Unbelievable as it may seem sometimes, I do research each week's AeroTuesday post, looking for something interesting to link to - or, at least, a scan of a vinyl label to steal for weeks where I don't actually have the featured album on that format. Especially so this week, given that I'll be doing a two-fer dealing with a couple of tunes from a soundtrack and a contract-filler live album.
For the life of me, I can't even begin to imagine how to fit what you're about to read into a discussion of Armageddon, A Little South of Sanity, or anything else I've yet to cover in the series for that matter. So instead I'll just kind of leave this here, and advise you not be drinking anything when you read it...although you may be tempted to run up quite the bar tab once you're done.
Click this way for ridiculous, hilarious fundamentalist stupidity!
(And, when you're done with the Aero-entry and want to find out who else is in bed with the devil and/or waste some time at work, there's plenty more crazy right over here. No bonus points for guessing that the phrase "Ronnie James Dio" and a photo of the late great singer throwing the horns appear more than once.)
Monday, April 30, 2012
Saturday, April 28, 2012
I’ve really tried as I’ve gotten older to be more respectful of others’ musical tastes, even when they’re in direct conflict with my own. Sometime within the last few years, I came to the conclusion that being a rigid music snob was excluding me from potential fun and adventure. The results have been nothing short of revelatory: the mind is a terrible thing to close, friends. Hell, the previous post on this blog was a piece about Whitesnake of all bands, and not a hatchet-job, either. Growing up, it turns out, ain’t nearly as bad as it’s cracked up to be. Whoulda thunk it?
That Whitesnake piece was as much about the nature of nostalgia as it was about David Coverdale and friends. Honestly, I don’t have much against nostalgia, especially when it really isn’t nostalgia. There’s something I admire about music fans who simply continue to like the artists they’ve always liked, regardless of those artists’ relative hipness or current commercial clout. Staying a fan is a wonderful thing, and continuing to love what you’ve always loved isn’t nostalgia; it’s giving great music a permanent place in your life. Rock on, true believers, and I say that with no amount of sarcasm whatsoever.
Like I said: new-ish, tolerant me generally tries to keep the artist-bashing to myself. Still, there are some things you can never quite let go, and some times when you’ve got to call a turd a turd. I’ll let this screen-grab of an email speak for itself:
There have been many times in our combined music geekdom when Rhea has asserted that the ‘90s were a terrible time for music. At this point in the discussion, I usually get up, throw on a D Generation t-shirt, and begin to protest loudly. Looking at the above bill – really, the Barenaked Ladies and Blues Traveler together?! – I feel that my protesting has all been in vain. Because, based on the musical “accomplishments” of those two incredibly shit bands, she’s absolutely right. The Barenaked Ladies have always shot for cleverness and missed by miles, right down to their imbecilic name. They’re called the Barenaked Ladies! They’re a bunch of fat Canadian dudes! How fucking hilarious! As for Blues Traveler and their intolerable blare of pinched-larynx vocals and endless harmonica jams, the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson hit the nail on the head: they are a novelty act, and a bad one at that. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around having to endure both of these awful bands on the same bill.
Looking back on my concert-going career, I’d rate Poison as the worst professional-level band I’ve ever had to sit through live. To be fair, I was biased going in, given that I’ve always harbored a somewhat irrational hatred towards that band and my beloved Cheap Trick were somehow opening for them. No surprise then: they were just as bad as I expected them to be. I’d actually rather see them perform four times in the same night than have to sit through a Barenaked Ladies/Blues Traveler double feature. Scout’s honor – and yes, I was a scout. (A Cub Scout to be exact, but close enough.)
Look, I’m really not trying to piss on anyone’s parade. If, for whatever bizarre reason, you wish to buy this particular headache for the princely sum of $13.00, go forth and enjoy. But, really: the Barenaked Ladies and Blues Traveler? You need to raise your nostalgia standards. You should pick up the new Whitesnake album with that cash instead. I’m not kidding.
And, with all of that said and vented, I’ll return to my older, wiser, more open-minded self. Still, every now and then, the music snob within comes across something that makes him have to come out and do his thing. I thank you, dear readers, for your indulgence.
