Freshly Unwrapped: 2/20/09

Written by Freshly Unwrapped, Music

Do not be alarmed! Do not adjust your set! Chartburn hasn’t gone away — it’s just sharing space with some more Friday features, including the new and improved Freshly Unwrapped, in which your intrepid Chartburn panel discusses some of next week’s biggest releases today. And away we go!

David Medsker: Yuck. The singer can’t sing, and the band has no identity.

Beau Dure: After the first song, I was prepared to write a defense of R.E.M.-style jangle rock by another Georgia band. After the second song, I decided it wasn’t worth it. They veered into Nick Cave “We hate the audience — please follow us around blindly and buy shit” territory.

Dw. Dunphy: The initial word on this album seemed to be centralized on the vocals, as in, “Ugh, the vocals…” But I’m a tolerant guy and can take all sorts of musical eccentricity. Plus, the indie sites are falling all over themselves to praise Black Lips. They can’t all be wrong, can they? Hmm, maybe they can. Or maybe I’m just getting too old. I distinctly remember the stuff I listened to in high school and how all the adults branded ’em “atonal hollering.” Now that I’ve fully confessed that I find these songs nothing more than atonal hollering, I can start boiling all my meals into easily digested soups, rewash and reuse my Baggies and go to bed at 7:00pm every night.

Black Lips, curse you. You’ve made me my grandfather.

Ted Asregadoo: Man, these songs are horrible. Under “Influences” on their MySpace page, I wonder why they didn’t list “Drunk guy singing unintelligible songs while laying in the gutter outside a dive bar”?

Jeff Giles: So this is what “flower punk” sounds like. It’s funny — without looking at a list of their influences, I’m pretty sure I’d dig whatever’s on any of the band members’ iPods, but the Black Lips themselves are close to unbearable. It’s got a slight “Velvets on meth” vibe to it, which means nine out of ten music bloggers will be typing up their reviews one-handed. “Starting Over” could be a great song if a talented band recorded it.

Ken Shane: I know that everyone wants to be in a garage band these days and get on Little Steven’s radar, but this doesn’t exactly reek (and good garage band rock should reek) of authenticity. It’s feels to me like they’re trying a little too hard with bad vocals and bad recording. There are just a lot of bands out there doing it better. This particular band is kind of fun, but it gets old pretty quickly.

Scott Malchus: Wow, these guys remind me of the terrible, jangly college music you’d hear in some dive club that no one ever went to because all they served was Keystone light and the music sucked. The term garage band is actually an insult to most of the garage bands I’ve heard in my life. Is it the singing or is it the totally shitty production value, I don’t know. Maybe they’re going for a Let It Be sound, but there’s no way these guys even come close to the Replacements.

Jon Cummings: They sound to me like they’re going for a Replacements vibe — which can lead to some fine tunes, but also to a lot of self-destructive amateurism. Both those qualities are like catnip to alt-rock critics, of course, but WTF is up with the aren’t-I-cool-I’m-so-off-key vocals? My personal tastes can handle lo-fi production values or tuneless caterwauling, but not both. The ‘Mats — much less the Velvets — they’re not, at least not yet, but if they’d take the vocals at least semi-seriously they might get there.

Beau: I’ll never be hip enough to like music like this. My bad.

David: Am I the only one that gets JJ Cale mixed up with John Cale? I hope so, for JJ Cale’s sake. This seems pleasant enough, like a typical Sonny Landreth record.

Ken: I’m a big fan of this guy. I saw him live once, and he’s the ultimate minimalist. No drama, no histrionics, just that voice, and a so laid back he’s almost asleep demeanor. So cool. Clapton, still repaying debts for Cale songs like “Cocaine,” and “After Midnight” that were big Clapton hits, is always at his best when he’s playing with Cale. The songs seem so simple, but the groove is simply undeniable.

Jeff: It’s a little too cleanly produced for me, but I like this. J.J.’s always all right in my book — he even kept Clapton awake for an entire album’s worth of material a few years ago — and I’m glad to see the old curmudgeon is still making new music.

Ted: “Cherry Street” and “Who Knew” are very strong tracks, but the first one featured (“Roll On,” with Eric Clapton) is a letdown. Sure, Cale’s style is laid back, but not so much that it ends up being laconic and uninspired.

Dunphy: Of my many moods, “trad blues” comes by the least. If I do get one of those, Roll On would fit the need, but I’d probably pull out Plant/Krauss’ Raising Sand long before then. I mean, Raising Sand had a gimmick that pulled you in — Plant singing the kinds of songs he’s been dying to for ages, where Cale is just doing what he’s always done so well… So well that it’s hard to jump up and down about more of it. And by this point, is a Clapton guest spot manna from heaven or a stale cheeseburger?

