MASSIVE ATTACK – Mezzanine (1998)

Review by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Album assigned by: Christian Sußner

If you grew up as a music fan under the dominant sway of the music press during its three-four decade long heyday then you most likely know the desperate feeling that came from constantly reading about some hugely important influential record that, having been name dropped once too often, you were eventually forced to save up enough money to buy (yes, you read that right, you used to have to pay for music, which tended to really limit your options) and listen to over and over again – and that, after countless vain attempts to ‘get it’, to understand what all the fuss was about, you were forced to give up on and chalk up as a failure of imagination or music appreciation on your part. Actually it quite often turns out that years later, when you eventually return to such half digested masterpieces, that rather amazingly the pieces just seem to fall into place of their own accord without any additional effort on the part of the listener, maturity or a deeper appreciation of music in general having taken up the previous slack. For other records that never happens at all, ever, and you’re forced to conclude that either there’s some musical blind spot in your brain (and that maybe, possibly there’s a chance you just might get it in the end, on your deathbed maybe), or that the music press had in fact been actually selling you a massive pup all along. Ladies and gentlemen, Blue Lines by Massive Attack just happened to be exactly one of those personal bugbear records of mine. I mean I admired the album, and parts of it I really loved, but in the end and in spite of all that initial goodwill on my part, Blue Lines left me lukewarm. 

You see I get how the record might have won over the critics in the early 90s, its relentless privileging of style and hip over soul and substance and its achingly sussed on point musical allusions/borrowings served as a potent weapon against the earnest rockism that was still characteristic of the alternative music scene back in the days. But the fact is that no amount of studied cool could make up for the essentially pedestrian quality of the music. Indeed, trip hop taken as a genre – and aside from a handful of notable exceptions like Portishead or DJ Krush – tends to sounds much less impressive than it did in the mid-90s. Because it really had an untouchable, hazy green aura, of mystique surrounding it back then. Albums like Dummy or Entroducing felt epochal, significant, like a promise of much more to come. But in the end it all proved to be one big anti climax – and all those cruel jibes about trip hop being a safe, sanitised version of rap/hip hop without all that stuff about thugs and guns and violence and bitches that you could play at nice dinner parties without offending your guests seemed not to have been so wide off the mark after all. I listen to those old trip hop records again now 20 years on and after having, rather critically, had the chance to hear many of the original dub, soul and reggae records that were formative influences on the genre and I can’t help but notice just how cumbersome and actually dated trip hop sounds in comparison.

All of which egotistical rambling finally brings us round to Mezzanine, Massive Attack’s third album: the one where the band started to expand on their sound, developing an earthier, more rock-oriented style, and softening some of the hard, blunt edges of their first two albums. I mean in theory it should appeal a lot more to my rather more organic sensibilities, but to me it just sounds a lot like probably the best beer commercial soundtrack music ever. I still find an immense depthlessness to their music, a horrible anodyne quality that lurks behind the immediate surface allure, of which admittedly there is plenty. Angel and Teardrop, the two that everyone knows from the album, are completely worn out from over familiarity, like a frazzled imitation persian rug — and really I can’t even begin to separate out the music from its role as the incidental music or as the inspiration for the incidental music in a thousand different adverts or television productions. The images and visual symbols, the products, and the music all bleed into one another, one great trite miasma. Worse still whenever I listen to Mezzanine and start to really get into it, I reflexively think of where I’ve heard the same thing done better or where it’s felt far more genuine. There are, as always with Massive Attack, exceptions: moments when they triumph over their musical limitations, Risingson being one obvious highlight, although there are fewer of these than on Blue Lines. But (to my most alas) I still don’t get it; I just can’t overcome my by now decades long resistance to the group (6/10).

GREEN DAY – American Idiot (2004)

Review by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez
Album assigned by: Graham Warnken

My only memories of Green Day were when they were on the radio a lot around the release of “Dookie”, so for me they were always this young pop-punk band, so when I read in the press that they were doing a conceptual rock opera thing I was thinking “Huh? Are they the right band to do this? Wouldn’t it be boring? Pop punk only has so much diversity and when you go for a concept album you need musical diversity”.

Or course I was not being aware that 10 years had passed since “Dookie”, and another 12 have passed since they released “American Idiot” to the day in which I’m listening to it for the first time.

First of all, I will not comment on the plot and the concept, for one simple reason: I would need to pay attention to the lyrics, and that would be something for a time when I can focus enough on them.

I don’t know if in the time span between Dookie and American Idiot they had already transcended their old sound, but in this record they sound quite more diverse than simply punky pop (although “St. Jimmy” – actually the second half of “Are We The Waiting / St. Jimmy”; a lot of tracks come in pairs – is totally classic punk). But the energy is there, oh boy is it there. The guitars jump at you with classic rock abandon, the drums are precise yet lively and the bass holds the ground as it’s supposed to do. Check the title track for an example – it’s exhilarating.

