¡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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Me, Music Snobbery and The Beatles

"If they can get along, why can't music snobs?"

I realised something about myself today. By all rights, I should be a total music snob. There are so many things about my musical taste and lifestyle which should mean I go around with the phrase “Your favourite band sucks” emblazoned on a sandwich board hung over my shoulders, screaming profanities at anyone listening to any band I deem to have ‘sold out’ and bemoaning the death of the British music industry because of the influence of the X Factor. Yet, I like to think that I have avoided this fate.

Oh sure, the snobs and I have a lot in common. One of these things is having a strong opinion on The Beatles. If you are a music snob, you either think that The Beatles are either an overrated pop band who only wish they had been born in London so they could have been The Rolling Stones, or that they are greatest thing since someone came up with the idea of bread, let alone slicing it. While I’m not quite at that extreme, I do really like The Beatles and know a hell of a lot of trivia about them. I have lost track of the amount of times I’ve just sat and listened to Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band all the way through. Knowing my fandom, my girlfriend bought me two Beatles posters and the remastered version of Yellow Submarine. I am so much of a Beatles nerd that I could instantly noticed the differences in the remastered versions of the tracks I knew on the album, and could point out that one of the posters was based on the original cover of Abbey Road, rather than the late rereleases where Paul’s cigarette was edited out. Also, I act like I’m on first name basis with the band and write The Beatles with correct capitalisation every time!

Despite all this, I would never tell anyone not to listen to anything else when they could be listening to The Beatles or something along those lines. Especially not The Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones are a great band, and while I do prefer The Beatles, I wouldn’t want to be without Keith Richards and the rest. Satisfaction, Paint It Black, and my personal favourite, Mother’s Little Helper, I couldn’t imagine not ever listening to these songs again out some weird Beatles fuelled vendetta. Lets put it this way; I refuse to ever say the The Rolling Stones are better than The Beatles. On the other hand, I find it hard to say the opposite either, I just grew up with The Beatles, became obsessed with deconstructing what went into the Love mashup album and got hooked as a big fan during all the hype around the release of the remastered albums, and The Beatles: Rock Band.

Oh sure, there’s more possible music snobbery in me, but when it comes to The Beatles, but I’m not a snob, right? I really hope so, or I’m just lying to myself.

Foo Fighters- Wheels and Word Forward (Singles)

"You can't really imagine Dave would ever drop an F-bomb from this photo"

So, what’s a good way to get people to buy your greatest hits collection? Sure, it’s a good place for new fans to start, but how do you get people who already own all the music your band has put out to rebuy songs they already own? The answer recently has been to put a few new singles on a ‘greatest hits’ CD, more as an attempt to get more buyers than pre-emptive wishful thinking (though they do often end up being hits in their own right in the marketing push of the greatest hits collection). Now, Foo Fighters have done the same, writing 2 brand new songs, Wheels and Word Forward, for their 2009 Greatest Hits collection.

‘Wheels’ was the first new single to see the light of day, and is actually has a slightly different feel than you would normally get from an electric Foo Fighters track. It has a little bit of a southern rock swagger to it, and it dominated by a jangly lead guitar, rather than the distorted rhythm you would usually expect. While it is a little reminiscent of the work of Tom Petty, to reduce it to that wouldn’t do ‘Wheels’ justice. It’s Foo Fighters putting something a little bit new in with all their hits, and it’s a welcome addition to their catalogue. Lyrically, it feels like a bit of a homecoming for Foo Fighters, which suits the greatest hits idea well. It’s almost saying, “Ok, here’s our greatest hits, we know it’s not a new album, but we’ll be getting on to new stuff soon. For now, lets just chill out and look back on everything that’s gone well so far.”

