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Posts Tagged ‘Depeche Mode’

By Joel Francis

Stay strong and stay safe, my friends.

Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002) The final Johnny Cash album released in Johnny Cash’s lifetime is appropriately fixated on mortality. Then again, Cash has been singing about death since he shot a man in Reno to watch him die. The album works more often than it doesn’t. The title song is one of my favorite Cash compositions, funneling the Book of Revelations through a strummy Martin guitar. Similarly, Cash turns Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” into a gospel song. He adds a layer of guilt and gravitas to Sting’s “I Hung My Head” that is absent from the original recording. Best of all, Cash infuses a lifetime of pain and addiction into “Hurt,” completely claiming the song from Nine Inch Nails. Most of the rest ranges from fine to worse. “Tear-Stained Letter” is too jaunty and “Desperado” and “Danny Boy” are unnecessary. Cash isn’t adding anything to those well-worn tunes. Even worse, are covers of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (with Fiona Apple) and “In My Life.” Surprisingly, Cash seems lost on these songs, unsure of what to do with them. The high points more than make up for the milquetoast material – there is usually a little filler on Cash albums, but the result is the least consistent of the American releases to that point.

David Lee Roth – Eat ‘Em and Smile (1986) Diamond Dave is looking to settle scores with his solo debut. He brought in hotshot guitarist Steve Vai and bass player Billy Sheehan to generate one of the highest notes-per-second rock albums in an era that celebrated six-string excess. For better or worse, Roth can’t help being anything other than himself so even this grudge match was delivered with a broad wink and jazz hands. The key word in the album’s title is SMILE. All the songs push the fun factor to 11, but surprisingly nothing feels forced. Of course it’s all junk food, but like getting the extra butter on movie theater popcorn, sometimes you just can’t help it.

Four Tops – Second Album (1965) More often than not, especially in the 1960s, Motown albums were collections of hit singles padded with other recordings. The result was often uneven, but the album tracks on Second Album are pretty great in their own regard. No one can argue with the three Top 10 hits on the first side: “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” “It’s the Same Old Song” and “Something About You.” The second side doesn’t contain any hit singles but doesn’t suffer from it. “Darling, I Hum Our Song” has a great Levi Stubbs vocal performance (really, he’s great on everything here) in a Jackie Wilson-styled song from the period when Berry Gordy was writing hits for Wilson. “Since You’ve Been Gone” first appeared as the b-side of “Standing in the Shadows of Love.” The energy from Four Tops and the Funk Brothers on this track make me think it could have been a hit on its own. Back on the first side, “IS There Anything I Can Do” is one of the few songs on the album not to come from the pen of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. Written by Smokey Robinson and fellow Miracles Ronald White and Pete Moore, it’s not hard to imagine the Miracles performing this song. Surprisingly, as far as I know they never did. Come for the hits on Second Album but stay for the album tracks that illustrate just how special the Four Tops were.

The Damned – The Best of the Damned (compilation) It seems there are almost as many best-of collections for the Damned as there has been lineups. I picked this up at a garage sale because it has many of my favorite songs from their first three albums, back when they were more punk than goth. At some point I might expand my Damned album collection to include those early releases in their entirety, but until then this is a great overview of a tough band.

The Stooges – Fun House (1970) The hype sticker on my album proclaims “Iggy and the boys find their troglodyte groove.” I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. The music on Fun House connects on a primal level, like howling at the moon. In a strange way, it connects with me in the same way as Howlin Wolf or John Lee Hooker – straight in the gut, without any pretense. Like it is hitting the lowest rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (food, shelter, etc.) In other words, the exact opposite of a pompous album review that references Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The song “TV Eye” came from a phrase that Stooges rhythm section Scott and Ron Asheton’s sister used about men leering at her. It forces me to exceed the speed limit every time it comes on in the car. “Down in the Sleep” came to Iggy Pop in the middle of the night. He got out of bed trying to play the power chord he heard in his head, waking his wife in the process. Unlike Ziggy, Iggy didn’t play guitar. Perhaps he never found that chord.

After the opening assault, Fun House changes up a bit but remains just as gripping. Steven Mackay’s saxophone squonks across the second side like the group has just discovered fire for the first time.

This album needs to be played regularly to make sure you are still alive.

The Shins – Wincing the Night Away (2007) The third album from the Albuquerque indie rock quartet was their first release after Natalie Portman proclaimed them life-changing in the film Garden State. There was a lot riding on this release, but frontman and songwriter James Mercer wasn’t afraid to stretch the band’s sound. He sprinkles synthesizers and funk basslines among the familiar chiming guitars and la-la-la melodies. As a result, Wincing the Night Away isn’t as strong as the two Shins albums before it, but it is still very enjoyable.

