singer, and drummer. Mills, along with his contemporaries, made sure the bass player was as equal to the guitar, drums, and vocals. Mills’ bass melodies in songs like Pilgrimage, South Central Rain, and Drive are integral to the R.E.M. sound while he was also an amazing backing vocalist and multi-instrumentalist providing the somber piano melody to Nightswimming.

Bill Berry is an outstanding drummer that definitely had his own sound. He was a drummer that could do a lot whether be powerful in his delivery of the fills or just keep it down for a simple backbeat in a song like Driver 8 and Losing My Religion. Berry’s drumming is definitely one of the key elements to the R.E.M. sound while he was also a great multi-instrumentalist and arranger that helped shape the band’s songs. Still, it’s his drumming that makes him important as, like Ringo Starr before him, he is defined by the fills that he plays. From the way he doesn’t over-indulge in a cymbal crash by just keeping the beat going or just add a simple bass backbeat to a fill. Berry’s drumming is truly a testament to what great drumming should be.

With these four ingredients, there is exactly of what is needed to be in the sound of R.E.M. while additional credit should go to producers like Don Dixon and Mitch Easter for their first two albums to Scott Litt who would work with the band from 1987’s Document to 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Their role in shaping those albums that R.E.M. made would provide the template of what records should be without going into the kind of studio trickery that is evident in a lot of the trends that most producers would delve into. While Jacknife Lee and Pat McCarthy should be noted for keeping the band going following Berry’s departure, it’s really the work that Dixon/Easter and Litt did that served as what the band could do in terms of creating an album.

Throughout the 15 studio albums the band made, there is a lot the band did as musicians. My personal favorite album is Automatic for the People because it’s the record that really shows R.E.M. delving into a darker yet more atmospheric sound that is based on organic instruments. It’s a mood record that I don’t play very often except on full rainy days. Not when the day has rain and there’s sun but a full-on rainy day where the skies are gray for the entire day and the rain is happening whether it’s hard or soft. Other favorites include Murmur and Reckoning for those early years when the band was just starting out and showed the range they could do in this wobbly, jangly post-punk sound. Life’s Rich Pageant and Document are also favorites though I more lean towards the former for Don Gehman’s more direct production as well as the range of songs from upbeat, fast songs to more mid-tempo pieces like Cuyahoga.

New Adventures in Hi-Fi is another favorite because it’s the album where the band fire in all directions from noisy rockers like Leave and Wake Up Bomb to more ballad-driven material like Electrolite, New Test Leper, and my favorite song on that record, Be Mine. Post-Bill Berry albums like Up, Reveal, and Accelerate are records that I really like. Up for its experimental yet moody song while Reveal was a sunnier yet exotic album that is a great summertime album. Accelerate was a band going back to basics while proving that there’s still life in them. Collapse Into Now is an album I’ve only listened to once so far as I have nothing compelling to say about nor Around the Sun which I’m unfamiliar with as the songs I’ve heard were very boring.

Fables of the Reconstruction is a record that I really like though it’s very murky and, at times, in-accessible while Out of Time is an album that I like though there’s a few songs that aren’t great including the much-maligned Shiny Happy People. Monster might be a lot of people’s least-favorite album but it’s an album that I like because it’s got a lot of fuzzy guitars, a heavy rhythm section, and some songs that really shows that the band could just kick ass.

For my favorite song, it’s Nightswimming as it’s just this gorgeous piano ballad with reflective lyrics and an amazing string orchestra that is arranged by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame. It is the centerpiece of Automatic in terms of the themes that the album delves into as well as being a song that exudes the innocence of swimming in night in the South. There’s so many songs that the band has done throughout their career that people love but this is their best song.

Now that R.E.M. is ready to leave a void that is definitely going to be unfulfilled. The legacy they’ve left is truly one of the greatest stories of rock n’ roll for a band that came from a small college town like Athens, Georgia to become one of the best bands out there. The reasons they decided to end it now is another reason why they stand out among all the bands out there. They’ve done enough to create a legacy that bands will want to follow while making enough music for the world to enjoy. What is there for them to do? Another album, another tour and for what? More money? They don’t need it. Record sales don’t really do anything anymore.

They could at least do one more shows for the fans just to say goodbye and give the money away for charity. Yet, it would be best if they did it with Bill Berry so the band could give everyone a proper farewell and only reunite for charities. That’s what a great band does. Do it for the right reasons and not cheat the people out of their money so they can buy a stupid car or a mansion. R.E.M. is already one of these great bands. Them leaving is going to give new bands or bands on the rise the chance for them to make their own mark. Since R.E.M. was able to do it, so can these bands as long as they do it for the joy of playing music and having fun.

