As part of the first wave of punk rock in New York in the late 1970’s, Talking Heads helped to usher in a new style of music that was unlike anything seen before. Some classify Talking Heads as a new-wave band, but for me, they are a punk band. Not punk as in hard guitars/moshing as seen in the current punk scene, but a whole other animal. It raises the question of what is punk. To me, punk is doing something totally different against mainstream thought and to think for yourself; it’s an attitude, not a T-shirt or style of music. If you look at punk as I do, there is no question that Talking Heads were punk, in their own way.
Ok, with that out of the way, Talking Heads came about in the mid 1970’s after meeting in college in Rhode Island. After moving to New York, the band began playing at the now legendary CBGB’s down in the Bowery. As one of the first bands to make a name for themselves playing at the club, the Heads developed a sound that would set them apart from many of their contemporaries.
The main catalyst of their sound was singer/guitarist David Byrne. His disjointed vocal performance style was a hallmark of the band’s sound. As for the other members of the band at this point, bassist Tina Weymouth utilized a minimal approach to her playing while still creating some timeless bass lines and her husband/drummer Chris Frantz held down the beat while the band went in many different directions. His and Weymouth’s versatility was key for the sound the Heads on subsequent albums.
The most impressive thing about ’77 (released on Sire Records..in 1977) is the fact that the music seems to shift song-to-song. It’s not like they stick to one basic sound and all the songs are tied together. It seems like three or four different styles are present on the album. The art/funk style of Uh-Oh Love comes to Town goes into the second track; New Feeling sounds nothing like the preceding track, it actually seems to have a punk-attitude to it while the music seems to foreshadow the new wave movement by a few years. Psycho Killer is probably the best known track of this album, and while good, it is not the best track on the album. As a album that did something totally different and started an entire new genre of music, Talking Heads ’77 was truly a classic album.
As one of the top guitar players in history, Eric Clapton has been increasing the thinking of what is possible with a rock guitar since the 1960’s. He has recorded albums under his own name since the early 70’s after creating some of the defining songs of the counter-culture movement while a member of Cream. Since his first solo album in 1970, Clapton has released 16 solo albums (18 counting his duel records with BB King and JJ Cale). All have showcased Clapton’s unique skills as both a guitarist as well as a vocalist in multiple styles. He has shown the versatility of playing rock music with Cream, to slow ballads like “Tears in Heaven” during his solo career and the blues, as seen in Me and Mr. Johnson, released in 2004 on Warner Bros. Records.
Robert Johnson was one of the top blues musicians of 1930’s, and was a big influence on Clapton’s style. As a matter of fact, both Johnson and Clapton were in the top ten of Rolling Stone magazine’s “Top 100 Guitarists of All Time” list. As a big fan of the blues and Johnson, in the early 2000’s, Clapton decided to release a blues album, with a twist. The entire album would be covers of Robert Johnson’s songs. As a fan of various types of music, this album intrigued me on many levels. While not a huge blues fan, the idea of one of the top musicians of our time covering another great musician (albeit from another era) was something I had to hear.
The good news was that my father had this in his collection, and I listened to it and was amazed. I’m not sure what’s more incredible, the fact that Clapton created such a solid album from a group of covers or rather that the songs still sound just as emotional and timeless as they were in the 1930’s. Sure they may sound a bit different with today’s recording techniques and with Clapton adding his unique spin to the tunes, but for the most part, it is a good way for the music fan today to hear a style of music that is not very prevalent in popular culture. I can’t think of one negative thing about this album.
Talking to Bassist Ben Money before seeing the band live, he said that Drink Up Buttercup uses lots of keys and bass during their live performance. That is definitely true, but what shocked me when they played was the vocal range of lead singer Jim Harvey. He reminds me somewhat of Claudio Sanchez from Coheed and Cambria. During the show, the band played almost every track off Born and Thrown on a Hook, the band’s debut album on Yep Rock Records released in March.
Now as good as the band was live (I told Money after he came off stage that the band was “different” but in a good way), the question would be if the transition from live to CD would be seamless. Fortunately, the album versions of most of the songs are defiantly deeper then they seemed when seeing them in person. The album begins with “Seasickness Pills” which shows off the bands roots in psychedelic rock. It starts out as a rock song and turns into dueling vocals by Harvey and Money near the end with music in the background reminding me of the ambient sounds of Pink Floyd at times.
The vocals as mentioned were great from a technical standpoint, the guys can really hit the high notes. To me though, the rest of the music, while good, was not great. Listening to the album a few times though, you can definitely tell that this was the band’s debut. The bass work by Money was average, no new ground being broken there. The oddest thing about this band is the background noises; I am not sure what to make of them. They really get creative there, as in concert they used everything from normal drums to tambourines to xylophones. As interesting as that is, it’s almost like they were over-doing it with Mike Cammarata pretty much spending the entire album/concert making almost to many sounds in the background. It detracted from the music. Still, for a debut it was good, and this band could have a bright future ahead of them.
After using guitarist Jack Sherman for their 1983 self-titled debut album, the Red Hot Chili Peppers welcomed back original guitarist Hillel Slovak for Freaky Styley, released in 1985 on EMI Records. Combined with the addition of Slovak and producer George Clinton, the Peppers created the most experimental album in their entire catalog. Mostly based in funk music, Freaky Styley sounds absolutely nothing like the current day Chili Peppers. Dani California, this is not.
Instead, songs like Nevermind and Yertle The Turtle (complete with vocals from the band’s drug dealer at the time) are funky with great bass lines by Flea. As good as his bass playing has been in recent albums, his skills back then where he utilized more slapping/popping techniques have to be heard, there that good.