Scott: It’s always nice to hear Clapton and Cale jamming together, no matter how trivial the song is. “Roll On” has that ’70s laid back feel, that’s for sure. “Who Knew” is a little more interesting; I like the jazzy feel to it. “Cherry Street” seems to be borrowing from “Lay Down Sally.” This is okay if you’re kicking back with some brews and barbequing in the back year, but it doesn’t thrill me. I’m not going to rush out to find this record, that’s for sure.

Jon: It’s amusing that Cale is getting more mainstream exposure now than he has his whole career. How much of that is due to a certain class of mid-to-late-boomer male who insists on pretending it’s still 1978 and the Slowhand album is still atop the charts? (This would be the same subspecies that gives every new Jimmy Buffett album a few weeks on the charts.) I suppose it’s nice for Cale that Clapton is so willing to share (or give away) credit for his performances these days, but the day I started replacing all my vinyl copies of half-decent studio albums from the ’70s and ’80s with greatest-hits CDs was the day I stopped being interested in albums like Roll On.

Jon: And now to completely contradict myself: I own every Chris Isaak album, and I’ll happily make an effort to get this one, too. Sure, they’re all interchangeable, and sure, I could put them all on my iPod, hit “shuffle” and then be completely unable to tell you which tracks are from which albums. So what? I’m a huge fan. Add in the fact that he duets on the new album with Trisha Yearwood (whom I lovelovelovelovelove), and I am so very there.

Ted: Chris Isaak is the second-best thing to come out of Stockton, CA (the first is my wife). Regarding these songs, Isaak says: “For better or for worse, the songs on this album do reflect where I am at in my life right now in one way or another.” Well, it sounds like Chris is groping in the dark for some good material. “We Let Her Down” is the proverbial letdown, while his duet with Trisha Yearwood (“Breaking Apart”) makes me wish she was the only one singing, because Yearwood is able to infuse the song with the needed heartache that’s lacking from Chris. The bright spot in this collection is “Cheater’s Town” which, to me, is one of most interesting things Isaak has recorded in a long time.

Beau: This isn’t bad, but it doesn’t stick in the ear.

Scott: I’ve always been more a fan of Isaak’s individual songs rather than his complete albums. They all sounded so similar and dreamy that I usually fall asleep half way through listening. But if these songs are an indication of the entire record, I’m buying it. Sounds like the recorded in a nice open space and this let the sound of Isaak’s music really breathe. “We Let Her Down” is fantastic and the duet with Trisha Yearwood is beautiful. I’m looking forward to this one!

Dunphy: “We Let Her Down” is a pretty good song and if I wasn’t 90% sure it was a red herring, I’d put Mr. Lucky on my list. Even so, “We Let Her Down” is structurally early ’90s pop. Take away Isaak’s insanely unique voice and you have a song that could have been on Robin Zander’s solo album. As for the other two songs, I have no qualm with either but I fear for Garth Brooks. He, more than anyone, ought to know what happens when Trisha Yearwood goes duetting.

David: Wow, this is really, um, gentle. Even for Isaak.

Jeff: It’s sort of hard to believe that it’s been seven years since Isaak released an album of new material — but on the other hand, maybe he knows one Chris Isaak record is all anyone needs, and now that he’s put out a greatest hits set, a live album, and the most depressing Christmas album ever, he’s slowing down.

Scott: If one Chris Isaak album is all anyone needs, I may actually buy this one. I can’t stop listening to those tracks!

Ken: More mood music, similar in some ways to Cale. This time out it sounds like he’s rocking a little harder. He’s injected a bit of the Springsteen chug into “I Let Her Down.” He has that great voice that’s reminiscent of Roy Orbison in its operatic range. That’s especially evident on the moody “Cheater’s Town.” Tricia Yearwood is perennially underrated, and “Breaking Apart” is a lovely, heartbreaking duet. I like these songs and I’d buy the album on the basis of hearing them.

Ken: Ah, a curmudgeon. I love them. I’m told I’m one myself. Has there ever been a better R&B singer? Classic music, a compelling performer — I’m not sure what more one could ask for. I’m in.

Beau: I like it. I think it’s a good idea. This is a critical favorite most people haven’t heard, and it’s truly unique as opposed to the Velvet Underground crap that turns up on most critics’ top-whatever list. Bring it.

David: Albums like this bring out the cynic in me. Over the last couple years, Van’s catalog has gotten the ‘reissue, repackage, repackage’ treatment of a dead singer. This sounds fine and all, but you don’t get much more nonessential.

Jon: I never experienced Astral Weeks until it came out on CD in late ’87, which I consider a blessing. (I spent a trippy evening at a friend’s apartment that fall, listening to the CD over and over again — or did it just seem to be more than once?) I strongly considered attending the concert from which this album emerged, but in the end decided to preserve my memories of that evening half my life ago — and my vision of a younger, thinner Van spinning out the definitive Celtic-folk-rock song cycle. I don’t think I’ll sully that vision with this album, either.