Rhea, last night, after listening to Eddie Trunk’s Friday Night Rocks in the car for a while: “He played the new Whitesnake. [Long pause.] I think I liked it. I’m so ashamed.” First, I did what any fine upstanding music snob with several gigs of Hüsker Dü bootlegs on his hard drive would: laughed and mocked. Then, I did what any fine upstanding human being who wants to keep his long-term relationship on track and not have it bog down over stupid things like hair metal would do and told her to go forth and enjoy. If it makes her happy, it's more than alright with me. Snobbery’s a laugh, but fun is fun – and love conquers all. I believe that with all my heart and soul, and I’ll swear to you on every last megabyte of those Hüsker bütlegs that it’s true.
Still, I was curious: Whitesnake? Honestly, they’re not a band I’ve ever heard Rhea wax nostalgic for, nor have I ever seen any evidence of fandom in her music collection. Rhea’s not one to ever be guilty about her musical pleasures, either; honestly, I’ve learned much from her over the years in that regard. I spent most of this morning and afternoon curious; by the evening, said curiosity was killing this cat and I took the bait and gave the damned thing a listen.
The first thing you should know about Forevermore (actually released about a year or so ago) is that it is not much concerned with the present. The album’s overall production has a compressed, modern feel (guess even old farts want to be loud on your iPod, and why not?), and singer/mainstay David Coverdale’s voice is audibly more than two decades older than it was back when he drove around Los Angeles with Tawny Kitaen on the hood of his car every five minutes on MTV. Those two things are Forevermore's only brush with modernity; otherwise, just throw this baby on and it’s never not been 1987. And you know what? I think I like it that way, at least where this silly record is concerned.
Let’s pause this review here a moment, and send a quick tip of the hat to rock bands of all subgenres who’ve been wise enough to stick to their guns over the years. Let us hereby acknowledge all the pop-metal bands who never went grunge, all the grunge bands that never went pop-punk, all the pop-punk bands that never went ska, all the ska bands that never went swing-revival, all the swing-revival bands that never went emo, all the emo bands who got away without standing in a circle around their Morrissey records and slashing their wrists simultaneously, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. The never-ending continuum of rock ‘n’ roll fads is always a thing to behold.
In that spirit, Forevermore is an apt title for this album. If you loved ‘em way back when, there’s a good chance you’ll at least strongly like ‘em now. I’ll give David Coverdale this: it would seem that he’s aware that there is no real way for a band named after his penis to truly mature, and thus he wastes no time even trying. To hell with the here and now, folks, and welcome back the old gang intact: wanky guitar solos. Obvious, endlessly chorus-repeated hooks a mile wide. Coverdale’s dime-store Robert Plant imitation. All present and accounted for, and all still treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry. As snide as I’m being (for that is my job as a music blogger after all), it’s all very impressive in its way; in fact, it’s almost enough to make you believe that the Sunset Strip is still buzzing with motor-sikkles (because, in this context, it’s gotta be pronounced just like Vince Neil says it) and drenched in Aqua-Net. The good old days are never really all the way gone, are they? I suppose not, and I suppose that’s not entirely a bad thing either. Granted, this isn’t exactly the style of late-‘80s music that I’m personally most nostalgic for, but that’s mostly splitting teased hairs. If the very idea of a recent Whitesnake album sounds like it might be your idea of fun, Forevermore delivers on that idea. What more could you possibly ask of it?
One last thing, while we’re on the topic of nostalgia: the CD I
downloaded bought from a magical, time-travelling, never bankrupted Tower
Records that only I know how to get to has three extra songs. Ah, extra songs on a limited edition, just
like the good old days. Makes the heart of
this old record collector swoon, I tellya.
Just to bring the nostalgia all the way home, all three of ‘em suck –
right, also just like in the good old days.
To be specific, all three are pointless remixes of songs already on the
album proper; unnecessary filler down to the last millisecond. Do you know what’s truly better now than back
in the good old days? Select files and
drag > Drop in the RECYCLE BIN > Gone, ahem, forevermore. I don’t even
have to be bothered holding my nose up in the air while pointedly NOT (harrumph!)
including them on a dubbed cassette copy for my Walkman anymore. Seriously: how sweet is the magical future in
which we currently reside?
