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Odds and Sods II:
ELECTRIC BOOGALOO

 

Long-time fans of CR might remember that I had a page with reviews of random crap which I took down because a. I wanted to concentrate on specific bands, b. because the reviews generally sucked. So now that I'm running low on bands whose albums I have all or at least most of, I've been forced to create another one. That's why it's a sequel, see?

So, what will I put here? Bands who only have one album, and bands who have way too many albums for me to buy and review.

review index:

blink-182: Take Off Your Pants and Jacket
Nick Carter: Now or Never
Chappaquiddick Skyline: Chappaquiddick Skyline
the Dandy Warhols: 13 Tales from Urban Bohemia
Earth to Andy: Chronicle Kings
Fleetwood Mac: Tusk
Ben Harper: Diamonds on the Inside
PJ Harvey: Is This Desire?
Avril Lavigne: Let Go
Paul McCartney: Flaming Pie
Meco: Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk
Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies: Magnolias
the Soundtrack of Our Lives: Behind the Music
the Strokes: Is This It
Travis: The Man Who


blink-182, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket - 2001

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: Anthem Part 2, pretty much anything else on the first half would fit (except for...
Worst songs: Happy Holidays You Bastard), the last four songs or so

 

Hi, this is Cole's sense of taste. I'm not in right now, so leave a message and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.

Sense of taste? Yeah, it's me, Cole. Pick up if you're there.

C'mon, pick up.

Okay, fine, I know you're listening. I really don't appreciate your leaving me here alone to fend for myself. You know how vulnerable I am to any crappy form of entertainment that I come in contact with. I tried to buy a CD off ebay, right? But they sent me the wrong one -- this album by blink-182. The pop-punk band. Normally I'd just roll my eyes and put it in the pile with the other CDs I don't want, but without you around to help me, I listened to it. Multiple times. And dammit, I actually like some of it. And it's all your fault!

Wait, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. Anyway, as I was saying, there are parts of it I like. I mean, what can I say? It's competent! And the songs are sometimes catchy. Yes, the lyrics are pretty juvenile, especially in the case of "Happy Holidays, You Bastard", but I think "Reckless Abandon" and "First Date" fairly accurately capture the uncontrollable stupidity and gawky awkwardness of adolescence, respectively. Musically it's your basic pop-punk, but you have to admit they can come up with some catchy stuff. I especially like the hyperactive drumming in "Online Songs" and that little bass break in "Anthem Part 2"... I mean, even the hyperannoying hit single "The Rock Show" has a nice part in the middle. I don't quite understand why one of the singers sounds about ten years younger than the other, but what can I understand? If someone had told me a month ago that I'd like this album, I would've laughed and laughed. But now... I just don't know.

I'm gonna go crawl in a hole until you call me back, okay?


Nick Carter, Now or Never - 2002

Rating: ***
Best songs: Blow Your Mind, Help Me, Do I Have to Cry For You
Worst songs: Girls in the USA, I Just Wanna Take You Home

 

You might've heard of pop sensations the Backstreet Boys, who made quite a splash from the years 1998 to 2001. Of course, following Newtonian laws of physics, what goes up must come down. They're, I guess, "on hiatus", while the individual members do whatever the hell it is boy band members do in their spare time. Nick Carter decided to make his own album. You'd think that kind of idea would fail miserably, and I admit it was only morbid curiousity that made me check out this album in the first place, but it seems that 1/5 of the Backstreet Boys doesn't mean 1/5 the talent, just 1/5 the cloying sentimentalism that fuels the BSB's massive sales to pre-pubescent girls.

Anyway, Mr. Carter has a pleasant raspy Bryan Adams-esque voice, at least when he's not trying to be "soulful" or whatever. (For those of you that complain about them not writing their own songs: he's credited as co-writing five of these.) The production is your typical shiny soulless 00s pop sound, though thankfully a couple songs break that mold, most notably the catchy-as-fug "Blow Your Mind", which manages to shoehorn in some vaguely techno-ey backing with polite-loud guitars. Unfortunately the other song that deviates from this norm is the headache-inducing clattering racket of "I Just Wanna Take You Home". The rest of the songs are fairly rote, and generally live or die on the strength of the melodies. "Do I Have to Cry For You" and "Heart Without a Home" are a couple of nice power-ballads, "Is It Saturday Yet?" is enjoyable enough in spite of the rather stupid lyrics, and oh yeah, there's "Girls in the USA", absolutely the worst thing on this disc. Yeah... Robert "John" "Mutt" "Lange" Lange called, he wants his drums and backing vocals back.

