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Born This Way (Lady Gaga)

In albums, current listenings on May 31, 2011 at 10:00 am

Born This Way (Lady Gaga, May 23, 2011)

Lady Gaga promised her fans (aka Little Monsters) the best album of the decade when she was amping people up for the release of her second studio album, Born This Way. Is it the best album of the decade? I’m not sure that it is. That’s the way I’m leaning. But, I will say that this album is a powerful dance-pop-hard rock album with its ups and downs.

Track Listing

  1. Marry The Night
  2. Born This Way
  3. Government Hooker
  4. Judas
  5. Americano
  6. Hair
  7. Scheibe
  8. Bloody Mary
  9. Black Jesus – Amen Fashion
  10. Bad Kids
  11. Fashion Of His Love
  12. Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)
  13. Heavy Metal Lover
  14. Electric Chapel
  15. The Queen
  16. You and I
  17. The Edge Of Glory
  18. Born This Way (Country Road Version)
  19. Judas (DJ White Shadow Remix)
  20. Marry The Night (Zedd Remix)
  21. Scheibe (DJ White Shadow Remix)
  22. Fashion Of His Love (Fernando Garibay Remix)
  23. Born This Way (Jost & Naaf Remix)

Gaga repeatedly said that this album would be full of sledgehammer beats, and that is definitely true. Start to finish, Born This Way has intense dance tracks mated with a broad range of other genres – opera (‘Government Hooker’, ‘Bloody Mary’), hard rock (on multiple tracks, including ‘Born This Way’ and ‘Electric Chapel’), 80s pop (again, on lots of the tracks), maybe even some latin influences (‘Americano’).

I was really interested in listening to this album to see what kind of music Lady Gaga would create for her second album, especially with higher and higher expectations of her, which come naturally as she tries new things creatively. I have a feeling she would probably say that it doesn’t matter what people think about her new album, because its an album of self-expression and embracing your true nature and who you are. Its a powerful message to put into sledgehammer dance tracks, but really, there’s nothing wrong with that, although I wouldn’t say its something I’ve heard a lot of in the past. On first listen, I didn’t like this album – there are cheesy parts (including the saxophone on ‘The Edge Of Glory’ – I’m sorry, I just don’t like it) and some of the themes (self-love, self-expression, sexuality, religious references) feel a bit much – a little repetitive. But when you listen to a few tracks at a time, they are engaging, unique and for the most part, memorable.

The so-called “Special Edition” is a full album of 23 songs, and that sledgehammer beat drives right until the end. It starts off powerful with ‘Marry The Night’ and captures you with a few ballad-like lines before the driving dance tracks  starts and continues for the rest of the album. Its a great amp-up at the beginning of the album. Throughout the entire disc, there’s this synth guitar sound that is featured on a lot of the tracks, and I guess it kind of creates a throughline that connects tracks together, even though so many are distinctly different.

The title track, ‘Born This Way’ is a huge dance tune with a lot going on, and at first it sounded really chaotic to me, and I thought there was too much noise happening. Now, I think its a really well-orchestrated track with an impressive mix of sounds, including 80s dance style beats and melodies with rock elements, all underscoring powerful lyrics about self-love and self-expression.

I dig this album because its very different from the pop or dance music out there right now. Gaga has completed an album that cross-breeds genres and tops it all of with interesting and very intentional themes. I don’t think the lyrics on this album are incredible, in fact there are some parts that are just cheesy, like the beginning of ‘Americano’ – it just doesn’t sit right with me. There is something that is unnatural about it. But the rest of the track is really catchy, and was even based on an Arizona immigration law, if I’m not mistaken.

This is the thing: there are some parts of the album that have cheesy moments, and there are other parts that are kick ass, catchy, unique dance tunes that stick in your head and make you want to move.

