July 31, 2016

Britney Spears - …Baby One More Time (1999) ☠

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Pop
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© 1999 Jive Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
At the beginning of the '90s, teen currency shifted from bubblegum'n'Tiger Beat to grunge'n'Maximum Rock & Roll. Although it may have been pushed from the spotlight, teen pop hadn't died -- it, in a way, went underground, spending time on the fringes of pop culture. One of the leading lights of the exiled teen brigade was The New Mickey Mouse Club. For several years, it toiled away on the Disney Network, earning a small fan base -- but, more importantly, providing a launchpad for several careers, including that of Britney Spears. Like her fellow NMMC alumni *N Sync, Spears shot to stardom in the late '90s, just as she was on the verge of late adolescence. By that time, everything old was new again. Albums like her debut, ...Baby One More Time, were topping the charts as if they were Hangin' Tough, which is only appropriate since it sounded as if it could have been cut in 1989, not 1999. ...Baby One More Time has the same blend of infectious, rap-inflected dance-pop and smooth balladry that propelled the New Kids and Debbie Gibson, due to the Backstreet Boys' producer, Max Martin, who is also the mastermind behind Spears' debut. He has a knack for catchy hooks, endearing melodies, and engaging Euro-dance rhythms, all of which are best heard on the hits: the ingenious title track, "Sometimes," "(You Drive Me) Crazy," and the utterly delightful, bubblegum-ragga album track "Soda Pop." Like many teen pop albums, ...Baby One More Time has its share of well-crafted filler, but the singles, combined with Britney's burgeoning charisma, make this a pretty great piece of fluff.

tags: britney spears, baby one more time, ...baby, 1999, flac,

July 27, 2016

Britney Spears - Blackout (2007)

