¡Uno! – Green Day (Review)

Green Day ¡Uno! Album Cover

As Mama Odie said in Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, “You got what you wanted, but you lost what you need”. That quote could not be truer when it comes to the relationship between Green Day’s hardcore fan base and the band’s brand new album ¡Uno!

The first of what is planned to be a series of three albums released between now and the end of January 2013, ¡Uno! is billed as a return to a more classic pop-punk sound. Green Day may have picked up a whole new set of fans when they transitioned into an album focused stadium rock act with 2004’s American Idiot, but fans of the old sound still remained. They call for ‘Basket Case’ and ‘Longview’ at every show; they bemoan the appearance of keyboards and violins in the mix, and what they really want Green Day to go back to sounding like they did before.

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Introducing: Dinosaur Pile-Up

"I Wouldn't Want To Be Piled Under A Diplodocus"

Hailed as the next big thing by indie darling radio station XFM, Dinosaur Pile-Up seem to be gradually spreading their name around the industry as the next big band to watch. The big question however is, are they any good?

Well, this 3 piece from Yorkshire are certainly trying hard, floating around the peripheries of hitting the big time since 2008. Although, surprisingly for a fresh, up and coming band, they seem to be  making their music difficult to get a hold of. Sure, Myspace has been superseded  by Facebook as the social media site of choice by the general populace, but it has remained at the heart of the independent music scene despite the social scene exodus. This is why it is so odd that only their new single, ‘Birds and Planes’ is readily available on their, seemingly well-updated, Myspace page. This could possibly be because they are trying to keep their debut, full-length album fresh to listeners, but once that September release rolls around, people will not have had much to form opinions on. The only other songs floating around for easy listening are ‘Opposites Attract’, found on a compilation album on Spotify, and ‘Birds and Planes’ B-side ‘Headspinner’, available as a free download on their website. Well, here goes nothing, how can I sum up Dinosaur Pile-Up off the back of three tracks?

If I were just giving an opinion from ‘Birds and Planes’, then I could happily call Dinosaur Pile-Up “Foo Fighters Lite” and leave it at that. Seriously, get Dave Grohl on vocals and this song would fit in without a problem on ‘One By One’ or ‘There Is Nothing Left To Lose’. The riffing is there, the screaming is there, even the harmonies sound like they could have been lifted straight from something by the Foos. While the overdriven bass sounds really sweet, it doesn’t do much to separate Dinosaur Pile-Up’s sound from that of the Foo Fighters. Like the difference between many bands, a lot of it comes down to the vocalist. Though possibly damning with faint praise, Dinosaur Pile-Up’s vocalist Matt Bigland sounds pop-punk-tastic. When everything else sounds so Foo Fighters, it’s a little odd for the vocals to sound so much like they would fit in on a Blink 182 tribute act.

Happily he, and the rest of the band, show a lot more depth and variety on ‘Opposites Attract’. While the Foo Fighters similarities aren’t completely gone, this track shows them a lot more as carrying the torch of grunge as a whole. Soft verse, loud chorus songwriting is in full effect here, backed-up by a filthy tone and threats of discord which happily stay on the right side of the split between moody and just plain bad. The pop-punk is one of the first influences that has obviously been thrown right out of the window, Bigland’s voice barely rising above a whisper for the majority of the track, and possessing a much welcome moan when the track escalates. The harmonies are still there, but subdued to a level where they become a disenchanted chorus rather than a jolly focal point of the song. Also, I have to commend these guys on their use of feedback, it sounds pretty damn kickass and the song would be left lacking without it. This is grunge at it’s grimiest, and they pull it off in a way that Nirvana would be proud of.

B-side ‘Headspinner’ is a track that bridges the gap between the lightness of ‘Birds and Planes’ and the thick grime of ‘Opposites Attract’, and pulls off being a better song than it’s own A-side. What starts as the epitome of simple grunge grows and grows layer upon layer of instruments and vocals until it becomes something that you wouldn’t really expect at first listen. The bittersweet chorus is a particular highlight, sounding almost like Dookie era Green Day, until the chord sequence takes ones of the grungiest chord shifts you will hear in modern music. The Foo Fighters comparisons remain in the song’s bridge, which takes its cues from songs like ‘Pretender’, but luckily, not in the obnoxious way that the band’s lead single does.

