Filed under: Previews & Reviews | Tags: Don't Believe a Word, Semi Charmed Life, Third Eye Blind, Ursa Major
This particular post is dedicated to al those who long for their favorite forgotten poppy alt. rock bands of the late 90’s. The bands much of our generation heard a constant cycle of on the radio throughout their youth. Arguably the most memorable bands of this era have re-emerged: Third Eye Blind. Their newest release, Ursa Major is their first since 2003’s Out of the Vein, and offers drastic changes from their earlier style as well as a handful of songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on their self-titled debut. Overall, Ursa major is a solid effort from the group, and certainly a welcomed return.
In the late 90’s, Third Eye Blind saw a rapid rise from an underground sensations to chart-topping, Charlize Theron-dating, bonafide rock stars. This was mostly attributed to the driving singles from their first album, most notably the infectiously catchy ” Semi-Charmed Life”. The song not only had to appeal to fans of alternative rock, but somehow managed to simultaneously become a household name among fans of popular music. With infectious guitar riffs and thinly veiled obscene lyrics (most notably lines like “she comes ’round and she goes down on me’ and “doing crystal meth will lift you up until you break”) “Semi-Charmed Life” established Third Eye Blind’s place in alt rock history. Their debut was an incredibly youthful, melodic, and energetic record with clever lyrics and an incredibly diverse lineup of guitar riffage. Overall, it was an incredible debut, a solid alt rock record that grows on you with each listen.
Throughout the 90’s and early milennium, 3EB had a handful of other hit singles, ranging from the guitar-driven pop rocker “Never Let You Go” to the criminally underrated “Crystal Baller” off of Out of the Vein. However, in terms of success, none of the hits measured up to songs like “Semi-Charmed Life” or “jumper” from their first album. Gradually, Third Eye Blind nearly faded from memory.
However, that could all very well change with their new release Ursa Major. The album had been hyped in various mediums before it’s actually release, most notably through a series of videos on the band’s webpage chronicling the writing and recording of the album. After being postponed several times, the album finally dropped earlier this month.
However, many wondered if Third Eye Blind would try to appeal to the current alternative scene or their early fans more on their new record. The answer, interestingly enough, is both. The entire album has a much cleaner production than their previous albums, making it come across as a very poppy album. However, the style that many Third Eye Blind fans know and love is still present on Ursa Major.
The opening track, “Can You Take Me” is true to form for Third Eye Blind. It begins with a loud, driving chord progression, a catchy melody, and a generally anthemic feel to it. However, the next track and first single off of the album, “Don’t Believe a Word” is unlike anything the group has ever recorded. The track begins with guitar feedback, but kicks in with an explosive opening chord progression that almost echoes “Baba O’Riley”. From there, the song evolves ranges from fast paced electronic-infused pop rock during the verses and an almost classic rock feel during the verses and bridge. Once again, Third Eye Blind has made an astounding first single. The album’s next track “Bonfire” is a much more mellow number, beginning with acoustics, vocals, and what sounds like hand percussion. As the song progresses, it becomes sort of a melodic ballad. The song wouldn’t seem out of place on popular radio due to it’s clean, glossy production, which could alienate many fans of 3EB who lead more to alternative rock style, but it’s overall a solid song.
Ursa Major seems to be the most ballad-heavy 3EB record to date. Because of this, the album lacks the overall youthful energy of their debut, which was part of what made that particular album their most by fans. The energy of the album somewhat peaks within the first 3 tracks, with the exception of the almost irritatingly poppy “Summer Town”. Not to suggest that many of the following songs aren’t good. “One in Ten” is a great acoustic number, with spot on vocal harmonies and some interesting instrumentation (i.e. a horn section). “Why Can’t You Be” which plays out like a dialogue between a couple that’s grown tired of one another, is 3EB’s signature mix of balladry and tongue in cheek humor. (yes, he does say “sometimes a blowjob’s not enough, you heard correctly.) “Dao of St. Paul” picks up the pace towards the end of the album, but only slightly.
The Verdict? Ursa Major, while filled with beautifuly written slower songs, sort of loses it’s energy very early in the album. Fans looking for the youthful exuberance of songs like “Graduate”, “Crystal Baller” or “London” will probably be initially disappointed. Still, over time, the songs do begin to grow on you, although my musical A.D.D. made it difficult to sit through many songs all the way through. Overall, Third Eye Blind have made a good comeback album that doesn’t quite stack up to their incredible debut.
