FOREIGNER – Unusual Heat (1991)

Review by: Julien Mansencal
Album assigned by: Nina Anatchkova

Unusual Heat is the proverbial album with no reason to exist. Then again, how could it have one? When third-rate bands like Foreigner lose a key member, they rarely follow the wise path of disbanding and turning to more fitting jobs, like, I don’t know, driving trucks or something. No, when third-rate bands lose a key member, nine times out of ten they’ll go for the cheapest replacement available and soldier on. Granted, when you compare departed Lou Gramm with stand-in Johnny Edwards, the quality gap is not that noticeable, but still, they should have heeded the call. Especially since the time was 1991 and the world really had no longer any use for a band like Foreigner.

That’s not to say that they don’t try to follow the trends. Unusual Heat largely discards the cheesy 80s synthesizers that were so dominant on Inside Information in favour of a sound that’s more guitar-based but less distinctive. And Foreigner never were that distinctive to begin with, so that’s saying something. Apart from that, the band goes through the motions, ticking all the boxes on their grocery list of How to Make a Record: half-assed crunchy rockers, check. Sappy power ballads, check. Unmemorable, run-of-the-mill guitar solos, check. Lyrics ranging from the useless to the abysmal, check. Cheap, ugly cover art, check. About a dozen songs, check. And since this is the beginning of the CD era, all of them are four to five minutes long, because why the hell not? Foreigner want to waste as much as your time as they can. And now they’ve made me their accomplice, since I’ve wasted YOUR time by writing two paragraphs about this nothing. 

Even a perfect sphere has more of a point than this. I won’t say “avoid it at all costs,” since I can’t imagine how anyone would face the possibility of listening to this record that has justly fallen into oblivion. It would take an absurd situation, like a reviewing contest about bad records or something.

DADDY YANKEE – Mundial (2010)

Review by: Nina Anatchkova
Album assigned by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez

I keep trying to get Spotify to play this record but all I hear is the playlist to which Fanta runs its brand promotion tied to the world cup series on a beach party. See, this reggaeton thing was for some reason as hugely popular as europop (another genre that revolves hugely around aggressively beating you over the head with simplistic repetitive beats and annoying vocal hooks for the duration of the song) but really the only context I see for a music like that nowadays is to mindlessly blast it through the speakers of the bungee jumping machine at the beach under the hot summer sun. It is not even fit to be the background music they play between the X-factor auditions! Like who listens to this stuff? How did it end up in the charts? Can anyone even relate emotionally to this? I know I stopped paying attention after the first track because this repetitive plateau of high after high after high all at the same volume and intensity, it cannot captivate your attention, let alone move your soul. Furthermore, you have read, I presume, how songwriting committees have evaluated that radio-friendly songs nowadays have to hit a new high every 6 seconds in order to keep the attention of the ever station-switching listener in his car. Yeah, but how can you top high after high after high, if you never relax the tension? Tension and relaxation until an eventual resolution, that’s the secret to a great many awesome songs in the pop canon!!

No, that was actually my first listen impression and it is totally not fair to the record. In fact, even on my first listen I noticed the attitude in the opening track “El Mejor De Todos Los Tiempos” and recognised its relative uniqueness in the bailando & vuvuzela context, and after a second listen I can confirm that the first two tracks here are actually legitimately cool. Most of the following tracks on the record are also not without their merits — even occasionally triggering my nostalgia for the times most simple that have long since passed (even if this record did actually come out as late as 2010) and making me admire the Spanish language and the Latin beats that really have their own logic and effect on the body and mind. That said, there are still some tracks (“La Despedida” to quote one) that can only fall under the generic bailando noise category. There is even the obligatory FIFA song (“Grito Mundial”, not eventually used for the 2010 World Cup series for reasons explained properly in Wikipedia) – I mean, the album is called Mundial… But after a thorough and dedicated listen I end up wondering if Daddy Yankee isn’t kinda my daddy now because this record certainly has a lot to recommend it… yeah…

KISS – Dynasty (1979)

Review by: Victor Guimarães
Album assigned by: B.b. Fultz

KISS don’t need an introduction: they are just too famous. Either for their iconic face paintings or for the infamous claims of making a band just to get laid and making money. Another very famous feature of KISS’s career is the amount of criticism of their music, for being too commercial, full of clichés (all types one can imagine) and with all songs seeming to be radio-formatted to be potential hits.

After a hard, but successful time in the 70s and a temporary split in which all band members recorded solo albums, came Dynasty. It’s a bit sad to say, but Dynasty is an album to which these critics from above could be easily applied. One might want to burn me at a stake, but the album is not all bad. It’s got its good points, such as the megahit “I Was Made For Loving You” and some other OK songs, and despite the musical generality and lack of creativity there are also some cool instrumentals and passages here and there. Criticizing it is far easier as the record isn’t as entertaining as it would seem (although not as bad as other KISS albums) and could even be labeled as boring. Songs – melodies, lyrics, choruses, etc – and production – yes, including the recording-added effects and such – are all too mainstream, too pop-oriented for my taste, as it looks like the album is trying to please the audience first, and then making true, quality rock music. 

After two paragraphs with almost nothing but criticism to the comic-heroes band, I gotta say that KISS do have their positive traits. And if you think I’m going crazy, just try to see them live. I did, and it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to, with nothing but great performances and production. And while it’s true that I find their discography quite lacking in general, they are, for me, the very definition of a you-love-to-hate band. Dynasty is not KISS’s best album, or even a good album as it would score above-average at most, depending on the reviewer’s parameters for what is average, but it’s still a listenable 70s hard rock album.