Saturday, July 19, 2008

365 Albums - Week 4

22. Mike Doughty, Golden Delicious - Doughty is the former lead singer of Soul Coughing, which was a moderately successful band in the '90s. I'd seen them listed as opening for DMB on a couple tours, but had never actually heard their music. On my 23rd birthday, a friend took me to see his acoustic solo show in St. Louis - at the time he was promoting his acoustic album, Skittish, which includes a cover of Mary J. Blige's "Real Love." A few years later, he released Haughty Melodic, which is as excellent an album as I've heard: straight-up acoustic-based rock.

On Golden Delicious, Doughty is branching out a little. On "I Just Want the Girl in the Blue Dress to Keep on Dancing," there is the distinct sound of record scratching. "More Bacon Than the Pan Can Handle" is a funky, goofy, rock/hip-hop track of weirdness (I just thought it was funny). Doughty doesn't seem to take himself too seriously, and obviously had a lot of fun making this album. He's got a serious side, too, as evidenced on tracks like "Wednesday (No Se Apoye)," he sings of not being able to wait to see someone again. All in all, I like his other stuff better, but this is still a fun album.

23. The Pretenders, Last of the Independents - Other than the few singles that get played on the radio and Chrissie Hynde's occasional visits back to her lovely thriving hometown of Akron, I don't know The Pretenders that well. I do know that I find "Brass in Pocket" quite annoying, and that I used to like "I'll Stand By You" more before it was sung every season on American Idol by the token "rock chick." But this album came out during my landmark musical year, 1994, and since I should have given the whole thing a chance back then and didn't, I finally did this past week.

I will say this: I really like Hynde's voice. It's not the greatest out there by any means, but there's a certain quality to it that I enjoy...I think it's her tone. This is a good CD for the most part. I took to "Revolution," where Hynde sings of wanting and needing change and a willingness and passion to fight, even die, for it. "I'll Stand By You" is much better when one can separate it from the near-ruination of countless Idol renditions. "Every Mother's Son" reflects on being born into a violent world and likewise trying to raise one's own kids in such a world. The Pretenders have a very social-conscious side that I hadn't expected. It was a pleasant surprise.

24. Delerium, Karma - I saw this CD at the library and figured that there was little sense in being picky since I have to do 365 of these. The cover to this album features various figures seemingly cut out of magazines and pasted together, a cross, some strange symbols, an angel, and a general mix of ancient/modern spiritual imagery. Being familiar with what type of music this cover would typify, I was guessing either a goth-metal-industrial sound, or a New Age sort of sound a la Enigma.

And the winner is...New Agey Enigma. From what I've read, their sound has changed over the years, but for this album it's New Agey Enigma. And for me...meh. I thought I'd be more into such a sound, and maybe it was just the mood I was in when I listened to it, but a lot of the songs seem to employ the same basic drum track, and we get New Agey staples like some monks singing here and a flute playing an Eastern melody there. I just didn't get into it. The whole thing felt contrived; pre-packaged. Sarah McLachlan appears on "Silence," which I think I've heard before even though I've never heard this band. Anyway...meh.

(And yes, that is the way the band spells its name.)

25. Primitive Radio Gods, Rocket - I know of this band at all thanks to the movie The Cable Guy, in which "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand" is included. As far as I know, it's their biggest hit, which isn't saying much. They're largely an independent act at this point.

I liked "Standing..." because it has such a simple arrangement: piano over a hip-hop beat, and a sample from B. B. King. I expected the entire album to be similar to that, and I was gearing up for disappointment after hearing early tracks like "Women," "Mother******," and "Who Say," which feature a high-treble guitar over a weak drum beat...the direct opposite of what I thought I'd hear. Things get better starting with track 5, "The Rise and Fall of Ooo Mau:" the drums get heavier, the bass more full, the samples more prevalent, the songs generally more interesting. This turned out to be an okay album after all.

26. Green Day, American Idiot - I've had a copy of this album for quite a while, and I don't ever recall actually listening to it all the way through. Due to the amount of singles from this CD played on the radio, I kind of feel like I have listened to the whole thing. Of course, I really hadn't until this week.

For a "political" song to be good, in my opinion, it needs to employ style, poetry, cleverness. Think CCR's "Fortunate Son," DMB's "Don't Drink the Water," or Gov't Mule's "Unring the Bell." Those songs are stylish and clever in the way they express their views. The worst offender in terms of lack of style or cleverness that I've heard is probably Stockholm Syndrome's "American Fork," or if you're of a more "conservative" persuasion, consider pretty much anything that Toby Keith has written since 2001. When the lyrics are just bald statments about this or that while name-dropping a few current events, then I don't tend to like it that much.

So all of this leads us to American Idiot, of which I was skeptical because I knew that it was an entire "political" album. For style and cleverness, I'd probably give it a B. Definitely above average, but in some places the lyrics are pretty bald. "Jesus of Suburbia" blows up the comfortable middle-class view of Christianity and it's impact, or lack thereof, on individuals and us as a country. "Holiday" criticizes the stifling of criticism that has been experienced in recent years. The title track indicts Americans' lack of discernment when it comes to the actions of government and media. I also happened to notice that Green Day tends to favor a common slur for homosexuals when satirizing how administration supporters talk about "dissenters." I had to wonder what that was about after a while.

It's not a bad album. It's an angry album, but certainly not a bad one. If it wasn't for the swear words, I'd probably use "Jesus of Suburbia" with my senior highs.

27. Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare - I just thought it'd be funny to listen to a band calling themselves Arctic Monkeys. This turned out to be the surprise of the week. AM has a hard-driving indie rock thing going...I can't really describe it any better. If you combined elements of Modest Mouse and The Killers, you'd get Arctic Monkeys. How's that?

I can't really name a particular favorite. I just enjoyed the entire album from start to finish. In fact, I don't know what else to write here at all.

28. Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks - By this point, my seeking out of Dylan albums probably seems a little excessive. But I was so pleasantly surprised by my first real listen to any of his albums a few weeks ago that I haven't been able to help myself since. This one is much more acoustic; features harmonica a little more. In other words, this one is more the classic Dylan that people know.

If one is familiar with Hootie and the Blowfish enough, one will hear something familiar on "Idiot Wind." For their song "I Only Wanna Be With You," Hootie ripped a lyric right from this song: "They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy/She inherited a million bucks and when she died it came to me." I recall them getting in trouble for using it, too.

This is another great Dylan album. "Shelter from the Storm" is a favorite, as is "Tangled Up in Blue."

Album of the Week:
Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare
Song of the Week: Mike Doughty,
"Wednesday (No Se Apoye)"
Lyric of the Week:
"We can’t just wait for the old guard to die before we can make a new start." - The Pretenders, "Revolution"