Filed under: Previews & Reviews | Tags: Boys and Girls in America, Chicago, Live Album, Massive Nights, Stuck Between Stations, The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady have enraptured me since I first hear the scratchy lyrics of Craig Finn on 2006’s Boys and Girls in America. Their most recent album, A Positive Rage (released April 7), is a live album that contains songs mostly from Boys and Girls, but brings in tunes from Almost Killed Me, Separation Sunday, and Stay Positive (the most recent original album). Recorded in Chicago on Halloween at the end of the Boys and Girls in America Tour, A Positive Rage is an unmixed, unpolished, virtually perfect Hold Steady.
The distorted guitar grabs our attention, and the piano jumps over it. “Stuck Between Stations” (off of Boys and Girls) starts. The almost unfinished feel to the song makes it seem like it was recorded on that barroom night, the night John Berryman could fly; it adds a certain in-the-moment quality to the song. “The Swish,” off of Almost Killed Me, has the same unmixed quality; the piano and the bass flow into the guitar so perfectly that you imagine being Craig Finn, hearing your band, and grinning as you rush into the lyrics.
The accidentals on the album similarly make it better; it shows a bit of the process that the band goes through (as the drummer stops tapping the symbol a few beats into one of the songs). There are very few of these mistakes, but they make it a live album at its core; just like the altered fills and the drunken voice, accidentals change the nature of the song oh so slightly.
My personal favorite track off of this album? I love the version of “Massive Nights”—it’s particularly improved by the live nature; there’s an urgency in Finn’s voice (matched by the bassline) that just isn’t on the track on Boys and Girls. I imagine Finn collapsing to his knees on “down on my knees” and looking into the audience while two kids in the upper balcony screamed the lyrics at each other. This track is also the epitome of the unmixed quality of the album, and the accidentals, especially shown at the end, where the guitar runs out and Finn brings us to the end.
Overall, the album is a worthy addition to the Hold Steady’s already impressive body of work; as a lover of the band, I recommend it without question. It’s like a little packaged concert.
NOTE: The songs linked to here are slightly different from the songs on A Positive Rage, being mixed more and not having the same raw quality. To listen to A Positive Rage (as of now), one must buy it or get it from a friend. Amazon link.
Filed under: Previews & Reviews | Tags: Hazards of Love, Jim James, My Brightest Diamond, My Morning Jacket, Robyn Hitchcock, Shara Worden, The Decemberists, The Drowned
In these new technological times, people are able to pick which songs to buy off of albums and simply put their iPod on shuffle instead of sitting down and listening to an entire artist’s album the whole way through like they would’ve intended. Some artists have accepted that, and adapted by not making the songs need to go in any specific order to make sense, but not the rebels The Decemberists. On the Decemberists’ new album, Hazards of Love, each individual song is part of an overall story and listening to them out of order simply doesn’t work.
From the solely instrumental Prelude a story is begun, characters are introduced and have their conflicts that are finally resolved in the last track, “The Hazards of Love 4,” when they say “these hazards of love/ never more will trouble us.”
This album, or musical as I should say, is like a twisted fairy tale centering around the story of the lovely Margaret, introduced in “The Hazards of Love 1,” singing to herself of “the hazards of love” in the forest of Taiga. Other characters include a shape shifting monster that knocks her up, William: her love, an evil rake, and an equally evil queen. Throughout the story, which is broken up into 17 tracks, Margaret falls in love, has a baby and is even abducted. Is she saved? And what happens to her and William? You’ll have to listen to find out….
The usually five member band is aided by an impressive number of voices from Robyn Hitchcock and Jim James of My Morning Jacket to Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond to name a few, and each member takes on a different character. Overall this is a great CD from the Decemberist’s, who never disappoint, centering around story so confusing you’ll have to listen to it a few times through just to understand it, but I can bet that you won’t even mind doing just that.
The Hazards of Love 1 (Right Click and Click “Save Link As” to Download)
Filed under: Previews & Reviews | Tags: 22, Alright Still, It's Not Me It's You, Lily Allen, Smile, The Fear
Since Lily Allen’s first album, Alright Still, her listeners have been waiting in anticipation for the next one and it has finally arrived.
