Like many people, I loved Stone Temple Pilots back in the day, particularly their first two albums, “Core” and “Purple.” The band broke up after Dean DeLeo and Scott Weiland nearly got into a fistfight during the last show of their fall tour in 2002. The members went their separate ways and released 7 years worth of other projects before Weiland’s wife made a phone call that led to a reconciliation. The band recorded some songs and the DeLeo brothers produced it themselves (against Atalntic Records’ wishes) while on tour (which is why it took 10 months to mix), with a little help from a stellar musician/producer, Don Was.
The result is a self-titled album that doesn’t really break any new ground for Stone Temple Pilots, or anyone else for that matter, but reminds you of why you liked STP so much. It is not a great leap forward, but it is a bold step back. I have to confess I didn’t really like their last album, “Shangri-La Dee Da” and only ripped one song from it. “Stone Temple Pilots,” however, has a bunch of cool songs. I don’t need hot, new groundbreaking work. I’m glad to hear them back in the saddle again.
Check out these 4.
- Between the Lines – This was the single and it has a video. The video isn’t great, but the girl is. The song rocks and I like the lyrics.
- Take a Load Off – This one sounds straight out of 1992 at the sunnier end of grunge.
- Hazy Daze – The lick is hot and I love the buzzing guitar sound they use on this track. The vocal melody is cool and the harmonies at the chorus are great.
- Peacoat – This has the crunching guitars and bright vocals you remember from their early days and they still do it well.
I realized that all the songs I picked were throwbacks. They did take some chances on the album, and if you want to hear some of the weirdness you should pick up the album. It reminds me of some of the weirder stuff Led Zeppelin did on some of their albums. Kind of cool to hear, but not something I need coming up on random on my iPod. Ultimately, these guys didn’t knock this comeback album out of the park, but they did stretch it into a slide-in double.
Labor Day marks the end of summer for a lot of people, though not for you purists who pay attention to the “calendar.” That would mark the end of the summer vacation travel season as well, so it is fitting that this looks like the last travel-themed mix I have in my collection. In case you were wondering, I didn’t already pick my favorite stuff and this is the leftovers. I pulled them at random each week from my pool of songs that would fit the theme so there is still some fantastic music in the mix this week.
- Gold Heart Mountain Top Queen Directory – …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
To be honest, I don’t know to what place they are referring, but if they need a directory, I’m assuming it’s a place. This song was originally released by Guided by Voices, but the orignal is nowhere near as beautiful as this version.
- Haiti – The Arcade Fire
The Arcade Fire doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but they are a strong pop band. I can’t quite put my finger on who they remind me of. There are elements of U2, certainly, though not in the vocals. If you can place it, let me know.
- Funky Nassau, Pt. 1 – The Beginning of the End
Fantastic vintage funk/ska. I guess it really IS better in the Bahamas.
- California Stars– Billy Bragg & Wilco
I am a huge Wilco fan. This is from the “Mermaid Avenue” project, in which they took lyrics by Woody Guthrie and set them to original music. This is one of the best tracks to come out of those sessions.
- Wyoming – Brand New Sin
Not southern rock, but grungy southern metal. It’s actually a really good sound. They have seen some lineup changes, but they are still at it.
- Dracula from Houston – Butthole Surfers
I wouldn’t expect such a sunny, happy song from Gibby Haynes, but this is a really accessible track with kind of funny lyrics.
- Tokyo Storm Warning – Elvis Costello
“Blood & Chocolate” is the first Elvis Costello album I ever really got into so of course I love it. This great track was #3 on the album.
- Last Tango in Paris – Gotan Project
I have this one on my Chillout mix. Like most of the songs on that mix, it’s relaxing, doesn’t go through a lot of changes, and I like it.
- St. Louis Blues – Herbie Hancock (featuring Stevie Wonder)
So Herbie is on keys and Stevie plays harmonica and sings. It’s as good as you think. Better, in fact. Stevie won one of his legion of Grammys for his vocal performance on this song.
- Hollywood – Los Lonely Boys
My brother, who lives near Austin, where Los Lonely Boys’ came up, sent me a disc of theirs before they hit the national scene. I could already tell they were brothers just by the way they harmonize. Even their vibrato is synchronized. They have spent many, many years singing together. This is a sweet song.
- Speedway at Nazareth – Mark Knopfler
This is a fictional tale about racing, though it has the feel of one of Knopfler’s historical pieces (I know it is fictional because the album was released in 2000, one year before the first season mentioned in this song). It sports a folk feel with violins and gentle harmony vocals until the songs really starts to move, with Knopflers inimitable pocket soloing. Great song.
- When in Rome – Nickel Creek
This is the first track and the single from Nickel Creek’s 2005 release, “Why Should the Fire Die?” Chris Thile (mandolin, vocals) said by this time the band was comfortable playing to their strengths and they do this kind of song very well indeed.
- Lake Michigan – Rogue Wave
Acoustic guitar and handclaps set up this fat, appealing pop hook.
- Jacksonville – Sufjan Stevens
I almost posted Decatur by Stevens, but I like this track just a little bit more. This is such a mellow and interesting track.
- Warsaw, Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up – Them Crooked Vultures
I wrote up this entire album not long ago. It’s all killer, no filler and this is a fine example of the great, dark rock that populates the whole disc.
- Summertime in England – Van Morrison
Van Morrison is simply my very favorite. This is from his 1990 release, “Common One,” long after the peak of his popularity, but he has lost nothing as a singer, songwriter, or bandleader. This is a live version, but they do a fantastic job with it.
- Impossible Germany – Wilco
You get two songs by Wilco this week because one was with Billy Bragg and because Wilco is just cool as hell. Impossible Germany, unlikely Japan. I have read these lyrics over and over but I still don’t understand them. I get more meaning from the way the song makes me feel, I think.
Enjoy this mix with a mojito. You won’t be able to pick fresh mint out of your herb garden for much longer. Have a great Labor Day weekend!
Let’s step into the vault today for an album from my childhood that I feel has aged well: Sweet’s 1974 release, “Desolation Boulevard.” If Americans remember anything about these guys, it is probably either “Fox on the Run” or ‘Ballroom Blitz,’ both of which were first released on this album and both of which reached #5 in the U.S. You might even remember ‘Love Is Like Oxygen” from “Level Headed” in 1978.
Early in their career, Sweet (or ‘The Sweet’ in the U.K.) had a bubblegum pop sound because that’s the way their label wanted it. Listen to ‘Little Willie,’ for example. The band, though, considered The Who to be a major influence and insisted on releasing harder and harder B-sides. By 1974, their glam rock sound had grown some rough edges while still retaining the radio-friendly pop that would propel some of their songs up the charts all over Europe.
The U.S. and U.K. versions of this album are very different. 6 songs on the U.K. version don’t appear on the U.S. version and 7 from the U.S. version weren’t on the U.K. release. This was done because Sweet’s previous album, “Sweet Fanny Adams,” was not released in the U.S. and several great tracks from that album were put on the U.S. release of “Desolation Boulevard.” On the downside, U.S. audiences didn’t get to hear a lot of cool music from Sweet. On the upside, our “Desolation Boulevard” is a much stronger, more concentrated album.
- Ballroom Blitz – This song commemorates an experience they had at a show in 1973. Their sound had been evolving as a band. Fans would come to the shows expecting to hear the light pop they knew from the radio, but got much harder rock songs they didn’t know. At this particular show, the crowd turned ugly.
- The Sixteens – This was a big hit for Sweet in the U.K. and I can see why. It’s a catchy hook with evocative lyrics and powerful, layered vocals.
- No You Don’t – The production around the vocal work on this track is great. I like the echo put on the whined verses and the richly layered harmony vocals on the chorus. The drum work on this track is great too.
- A.C.D.C – I would expect this kind of slightly raunchy song from…well, AC/DC. I love the lead vocal performance on this song.
- Sweet F.A. – This is a classic early metal guitar riff. You can tell a lot of the guys who created the hair metal bands of the 80s listened to music like this in the 70s. Listen to the great percussion and bass work during the chorus, but watch out for the crazy and chaotic guitar solo that takes up the last minute of the song. This video on YouTube contains “Sweet F.A.” and “Into the Night”
- Fox on the Run – This is the most pop-oriented, glam sounding track on the album. It was never my favorite, but it was the biggest hit from this release so I’m including it here.
- Set Me Free – There is solid guitar work all over this album, but you really notice it on the intro to this song as he bounces through the power chords and settles into a crunchy vamp.
- Into the Night – I love this song. The laid back percussion creates a perfect groove and the rich vocals are a great counterpoint to the dirty guitar.
- Solid Gold Brass – Sweet gives us a nice blend of heavy glam rock and sweet pop on this one. The video is great, too. Watch the crowd dancing. They look like the Peanuts kids.
I have listened to albums Sweet released before and after “Desolation Boulevard,” but none were as good from end to end. The band saw some line-up changes but eventually broke up in 1981. Not to worry, though. 3 of Sweet’s members formed their own bands and all of them were called Sweet. Reportedly, 2 of them are still active, so you haven’t missed your chance to see them live.
Them Crooked Vultures is a true supergroup, unlike some bands that aspire to that moniker. It’s just a 3-piece, but what pieces: Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and The Eagles of Death Metal on lead guitar and vocals, Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters on drums, and John Paul Jones of Led (Freaking) Zeppelin on bass. In retrospect, I’m not sure why it took me so long to listen to their self-titled album, “Them Crooked Vultures.” I had heard about this project, but no one had played it for me or told me about the music. Last week, my brother told me I had to have it, so I picked it up.
Wow. My very first time through this album I loved it. Song after song had me checking my iPod to see the title. As is commonly noted about 3-piece bands, there is nowhere to hide. You have to be on your game 100% of the time to create a full sound. Well, all three men are notorious monsters on their instruments and they have created a sound here that is not only full, but also complex and edgy. Some of the songs hearken back to older rock, but it sounds like inspiration, not borrowing. Not to mention it’s OK for your band to remind people of Led Zeppelin if one of their members actually plays with you.
I’ve been a big fan of Homme’s for years. His twisted melodies and lyrics are the hardest, darkest, and coolest music to pump from my speakers since old Alice in Chains. Grohl is, of course, a great singer, songwriter, and guitarist, but it’s great to have him back on drums. In fact, Homme and Grohl have worked together before on the great Queens of the Stone Age album, “Songs for the Deaf,” on which Grohl played drums. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that John Paul Jones is so very impressive on this album, but I was. I guess I expected him to have lost a step, but he still has his chops and carries as much of the load as anyone else.
I could write up every song on this album, but I won’t. Just give a listen to these half dozen and you will want to go buy this album.
- No One Loves Me & Neither Do I – I’m not sure what it is about having John Paul Jones in your band that makes you write hooks like this. The song rocks and the lyrics are fantastic.
- New Fang – All three men are kicking ass in this song, though perhaps Grohl is hitting it the hardest on drums. It’s hard to say. One thing for sure, this song demands maximum volume from your sound system.
- Dead End Friends – This one sounds more like something off of “Songs for the Deaf,” which is a good thing, of course.
- Elephants – Jimmy Page would have been proud of the guitar work on this one. It is very Zeppelinesque all the way through, but not tired sounding at all.
- Reptiles – Homme’s guitar riff is busy and jangling, Jones is relentless on bass, and Grohl keeps things moving along. Something about the vocal melody reminds me of Cream.
- Warsaw, Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up – This has a dirty, swinging groove and cool lyrics during the verses and then odd harmonies at the chorus. I love how heavy the song feels when they jump back into the verses after each chorus.
I picked these six more or less at random from this disc and have left out a bunch of great music, like ‘Spinning in Daffodils,’ ‘Interlude with Ludes,’ and ‘Caligulove.’ This album is all killer, no filler and I hope these guys had enough fun doing this that they want to do it again. Maybe if we all go buy it and see their shows they’ll make so much money they’ll HAVE to go back into the studio.
My freshman year in college, a lot of people played Hüsker Dü for me. In fact, it seems every dorm room I wandered into had “Zen Arcade” or “New Day Rising” playing. Now, “Zen Arcade” has some fine songs on it. It also has some stuff that is really hard to listen to (‘Never Forget You’ and ‘Pride,’ for example) and that would prevent me from ever putting the disc in. For years, that kept me from picking this album up. I was listening to a song by guitarist Bob Mould with his other band, Sugar, the other day and I realized that in the age of iPods, I can cherry pick “Zen Arcade” and just keep the really good stuff. That’s what I have done today.
Early in their career, Hüsker Dü was a full on hardcore punk band. By the time they got around to their last 2 albums, “Candy Apple Grey” and “Warehouse,” they were really a pop band with Punk influences. “Zen Arcade” was their 3rd album of 7, and though punk is still the heart of this album, you can start to hear hints of the heavy melodic pop that was to come.
