Kaiser Chiefs – “Off With Their Heads”

December 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Music

They’re not blazing a trail. They’re not bringing rock and roll to a new level. They’re not even saving it. They just want some tea, and watch some football. And play some music. And they do it well.

Kaiser Chiefs first caught my fancy a few years ago with their fantastic debut “Employment”, which almost played like a greatest hits album. From beginning to end, the album just moved. And grooved. It was only a few years later that they’d be trying to follow that act, and that can be a recipe for disaster. The sophomore jinx is a cliche but it definitely has its victims. Unforunately with “Yours Truly, Angry Mob”, it claimed another. Frenetic, messy, and almost too much energy, as if they were just trying too hard. I’ll admit the album has grown on me, but it was not what I wanted to hear after “Employment”.

It seems like they listened to the criticism of “Angry Mob” and keyed it down a little for their third, and most relaxed effort, “Off With Their Heads”. It doesn’t begin with a hit single, but the first track “Spanish Metal” does offer a hint to what things are to come: this is not a singles album, like “Employment”. But it’s also not a coked up too-much-off-guitar-riff-anthems mix either. It’s an enjoyable album. Weird to say, but it really is quite laid back, and because of that, it doesn’t have too much on it that will get you jumping out of your seat.

But it also won’t have you rolling your eyes, either. It’s got some songs that stand out, like “Never Miss a Beat” (the album’s first single), and “Like it Too Much”. Somewhere around the 6-8 tracks it seems to settle into background music, but it does pick up around “Always Happens Like That” and it ends very nicely with “Remember You’re a Girl”. Some of it has that throwback 60’s or 70’s feel to it, somewhat like “Employment”.

Overall, it’s not going to blow you away. But at least the Chiefs are headed in the right direction. They’re a fun group, and I appreciate their lyrics (“What did you learn at school? / I didn’t go /Why didn’t you go to school? /I don’t know”) and I think I’ve accepted them as my favorite band that’s come out of the 21st century. They remind me of Blur, for sure–I’m not the first one to make that connection (and unlike some, I’m not making it derisively). There’s a playful innocence about them that I like, something very unpretentious which makes it easier to embrace them and their music, rather than say, The White Stripes or The Strokes.

Though they may just be here for a short time, and offer just a mid afternoon snack rather than a three course meal, at least it’s light and digestible. And it tastes pretty good.

My rating: :-)

Ben Folds – Way to Normal

November 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Music

Ben Folds was a nerdy teenager’s best friend and when you’re going through that awkward phase, songs like “Underground” and “The Battle of Who Could Care Less” helped get through those years with at least a little bit of joy. His band, Ben Folds Five, was a fun group who not only put out some solid albums in the late 90’s, but also put on some of the most fun concerts I’ve ever been to.

They broke up as a band but Ben Folds came out strong in his first solo debut, 2001’s “Rockin’ the Suburbs” (“Fear of Pop” I’m not counting!). He proved he really didn’t need Darren or Robert even though they were great complimentary players. He hit a snag with “Songs for Silverman”, however, a somewhat serious and messy record that really never hit a stride the way that “Rockin the Suburbs” did. And while I don’t think he’s ever matched the emotionally charged “The Luckiest”, he didn’t come close to anything half as meaningful as that song on the entire album.

He seems to have returned to form with his newest album that has a lot more fun, “Way to Normal”, and it’s a welcomed one. Some of this album is full of giddy playfulness, and I honestly think that’s when Folds is at his best. He is a goofball. He proves that with songs like “Effington” and “Dr. Yang”, and there aren’t really many songs I didn’t care for (“Bitch Went Nuts” may have been a little over the top). Another highlight that really is the most somber on the record, “Kylie from Connecticut” also shows he can still show that sensitive side and not overdo it like he did on “Songs for Silverman”. So overall, he has captured some of his former glory, and I hope he can still build on that for years to come.

This is an album you can listen to twice in a row and not feel like it’s gotten repetitive. That’s a pretty good achievement, and this album proves Folds has plenty left to say about life and love, and he still has a sense of humor about it.

My rating: :-)

Beck – Modern Guilt

September 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Music

“Modern Guilt” may be the most inviting Beck album he’s produced, snappier than “Guero”, and dare I say, wispy, clocking in with only 10 tracks and a run time of just under 34 minutes. Though the most ardent Beck fans may pine for the days of “Odelay” or “Sea Change” (his best album, in my opinion), this is definitely accessible and an easy, breezy listen. A few songs stand out, like “Replica”, and “Gamma Ray”, but most blend into a very groovy, sensational half hour of musical bliss.