It is a real pity that Dinosaur Pile-Up chose ‘Birds and Planes’ as their lead single. From what I heard, it is definitely their weakest work, going far too far into Foo Fighters territory. You don’t mess with a band as consistent as the Foos. Where Dinosaur Pile-Up shine is where they are reopening the doors to grunge. Grunge is a genre that died a sad, slow death in the 90s and maybe, just maybe, Dinosaur Pile-Up could help it live again. They aren’t the new messiah, but they are definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Meat Loaf- Hang Cool Teddy Bear

Let me get this out in the open before I begin. I have never been a fan of Meat Loaf. For such a legend of rock, I found his music incredibly tame, and bordering on quite sappy and bland. He was just an artist I didn’t get. Popular? Undeniable. To my tastes? Barely, which is why his new release, “Hang Cool Teddy Bear” came as such a surprise to me. It is actually really good.

“Hang Cool Teddy Bear” is apparently the start of a new series of albums, like his previous “Bat Out Of Hell” trilogy. This time it deals with a wounded soldier’s visions of future lives he could have lived. Produced by Rob Cavello, the producer who gave Green Day their first steps into the realm of the concept album with American Idiot, this album sounds great. One problem I had with listening to older Meat Loaf was that for all the intended bombast, it never really came across due to incredibly flat and dull production. This is honestly not the case here. Sweeping orchestras, soaring choirs all back up the core, classic rock line up of guitar, bass, piano, drums and vocals. But that’s the main point, it doesn’t wash the rock into the background. Finally, the guitar track is actually audible on a Meat Loaf release!

I don’t know whether it will apply to rest of the series, but this first release filled with celebrity appearances. Justin Hawkins (most famously of The Darkness) turns up co-writing some of the songs and singing backup, Jon Bon Jovi co-wrote the final track of the album, and Steve Vai and Brian May both play lead guitar on a couple of the tracks. After playing Meat Loaf’s son in the movie “Pick Of Destiny”, Jack Black lends his backing vocals to a track, an American Idol judge sings a duet with Mr. Loaf and, craziest of all, the multitalented Hugh Laurie appears to lend his piano chops to the already star studded “Hang Cool Teddy Bear”.

This is of course forgetting the real star of the show, Meat Loaf himself. He may be getting on in years, but it hasn’t done his voice any harm. If anything, it’s added more of an edge. Meat Loaf’s voice is still flying high like you’d expect, but he’s gained a growl, a gruffer edge, and it really works for him. This isn’t the vocal of an aging rocker, this is the vocal at the peak of maturity. It’s very lucky that he is still so good because he is taking on quite an eclectic mix of styles here. He runs the gauntlet from waltzing power ballads to hip-hop influenced rockabilly, screaming blues-rock to prog-heavy metal. It is actually kind of amazing that so many songwriters writing so many styles could produce such a cohesive album. Each track flows really well to the next, despite only being linked by this overarching concept of a soldier’s visions, which thankfully doesn’t get in the way. This isn’t story album, it’s a collection of interlinked tracks and gladly they do manage to link.

This album has managed to convert me. Ok, you still won’t find “I Would Do Anything For Love” on my iPod, but I have had a great time with “Hang Cool Teddy Bear”. Meat Loaf’s consistently strong vocal is finally backed up by great songwriters, high-class production and star musicians, offering the backing that Meat Loaf has always deserved. Occasionally it’s a little corny, but it’s all part of the fun, and it wouldn’t be Meat Loaf without it. Lets just say I’m definitely keeping my eye out for “Hang Cool Teddy Bear II”

9/10

Standout Tracks:

Living On The Outside

Like A Rose

Song Of Madness

Download the Bonus Track “Prize Fighter Lover” at the  Album’s Site for FREE!