Just as sweet as the past upon which it was built, actually.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
|This cover was apparently offensive to someone, somewhere and withdrawn. The hell?|
Sometimes, you hit on a perspective-shifting idea completely by accident. Rhea and I were driving home from somewhere or other, engaged in part 4,234 of our never-ending debate over the parts of our respective music obsessions that we don’t agree on. Roughly defined, that would be the hair metal that she loves versus the old-school punk and indie that occupies that same space in my life. I’m not even sure now how we got to this, but at some point I uttered the following and then opened my eyes real wide-like, following its wisdom ever since: “Yeah, but you can’t blame Skid Row for not being The Replacements or vice-versa.” Ever since coming up with that one, I’ve been a lot less of a snob about things. Does that mean that I suddenly love Skid Row? Not at all; it didn’t speak to me then, and that hasn’t changed in the time since we were all teenagers. What it does mean is that I’ve learned to enjoy some things I would have previously found immediately dismissible for what they are, rather than automatically shunning them for what they aren’t.
That’s where Nine Lives comes into this little slice of autobiography: complaints that it doesn’t sound like Rocks or Toys in the Attic are absurd because it was never meant to be that sort of an album. Its competition, the barometer against which it should rightly be judged, is the band’s work from Permanent Vacation onward. Of that subset of Aerosmith albums, it’s easily the second-best; it’s no match for Pump’s concision, but Nine Lives is surprisingly spiky and live-wired for an album mean to follow up Get a Grip’s ballad-a-thon. Which is hardly to say that Nine Lives isn’t ballad-heavy; it’s got just as many of ‘em as you’d expect. It’s just that they’re better written this time around; they’re fun and sprightly, rather than labored and sludgy, which is a massive improvement.
In fact, I’m not going to go song-by-song at all this time around; apart from the frankly ridiculous “A Taste of India” and the air-played-out “Pink”, I actively enjoy all of these songs to some extent. Nine Lives is no huge masterpiece, but then again not everything needs to be. It’s a big, loud, old-school hard-rock good-time. It’s something to blast in the car on a hot summer day when you feel like looking for more trouble than you oughta be looking for at your age, and why not? You’re (probably) still younger than the guys who made it, and if your “trouble” ends up being something on the order of ordering a beer or three with your friends at, say, Applebee’s while “Pink” blares from the piped-in background music, well, so be it: fun is where you find it, musically or otherwise. If the worst thing that can be said of an album is that it’s fun, then one of the best things that can be said of it is that it does its job well.
Ladies and gentlemen, troublemakers of all ages, I give you Nine Lives…and encourage you, with every ounce of sincerity in my soul, to have fun with it.
[Meta-note: Yeah, I know, the blog background: where's the LP label? I’m assuming that the vinyl on this one is fairly rare, given that (a) Rhea doesn’t even own it, and (b) I can’t find an image on the web to steal, so the CD label it is, at least for this week.]
I’m a few days late on this one, I know, but I needed that time to process and figure out exactly what to say. Before there was any other popular music in my life, there was The Band. Before there was even The Band as a whole, there was Levon Helm singing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. As I was beginning to grow out of children’s music, my mom started to transition me to some of the music she liked. No Led Zep yet – that was probably another year or so off – but as the sing-alongs of early childhood began to become old news for young-but-growing me, they were replaced by the likes of Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby Stills and Nash and, best of all, a long-extinct vinyl compilation self-explanatorily titled The Best of The Band. That one quickly became my new favorite record, as you can tell from the shape it’s in. You know how kids just love to drag things they like around with them? Well, with that in mind, check this out:
|This album cover used to be white. Bad li'l record collector!|
As the story goes, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is the first rock song I ever played of my own volition. I loved it, and that had everything to do with Levon’s remarkable vocal on the song. I remember thinking he sounded like a nice man, a very high compliment indeed from a four-ish year old kid. As an adult writer, I’d probably say something more akin to “Mr. Helm’s warm, inviting, wisdom-soaked vocals”, but at the end of the day both descriptions refer to the same quality: instant, authentic familiarity. It’s not something that can’t be learned or taught; you either have it or you don’t. Levon Helm personified it. I’ve never been in the same room as the man, but I’m sure I knew him. The ability to make listeners feel that way simply through a series of recorded performances is an astonishing gift.