There are about a half-dozen other songs which I won't go into here, but suffice it to say, I was (understandably) surprised by the overall lack of, um, suckiness. It's fairly plastic and it's kind of jarring to go back to listening to real (no offense, teen-pop fans) music afterwards, but I like it, and hell, I'm not afraid to say it.


Chappaquiddick Skyline, Chappaquiddick Skyline - 2000

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Everyone Else Is Evolving, Solitary Swedish Houses, Nobody's Watching, Leave Me Alone
Worst songs: Kidney Shaped Pool

 

Hey, kids! Are you listless, depressed? Tired of life? But you don't care for the tuneless sludge that is "nu-metal"? Then I've got the CD for you! Joe Pernice (of the Pernice Brothers, Scud Mountain Boys, and other bands none of us have heard of) has decided to pick up his acoustic guitar and tell everyone how much of a doldrum this world is, or something to that effect.

Seriously, this album sounds like a Sunday afternoon when it's raining, and the only thing on TV is NASCAR or cooking shows, and you feel like you're going to go insane before dinnertime. The songs are slooooooow, mostly just some spare guitar and drumwork along with John Mayer Patented Whisper-Singing. The leadoff track "Everyone Else Is Evolving" is quite deceptive -- it's got INSTRUMENTS! and STUFF! Like vibes and strings. And I'd call it the Best Song on the Album, mostly because the chorus is the repeated phrase "I hate my life", and it doesn't sound hackneyed or contrived.

Of course, after this peppy ditty, things slow down quite a bit, but there's plenty of sorrowful beauty in "Solitary Swedish Houses" and the rather disturbing "Nobody's Watching". The excessively-hushed vocals get kinda annoying near the end, but I would only accuse the album-closing "Kidney Shaped Pool" to be defineably bad (other than the bad joke song title "Theme to an Endless Bummer" -- spare us the hilarity), but that's mostly cause it's kind of a lame way to end the album. So, for your next depressive spell, why not spend it with Chappaquiddick Skyline? Just don't get aggravated by the annoying-to-type name.


the Dandy Warhols, 13 Tales from Urban Bohemia - 2000

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: Godless, Bohemian Like You, Shakin', Sleep
Worst songs: Horse Pills, Country Leaver, Solid, The Gospel

 

The Dandy Warhols sort of personify the two major things I hate about indie-rock: a smirking, irony-drenched sense of humor and a slacker approach to songwriting. Starting with the second facet, of the 13 (natch) tracks on this album, I would only qualify two songs on here as great: the godly opener "Godless" is a gorgeous piece of shoegazer songcraft, and the hit single "Bohemian Like You" circumvents the dorky indie lyrics with an absolutely priceless melody. Sure, there are some other good moments on here, particularly the Carsy rocker "Shakin'" and lazy "Sleep", the latter featuring some lovely vocal harmonizing.

The rest is...uh...eh...hn. Some of it's not bad ("Mohammed" and "Nietzche" form a neat little trilogy with "Godless", though they're understandably weaker), but "Horse Pills", "Solid", and "Country Leaver" make me want to stab the frontman with a rusty nail, "The Gospel" is an incredibly dull blues song, and "Get Off" sounds too much like "Barrel of a Gun" by Guster for me to accept it. Rather than close this with some kind of generalization, I'll finish by saying that this album is still a heck of a lot better than the crap on the bonus EP included. Thank you, and good night.


Earth to Andy, Chronicle Kings - 1999

Rating: ****
Best songs: Biting at My Heels, Crystallize, Everafter
Worst songs: they're all pretty good, really

 

You can learn a lot about an album by its packaging. For example, Radiohead's Amnesiac exudes pretentiousness with its uninformative liner notes and crudely-drawn representation of a guy sobbing on the cover. So when I got this album (from the library), I had determined (mainly from the band credits and pictures) that this Earth to Andy group was either: a. generic modern rock, or b. alt-pop. The third possibility was Christian rock, due to the album title, but with song titles like "The Buffalo" and "Kalifornia", that one was quickly eliminated.

