Monday, January 28, 2008

It all went wrong with Lenny Kravitz...

Here's an artist who I greatly admired back in 1998, when he released is album called 5. With numbers such as "Fly Away", "If you can`t say no" and "American Woman", it was an album I really enjoyed during that time. Soon I went back in time and discovered an even better debute album and one of its follow ups called "Are you gonna go my way". Both excellent albums with classics such as "Believe", "I built this garden for us" and of course "Let love rule".

Anno 2008 there is nothing left of my admiration. Every new song I hear is more uninspiring and boring than the previous one. "Dig in" and "Where are we runnin'" didn`t bring anything new to his sound. Both are just standard and simple songs that just do not swing. Lenny's rhythms in this third millenium are always straight. There is no creativity, no experimentation. It's dead music.

And now, with the new single called "Ï`ll be waiting", I can see where he wants to go with his sound. He wants to go back to the basics, like so many artists did before him when they lost their way. I`m sorry to say, but Lenny, it is just the same old thing. It's the classical ballad which you have written 10 times before.

And now this song is one heavy rotation on the so-called music-radio station called 3FM. I can only recommend to the people who like this song to listen to his first three albums, before you buy his latest. There is more beauty on each of his first three albums than his whole after-2000 production combined.

He's the perfect example of an "has been".

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Mouthful of Dø

Olivia is Finnish, Dan is from France. Both have there roots in Jazz, with Paris as their hometown. "A Mouthful" is their debut record, and my first of 2008. Defined in one word: Playful.

The record starts of in a kind of Byork style with "Playground Hustle". It heavily relies on the drums, with a cute children’s choir on the back. A bit later in the song the synthesisers start to kick in, and it gets an almost modern R'n'B sound.

"At Last" settles down completely as a nice guitar-pop song. It kind of reminds me of the Cardigans. It is a song sung by a girl who has finally found the love that she was dreaming of. The thing that makes this song special is that she directly talks to the listener with lines such as "Won’t make it harder on you girls". It's a very intimate song.

Olivia's vocals on "on my shoulders" are a bit more distressed and thin. In a world where vocal perfection is the standard in pop music, it is nice to hear a voice which isn’t perfect. It fits the song. "Song for lovers" continues the more laid-back feeling that the previous two song started. It's a plain and beautiful song. "The Bridge is broken" reminds me of PJ Harvey. It has that raw feeling to it, with minimal instrumentation, and those tormented/kind of sexy vocals.

"Stay" is another great and cute little song. Almost a sing-a-long. "Unissasi Laulelet" hypnotises you with it's tribal rhythms. This band has it's influences from many directions, and isn’t afraid to display them all on one record. That might lead to a very incoherent record, but Olivia's voice provides you with a red line to hold on to. The guitars in "Tammie" make it sound a bit like Radiohead, it has a bit of gloomy quality on it.

When I first listened this record these first 8 songs went in quite easily. Then came "Queen Dot Kong". It has a style for it's own. It sounds mixed with a bit of Balkan beat, a Peter Gabrielesk piano and bass section with a creative use of sampling. That Peter Gabrielesk part especially comes forward in "Coda", which is kind of an outtro for the shock that is "Queens Dot Kong". A positive shock of course. The following songs are again a lot more mellow, with "Aha" being the most notable. You could compare it's sound with some of the Britpop band out there.
Finally, "In my box" ends the record as it started.

"A Mouthful" is a very versatile record. It borrows little pieces of almost every genre of music and combines them to create an indefinable sound. It's a very playful record made by people who don’t let their creativity by bounded by the borders of a certain genre. Made by people with an open mind. I love it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Era Vulgaris of the Stone Age Queens

Nervously I plug in my SD-card holder in the back of the computer. I`m sitting in my usual internet-cafe in Jaipur, India, and just downloaded the new album of the Queens of the Stone Age. First I need to unzip it though, but there is no Winzip on this computer, so I also need to download that program. A few minutes later and I am ready to put the unzipped files on my SD-card, but then the damn computer doesn`t detect it. After playing around with the cable I`m finally able get the thing working. There they go, one by one; "turnin’ on the screw.mp3, sick,sick,sick.mp3, i`m designer.mp3, into the hollow.mp3, misfit love.mp3, battery acid.mp3, make it wit chu.mp3, 3’s & 7’s.mp3, suture up your future.mp3, river in the road.mp3, run, pig, run.mp3"***.