I don’t think all the tracks on this album should be on the album. ‘Black Jesus – Amen Fashion’, ‘Fashion Of His Love’ and ‘Electric Chapel’ are okay tracks, but the other tracks are all so high-intensity, and unique that these three just don’t seem to cut it for me. They are missing the diverse sound that the other tracks on the album have. But Lady Gaga doesn’t do things by accident. She has a very specific mission and is clear about what she wants to achieve through her music. So if she included tracks on this album, I think its safe to say she feels they are necessary.

Born This Way is different from The Fame or The Fame Monster, and its a good thing. If it was the same, it would just be catchy pop-dance tunes. Her new album pushes the boundaries of music a little bit further and challenges the mainstream music industry as a result. I think its great. Not to mention, she worked with a team of incredible collaborators, including RedOne and DJ White Shadow, who has a few remixes on this album as well.

If you are looking for some unique new dance tunes, check this album out. It’ll probably grow on you. You might have to skip over some songs (I sure did). But there are still quite a few that I really like.

Lady Gaga sings her heart out on all these tracks, and they all have a clarity that is different from the last album. Gaga is singing more honestly and comfortably about the subjects she wants to and her love for her music shines through the music.

So is it the album of the decade?  I don’t think so. But I do think that Born This Way is a landmark album in pop culture just like Lady Gaga herself. The album is a reflection of Gaga – its unique, its honest, its committed to something powerful, and it does not ask for your acceptance, it just wants you to enjoy it by letting lose and being yourself.

Check it out, and let me know what you think!

#135 – Greatest Hits (Elton John)

In 150-125, Top 150 on May 30, 2011 at 10:00 am

Greatest Hits, Elton John (November 8, 1974)

Let’s get real, this album kicks ass…if you are an Elton John fan. Or if you are just ready for a little nostalgia. This album is packed with some of Elton John’s top ten hits and I recognized all of them except one two…”Border Song” and “Honky Cat”.

Track Listing

Side One

  1. Your Song
  2. Daniel
  3. Honky Cat
  4. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
  5. Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting
Side Two
  1. Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long Long Time)
  2. Candle in the Wind
  3. Bennie and the Jets
  4. Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
  5. Border Song
  6. Crocodile Rock
All of the tracks on this album were top tens on the charts, with the exception of “Border Song”, but so I’ve found, it was the first single of Elton’s that made it to the chart, and as such, is speculated as the reason for inclusion.
The album is fun, and it really showed me that Elton John has a broader range than I knew. Look, I’m not a huge Elton John fan (it just reminds me of when I was young, and on Saturdays and Sundays driving around looking at open houses with my family…which I really did love, but I don’t know…he’s just not my thing).
This album gives you a wicked taste of the diversity and power with which Elton John performs. Live, I’m sure he’s great. He rocks out – he belts his tunes, he pounds the keys, and he’s created unique songs with catchy choruses, bridges, and some sections you just can’t help but dance to or sing to. Also, I have to say I didn’t know that “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” was Elton John. What the hell!? How did I not know this? It’s a great tune, and that can’t be denied. This song is kick ass, and I love it. It makes me want to let loose. Its a good road trip song, and a great song to sing at the top of your lungs with friends.
So this album is about 45 minutes long, and its just good, simple, classic pop-rock fun with Elton and friends (ha). You can’t help but enjoy it.  What does each song make you think of? Any memories associated with it?
“Benny and the Jets” makes me think of vacuuming my house on Saturday afternoons (a weekly chore in the Paron household when I was young), with Easy Rock Q97.5 playing, and this tune blaring out of the speakers, and me dancing like a fool…I guess more swaying back and forth with oompf…as chorus comes in: “B-b-b-b-benny and the Jetsssssssssss” and then that great piano riff after. Rad!
So enjoy this album – it might not be your favourite album in the world, but no doubt, Elton John is mega-influential musician, songwriter and artistic personality in pop culture and rock and roll music.
Enjoy!