This is a rare occasion when I won’t encourage you to get the album I’m writing up today. I kept only 10 of 23 tracks on “Zen Arcade” and the stuff I got rid of is pretty raucous. I definitely recommend you listen to and perhaps purchase these, however.
- Something I Learned Today – Classic punk with almost screamed vocals. There is anger in the delivery, but joy in the chord progression.
- Never Talking to You Again – I understand Mould was occasionally booed by the harder core fans when he stepped out on stage with an acoustic guitar in his hand. It’s a pity, because they probably couldn’t hear him playing this great and honest song.
- Chartered Trips – Mould and drummer Grant Hart both wrote songs for Hüsker Dü but I am more of a Mould man, I think. I love the energetic guitar work on this track.
- Hare Krsna – I like some of the weirder songs on this album and this is one. The percussion is dominated by a constant jangling noise like sleigh bells, the vocals are moaned, and the guitar rips and scratches all over but the overall effect is somehow infectious.
- The Biggest Lie – This is a heavy and slightly depressing song about almost making it and failing. “Back to your day job. Back to your girlfriend.” The power chord intro makes my teeth ache.
- Pink Turns to Blue – The album was produced in 45 hours on cheap equipment for $3200. The roughness of the session is apparent on this track but, of course, that is a lot of the appeal of tracks like this one.
- Newest Industry – The banging piano gives way to hard hit chords on the chorus while Mould wails about the fall of the industrialized world.
- Whatever – “Zen Arcade” is a concept album about a kid who runs away from home. This song is about his realization that the outside world is worse and he actually had it pretty good at home. He promises to do whatever they want if they’ll take him back.
- The Tooth Fairy and the Princess – This weird and evocative track is one of my favorites on this album. I don’t know how people come up with concepts like this or how they explain it to their band mates.
- Reoccurring Dreams – The album ends with this impressive 14-minute jam. The chord progression is unusual and creative and the solos are blistering but I have to be honest, this becomes too much for me. Fortunately, through the magic of technology, I was able to pare this track down and fade it out after about 6 minutes. This sample is 7 minutes long, so you can hear what I kept.
As I was writing up this album, I thought about how “Zen Arcade” reminds me of “Quadrophenia” by The Who. Turns out I am not the first guy to make that comparison. As I researched this album, I saw that comment in several places. I think the themes and energy make such comparisons inescapable.
It comes to us all at some time in our lives. The end of a relationship you didn’t want to end. It’s a sick and helpless feeling and a sad time. Plus the older the relationship is, the harder and more complicated the process is. Still, there’s nothing to do but carry on. As Janeane Garofalo noted, “You can’t argue your way out of dumped.”
At times in my life when I have felt hurt and lonely, I have found sympathy, camaraderie, forgetfulness, and healing through music. Here are some songs that might help you through a tough breakup, if they don’t make you want to stick a fork in your neck.
- How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? – Al Green
When you’re mourning the end of a relationship, you don’t want bouncy, happy music. You want the reverend to tell you how it is.
- Love Is a Losing Game – Amy Winehouse (featuring Mos Def)
Winehouse is a woman who has had some love troubles and though you might not think Mos Def would fit in well with her sound, it’s an inspired pairing.
- Breakin’ Down – Ben Harper
There’s a certain joy to Harper’s music, even when the lyrics are as heartbreaking as these.
- Bad Luck City – R.L. Burnside
“It’s a problem when you love them womens and they don’t love you.” The great R.L. Burnside wails and moans, his guitar cries right along with him, and somehow you feel better.
- I Miss You – Blink 182
This is the only Blink 182 song I like. I don’t think it’s about a breakup, but it is about missing someone.
- Again and Again – Bob Mould
This is the sound of marriage breaking up. The song is heart wrenchingly honest and beautiful.
- Sideways – Citizen Cope
“Whenever you come around me these feelings won’t go away. They been knocking me sideways. I keep thinking in a moment that time will take them away. But these feelings won’t go away.” Well spoken, sir.
- Coast – Eliza Gilkyson
I believe Gilkyson wrote this song after the death of her father, but it’s about taking some time for yourself to figure out your feelings are and what is next.