Dunphy: Can you imagine the hours the CD designer spent picking just the right photo to make Van The Man not look like a neckless hand puppet, only to have them all undone with the promo video? Live albums virtually scream “contract fulfillment” and ‘celebrations’ of classic albums come off even worse; more than, “We need to jump this contractual hurdle…” it seems to say, “…and I don’t want to make up a setlist either.” Poor Van The Hand Puppet.

Ted: A money-grab product from a guy who, by the looks of it, doesn’t really need the money. To me the performance captured on video shows Van in various states of boredom — while the band is clearly enjoying the moment. Maybe they were thinking about the cash they were going to get from the diehard fans who are going to buy the CD/DVD.

Jeff: I’ve already read reviews justifying this by saying Morrison is a more assured vocalist now than he was when he recorded the original album, but really, this is pretty pointless — and an example of the sort of self-fellating late-career product that I always assumed Van would never insult us with. Guess I was wrong. Anyway, it sounds great, but it really just makes me want to listen to the original.

Scott: Yeah, so the music is wonderful, but what the hell is he saying? Oh, “Sweet Thing,” right. I guess you have to be a dedicated fan to buy this, because it’s not that much of a thrill for me.

Jon: I think the general idea of these “Classic Albums Live” concerts is fine–if you can get the fans to blow $100 a ticket to hear big ol’ Van (or big ol’ Ann Wilson, or whoever) play an album in person rather than put in the CD of the skinny young version, more power to ya. But to then buy another CD of the same music, sung and produced less well and with applause between songs? That I don’t get.

Dunphy: It probably comes down to the adoration of the super-fan. There are bands that are existing now solely on the goodwill of their cult following, and these CDs are really only meant to roust a few more bucks from them.

I went to see Roger Waters and the Dark Side of the Moon tour two years in a row. Now this might be a whole different animal because Waters really gives you a huge show, but it’s an approximation of a 30-something year old album everyone knows. I have no desire to buy a CD of those performances but I guarantee you, there are super-fans out there who’d buy up on day one.

David: I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last few years in terms of how far my love of an artist or band will take me in terms of buying concert tickets, reissues, live albums, etc. For example, I will never be in the audience when one of these Astral Weeks Live albums is recorded, and I won’t buy it, either. There just isn’t anyone I like that much. Is that sad, or just the inevitable byproduct of a cynical business?

Dunphy: It’s not sad at all. I got to that place many years earlier. I love movies and I was working actively to build the library for the super-duper home theater I probably will never have. It seemed like every time I bought a DVD, the company would release a bigger, better edition of it only a year later… Then only half a year later. Then the span between the release and the Special Edition release started collapsing into less than weeks.

I caved occasionally, but I’m pretty dead-set against being double-dipped, and that’s all I see these sorts of CDs being – shoddy double-dips, and the shows more than not are just souped-up oldies festivals disguised as a Night Of Something Hugely Important!

Ted: Well, if the Lily Allen cover of “Straight To Hell” is any indication of the quality of the cover songs, this is one covers album that will be on my “must have” list.

Ken: And here’s how a cover version can be completely wrongheaded. The Clash’s “Straight to Hell” as performed by Lily Allen has lost all of the fire and rebellion that were integral to the original. Somewhere in heaven, Joe Strummer is in tears. Nice loop, though.

David: I’ve been wanting to hear this one since the second I heard about it. I’m digging the Scissor Sisters’ cover of “Do the Strand.” Man, they matched artist with song pretty well, didn’t they? The Hold Steady covering “Atlantic City”? Franz Ferdinand covering “Call Me”? I hope this does well. It’s a good cause, and they clearly put some thought into it.

Dunphy: The only track I’m getting to hear is Lily Allen’s cover of The Clash’s “Straight To Hell,” and I have to admit I’m not hating it. Her inherent urchinisms aren’t irritating me like they do on her own songs. What does irritate me is the prominence Parlophone has placed on her track to promote this compilation — sort of acting more as promotion for her new album It’s Not Me, It’s You. It could be that I’m not seeking out other tracks with due dilligence. It could be that, even though I don’t mind this track, I’m not inspired enough to go chasing after more. It’s probably a little of both.

Jeff: This sort of VA comp is usually pretty dodgy — even that killer BBC compilation from a couple of years ago had plenty of filler — but I can’t help being excited about this. I’m all but certain it will kick the artfully tousled ass of Dark Was the Night, the star-studded compilation I’m currently reviewing.

Jon: Is it legal to argue against this album? “Jeez, this is all we need — a torch-passing set of supposedly ‘classic’ songs performed by contemporary acts chosen for the occasion by the original artists themselves! And all to benefit children in war-torn regions? Who cares?” Some of the choices are inspired, to be sure; let’s just hope the product is of a higher quality than most of these things turn out to be. (I thought that Instant Karma comp for Amnesty Int’l a couple years ago was a complete dud.)

Beau: Do they know they’re rocking the Casbah at all?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]