Tuesday, 18 January 2011

2010: A Year In Music [Part 3 of 5]

And so we continue...

Foo Fighters - The Colour And The Shape

Foo Fighters are one of those bands that are very easy to take for granted. Their songs have always just been there, and no matter how many times one hears them on the radio, they manage to maintain their freshness. Their music has achieved great cross-over success, satisfying grunge fans who were mourning the death of an era, metal heads, classic rockers, and even being melodic and accessible enough to lure in pop music listeners.

I decided I was well overdue for a Foo Fighters album in my collection, and this seemed to be the (almost) unanimous pick for their best album. First of all, let's count the hits -- Monkey wrench, My hero and Everlong. That's three great radio-friendly rockers right there. Beautiful ballad Walking after you was also included on the X-Files soundtrack, albeit a slightly different version.

Dig a little deeper, and you find several coulda-been hits like Hey, Johnny Park and Up in arms. There's a great eclecticism to the proceedings, with stunning ballads (Doll, Walking after you) interspersed amongst dynamic rockers (New way home, My poor brain). There's even some quirky moments (See you) sitting on the same bus with thrash numbers (Enough space). My personal favourite (February stars) starts out as a ballad before it changes halfway into a feedback drenched and emotionally charged number.

Despite the variation in styles and sounds, it's all very accessible and easy to listen to, without resorting to cheap hooks or lacklustre songwriting. Commercial music doesn't have to be shallow or bland, and Dave Grohl and co. show you how on this excellent album.

Al Green - Greatest Hits

I don't understand why it took me so long to pick up an Al Green album. His stunning ballad Let's stay together (famous for its inclusion on the excellent Pulp fiction soundtrack) is rightly one of my favourite songs of all time. I guess I just considered him just another soul singer (TM), with Marvin Gaye, Sly & The Family Stone et. al. able to satisfy the need for that music in my collection.

For an artist as prolific as Al Green, a compilation seemed to be the way to go, and when an expanded 2CD edition of his Greatest hits was released, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to get more into his music. This purchase contradicts one of my previous blog posts about compilations, where I specifically mentioned avoiding two-disc sets. Let's just say that Al Green has the talent and discography to justify such a sprawling collection.

So what about the music? The majority of the songs on this collection are some of the finest soul/R&B songs ever released. They have groove, funk and passion and they are all topped off with one of the finest vocalists of the past 50 years.

Highlights are everywhere, but I'll reel off a few: Let's stay together (of course!), Tired of being alone, I'm still in love with you, Oh me, oh my (dreams in my arms), Call me, I gotta be more (Take me higher), the ultra-funky Love ritual and the more recent recording Starting all over again. That's only a short list, but the majority of the songs on this collection are as high in quality.

Even the covers (The Box Tops' The letter, The Doors' Light my fire and The Bee Gees' How can you mend a broken heart?) are fantastic re-inventions of songs which (with the exception of The letter) didn't sound like soul songs to begin with.

Al Green is a legendary artist, and this compilation is a great entry point into his vast catalogue.

Kings Of Leon - Youth & Young Manhood

It's a pity that it took a song as bland and generic as Sex on fire to give this band commercial success. Their first two releases were lean, well-produced albums that had instant appeal but more importantly had subtlety and longevity. Sure, their sound owed a lot to their influences (Stones, Creedence, The Allman Brothers) but they had the passion which made it great to listen to and the back-story which made it real.

You can almost picture the record company meeting where one of the big-wigs told them that if they cleaned up their rough edges and polished their sound, they could make it big. It's unfortunate in this day and age that there is often a conflict of interest between making good music and paying the bills, but I'm not a musician so who am I to complain?

Anyway, enough ranting about what they became; this great debut album is what they were and it's a great listen. They mix up the bluesy rockers (Red morning light, Wasted time) with the more catchy upbeat numbers (Happy alone, California waiting, Molly's chambers) and a few scratchy ballads (Trani, Dusty) which give the album a lot of light and shade. Unlike a lot of recent albums, the production by Ethan Johns maintains a wonderful sense of dynamics, allowing the music to breathe without overwhelming the listener.

Even the hidden track at the album (Talihina sky) is a lovely and melodic number. I wasn't expecting this album to be this good, but it was a pleasant surprise.

Mr. Bungle - California

I've become a bit of a broken record lately when talking about the lack of dynamics in modern music. Needless to say, I have had to find creative ways to discover new music, and most of the time this has involved investigating a lot of pre-2000s music that I missed the first time around.

Mr. Bungle was one of the many side projects of Mike Patton (the singer from Faith No More) where he unleashed some of his more experimental music. I remember hearing their 2nd album Disco volante when I was younger, as my brother was a fan and played it quite a bit. I was definitely a lot less open-minded when it came to experimental music back in those days. Then one of the music blogs which I subscribe to gave a retrospective review to California, their 3rd and most-accessible album. The review intrigued me enough to pick it up.

Like any of the Mr. Bungle albums, California is all over the place, encompassing a wide variety of genres from metal, doo-wop, funk, surf-rock, and late Tom Waits era carnival music. Some songs, like opener Sweet charity and Pink cigarette are fairly immediate. Others, like the psychotic closer Goodbye sober day and the stupendous Retrovertigo take a few more listens to reveal their charms.

The songwriting and performances are great, but it's the amazing production which pushes it into "brilliant album" territory for me. There are quiet parts which make the loud parts all the more powerful, and there's always subtle elements in the mix which reveal themselves more with each listen.

Frank Zappa may have died in 1993, but his spirit lives on in this great piece of work.

Neon Neon - Stainless Style

Concept albums can be mighty pretentious, can't they? This one is an exception for a few reasons. Firstly, it was written and performed by Gruff Rhys, the quirky genius front-man of Welsh band Super Furry Animals (in collaboration with electronic artist Boom Bip). Secondly, it's a concept album about John DeLorean, the man behind the car used for the time machine in Back to the future. As an 80s kid, the Back to the future trilogy are three of my favourite movies of all time, so anything connected with those movies will get an immediate thumbs-up from me.

The album juxtaposes 80s-style pop with a few hip-hop songs that help expand the story of John DeLorean and his troubled life. Throughout the CD, we hear about his love affairs (Raquel, I lust you), the founding of his company (Dream cars) and some of dark elements of his past (Sweat shop, Luxury pool). As an 80s pastiche it works incredibly well, with great melodies and beats throughout. My only criticism is that the hip-hop songs, while being effective in telling the story, detract significantly from the flow of the album. They stand out a bit too much.

This is a very accomplished album from one of the greatest songwriters and musicians from the past two decades, a man who can seemingly do no wrong.


  1. Hey Jiggy

    Reading your reviews are like, to quote Forrest Gump, a box of chocolates. You never know what genre you are going to get...

    I had of course heard of some of these, but your reviews have made me interested in all of them...

    thanks again for a good review.
    from musiclists.blogspot.com

  2. Thanks for the comments Deano!


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