#136 – Tim (The Replacements)

In 150-125, Top 150 on May 27, 2011 at 10:00 am

Tim (The Replacements, October 1985)

This album was released two years before I was released, yet somehow makes me feel like I’m in high school rebelling against my parents and having a blast while doing it. The beginning of this album draws me in though, and I’m not sure why. I picture myself hitting the road (somewhere in Arizona or Nevada, clearly). And driving fast. In a comfortable. And possibly myself, or someone else standing up screaming at the top of my lungs. There’s definitely this sense of doing whatever you want, right at the start of the album with the opening track, “Hold My Life”, letting lyrics like “If I want, I could dye…my hair” establish to mood. But there also seems to be this fine line between losing control, and getting control (“Hold my life/because I just might lose it”).

Track Listing

  1. Hold My Life
  2. I’ll Buy
  3. Kiss Me On The Bus
  4. Dose Of Thunder
  5. Waitress In The Sky
  6. Swinging Party
  7. Bastards Of Young
  8. Lay It Down Clown
  9. Left Of The Dial
  10. Little Mascara
  11. Here Comes A Regular
Track 2, “I’ll Buy” jumps in with a more punk/alternative-rock element to it, but again its got this theme of free-spiritedness and being being able to do anything you want – travelling, buying nice things. It also has this really classic sound to it, and the chorus makes you want to sing along.
There’s a familiarity to this album that I’m not sure if I can place. I guess it reminds me of a mix between R.E.M.’s alternative guitar with some of Elton John’s percussion and that kind of classic rock sound. It’s fun though. This album just continues to encourage screaming at the top of your lungs in wide-open spaces. In other words, its fun, its a bit rebellious, its playful and its classic. Tracks like “Bastards Of Young” and “Dose of Thunder” remind me of bands like The Rolling Stones and Starship, respectively (“We built this city on rock and roll…”)…and that’s cool!
Then there’s “Waitress In The Sky” which has the Summer feeling of The Beach Boys, combined with a guitar-drum lead-in that makes me think that Meatloaf might start singing “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”…but doesn’t.
“Left Of The Dial” is a clear throwback to small-town bands playing small-town concerts. I also read that it pays homage to the fact that college radio stations typically are on the left side of the radio dial, and so this is actually considered to be somewhat of an anthem to college radio stations. Again, cool!
I hadn’t heard of The Replacements before a week ago. Had you? I wasn’t really looking forward to hearing this album, but I was pleasantly surprised. The album bursts with rebellious, youthful accounts of various experiences like convincing a young lady to let you steal a kiss from her, and the attraction and flirtatiousness of airline flight attendants, but it also has an element of determination and strength that pierces through the rest of the fun and party-life themes.
Check this album out. If you don’t know The Replacements, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Rome (Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi)

In albums, current listenings on May 26, 2011 at 10:00 am

Rome (Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi)

I first heard about this album a few weeks ago, although apparently its been in the making for five years. Danger Mouse is an artist who is always doing unique and unconventional work, and this time, he has partnered with Daniele Luppi, an Italian composer to create Rome, which also features Norah Jones and Jack White. Talk about an interesting combination.

Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, has been doing a huge amount of work since his breakout in 2004 (which I just heard about). He apparently released an album, titled The Grey Album, which combined acapellas from Jay-Z’s The Black Album with instrumentation from The Beatles’ The White Album. And of course, black plus white equals grey. Interesting! I’ll have to give that a listen! He’s also very well known for partnering with Cee-Lo Green in Gnarls Barkley, releasing two albums and great singles such as “Crazy”, and “Gone, Daddy, Gone”. Most recently, he’s worked with the lead singer of The Shins on the self-titled album by Broken Bells, which is another great album to listen to if you are looking for new music. Oh, and I forgot to mention, he’s also produced the most recent Gorillaz album, produced for Beck, won a Grammy for producing The Black Keys’ newest album, Brothers and is now working on the new U2 album. Uhh…okay! And now, this piece of artistry called Rome is finally released.