When the news broke about Levon’s passing, I did exactly what you’d expect: rifled through my mom’s records for The Best of The Band, and rested the needle on the last track on side two. Corny? A bit, I’m sure, but also one hundred percent necessary. As the scratchy, timeless-sounding vinyl spun, I thought for a moment about all of the other records I’ve played since first becoming obsessed with “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” as a little kid, and became momentarily choked up about how much I had Levon Helm to thank for putting me on such a rewarding road.
So thank you, Levon. Godspeed, old friend.
First off, point your browsers to www.turnedonitsear.com. Swanky, huh? I have absolutely no idea why it has taken me so long to buy that domain and set up a redirect, but better late than never. It’s just the thing to simplify your life when you’re recommending this blog by this smart, funny dude who needs to update the damned thing more often. Which you should do daily, whether the situation is appropriate or not. Alright, so that last part’s a bit of a fantasy, but still: it’s easier than telling somebody, or expecting them to remember, that it’s “something about ears at Blogspot”.
Speaking of needing to update the damned thing more often: yeah, I know. See that banner at the top that says “life, love, music and other shenanigans”? The life part of that equation has been busy these last few weeks. Somehow, I’ve stumbled into a gig teaching the basics of computer usage to folks a bit older – and a bit more daunted by the concept – than myself. By “basics”, I mean just that, starting literally from how to turn the machine on and let it boot up. If you’re chuckling right now, you’re proving why this is a business with a future. What I’m offering is lessons without judgment or techno-babble; “computers without condescension”, as the tag-line goes. Snicker if you must, but there are plenty of folks who’d love to learn how to email/Skype/etc. with their kids and/or grandkids, but don’t want to be made to feel bad about not natively knowing how. It’s an idea whose time has come, I think. It’s certainly an idea that, in a good way, has eaten up much of my time and creative energy of late.
It’s also no excuse, and I know that: if I can make the time for the Aerosmith posts, I can make the time for other posts as well. Gotcha. Hang tight: more Aerosmith and non-Aerosmith is coming your way before the day is out.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
…And here’s where the going gets tough. I realize that a lot of people love this album, even though I’m personally not one of them. According to that bastion of fact-checked knowledge Wikipedia, seven million people loved this album enough to bring one home. Let that sink in for a minute, particularly if you’re a bit younger than I am: seven million people bought an album. Sounds weird, I know, in this age of iTunes and digital piracy, but you can practically hear the managers and the bean-counters singing along with the Bunkers from here: “those were the days”. Personally, I’m not so sure: yes, I miss the social aspect of old-school record shopping. On the other hand, I never set foot in a record store as well stocked as Demonoid…but that’s a debate for a different post.
So long as we’ve got the Wayback machine fired up, there’s another concept I’d like to introduce to you digital-age young’uns: CD bloat. The story goes something like this: CDs were still a relatively novel technology back in the early ‘90s. While they’d been around since the mid ‘80s, both the discs and the players truly reached the point of affordability that enables massive mainstream adoption around the turn of the ‘90s. One thing that CDs did that their predecessors did not was tell you the total running time of a disc upon insertion. From there, the perception came about that longer discs were a better value for one’s hard-earned discretionary income, and album running times began to head northward. For me, from an artistic standpoint, this was total hogwash: I’d consider a 30-45 minute disc packed with A-list material a better buy than a 60-70 minute endurance test any day. I wasn’t alone in this thinking, and somewhere along the way someone coined the term “CD bloat” to describe it. Get a Grip exemplifies it.
We’ll start with the obvious: the trio of “Crazy”, “Cryin’”, and “Amazing”. The rather glaring similarities between these three have been pointed out a million times before I got here, so I’ll just +1 the idea while acknowledging that all three were fairly massive hits for the band and, as such, a good number of folks probably love ‘em all. Which is fine: trust me, I’m never looking to tell someone with the generally good taste to like a great band that their idea of a good time is wrong. If like me, however, you find the sludgy tempos and predictable blues chord changes of the three fairly tedious, the math adds up quickly: the combined 16:21 run-time of the terrible threesome in and of itself is probably enough to make Get a Grip an album that doesn’t come off the shelf very often. (In the interest of fairness, if I were editing the album down and had to keep one of the three, “Amazing” would be it. It feels a bit more Aerosmith-y to me than the other two, if you get what I mean.)