Lily’s Allen’s first album is the manifestation of her overall anger and frustration with people and how they have wronged her. This album is made up mostly of uniquely written break up songs. The album as a whole seems to be a journey through Lily Allen’s emotions as she goes through a tough break up. Because the album focuses so intently on one subject matter the tracks begin to seem repetitive. The sound is that of a typical pop album with the exception of the hints of hip-hop that she adds to tracks such as “Nan Your a Window Shopper” and “Knock Em Out.” Although the sound is majorly that of a typical pop album, the lyrics seem to be very raw.
It’s Not Me, It’s You, has a similar sound initially, but as you listen to the album you see that the music differs significantly from track to track. Although, each of the tracks on this album could be listened to independently and fully understood, the listener must listen carefully and thoroughly to comprehend the complex mind of Lily Allen. Allen’s Album It’s Not Me, Its You is a journey through the mind and experiences of the artist. Allen clearly shows her ability as a lyrycist in this album.
Allen’s previous album Alright, Still seems to focus primarily on the artist’s heartbreak and reveals to the listener that Lily Allen is a seemingly weak woman who can not enjoy life independent of a male companion. On the contrary, this album establishes her as a struggling, but strong independent woman. These characteristics of Allen are revealed in tracks such as “The Fear,” which talks about the superficiality and materialism of people. She is singing from a point of view representative of that of the typical material person. She discusses the motive of that materialsim and superficiality and establishes it as fear when she says from this particular young woman’s perspective, “I dont know whats right and whats real anymore/And I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore/And when do you think it will all become clear/’Cuz I’m being taken over by The Fear.” Allen also reverses that previously negative view of herself when in another one of her songs, “22.” “22” is about a woman who longs for the companionship of a man but has learned to become content with whatever she can get, leaving her with several one-night stands but no substansial relationships. This song also touches on society’s influence on the thought that a woman cannot be happy without a man.
It’s Not Me, It’s You also provides the listener with some of Allen’s feelings toward her family, with songs like “He Wasn’t There” and “Back to the Start.” In “He Wasn’t There,” Allen explores a bittersweet feeling about her father who was absent during her upbringing. Initially she expresses some built up anger, but later praises him for all of the things that he has done when she did reconcile with him. In the song she says this about her father, “You might have thought you didn’t teach me much/ But you taught me right from wrong/ And it was when you didnt’t keep in touch/ Well it taught me to be strong/ And just in case you ever thought I would/ I wouldn’t change you for the world/ Because I know you’ll always love me very much/ I’ll always be you’re little girl.” In “Back to the Start,” Allen talks about making things right with her older sister. In this track she apologizes for her jealousy towards her sister and the way that she has treated her sister. She expresses her desire for her relationship with her sister to go, “Back to the start.”
Allen has a few other interestingly unique tracks on this album. “Everyone’s At It” shares Lily Allen’s take on drugs and how they effect our world. “Him” takes the listener through her idea of god and who he is. The remaining tracks on the album are remniscent of the songs from Allen’s first album Alright, Still.
Overall, It’s Not Me, It’s You, It’s a great album. Lily Allen reveals a significant amount about herself and the way that she thinks to the listener’s, and shows that she has still has the ability to make great music. Each induvidual track shows a different angle of the artist that is delivered through an amazing voice.
Lupe Fiasco has shown his credibility and his ability to produce amazing albums through his first two albums: Food and Liquor and The Cool. He has shown that he has a unique style that captures the heart of any hip-hop enthusiast who feels like there are more important things to talk about than women, money, and cars. Not only are his lyrics very unique but his delivery is also exceptional. Above all, his humility is also something that any Lupe Fiasco fan can admire about the artist.
In Lupe Fiasco’s Gotta Eat, he references his upcoming album when he says, “This, and other adventures on Lupe Fiasco’s next album LupEND.” But since then things have changed. Many reporters are now saying that Fiasco’s next album will not be LupEND but instead, We Are Lasers. Fiasco revealed the name of his upcoming album via Twitter, on March 22nd when wrote, “We Are Lasers…comes from some repressed highschool outcast shit…blended amidst And He Gets The Girl ambitions.”
There is not much else that his been revealed about We Are Lasers. For now all I can say is that you can expect a sound similar to this in Lupe Fiasco’s next album:
And He Gets The Girl (Right Click and Click “Save Link As” to Download)