Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Music Review: The Verve - Forth

The Verve was without question one of the best British rock groups of the 1990s. But they broke up in 1999 after ten years together and after the most successful period of its career. Singer Richard Ashcroft then launched a mildly successful solo career in the early 2000s.

Now, nearly ten years later, the band is back together and has made Forth (On Your Own Records), a comeback album that, though imperfect, sounds like it was made in the '90s, recently discovered and only now ready for release. And that's a good thing, especially for fans hoping to hear the group recapture the brilliant, spellbinding shoegazer rock and psychedelic terrain that made them a British and later worldwide sensation.

For fans looking for strings attached to grandiose orchestral pop rockers like Urban Hymns megahit "Bittersweet Symphony," there are plenty of strings coating the band's new and fourth record, but nothing as instantly memorable or hit-worthy as its biggest hit. So what we have here is a record geared more toward recapturing the spirit of early Verve records like A Storm In Heaven and A Northern Soul with a hint of Urban Hymns here and there.

The spacious post-rock, ProTools-aided rave-up "Love Is Noise" is not only The Verve's lead single off the new record, but a driving anthem that features some of the most passionate vocal performances Richard Ashcroft has recorded in years. "Judas" is another winner, with its blissful, dream-like melodies, as is the urgent vocals and tremolo-propelled guitars of album opener "Sit And Wonder."

Straight-up rocker "Noise Epic" is the hardest-hitting track (for them) on the album and starts out promising, then sees Ashcroft meandering a bit with hushed vocals before the group suddenly turns the tide and busts the tune wide open into a Stooges-like jam. Guitarist Nick McCabe must really look forward to cranking this one up live. In fact, The Verve made a conscious effort to give tracks like this a live feel and thus recorded the song as a band live in studio.

"Numbness," which treads pure psychedelic, Dark Side Of The Moon-era Pink Floyd territory is a pleasant listen for a few minutes, but Ashcroft's sleepy, repetitive vocals get tired after awhile and the tune never takes off structurally, just content to get lost in its own jam. The strings and piano-led dirge-like "I See Houses" seems to deal with the inner struggle of troops in war, but sounds too dreary to be memorable. It certainly gives you the opposite feeling of uplifting Urban Hymns numbers like "Sonnet" and "Lucky Man."

The seven-minute-plus enjoyable, dreamy album closer "Appalachian Springs" should have younger listeners realizing where Verve offspring like Silversun Pickups got some of its influence from. McCabe's swirly layers of guitars and effects, matched with Ashcroft's soft-to-loud vocal style add depth to a song that is classic Verve all the way through.

What's frustrating about this record is that like so many top-level rock bands over the years — think Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Oasis — The Verve left some good b-sides off the original CD pressing of Forth that could've made it a stronger album and instead stuck them on other releases, including vinyl and digital versions. For instance, "Mover" is the best song that didn't make Forth but is worth checking out, as is the bass-heavy "Chic Dub."

Still, in an age where great bands of yesteryear get back together to simply tour (for example, Fleetwood Mac) and cash in, The Verve got back together after nearly a decade apart. They played some much talked about summer shows and made a very respectable comeback record, one that doesn't rewrite its hits or go off in an entirely new musical direction. If you're a fan from the "Bittersweet Symphony" days, you may be a bit disappointed with Forth. But for those who are familiar with all their records, there's enough '90s nostalgia to win you back as fans.

The Verve as a unit is tight and sound as inspired now as they did in their heyday. It's just that Forth isn't as focused a record as a whole as it could have been. But as long as Ashcroft, McCabe and the rest of the band stay together, The Verve's best album may be ahead of them. Forth may be a few tracks short of greatness, but it's still better than most bands' first albums. (3/5 stars)

Note: This review was posted on Blogcritics.org 12/21/08

Music DVD Review: The Who - The Who At Kilburn: 1977

At the London Coliseum on December 14, 1969 and at the Gaumont State Theater in Kilburn, North London, England on December 15, 1977, the other famous Fab Four from the original British Invasion era, known simply as The Who, performed two legendary shows for the ages, ones that weren’t digitally restored and remastered until this year.

Known as The Who – Live At Kilburn 1977, this DVD was released in mid-November on standard DVD and Blu-Ray via Image Entertainment. And though its main focus is the 1977 show on disc one, one of the very last shows the band did with powerhouse drummer Keith Moon before his death in 1978, the raw concert footage of the first ever performance of the band’s visionary and groundbreaking rock opera Tommy in 1969 on disc two is a special treat. Call it a bonus bootleg.

Lead singer Roger Daltrey tells his audience at the start of the Kilburn show that the band hadn’t played the songs in their set for more than a year, but The Who showed little sign of rust in this much-loved show. Pete Townshend leads the pack, starting with the influential pre-punk ditty “I Can’t Explain,” where he windmills on his Gibson guitar, does a few jumping jacks and then smoothly launches into the group’s early pop rock hit “Substitute.”

What follows is a sensational version of “Baba O’Riley,” where Townshend plays the first couple of minutes with a tambourine, Keith Moon–with headphones on—twirls, throws up and catches his drum sticks with seeming ease, and Daltrey finishes it off with a concentrated bluesy harmonica solo.

There is also the first-ever live performance of “Who Are You,” which was recorded just two days prior to this show! Seeing as the song was so new, Townshend and Moon improvised the ending before heading straight into the crowd-pleasing, set-closing hard rockin’ classic “Won’t Be Fooled Again,” which had Townshend sliding across the stage during rock and roll’s most memorable scream and pinnacle moment, the elongated “Yeaahh!” by Daltrey.

Speaking of rocking, the band was tight pretty much all show long, though there are little instances of imperfection, such as when Entwistle was a bit late starting his bass line on the Eddie Cochran cover “Summertime Blues.” But heck, nobody’s perfect.

It’s not just the performances that are memorable. Seeing Keith Moon take the microphone and joke with the band, particularly when he claimed he would go backstage and “OD” while the rest of the band played the first couple of minutes of the uplifting “Pale Blue Eyes” was a little alarming given his off-stage struggles, but in the end just a joke.