As mentioned, Hillel Slovak had re-joined the band right before this album was released, and he was a heavy influence on this album. First off, the band sounds much tighter with Slovak playing guitar instead of Sherman. Whether it was the influence of Clinton behind the boards or the fact that he was playing with Flea and singer Anthony Kiedis again will never be known.
What is immediately evident for listeners of this album was that Slovak was an immensely talented guitar player, and Flea was developing into one of the best bassists in rock music. It should also be mentioned that this was the last Chili Peppers album with Cliff Martinez on drums. He played on the first two albums, and in my opinion was underrated as a drummer in the context of the Chili Peppers music.
Freaky Styley is more of a funk/rock record than anything else. The two covers on the album show the versatility of the band, especially the cover of “If You Want Me to Stay” originally by Sly & the Family Stone. The band seemed focused and when comparing the songs on this album to the demos included in the remastered edition, it appears that this album is more indicative of the sound the band wanted as opposed to the self-titled debut.
As the last album with singer Jim Lindberg, Reason to Believe also proves though repeated plays to be the weakest Pennywise album by far. Released though MySpace Records (as a free download on the MySpace website/in stores as a conventional CD on the aforementioned label) domestically and Epitaph Records internationally, it really doesn’t break much new ground for the band. Truthfully, Pennywise’s last three albums could easily be mistaken for one another. Not since “Land of the Free” in 2001 has the band released an album that sounded somewhat fresh.
I have to be honest; the fact that Pennywise has a sound that distinguishes a Pennywise album from one of their contemporaries is a positive thing. It’s also their un-doing. Every song sounds almost too similar from the one that came before it. The first three tracks sound like they are using the same basic beat by drummer Byron McMackin.
The only song on the album that sounds different from all the others is “Confusion”, it is slower and somewhat more melodic. The song proves that McMackin is capable of playing something other than full speed punk rock beats. It still sounds like your typical Pennywise song, only slowed down a bit. This was a good start for the band, but the other 13 songs are carbon-copies of one another.
As for Lindberg, he sounds like he usually does on every other release. He has a good voice for his style, and I have to admit, I like being able to understand every word. That’s a big thing since a lot of “punk” these days includes a singer slurring the words, whereas Lindberg has never done that. Even in the fastest songs, his enunciation is impressive. The lyrics are typical Pennywise, which includes positive progressive ideas and questioning authority’s role in current society.
Even with some of these positives, the negatives far outweigh them and the album is just not worth picking up unless you are a die-hard Pennywise fan. If you do get it, prepare to be disappointed.
Let me get this out of the way to open the review, I am a Buckethead fan. He has produced many great albums over the years spanning a range of genres. To me, Population Override is his best album, and there will be a review of that at some point. Anyway, I have to say, as much as I enjoy most of what he does, this album just doesn’t pull me in. Don’t get me wrong, the guitar playing is great, but at the same time, the record just doesn’t seem like a cohesive unit, more like a collection of songs. It was released in 1999 on CyberOctave Records.
This album is an example of Buckethead’s more metal-influenced side. “Jump Man” opens the album, and it is probably the top song on it. It is pretty much a kind of summery of his career to date. It contains some great guitar work with plenty of studio influenced effects. I haven’t heard the song live, however it probably wouldn’t sound like the studio version. That’s not a bad thing, as he improvises during every show, so no two shows are completely the same.
The most disappointing song for me on the album is definitely “Who Me?” It starts out as a very quiet acoustic guitar piece, not unlike anything off his album Colma. Then it sounds as if he breaks a string, and makes an odd noise that is quite offsetting like a high-pitched “uh”. Very weird and it throws off what has the potential to have been one of the top cuts on the album.
Another song that should be mentioned is “The Ballad of Buckethead”. That song is unlike anything you’re going to hear on any of his other albums. Pretty much it tells the “story of Buckethead” (with vocals by Primus’s Les Claypool) which mentions how he was raised in a cage with chickens. For those not in the know, Buckethead’s website discusses how he was raised with chickens in a cage (hence the song title/lyrics)
The first wave of punk rock had crested by 1981, but around that time a slew of groups came up from the underground practically inventing a new genre “hardcore”. On the cutting-edge of the movement was Black Flag, who went through three singers before Henry Rollins joined the band and soon after Damaged was released on SST Records.
It’s been almost 30 years since the album has come out, and it has lost none of its intensity. Sure there have been albums that were louder (the album is mixed kind of low), but most of them seem like cheap rip-offs of Damaged. It’s funny to look at what passes for “punk rock” these days and compare it to this album as well as other bands from this era. Most bands today are all about looking “punk” and not creating music that brings something new and fresh to the table.
Greg Ginn wrote most of the music, and his guitar playing expanded the parameters of what people considered possible in punk rock. Whereas before, punk was three-chords and that’s about it, Ginn took the music in a totally different direction (more evident on subsequent Black Flag albums) that showed punk could be layered and was more than just young adult’s playing basic riffs and bitching about society.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of anger on this album, and the lyrics at times may seem very clichéd but even at those moments, with Rollins’s delivery of the words, they seem to take on a new meaning. A former ice-cream store manager turned punk rock vocalist, Rollins’s vocal style is clearer than many during that time period, especially when heard live.
Seeing that this album is pretty legendary (it was in Rolling Stone’s Top 500 albums ever), it is pretty hard to pick a top song. For the purpose of this Blog, I am going to go with “Room 13” if for no other reason than the fact that it was the first song I heard from this album.