Hello and greetings from Miami, Florida--where I am unexpectedly perched this evening, in a condominium overlooking the lovely Intracoastal Waterway, staring at a list of this week's finest new album releases and shivering in anticipation!
Why? Because I'll soon be finished!
In the meantime, I must confess to being a bit stunned by this week's offerings: Usually early November brings us the best the record industry has to offer--the long-awaited Rihanna Sings The Work Of Bob Dylan, Rush's oft-mythologized He Is God, He Is Man, He Is The Rapper Jay-Z And He's Got A Hot Wife or, indeed, Radiohead's Perhaps Deciding To Throw All Pop Hooks Out The Window After Our First Album Has Left Us At A Creative Dead End--but instead...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Could it possibly be true that the record industry as a whole has simply given up on the pretense of releasing anything creatively challenging, stimulating, or certain to be heatedly discussed around this nation's water coolers on a Wednesday morning?
Nope! Everybody simply went out to get a haircut to look good for the holidays!
And as the picture above amply demonstrates, I can definitely get behind that!
Various Artists: Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Atlantic) The soundtrack to the latest Twilight film is every bit as captivating as you'd expect it to be! Featuring a host of fabulous artists such as Bruno Mars, the Joy Formidable, Christina Perri, and Cider Sky, the soundtrack creatively carries the narrative into territories heretofore unexplored in this zesty vampire saga: Upon learning vampires can be killed by a simple squirt of a common dishwashing detergent, the gang--vampires, werewolves, whatever--join forces with a mysterious Belgian chemist who has devoted his entire life to devising a formula that would break down common household cleansers such as Dawn, Cascade, Palmolive and Electrasol into flavorful ingredients for a luscious ice cream sundae! Suspenseful? You bet! The climactic "Cold" --unexpectedly performed onscreen by Aqualung and Lucy Schwartz at a Rexall drug store--is chilling! Pun intended! I really like this!
Il Divo: Wicked Game (SYCO/Columbia) I think most of us agree that aside from the Beatles and maybe Rush or the Police if they each had another member, Il Divo may be the greatest musical quartet that's ever lived! That's why a new album from the guys is such a blessing! Strangely, though, rather than reaching for the stars, Il Divo has instead focused on mankind's baser instincts--and created a concept album focusing on an imaginary game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey with younger (and some would say better-looking) arch-rivals Il Volo, in which the loser would potentially give up music for a career in public relations! Yikes! Closing track--a joint version of "We Be Illin'"--lightens the proceedings up somewhat, but still...don't they realize the correct term is "are illin'"? Heck, in some ways, these guys seem to be in it purely for the money!
Disturbed: Lost Children (Reprise) A hard-rockin' collection of B-sides by charismatic popsters Disturbed, this fabulous set shows the band at its most arty: Aside from the title track, devoted to Walter "Walt" Lloyd of TV's sensational Lost, the tunes here resonate with unexpected vitriol: "Sickened" recounts the band's experience at a local Denny's, "Parasite" is unexpectedly devoted to boomer icon Captain Kangaroo, and "A Welcome Burden," with its perhaps intentional misspelling, is devoted to the formative days of pioneering R&B band War! Other tracks like "Hell," "Monster," Sickened" and "Dehumanized" seem vaguely unpleasant but are of course indecipherable! That's why Disturbed rule! And why you should buy this album!
Rush: Time Machine: Live In Cleveland 2011 DVD (Zoe/Rounder) The only thing better that seeing Rush perform their entire Moving Pictures album live in its entirety when it came out in 1981 is watching this fabulous DVD, which features the glorious band onstage in Cleveland in 2011 doing precisely the same thing! Filled with great hits like "Tom Sawyer" and "Limelight," the DVD shows the guys to only have gotten better with time! With great bonuses--historical footage including a performance with original Rush drummer John Rutsey, original music videos--and unparalleled charisma, Rush have against all odds proven to be the one band that, whether you love them or hate them, you have to love them! I mean, that's linguistically weird! Squint your eyes and the cover looks like an astounded Rush fan!
Billy Joel: The Complete Albums Collection/Piano Man (Legacy Edition) (both Sony Legacy) If you're going to go all out for Billy Joel, this is the year to do precisely that! His 1973 classic Piano Man now comes fully remastered and bearing an additional disc including his much-praised 1972 WMMR live radio performance--which predated Piano Man and featured an early version of "Captain Jack" that largely established him as a major artist-to-be. It all sounds quite impressive in retrospect, and as packages go, particularly with disc 2, it's an absolute bargain. The mindblower, however, is the box set here-featuring 14 complete remastered albums--from his early Cold Spring Harbor (1971) through the much-admired The Stranger (1977) and 52nd Street (1978) all the way to his classical set of 2001, Fantasies And Delusions. The sound is wonderful, the body of work is consistent and remarkably impressive, and the overall care devoted to it would be any fan's dream. Featuring cardboard-replica jackets of each album and informative liner notes, it's just about all the Billy Joel anyone could ask for. Highly recommended.
Rascal Flatts: The Best Of Rascal Flatts LIVE (Hollywood) If you like Rascal Flatts, and if you like the best of Rascal Flatts, and you like hearing the best of Rascal Flatts performed live--in front of thousands of adoring fans--then this is precisely the album for you! With such tracks as "Bob That Head" and the inimitable "Life Is A Highway," this set does a commendable job of rounding up all that's best about the fun loving country combo and, in a technological twist, presenting it in audio form, whether on CD or as individually downloadable files! If, on the other hand, you don't especially care about Rascal Flatts and are thinking of buying some lunch, this week El Pollo Loco is offering a great Legs and Thighs combo for only $9.99! Either way, you can't lose!
Nils Frahm: Felt (Erased Tapes) I've been much impressed with this set of instrumental music, courteously sent from Frahm's overseas label, which explores that peculiar instrumental meeting point between contemporary classical and, I suppose, electronica--and offers up very seductive, often very subtle intricacies that bear fruit with each repeated listening. Though the techniques involved in making this recording are fascinating--a fully dampened piano, well-placed microphones, etc.--they're never overshadowed by the highly captivating music that results via this album's many remarkable tracks. Find out more here.
Mott The Hoople: Ballad Of Mott The Hoople DVD (Redeye) One of rock 'n' roll's most vital bands of the late '60s and early '70s, Mott The Hoople in some ways saw their tie-up with David Bowie circa "All the Young Dudes" overshadow their overall contribution to pop music. I don't think I'm alone in considering their first four albums--released on these shores via Atlantic Records, and all pre-Bowie--to be their very best work, and this DVD, a 101-minute documentary, helps tell that tale and more. With a variety of interesting characters, guest appearances by Queen's Roger Taylor and the Clash's Mick Jones, and a lot of sentimentalizing about missed opportunities, this is fascinating viewing and a fine overview of one very great lost band.
Judy Collins: Bohemian (Wildflower) With over 40 albums to her credit and a distinguished career in song interpretation that extends back to her beginnings as a folk artist in the early '60s, Judy Collins has a remarkable story, has recorded several marvelous albums, and continues to contribute albums worth more than a casual, cursory listen. This latest takes its cue from the West Coast singer-songwriter scene of the '60s, of which she played not a small part, and keeps her reputation fully intact. Like the artist herself: intriguing, rewarding and classy.
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds: Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (Sour Mash) The former Oasis mainstay returns with an album that's much better than many people were expecting. Of course, it came out in 1968! But after he plays it, he'll let us hear the one he made!