As far video and sound are concerned, the DVD is in High Definition, and the audio quality of Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital Stereo are impressive given the many years that have gone by since the show was recorded. Keith Moon’s cymbals truly splash your years in Digital Stereo, and the trebly action of John Entwistle’s bass is a bit more pronounced. But all the instruments and vocals in general sound evenly mixed throughout the show. As I went back-and-forth between audio selections, the only really noticeable difference between the Dolby choices is the somewhat louder audience cheering in Dolby Stereo.

For the much-treasured second disc, The Who’s legendary London Coliseum show in mid-December 1969 (which occurred a few months after its Woodstock appearance), you can tell the camera footage is extremely old by the grainy picture and raw sound. It’s “B” quality at best, considering the problems the show’s recording crew had to overcome, but the producers did a fantastic job remixing and refurbishing the audio and video to as superior a professional level as possible. The band made sure nothing view-worthy was lost, and that’s why you see subtitles that carry nearly every word of Keith Moon’s playful banter with Daltrey and Townshend between songs during this show.

For this show, Townshend’s Gibson guitar and amp combined to air out lots of dreamy reverb, making the type of sounds during clean parts of songs that may remind you of U2’s The Edge. Daltrey’s gritty and soaring vocals are spot-on for almost all of it (as on Kilburn), and his stage mannerisms, microphone spinning and other bodily motions match the energy put out by Moon and Townshend.

The band looks noticeably younger in the 1969 gig—minus the eternally boyish-looking Keith Moon—with Townshend and Entwistle a bit skinnier and totally clean-shaven. Moon though, with his health having deteriorated in the mid-1970s looks a bit slimmer and faster in 1969. Together though, The Who showed the lucky fans before them their inventive showmanship and concert themes, which included a few hits, plus the infidelity-themed mini-opera “A Quick One While He’s Away” (featuring Moon and Entwistle on lead vocals) to start. This was of course followed by the full-blown rock opera Tommy and it’s well-known masterpiece “Pinball Wizard” and the power chord crunchy gem “I’m Free,” among others. Guitarists will especially love the metallic hard rock edge to this show, as compared to Kilburn, right to the very end.

My only substantive criticism of disc two is the decision to put the full performance of Tommy in the “Extras” section instead of the main section, which starts with performances of Who songs like “I Can’t Explain,” “Fortune Teller,” and mini-opera “A Quick One.” Which then leads to a few Tommy cuts before closing with rockers like “Shakin’ All Over” and “My Generation.” Why not have the London Coliseum show run as one show, Tommy and all?

With valuable liner notes from former Spin editor-in-chief Alan Light, Nigel Sinclair and Richard Evans explaining the history behind these shows and the state of the band during these times, you’ll surely learn things about The Who you didn’t know before, including that pre-Tommy, Moon and Entwistle reportedly thought about forming a band with Jimmy Page because of The Who’s infighting at the time. Tommy of course, not only became an internationally successful double album but brought the band back together (until Moon’s untimely death several years later).

Overall, despite the less than top grade audio/video quality of the rare London Coliseum show, with over three hours and forty-eight live tracks, plus pages of insightful liner notes, The Who At Kilburn: 1977 is an outstanding, treasured 2-DVD package and definitely belongs in any longtime fan’s top five must-have live The Who releases—up there with Live At Leeds and The Kids Are Alright 1978 film, to be sure. Would it make a great Christmas/Holiday gift for your classic rock-loving parents? To coin a phrase, You Better, You Bet!

Check out trailers for the new DVD here and here.

Note: This article was posted on Blogcritics.org 12/17/08

Friday, December 12, 2008

Joe Satriani Vs. Coldplay: A Tale Of Two Songs

Note: First published on Blogcritics.org this morning

The recent commotion over whether or not Coldplay ripped off guitar whiz Joe Satriani is nothing less than surprising and mystifying. My bewilderment has nothing to do with Coldplay however, but with Satriani, the guitar teacher-turned instrumental rock god.

Last week, after months of not hearing back from Coldplay (who are in the midst of a major world tour), he went to a federal court in Los Angeles and filed a copyright-infringement lawsuit against them, claiming that the English rock stars' #1 2008 hit song "Viva La Vida" lifted material from his own 2004 instrumental "If I Could Fly."

Both are great, midtempo songs, no question. I have listened to both countless times. But one is an orchestral, grandiose pop song with relatively little guitar work (“Viva”) while the other is straight up steady bass, drums, and wailing guitar-based instrumental rocker (“If I Could Fly”).

More to the point: there is practically no basis for this rather frivolous lawsuit. And coming from someone who knows the ins and outs of musical composition in rock better than most, it boggles the mind why Satriani thinks the Coldplay song sounds so much like his work. There are brief patterns of similarity in both songs too be sure, but no more than a few seconds worth. So without boring you (musicians or non-musicians) with a lot of advanced musical theory jargon and notation, I will try and breakdown the few similarities and big differences these two great songs have, differences that should've convinced Satch right away that there was nothing major to make a fuss about, let alone go to federal court over.

For Coldplay to be successfully sued, Satriani would have to prove the band had access to his work and that the band’s song in question sounds “substantially” similar to Satch’s composition, among other criteria. I (and Coldplay) would argue that “Viva” and “Fly” are “substantially” different tunes, and one of the first ways you can tell is that these two songs are written in totally different keys and ways. But even if one were to do what a YouTube user did – deceptively speed up “Viva La Vida” one half step and lower the original pitch of Satch’s song by six half steps to make them unnaturally sound alike – you would still hear that no more than 3-4 consecutive notes (C#-to-D-to-B flat-to-B flat) in Satch’s expressive riffs in “Fly” and Coldplay leader Chris Martin’s vocals in “Viva” seem to match up note-for-note at any time.

The truth is, at no point do any notes from either composition in its original form match up note-for-note and only on a couple of occasions do you hear similarities between Coldplay’s vocals and Satch’s guitar work, starting at the :49-second mark of “If I Could Fly” (which is effectively the tune’s chorus) and later at around the 2-minute mark, where briefly Satriani’s riffs sound similar to but not exactly like what Coldplay singer Chris Martin sings during “Viva’s” verses.

