Lightning Round IV

Music Reviews 2012

Soundgarden – King Animal

The “Black Days” are over.   Seattle’s finest are back~! Irreverent and self-aware, they have delivered exactly what you’d expect from the Kings of the 90s.   This is the 2012 record that I’ve looked forward to the most. It doesn’t disappoint.

After hearing it, I’ve got to ask.  What was Kim Thayil doing for 15 years?  We know where Chris Cornell’s been (solo, with Audioslave, more solo).  And we know that Matt Cameron joined Pearl Jam after the 97 Soundgarden break-up.  Ben Shepherd’s obviously been around the block a few times too.  But Thayil, dude? You can’t just sit down that sledgehammer axe. You must wield it. Moral imperative.

Wherever they were, its great to have them back.  Thunderous, raucous, bass-heavy, lick-infested, this Animal feels like it never left.  From the first song, Been Away For Too Long, the groove is on, with Cornell telling us exactly how they feel, how we feel.   And to put it simply and redundantly, they have been away for too long.

Non-State Actor continues the thunderous vibe, while reacquainting us with Soundgarden’s signature, psychedelic guitar layering.  All as Cornell bellows about how “we settle for a little bit more than everything.  We are not elected, but we will speak.  We aren’t the chosen, but we believe.”  Yes, indeed we do…in the power of Soundgarden to command our undivided attention while rocking our world.

By Crooked Steps follows with another proverbial punch in the face.  It feels like a SuperUnknown track (with the band clearly firing on all cylinders)–beginning with a hint of homage to Pink Floyd’s Run Like Hell, before the sledgehammer announces that it is unmistakenly Soundgarden.

Then A Thousand Days Before takes me away……into the melodically euphoric, spiritual realm that Audioslave did so well (e.g. on I Am the Highway).  Cornell is a brilliant story-teller, delivering layer upon delicious layer.  He can recreate the atmosphere of the “Jesus Christ Pose” like no other vocalist in music.  Desperate and dark, yet spacious and ever hopeful–or as Shepherd sort of describes it (on Attrition) “under bombast and gloom,” life is cold, but fight on we must.  No matter the obstacle, you slam your way through, famously and fabulously. Faced with cold, dark adversity, “I’ll be on my own side.”  A Thousand Days Before is an anthem for all who aspire to self-reliance….with a Doors’ The End-like finish.  Absolutely magnificent~!

Then Thayil hammers you with Blood on the Valley Floor.  Five songs in and I’m asking myself, is this the best Soundgarden ever?  I know it’s a tall order, but I’m serious.  This is  as good as A-Sides was thru the first five songs and that’s a greatest hits-like compilation.

And it doesn’t go downhill from there. Taree is my early favorite song from the record.

All in all, King Animal is a triumph.  Soundgarden, at their best, is a force in music.  They were away long enough to sort their differences….and to appreciate that which made them special in the first place–the collaboration with each other.   Cornell, Thayil, Shepherd and Cameron are clearly greater than the sum of their parts.   Soundgarden defines synergy. Who knew?

King Animal isn’t SuperUnknown.  It’s just a logical, seventeen years hence, follow-up.  On this record, we are quickly reminded of why this band owned the 90s.  And the nineties were such a fresh change to the lame pop/hair metal excesses of the 80s.   Gimme another double-shot of Seattle’s finest—an espresso, some flannel, some Soundgarden on 11, all while enjoying another great ski day.

Kid Rock – Rebel Soul

Finally, the middle-aged rebel kid from southeast Michigan, has given in and taken his wares to i-Tunes.  Kid Rock once again followed his Michigan mentor, Mr. Bob Seger, into the once unthinkable void.  Such is life.  The market-place changes.  You adapt and take your wares to the new market…or you rail against windmills by yourself while losing all that revenue.*

All politics aside, the music on Rebel Soul is pure.  It is purely what it purports to be.   Rebellious and soulful.  Nobody does it better.  Three albums in a row.  It ain’t a fluke.  Kid Rock plays the music of the trailer park, for the trailer park, by the trailer park.  “Move your busted ass vehicle off the road” ain’t never sounded better.  Check it~!

Green Day – Dos

The second of the 2012 Trilogy, Dos continues where Uno left off.  In your face, insidious, angstful, and catchy — all at the same time.  My favorites again are the most suggestive.  F*** Time, Lazy Bones, and Makeup Party are all gems.  Three chords and a pile of guitar parts, another Armstrong rehab.  Whatever it takes, the Kids of Greenery are up to their task.  And we’re just a few weeks out from Tre’.  Can’t wait. All that angst will match the intensity of difficult ski terrain…or difficult ski buddies. Either way, one of us is going down.  I’ll just have a soundtrack playing in my helmet.