You can see from the album art alone that Rome looks like a film. “Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi Present: Rome, Starring Jack White & Norah Jones”. The album has cinematic elements – its orchestral and sounds like it could accompany a film. Its got an Italian-inspired sound, with other elements of a bad-ass, Quintin Tarrantino-esque, Wild Wild West scene. Especially the opening track, “Theme Of Rome”. Can’t you just see two bandits walking out into the middle of a barren, desert town, preparing to duel? I sure can. And that’s because that’s part of the inspiration!

This album features musicians who used to play the scores of Italian composer Ennio Morricone, and is an interesting listen. There is a mix of a classic style which pays homage to the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s, and also more contemporary sounds, like the vocal work of Norah Jones and Jack White on six of the tracks (three per singer).

To top all of this off, Brian and Daniele toured around Italy (Rome, in particular) to find vintage recording equipment and instruments to use for this album. It was recorded straight to tape – analog. And the best part? Most of the equipment, they traded bottles of wine for instead of buying it.

Bon Iver (Bon Iver)

In albums, current listenings on May 25, 2011 at 10:00 am

Bon Iver, Bon Iver (released June 21, 2011)

This is a much anticipated album for many people, including myself. The success of Bon Iver’s first album, For Emma, Forever Ago, was immediate. It was released in February of 2008 and won immediate praise from radio stations and music critics across the globe. It was also an unintentional album, in a way, because the founder, Justin Vernon, spent the winter months in his father’s cabin, planning on recovering from an illness. Instead, he began to write music using what was available to him. Now, Vernon has other band members who play with him and harmonize with his well-known falsetto.

Due to the success of Bon Iver’s first album (excluding their EP, Blood Bank), Vernon has now worked with a number of artists, including Kanye West on his track “Lost In The Woods” from My Dark, Twisted Fantasy, in which West sampled the track “Woods” from For Emma, Forever Ago. Vernon also provided vocals on “Monster” (Kanye West), has played with Peter Gabriel, and worked on music for the movie New Moon (part of the Twilight saga).

Now, Bon Iver is finally releasing their second full-length album and it is beautiful. Well, in a month. But it was leaked last week on iTunes for a brief period of time. Lucky us!

Bon Iver has the same characteristically beautiful, resonant harmonies, and at the same time, the vocal simplicity of For Emma, Forever Ago…but its even better. Its more refined, its more distinguished. Its like sipping a fine wine. There is a different fullness to the sound but it still maintains clarity, if not more than the last record.

Each track is meant to represent a place, and as such, the tracks are named after different places, with the exception of the end track, “Beth/Rest”.

Track Listing

  1. Perth
  2. Minnesota, WI
  3. Holocene
  4. Towers
  5. Michicant
  6. Hinnom, TX
  7. Wash.
  8. Calgary
  9. Lisbon, OH
  10. Beth/Rest
I feel like the best way to go through this album is track by track, because sometimes I have no frigging clue what the songs are about. And I’m not complaining about that. I love the fact that the lyrics are ambiguous (at least to me). I love that they are beautifully descriptive, inventive, and lyrical…but also unintentionally mysterious. There’s a sense of  wonder and mysteriousness in the lyrics which, combined with the music, infuses waves of feeling – between nothingness, and recognizing a great deal of emotions across the entire spectrum (am I even making sense anymore?).
So, here’s what I’ll do. I’ve already listened to the album several times (amazing) and I will go through track by track and write my thoughts about each of them. Let me know yours!
1. Perth
Begins with a beautiful and clear electric guitar which drops out as the marching-beat of a snare drum is paired with Vernon and company’s falsetto voices and harmonies. Then, in a wonderful, symphonic moment, the guitar comes back in and joins up with the vocals, which imitate the riff of the guitar at the beginning. Beautiful. This track progresses and expands from the initial guitar riff and spectacularly signals that this album has a more developed sound than For Emma, Forever Ago.
 