So maybe you (or Joe) are thinking, it’s not just Martin’s vocals allegedly mimicking Satch’s guitar licks that I hear, it’s the songs’ chord progressions that are similar. Well, let’s look at that too. First of all, Coldplay’s and Satch’s rhythm sections are constructed differently. While Satriani has a regular drummer laying down a steady beat on “Fly,” Coldplay has a constant, almost techno-like beat going throughout “Viva.” On bass, Satriani’s song has a deeper sound, courtesy of a five-string, while Coldplay uses a standard four-string bass, which lays down considerably lighter notes on its tunes. And as far as guitar is concerned, there are no chord progressions in “Viva” to mimic Satriani’s, as Coldplay’s Johnny Buckland uses bright riffs and melodies to compliment the orchestral sound of his band’s hit. Satriani, on the other hand, uses acoustic guitar chords to compliment his electrifying electric guitar solos on “Fly.”

So where do the two songs’ non-vocal similarities begin and end? Perhaps “Viva’s” four consecutive bass notes on its chorus sound similar to the four-part melodic progression in the two choruses of “If I Could Fly.” But even then, the actual bass notes on both tunes don’t come close to matching up.

There are probably hundreds if not thousands of punk rock and blues-based songs out there that sound so much alike that musicians in those groups could reasonably accuse each other of being rip-off artists if they took the time to listen closely enough. Why Joe Satriani feels the need to seek a jury trial and recover profits over this one song that one could reasonably prove did not copy his material only he knows. Perhaps he lost patience with Coldplay and his legal team after not having his calls returned? Maybe he thinks the band’s silence on this issue proves they are guilty of stealing from him? Whatever the reason, it’s hardly justifiable. But hey, at least it’s not as laughable as little known band Creaky Boards’ similar claim from earlier this year that “Viva” rips one of their songs off. But they, unlike Satriani were wise enough not to sue.

So, that said, do yourself a favor and find a copy of the Satriani and Coldplay tracks and then compare them yourself - don’t evaluate them based on that highly misleading YouTube clip. I guarantee you’ll feel the same way I do that whatever brief similarities you’ll find, there is no copyright infringement to be found regarding “Viva La Vida.” This isn’t Vanilla Ice ripping off Queen/David Bowie we’re talking about.

In closing, it is my opinion that this lawsuit by Satriani is the biggest mistake he’s made in years, and he ought to be ashamed of himself for it, the same way The Rolling Stones ought to be ashamed of not allowing The Verve to make a penny on “Bittersweet Symphony” based on the younger band’s use of a sample of some obscure orchestral mix of the Stones song “The Last Time” that had little input from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

But it was also a mistake for Coldplay to wait so long to respond to Satch’s charges. They finally did the other day and not only rejected these plagiarism charges but called any similarities between their works as “surprising” to them as they were to the instrumentalist and “entirely coincidental.” You can read Coldplay’s full statement on the band’s website. Now, Satriani ought to directly talk to the members of Coldplay about the charges and come to an understanding of each other's work. Hopefully then, Joe Satriani will finally come to his senses and drop this ridiculous lawsuit altogether.

Monday, September 22, 2008

DVD Review: Clutch - Full Fathom Five: Video Field Recordings

Yes, I know it's been a long time since I last posted here - a bit of laziness on my part. But this review (and DVD) is well worth checking out.

Since 1991, Maryland metal and “stoner rock” band Clutch has built a loyal, nationwide following that dubs themselves “gearheads,” and played sold-out shows in prestigious clubs and arenas throughout the country for years. Thus, they are known as a great live band, and relentless touring is how they built and continue to build on their fan base. But not until this year did Clutch decide to release an official live DVD. In August, at long last, the DVD Full Fathom Five: Video Field Recordings hit stores. It’s a self-released DVD on a new label created by the band, Weathermaker Music, through which all future albums will be released. [Its companion CD Full Fathom Five: Audio Field Recordings was released this week]

Directed and produced by Agent Ogden, this 95-minute DVD compiles performances from five Clutch shows, four from 2007 stops and one from early 2008. And upon first impression, this criminally underrated hard rock band couldn’t be in better form live, and the 20-song set – five more than the CD version – will surely satisfy most fans.

The chosen tracklist for this DVD is culled from a majority of their albums, but draws most heavily from three releases: the mightily acclaimed self-titled, stoner rockin’ 1995 full-length (five tracks), 1998’s hard rock/metal Elephant Riders CD (five tracks) and the band’s most recent output, 2007’s ballsy, bluesy and hard rockin’ From Beale Street To Oblivion (six tracks). Some fans may fret there’s no material from their earliest releases (the 1991 Pitchfork EP and 1993 debut Transnational Speedway League) here, but Clutch doesn’t play many songs from that era nowadays. As of late, they alternate between mixing old favorites with more recent jam-rock material one night, then cut down their jam-ready material a bit for a more heavy set the next show. On this live DVD, you get the best of both types of shows.

The heaviest material (in Drop-D tuning) comes first, starting with the Soundgarden-meets-Toolish “Dragonfly,” a somewhat long alternative metal tune from 1998 that segues right into the similar-sounding “Child of the City,” from last year’s riff-tastic Beale Street CD. From there, the liveliness of the DVD picks up quickly, with another newer track, “Devil & Me,” a kickass bluesy southern rock-styled rocker that also features some slick, Aerosmith-styled guitar and bass licks that guitar aficionados would love. Other standouts include fan favorites like “10001110101” and “Big News I,” both of which feature a Deep Purple-ish organ melody supplied by Mick Schauer, and bluesy harp soloing by guest Eric Oblander (on “Big News I” and “Big News II”).

Other memorable moments include the political-minded and lyrically amusing “Mob Goes Wild,” where singer Neil Fallon rails about the government’s handling of the war dead and encourages the masses to “move to Canada,” “bum rush the border guard,” and “smoke lots of pot.”

Speaking of bands that rock guitarists and magazines just love and worship, I just have to say this: Clutch is a band who has and continues to get comparisons to influential classic and modern rock groups as varied as Led Zeppelin, Faith No More, Kyuss, and Black Sabbath. It is amazing, but also sad that a consistently solid and hardworking band such as Clutch has gotten ignored by the mainstream hard rock/metal community for much of their career, even if they don’t care for exposure on MTV and modern rock radio, where they had little commercial success in the ‘90s.

Clutch, led by guitarist Tim Sult have over 15 years worth of great guitar songs that the Guitar World tablature writers and Rolling Stone magazines of the world would be all over in a perfect world, songs (on the DVD) such as “Mob Goes Wild,” “10001110101” “You Can’t Stop Progress,” and “Devil & Me,” to name a few. But I digress.