Both these songs seem to hark back to the work of earlier artists, but not in a lazy way. They almost seem like a tribute, be it intentional, or just a coincidental sign of those bands influences. What I mean by this is, if ‘Wheels’ takes cues from Tom Petty, then ‘Word Forward’ is a love letter to The Beatles and their song A Day In The Life, at least in the opening verse. This song feels much more like you would expect from Foo Fighters. The soft verse, loud chorus format, the build to an ecstatic climax, the song along chorus, it’s all here. Again, this seems to scream, “we’re not done yet” and rightly so. If this is an indication of what’s to come, then Dave and the boys can’t stop now.

Wheels: 7.5/10

Word Forward: 8/10

iTunes Single Of The Week: Apple Bobbing- Joe Goddard

"Few people could encapsulate both rustic and electronic"

If there is ever a song to not judge by song title and album title, let alone its cover, it would be this week’s iTunes Free Download. Apple Bobbing is from the album Harvest Festival, the debut solo album from Joe Goddard, of Hot Chip fame (Of which the album art is a still life of a bowl of fruit). One thing you will instantly be able to work out from the artist is the genre. Yes, despite the rustic appearance, this song is electro, and really nothing more. It’s even an instrumental, so nothing you hear on this track came from anything that didn’t need to be plugged in.

There’s not much to say about this song because, to be honest it’s pretty much just cheery electro by numbers. Ok, there’s a light sprinkle of melancholy, but not enough to bring you down. My main gripe is that a lot of electronically produced tracks follow the same formula, and Apple Bobbing is no different. You start with a few basic layers, and slowly build up the thickness of the sound. Then about half way through, drop out some of those original layers for effect, leaving the newer stuff. Then bring everything back in after a few bars, before gradually removing layers, ending up back where you started by the end of the song. Sound like any song you recognise? Well, it describes this song too.

Is it worth downloading? Well, for me, no. I doubt I’ll go back to this, and I’m honestly considering deleting it to make space for stuff I’ll enjoy more. If you like electro-pop or are a fan of Hot Chip, it may be worth more to you, but I find it does nothing to catch my attention in any real way.

4/10

Available here: Week of 22/11/09

Lady Gaga- The Fame Monster

"Does this even need a witty caption?"

Lady Gaga is a confusing artist. I’ll say this right now; her songs are cringe-worthy, and incredibly pretentious at times. However, she creeps up on you, and before you know it you are singing along to every chorus, and trying to join in on the absurd dance moves in her videos. Lady Gaga is the both the worst of pop, and the best of it all at once, and I don’t know if I’ll ever wrap my head around her fully. If her first album wasn’t confusing enough, this special edition bonus tracks-cum-EP-cum-new album that she calls ‘The Fame Monster’ just adds to the Gaga enigma.

Just let me take on the Lady as a whole, first off. She’s incredibly odd, in terms of look, costume, public persona, music, and especially her music videos. By rights, she should have gone the way of Bjork in the public perception, a one hit wonder that drops out of the mainstream but still has hardcore fans who can accept her strange aesthetic and unique musical style. Lady Gaga, on the other hand, endures. I think this is because she isn’t unique. Whether this is pure lack of creativity, or as I like to see her, a big postmodernist comment on the world of pop and celebrity, is still up for debate. What Gaga does well is take on the wide range of what we call pop, smash it all together through massive layers of production and create something decidedly weird, but catchy as hell and so bombastically unoriginal that it comes full circle and feels fresh and new.

I hate to go track by track, but I’m going to party have to for ‘The Fame Monster’ as it is not really a coherent album. Oh sure, it’s being sold as that now, but it was originally planned as a bonus disc for her debut release ‘The Fame’, filled with tracks that were either new or left off that release, depending on which articles you read. The only thing that seems to pull the album together is the repetition of the words “free bitch” in a few of the songs. The reason for highlighting certain tracks will just give you an idea of what to expect, and an idea of how eclectic an album ‘The Fame Monster’ is:

Bad Romance is the closest to what I’ve come to expect of Gaga thus far, with a similar sound to previous songs like Paparazzi, though with a vocal hook that reminds me of Boney M’s Rasputin, and a verse in French for no other reason than it’s a Lady Gaga song. Alejandro opens with a spoken intro in a bad, pan-European accent, and carries on in that vein, sounding like Shakira taken to the Europop extreme. Monster is booming R&B and features the line “he ate my heart and then he ate my brain.” ‘nuff said. Speechless would sound like Abbey Road/Let It Be era Beatles mixed with Christina Aguilera, if it weren’t for the strange accent Lady Gaga puts on to sing it. Try to imagine a country drawl mixed with Dick Van Dyke quality cockney and you’ll be about half way there. Dance In The Dark sounds a little like a darker version of her earlier song ‘Just Dance’, funnily enough. Telephone (feat. Beyonce) opens with a harp, and then breaks out into a thumping club track. If you like random vocal effects and hearing Beyonce for a verse, then you’ll probably enjoy it, there’s not much else to it really. So Happy I Could Die is what Rhianna would sound like if she’d been around in the 90s, pop R&B scene. Finally we have Teeth, which to my ears is the love child of Fanz Ferdinand’s ‘Ulysses’ and everything Scissor Sisters ever released. Though sadly, unlike those bands, Lady Gaga’s tongue is nowhere near her cheek in this one.

So where does that leave us? The Fame Monster is an eclectic mix of songs, which while possibly enjoyable on their own, don’t totally work together. Actually even on their own, just as you start to get into a song something, be it the lyrics, or an odd sound effect Gaga decided to add, will make you cringe. The subject matter is a little more mainstream than her main her first album, with each track seeming more about relationships than celebrity. Here’s the rub. Nothing I or any other reviewer says about this album will matter. This album will sell. It will pump out single after single, and Lady Gaga will make video after absurd video to promote it. I still can’t work out whether Lady Gaga is a genius or just very lucky to hit on some untouched artery of the market, but it doesn’t really matter. She’s cemented in pop culture now, and this album is doing nothing to endanger that.

5/10

Standout Tracks:

Bad Romance

Speechless

Telephone (feat. Beyonce)

Gama Bomb- Tales From The Grave In Space

"Metal. The darkest, most brutal genre of all."

Ahh, metal. Where would we be without you? To be honest, metal has been a far more influential genre than a lot of people give it credit for, which is very surprising, considering how silly a genre it can be. At times, it’s multitude of subgenres can make it seem like it has identity issues too. Does it want to be brutal and hard to listen to, or does it want to be soaring and epic? Not to mention the break-off arms of the genre, like Industrial and 80s glam metal. Still, there seems to be a consensus around a group of fans as to what makes “true metal” and Gama Bomb seem to hit this, with a big dollop of fun.

Ok, so what should “true metal” have? For this, we look back to the 70s, and bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath. Dark, fantastical themes, soaring vocals reaching into the giddy heights of falsetto, massive guitar distortion and a heavy bass presence all make metal the genre we recognise. Gama Bomb have all this in droves, and combine it all with the brutal speed of thrash.

One thing that turns a lot of people off metal is the perceived seriousness of it all. Metal is seen as a big, boys only club, where blood, death and destruction are discussed at eardrum destroying volume. Gama Bomb, on the other hand, are anything but serious (but may still break your eardrums). I could try and describe their brand of fun to you, but just let me give you a sample of their song titles, and some choice lyrics from them and let you work it out for yourself. It’s better this way, I promise:

New Eliminators of Atlantis B.C.: centurions/of a second breed/robots/powered by piston steam/

Three Witches: and now you’ve no balls/eyeballs that is

Escape From Scarecrow Mountain: come on honey/stop acting funny/let’s get romantic/ow!