Well, that’s one quarter of the album down right there. The other hit single was “Livin’ on the Edge”, a song I liked just fine the first nine million times I heard it. Overplay, overkill, over it. The rest of the album is largely middling rockers, ranging from not bad (“Eat the Rich”, title track, “Gotta Love It”, “Line Up”) to not so great (“Flesh”, “Shut Up and Dance”) to would-be-great-if-Joe-goddamned-Perry-didn’t-sing-it (“Walk on Down”). Above all the rest is “Fever”, the album’s one brush with true Aero-genius. It’s the one song that doesn’t fit with the rest, the one rocker that feels like it could actually do some damage.
It’s also the one song on Get a Grip that would have also felt at home on Pump, and that thought leads me to the main thing that has always perplexed me about this album: why does it sound and feel so dissimilar to its wildly successful predecessor? Pump – which also sold seven million copies, for reference’s sake – proved that Aerosmith could satisfy its newfound pop audience without totally neutering themselves. Sure, compared to Rocks, Pump is a pop album. But compared to the other pop albums of its era, it is a rock album and then some. It also has bite and swagger to spare, cleverness and sex in spades. Get a Grip has nearly none of that: it is an album whose every moment has been song-doctored and power-sanded into polite submission. Your mom would like it, and let’s face it: an Aerosmith album that your mom wouldn’t object to at least something on isn’t a very good Aerosmith album, now is it?
No, I don’t think it is: at the end of the day, Pump’s ten great songs in 47 minutes always wins for me when I’m looking for later-career Aerosmith. Even the good songs here just aren’t as good as they were last time around – or, happily, as they’d surprisingly be the next time around.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Like its predecessor, Pump is a pop album. Even more of one, actually: four hit singles this time, as opposed to Permanent Vacation’s three. Also like its predecessor, it features a few of-the-time production choices that have not stood up well over the years (reverb, REVERB, REVERB!) Happily, this is where the comparison ends: Pump is focused, consistently well-written, and most importantly it feels like a true Aerosmith album. One crafted (cannily, it can be argued) for a different audience than the so-called “blue army” that made up the band’s core audience in the ‘70s, but a true Aerosmith album just the same.
Apart from the simply better songs, the main difference here is Steven Tyler. Flush with success from his last at-bat, no longer seems to feel the need to hold his tongue or his tonsils. His singing is absolutely superb throughout the record – arguably, it’s his best ever – and the lyrics once again manage to be both dirty and clever. The example can be perfectly underlined thusly: compare “Rag Doll”, Permanent Vacation’s sleaziest moment, with “F.I.N.E.”, its (shall we say) spiritual companion on Pump. It’s not even remotely a fair fight: while the former finds Tyler mostly reduced to merely yelling “do me” a lot, the latter unleashes a veritable torrent of fingerprinted filth that couldn’t have possibly come from anyone else’s mind. It would be horribly offensive, if it weren’t so dazzling and amusing. That’s our boy.
What truly sets Pump apart from all other latter-day Aerosmith albums is that it’s the last time the band truly sounded hungry. They all perform here as though their very lives and careers depend on it; as though they are primed to prove to the world that their resurrection last time around was no fluke. Although the four hit singles (“Love in an Elevator”, “What it Takes”, “Janie’s Got a Gun”, “The Other Side”) have, with the exception of the eternally underrated last of those, long ago been played out by radio, they still don’t feel quite as stale as those from Permanent Vacation. Where Pump still truly has the capacity to amaze is in its lesser-known material: the one-two punch of “Young Lust” and the aforementioned “F.I.N.E.” is one of the great album-opening sequences of the ‘80s. “Voodoo Medicine Man” re-introduces funk rhythms to the band’s arsenal in a big, bad way, and “Monkey on My Back” just flat-out rocks, man. If “My Girl” and “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even” feel ever so slightly like filler, I’m willing to cut ‘em a bit of slack: they’re great filler, and both fit the overall flow of the album.