As the DVD played on, you were only reminded by the interludes that these performances were taken from different shows (Pittsburgh, Australia, Colorado, and New Jersey); its production and visual presentation had a level of consistency to it that made you feel like you were watching one show. The only real negative concerning production is that although the lighting above the stage was colorful – it included some cool black and white flashes – it got dim at times when the energy of the show was still in high gear. The occasional split-screen action of the band members was another plus.

Performance-wise, the band was tight every which way. However, singer Neil Fallon’s wide-ranging three-octave vocals, from gruff-sounding, low-key ZZ Top-style verses to high-range choruses are impressive, but get off-key during parts of a few songs (i.e. “Ship of Gold,” “Promoter (of Earthbound Causes)”. Still, Fallon demands a lot of himself vocally and pulls it off most of the time. Besides, those relatively few sour notes won’t stand out to the average listener.

Full Fathom Five, Video Field Recordings shouldn’t serve as an introduction to Clutch, but as a celebration and reward to any true fan, especially all those who stayed loyal to the band for a decade and a half and through the coming and going of many trends since they started out. Clutch has gone through stylistic changes themselves, having added a bluesier feel and organist to their classic rock-ish and stoner rock sound, along with more jam-heavy material in their concerts. Sure, they aren’t as angry and heavy metal as they were 17 years ago, but its hard rock/borderline metal of recent years is as enjoyable to listen to as it’s ever been. And I would argue that Clutch, as a result is as great a rock band as they’ve ever been. And Full Fathom Five captures the band arguably at the top of its game.

Note: This review was first posted on Blogcritics.org 9/14/08.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Music Review: Filter - Anthems For The Damned

Note: This article was first posted on Blogcritics.org on 6/26/08.

It's hard to believe that nine years have passed since Richard Patrick and Filter recorded the near-masterpiece Title Of Record, which, other than following up their excellent 1995 debut CD Short Bus spawned top hits like the dreamy "Take A Picture" and the heavy-hitting "Welcome To The Fold."

Filter did release one album between then and now, 2002's The Amalgamut. Though it was their heaviest to date, the album was largely average and a commercial flop because of it. That said, it did have a few bright spots, including "Where Do We Go From Here," "God Damn Me," and "The Only Way (Is The Wrong Way)."

Afterwards, Patrick wasn't heard from again — largely because of alcohol issues — until he fronted Army Of Anyone, a supergroup of sorts that featured the DeLeo brothers (Robert DeLeo and Dean DeLeo from Stone Temple Pilots) and David Lee Roth's drummer Ray Luzier. They released a self-titled album in late 2006, which had limited success in the form of a hit single, "Goodbye," and toured behind the album in 2007. All members have since moved on to other projects, with Luzier having joined Korn, the DeLeo brothers reformed Stone Temple Pilots with Scott Weiland, and Patrick reformed Filter to record its fourth album. Thus, Anthems For The Damned (Pulse Recordings) was born.

After a few spins of the long-awaited Josh Abraham-produced new record, you get the sense that Patrick, who started Filter in 1993 with former partner and programmer Brian Liesegang, has both expanded his sound and reclaimed many of the best elements of his previous records. Thus, there are very few weak tracks on this new album, which should please many of the band's longtime fans.

There are also a few notable guests here as well, including guitarist Wes Borland (ex-Limp Bizkit, Black Light Burns), Josh Freeze (A Perfect Circle, NIN), and John 5 (Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson). And speaking of collaborators, joining Patrick (vocals/guitar) for the new edition of Filter are Mitchell Marlow (guitar), John Spiker (bass) and Mika Fineo (drums).

It should be no surprise to any Filter fan that many of Patrick's new songs are political, even if the lyrics on many of them aren't overtly so. The press release for the album, in fact says the bandleader considers the new release his "howl in the night," a harsh indictment of civilization that doesn't exclude himself from its vision of a world falling apart.

First single "Soldiers of Misfortune" is an emotional tribute — with a chorus that hints at vintage U2 — to fallen U.S. Army Reservist (and Filter fan) Sgt. Justin Eyerly who lost his life within days of being deployed to Iraq. And, it's an instant classic. Recall that Filter's first hit, "Hey Man, Nice Shot" (from Short Bus) was also a tribute, this one being to the late Republican Pennsylvania state treasurer Budd Dwyer, who took his own life in 1987 during a televised press conference. So, political (and patriotic) tributes are nothing new to Richard Patrick.

Track two, "What's Next" starts off with that familiar slightly distorted bass (as heard on early Filter tracks) and the lyrics are an outright indictment of our government. Check out lyrics like "George Bush is f***ing us up," and "look what they've done to us/we don't know who to trust."

But instead of moping about current state of affairs, he wants us to do something about it, hence the lyrics: "It's time we took up a stand/Take a wrong out of our hands." It's another vintage heavy and intense Filter number that doesn't let up 'til its end. The industrial metal of "The Take" has a similar vibe, though it does include an acoustic breakdown that leads to a crushing finale.

Elsewhere, there are a couple of future hit singles on the record that are in the vain of the last two records' catchiest tunes, including "Kill The Day." It's a definite repeat-worthy midtempo number that could easily fit right in with Amalgamut's quieter standouts like "The Only Way (Is The Wrong Way)." But the track's flute-like high-end guitars add a new dimension to the Filter sound, at least in a way not easily identifiable before now.

The spacious track "Only You" definitely has its own identity but thematically, it is linked to the hypnotic, ambient and dreamy instrumental "Can Stop This," as both songs share a "tentative hope" for the future, as well as the same acoustic guitar riffs. [Put together as one, the song becomes "Only You Can Stop This"]

Traces of Filter's super-heavy ("nu metal") numbers from previous records can be found on a couple of Anthems tracks, but "In Dreams" in particular, which has its ultra heavy guitars tuned down to Drop A (as they are on "Welcome To The Fold" and "Columind," from Title of Record and Amalgamut, respectively).

As mentioned earlier, there are very few truly unmemorable missteps on Anthems. One of them is "I Keep Flowers Around," which starts out with a promising bass groove but has Patrick singing — more like yelling — over a refrain that just doesn't go anywhere, and ends unpleasantly with Patrick yelling "You lie/To me" to himself.