Mussolini Mosh: the slippery slope to genocide/but we know your legs won’t let it slide

Return To Blood Castle: the lord of the manor’s been up to no good/and now he must pay

Now, tell me you can take this band seriously. Don’t worry if you can’t, I very much doubt they want to be taken seriously. This is an album of silly fun, playing on the stereotypical expectations of metal. Musically, it’s not amazing, but very little metal ever is. For instance, I’m pretty sure this whole album is in the same key, as there have been numerous times when I’ve not realised when one song ended and another began. Also, there’s not as much of the guitar virtuosity some other bands have either. Though it isn’t completely absent, as seen in songs such as Polterghost, for instance, it is a lot more subdued than hat you would get from power metal bands such as Dragonforce. The rest of the band seems to be there just to play bloody fast, and create a good mood to hold up the really enjoyable narratives of the vocals. If you love metal, you’ll love this album, so feel free to add a point to my score at the bottom of this review for yourselves, metalheads. If your not a metal fan, it’s still worth a look, even just for a good laugh at the sillyness of it all.

7/10

Standout tracks:

New Eliminators Of Atlantis B.C

Mummy Invasion

We Respect You

Click here to get a free download of this album, directly from the band themselves!

Wolfmother- Cosmic Egg

"Is that him trying to grow a moustache for Movember?"

It seems like all bands go through a few basic stages of their careers. There’s the early stage, usually before they make it big, where their entire repertoire is filled with covers of their favourite songs, and songs very much inspired by the songs they’ve covered. Then they hit on something reasonably original and run with it, which it what will get them really noticed. Then in the later stages, they run out of original ideas, and end up repeating what they’ve done before, or go back to the early stage of riffing on other bands’ ideas.

With Wolfmother’s first album, they didn’t seem to need to any further than the first stage to get noticed. They didn’t do anything particularly interesting with it, but they did what they did do very well. They sounded like teenage boys messing about in a garage, working out how they could rip off classic rock gods such as Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, and most notably, fellow Australians AC/DC. But you didn’t mind, because it was all done with a sense of fun, almost ironically, and rather than feeling unoriginal, it felt like a massive tribute to the work of rock gods of yesteryear.

Sadly, Cosmic Egg just doesn’t feel the same. Wolfmother have moved out of the first stage of being a band that they fit in so comfortably. But in doing this, they’ve missed the second stage originality completely and gone straight to the slight staleness of stage three, obviously trying to recapture what they had with their self-titled debut release. I don’t want to be too harsh though; Cosmic Egg has been (to use a reviewer cliché) a difficult second album for the band. Two of the three original members left the band, leaving only the lead singer. This may actually explain for the lack of ideas, or at very least where the new inspiration came from for Cosmic Egg.

Here’s the thing, where their fist album reeked of classic rock, this one actually seems to borrow heavily from grunge rockers Audioslave. Oh, the Wolfmother sound is still there, and there are still nods to some classic bands like The Rolling Stones and again Led Zeppelin, but they no longer are the only influence. Distorted Bass leads the charge on this impression, but it’s also a case of the vocal styling on a lot of the songs. At times vocalist Stockdale drops his classic rock wail, and takes on more of a grunge sensibility, which just seems out of place with the Wolfmother image.

Cosmic Egg is a pretty average album. It’s not bad by any stretch of the word, but you feel it has shown you all it’s got by track 5, and the rest of it just feels dull and not as worth your time. If you are a Wolfmother fan, you should still enjoy it, just don’t expect it to have the same youthful exuberance as their first album did. Sadly, these mediums of the rock world seem to have chosen the wrong bands to channel this time.

6.5/10

Standout Tracks:

Sundial

New Moon Rising

California Queen

iTunes Single Of The Week: Some Misunderstanding by Soulsavers (feat. Mark Lanegan)

"At least in this shot, their name just seems ironic"

Well, this week’s iTunes Free Single of the Week certainly gives you your money’s worth (figuratively speaking) with a running time coming in at just over eight minutes. This country tinged, Neil Young-esque track is oddly labelled as being “electronic” in iTunes’ genre sorting, but the song itself is on the complete opposite end of the musical spectrum. It’s only labelled as electronic because, rather than being a recording by a band, it is the work of a pair of producers, namely Rich Machin and Ian Glover, under the title Soulsavers.