2. Minnesota, WI
“Perth” bleeds seamlessly into “Minnesota, WI” – not in real life (clearly), but on the album.  A more ethereal guitar with some reverb takes us into this track, with a driving timpani-like drum (I don’t know what that is) and combined with an opposing acoustic guitar. and again, it all drops out except for synths and their vocal styles. Cue: sweet sassy saxophone harmonies in the background. There are a lot of instruments in this song, and they just weave in and out quietly.  I’m not sure what this track is about but its beautiful. (“never gonna break/never gonna break/all at its seams/swallows swelling for the beams”)
 
3. Holocene
Simple acoustic guitar opens this song and it seems to be a return to the more simple sound of Bon Iver’s earlier music. This track has sweet overtones of Summer and peacefulness but the lyrics imply an emotional realization, whether its positive or not, I’m not sure though. (“…and at once I knew I was not magnificent./high above the highway aisle”)
 
4. Towers 
I feel like after 4 bars of intro, folk-country-inspired drums will kick into an upbeat ballad about sweet love. It doesn’t though. Well, at about 1m45s some drums come in how I thought they might. But not quite an upbeat ballad about sweet love. So far, this album has so many subtle layers to each track, yet they sound so precise and simple. Its done really effectively. This is another ambiguous song – its about love (I think). but what kind of love? I don’t know. Something about someone being like a tower and lots of references to climbing. Hmmm. What do you think about this one?
5. Michicant
A few notes on the guitar, a brief pause, and then immediately in with harmonized vocals. This track has a slow and sullen feeling to it. Bon Iver has a knack for keeping momentum and moving, flowing energy in their slow and emotionally-provocative ballads. In this tune, they use an effect that sounds like the bell that rings when you enter a small convenience store, and then start to add in other effects and they build as the song moves forward. There’s an oom-pah-pah happening in the background. (“love can hardly leave the room/with your heart”)
6. Hinnom, TX
Distant voices mixed with resounding echoes  on a simple synth riff drive the beginning of this tune. And also a different and contrasting non-falsetto voice. Shall I call it baritone? I think I should. And that’s all I’ve got to say about this track.
7. Wash.
A simple piano riff starts this track, followed by Vernon’s falsetto a few bars into the orchestration to this track, which I am assuming is referring to Washington. In this track, they’re singing in reference to a woman named Claire, and when they mention her name, there’s something very distinct about it – it’s a deeper tone, and its followed up with a quick burst of strings which punctuate her mention. And sorry, but again, I don’t know what to make of these lyrics. The string-orchestration in this track is a beautiful addition though.
8. Calgary
Thanks for the Canadian mention, guys! This track starts with a synth and then quickly adds vocal melodies. It also picks up with the most pop-like drum track on the album. Maybe that’s why this is the first single released from the album? Who knows. This could be totally off base, but it seems like there’s a sense of release in this track, followed by a new-found peace. (“wake up to your starboard bride/ who goes in and stays inside/ oh the demons come, they can subside.”)
9. Lisbon, OH
Begin this track with a higher pitched noise – maybe saw wave style? Maybe feedback? and combine that with bits and blips and a melody that slowly, over one minute, resolves into one simple synth chord, and you have “Lisbon, OH”.
10. Beth/Rest
So Lisbon leads directly into “Beth/Rest”. When I heard this song last night, I said to my girlfriend “It sounds like Michael Bolton is about to come in at any moment”. The beginning of this track is borderlining on a late 80s/early 90s riff on the keys, but then the vocals come in and…oh wait, maybe it IS Michael Bolton with auto-tune? No I’m kidding. But I’m not kidding about auto-tune. It sounds like Vernon and the Bon Iver boys loved hearing their tunes mixed with Kanye’s, and also loved the success of “Woods” and decided to reprise it. But complete that with some guitar riffs that sound like a love-scene from Ghost, and add in a bit of saxophone. That’s this song! Except there is something about it that has more of an edge than that. It’s good. It’s really good, and it’s captivating. And it doesn’t actually feel like it’s from the late 80s early 90s, but it does pay homage to it. There is a deep, deep meaning to this song, which I can’t quite make out. Again. But one of the lyrics (which I managed to track down on the Jagjaguwar website) is “Aren’t we married!?”, so there is definitely something serious happening. It sounds like it should be a breakup or love-troubles.
So there you have it. That’s my take on the album. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the lyrics. About the development of their sound. About anything, really. Please feel free to contribute.