There are some things missing, however. Nothing on it was as kick ass as “Hell Yes” from “Guero”; and, its fast pace makes it a little too short to really appreciate. Also, if you’re going to include Danger Mouse, make his presence known. I wouldn’t have been aware of it at all had I not read that he was involved on the back of the CD. I was expecting “Modern Guilt” to have one or two clunky 9 minute songs with such a short track listing; but looks like he went with a Weezer approach. I wish Weezer would do that sometime…

All in all, a short review for a short album and a nice effort. Beck’s still got it.

My rating: :-)

Weezer – The Red Album

July 29, 2008 by  
Filed under Music

WARNING: This is a long review. It’s a comprehensive look at Weezer culminating in a review for the Red album. Bear with it, I beg of you!

On a cool October night in 1994, I walked down the streets of my suburban domicile in Illinois, to the only “record” store that was close enough to walk to. I didn’t have driving privileges  yet, and I didn’t feel like bringing my parents into my urge to buy an album from a new band that called themselves Weezer. Their newest hit, “Buddy Holly”, was the reason I bought their debut album, and not “Undone – The Sweater Song” which I thought was a bit too much like a They Might Be Giants throwaway. The store I walked into was aptly named “Venture”, and it was basically your average Target or K-Mart style store. That’s why I put “record” in quotations. It had a music section that included only the most popular bands and singles CDs you could find. I don’t think they even carried The Dead Milkmen or even Sonic Youth. But I think they did carry the “Kids” soundtrack.

I found the CD immediately, with its magnetic deep blue cover, slapping on the band members as if they were clipped from a magazine and pasted individually onto it. I took it home, humming the tune of “Buddy Holly”, and once I got home, I put it on and was immediately in love with it. From the first few acoustic strummy seconds of the infectious “My Name is Jonas”, I was hooked until the final dangling and moody seconds of “Only in Dreams”. This was my new favorite band instantly.

Once it was announced for a new album in 1996, I was the first at the shelves of an actual record store, the day it came out. “Pinkerton”, though, was a different experience. It was definitely a moodier album, sounding more angry and confused than happy and sarcastic, such as the Blue album debut was. It took some time to get into it, but once I did, I loved it just as much and thought this could be one of the most important bands in my life. The lyrics to songs like “Why Bother?” and “Across the Sea” captured my teenage isolation and self-pity (this was before i knew it synonymously  packaged into the phenomenon that was “emo”) and it became more of a personal album, rather than the poppier Blue album, which you could put on at any time and rock out.

During the years after that, Weezer had a falling out, and I was left confused and dejected. My favorite band, who was on such a roll, had disappeared. I was left with two masterpieces, but no real discography except a slew of B-sides that were harder to find than Carmen Sandiego.

Obviously, we know the story from there. They regrouped after Rivers snapped out of it, and released the Green album in 2001. I was somewhat relieved to see the spunky neon green color, looking more like the return to the infectious pop rather than the gloomy emo stuff. I also liked that they went back to the simple routes as far as artwork, and that they were keeping with the “10 Song Limit”. That was where the good times ended. The album felt so rushed and short, it was over just as I was getting into it! The songs themselves fell flat, with few exceptions. It just felt like half an album, and this was after a 5 year wait. I was disappointed that such a dud came after such a hiatus.

“Maladroit” gave better vibes, starting off strong, then fading a bit, only to return to rocking in the end. But again, it still felt like Rivers was holding something back. I couldn’t put my finger on what was missing exactly. Maybe it was the innocence of that first album, and maybe that was gone. Maybe too, I was getting older.

“Make Believe” didn’t really change my thoughts, in fact I was baffled by the sunny-disposition-or-sarcastic-pop-slut-anthem “Beverly Hills”, and disgusted with the cliched simplicity of “My Best Friend” and “Hold Me”, though there were some real bright spots on that album (“Freak Me Out”, “This is Such a Pity”, and “Pardon Me”).

So where was this band going? It just seemed like Rivers was slipping further and further away from what Weezer was all about, which was about fun music and down-and-out, geeky lyrics.

