Music Reviews – 2012 – Lightning Round
In the spirit of Ted (the new Seth McFarlane – Mark Wahlberg summer comedy), I offer you my “lightning round” take on the new music of 2012. No frills, no excess–just my “straight from the gut” take…coming at you mostly “stream of consciousness.”
Like Wahlberg and his “white-trash” girl names, new music is, for me, in the realm of “I just know this stuff” kind of stuff.
It has been a fairly prolific year for new music, from artists old and new. From Rush to Adam Lambert, there are lots of new records to keep us all entertained anew. In no particular order, here’s my take on the new music that I’ve been listening to.
Rush – Clockwork Angels – After five long years, the Toronto-based power-trio has given us Rush faithful another bone to gnaw on. With lyrics by Neil Peart, and music by (bassist Geddy) Lee and (guitarist Alex) Lifeson, the three-decades running success formula is again at work. Peart’s lyrics are worthy. Deep, meaningful and layered, Peart again reminds me of why I became a Rush fan in 1977. He creates smart characters with conscience. His lyrics demonstrate a standard of continual learning. Like life itself, his characters always seem responsible for previous lessons. I love that. And Lee and Lifeson put them to power-chords and ever changing time-signatures, with Lee offering his signature wail. This isn’t 2112. Nor is it Moving Pictures or even Presto, but it’s new Rush and it rocks. Check out Caravan, BU2B, the title-track, and Headlong Flight. The more you listen, the more you’ll discover.
Maroon 5 – Overexposed – Adam Levine and his LA-based bros continue to be a hit factory. Overexposed is, somewhat less than ironically, going to keep them in the spotlight for a long-time to come–as if Adam Levine wasn’t ubiquitous enough already, with his mentor role on The Voice (though I did see that they signed on Rob Thomas, making me wonder if Adam is done there?). For me, Overexposed isn’t as perfect, start to finish, as Hands All Over was…but it’s still a great listen. If you listen to contemporary radio, you won’t be able to miss it. Key tracks include One More Night and Payphone.
Joe Bonamassa – Driving Toward the Daylight –Another rock solid effort by the modern Blues master came out in June. It is, like most of his solo records, a combination of Bonamassa originals and covers. And again, I love the Bonamassa originals more. Driving Toward the Daylight and Heavenly Soul jumped right into my Best of Joe B playlist. Bonamassa is maintaining a frenetic pace, working on a new Black Country Communion record, while touring Europe, Asia and Australia this summer. I’m hoping to see him at the Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa in November. Who’s in?
Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania – This is the pleasant surprise of the summer for me. Billy Corgan has finally created a record that doesn’t feel self-indulgent to me. It is reminiscent of the Pumpkins’ mid-90s best. In fact, I like it as much as I liked Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness when they were new. The band is mostly new again too, with Jimmy Chamberlin, James Iha and D’Arcy Wretzgy long gone. But the Pumpkins have always been Corgans’ brainchild. My fave tracks are: Celestials, My Love is Winter, Pinwheel and the Chimera. But I’ve been listening to it start to finish, with no urgency to skip ahead. That alone makes this better than Zwan, Zeitgest and other more recent Corgan efforts. It’s nice to have the Pumpkins firing on all cylinders again.
John Mayer – Born and Raised – Another pleasant surprise, Mayer, now a fellow Montanan, is freshly over his personal embarrassment, surrounding his 2010 “foot in mouth” debacle. This record reflects a refreshing new perspective, both lyrically and in substance. After Continuum, it’s hard to argue that this is his best, but this is very, very good. His “Shadow Days” are over indeed. Key tracks are: Queen of California, Shadow Days, Something Like Olivia, the title track, and A Face to Call Home. Check ’em out.
Linkin Park – LIVING THINGS – STOP SHOUTING the album name already. Linkin Park’s new record seems to have hearkened slightly back toward their original formula. And that, my friends, is a good thing. Angst-ridden Chester Bennington screams, layered on Mike Shinoda Rap/Rants, all set to electro-muscled song structures. I like it. Some of it reflects more angst than I apparently have at my age, but I love a good hook…and Chester is a terrific vocalist. If you’ve ever liked ’em before, you’ll prolly like this. I like Burn It Down, I’ll Be Gone, and Castle of Glass more than the rest.
Tenacious D – Rise of the Fenix – Jack Black and Kyle Gass are back making ridiculous music. And it is hilarious. As with all their full-length endeavors, some of it works better than the rest and some is downright bad. Most of it is raunchy. Yet the funniest songs are the raunchiest. For example, 39 tells of finally getting a mature girlfriend–predictably outrageously. The phone sex description is “milk through your nose” funny. The album art pretty much sums up what you get on this record. Bend over and take your laughs like a man.
Slash – Apocalyptic Love – Slash has again partnered with Myles Kennedy (formerly of Alter Bridge) for more straight-forward Rock ‘N Roll. The record lists the partnership as “Featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators.” As the last record and tour indicated, they make a great team. At first listen, I didn’t like this record as much as the first solo album, but after seeing them “kill it” on the Guitar Center Session (on the Audience Network), I gave it another chance. Myles wails with the best of them…but I like it better when he restrains himself and builds to the inevitable wail.