Green Day asserted that they had done their homework and studied classic rock operas and it shows. They said their main inspiration was “Quadrophenia” and I can agree – but if anything, it sounds like Quad if Quad had been done by the Who of 1965 rather than the Who of 1973. But that’s not the only discernible influence; take the second track and arguably the tour de force of the album, “Jesus of Suburbia”, a nine minute monster in several parts. Not only there are very strong hints of Ziggy Stardust here and there, but the third section (“I don’t care”) is so much in the same rhythm as the “I have to know” part of “Gethsemane” from Jesus Christ Superstar – and it’s so totally appropriate in a meta level – that it cannot be accidental.

Diversity is also a mark of the “paired” tracks: the “Are we the waiting” section of that track I mentioned above has nothing to do with the “St. Jimmy” section; “Give me Novocaine / She’s a rebel” repeats the trick: the first part is funky and acoustic, the second is punk pop at its most direct; “Holiday / Boulevard of Broken Dreams” sounds like the reggaeified Clash in its first part (excellent!), and like Oasis in the second (damn!). “Wake me up when September ends” is the expected acoustic/power ballad, and its placement in the album makes it the equivalent of the typical Broadway “11 o’clock song” (clever!). Then “Homecoming” tries to repeat the trick of “Jesus of Suburbia” (it’s even a little longer) but not quite succeeding as much, although having the two guys not named Billie Joe contribute (and sing) a section is a welcome idea (in addition to a possible nod at “Tommy”).

In short, even taking the concept out of the equation, the album is an enjoyable romp and its opening stretch is certainly good; I’d nominate the entire sequence of “American Idiot”, “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Holiday” (a pity about the “Boulevard” part – sorry guys but Oasis????) as the best part of the album. Thumbs totally up.

SOUNDGARDEN – Superunknown (1994)

Review by: Nina Anatchkova
Album assigned by: B.b. Fultz

When you think of nostalgia, you probably think of 80s cartoons and such because these are the properties that have been aggressively revived for the past decade or so for um… your money, yes. But I think the 90s are properly in the nostalgia realm too already as the eventful conclusion to the already very eventful “short century”. Amid hip hop, boybands, collectible bubble gum stickers and regrettable fashion choices there’s always of course heavy metal’s ugly step-sibling: grunge. A genre that, so far as I can tell, nobody who hasn’t been between the ages of I guess 13 and 30 during its peak years cares about much anymore. Sure, Nirvana get played occasionally on the all-purpose throwback radio and so does “Black Hole Sun”, Soundgarden’s megahit from this record, which I imagine its regular listeners attribute to Nirvana too, but nobody seems to be giving grunge extended attention yet. However, I too, occasionally start to miss “the heavy sludge of ‘70s metal” and “the raw aesthetic of ‘80s punk”, and so I approached this record very enthusiastically.

Stretch the bones over my skin
Stretch the skin over my head
I’m going to the holy land
Stretch the marks over my eyes
Burn the candles deep inside
Yeah you know where I’m coming from

Oh… I had forgotten about this. Yeah, it’s gonna be one of those whiny “poetic masterpieces”. People lashed out at emo at the height at its popularity but seriously, I think people back in the 90s could get even cornier, especially in metal. Okay, screw this, let’s look at the music. 

Well, Soundgarden do deliver on their promise of a heavy sound, a heavy psychedelic one at that, and there are some delightful nods to Zep in tracks like “The Day I Tried to Live” and “Fresh Tendrils”. But at some point these tracks seem to really start blending in with each other, and they are neither the most sophisticated examples of the genre nor truly visceral in their nature – frankly, they are kind of forgettable with the possible exception of the above mentioned “Black Hole Sun”, which I assume has earned its vh1 status purely on its anthemic qualities. So you know, all things considered, and although I’d hate to deliver a lazy pun, Superunknown may go on to become indeed um… superunknown.

ANN PEEBLES – I Can’t Stand the Rain (1974)

Review by: Jonathan Moss
Album assigned by: Charly Saenz

My introduction for this review can’t hope to be as good to the introduction to this album. Based on the album cover and Wikipedia page I expected soul music and yet the title track decided to announce itself with a really strange, cool synth riff that wouldn’t sound out of place in a some sort of electronic song, maybe Jean-Michel Jarre. Outside of this the song is soul but it’s a very strong soul number, featuring a passionate vocal performance which isn’t without its nuance, such as the way Ann almost trembles the word “rain” in the chorus. Its very catchy as well, with a kind of triumphant vibe, and a melancholic undercurrent. With all that and the cool synth riff what more do you want from your soul?