Speaking of "lies," there appears to be a running theme on the record of pointing out how someone "lie[d]," "lied" to him or to the country. The problem is that other than calling out President Bush ("What's Next") for lying us into the current Iraq war, Patrick never really delves into specific instances of who lied and what they lied about, and therefore the use of that word becomes generic after several uses.

But I digress, because the vocal performances on this album are strong and overcome such lyrical deficiencies. And Richard Patrick's singing is terribly underrated — the man can sing his butt off.

In all, Anthems For The Damned has given Filter new life. Richard Patrick has shown he can still channel his anger and frustrations with the world in a tuneful way fifteen years into his post-NIN career. He and his new band have given Filter fans young and old twelve new tracks to rock out to or relax and enjoy. They are a mix of heavy (sometimes industrial) hard rock/metal and radio-friendly rock, with the balance of material being of the just plain heavy kind.

More importantly, about two-thirds of the record is definitely worth listening to again and again, while the rest isn't bad, just so-so. Therefore, Anthems as a whole is one of Filter's best and highly recommended.

Key tracks to crank up: "The Take," "In Dreams," "Soldiers of Misfortune," "Kill The Day"

For more information on the band and its current tour, visit http://www.officialfilter.com

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Baskervilles - Twlight Preview

New York City never seems to stop churning out up-and-coming bands these days. And with Baskervilles, the trend continues. The band released its self-titled debut in 2004 (on Secret Crush Records) and its follow-up, Twilight hits stores the first week of June. A preview track, courtesy of 1-Up PR, is below.

Baskervilles - "Caught In A Crosswalk" (MP3)

This summery, indie guitar pop ditty features catchy trumpet phrases. It's like a female-fronted answer to the Mike Watt/Eddie Vedder collaboration "Against The 70s" from the 90s, only with a 60s-type of vibe, and no distorted guitars. The rest of the album promises to continue in this direction, with dance-ready beats, the occasional handclaps, and male/female vocal-led tracks. It's a bit like Boston's Via Audio, only they're from New York.

A Blogcritics review of the full album (by yours truly) will be cross-posted here in June.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Anderson Cooper, Candy Crowley Mislead on Obama

On the 3/27/08 edition of CNN's AC360, host Anderson Cooper and reporter Candy Crowley did not do their homework on democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (and I let Cooper know that on his blog too). Cooper simply reported that he was the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate for 2007, according to National Journal. He never went into why that rating is misleading or just outright BS, instead just stating that the Obama camp considers it a "flawed" report. Nor did he cite any other report on Obama's voting record. He and Crowley also failed to report evidence that Obama has reached across party lines in his short time in the U.S. Senate. I will go into that in a moment.

According to a VERY credible report by political scientists Keith Poole and Jeff Lewis, Obama is tied with democrat Joe Biden as the 10th most liberal Senator in the U.S. Senate. Why does this report look more credible than the NJ study? First of all, avid socialist and liberal democratic Senator Bernie Sanders and pure liberals like Russ Feingold and Chris Dodd are all at the top of the Poole-Lewis study, ahead of Obama as they should be. The NJ study, on the other hand, has Obama ahead of everyone, which makes no sense given Obama's post-partisan rhetoric and work across party lines, a fact that extends to his time in the Illinois state senate (a fact that Cooper and Crowley casually mentioned).

Cooper and company apparently did not understand that the National Journal rating on Obama is flawed now, just as it was in 2004 when its study said John Kerry was the most liberal Senator. Read this Media Matters item to see why.

And that's not all that's wrong with National Journal's studies. The current one considers, for example, the vote (and Obama's in particular) on passing the 9/11 recommendations to be a "liberal" issue when it was clearly bi-partisan, as was the 9/11 Commission's report. It also wrongly considers votes on the federal minimum wage, embryonic stem cell research, and children's health insurance to be "liberal" issues as well, even though they all got bi-partisan support in Congress.

And Candy Crowley is a lazy journalist. She says Obama has no record of cooperating with Republicans in the U.S. Senate. Just go to Obama's Wikipedia page: there you will find that he has helped to pass ethics(/transparency) reform with Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn and a bill to reign in nuclear and conventional weapons with Indiana Republican Dick Lugar. It was dubbed the "Obama-Lugar" bill. He also co-sponsored an immigration bill that John McCain introduced to the Senate in 2005.

So shame on Crowley and Cooper for not doing their homework on Obama, a democrat who has gotten support and votes from both sides of the aisle in this primary campaign, including from the likes of former president Eisenhower's granddaughter and hundreds of Republicans in Colorado. Thus, he is a liberal/moderate democrat who definitely has a bipartisan track record. Anderson Cooper and Candy Crowley, like so many supposed so-called journalists and pundits, simply didn't look hard enough to find it.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Bill Richardson (R-NM) WTF?

On last night's edition of Geraldo Rivera's show Geraldo At Large on Fox News, during New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's comments about the Democratic race for president, the Fox News screen labeled him (R-NM). This wouldn't be the first or second time FNC has mislabeled a politician's political affiliation. First, they labeled disgraced former Republican congressman Mark Foley (D-FL), RI Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse a Republican and his competitor, Republican Lincoln Chafee a Democrat in the weeks leading up to the 2006 midterm elections (where Whitehouse defeated Chafee for a Senate seat). They also labeled Republican Senator Lamar Alexander (D-TN) in '06 as well. And just last month, Fox News labeled John McCain (D-AZ)!

I know Gov. Richardson looks a bit different now with more facial hair, but anyone who has paid any fair mount of attention to his run for the presidency would know that if anything has changed, it's that he has moved more left than right, after being considered a moderate Democrat for many years. That makes the mislabeling of him as a Republican even more bizarre. And it's not like he, and for that matter, John McCain are virtual unknowns either. Both have been involved in politics and in their respective political parties for at least twenty years.

Now, Fox News isn't the first or only network to misidentify a politician (and therefore misinform and confuse viewers), but there is an alarming pattern of ignorance and/or stupidity at work behind the scenes. And you wonder why so many people -- mainly partisans -- chuckle at the thought of this channel being considered a legitimate "news" station, nevermind "Fair & Balanced."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Patriots Turn Out The Lights On The Bolts, Again

Note: Posted on Blogcritics last night

With yesterday's hard fought 21-12 win over the San Diego Chargers at Gillette Stadium, the AFC Champion New England Patriots have now earned a trip to four of the last seven Super Bowls. Perhaps almost as impressively, New England's appearance in the AFC Championship game was their fifth in the last seven years, and they've won all but one of them.