*Japanese release. Contains 4 bonus tracks.
Country: U.S.A
Genre: Pop
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© 2007 BMG/Jive/Zomba Label Group
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Public image is vital to pop stars, but few stars have been so inextricably tied to their image as Britney Spears. Think back to "...Baby One More Time" -- it has an indelible hook but what leaps to mind is not the sound of the single, but how Britney looked in the video as she pouted and preened in a schoolgirls' uniform, an image as iconic as Madonna's exposed navel. Every one of Britney's hits had an accompanying image, as she relied on her carefully sculpted sexpot-next-door persona as much as she did on her records, but what happens when the image turns sour, as it certainly did for Britney in the years following the release of In the Zone? When that album hit the stores in 2003, Britney had yet to marry, had yet to give birth, had yet to even meet professional layabout Kevin Federline -- she had yet to trash her girl-next-door fantasy by turning into white trash. Some blamed Federline for her rapid downward spiral, but she continued to descend after splitting with K-Fed in the fall of 2006, as each month brought a new tabloid sensation from Britney, a situation that became all the more alarming when contrasted to how tightly controlled her public image used to be. The shift in her persona came into sharp relief at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards, as she sleepwalked through a disastrous lip-synch of her comeback single "Gimme More," a disaster by any measure, but when it was compared to such previous meticulously staged VMA appearances as her make-out with Madonna in 2003, it made Britney seem like a lost cause and fallen star.
All this toil and turmoil set the stage for her 2007 comeback Blackout to be a flat-out train wreck, which it decidedly is not -- but that doesn't mean it's a triumph, either. Blackout is an easy album to overpraise based on the lowered expectations Britney's behavior has set for her audience, as none of her antics suggested that she'd be able to deliver something coherent and entertaining, two things that Blackout is. As an album, it holds together better than any of her other records, echoing the sleek club-centric feel of In the Zone but it's heavier on hedonism than its predecessor, stripped of any ballads or sensitivity, and just reveling in dirty good times. So Blackout acts as a soundtrack for Britney's hazy, drunken days, reflecting the excess that's splashed all over the tabloids, but it has a coherence that the public Britney lacks. This may initially seem like an odd dissociation but, in a way, it makes sense: how responsible is Britney for her music, anyway? At the peak of her popularity, she never seemed to be dictating the direction of her music, so it only stands to reason that when her personal life has gotten too hectic, she's simply decided to let the professional producers create their tracks and then she'll just drop in the vocals at her convenience. Even the one song that plays like autobiography -- "Piece of Me," where she calls herself "Miss American dream since I was 17" and "I'm miss bad media karma/another day another drama," complaining "they stick all the pictures of my derriere in the magazines," as if she wasn't posing provocatively for Rolling Stone as soon as "Baby" broke big -- was outsourced to "Toxic" producer/writers Bloodshy & Avant, who try desperately to craft a defiant anthem for this tabloid fixture, as she couldn't be bothered to write one on her own. Instead, she busies herself with writing the album's two strip-club anthems, "Freakshow" and the brilliantly titled "Get Naked (I Got a Plan)" (surely the successor to such trash-classics as Soundmaster T's "2 Much Booty (In Da Pants)" and Samantha Fox's timeless pair of "Touch Me (I Want Your Body)" and "(Hurt Me! Hurt Me!) But the Pants Stay On"). Every piece of gossip in the four years separating In the Zone and Blackout suggests that her head is in the clubs, yet it's still a bit disarming to realize that this is all that she has to say.
Britney may not have much on her mind but at least she pockets so deep she can buy the best producers, hiring Bloodshy & Avantthe Clutch and the Neptunes, among others, to help craft an album that cribs from Rhianna's sleek, sexy Good Girl Gone Bad and the chilly robo-R&B of Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds. Emotionally, this isn't a progression from In the Zone, but it is a cannily contemporary dance album, sounding nearly as fresh as Rhianna and JT, even if it's hardly as trendsetting as either. Then again, Britney hasn't set the pace for the sound of dance-pop since her first two Max Martin-driven productions, and her skill -- conscious or not, it doesn't really matter -- has always been to get the right producers at the right moment, which she surely does here. Those producers turn Blackout into a sleek, shiny collection of 12 guiltily addictive dance tracks where the only weak link is Britney herself. Never the greatest vocalist, her thin squawk could be dismissed early in her career as an adolescent learning the ropes, but nearly a decade later her singing hasn't gotten any better, even if the studio tools to masquerade her weaknesses have. Strangely enough, the computer corrections either emphasize her irritating, strangled delivery -- nowhere more so than on "Piece of Me," where she's sharp, flattened, and clipped, the vocoder stabbing at the ears like a pick -- or she disappears into the track entirely, just another part of the electronic tapestry. Naturally, the latter cuts are more appealing, as they really show off the skills of the producers, particularly the Clutch's lead single "Gimme More," Bloodshy & Avant's relentless "Radar," the new wave shimmer of "Heaven on Earth," the stuttering electro-clip of "Break the Ice," or the spare, silly chant of "Hot as Ice." When Britney is pushed to the forefront, she garners too much attention, as she tries too hard to be sexy -- a move she could pull off before, when carefully controlled pictures of her in schoolgirl uniforms, cat suits, and tight jeans filled in the blanks her voice left behind. Now, those images are replaced by images of Britney beating cars up with umbrellas, wiping her greasy fingers on designer dresses, and nodding off on-stage, each new disaster stripping away any residual sexiness in her public image, so when she tries to purr and tease on Blackout she repels instead of seduces. That's the new Britney, and as she's always been an artist who relies on image, her tarnished persona does taint the ultimate effect of her music, as knowledge of her ceaseless partying turns these anthems a bit weary and sad. But if you block that image out -- always hard to do with Britney, but easier to do here since the tracks sound so good -- Blackout is state-of-the-art dance-pop, a testament to skills of the producers and perhaps even Britney being somehow cognizant enough to realize she should hire the best, even if she's not at her best.

tags: britney spears, blackout, black out, 2007, flac,

Various Artists - Underworld: Music From The Motion Picture (2003)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Alternative Rock, Industrial Rock, Electronic
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© 2003 Lakeshore Records
AllMusic Review by Cammila Collar
A fine example of a great soundtrack to a bad movie, the Underworld original motion picture soundtrack is full of so much thematically cohesive music, near incestuous collaborations, and material composed specifically for the disc, it plays almost like a concept album, written within the parameters of rage, sex, melancholy, and fear. Among the more notable tracks are numerous one-minute interludes by Renholder -- a pseudonym used by longtime Nine Inch Nails and A Perfect Circle collaborator Danny Lohner -- whose murky, industrially infused guitar segues help to create smooth transitions between artists and songs. Another gem is "Rev 22:20," a song credited to Puscifer, the recording name for the collaboration of Lohner and Maynard James Keenan. "Rev 22:20" is far from cheap shock rock, despite such sacrilegious lyrics as "Christ is coming/And so am I" -- not a far cry from the words actually found at Revelations, chapter 22, verse 20: "He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.'" No Bible passage, however, appears to directly reflect the line "Jesus is risen, it's no surprise/Even he would martyr his momma to ride to hell between those thighs." The messianic subject matter immediately sets the stage for any listener to easily become either enraged or aroused. The song strokes at the audience's guilty excitability and explores the way that Judeo-Christian sensual forbiddance parallels the volatile eroticism of basic sexual frustration. Keenan's presence on the album is as pervasive as Lohner's, coming up again in excellent string-heavy remixes of the A Perfect Circle tunes "Judith" and "Weak and Powerless," as well as singing background vocals on the David Bowie song "Bring Me the Disco King" -- a reflective and sexy track that outshines the original version that appeared on Bowie's 2003 Reality. Appearances by Milla and Sarah Bettens round out the moodier side of the album, while songs like "Baby's First Coffin" by math-metal group the Dillinger Escape Plan inject the disc with a pissed-off energy that saves it from overall goth gloom. Even a track by the borderline laughably self-important industrial act Skinny Puppy is perfectly placed. The Underworld soundtrack's profile took an understandable hit for its involvement with such a cheese-fest of a movie, but it stacks up remarkably well on its own merit. Perhaps the soundtrack alone should be granted a sequel.