With the featured addition of guest vocalist Mark Lanegan, formally of Screaming Trees, Soulsavers have produced a song that promises a lot, through sound alone, but doesn’t quite deliver. There is a slight build up at the beginning of the song, but rather than going anywhere, the song just sits on the level it got to in the first minute and sits there. The guitar solo, which could be expected to be the climax of many songs, comes four and a half minutes into the song, and the preceding time was filled with wailing electric guitar under the vocals anyway. As such, the solo just feels like more of the same in this song.

Is it worth downloading? I’d say yes. Mark Lanegan’s smooth vocals lend very well to this chilled out, southern rock lament. Everything else seems designed to tug on the heartstrings, and while the arrangement doesn’t help this by letting the song get a little stale towards the end, it does still have a bit of an emotional hit. At almost eight minutes, it could easily be a bit of a slog to get through. This isn’t really true, as despite its length, ‘Some Misunderstanding’ isn’t a song that will bore you. You may however forget what song you are listening to about half way through, but for this reviewer at least, that doesn’t stop it from being a welcome addition to the shuffle rotation.

6.5/10

Download it for free here for the week of 17/11/09: iTunes

Them Crooked Vultures- [Self Titled]

"Them Sweaty Vultures"

Superbands are an interesting concept. Members from successful bands getting together and writing new songs, which would in theory sound like a mix of the styles of the bands involved. From a marketing standpoint, it’s great. Bringing the fans of the component members together, all buying one album. It’s probably a load of fun for the band members too, as they get to step out of the shadow of fan expectations and have a glorified jam with other great musicians doing the same.

When it comes to ‘Them Crooked Vultures’ and their self -titled debut, they do sound like they are having a hell of a lot of fun, and you can definitely hear each member’s influence. ‘Them Crooked Vultures’ comes out of the confluence of Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme, and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. The root of the band’s sound comes from Homme’s gritty lead vocals and distorted guitar work, Grohl’s tight drumming and John Paul Jones’s melodic basslines. However, because of Josh Homme taking lead vocal duties, and the fact that both Grohl and himself have played on Queens of the Stone Age albums, “Them Crooked Vultures’ do have more than a hint of Homme’s influence in their sound. If you can imagine Queens of the Stone Age, filtered through bluesy classic rock and with a little sprinkle of playful avant-garde, then you’d be somewhere close to imagining the sound of ‘Them Crooked Vultures’

At first, I felt sorry for John Paul Jones, being the old classic rocker in with these 2 younger kings of alternative rock. Even more when I heard his bass being put through distortion effects on a few of the tracks. Then I realised that he probably had much more influence on the sound of the band that I had originally given him credit. After all, he’s the one in this group with nothing to lose. He was a part of one of the most iconic rock bands of all time! He wouldn’t have agreed to join if he didn’t like Homme’s dissonant leaning sound, and to add in those basslines underneath just give the songs an extra sparkle of classic rock energy.

For the Foo Fighters fans out there, don’t worry, you can hear Dave’s voice in there in places, harmonising with Homme and occasionally getting little moments to sing on his own. It’s incredibly likely that many of the guitars were recorded by him too, the multi-instrumentalist that he is. It does make me wonder though, what my impression of this album would be if it was Grohl taking lead vocal duties rather than Homme. On first listens, my dominant thought was “This is very QotSA”, but while the overall sound of the band is reminiscent of Josh Homme’s band, the fact that he is also the singer plays a big part in this impression. This said, the influence the other band members have on the sound make me prefer this album to Queens of the Stone Age’s last effort, ‘Era Vulgaris’.

This is quite a strange album, but a very good one. Sweeping pianos mix with out of time guitar distortion, some songs end with sound-a-likes of old movie soundtracks, and bluesy guitar riffs trade off with ones that border on the dissonant. What’s amazing is that it all works, and is a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. For Queens of the Stone Age fans, this album should be an instant purchase, and Foo Fighters fans won’t have much to complain about either. If any Zeppelin fans are on the fence about it, by the time you hear the bass in Scumbag Blues, you won’t be, I promise.

8.5/10

Standout Tracks:

Scumbag Blues

Reptiles

Gunman