Their lone AFC Championship loss in that span was to the Indianapolis Colts last year, and it left a bitter taste in the mouth of every Patriot in the RCA Dome that fateful day in January 2007. They had an 18-point lead at one point and it was looking like the Patriots were going to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in six years (and likely defeat the Chicago Bears). But a combination of un-Patriot-like actions, including poor, seemingly worn out defense, late-game penalties and a Brady interception in the game's final drive led to their demise — and to Peyton Manning's first Super Bowl ring.

It was that loss, not "Spygate" as many in the mainstream sports world (including ESPN) have said that has made the Patriots as determined as ever to play football at their very best level and get back to the Super Bowl. And with a 9-point victory over the Chargers, the Patriots did what they could not do a year ago at this time: play disciplined football, get a lead, and hold onto it until the clock runs out.

The now 18-0 Patriots proved yet again they can win any way possible and why they are on their way to becoming one of the greatest NFL teams ever. With Randy Moss
relegated to a being decoy (and making just one catch) for a second straight game and Brady throwing 3 INTs for the first time since his team knocked the Chargers out of the playoffs in last year's divisional round, a short passing game, a strong running game and a trademark bend-but-not-break defense was how the Patriots won. (This win also marks the third game in a row in just over a year that the Patriots have beaten the Bolts.)

For the second time in this playoff run, New England outran one of the best rushing
teams in the NFL. Second-year RB Laurence Maroney cut-and-ran for over 100 yards for the second straight week. Clearing the way for Maroney's strong running performance was the offensive line, led by Pro Bowlers Matt Light and Logan Mankins and excellent blockers like TE Kyle Brady.

New England's 21 points didn't come easy though, as Brady got some pressure from SD's defense, and his wide receivers were tightly covered by the San Diego secondary all day long, not wanting to get beat down the field. Emerging star corner back Antonio Cromartie, Quentin Jammer, and DE Igor Olshansky were among the reasons the Patriots offense got frustrated for much of the game. But Brady stayed cool in the freezing weather in Foxborough, Massachusetts and lead the Pats to three TD drives (2 passing, one running TD by Maroney).

Besides Maroney, the unsung hero of this game on the offensive side was long-time Patriot Kevin Faulk, who has split time between running and receiving for years. Never a starting RB due to his tendency to fumble the ball — though not this season — he was always been reliable catching the ball and is the team's all-time leader in receptions by a running back. On Sunday, he led the team with 8 catches for 82 yards. Along with Maroney's runs, it was Faulk's great hands and crucial third-down catches that kept the ball in Patriot hands in a 15-play drive that sucked up the last nine minutes of the game, not even giving the Chargers a chance to make a late-game comeback.

Everyone knows about the Patriots' highly potent offense, but they also have a top five defense, and it showed. San Diego had three red zone opportunities to score touchdowns in this game, but only came away with three chip shot field goals. New England's defense either stuffed the run or knocked down QB Phillip Rivers's passes once SD got inside the 10-yard line. Veterans like Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour and former Charger Junior Seau were major contributors to SD's touchdown-less drives.

In a close game such as this, turnovers can be costly, but it's what you do with them that matters. Brady had 3 INTs, one of which was a tipped ball, but San Diego only turned them into two field goals. The Patriots, by contrast intercepted Rivers twice and used Asante Samuel's 2nd quarter interception to turn a 7-6 lead into a 14-6 edge, one they would never relinquish and would indeed add onto, via a Wes Welker TD reception from Brady in the 4th quarter.

Sure, the fact that San Diego lost one of the league's best RBs LaDainian Tomlinson to injury early hurt their chances of scoring touchdowns in those red zone opportunities, but
they still had a resilient QB in Rivers and emerging receivers like Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson for him to throw to. Even TE Antonio Gates hung in the game with a dislocated toe. The Pats defense just had the poise and smarts to stop Rivers, backup RB Michael Turner and co. whenever they had to. In other words, they played like true champions.

Now, let's just hope the Chargers don't act like sore losers like they did after last year's playoff loss to the Pats. (Hint: Tomlinson complaining that a couple Patriots over-celebrated their victory at San Diego and imitated Shawne Merriman's own celebratory dance.)

Music Review: Jimmy Eat World - Chase This Light

Note: Posted on Blogcritics.org December 2007

For the last eleven years or so, Jimmy Eat World has put out full-lengths that have either been labeled landmark releases that influenced a generation of emo-centric rock bands or gotten fairly respectable praise from fans and critics alike.

The first of them, 1996's Static Prevails saw the then young Mesa, Arizona quartet making a raw, melodic but mostly emo-core record that only hinted at its top-notch songwriting abilities. 1999's Clarity, though criminally under-marketed by their former label Capitol Records, slowly but surely solidified Jimmy Eat World's reputation at home and abroad as one of the best and most influential bands in the emo genre.

Commercial and radio hits, however, didn't come until Jimmy Eat World released Jimmy Eat World (a.k.a. Bleed American) in 2001. Though it contained an emo hit ("Sweetness") written in the Clarity era, this record was more in the power pop vein than any previous release. It was such a big hit that songs like "The Middle," "Sweetness," "Authority Song" and others have gone on to be featured in everything from sports stadiums to movies and in the case of "The Middle," covered by local cover bands or ripped off by newer so-called "emo" bands.

2004's Futures, in contrast to prior releases, had a darker sound and mood, but wasn't a commercial hit. Still, fans and critics mostly praised it, and even on the band's current tour, the few songs from the album that make their set list get loud cheers.

So, does Chase This Light (Interscope Records) recapture any of the magic and power of Jimmy Eat World's best records?

In essence, there's a little Clarity on the album, and some of the pop appeal of Jimmy Eat World (a.k.a. Bleed American) as well. For example, first single "Big Casino" has a speedy rhythmic guitar going through its verses that harkens back to Clarity's minor hit "Lucky Denver Mint." It's a heavy power pop number that's getting lots of airplay on modern rock radio, but the song doesn't quite have the catchy vocals to sing along to that their more successful radio hits had.

By contrast, the final track on the album, the incredibly expansive break-up song "Dizzy" will remind older fans of why they fell in love with Jimmy Eat World in the first place. The intensity of Jim Adkins's personal lyrics and the tense and melodic guitars that complement each other as "Dizzy" builds to a crescendo are classic Jimmy Eat World. It's the best song they've written in a long time, IMO.

Elsewhere, strong points on the album include the political and punk-inspired anthem "Electable (Give It Up)," "Firefight," new single "Always Be," and "Carry You." The latter track has a truly memorable chorus and should be a future radio hit. However, like some other tracks on the record, "Carry You" is a bit too pop-friendly in its production, with double octave vocals in the verses and "do-do, do-do-do" background vocals that take away from the personal and passionate vocals Jim Adkins brings to the song.

"Gotta Be Somebody's Blues" has a live string section conducted by David Campbell, but they are the song's highest point, as the hushed nature of Adkins's vocals isn't very appealing. This is not to say that it's a bad song. There is not a "bad" song on Chase This Light, just some songs that do not entice you to hit the repeat button on your CD player.

There is one song, however that is bound to cause mixed reaction among Jimmy Eat World's older and newer fans. "Here It Goes," found in the last half of the album, is basically a dance-pop rock number with a bass line straight out of '80s pop. It's the most un-Jimmy Eat World song of all-time, IMO, but it is infectious and hard to resist.

Taken together, Chase This Light is a largely satisfying power pop rock record with hints of what used to be their trademark emo anthems. While it certainly will get more spins in my CD player than Futures and Static Prevails, it's not quite on par with emo masterpieces like Clarity and the near perfect power pop of Bleed American CD. In fact, this record suffers at times from super slick, pop-oriented production and perhaps too much of it overall - in a too-many-cooks-spoil-the-broth kind of way - with the legendary Butch Vig serving as executive producer, while Chris Testa, John Fields, and the band serve as co-producers.

Ultimately, like many 2007 releases, Chase This Light isn't an instant classic but is definitely worth owning if you've been a Jimmy Eat World fan all these years. In Pitchfork fashion, I'd give it a 7.8 out of 10.

For more info on the band, visit their official website or their Myspace page.

Also, check out a Windows Media audio clip of the new single "Always Be".

Music Review: Joe Satriani - Surfing With The Alien: Legacy Edition (CD/DVD)

Note: Posted on the Blogcritics web site last month

Twenty years after its initial pressing, famed guitar teacher and virtuoso Joe Satriani's Surfing With The Alien still stands as an album that revitalized instrumental music and made him a household name in rock, one of the best in the business.

More than selling millions of records, it inspired legions of guitarists to follow his path and even made instrumental rock music a genre cool enough to earn Grammy nominations, of which Satriani himself has earned fourteen. This year, the album got the remaster treatment — courtesy of Epic/Legacy Recordings. Along with a bonus DVD featuring a full Satriani concert, the total package stands out as one of the most notable reissues of 2007.

It's easy to forget that SWTA was Satriani's sophomore effort, with 1986's Not Of This Earth being his first foray into the instrumental rock world. It was solid and technically impressive in its own right. But the array of diverse sounds and moods of SWTA's ten tracks, along with Satriani's technically precise playing made this record a masterpiece.

From beautiful emotive love ballads like "Always With Me, Always With You," swinging blues rock boogies like "Satch Boogie," impossibly fast, complex hard rockers and strange or classical-sounding music, it's all there.

Original producer John Cuniberti was chosen by Joe to remaster the album, and there is a noticeable difference in overall sound, not as much in his lead guitar playing as in the backing guitars, drums and other percussive instruments. The sonic textures of the instruments that compliment his guitar work are more crystal clear or explosive-sounding than ever before.

In the liner notes, Satriani gives some valuable insight into both what went into the production of SWTA and his experience playing the 1988 Montreux Jazz Festival, the full performance of which is included in the DVD portion of this re-release. Nigel from Spinal Tap tells some pretty amusing stories of his encounters with Satriani on the DVD as well. You also get to see a couple of old videos from this era, including a black-and-white video of "Always With Me, Always With You."

Satriani's versatile technical skills and incredible songwriting abilities are on full display throughout SWTA, as his many adoring fans and musicians already know. But whatever the reason, the audience at the 1988 Montreux Jazz festival gave mostly respectable applause throughout Satriani's SWTA-heavy set most of the time. In fact, as Joe recalls in the album's liner notes, much of the crowd left as soon as his band started playing!

They were supposed to hit the stage at midnight on July 15, 1988 but got pushed back to 4am because prior bands played well over their set times. As if that wasn't bad enough, Satch was told to cut down his set time as well. Unfair as it was, the band still rocked the joint, and it's a shame that the crowd who stayed didn't have anywhere near the energy the band did. As to those who left, apparently they didn't know what they were missing.

True, it was a jazz-oriented audience and Satriani was not yet as famous as he would later become, but there was some awe-inspiring musicianship on that stage, not only from Satch but from bassist Stu Hamm as well. While Jonathan Mover isn't the greatest drummer I've ever seen, he kept pace with those two throughout the 58-minute set and like Hamm, got the stage to himself for a few minutes to show off his soloing skills.

Speaking of midnight, the song "Midnight" really stood out from this show, just as it does on the album. On the DVD, you get to actually see Satriani recreate the majestic beauty of the baroque-styled instrumental. Skill-wise, it's a challenging song to pull off either in studio or live, and Satch does his two-handed finger-tapping work on stage with ease at this late hour, creating lovely and tense, minor-keyed melodies with two-to-four fingers (using both hands) at a time! It's the type of song that truly is best appreciated live.

In all, Surfing With The Alien: Legacy Edition is highly recommended to all Joe Satriani fans — even if you have the original CD (or cassette tape, remember them?). Besides a remarkable improvement in the sound of the original album, getting to see him and his band live in concert early in his solo career is rare, and is what makes the total package truly valuable and worth the purchase price.

Say It Ain't So, Roger!

This was published on Blogcritics in December. An UPDATE is at the end of the article.

Like many in the baseball world, I was visibly and emotionally shocked to learn that the once immortal Roger Clemens had steroids injected into his behind and had done other illegal performance-enhancing drugs for at least three years (1998, 2000, 2001).