#137 – The Chronic (Dr. Dre)

In 150-125, Top 150 on May 24, 2011 at 12:00 pm

The Chronic (Dr. Dre, December 15, 1992)

The Chronic, number 137 on the RS150, is Dr. Dre’s debut solo album after leaving N.W.A. and Eazy-E’s ‘Ruthless Records’ due to financial disputes.

Released in December of 1992, The Chronic was met with (mostly) critical-acclaim and is often hailed as one of the best hip-hop recordings of all time. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dog teamed up on this album – Snoop Dogg makes appearances on most of the tracks, if not all.

Track Listing

  1. The Chronic (Intro)
  2. Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Chelebratin’)
  3. Let Me Ride
  4. The Day the Niggaz Took Over
  5. Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang
  6. Deeez Nuuuts
  7. Lil’ Ghetto Boy
  8. A Nigga Witta Gun
  9. Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat
  10. The $20 Sack Pyramid
  11. Lyrical Gangbang
  12. High Powered
  13. The Doctor’s Office
  14. Stranded on Death Row
  15. The Roach [The Chronic Outro]
  16. Bitches Ain’t Shit
First off, if you didn’t know, ‘chronic’ is a name for high-quality marijuana, which the album clearly salutes with the name, and also the album art (which is based on the Zig-Zag rolling papers packaging – thanks Wikipedia). The entire album is laced with insults to Eazy-E, Ruthless Records, and a positive outlook for Dre and his new record label – and of course, a lot of sex and guns too.
The first track, ‘The Chronic (Intro)’ introduces Dre’s Death Row Records label  and also slams Eazy-E and his label (“P.S. Fuck Mr. Warkentatoo/a.k.a. Jerry and Eazy”) makes a clear point of dissociating from them. And off and on that continues throughout the entire album.
This album has a really distinct sound to it, which is what stands out the most. There are funky, synth bass lines mixed with guitar riffs or simple synth chords on the high end that drone a melody over Dre and Snoop’s lyrics. And apparently, this combination of the funky bass line and the high-end synths are known as G-Funk, which is a break out from gangsta rap. This album definitely has a different funky element to it than N.W.A. had on Straight Outta Compton, and its cool to hear such a difference.
Then there’s a track like “The Doctor’s Office”, which is literally one minute long and its just the audio track of Dre and another woman going at it in the doctor’s office. It’s not actually a song, but its just kind of hilarious to me that this kind of stuff makes it onto albums. But I guess not, considering that gangsta rap and the subsequent G-Funk is heavily influenced by street life, which includes sex and guns.
At the end of the day, the beats that Dre created for this album are good. Really good. They are funky, crisp, and balanced with Snoop Dogg’s laid back delivery of the sometimes-violent lyrics.
Funny, I don’t really know what else to say about this album. I’m not great at analyzing albums like this, so its hard to say much more. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you give this a listen though! Its definitely got a clear and distinctly different, advanced sound from Dre’s last projects with N.W.A. Check it out!

#138 – Rejuvenation (The Meters)

In 150-125, Top 150 on May 21, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Oh yeah, this groovy album by The Meters makes me feel gooood. I’m just saying!

I thought I knew The Meters from somewhere, but had no idea where. When I got their album into my iTunes I realized that one of their tunes, ‘Liver Splash’, was on Jack Johnson’s Thicker Than Water soundtrack, and so I already knew The Meters! Incroiable!

So damn, this album has got some groovy tunes on it.