Then came the video for “Pork and Beans”. Easily the best video they’ve put out since “Buddy Holly”, the song that made me fall in love with them in the first place. Again, a bright, infectious pop song that had a “catchy chorus and beat so you can sing along”. I was stoked about the upcoming album, especially since Rivers said it was going to be a bit more “experimental”. Maybe he was broadening himself?

So now comes the review for “The Red Album” finally. I know, I know. I’m sorry, I had to take you down the path to get to the well first. Now, I hope you drink the water.

The album, like “Maladroit”, begins promisingly. “Troublemaker” is that sort of simple catchy pop song that grabs you in a second, and though some of the choice of rhymes are off, and the words are sometimes really stupid, it’s a return to that old style Weezer, the kind we all wanted to keep hearing over and over again. The second song, “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”, made me believe this album could be the greatest Weezer album of all time. Its range, its “Bohemian Rhapsody” feel to it, and hilarious lyrics, just blew me away and I was convinced this was at least one of Weezer’s best songs ever written. Then of course is “Pork and Beans”, clicking right along, followed by the strangely poetic and likable “Heart Songs” (though some might argue, cliched simplicity kind of like “My Best Friend” style). Right there, though, the album stops being fun and starts getting off track. “Everybody Get Dangerous”–I have no idea where this came from. Was this a leftover from “We Are All On Drugs”? I thought it’d be fun to go to the ironical way, but I couldn’t find it anywhere in the song, except maybe the line about riding in his parents’ Taurus. I just thought it could have really gone for it, and instead just seemed to half-ass it. The song is followed by “Dreamin'” which gets you back in the groove a bit, but it is only stifled by the song that follows it, and that’s where the record comes to a screeching halt.

When did Weezer hire Daniel Powter to write a song for them? This is Brian Bell? The mysterious one, as I had known him, he was always the quiet guitarist, had a cool look to him. He should have kept it that way. If this is the kind of style he does, I don’t want anything to do with it. “Thought I Knew” sounds like something you’d find on Radio Disney. It’s something the Jonas Brothers would do. Not bleeding Weezer! I couldn’t believe this atrocity.

After that is “Cold Dark World” which I can’t really say much about because I’m still feeling the after effects of “Thought I Knew”. Seriously! WTF? TFW! I had to stop the record for a few minutes. I listened to “Cold Dark World” again. Not bad. It was all right. At least it’s Rivers singing again. That’s a good sign.

And then…what the…what’s this–“Automatic”. What is this, the Goo Goo Dolls? Who is this? Did someone switch bands while they were mixing The Red Album? Some sort of mismash happened at Interscope? WHAT HAPPENED TO WEEZER? Someone, tell me how this album went from “Pork and Beans” to this GARBAGE? How does this happen? This is the worst tangent in modern rock history! I’m all for being eclectic, one of my favorite bands is Ween for God’s sake–but this is some kind of sick joke on being eclectic. I wanted to throw the album out the window!

But, finally, the album settles in to a nicer, “Only in Dreams” sounding end-song, with “The Angel and the One”. Again, this song felt like an old friend coming in for a visit, after being tormented by hours and hours of being cooped up in a one bedroom apartment being forced to listen to Billboard’s Top 100 Radio Hell Songs. But by this time, it’s too late. You already gave me “Thought I Knew” (still recuperating from that song) and “Automatic”. Should have maybe started the album out with those duds, and followed it up with the good stuff, or just left them off completely. I don’t know.

The bonus songs are forgettable as well, except possibly “Miss Sweeney”. The others are drab, and–Jesus, who is this on “Pig”? God! I thought we were done with this. But no, then comes “King”, sung by James Blunt I think.

All in all, Weezer still seems to be searching for something. Something they have lost. It’s sad because this was the first band that I got into from the start. I followed them since album number one. And really, they haven’t been consistent enough to be considered one of the great bands of my generation. They’ve had some outstanding songs (a lot of which are B-sides, like “Suzanne” and “Mykal and Carlie”) and some outstanding videos, and 2 outstanding albums. But they have also had dud after dud and continue to be enigmatic in what they’re after. I guess I still have a sentimental devotion to them. Again, I got The Red Album the day it came out, and was giddy to listen to it.

But like so many things as you get older, it’s a disappointment. I wonder what we’ll see out of Weezer next. I should be able to say, it’s something I look forward to. But I just have this bad feeling it’s going to sound less like Weezer, and more like something that I don’t want anything to do with.

My rating: :???: