Sunday, April 27, 2008

"Sleep to Dream" / Fiona Apple / Tidal

"Tidal" is a purchase made by my wife back when Fiona Apple burst onto the scene, I guess this was back in 1997 or so. This is one of three songs released off of her debut, the others being (my favorite) "Shadowboxer" and the MTV and radio hit "Criminal", which is one of the more disturbing videos that I've seen.

Because of this, and other odd incidents here and there (onstage crash & burns, an 88 word title for her second CD, crazy award acceptance speeches) she got the "batshit crazy' tag, whcih probably is not without some solid reasoning.

(My favorite part? When she starts really going off on her "This world is shit" part, some fans are still "Wooooo!"ing, but a little less as the speech goes on until finally there is confused,awkward applause at the end.)

So, yeah, she goes away for a while and returns with "Extaordinary Machine", which has a pretty interesting , Wilco-ish story about it. Her label refused to release it, but she refused to change it. Word got out and her fans raised hell about it on the internet, until finally there was enough pressure on the label to release it after all. And you know what? That's a pretty good album, I'm not gonna lie.

Bryan's favorite bath, white zin and scented candle album

Back to "Sleep to Dream". First of all, the English teacher in me appreciates the fact that she cribbed her title from Hamlet's immortal "To be or not to be" soliloquy. That speech is basically Hamlet wrestling with the question of suicide, the problem being, as he sees it, that though you "sleep" when you die, there's a chance of a "dream" (the afterlife). I don't think it's coincidental that she chose such a title, as this song has dark, angry, aggressive music and lyrics.

It all starts with an awesome drum part with some deep bass drum kicks. The instrumentation throughout the song is incredibly sparse, with just the drum parts and some orchestral flourishes thrown in (kind of a trademark of her and her producers). The girl has an incredible voice, though - it's tough, deep and sounds like it should be comingn from someone twice her age and size. The song seems to be a kiss off to a no good dude, and she seems to mean it too.

As I mentioned earlier, this is an interesting choice for your first song on your debut album. No doubt she was sending a message with this one. And the gist of the message? "I'm not to be fucked with, yo"

Embedding not allowed, so follow the link

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Rock And Roll All Night" / KISS / Greatest KISS

Back to the metal again, eh itunes?

If you are my age (35ish), you probably had some kind of KISS encounter in your youth. Literally, a couple of my earliest memories involve KISS.

From the time I was a few months old until I was five, my family lived in the small towm of Barnesville, GA. My earliest years were spent in a little red brick house in this sleepy little town. Up the street there lived an older kid by three or four years named Rip (for real). Well. Rip was the coolest kid in the world in my eyes, because he was an only kid, had some awesome toys, and had a backyard pool. He also had all of the KISS albums, and this was back in their mid 70's heyday.

I can recall going to Rip's house and staring, just...staring at those KISS album covers in wonder. It was exciting, exotic and frightening all at once. Rip and I would play the albums and use his tennis rackets as guitars, and thus began my love of Rock & Roll. The gyp was he always got to be Gene Simmons, and I had to be Ace Frehley. Oddly, neither of us wanted to be Paul Stanley. I distinctly remember Rip playing our favorite, "Calling Dr. Love" and telling me, "Pretend I throw up on this girl and she faints" and then miming vomit. Good times, bro.

Flash to another memory during the same time...I'm sure I bugged my Mom about the KISS stuff leading her to buy me a KISS paint-by-numbers kit. I recall us laying on our floor and coloring in the band in all their black and white glory. God only knows what my Mom was thinking. Then, there was the breathless glory of seeing them in the classic "KISS meets the Phantom of the Park" on TV. How was I supposed to know how bad it was when I was five? It blew my mind back then. Completely.

Caution: 70's awesomeness ahead

I lost touch with KISS over the years, save for the occasional single. I rather randomly recall Caleb Elder and Alan Nimmons arguing during little league practice about how the chorus "went" on "Lick it Up", almost leading to blows. Then there was the time me and some buddies went downtown dressed as "Destroyer" era KISS in ties and all. Yeah, it's kind of played out now, but it was pretty cool in 1995. Oh, and this time I was Paul Stanley. Interesting...

Me, second from the right

Good for KISS for staying around, though. About ten years ago they put the makeup back on and really started to cash in. I guess it was about the time that our generation that first liked them in the 70's became adults with disposable income. I mean, do you really think any young kids these days get into KISS? It's hard to imagine. They are now known for being complete, shameless capatialist whores, but unapologetically, so I guess that's pretty cool.

"Rock And Roll All Nite" is, of course, their signature hit. It's hard to write about KISS' music, because they are more an idea than a band, if that makes any sense. This song, like the rest of their stuff, is pretty unremarkable when merely heard without seeing the accompanying spectacle. I'll give them this, though. This band absolutely deals in cliche, but doesn't give a shit. They have almost zero pretense about them, and when they say their fans are the best and they owe everything to them, I actually tend to believe what they say. My favorite part? Probably the opening drumbeat leading into those unmistakable three opening chords. It's amazing, though, how seeing the classic 70's footage will take me right back to being a kid again.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Tie Your Mother Down (Live)" / Queen / Live at Wembly Stadium

I really have some fond memories of Queen. The first album I ever bought with my own money was "Queen's Greatest Hits" back in 1980 when "Another One Bites the Dust" rocked my Skate-A-Round USA world. I knew nothing more about them but they became one of my favorites just from listening (and listening and listening) to that album alone.

Most likely purchased at Record Bar or Camelot Music

I remember loving "Killer Queen", "Bohemian Rhapsody", of course "We Will Rock You / We Are the Champions" (which got me fired up for many a swim meet or little league game, let me tell you). Shit, the whole campy cheese of "Flash" went right over my head; I thought it was flat out awesome. I even memorized the drum dolo on "Keep Yourself Alive" and could beat it out on pillows using screwdrivers or somesuch. I also distinctly liking "Under Pressure", but wondering who David Bowie was and why he was important enough to sing with Queen and have his name on the title. In all actuality, I cut my Rock teeth on these guys, and I'll always love them for it.

Here's another trivial memory: third grade in Mrs. Smith's class. I brought in the single of "Another One Bites the Dust" (obviously before I got the album) and played it on her record player before school started as we were allowed to do. Someone much cooler than me told the group that if you spun it backwards, Freddie Mercury was saying "It's fun to smoke marijuana". Of couse we tried it and determined...True! Even better, the B side of that single was a song called "Don't Try Suicide" (OK, Queen has never been known for subtlety, right?) with the chorus that went "Nobody gives a damn". We thought it was incredibly scandalous to turn up the "damn" part as loud as it would go and then run away. Eight year olds are cretins.

As the years went on, I lost touch with Queen, save for the occasional single. I do remember hearing "Innuendo" in 1991 and thinking, "Damn - that's old school right there. Good stuff". It wasn't until recently (maybe five years ago?) that I remedied my dearth of Queen CDs and bought the three CD "Greatest Hits" set (one huge reason was because it included George Michael's phenomenal rendition of "Somebody to Love" at the Freddie Mercury tribute after his death.

This particular song wasn't on it, but I got a jonesing for a live version of it after seeing Dave Grohl tear that shit up when Queen got inducted in the Rock & Roll hall of fame in 2001.

This song is all Brian May. It's all about that riff from the first five seconds of the song. Brain May is in my all-underrated musicains band along with Dave Lombardo on drums and Klaus Flouride from the Dead Kennedys on bass. His guitar sound is probably the most distinctive out of any of the big bands that I listen to. The great thing about hearing this song live is also the crowd interaction. British fans are celebrated for their particpation in stadium shows by singing, chanting, ydancing, etc., and Queen has songs absolutely tailor made for that kind of show. The might be the best arena / stadium band of all time. Anyone got a problem with that?

By the way, my favorite part of the song - in the breakdown at the end, Mercury gives a short "Give it to me!" right before the last huge chord and the motherfucking fireworks (3:24). Yes, Freddie. Give it to you indeed.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

"The Battle of Evermore" / Led Zeppelin / IV

Dang, I've gone this far without any Zeppelin? That's hard to believe.

So, when was your Zeppelin phase? I think any of us that are big music fans went through a period in which you believed that, truly, this might have been the greast band ever created and there wasn't much point in listening to anything else for a year or two.

For me, I suppose you could say my Zeppelin years were from 1987 - 1989, approximately my Sophomore through Senior years of high school (I'm willing to bet your Zeppelin years were in high school also). In many ways, they remain the epitome of what a Rock & Roll band should be; all the archetypes are represented within the band in some fashion, and unconsciously, that appeals to us (to go a little Jungian on you here): Robert Plant - the King, Jimmy Page - the Poet, John Bonham - the Soldier, and John Paul Jones - the Wise Man.

Back on point, though, I believe it was their 1987 performance at Live Aid that triggered the interest of me and my friends. The first band we all started loving was Van Halen, but when everyone was making a big deal about Zeppelin reforming for that show, we decided to investigate. My buddy Trey bought IV (on vinyl!), someone else got a tape of Zeppelin I, and it was all over. Not to mention, this was a time when 96 Rock absolutely RULED if you were a teenage white boy. I think they were contractually obligated to play something from Zeppelin hourly.

And there's the rub. Too much of a good thing became, well, too much of a good thing. Especially when that good thing isn't putting out any new music, and there are only eight albums worth of material to listen to. I received the first Led Zeppelin box set for Christmas in the early 90's, and that was about when I became burned out on them. For a pretty good while.

But now, as one might expect, I'm beginning to listen again with fresh ears. When I have the 'ol itunes or ipod on random and I'm hit with Zep tune when I'm not expecting it, it usually knocks me out. It's still good stuff, brilliant in some cases, and I often wish I could listen to them all over again for the first time.

Which leads us to this song. I'm glad this one popped up, as lately I'm ranking it as my favorite Zeppelin song. Back in the day, I was impatient with this song, because I knew "Stairway" was next (dude!). But now, I really dig it. It's very mellow, beginning with Page's picking on the mandolin in the intro, and the absense of a drum or bass part adds t othe stark nature of the song. The minor key it's in helps set the mood too. Plant's vocals are clear and articulate (the more I look back on them, the more I realize I don't understand much of what he's singing, actually).

One strange thing about this song is the alternate vocals after Plant's verses, which is a tactic they rarely employed. I'm not sure who's singing it, but it helps keep that eerie vibe up.I love the melody of the chorus, and I really love the "jam" at the end, for lack of a better term. If you'll notice, too, this song doesn't have many, if any, key changes. It starts in the one key and keeps chugging along, unchanging, almost as if it's a chant or dirge. It builds up the tension in the song that really never gets released!

Of course, the elephant in the room is the lyrics. Yes, they are post Lord of the Rings fantasy nonsense, but what can you do? It's not as embarrassing as their other LOR song, Ramble On, which I've never liked at all. Plus, the opening line, "The Queen of light took her bow, and then she turned to go", while corny, is one of my favoites of any song.

Want to geek out? I found a video of the song set to scenes of the battle of Minias Tirith from The Return of the King, on which the song is based. Break out the 20 sided die! Who's holdin'?

And I know you really wanted to see Heart rock the fuck out of this song. And I'm not even close to kidding.