Willie Nelson – Teatro (1998) Willie Nelson seems game to try just about anything. Reggae album? Sure. Duet with Kid Rock? Why not? Still, the decision to record in an old movie theater with producer Daniel Lanois was a solid nod. Nelson revisits several of his lesser-known songs from the 1960s with harmonica player Mickey Raphael and the marvelous Emmylou Harris on backing vocals. Many of the arrangements are Spanish or Mexican in spirit and give a vibe like we are lost in a marathon of Ennio Morricone films south of the border. Nelson, the other musicians and the songs thrive in this atmosphere, making this a distinctly unique album in Nelson’s vast catalog and also one of his best.

Peter Gabriel – Us (1992) It took Peter Gabriel six years to release a follow-up to his massively successful album So. That’s almost light speed, considering he’s only given us one other album of original material since then. But what an album Us is. Gabriel throws everything from bagpipes to a Russian folk group in the should-have-been-single “Come Talk to Me.” Other songs are just as overstuffed and immaculately excellent. The horn-driven “Kiss the Frog” ranks as one of the greatest extended sexual metaphors of all time. “Blood of Eden” and “Secret World” are passionately romantic. The only dud is “Steam,” aka Son of “Sledgehammer.” There is a lot to unravel in Us, but Gabriel gave his fans plenty of time to process all of it.

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(Above: Muse borrow a bit from Van Halen and then Queen with their performance of “Stockholm Syndrome” during their headlining set on the second day of Kanrocksas.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record 

Note: For my coverage of the Kanrocksas music festival, I decided not to cover any band’s previously reviewed by The Daily Record. Visit the archives to read about theArctic MonkeysBlack KeysFlaming LipsFlogging Molly and Girl Talk. Go here to read a review of Day 1.

Best Coast

The confessional California-based indie rock trio deserved better. Singer Beth Costentino’s intimate songs about frustrated crushes and missed chances wilted under the bright, blazing mid-day sun. Her lo-fi, straight-ahead songs are best suited for small, dark clubs, not 100-degree afternoons.

Costentino and her rhythm section of Bobb Bruno and Ali Koehler made the best of a bad time slot, though. The trio plays with considerably more power than is hinted at on their full-length debut LP and the sound was full despite the lack of bass guitar (Costentino and Bruno both played electric guitar while Koehler held down the beat on his drum kit).

The best moment’s of the 40-minute set were many of the same high points on the record: “Boyfriend,” which came out early, “Bratty B,” “Something In the Way” and the new song “When You Wake Up.” Colorful remnants of Friday’s Flaming Lips set still littered the ground as the band played.

OK GO

OK Go are better known for their videos than their music. Although the indie rock band’s 40-minute set showed they have depth beyond viral treadmill clips, their reputation is also fair.

The four musicians took the stage wearing bright, monotone Crayola suits, invited a fan onstage to play guitar and donned white gloves before performing “What To Do” on hand bells. Lead singer Damian Kulash left the stage to perform a couple songs acoustically, surrounded by the crowd. Upon returning to the stage, Kulash pulled out a digital camera and took a picture of the audience, promising to post it on Facebook so everyone could tag themselves. That, my friends, is marketing 2.0.

Behind the spectacle, the music was catchy and bouncy, filled with touches of New Wave and disco, a la Franz Ferdinand, and elements of the Cars, Cheap Trick and Roxy Music. High points included “White Knuckles,” “Do What You Want “ and “Here It Goes Again,” aka the treadmill song.

A Perfect Circle

The sun was just starting to set as A Perfect Circle took the stage. It was fitting, because this thinking-man’s metal band lives in the shadows and darkness. Each song was an exercise in subtly shifting textures and tempos, making each performance seem longer than it actually was.

One third of the quintet’s dozen songs were covers. “People Are People” opened with a slow, building solo that placed the Depeche Mode hit in a completely new context. Likewise, a minor-key reading of John Lennon’s “Imagine” may have resembled how Mark David Chapman heard the anthem for peace. Songs like “Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums” and “The Outsider” offered one of the weekend’s few opportunities for head banging and get the metal out.

Each of the five band members stood on their own platforms, denying a single visual focus. Much of the pyrotechnics came from guitarist Billy Howerdel and beastly drummer Josh Freese, raised behind him. Singer Maynard James Keenan stood in the back left, out of the spotlight, back to the crowd.  Former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha was elevated in the center.

Take-aways:

The layout provided easy access to several water stations, toilets and dedicated shade areas. The sound at all three stages and the DJ tent was surprisingly clear and aside from the large obligatory sound tents, all of the stages had decent sight lines.

My biggest complaint was the placement of the Ad Astra Stage. While the Stagesaurus Rex and Main Stage faced each other at either end of the main field, travelling to the Ad Astra Stage forced crowds through several gated bottlenecks. This made bouncing between the Ad Astra to the main area take longer than necessary, and forced fans to choose between forgoing the final songs of the current set or missing the opening numbers of the next one.

The Charity Village – a nice forum for local non-profits to introduce themselves to fans – was easily overlooked in the back of one of the vendor tents. It deserved more prominent placement.

All told, the foundation for what I hope will be a longstanding Kansas City summer tradition was in place.

Keep reading:

Review: Lilith Fair

Open wide for Mouth

Review: Smashing Pumpkins, Cake

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