I plug the SD-card into my cheap mp3-player and start to listen while dodging traffic and cows on the way back home in Barkat Nagar. Turnin’ on the screw starts nicely, it seems the Queens got their groove back after the heavy and schizophrenic "Lullabies…". It’s catchy as hell, but sounds a lot more difficult and raw than the first six song on that previous album. Probably due to the off-beat guitar shredding throughout the song, and the electronics. I like the part where the sound goes from one ear to the other. Better production than lullabies to, that album really had a "flat" sound to it.

I already heard and saw "Sick, sick, sick" on youtube, which was presented as the first single of this album. It starts where "Feel Good Song of the summer" ended in my opinion. No complicated bullshit in the lyrics here, just a plain message with a great riff at high speed. As a hard rock fan, I don`t desire anything else. "I`m Designer" is a new Queens song. Again the characteristic Queens groove, but this time with eligible lyrics and a real socially conscious message. Coming from a band with lines such as "I seen some things I thought I never saw. Covered in hair", it is refreshing. The song has an interesting construction. As a starting musician I always wonder how you can fit the chorus, verse and bridge/break together, keeping each section original/interesting while keeping the song an coherent one. "I`m Designer" is a great example of how it should be done.

"Into the hollow" is a slower song, in the line of "I never came". It sounds very cold and naked, which fits the lyrics perfectly. At first I wasn`t really impressed by it, but after the first two minutes the song really gets a soul. The song is also heavily lead by the drums. You can clearly hear that the Queens are now three people with Josh, Joey and Troy at the helm. "Misfit Love" is probably my favorite song on this album. It has that groove of the rhythm-guitar and bass, that punch of the drums and that staccato lead-guitar, which joined together make it just perfect. And just as you thought it couldn`t get any better, the song has a kind of "you can`t quit me baby" outro at four and a half minutes. Pure bliss.

I`ve got to admit, it took me a long time before I was able to completely listen to "Battery Acid". Usually life in India was already pretty chaotic, and I didn`t need this song to create some extra pressure on my brain. After I while I got used to the album’s "metallic" vibe , and was also able to listen to this song entirely. It kind of hunts you down throughout its duration. No time to breath, just a continuous (kind of ugly) pounding. Not my favorite song on this album.

I already heard "Make it Wit Chu" on the 2003 Desert Session’s album, and then I already knew that this should be released as a single at one point in time. Such a brilliant tune, it would surely have become a hit in my universe. Homme re-recorded it for this album, probably because the original version had a production quality to it that would not have fitted on this album at all. I prefer the original though, since it has a more organic feeling to it, PJ Harvey on background vocals, and a superior guitar solo at the end. It is hard to change something that is already perfect, which makes it a kind of shame to change it at all. Still a great song though, and a resting-point on this album.

Now where do people hear Nirvana’s "Smell’s like teen spirit" on "3’s and 7’s"? I honestly do not have a clue. Ok, the chords might be slightly similar (pay attention, and you will notice that this happens all the time in music), but the progression and the rhythm are completely different. On it’s own it is a nice and catchy song, an obvious single, on the same level as "Little Sister", but nowhere near the behemoth called "No one knows".

After this run of three close to average songs, Homme gets back on track with "Suture up your future", my second favorite track on this album. It kind of shares the same style as "Into the Hollow", only worked out a lot better. It’s a very compact and solid song. Everything seems to fit together perfectly and is lead by the drums. It also has a "trippy" feeling to it. Like sitting in the back of a cab, with the driver roughly dodging traffic, while you are sitting in the back, completely smashed after a long night out.