So to Michael, Peter, Mike, Bill, and all of the people who helped the band whether it’s in business, making the album sleeves, being the extra musicians, being a roadie, making their videos, or just supporting them. Thank you very much for the music and the memories. We will miss all of you so thank you.

© thevoid99 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Talk Talk-It's My Life

Talk Talk’s 1982 debut album The Party’s Over may have given the band some exposure on MTV through the song Talk Talk but the band was unhappy with being part of the new wave music scene. While a collaboration with famed Roxy Music producer Rhett Davies for the non-LP single My Foolish Friend helped expose the band, keyboardist Simon Brenner left the band after its recording leaving singer Mark Hollis, bassist Paul Webb, and drummer Lee Smith to carry on. In need of a new member and a new direction, the band met up with a young up-and-coming producer named Tim Friese-Greene who would become the band’s unofficial fourth member. Friese-Greene’s involvement would impact the band musically as he would eventually become Hollis’ songwriter partner as they worked on the band’s second album It’s My Life.

Produced by Tim Friese-Greene, It’s My Life is an album that took the synthesizer-driven new wave sound of The Party’s Over to much broader sounds towards art rock. Featuring bits of jazz elements that would be prominent in their later recordings, the album also explores heavier themes lyrically as singer Mark Hollis would have more control on what to say. The album also allows bassist Paul Webb and drummer Lee Smith to loosen up as musicians making the band more in tune with their own ambitions which includes an appearance from Robbie McIntosh of the Pretenders. The result would be a breakthrough album for Talk Talk.

The album opener Dum Dum Girl is led by steady mid-tempo beats from Lee Webb and Paul Webb’s funky bass wobble with Tim Friese-Greene’s flowing yet layered synthesizers that includes some soft, pulsating beats. Mark Hollis’ calm vocals take charge as he sings about a girl that accuses a boy of trouble as it’s a song that features different tempo changes and hypnotic arrangements. Such a Shame is a song that starts off as a mid-tempo track with smooth, pummeling beats and spurting synthesizer wails as it goes into a faster tempo for its chorus. Hollis’ direct vocals sings to lyrics that reflects the idea of fear and shame as it is one of the band‘s best singles for its thrilling presentation. The ballad Renee features a smooth, throbbing rhythm, lush synthesizers, and Hollis’ somber vocals that recalls a woman being taken advantage of.

The title track is a mid-tempo track with spurting bass lines, steady drum fills, and layers of blaring yet buzzing synthesizers. With its somber lyrics about life and taking control, Hollis sings in a determined yet captivating tone as it’s one of the band’s finest moments. Tomorrow Started features throbbing rhythms, searing synthesizers, wailing trumpets, and washy acoustic guitars as the mid-tempo ballad has Hollis’ chilling vocals playing to the song’s dark yet mesmerizing lyrics. The Last Time is an upbeat track with swooning synthesizer melodies and a bopping rhythm where Hollis’ vocals takes in a lower register. The song’s lyrics reflect the feelings of being hurt as it is one of the most accessible tracks on the album.

Call in the Night Boy is a synthesizer-driven track with bopping rhythms and wavy synthesizers that accompanies Hollis’ vocals for this song about a young man’s night ending. While there’s moments that the song breaks away from its new wave presentation, it’s a song that doesn’t really fit in since it’s one of the last songs that former member Simon Brenner co-wrote with the band. Does Caroline Know? is led by throbbing percussions and swooning synthesizer melodies that has Hollis singing coolly to the song’s longing lyrics about heartbreak as it’s one of the standout cuts on the album. The album closer It’s You is a mid-tempo track with wobbly bass lines, pummeling beats, and spurting synthesizer melodies. Hollis’ wailing vocals play to the song’s angry lyrics filled with anguish that is accompanied by fluid synthesizers and driving guitars as it closes the album in style.

Released in February of 1984, the album drew excellent reviews from critics while the single for It’s My Life gave the band it’s biggest hit in the U.S. along with its accompanying video on MTV. While the album didn’t do well initially in Britain, the band did find an audience in places around Europe where they were becoming bigger. Yet, the success would allow the band to take drastic steps into what they wanted to do next as Tim Friese-Greene would become a key member despite his willingness to stay in the studio.