This time around, the summation is simple: Pump was Aerosmith’s last absolute triumph of an album. Its quality and concision – at just over 45 minutes, it’s got perfect timing – should have served as a template for the rest of the band’s studio career. In fact, I’ve never quite understood why it didn’t, but we’ll get into that next week.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Before we go any further, let’s acknowledge something right off the bat: No Permanent Vacation, no Aerosmith discussion in 2012. Or in 2002. Or in 1992. Whatever its relative musical merits, this album and its enormous popularity are the reason Aerosmith still fill large venues. After the commercial one-two non-punch of Rock in a Hard Place and Done with Mirrors, it was clearly this album or never for Aerosmith as far as the bean-counters, not to mention contract holders, were concerned. You may or may not love the album, but if you’re a fan you’ve gotta love what it did for the band.
For me, it’s neither love nor hate. I’m burned out on the three hit singles (“Dude [Looks Like a Lady]”, “Rag Doll”, “Angel”) due to sheer radio overkill through the years, and also due to the fact that not a single one of ‘em is truly a first rate Aero-tune for me. “Rag Doll” simply isn’t lyrically clever enough; “Dude” is as slight-and-silly as it gets (great use of horns, though), and “Angel” is Bon Jovi with class and style. Which, right, makes it better than actual Bon Jovi, but it hardly makes it a match for the likes of “Home Tonight” in the ballad sweepstakes.
Some of the deep tracks have a bit more to offer: “Simoriah” is a particularly interesting little critter, a song that can’t quite seem to decide if it wants to be quirky power-pop or slick corporate rock fare and ends up a lovable, if beguiling, cross between the two. Both “St. John” and “Hangman Jury” have a whole lot more to do with authentic, heavy blues than the nature of the album’s hit singles would ever lead you to believe. As for the slick, slightly too clean hard rock that permeates most of the album, the opening combo of “Heart’s Done Time” and “Magic Touch” threaten to give the form a good name; honestly, it’s always surprised me that neither of them was ever tapped as a potential fourth hit single.
Part of my problem with Permanent Vacation has always been its downright bizarre last quarter, kicking off with the mind-boggling Jimmy Buffett pastiche that serves as the album’s title track. I’ve never even been able to decide if it’s any good or not; it’s just a song so blatantly performed by the absolute wrong band that it makes the needle in my head skip. What comes after that, you ask? A Beatles cover, naturally: while their spin on “I’m Down” is pleasant enough, it feels like little more than filler. It would make a nice single b-side, and that's exactly where it belongs. After that, we close the whole thing off with an instrumental, “The Movie”, which sounds like something you’d never bother to notice if it played over the closing credits of one. To say this album completely runs out of steam at the end would be quite the understatement.
In the end, it’s okay but not much more than that. The production values sound horribly dated to me; the cavernous reverb drenched over both the drums and the vocals lead me to the second Bon Jovi comparison of this review and, frankly, that’s just not what I want out of my Aerosmith. It’s all a shade too generic, a shade too song-doctored, and several shades too clean to be as bad for you as the best Aerosmith should be. I’m grateful that it managed to re-ignite the band’s commercial standing. I’m even more grateful that their next album managed to bring their commercial and artistic instincts much more in sync with one another.
Sunday, April 1, 2012
As these seem to have been sprung on the band as a bit of a post-label change surprise, and they don’t really merit a full review of their own, April Fool’s Day seems like as good a time as any to acknowledge the existence of Classics Live and Classics Live II. Reviewing this pair is fairly simple: they are live albums, assembled by Columbia Records in the wake of Aerosmith’s signing with Geffen for Done with Mirrors. Both are decent, neither is great, the second is better than the first, and half the time I forget that either one of ‘em exists.
In his review of Classics Live II, noted rock critic Robert Christgau refers to these albums as Corporate Revenge I and II, and I think that’s about the long and short of it. For the record, I love Christgau as a writer, but agree with his opinions only about a third of the time. On this one, though, he’s right on the money: II is the one to acquire if you’re only bothering with one; spryer than I’d ever expected it to be, actually.
Still, both of these are the sort of albums rendered utterly obsolete by the proliferation of free bootlegs on the internet. That’s no fault of the albums or the performances contained therein, either: it’s simply a reflection of the evolution of technology. I’ve said it before, and I’ll suggest that you Google it again: BOSTON MUSIC HALL,1978. Those, friends, are some classics live.