Maybe I shouldn't have been, since his name was among many others floated around in association with the Jason Grimsley affidavit last year. But then again, Grimsley claimed that affidavit was not accurate and denied volunteering the names of other illegal drug users. Thus, other than David Segui, no other alleged cheaters ever came forward or were confirmed as such, so I didn't put much stock in the Grimsley affidavit.

But when you have Roger Clemens' former trainer, Brian McNamee telling former Senator George Mitchell, some heavily detailed information about when and where he helped inject his high profile client with steroids and human growth hormone (HGH), you take those statements seriously. After all, like other witnesses in the 400+ page report, McNamee gave his testimony to Mitchell in front of agents from the FBI and IRS and knows he could get himself into legal troubles if he gave false information to them.

So, how did Roger Clemens respond to McNamee's allegations? First, he sent his lawyer Rusty Hardin to issue a flat denial on his behalf just hours after the report became public last Thursday afternoon. Tuesday, a whole five days after the report came out, we get another statement, this time through his agent Randy Hendricks, which said in part: "I want to state clearly and without qualification: I did not take steroids, human growth hormone or any other banned substances at any time in my baseball career or, in fact, my entire life."

That might sound plausible at first, but here's the catch: HGH and steroids weren't banned from baseball when he allegedly took them, from 1998-2001. In fact, it took years for baseball to catch up with federal law in banning steroids, which were finally outlawed in MLB in 2002, followed by HGH in 2005.

If he was telling the truth, Clemens would have said he never took, without qualification any performance-enhancing drugs his entire career. But he can't do that, nor will he come out and deny these charges outright in person (instead of handing off statements through agents and lawyers) or under oath because doing so could risk becoming another Marion Jones.

Another fact worth noting is that on page 175 of the Mitchell Report, it says that even after 2001 when McNamee was dismissed by the Yankees, Clemens "remained a source of income for McNamee up to and including 2007." In fairness, we don't know what exactly Clemens kept paying him for, but the fact remains that in MLB, only he and Andy Pettitte were "loyal" to McNamee after he left the Yankees, according to the Mitchell Report.

If Roger Clemens is really innocent, he should be preparing to sue McNamee, Kirk Radomski (who supplied McNamee with some of the illegal drugs Clemens used) and perhaps Mitchell himself for defamation of character, libel and slander. But common sense tells you he's not innocent in this matter, especially when his close friend Andy Pettitte admitted last Saturday that he too got HGH from McNamee (but allegedly used it for just one two-day period).

I'm sure this won't be the last we hear from the Rocket, who is now no longer a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. Like Barry Bonds, he cheated in the latter part of his career, but the "Integrity," "Character" and "Sportsmanship" qualifications for the Hall make no such distinctions. And if in the next five years the facts that Brian McNamee and others gave to Mitchell are not successfully refuted by Clemens via a lawsuit, the Rocket's legacy will be forever tainted and like the recently indicted Bonds, should be kept out of Cooperstown.

UPDATE: A couple of Mondays ago, Clemens officially filed a defamation suit against Brian McNamee. But that's not going to be enough to clear his name, as he (along with other Yankees including Chuck Knoblauch and Andy Pettitte) are scheduled to testify under oath to Congress on February 13.

News reports on ESPN.com and elsewhere have claimed that Roger's representatives were warned by McNamee's reps as far back as 2004 that when MLB began stricter steroid testing that Roger may be in trouble for doing steroids.

Before this development, I was willing to at least hold out hope that Clemens was in the right and McNamee, for whatever reason, was in the wrong. But now, a situation may be developing where McNamee, who also has to testify on Feb 13, is willing to be a Greg Anderson and go to jail for Clemens - like Anderson did for Barry Bonds - instead of sticking with his story he told to Mitchell investigators. Will McNamee go to Congress and actually take back most or everything he said about Clemens and lose his freedom in order to protect The Rocket's legacy, even if what he told George Mitchell was the truth? That would be fucked up, I know.

The equally important question is, will Clemens lie under oath or will HE change his mind and tell Congress not only what he did from 1998-2001, but also what, if any illegal substances he took in 2004 or any other year? All I have to say is, Barry Bonds=perjury. Will Clemens be foolish enough to possibly suffer that same fate? Only if he refuses to tell the truth about his past and if the feds can prove he lied to them and if McNamee's claims remain credible or are never solidly refuted.

Music Review: As Tall As Lions - Into The Flood EP

This was published last month on Blogcritics, but I'm re-posting it here because it came out near the end of 2007 when no one cares about new music and thus needs more attention!

Long Island, New York has turned out a steady diet of hardcore and punk bands over the years, so when the British-influenced indie rock quartet As Tall As Lions came on the scene a few years ago, people paid attention. The LI natives released their debut album Lafcadio in 2004 and (self-titled) ATAL sophomore disc in 2006, to the raves of bloggers everywhere, including those at Stereogum, who labeled them a Band To Watch last year.

As Tall As Lions has toured with the likes of Sparta, Acceptance, Coheed & Cambria, June and Copeland. And fans have been so into their live show that the band tried to get their label Triple Crown/East West to release a live DVD this year. That didn't happen, but on November 27, the label did release their brand new EP Into The Flood, which is available on various digital formats, including iTunes, Amazon.com, and Rhapsody.

First song "505" starts out quietly but soon morphs into a cello-led, beautifully sad soft rocker not unlike early Death Cab For Cutie or Coldplay's "Trouble." However, where the more famous latter track is dreary in its mood, As Tall As Lions's "505" is more bittersweet chamber pop. And as you'll hear on this and other tracks on the EP, including its ambitious epic title track, singer Daniel Nigro's vocal range is considerably higher than Chris Martin's trademark falsetto.

The rest of this EP follows a similar path to the first two tracks and is worth checking out, but is not quite as memorable as the first two tracks. Nonetheless, "Blacked Out" retains a bit of that Coldplay flair mixed with a Jeff Buckley influence, even if the music isn't adventurous like the late crooner's best known material.

In all, Into The Flood is a largely satisfying appetizer for fans eagerly awaiting the release of As Tall As Lions's third album, due out next year. The EP is available now, so download all five tracks at Amazon.com or the band's Myspace page.