It’s My Life is a superb album from Talk Talk that is a major improvement over the band’s debut album in terms of a broader production and more compelling songs. While it may not live up to the later records they make, it is still an album that offers a lot of moments as well as an idea of where they were going from The Party’s Over to The Colour of Spring. Particularly as it features great singles like Dum Dum Girls, Such a Shame, and its famed title track that was later covered by No Doubt in 2003. In the end, It’s My Life is a stellar yet exciting album from Talk Talk.

© thevoid99 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Talk Talk-The Party's Over

Though they arrived in the early 1980s as part of the New Romantics scene in Britain, Talk Talk was a group that would defy that category in the coming years. Formed in 1981 by vocalist Mark Hollis, bassist Paul Webb, drummer Lee Smith, and keyboardist Simon Brenner, Talk Talk were initially part of the New Romantics movement that included acts like Duran Duran. The band was signed to EMI as an EP got bits of buzz as the record was expanded into an album as the band worked with producer Colin Thurston, the man who produced Duran Duran’s first two albums, for their debut release entitled The Party’s Over.

Produced by Colin Thurston, The Party’s Over is an album that has Talk Talk starting off as a synthesizer-driven new wave group with a lot of the elements of 1980s New Romantics music. What stood Talk Talk apart from acts like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet at the time is the vocals of Mark Hollis. While the music would feature none of the more organic yet esoteric sounds that would come into later albums. The result is a fascinating although somewhat derivative album from Talk Talk.

Opening the album is its leading single Talk Talk with its pounding beats, bopping dance rhythm, and flourishing synthesizer wails as Mark Hollis sings in his low yet broad vocals. Featuring biting lyrics towards manipulation, the song is one of the band’s key tracks featuring Colin Thurston’s superb production and a melodic piano riff in the bridge of the song. It’s So Serious is a mid-tempo track with swooning synthesizer melodies, Paul Webb’s smooth bass line, and Lee Smith’s rumbling electronic beats. Hollis’ calm vocals take charge to the song’s melancholic lyrics in this rich yet catchy song filled with wonderful layers towards Simon Brenner‘s synthesizers. Today is an upbeat track with throbbing rhythms and sturdy bass lines as it includes wavy synthesizers and dreamy lyrics. The vocals that Hollis provides an air of disappointment that is expressed though it’s often covered by the song’s more upbeat presentation.

The title track is a more bopping, mid-tempo track with upbeat synthesizer melodies and Hollis’ soothing vocals. The song’s lyrics express the end of something though it’s a song that includes soft bird chirps in the background that doesn’t really work as well as its overstated length. Hate is led by Smith’s driving beat rumblings and Brenner’s wavy synthesizers as Hollis snarls through the song’s dark though over-dramatic lyrics. The song’s tempo changes a bit to a more smooth though upbeat presentation for its chorus as it goes back and forth. Have You Heard the News? features a bopping rhythm and melodic synthesizer waves that is followed by a more swooning synthesizer and an ominous piano riff. Hollis’ wailing vocals play to the song’s lyrics that reflects the idea of rumor and blame as it’s a wonderful yet dark cut.

Mirror Man is a bopping, mid-tempo track with melodic synthesizer blares and pounding beats while Hollis sings in a calm manner. The song’s lyrics play to the creepiness of this man as it’s a song that doesn’t really have a lot of weight due to the over-reliance on synthesizers that also acts as a string section piece. Another Word is a more upbeat, dance-rhythmic track that features sputtering beat breaks and wavy synthesizers. Hollis sings to bassist Paul Webb’s grimy lyrics that is a real weak point despite a decent presentation and performance that is present on the song. The closing track in Candy, a mid-tempo ballad with swooning synthesizer and piano melodies plus steady beats and Hollis’ soothing vocals. The lyrics are filled with anguish over a girl as it’s a fitting though underwhelming close to the album.

Released in July of 1982, the album was received with decent reviews as the song Talk Talk gave the band a modest hit in the U.S as well as being a hit in the U.K. Though the band was given some wider exposure through MTV and opening for a one-off Genesis reunion for Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD project. The record and the new wave image the band was presented didn’t fit in with what Mark Hollis wanted as they were seeking a change in their musical direction.

The Party’s Over is a good debut album from Talk Talk but definitely their weakest of the five the band has made from 1981 to 1991. Largely because the music is derivative of the times as it features sounds that is similar to acts like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. While there’s some songs that are worth noting, the record starts to fall flat and be repetitive towards the final third. In the end, The Party’s Over is a decent album from Talk Talk.

© thevoid99 2011

Sunday, September 18, 2011

U2-No Line on the Horizon

Originally Written and Posted at on 3/17/09.