Rejuvenation Album Art (July 1974)

Track Listing

  1. People Say
  2. Love Is for Me
  3. Just Kissed My Baby
  4. What’cha Say
  5. Jungle Man
  6. Hey Pocky A-Way
  7. It Ain’t No Use
  8. Loving You Is on My Mind
  9. Africa

The Meters have some serious funk happening on this album. It reminds me of the movie Anchorman, to be honest. Which is hilarious, but a true fact. It’s got some guitar-riffs and heavy, driving riffs on the keys that are typical to a lot of music in the 70s! It screams Ron Burgandy!

The Meters are based in New Orleans, Louisiana, as I’ve read, which explains why there’s also a Nola flair to the syncopated rhythms and subtle, sexy bass guitar. It’s a great combo! And it’s a great album to listen to on a Summer day or when you’re feeling a bit wild and ready for a little bit of lovin’.

The album starts off with a quiet and funky electric guitar before some drums and equally funky bass guitar and keys are added in, building into a layered, driving, funk-combination. There’s also a heavy use of horns on this album, which adds a bit of sass into the entire sound (and again, reminds me of New Orleans). I actually also read that The Meters played some backing for other New Orleans artists, such as Dr. John the Night Tripper. And that makes perfect sense because Dr. John also played with another of artists. Ah, the connections between all this music are starting to make sense, aren’t they? Very cool!

Anyway, this is a fun album and unique to anything I’ve listened to on the list so far. Again, its so wild, because I went from Phil Spector’s Christmas album, to U2’s attempt at re-establishing their musical Greatness, to this radically free-spirited, but musically tight album by The Meters. I love the diversity on this list.

Give The Meters a listen. What do they make you think of?

#139 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind (U2)

In 150-125, Top 150 on May 19, 2011 at 12:00 pm

It’s a Beautiful Day! (I’m hilarious, and if you don’t know why yet, maybe you’ll know by the end of this post) I’ve made it past the first 10 albums! It’s insane to think that I’m only at 139, because I have been writing about an album every week for a while now. But I guess that’s 10 weeks, isn’t it? (Yes, it is). Okay then.

This next album is very familiar to me. U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind is an album that distinctly reminds me of September 11, 2001, and I think it always will. The album was released in its entirety on October 30, 2000 and several singles were released (and re-released) during the following year. I remember especially that ‘Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of’ was re-released with overlays of emergency tapes and news reports after the attacks on the Twin Towers. That’s the first thing I think of when I hear that song.  And the entire CD just sounds familiar since they were only released ten years ago.

All That You Can't Leave Behind (October 30, 2000)

Track Listing

  1. Beautiful Day
  2. Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out of
  3. Elevation
  4. Walk On
  5. Kite
  6. In A Little While
  7. Wild Honey
  8. Peace On Earth
  9. When I Look At The World
  10. New York
  11. Grace
From my own research, its been widely quoted that U2 publicly said the release of this album was them re-applying for the job of best band in the world. This album has got powerful lyrics mixed into well-coordinated rock album. I haven’t heard much U2 from the 90’s, but apparently All That You Can’t Leave Behind was preceded by a lot of experimental albums, including some dance tracks.  This album has a mix of elements from the bands past including an electric drum track on ‘Beautiful Day’ and also heavy use of synths as well (that are seamlessly integrated with the typical resonating, echoing, atmospheric U2-sounding guitars). I love the diversity of this album as well. I mean, I have to say that U2 has a very distinct sound – Bono’s vocal style is practically recognizable if you haven’t even heard U2. I know, impossible, but you get the idea. But overall, there is a great change of pace and stylistic elements from ‘Beautiful Day’, to ‘Elevation’ to ‘In A Little While’. It’s refreshing and keeps you engaged as you continue to listen to the album. Of course, we all know Bono now as one of the most publicized celebrity-philanthropists and political activists. Some of those themes can be seen on this album (‘Walk On’ and ‘Peace on Earth’ are great examples of this).
I love the feeling of nostalgia when I listen to this album. What about you? Does this bring back memories for you?