Phillip Phillips – The World From the Side of the Moon

American Idol Phillip Phillips has released his debut album–The World from the Side of the Moon.  It is worthy~!   Phillips truly has the chops he seemed to demonstrate through the weekly Idol gauntlet.   His works naturally seem to conjure a Dave Matthews meets Mumford and Sons vibe.

And yet, it’s all him.  Phillip Phillips has the moxie and mojo to pull this off.  He isn’t a manufactured entity.  Of note, of the fourteen songs on the record, he penned five himself, co-wrote four others, and used five songs written by others.

In my book, the best songs here are the ones he wrote himself.  Wanted is Love is an understated masterpiece.  It will undoubtedly end up punctuating a night-time drama TV-episode.  I’d bet on it.

To Phillip’s credit, his success and fortune have not yet changed him.  When asked how he felt about NBC and the US Women’s Gymnastics Team adopting Home as their theme song, he purportedly said he “was humbled” by it, but hadn’t actually seen any of it, since the Idols’ tour was in full-swing then.

19 Recordings (Idol’s affiliated management company) did Phillips right.   The investment is well-spent.  The arrangements are professional, the use of strings, horns and other effects are appropriate and nicely done.  I love the sax on Man on the Moon and Drive Me.

And to Jim, I say, I even hear a little Warren Zevon-esque “ahh oooh” on Drive Me.  Who doesn’t like hearing that done well?  Then follow that up with a little sax and some Blues-Brothers-style horn accompaniments.   It’s all good.

Its so good, I find myself already forgetting the Idol origins.  Phillip Phillips is why I watch shows like American Idol.  For every 700,000 contestants, there is one Phillip Phillips, one Carrie Underwood, one Chris Daughtry, one David Cook, and one Kelly Clarkson.   Those artists alone have made it worth my time.  And you never know who’s going to end up lending a few seasons to the show.  Like Steven Tyler—speaking of which…

Aerosmith – Music From Another Dimension

Love ’em or hate ’em, current Aerosmith is still in the ring.  They’re still polarizing a crowd like few other bands, old or new.   “What’s the deal?” You ask.  Well, it’s that they, allegedly, “aren’t being true to themselves.”  Some lament this records lack of ties to Toys in the Attic or Rocks.  Others lament the presence of, “ugghh”, another Diane Warren ballad.  And even worse, a Carrie Underwood duet.  That’s evidence right there that Aerosmith has clearly sold out.  To many, Aerosmith have become pop whores.  These critics ask, where’s the metal?  The lick and a promise? And why can’t they just get “back in the saddle?”

Fair enough questions I suppose.  But I do believe there is some room in this world for balladry by a Joe Perry band.  After all, despite him famously saying that Aerosmith doesn’t do ballads, they did do that one—that Diane Warren ballad—I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing–which ended up being their biggest hit ever.  Dream On notwithstanding.

You’ll have to make your own decision about this record. Personally, I like a fair amount of it.  They are at least sober and that counts a lot.  The record is coherent and that sets it well ahead of multiple mid-career Aerosmith records.

Black Country Communion – Afterglow

Prolific and powerful, the neo-classicist, dark country rockers return for their third record since 2010.  No one works harder than Hughes, Bonham, Bonamassa and Sherinian. And Ok, Bonamassa and Sherinian are Americans….but they seem to fit better in this Brit’ophile band construct.

This is as close to modern 70s music as you get.   It feels a little like Zeppelin, a little like Deep Purple.  This record leans more toward the Hughes influence with fewer Bonamassa originals mixed in.  No sweat there though, Bonamassa shines through.   This is terrific, timeless rock and roll.   People dig ’em.  What about you?


Bonus Material and Deliberate Digression follow

*Did you know that Rush sold out to a car company?  I ask as a plankholding Rush fan.

It is supremely ironic to me….that the commercial aired the very week I actually saw the band gathered around a table saying they would never sell out….ever (in 2010’s Rush – Beyond the Lighted Stage).

Ok, so I was a little late in seeing the movie (Rush – Beyond the Lighted Stage), especially if I claim to be a plankholding fan……but I believed them.  They were so earnest.

And then I saw the commercial, within like 48 hours.  It was like finding out the earth really is round….right after the people you trust most assured you it was flat.

Oh well, I get it.  The truth changes.  2010’s principled line in the sand is 2012’s opportunity for enhanced cash-flow.

To be fair, I kind of like it…..despite it being some dork-face air-drumming Fly By Night at a stop light.   I certainly prefer this to seeing Joe Theismann telling me his prostate troubles or that other dude telling me how his new catheter has changed his life.  Play me some Rush baby; I’ll air drum too…..just as long as the prostate is still working and I remain catheter free.

On that note, isn’t it time you do some music reviewing of your own?

Support the Musicians you like~!  Enjoy JDPF

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