For more than 25 years, U2 has been one of rock's most beloved and premier rock bands. Led by lead singer, guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton, and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. U2 were the band that changed the face of rock in the 1980s with their songs about religion, love, politics, and the world in general. Since they emerged onto the music scene with their 1980 album Boy, the band were like no other as they broke through internationally with 1983's War while it's follow-up album The Unforgettable Fire in 1984 expanded their unique sound. 1987's The Joshua Tree made U2 rock superstars as the band that was the alternative to new wave and hair metal were now the mainstream. Yet, for all of the album's success in terms of album sales, Grammy awards, and sell-out concert attendances. The backlash would also come for the band as they would face it for many years to come.

1988's Rattle & Hum, a double album of live material and new tracks from its accompanying documentary film marked a troubling period for the band as the film and album were both panned by critics despite the album's success. After deciding to take a break at the end of the 80s, U2 decided to reinvent themselves with 1991's Achtung Baby with electronic flourishes added to their sound. The album was supported by a massively successful stadium tour known as Zoo TV. 1993's Zootropa was a minor success in comparison to Achtung Baby but still helped raise U2's profile as the world's best band. Following another break came another set-back in 1997 when the band released Pop with a huge stadium tour known as PopMart. The album was considered a disappointment while the tour in its big staging drew comparisons to the film This is Spinal Tap where at one point, the band found themselves stuck inside a lemon they were supposed to come out of.

The band ultimately returned in 2000 with All That You Can Leave Behind as it was the album to announce that they're back and not willing to call it quits. The album's success and acclaim help restore their status as one of rock's great bands as their tours were selling out while Bono continued to be the world's greatest peace activist despite annoying some fans over his activism. 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb helped continue the band's reign of success but some fans complained that the band is starting to show their age with its polished sound and production. At the same time, several artists and acts were starting to go for the same ambition as U2. Notably Coldplay with some in the press tagging them as the next U2 with critics grumbling about Coldplay. With U2 hoping to reclaim their throne as the world's best band once again, they return in 2009 with a new album entitled No Line on the Horizon.

Produced by longtime collaborators Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno with additional work from Steve Lillywhite and songs written by the band with Eno and Lanois. No Line on the Horizon is an album that continues U2's thematic quality of songs about love, God, and the world. Described as a gospel album of sorts while recalling the experiments of early 90s albums like Achtung Baby and Zootropa. The album is more in line with the band's past two albums in terms of its somber, lush production and performance. Yet, the result is what is truly the band's dullest album to date with no real sense of direction as they're starting to show their age.

The album opens with its title track, a shimmering, mid-tempo track with pulsating, tribal drumming from Larry Mullen Jr. With fuzz-driven, swooning guitars from the Edge and wobbly bass lines from Adam Clayton, it's Bono's wailing, raspy vocals filled with lyrics of love that drives the song. With its atmospheric, tingling production along with its smooth yet pulsating tempo, it's a song that proves U2 still has some juice in them as it mixes rock and Brian Eno's ambient-style presentation. The album's second single is the sweeping yet rhythmic Magnificent with its thumping back beat, growling and arpeggio-laden guitars, wobbly bass lines, and soft synthesizer flourishes. With Bono's calm vocals and dreamy lyrics, it's a song that shows the band delving into disco but with a great style and enthusiasm which includes an evocative slide-guitar solo from the Edge.

Moment Of Surrender is a seven-minute, twenty-second song with smooth, ambient-like flourishes courtesy of Brian Eno's keyboards and a slow, thumping drum track from Mullen. With Clayton's bass grooves and Bono's wailing vocals filled with reflective lyrics on love. It's a song that kind of drags in its time length and ambient presentation despite its performance along with the Edge's soft, ringing guitar. Unknown Caller is a track that starts off as a ballad with the Edge's arpeggio guitar flourishes and Clayton's wobbly bass lines. With Mullen's pulsating, sparse drumming that becomes a mid-tempo track of sorts along with Bono's calm vocals and gospel-like lyrics. The song is good though its production is too clean and calm in its performance along with Bono's lyrics which is a bit overbearing in its message.