#140 – Parallel Lines (Blondie)

In 150-125, Top 150 on May 17, 2011 at 1:00 am

The most well-known Blondie cover, in my eyes, is the album art for ‘Parallel Lines’, released in 1978.

Parallel Lines, 1978

Track Listing

Side One

  1. Hanging On The Telephone
  2. One Way or Another
  3. Picture This
  4. Fade Away and Radiate
  5. Pretty Baby
  6. I Know But I Don’t Know
Side Two
  1. 11:59
  2. Will Anything Happen?
  3. Sunday Girl
  4. Heart of Glass
  5. I’m Gonna Love You Too
  6. Just Go Away

Blondie has always been this mysterious band to me. I know of them, know nothing about them (except that they sing “Call Me”), and that’s about it. No wait, that’s not true. I’m having a revelation as I type. I know they also sing The Tide Is High. And I dig that tune too. So lies, all around! I know more Blondie than I thought! (and as I listened to the album, I recognized more and more, so that’s pretty great news)

For some reason I have it in my head that Blondie is like the 60s equivalent of Avril Lavigne and her band. Is that wrong? I don’t know. Maybe not. But anyway, ‘Parallel Lines’ definitely has an early punk-rock sound to it. It’s got a bit of rebellion mixed into the lyrics and the sound, too. The album also has songs on it that I didn’t know the name of and then was surprised to listen to and understand which song they are!! For example, I had no idea that ‘Heart of Glass’ was this song! What the…!!

Anyway, in terms of this being a top album, I really think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Blondie is early punk New Wave (I just did some more research and found out that New Wave music is similar to punk, and was considered to be the same for a long time, but is actually distinguished as more complex lyrically and musically, and often incorporating more electronic elements to it, which you can hear in this Blondie album – hence the strike out through ‘punk’). This album also has quite a few hits on it – ‘One Way or Another’, ‘Sunday Girl’, ‘Heart of Glass‘.

I’ve gotta say, as much as I like some of these songs, most of the album isn’t anything that I feel like I want to put on over and over. Some of these tracks are a great listen, but since I think of Avril, maybe I’ve got this hesitation to like it? I don’t know.

The album is cool to listen to, and has been informative for me to listen to, but I wouldn’t say I’m floored. Still (as usual), I see how this is on the list of the top 150!

Next up: U2.

#141 – Live At The Regal (B.B. King)

In 150-125, Top 150 on May 16, 2011 at 11:29 am

‘Live At The Regal’ is widely considered to be one of the best blues recordings of all-time, and you can understand why when you listen to B.B. King’s live performance at the Regal Theatre in Chicago. It was recorded on November 21, 1964 and released in 1965.

Album Art

Track Listing

  1. Everyday I Have The Blues
  2. Sweet Little Angel
  3. It’s My Own Fault
  4. How Blue Can You Get
  5. Please Love Me
  6. You Upset Me Baby
  7. Worry, Worry
  8. Woke Up This Mornin’
  9. You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now
  10. Help The Poor
The album flows seamlessly from track to track as the audience roars and B.B. ad-libs and his band vamps a few bars in transition. The album oozes with soul and passion, and the recording beautifully captures the feeling of the concert. Or at least, I think it does. I don’t really know. But it’s playful, interactive, and exciting to listen to. According to a few sources online, B.B. doesn’t think this is his best recording, despite all the accolades received, including the #141 spot on the Top 500 Albums of All Time by Rolling Stone. 
Comparing this album to others I’ve heard so far from the mid-60s, what’s interesting are the subtleties in B.B.’s guitar playing – the vibrato, the slides on the guitar. B.B. gives his guitar a full voice, as though its a singer in his band. And now, comparing it to current guitarists, I notice similarities between the sound of John Mayer and B.B. King. I’m not a guitar expert, but that’s who I immediately think of. They both play their guitars as though they are a countering vocalist, playing off each other’s silences. 
What do you think about this recording? Is it the best Blues recording of all time? If not, what album do you think is?
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