What is there to say about John Lennon that hasn’t already been said or isn’t already common knowledge? As a part of the Beatles, and as part of the greatest song-writing team ever with Paul McCartney, John Lennon is arguably the most important figure in the course of modern music. Unfortunately, when someone lives under that kind of pressure to deliver on a near deity-like expectation, they can be become expectantly self-conscious, as Lennon did at certain points in his career. According to Lennon lore, he was often insistent on using studio mixing technology to enhance his voice, much like the modern pop-stars who actually need to use studio magic to make themselves sound presentable.
This insecurity is what makes Acoustic a special Lennon release, as it collects together 17 tracks of uneffected, stripped down songs performed solely by Lennon on his (surprise) acoustic guitar. The material spans his post-Beatles solo work, including “Cold Turkey,” “God” and the recent victim of a thorough APC flogging, “Imagine.” The bulk of the tracks are home recordings and rough demos which Lennon never intended for public release, which allows for a very relaxed feeling that helps bring through the genius of his songwriting.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Acoustic is listening to how the songs remain timeless, covering topics like class distinction, religion, addiction and war in a way that isn’t as incident specific as the aspirations behind them. Lennon knew that the key to a great song was its ability to be far reaching and accessible, as is evidenced by the fact that we are still discussing and listening to the songs he wrote in decade-plus run of his solo career.
Despite the fact that these songs were recorded on rougher 1970s technology, the sound fidelity is passable throughout, with the occasional bit of twangy feedback coming through on the home recordings. Those uninitiated to Lennon or music pre-1985 may want to start out with the studio releases or a best of compilation though before they move on to something like Acoustic, which was released with the more diehard fan in mind. Whatever your level of familiarity with the music of John Lennon, Acoustic is a good representation of the best elements of the man’s music – simple rhythms, prowess for strong poignant lyrics, and a knack for combining the two in a way that stands the test of time and taste across generations.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus
Nick Cave is the king of gloom. Among the forerunners of Goth Pop musicians, his songs always explore sin and anguish in excruciating ways.
Like Elliot Smith, he seems to have anger and sadness in spades, yet expresses it in an oddly melodic way that isn’t quite happy but definitely is not sad.
That’s what makes him and the Bad Seeds’ new double album Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus seem like a departure from their typical style. They seem to be going for laughs.
On the Abattoir disc, Cave takes gloom and adds an abnormal sense of humor, creating odd evangelical hymns (“Get Ready For Love”) and others that are just odd (“There She Goes, My Beautiful World”). The band doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, with gospel choirs as backing vocals on many tracks and lazy rhymes (“Sun is high/up in the sky”).
Most of the songs are jokes, and therefore disposable, but you’ll find that they stick with you.
The Lyre disc is a little quieter and more familiar to Cave’s style, but still has the satiric quality of Abattoir. On the title track, Cave channels the gravelly gravitas of Tom Waits to tell the sad story of Orpheus and his lyre.
On “Breathless,” a decidedly upbeat Cave uses cuddly animal imagery to describe the love of his life while the Bad Seeds pepper the already happy song with a fairy-like flute.
The song still comes off creepy somehow, which is no doubt their intent. On “Supernaturally,” Cave’s piano sounds like it is about to get up and run off as he mixes the fast paced tunes with lyrics that long for a lost love.
Unfortunately, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus can be filed under “U” for “unnecessary double album.” Together, both discs clock in at about an hour and twenty minutes. Cut a few of the mediocre songs and it could fit on one disc. And then the price tag would be a little more bearable.
Altogether, this is a solid effort. Cave’s lyrics are effective and on point while the Bad Seeds’ music is, at varying times, beautiful, scary and funny. Though it is nowhere near the quality of earlier works such as Henry’s Dreams or The Boatman’s Call, this new double set will please those who are fans of Cave’s dark lyrics and also attract those looking for something new and different.
Solidly named album aside, Sum 41 are still a terrible band. Since hitting it big a couple years back with “Fat Lip,” a song that was sort of fun upon first listen but got gradually more obnoxious, this band has carved out a nice niche for themselves amongst the shopping mall punk rock crowd.
Now, a quick digression is in order. Being on a major label or catering to a more mainstream crowd is not an inherently bad thing. It is possible for bands to do this on their own terms (see Green Day’s American Idiot). In contrast, Sum 41 has always felt a bit manufactured. Their ability to write the occasional catchy hook aside, it was always a mystery how a group of Canadian dudes who apparently loved metal started playing such radio friendly pop in the first place.
Their 4th full length release, Chuck, finds the band delving further into their supposed less poppy influences. Unfortunately, this results in a wildly uneven effort.
More diverse does not always equal better, and in retrospect, these guys should have probably stuck to their formula and written another album of catchy, instantly forgettable tunes.
Almost every song on this album can be traced back to a radio rock band of the past 10 or so years. The band’s various attempts to be heavier sometimes lead them headfirst into “nu metal” territory (“Angels with Dirty Faces”). “Some Say” sounds eerily like an Oasis outtake.
The song “Slipping Away” almost has the band veering into Radiohead territory, but is inept; the listener will wonder why they even bothered. The synth violins toaward the middle are especially laughable.
The most interestingly unoriginal song on Chuck is “The Bitter End.” This song most successfully channels the band’s supposed metal roots. More specifically, it is a direct rip-off of mid 80s Metallica, with a solo directly taken from Kirk Hammett and a hook weirdly similar to Metallica’s “Battery.” Musically, this song almost accomplishes what it sets out to do. Brownsound’s lead guitar work is passable, if not spectacular, and Stevo proves surprisingly adept at double bass drumming. However, Deryck is still a snotty pop punk singer, and that is what kills the song.
There are some songs on Chuck that sound like the band’s older material. “No Reason,” the best cut on the album, is catchy and fun, but could be easily confused with any of Sum 41’s hit songs from their earlier records. Basically, buy the new Green Day album instead. You’ll be a better person for it.