Willy for Album of the Year 2009

The album format was once seen as a dying art, with singles seen as the way forward. This idea was given even more creedence with the rise of digital downloads, allowing people to easily cherry pick their chosen songs from albums and ignore the deeper cuts or intended order. However, this shift seems to be turning with the fall of the physical single, and bands being more adventurous with their album releases and concepts. This years Willy for Album of the Year goes to a band who are bringing the once unpopular idea of the concept idea back to the mainstream. And the award goes to…

21st Century Breakdown by Green Day

Building on 2004’s seminal American Idiot, 2009 brought about the classic rock influenced, pop punk, concept album wonder that was 21st Century Breakdown. Though with less of a plot than their previous release and possibly weaker singles, this was a far more cohesive album in this reviewer’s opinion, and is one that is designed to be listened to in once sitting, rather than cherry picked from. Songs flowing seamlessly into each other at points, the final track referencing the opening and many more touches like this make this a true representation of the album experience. While there may be argument over whether Green Day are punks any more, it matters little when they can produce albums like this.

Honorable Mention: Them Crooked Vultures- Self Titled

Willy for Live Artist Of The Year 2009

Live Music. The way it is truly meant to be heard. A great studio album is a brilliant thing, but it is only when a band can pull off that sound and atmosphere live that you know they are truly a good band. A band becomes a great live band when they can add something more when you see them in person. This years Willy for Live Artist goes to…

Green Day

One of the leaders of the 90s pop punk movement, singing songs about masturbation and being an outsider, Green Day had pretty humble beginnings for stadium filling rockers. But that’s what they have become, a true stadium band, following in the footsteps of bands such as Queen, The Who and Guns n’ Roses without a hint of irony. Being able to replicate their new high production sound live is impressive enough, but when combined with a killer stage show, they make most other live bands look like they aren’t trying. Audience participation, video screens creating a plethora of stage scenery and enough pyrotechnics to shame a metal band. What’s not to love?

Honorable mention: Muse

Orchestras and Rock- Will It Blend?

"Not Exactly What I Mean, But Appropriate Nonetheless"

Usually, I am a proponent of the idea of adding an orchestra into a rock song when the time is right. It can make a song sound very filmic in a good way, it adds atmosphere and a great feel of the epic. Metal and orchestras always go well together, but then, I’ve always had the theory that metal is the closest popular genre to classical (but that’s a whole other article). Take Dimmu Borgir for example.

Sounds just like something out of Lord Of The Rings in the background doesn’t it? Imagine that song without the orchestra, it would sound a lot blander. To change direction slightly, bands such as Aerosmith can use orchestras brilliantly too. Though, with them, rather than sounding like film sountracks, their songs end up getting chosen as theme songs when they use orchestras (I’m looking at you “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”), but that may be just because they are a bigger and more radio friendly band than Dimmu Borgir.

I’m giving the impression that you need a really thickly produced song already to make an orchestra fit in, but you really don’t. Many a heartfelt acoustic song has moved its way into the category of heartwrenching with the addition of a swelling string section over the top. The classic example of this would be Green Day’s classic “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)”, but here’s a unique version of The Beatles “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from the Love show too, just to show you how strings can be used brilliantly.

A little note on The Beatles here; they are the only popular band I can think of who have made popular rock songs with only an orchestra for backing. I think that’s an achievement not as much for the band, but for the arrangements of George Martin, in his ability to get hit songs for The Beatles without them using their own instruments for a single note. This loops round nicely to the beginning actually, as I had always thought that “Eleanor Rigby” would make a great metal song, but I am yet to hear someone pull it off successfully. Oh well, here’s “She’s Leaving Home” just for argument’s sake too.

Considering all I have just said, how the hell did Ben Folds manage to ruin the single version of his song “Landed” by adding an orchestra? By all rights, this should have made it even more heartfelt and powerful but no, the strings feel tacked on and in the way. The original is bordering on a perfect piano led pop song, why did he feel he had to add strings to the single, the version most people are going to hear, if it ends up sounding like that and turning from heartfelt and charming to overwrought and sappy. Just listen for yourself and form your own opinions on it, I’m going to go back and compare two different versions of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe” to see whether my theories work there.