When U2 Meets Willie Nelson

I was on the road all day.  I played Billy Bob’s in Forth Worth for a Holiday celebration.  I didn’t have much time to contemplate anything as we spent most of the day traveling, though the night sky was filled the entire way home with fireworks and I did see my first Independence Day drone!

A couple of my friends went to Willie Nelson’s picnic, which I have never had the chance to go to.  I have always found this song to be beautiful. It’s a strange pairing, but as far as I’m concerned it works completely.  It’s like someone recorded a cowboy ballad for a Michael Mann film noir.

7 Great New Albums By Career Artists

I am sorry my posts have been few and far between since reaching Australia.   This really has more to do with the fact that I left my computer behind more than anything.  I couldn’t justify traveling to the other side of the globe with it when I am only in country for 10 days.  Writing on one’s phone isn’t quite as appealing. 

I spent the afternoon walking around Brisbane exploring the city and taking pictures.  One of the albums I listened to was Weezer’s newest.  It struck me that not only have a bunch of great artists that have been around 20 or more years released albums this year, but that many have released records showing that they are still at the top of their game.  It has been a really great year for music so far.  Here are some records that came out this year that any music fan should own.   Also, if you are a fan of any of the following artists, but lost track somewhere along the way, I believe all of these records belong in a best of for each artist (In no particular order):

1.  Morrissey:  World Peace is None of Your Business

2.  Jackson Browne:  Standing in the Breach

3.  Marianne Faithfull:  Give My Love to London

4.  Leonard Cohen:  Popular Problems

5.  Bryan Ferry:  Avonmore

6.  U2:  Songs of Innocence

7.  Weezer:  Everything Will Be Alright in the End

Morrissey and Leonard Cohen have really never been in artistic decline.  Marianne Faithfull has always put out good work, but as a complete album I think this is her best since Broken English.   Jackson Browne’s Time the Conqueror was phenomenal, but before that album, ever since the 90’s, his records were too slick overall.  This new album is as good as his 70’s work, but updated for modern concerns.  I think this is U2’s best complete work since their 90’s trilogy, which has always been a favorite period of mine.  Although I really love Bryan Ferry’s Olympia,  I think this new one is front to back stronger.  I also think this is his best work since definitely the 80’s and probably even since Roxy Music’s Avalon.   As for Weezer, I felt that Hurley got a bum wrap, even if the production was a bit too slick, but this is without a doubt their best since their classic Pinkerton.  I would even put it ahead of the Green Album.  

Not only are these artists putting out vital work in relationship to their own careers, but I have trouble thinking of many new artists that have put out albums this year that are as front to back strong as these releases.  

I still need to get around to hearing Chuck D’s new album, as well as the Wu-Tang Clan’s.   I am also excited to hear the new AC/DC album that comes out next week. 

Iris

I’ve been so wrapped up in other albums, that I haven’t spent much time listening to it lately, but I really do like the new U2 album.  I know they got a lot of shit for it from certain quarters, especially how it was released, but it is flat out a collection of great songs.  I haven’t been that interested in the work they have put out in the last decade, other than a song here or there.  However, I think that this is their best album since Pop.  I find this song about Bono’s mother particularly moving.  There is a part of the song where he builds the vocal upwards with an ascending melody towards the end and it gets me every time.

The Misfits Halloween

In honor of October and the approaching holiday, I thought I would post this song from the Misfits, one of my favorite punk bands.  A great deal of The Misfits work sounds like it was recorded in a trash can.  However, I view this as actually adding properly to the atmosphere of their work as their lyrics often deal with B-horror movie themes.  Their recordings also have never dated because of this.  A great deal of the time, although there are exceptions like U2’s Achtung Baby, music that is recorded with the latest technology dates the fastest.  Meanwhile, music that sounds primitive often never dates.  I am talking strictly from a recording perspective.  The Misfits were always one of the best punk bands to me because they had a singer with a truly great voice in Glenn Danzig.  The music could be very aggressive at times, but sometimes, although he could scream with the best of them, he would croon, which created a great juxtaposition.  They are one of the bands I listened to as a teenager that has never gone out of rotation in my record collection.

Johnny Marr and Jackson Browne

There are two albums that I am really looking forward to that come out this week.  The first is Johnny Marr’s Playland album.  The single Easy Money is up above.  This album comes out October 6th. On October 7th Jackson Browne’s Standing in the Breach comes out.  With U2 and Leonard Cohen last month, this has been a really great fall for music fans.  I need to review the Leonard Cohen album at some point.  His work is multilayered, so I want to give it time to sink in.  Also, on the road Black Flag and Bad Brains have been consuming a lot of time as that music seems to fit my state of mind.  I’ll try to get around to Leonard Cohen next week.

