It's an exciting time! New albums by fabulous bands! Presidential elections right around the corner! Massive amounts of media coverage about both!
But just between you and me, while music is OK, I'm spending more and more time following this election stuff! Why? Well, I'm not exactly a political dude, but I get a kick out of listening to all the candidates give interviews! I'm a writer, and I like they way they always try to stay on message! And I like the way they answer questions no one even asks!
Do I think asking a question and answering it is a great way to communicate? You bet! Does change for a quarter include two dimes and a nickel? Absolutely! Should this question be punctuated with a question mark? Of course! Is it entirely possible that space beings are headed to this planet with every intent of spray-painting all of Earth's inhabitants blue? Er…I guess so! Am I the sort of guy who'd think nothing of buying a loaf of bread, taking out two slices and buttering them and applying them to both sides of my head? Heck no! Why would you even ask?
And does the above point have any relevance whatsoever to this week's new album releases?
No Doubt: Push And Shove (Interscope) I would imagine to people of certain age, a No Doubt reunion—which strictly speaking this isn't, since they never officially went away—would be the height of happy happy good times, and you know what? It's not a bad thing at all! Ecstatic, bouncy pop, highlighted by the immensely likable, still cute and chipper Gwen Stefani—who on earth could dislike her?—and a title track that drives home the point that these guys were, from the very start, good-natured, energetic ska-inflicted dudes & dudesses, Push And Shove is altogether a good thing! I do not expect depth, I do not expect immense wit, I do not expect much more than a good time, a solid rhythm section, a tight, trim and muscular torso pulsating repeatedly toward the faces of the audience, and a couple of good pop hooks now and then! I get this and more with this album! I also get to ask whether it's likely three-fourths of this band was sporting the same hairstyle a year ago! I know I was!
Green Day: ¡Uno! (Reprise) I must confess I was on the premises last weekend when Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong gave his colorful performance at the iHeartRadio Festival—which I think all of us agree was striking! Coincidentally, it preceded the release of this fab new album by less than a week, which has led the more cynical among us to postulate that his actions were nothing more than a hollow ruse designed to increase first-week album sales! I scoff at such accusations! Armstrong, a sensitive singer-songwriter by any standard, was likely feeling the pressure any great artist would feel scant moments before his band would release a new album entirely devoted to the card game Uno—one of many such entries in the so-called "Crazy Eights" family of card games, and like Green Day, wildly popular around the world! Cleverly evoking the "punk rock" that was popular during the band's childhood—with the inevitable hint of the Kinks, the Who, and all the other hip '60s bands that influenced the '70s bands that influenced Green Day-- ¡Uno! is loaded to the gills with great curse words, pleasantly derivative rock riffs, and enough aggressive energy to make nearly everyone forget that these guys write Broadway musicals and show up on TV with Christina Aguilera! Just the first of three planned Green Day albums—up next? Hearts and Gin Rummy!— ¡Uno! could be the album of the year! As could any of the other albums being discussed here! It's all so frickin' random!
Mumford & Sons: Babel (Glassnote) It might just be me, but after spending the first half of this year listening to completely unfashionable albums by bands like the Strawbs and Hudson-Ford, I am scratching my head at the commercial success of England's charming Mumford & Sons, who sound eminently likeable and, to be charitable, mildly indistinguishable from close to a hundred bands from 35 years ago who had a piddling acquaintance with Steeleye Span and were comfortable being described as playing English folk-rock! Is it possible there are only 10 people left in the world who now buy records and more than 6 of them like Mumford & Sons? Sheesh, I like 'em, but I just spent half a night creating Italian and French Prog categories in my iTunes collection just because I could! Buy this to prolong the record industry for another three years!
John Hiatt: Mystic Pinball (New West) I have long been a fan of John Hiatt, who—as many will attest—is one of our finer songwriters, and his latest set for the New West label is indeed a worthy addition to his catalog. After giving this a few spins, I've noticed that his vocals in particular not only seem strong but oddly in keeping with that school of early '70s rock belters that Free's Paul Rodgers introduced—say Frankie Miller and his ilk—and that even as a pure interpreter of other people's songs, Hiatt would likely excel. That said, it was only with this album's closer—the marvelous "Blues Can't Even Find Me""—that I was reminded his deeper talent remains his distinguished songwriting, which at its best has a characteristic warmth that escapes nearly everyone else working in the same territory. Wish there was much more of that to be had here, but regardless--an excellent set by a still highly underrated, very sharp songwriter. Recommended.