- I Hope You’re Happy Now – Elvis Costello
If there’s anything harder than losing someone, it’s losing someone to someone else. The black humor with which Costello meets this makes it a little easier.
- Knowing Me Knowing You – The Lemonheads
Turns out this is a good song, but I didn’t realize it because I don’t like Abba. Dando and company do a good job with it, though.
- Let It Die – Foo Fighters
The Foos rock, so you can viscerally feel the anger behind the lyrics in this song.
- And the World Turned – Gabe Dixon
I have written up Gabe Dixon before. He is a gifted piano player and songwriter who respectfully declined an offer to tour in Paul McCartney’s band. This song is about turning the corner after a hard breakup.
- Find Another Girl – The Hives
This song is a bit goofy, but it’s somehow uplifting just the same.
- Guess I’m Doing Fine – Beck
Beck wrote this album in the aftermath of a breakup so it’s full of emotional songs of loss and recovery. He is a real craftsman, too, so it’s not the quirky fun of “Odelay.”
- Last Goodbye – Jeff Buckley
The lyrics to this song have it all: the knowledge of something special going away, the lingering desire, the sadness, the anger… and it’s a beautiful song to boot.
- Divorce Song – Liz Phair
Disentangling from an entrenched relationship is fraught with unexpected complications, like the ones Phair encounters in this song.
- Always See Your Face – Love
John Cusack turned me on to this gem about being unable to escape the memories of a loved one who is gone.
- Song for the Dumped – Ben Folds Five
Simply the best breakup song ever written. God bless Ben Folds.
Enjoy with 6 or 7 salty gin and tonics. Have a great weekend.
Several times over the last few weeks, I have found some great music by artists who already had other albums out. I promised to look into their catalog and get back to you. Today, I’m going to do just that.
The first is Bleeding Heart Narrative. I reviewed “Tongue Tangled Hair” for AltSounds and was really impressed by the mature, experimental production wrapped around solid pop songsmithing. I saw that the artist, Oliver Barret, had another disc out called “Lung Mangled Bear” so I wanted to check out the music. I wasn’t sure what the naming convention portended, but I should have guessed that the two projects were closely related. “Lung Mangled Bear” contains some alternate takes on some songs from “Tongue Tangled Hair” and some of what appear to be toddling versions of song that were still under development. It’s also loaded with some more experimental stuff that would be right at home in the new age or electronica section of your local record store.
You can download the entire album free here, straight from the label’s website. If you do so, make sure you check out these tracks.
- A Dialogue (Brassica’s Dark Side of the Live Aid remix) – A solid beat and ethereal backing vocals carry this song through the first minute and a half before the actual pop tune begins.
- At The End Of It All (DJ Floorclearer remix) – This is chillout music. Not danceable at all, but very soothing and interesting.
- Tongue Tangled Hair (The Exploits of Elaine remix) – Muddy percussion stomps on backwards tracked vocals and ringing synthesizers. I can’t articulate why I like this weird track.
When I put together a mix of Incubus two weeks ago, I confessed I didn’t have their first two albums, but that I had ordered them. I got them and spun them and the result were mixed. It turns out in their early days, Incubus sounded like a cross between The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More, with maybe a dash of Soul Coughing thrown in, but not as good as that combination sounds. I listened to “Fungus Amongus” and must sadly report that I didn’t rip a single track. I’m sure it would have been a great live show, but the energy loses something the way it was recorded. On the other hand, “S.C.I.E.N.C.E.” was worth a spin. They had nearly finished metamorphosing into the band I love by this time. I ripped these 4 tracks
- Redefine – A raucous punk/metal tune with slapped bass, crazy turntablism, and melodic wailing vocals.
- Idiot Box – This one has some anger in the lyrics and a hammering chorus but it isn’t as chaotic as ‘Redefine.’
- Favorite Things – “The things that make you mad are my favorite things.” Nice to know you. Goodbye, right? The band plays their asses off behind another of Boyd’s songs about a bad relationship.
- Summer Romance (Anti-Gravity Love Song) – Compared with the rest of this album, the band really lays back on this song, but the scratchy mix, clean electric guitar, and flute make a perfect backdrop for this love song.
I absolutely flipped for The Decembrists’ album, “The Hazards of Love” and vowed to check out the rest of their catalog. 2 down, 2 to go. I’ll do a full write up on them once I’ve gotten the other two.