tags: various artists, underworld soundtrack, underworld music from the motion picture, 2003, flac, ost,

IMx - Introducing IMx (1999)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: R&B
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© 1999 MCA Records
AllMusic Review by John Bush
The first album by the rejuvenated trio formerly known as Immature isn't a complete departure from their previous material. For the most part, IMx just keep on doing what they've been doing for almost ten years, spreading their light, soulful R&B harmonies over arrangements that slowly change with the times, just behind the latest developments in urban and hip-hop. So the stuttered beats and vocal fills that made Timbaland famous in 1997 are recycled here, over two years after their initial breakout. It's derivative and not very well done, and makes IMx rely on their voices and the songs themselves to carry the album. The tracks that work best do exactly that. The sweet ballad "In & Out of Love" goes for a more mainstream R&B production and focuses on letting IMx's harmonies shine. Unfortunately, songs like that are more the exceptions than the rule. Instead of gaining the trio a bit of credibility in hip-hop circles, Introducing IMx sounded immediately dated the day it came out, to say nothing of a year later.

tags: imx, introducing imx, 1999, flac,

Babyface - Face2Face (2001) ☠

Country: U.S.A
Genre: R&B
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 2001 Artista Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Babyface took his sweet time to deliver the sequel to The Day, a rare flop in his catalog, waiting nearly five years to release Face2Face. He wasn't exactly in seclusion, since he still worked relentlessly as a producer and songwriter, even masterminding the tremendous pop-punk soundtrack for the 2001 film Josie & the Pussycats. All this activity, combined with the subtleness of The Day, is in no way preparation for Face2Face, a gleaming, stylish platter of urban funk and smooth soul that is easily among his very best records. As Babyface's sense of craft deepens, he's become more assured with what he wants to do on his own records. Though he's dabbled in funk since the beginning of his career, the grooves here cut deeper and are flashier than ever before, and the sweet croon of his voice just makes them seem deeper. Then there are the ballads that he's always excelled at -- they're just as good here, but they not only offer good contrast, they sound better in this context, surrounded by such exquisite dance numbers and grooves. Even if Face2Face fails to match the chart heights of, say, "Whip Appeal," Babyface has never been in better form, and from beginning to end, this record captures him at the peak of his powers.

tags: babyface, face 2 face, face2face, face to face, 2001, flac,

July 26, 2016

Babyface - The Day (1996)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: R&B
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© 1996 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Leo Stanley
The Day was the first album Babyface released after being elevated into a virtually guaranteed hitmaker in the mid-'90s through his work with Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, Madonna, and Mariah Carey, among many others. The album confirms his skill for subtle, inventive songwriting and accessible, polished yet soulful production. Babyface can straddle the line between hip-hop and traditional soul better than nearly any other artist, as evidenced by the hits he has orchestrated for other artists. On his own, he is still compelling -- his voice is as smooth as silk, and nearly as seductive -- but it doesn't quite have the force of personality as his greatest productions. Nevertheless, The Day qualifies as state-of-the-art mid-'90s soul, featuring a handful of terrific songs, and a lot of extremely pleasurable filler. [The 2001 CD reissue adds historical liner notes and three bonus tracks: remixes of "Everytime I Close My Eyes," "This Is For the Lover in You," and "Everytime I Feel the Groove," the last of which was previously unreleased and not found on the original album in any form.]