Shinedown – Amaryllis – Another great work from the Jacksonville-based group. Southern-tinged Rock ‘N Roll meets pop-radio glitz. No wonder, old time Shinedown fans are up in arms. Why would you glitz up perfectly good Southern Rock? For me, I like the new direction. Brent Smith remains a phenomenal vocalist (just check out his Skynyrd Simple Man cover). After the extraordinary success of 2008’s The Sound of Madness, Rob Cavallo returned to produce Amaryllis. Key tracks are: Adrenaline, Bully, the title-track, Miracle, and Through the Ghost.
Adam Lambert – Trespassing – Former Idol and current Glam-Rocker, Lambert is enjoying success like very few former Idol alum have. He is entering territory only seen by Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, & Daughtry. Of course that’s a good thing. I never would have guessed, back in the day, that I would like Lambert’s post-Idol material. During their Idol run (in 2009), I voted for Kris Allen all the way. I thought I’d like Allen’s music more down the road. It just hasn’t panned out that way. Lambert has finally won me over. He seems to be leading the charge in creating music with depth and character. Trespassing has great dance music, thoughtful and heartfelt ballads, and a seemingly endless stream of pleasant surprises. Throughout, I hear hints of George Michael (circa his 1987 peak), Michael Jackson, Nicki Minaj and Usher among the tracks–all with Lambert delivering consistently great vocals. This record has no less than 10 standouts. I am still surprised at how much I like this record. All I can say is “good on him.” Yo Adam–Go Get ‘Em.
Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen are back together again. This is their first record together since 1984 (the album). It isn’t 1984, but it is entertaining. Eddie is an iconic virtuouso and he’s even better when he’s reasonably sober. Roth is a few decades past his high-kickin’, gutteral screaming peak….but he’s still a great showman. I honestly think they appreciate things more now. I know I do. For a little 70’s retro-nostalgia now, check out: Tattoo, You and Your Blues, and Stay Frosty. Stay Frosty conjures memories of Ice Cream Man. Cool!
Todd Snider – Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables – The original Tennessee troubadour is back with another set of “everyman” tales. Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables delivers exactly what it promises. Snider does class them up with strings and some interesting arrangements. His experience and maturity are clearly in evidence, as he sings of God, good, evil, and “good things happen(ing) to bad people.” His message is fresh, timely and refreshingly, if predictably, irreverent. My favorites are: Too Soon To Tell, New York Banker, and West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown.
Carrie Underwood – Blown Away Oklahoma’s own and America’s collective favorite American Idol–Country Megastar–Carrie Underwood released her 4th studio record in April. At this point, she has nothing more to prove. Carrie is a consummate pro. She works hard, has a great supporting cast, and she is magnanimous and regal, all at the same time. While others try to distance themselves from the Idol branding, Carrie supports the younger Idol wanna-be’s. What a great role model. Good for her. We fellow Northeastern State Alum support each other….so I’m all in for Carrie~!
Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls – Cousin Joni owns the credit for turning me onto this band. They apparently stole the show at Austin’s South x Southwest Music Festival this spring. Britney Howard is a crazy, frenetic, good vocalist by reputation and the band is tight. Howard has drawn comparison’s to Janis Joplin and sounds a little to me like Mick Jagger at times. The band appears to be seizing every opportunity, demonstrating amazing chemistry. I like: You Aint Alone, Heartbreaker, and Be Mine.
Tremonti – All I Was – Creed and Alter Bridge fans will recognize this music. Guitarist Mark Tremonti finally just did it all himself. While Myles Kennedy was touring with Slash, and Scott Stapp was doing God knows what, Tremonti was free to write and perform on his own. The result is All I Was. He sounds a lot like he did singing backup vocals in Creed–where he always got credit for the guitar onslaught, but yielded most of the glory to Stapp. Like everything else he’s contributed to, All I Was is straightforward, guitar “front and center” music. I like it all.
John Fullbright – From the Ground Up Okemah, Oklahoma’s own Red Dirt Veteran, released a polished and worthy alt-country/folk’ish (or “somethin’ or other”) styled record in May (coincident to fellow Okemah residents–the Turnpike Troubadours release of Goodbye Normal Street). Recommended by Cousin Judi, I have finally embraced Fullbright’s charm. Similar in style to Todd Snider, but with deep Oklahoma roots, John Fullbright delivers the goods. I like it all but really love the piano ballads: I Only Pray At Night and Nowhere to Be Found. Thanks again Judi~!
That’s all the 2012 music news fit to print–or more accurately, that’s all the music news I’m going to do right now. Though, I reserve the right to re-attack and review some older music that I’ve just embraced in 2012. But that’s another story…for later. Until then…
Support the Musicians You Like~!
And Enjoy~! JDPF