Songs of Innocence: A Second Look

Songs of Innocence Review

The above link is a really great write up for the new U2 album from David Fricke.  I know there are lots of people that say Rolling Stone Magazine unconditionally rubber stamp everything U2 does, but I think Fricke really understands this record and why it is good.  The more I listen to the record the more I like it.  I think it is their best record since Pop, which I have always found to be criminally underrated.

The song Iris from their new album is the album’s beating heart.  It is a song about Bono’s mother who died when he was a young.  It’s heartbreaking and life affirming at the same time.

The Problem With Pitchfork

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I read reviews at Pitchfork, even though I rarely agree with them.  Pitchfork at least takes reviewing albums somewhat seriously in an age where reviews seem more like tweets than actual criticism.  More and more magazines and sites seem to be mistaking a half a paragraph as enough information to base an informed purchasing decision on.  I’ll at least give Pitchfork their due in that they put out an awful lot of longer form criticism.  The problem, however, is that most of the opinions you encounter there are ones that you can pretty much guess in advance, especially when it comes to rock music.  Their writers seem to disparage anything where actual songwriting is involved.  The more an album is a collection of weird sounds, and the less it actually features well crafted songs, the better chance it has of being highly rated.

The thing is, really great songs are hard as fuck to write.  We actually need more artists that are actually saying something in a way that reaches people.  I love all kinds of music as long as I feel an artist is doing something that comes direct from their soul and they are not just following trends.

Their is a band called The Knife that I like.  Their last album, Shaking the Habitual, was a really interesting record.  It dealt in avant-garde soundscapes much more than it dealt in pop songs.  If it were a painting it would be more of a Jackson Pollock than a beautiful landscape.  But do you know how many times I actually listened to the entire record in one sitting?  I haven’t once.  It’s pushing the envelope and that’s important, but it’s not really enjoyable other than as an intellectual exercise.  As a musician I really appreciate that kind of thing, but it’s a hard thing to love.  Pitchfork gave it an 8.4 and called it the best new music.  If you read the artwork that comes with the album you know that The Knife have a political agenda, but you would be hard pressed to really get that agenda by actually listening to the music.

Meanwhile the new Morrissey record is really subversive politically and in a way that anyone listening could get.  It’s because he uses the form of the pop song as his platform.  There are intelligent lyrics that tackle everything from gender politics to animal cruelty, but they are all delivered with melodies that are undeniably catchy.  His new album World Peace is None of Your Business has some really interesting arrangements.  The album starts with tribal percussion and a didgeridoo.  I’m Not a Man, perhaps the most subversive pop song that I have heard in some time, with an incredible melody, even starts with a minute and a half of strange noises.  What I’m getting at is that this isn’t simple guitar, bass, drums stuff, although I love traditional rock n roll as much as anything.  But I can’t help but think that Morrissey was punished a couple points by Pitchfork because he actually dared write memorable melodies.  His album was awarded a 5.9.

The new U2 album got only 4.6 points.  I wouldn’t say that the new U2 album, Songs of Innocence, is one of their top three albums, but it’s really good.  Every song features really strong melodies and great playing from musicians that play as a true band.  I personally like it more than probably any record they have put out since Pop.  I think Bono as a lyricist was at his peak between The Joshua Tree and Pop.  However this new album has songs that deal with IRA car bombs and the death of his mother.  It’s not exactly bubblegum.  But out of the three albums it is the most traditional in terms of writing and arrangements.  This is a rock n roll band album by and large.  But anyone that has ever written songs with things like guitars and melodies will know that what they are doing on this record is not the kind of thing that is easy.  It would be much easier to get a bunch of weird instruments and make an atonal soundscape.

I want a world where I can hear both.  I like that I can flick on my iPod and shuffle between The Knife and U2.  Out of the three records I like the Morrissey one the best as I think it is the one that straddles the gap between the intellectual and emotional the best.  But out of the other two, I can tell you flat out I am going to listen to the U2 one way more.  It’s more emotionally resonant.  And also, even though it seems more traditional, creating great songs is actually the harder magic trick.

I feel lucky though that as a music fan I don’t have to choose.  There is different music for different occasions.  Everyone has slightly different tastes and opinions.  However, I can’t help but feel that Pitchfork tilts the scales too far in one direction.  I feel like our mainstream culture has been dumbed down too much. If you look at the music of the 60’s you will see that this wasn’t always the case.  There was a time when music could be popular and important.  Now Pitchfork alone isn’t responsible for this.  A great deal of it has to do with other aspects of our free market culture run amuck.  But sometimes I wish the writers over at Pitchfork would realize that intelligence and subversive thought don’t necessarily have to exist apart from accessibility.