And surprise surprise, it's generic modern rock. But generic modern rock doesn't get much better than this. It's hard to really pick any favorites, as the songwriting is pretty consistent across the board. I'll try to choose a few, though: first, the opener "Biting at My Heels" is a great anthemic rock tune (with strings! whee!), "Everafter" should be on the radio (if it was, it certainly wasn't that big a hit, as I'd never heard of these guys before I picked up the album from the library), and "Crystallize" has a neat tremolo guitar part. The other eight tracks are all pretty good too. And there's enough variation to keep the album from getting boring. Get it. Or not. Whatever. If your library has it too, get it from there, kay?

Note for MST3k fans: the drummer is named Kevin Murphy. Odd!


Fleetwood Mac, Tusk - 1979

Rating: *1/2
Best songs: Tusk, Sara
Worst songs: most of the Lindsey Buckingham songs

 

Hi, I'm Tusk. I'm a Fleetwood Mac album and I suck!

You see, my creators had to follow up my brother Rumours, which sold about six zillion copies. That, along with everyone's romantic troubles (read Mick Fleetwood's autobiography for info on that) along with half of Colombia's total cocaine production for the years of 1977 and 1978 (the Eagles got the other half) caused them to totally fizzle out creatively. Here's what happened to each one:

In conclusion: Good songs? Two. Bad songs? Er... Eighteen! Do not pass go, do not buy this record.

Did I use that one before?


Ben Harper, Diamonds on the Inside - 2003

Rating: ****
Best songs: With My Own Two Hands, Blessed to Be a Witness, Amen Omen, Touch from Your Lust
Worst songs: Bring the Funk, So High So Low, Picture of Jesus

 

It's the first 2003 album to be reviewed on this site! <Dr. Zoidberg>Hooray!</Dr. Zoidberg> (Oops, actually it's the second. Sorry.)

Who is Ben Harper? Don't get him confused with English folkie Roy Harper or WRC member Ben Kramer. Ben Harper is some chanteur/guitar player who has enjoyed a moderate level of success for several years. He's got a pleasant voice and a solid backing group, and tends to write pretty good songs.

Before I go any further, an open letter to the RIAA: Quit being such fucking morons, please. Your asinine legal actions and hamfisted attempts at "copy protection" are almost as annoying as your incestuous love affair with the major record labels. Maybe if you showed some consideration to your customers, and stopped shoving your greedy hands into the pockets of musicians who actually make the product you sell (not to mention gouging the consumer with the absurd retail prices of CDs), then everyone wouldn't hate you as much.

In case you haven't guessed, this disc has that stupid copy protection which means it won't play on my computer, so I have to use my DVD player to play it, which wouldn't be a problem except the DVD player thinks that CDs should be played about a thousand times louder than DVDs. Isn't technology wonderful? Of course, I got the last laugh: I bought a promo copy off ebay for 5 bucks! A hearty blow to the capitalist monopoly, I'm sure.

Anyway, Ben Harper loves covering different styles. On this disc he goes from reggae to delta blues to funk to African chanting to straightforward pop to Zeppeliny mystical rock to god knows what else. He only manages a few spottages of lameosity: "Bring the Funk" is one of those irritating funk songs that uses the word 'funk' about five hundred times; "So High, So Low" manages to channel...Iron Maiden?; and "Picture of Jesus" would annoy me less if it wasn't about three minutes too long.

But hey! The rest, it is good. Stylistic diversity is almost always a good thing, and Benny manages several moments of genuine beautification: "Amen Omen" uses the greatest chord progression ever, "Blessed to Be a Witness" uses a few percussion instruments and vocals to great effect, and "When She Believes" is a slow song, therefore it's a ballad, right? Or something like that. There are plenty of other songs on here to enjoy, particularly the reggaerific opener "With My Own Two Hands" and guitar-happy "Touch From Your Lust", but I've actually managed to fill out this review with enough non-sequitirs, so I think my job here is done.


PJ Harvey, Is This Desire? - 1997

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Angelene, A Perfect Day Elise, The Wind
Worst songs: Joy, Electric Light

 

After messing around with boring guitar rock for the better part of a decade (occasionally assisted by Chicago's #2 asshole, Steve Albini), ol' Polly Jean Harvey finally wised up and got herself some keyboards and drum machines and shit. And she sings like a madwoman, yelling and whispering and shit. But unlike, um........