"River in the road" reminds me of a marsh of the damned, largely thanks to the drum-pattern. In some reviews it is called filler material, with which I have to agree. It does not really grab you like to other songs, it is a bit forgettable even. The last track completely makes up for it though. "Run, Pig, Run" grabs you by the throat and tosses you around until you can`…tossed…anymore. Or something similar like that. This song again has a similar feel as Battery Acid, but is more structured, has less noise and is easier to listen to. And that little break in the song is brilliant and hilarious at the same time. I thought of George Orwell’s "Animal Farm" while listening to this for the first time. Maybe because the subject matter is the same. The bonus track, "The fun Machine Took a Sh**! & Died", is perfectly described by its title. It has that typical Queens weirdness to it, which makes it a fitting end to this album.

All in all Era Vulgaris reaches my high expectation, but then again, it doesn`t. The vibe of the album is completely different from "Lullabies.." or anything else that preceded it. When I listened it completely for the first time, I didn`t really know what to think of it. Where these the "Queens of the Stone Age" that I learned to love on their previous four albums? Initially the answer was no, and I was even a bit angry and disappointed. But after a few listens I got used to this completely new direction of the band, and started to love it. I started to realise that each of the first three albums had a completely unique sound: Stoner, slick/sophisticated and just plain hard. The first half of "Lullabies.." however was almost an extension of the softer songs on "Songs for the Deaf", with the second half being more experimental. With "Era Vulgaris" Homme continued with the old trend to completely reinvent or develop his sound for each album, something which I cheer at. This development is something that in my opinion distinguishes the Queens from the Muses, Editors and Arctic Monkeys of our time: They dare to change their sound and direction significantly. At the risk that you as a critic or fan might not like it. I am a lucky one. I like it. A lot.

***Back in the Netherlands I immediately bought the new cd.

Beth Hart @ Effenaar

I saw Beth Hart for the first time at Bluesrock Tegelen, about 3 years ago. She was the odd one between all the heavy blues acts, which made her sound very refreshing that day. Bare-footed she plays straight-forward rock, with a little hint of blues and a lot of energy. Her history is an amazing one, with some familiar elements. Starting out as a talent-show regular (and winner), she recorded her first album in 1996. During the late 90s however she became heavily addicted to drugs, only to re-emerge clean and healthy in 2004 with a new and successful album. Now we are in 2008, and since a good friend of the family was ill, a ticket for Beth Hart was available for me. I was impressed by her a few years ago, and since this was at a small venue I looked forward to seeing her again.

With a big smile on her face she runs out on the stage to face the eager crowd. You directly get the impression that you are dealing with someone who has seen and been to the bottom of a little thing called life. With hard work and determination she climbed out of the cress-pool and she is enjoying everyday of her live now. In some ways the set-list of that night symbolises all the emotions she encountered in her years of fame, addiction and rehab. You`ve got the sad and slow moments that never seem to end. Then the moments where you just can`t keep the anger and frustration inside anymore and need to scream it out over the rooftops (my favourites this night). There are times of celebration, jubilation and pure loneliness. The music might be simple rock, but Beth adds a whole new layer with her performance and voice, which make it very interesting and fun to hear and watch.

Great examples of this uniqueness are the moments when she forgot a chord or lost the key. During two songs she asked (more "ordered") her band very friendly to stop and start over again, since she fucked up behind her piano. She seems to be a bit insecure, but still makes jokes about it with her guitarist, who will "hate her for this in the morning". She even gets the help from her audience to get her back on key, which perfectly reflects the great atmosphere at the performance. During these stops you also hear a lot of friendly fuck it's coming out of her mouth, basically telling herself and the audience not to worry too much about it. Especially because it was her last concert for a pretty long time.

In general it was a solid good performance with a woman who, to her advantage, has some loose strings in her head. She immediately captivated the largest part of the audience, and remained their sole object of interest during the whole set. A few comments though that do not relate directly to her performance. In my opinion one and a half hours is a bit short for a concert, but maybe this is the new trend in the age where the average album is not longer than 40 minutes? And what is wrong with those people who have the urge to keep on talking during the whole performance? If you want to have a decent conversation, why don`t you go to a bar? And besides the distraction it creates for the other audience members, it is also a bit disrespectful for the artist. She is singing her heart out on stage, while a bunch of guys is discussing the 5th unique guitar of the guitarist. Yes, I know it is a white Fender Stratocaster, now please shut up and listen!