Lupe Fiasco: Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap (1st & 15th) They say you can tell a lot about an album based on it its album cover art—and I even hear tell some writers have constructed entire blogs of record reviews based entirely on cover art because no one ever notices! Luckily, my loyal readers can always count on a complete and thorough listening of every record ever under discussion in this blog, unless I'm watching The Night Of The Bloody Apes, it's Monday night, I just got back from Las Vegas, I don't actually have a copy of this record on hand, and I figure if I describe it as being about the great new Jalapeño Cream Cheese Taquitos and 40-oz. Colt 45 combo sophisticated buyers can pull off at their neighborhood 7-Elevens, this may indeed pass muster! Speaking of which, watch out for that cheese stuff they give you for your nachos!
R.E.M.: Document (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) (Capitol) We all have takes about certain bands, and when it comes to R.E.M., I'm sorry to say that mine involves being very interested by their initial single, EP, and maybe first two albums, and than gradually, but steadily, losing interest. I don't really know why. But a set like this, which offers up all the music from the band's first platinum album and provides a context for the hits that have never really gone away—"It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" and "The One I Love"—is definitely a service as far as the band's legacy is concerned. All tracks are well remastered, a bonus live set recorded in Holland in 1987 featuring may of their best-ever songs is included, and the quality packaging goes a long way in putting their admirable rise-to-the-top-of-the-biz in perspective. All things considered, they were kind of good.
Michael Formanek: Small Places (ECM) An exceptionally well-played, compact set by bassist/composer Formanek—accompanied by saxophonist Tim Berne, pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver—Small Places documents a fine band boasting a near-telepathic sense of musical interplay, precisely what one might expect from a batch of top-notch players who have spent time together as a full-fledged band rather than as a group of skilled players getting to know each other in the studio. For better or worse, today's current musical climate has leveled the playing field as far as jazz releases go: One can buy a brand new, unheard album, or an acknowledged classic recorded 50 years ago and once again commercially available. This is as good an argument as any that everything hasn't been done: a refreshing, intellectually stimulating listen.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Deluxe Edition), Tarkus (Deluxe Edition) I would be less than honest if I did not admit to being a rabid fan of Keith Emerson's earlier band the Nice and similarly enraptured by the early work of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, whose first two albums are presented here in remastered form and, best of all, given a 5.1 surround remix by Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson---who aside from being a stellar musician in his own right is developing an enviable career in re-contextualizing classic early-'70s prog works by artists like King Crimson and Jethro Tull. While there is a part of me that wishes Emerson might've stuck to the organ—at which he excelled—rather than move onto the primitive synthesizers that dominate much of what's heard here, these are still the ELP albums that remain most interesting and less concerned with the so-called trappings of commercial success, etc. And if I were a budding young indie-rock folk-guitarist, say, I would not turn my nose up at the opportunity to participate in an acoustic tribute to Tarkus. Talk about adding cred to your résumé!
Moving Sidewalks: The Complete Collection (Rock Beat) As we move into the latter stage of albums and reissues being actual physical packages—as opposed to collections of MP3, FLAC or WAV files with an accompanying JPEG—you would be well advised to seek out packages like this, which takes Flash, the oft-booted sole album of Texas '60s rock legends the Moving Sidewalks, fronted by ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, throws in an additional disc of rare an unreleased tracks by the band and its predecessor, the Coachmen, and gives you something tangible to hold in your hand. Well, strictly speaking, aside from that other thing!
Deadmau5: <album title goes here> (Ultra Music) <album title> <idiotic joke about stupidity of album title> <personal anecdote having no relevance whatsoever to most readers> <exclamation mark> <mildly suggestive comment involving sexual appeal of Minnie Mouse> <needlessly italicized phrase> <exclamation mark>