TORI AMOS!!!

...she actually sounds decent doing it. Her songs are quite enjoyable through and through, as well...aside from a couple annoying clunkers like "Joy" (with lyrics based on the short story "Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor -- can you believe it?) and "Electric Light". Otherwise, you get neat bass/drum grooves like "The Wind" and "Catherine", as well as some other shit like that. I'm just using this as a way of filling space until I finally get another page up. I only chose to review this thing because it's in my mp3 collection, meaning I didn't have to get up and sift through my CDs/records to find something to review. Isn't that lazy? And you suffer because of it, not me! HA! HA! HA!

(Krankor?)


Avril Lavigne, Let Go - 2002

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: I dunno, the first three songs
Worst songs: ehh?

 

I'm a little disappointed. Having only heard one song from this album (the annoying-to-type "Sk8er Boi") I was kind of expecting this to be of the Blink-182-and-their-ilk pop-punk disposition. Unfortunately, aside from said hit song, this really isn't very up-tempo. Hell, there's even acoustic guitars and shit on here occasionally. Either way, there's one small problem with Ms. Lavigne's music: it is terribly nondescript. After the first few songs, everything just starts to blend together to the point where I get bored with the album about halfway through. I can't help but enjoy the singles, though.

Oh, I guess you wanted some hilarious commentary. Here: What's with the name? Is she French Canadian or something? She doesn't sound Canadian -- she sings normal. And what's more annoying: the spelling of 'skater' as 'sk8er' or the spelling of 'boy' as 'boi'? Speaking of that song, wouldn't it be more fun if the lyrics were 'she was a boy / he was a girl'? At least then she could make it more obvious.


Paul McCartney, Flaming Pie - 1997

Rating: **
Best songs: The World Tonight, Heaven on a Sunday, The Song We Were Singing
Worst songs: er, most of the second half, really

 

Paul McCartney was in one of the most popular groups of all time. That's right, Wings. Unfortunately, as guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and keyboardist/backing vocalist Linda McCartney are no longer with us, it seems a Wings reunion is now pretty much impossible. Pity.

So McCartney's made this album with the help of producer (the genius behind Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever) Jeff Lynne, and it features such notable guests as drummer Ringo Starr (of the All-Starr Band), guitarist/singer Steve Miller (of the Steve Miller Band), and guitarist James McCartney (of the McCartney family).

Overall, it seems McCartney was aiming for a relaxed, laid-back record. And that's what he got. What he forgot, though, was good material. The album takes a sharp nose-dive starting with the boring blues jam "Used to Be Bad", and never quite recovers. This leaves us with the first half of the album, which actually does feature a few good tracks: the opener "The Song We Were Singing" is awkward lyrically, but bursts into a great chorus, "The World Tonight" is a dark little groove (dark for McCartney, that is!), and "Calico Skies" and "Heaven on a Sunday" are pretty acoustic songs. That's about all that sticks out, really. The rest of the first half isn't bad, but the second half is just dull dull dull dull dull dull dull! I'm sure McCartney is capable of better stuff than this.


Meco, Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk - 1977

Rating: ***
Best songs: side one
Worst songs: Other Galactic Funk

 

This idea couldn't fail. Why? Reasons:

1. Disco was huge in the late 70s. So was Star Wars. They had one thing in common: both were very hokey. While The Empire Strikes Back is the de facto SW movie as far as, um, being good is concerned, Star Wars is the goofiest of the three. (Note: I refuse to acknowledge those so-called "prequels" as part of the SW franchise. Sorry, George Lucas, you're done. No amount of CGI or digital cinematography will save an immensely crappy movie.) Therefore, a combination of the two was not only inevitable, it was welcome.

2. John Williams' soundtrack for Star Wars is a total classic. These melodies kick butt.

3. For God's sake, it's fun! And not in an ironic "look, I'm listening to disco renditions of selections from the soundtrack to a classic science-fiction film" way. And they make a bunch of synthesizer sound effects from time to time -- simulated laser fire, lightsabers, R2-D2 beeping, etc.

4. It's danceable, therefore it's good. Right?

It's not all fun and games, though -- side two is filled up with some dull "original" material by Meco. Yawn. Otherwise, whee!


Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies, Magnolias - 1997

 

You'd think that the music couldn't possibly be as bad as the band name, but it is.


the Soundtrack of Our Lives, Behind the Music - 2002

Rating: *
Best songs: Infra Riot, Sister Surround
Worst songs: uh, any of the rest?

 

You know what really irritates me? When an album starts off great, then turns to total crap. Such is the case with the Soundtrack of Our Lives, one of those Swedish bands that hopped onto the garage bandwagon sparked off by the Strokes a year or two ago. To their credit, they at least manage some decent production, with multiple guitars and occasional 60s keyboards, but that doesn't really matter. Other than the first two tracks: the grooving opener "Infra Riot" coughs up some rock and roll fun (no Sleater-Kinney included), and "Sister Surround" is pretty catchy, but the rest... Ugh. Track after track of limp "retro" boringosity, with only the occasional particularly interesting bit (such as the organy intro to "Broken Imaginary Time") thrown in to tease the unfortunate listener. Note to retro-garage-rockers: try doing something other than whanging at three chords all the time. You might come up with something, y'know, interesting.


the Strokes, Is This It - 2001

Rating: ***
Best songs: Last Nite, Is This It, The Modern Age
Worst songs: the last few fucking songs

 

Oh, hoo-fucking-rah. Another shitty album proclaimed by the worthless bastards that are the UK music press. Several lameasses have proclaimed this to be "the greatest fucking album ever recorded, arsehole!", but I have a different friggin' opinion. This is a damn competent album by some fuckers from New York -- one of the guitarists is the son of 70s songwriter/goat blower (I have proof) Albert Hammond, whose big hit was "It Never Rains in Southern California (Because All the Fags Live There)", and the singer is named Julian Casablancas, a fake name if I've ever heard one, who sounds like a combination of Jim "I suck" Morrison, Lou "I suck longer" Reed, and a lounge singer. The guitars do generic crunchy power chords, jankly (fucker) arpeggiations, and the occasional guitar solo, but not in a masturbatory hair metal fashion. The drummer is fucking awful -- it's damn near all he can do to keep the beat, much less make it interesting.

So, what of those fuckers' songs? Damn, them bitches is catchy. Yeah, so half the time the melodies and stuff are pretty obviously lifted ("Last Nite", the BFHS, takes the rhythm from Tom Petty of all people, and I keep expecting to hear "I WAH WAH WAH WAH wonder" in the chorus of "Barely Legal"), but that didn't stop Led Zeppelin (motto: rogering groupies with fish for over seven years) from doing the exact same bloody thing for their entire crappy career.

What the hell, was that one sentence? Fuck me. No, please, fuck me. I'm desperate. Err...anyhoo, I only give this three stars and a half because the album really turns to shit at the end -- just turn it off after "Hard to Explain" and you'll be a lot happier. Unless of course you're one of those people that likes shitty music, in which case, GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY FUCKING SITE YOU FUCKER!!! Bollocks.

Postscript (04.04.02): It doesn't entirely hold up on repeated listens. The shitty production and minimalistic playing causes me to subtract 1/2 star from the rating.


Travis, The Man Who - 1999

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: Writing to Reach You, As You Are, Turn, Why Does It Always Rain On Me?
Worst songs: The Last Laugh of the Laughter, Luv, She's So Strange

 

For one transcendant moment on The Man Who ("As You Are", time index 3:07) Travis's lead singer Fran Healy breaks through all the barriers and sounds exactly like Radiohead's Thom Yorke.

Well, let's face it -- his voice isn't just a passing resemblance to the Yorkemeister. Travis don't really play music much like Cabasa de Radio, they have an airy, fluffy, acoustic-and-jangly-electric-guitar-driven pop style. On other tracks, such as "Turn", he reaches for the Yorke banshee howl, but only for that one moment on "As You Are" does he actually knock the proverbial can off the fence. (?)

As for the actual music, the few (relatively) uptempo tracks such as the aforementioned two and the hit single "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?" are the definite highlights. A couple of the more light airy acoustic pieces manage to grab my attention, not the least of which is the album opener "Writing to Reach You", but the second half of the album is dragged down with dull numbers like "The Last Laugh of the Laughter" (the title alone should clue you in) and "Luv".

Of course, the fact that I like this album at all (their songs always annoyed me when I heard them on M2) is a surprise. You'll probably like it a whole lot more!

Why can't I just have a band to direct my bile towards? First Radiohead, now Travis...


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