Unfortunately the rest of the album for the most part really doesn’t live up to it. The second song doesn’t have a cool riff but still sounds almost identical in its instrumentation and vibe, even quoting the first song. It’s not nearly as good, though it has some nice horn playing. For the most part this album is VERY similar instrumentally and vocally, featuring keyboards, strings, horns, electric guitars and some very good, punchy drumming, over which Ann Peebles delivers her passionate but tastefully restrained vocals. The songs are alls able to distinguish themselves in some way. “(You Keep Me) Hanging On” opens with a cool, suave guitar lick, “Run Run Run” has some boisterous horns, “If We Can’t Trust Each Other” features bouncy, melodic keyboard playing, “A Love Vibration” particularly stands out with the punchy, fun drum playing and “You Got to Feed the Fire” has a groovy organ. Despite this the similarities of the songs can’t help and the album gets a bit samey and boring.

This leaves three stand out tracks outside of the title one. “Until You Came Into My Life” is a very nice ballad with pretty guitar playing and strings. The organ playing sounds a bit like “A Lighter Shade of Pale” and I can imagine the song fitting perfectly over a dark, rainy scene in a gangster movie. The others are “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse” and “One Way Street” which thankfully end the album, leaving it on a high note. “Playhouse” is a sassy, sexy song which lyrically is about a cheating husband (I think). The vocal performance is suitably biting, especially with the accompanying strings and horns, yet there’s also some very nice subdued guitar playing which suggests the sadness and betrayal Ann Peebles must feel deep down about her husband being unfaithful. “One Way Street” has a great instrumental, with a glistening keyboard line opening it and a melodic piano line carrying it. It’s a catchy song and Ann’s vocal is strong as well, with that restrained passion I talked about earlier.

Overall this is a good album, with several stand out tracks. Despite this it’s probably best served as background music, though hopefully you do pay close attention during the highlights.

DAVID CLEREST PROJECT – Mission: Earth (2001)

Review by: Alex Alex
Album assigned by: Tristan Peterson

“David Clerest Project: Mission Earth”. This is a metal band like they used to have back then.

Actually, it’s a one-man metal band but this is not important for the purpose of this review. While we are still on it this man used to play for some other bigger bands, I believe. To hell with it. Let’s discuss what needs to be discussed.

The main question when discussing metal bands is: “from where and how have they got all the equipment?” This is as opposed to a question we usually ask about non-metal (singer-songwriters, progressive rock, punks, any other shit) artists: “how has it happened they have composed all that stuff and, tell me the hell, why?” Such question does not arise for metal bands.

Such question does not arise for metal bands because, having obtained the equipment, they proceed with that equipment usage in a normal way, the same way I would be watching my new TV if I had managed to steal it from my rich neighbor. There is only one way to watch a big TV. You turn it on and you watch. Punks and singer-songwriters and progressive rock bands they all are trying to watch a TV which has not been turned on. So, understandably, there’s a lot of questions for them: is the TV really there? Is it big or small? WHAT WOULD YOU THINK THE PICTURE WOULD BE IF ONE DAY YOU MANAGE TO TURN IT ON? DO YOU NEED ANNE FRANK TO TURN IT ON? ONLY TO TURN IT ON AND SHE CAN GO? PROMISE? And that’s the discussion of Art.

Nostalgia is the synonym for love. Visiting the old parents house is (as the “Forrest Gump” movie shows in regards with Forest) either nostalgic or (as the “Forrest Gump” movie shows in regards with Forest’s girlfriend) is an act of hatred. These two resolutions correspond to the binary outcomes of love which is always there. Metal bands are full of love, spreading the love to the audience, bathing the people in the warm waves of love supreme. We are too proud to admit this is the true love. We say “nostalgia” and we go away.

The binary resolution is provided by the equipment. An idiot can say metal bands can do other music. HAHAHA. EVEN SATAN CAN NOT. It is the equipment which uses the people, building metal bands of them. Those who do not know how to play go this and that way pleading to be used by big big amplifiers, pleading to become nostalgic. This is why the future of progressive rock lies in the extreme metal and the punk, being too humane, is expectedly dead.

VIRGINIA ASTLEY – From Gardens Where We Feel Secure (1983)

Review by: A.A
Album assigned by: Julien Mansencal

 

This is an ambient album that evokes nostalgia, and does it better than some but not all similar albums. Mostly pianos and soundscapes and samples/field-recordings comprise the sound. I do not have a lot to say about it, but I’m somewhere between appreciating it and liking it. On the whole, I think most people would be positive toward it than negative.

VARIOUS ARTISTS (ED RUSH, TRACE & NICO) – Torque (1997)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Consider this my contractual obligations review. Quite honestly I was unable to sit through this album even once. I’m sure there are people out there who can appreciate this and therefore write something meaningful about it, but I cannot. What immediately hits you in the face is a very aggressive, driving drum beat. Everything else is pretty much is a soundscape accompanying this drumbeat, and this drumbeat, with little significant difference, dominates each and every track. The soundscapes do have some interesting elements, but ultimately it’s all about that drumbeat. I don’t like it and don’t care to hear it, so that pretty much negates any other attribute of this music. Not for me, sorry!