I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight is a mid-tempo ballad with the Edge's ringing guitar riffs, Mullen's thumping drums, Clayton's melodic bass lines, and Bono's swooning vocals about love and life. While it has a nice presentation despite some qualms in Bono's lyrics that are bit silly in its intentions. The album's first single is the upbeat, fuzzy Get On Your Boots led by pulsating rhythms, fuzzy guitars and bass riffs, it's a song that kind of goes well except for a bunch of things. The lyrics are very stupid as Bono tries to make a song that is sexy but fails while there's a section when the band sound for some reason, the British band Muse in the bridge of the song. The breaks get even more ridiculous during a point where Bono says "Let me in the sound" repeatedly with pulsating beats that just goes nowhere. Stand Up Comedy is an upbeat, mid-tempo rocker with driving guitar riffs, funky rhythms, and Bono's calm, wailing vocals. Yet, the song is not very memorable with its silly lyrics and polished production in some spots of the vocals and guitars along with its chorus as Bono wails in his vocals.

Fez-Being Born begins with distorted loops with ambient-like textures and repeated lyrics of "Let me in the sound" that is played throughout until it gets distorted into this ambient-flavored song of sorts. With shimmering guitars and throbbing rhythms, it's a song that has Bono delving into spiritual-laden lyrics with wailing vocals as it's a good song with great performance and musicianship despite a very misguided intro and polished production. White As Snow is a traditional song with new arrangements by the band, Eno, and Daniel Lanois with its somber, ambient flourishes with plucking guitar notes from the Edge. Bono sings cooly with the song though it's one of the least memorable songs on the record as it drags in its presentation despite some of guitar flourishes from the Edge and smooth rhythms from Clayton and Mullen.

Breathe is a mid-tempo song with Mullen's pulsating, hollow drums and the Edge's shimmering guitar that goes into driving power chords with Clayton's thumping bass and Bono's frenetic vocals. Featuring soft piano melodies in the background, it's a song that features inspiring lyrics as it's one of the album's best cuts due to its performance, production, and lyrical content. The album's closer is Cedars Of Lebanon is a smooth, ambient-inspired track with soft, pulsating drums from Mullen, Clayton's melodic bass, and the Edge's flourishing guitar. Yet, it's a track that is just dull in its musical presentation and production with Bono singing calmly but with the lyrics not carrying much depth as it comes out quite silly. With background voices in the song, it tries to be atmospheric but fails as it ends the album with a whimper.

Whenever U2 plans to release an album, it's always meant to be more than an album but rather than event as if they're claiming that the world's best band is back. Yet, there's some major problems with this record. It doesn't have a cohesive sense of direction with its emphasis on ambient music, rock songs, and dance-like tunes that makes the album feel uneven and also uninspiring. At the same time, the production feels very lazily as it tries to go for mood with a polished sound but it lacks a real sense of excitement and immediacy that worked in previous albums. Lyrically, U2 sticks to what they know and it seems like they had some ideas but some of it comes off either very silly or overbearing. Yet, in the case of the album's misguided first single Get Off Your Boots, it reaches the line of stupidity.

For all of U2's ambitions to maintain their status of the world's best band, that's the other problem. They're not the world's best band (that's Radiohead for 12 year running and without effort or care). The album seems to state that even though they still have a few great songs in them, they've become more of a band that is like a brand name than a real band. At the same time, for their sense of ambition and wanting to give audiences the kind of music and shows to put on. They risk themselves of becoming something that most bands don't want to be. Rock dinosaurs. With bands that want to be U2, there's definitely bands that don't want to be U2 because they don't want to make fools of themselves and make records that sounds very dull as the band is about to reach the age of 50.

No Line on the Horizon isn't really a bad album but not a great album that lives up to U2's standards. Audiences who have enjoyed some of the band's more pop-driven sounds of the past two albums might enjoy it, notably the song Magnificent which is one of their best singles. Audiences of more old-school U2 of the 80s and 90s will definitely be disappointed in its lack of direction and lazy production as they're now a band that has definitely lost its sense of focus. With plans for another album coming out later this year, it's clear that U2 aren't the same band they were in previous decades but rather a band that's gotten their ambitions over their head again. In the end, No Line on the Horizon is a sign that age is starting to creep into the mind of U2.

U2 Reviews: Studio Albums: (Boy) - (October) - (War) - (The Unforgettable Fire) - (The Joshua Tree) - (Rattle & Hum OST) - (Achtung Baby) - (Zooropa) - (Pop) - (All That You Can Leave Behind) - (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb)

Compilations: (The Best of 1980-1990) - (The Best of 1990-2000) - (U218 Singles)

Live/Remix Albums: (Under the Blood Red Sky) - (Melon) - (Original Soundtracks 1) - (Hasta La Vista! Live from Mexico City) - (The Million Dollar Hotel OST)

Films: (Rattle & Hum) - From the Sky Down

(C) thevoid99 2011