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R. Kelly - R. Kelly (1995)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: R&B
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© 1995 Jive Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
With the salacious 12 PlayR. Kelly established himself as one of the top R&B hitmakers of the mid-'90s, rivalled only by Babyface and Dr. Dre for overall consistency. 12 Play was marred by occasionally slight tunes which were obscured by the explicit sexuality of the lyrics. R. Kelly isn't hampered by those flaws, although it isn't a perfect record by any means. Throughout the album, Kelly relies on melody and grooves instead of overtly carnal imagery. But that doesn't mean he has cleaned up -- Kelly remains a sly, seductive crooner, and his sexiness is more effective when it is suggestive. Nevertheless, his lyrics and music are never subtle -- even on the ballads which dominate this album -- which can make R. Kelly tiresome if taken as a whole. Taken as individual songs, the album works better than anything he has recorded to date.

tags: r kelly, r. kelly album, 1995, flac,

U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000)

Country: Ireland
Language: English
Genre: Pop Rock
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© 2000 Island Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Nearly ten years after beginning U2 Mach II with their brilliant seventh album Achtung Baby, U2 ease into their third phase with 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind. The title signifies more than it seems, since the group sifts through its past, working with Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, all in an effort to construct a classicist U2 album. Thankfully, it's a rock record from a band that absorbed all the elastic experimentation, studio trickery, dance flirtations, and genre bending of Achtung, Zooropa, and Pop -- all they've shed is the irony. U2 choose not to delve as darkly personal as they did on Achtung or Zooropa, yet they also avoid the alienating archness of Pop, returning to the generous spirit that flowed through their best '80s records. On that level, All may be reminiscent of The Joshua Tree, but this is a clever and craftsmanlike record, filled with nifty twists in the arrangements, small sonic details, and colors. U2 take subtle risks, such as their best pure pop song ever with "Wild Honey"; they're so self-confident they effortlessly write their best anthem in years with "Beautiful Day"; they offer the gospel-influenced "Stuck in a Moment," never once lowering it to the shtick it would have been on Rattle and Hum. Like any work from craftsmen, All That You Can't Leave Behind winds up being a work of modest pleasures, where the way the verse eases into the chorus means more than the overall message, and this is truly the first U2 album where that sentiment applies -- but there is genuine pleasure in their craft, for the band and listener alike.

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U2 - No Line On The Horizon (2009)

Country: Ireland
Language: English
Genre: Pop Rock
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© 2009 Interscope Records
Review by Matt Collar for Allmusic.com
A rock & roll open secret: U2 care very much about what other people say about them. Ever since they hit the big time in 1987 with The Joshua Tree, every album is a response to the last -- rather, a response to the response, a way to correct the mistakes of the last album: Achtung Baby erased the roots rock experiment Rattle and Hum, All That You Can't Leave Behind straightened out the fumbling Pop, and 2009's No Line on the Horizon is a riposte to the suggestion they played it too safe on 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. After recording two new cuts with Rick Rubin for the '06 compilation U218 and flirting with will.i.am, U2 reunited with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois (here billed as "Danny" for some reason), who not only produced The Joshua Tree but pointed the group toward aural architecture on The Unforgettable Fire. Much like All That You Can't and Atomic Bomb, which were largely recorded with their first producer, Steve Lillywhite, this is a return to the familiar for U2, but where their Lillywhite LPs are characterized by muscle, the Eno/Lanois records are where the band take risks, and so it is here that U2 attempts to recapture that spacy, mysterious atmosphere of The Unforgettable Fire and then take it further. Contrary to the suggestion of the clanking, sputtering first single "Get on Your Boots" -- its riffs and "Pump It Up" chant sounding like a cheap mashup stitched together in GarageBand -- this isn't a garish, gaudy electro-dalliance in the vein of Pop. Apart from a stilted middle section -- "Boots," the hamfisted white-boy funk "Stand Up Comedy," and the not-nearly-as-bad-as-its-title anthem "I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight"; tellingly, the only three songs here to not bear co-writing credits from Eno and Lanois -- No Line on the Horizon is all austere grey tones and midtempo meditation. It's a record that yearns to be intimate but U2 don't do intimate, they only do majestic, or as Bono sings on one of the albums best tracks, they do "Magnificent." Here, as on "No Line on the Horizon" and "Breathe," U2 strike that unmistakable blend of soaring, widescreen sonics and unflinching openhearted emotion that's been their trademark, turning the intimate into something hauntingly universal. These songs resonate deeper and longer than anything on Atomic Bomb, their grandeur almost seeming effortless. It's the rest of the record that illustrates how difficult it is to sound so magnificent. With the exception of that strained middle triptych, the rest of the album is in the vein of "No Line on the Horizon", "Magnificent" and "Breathe," only quieter and unfocused, with its ideas drifting instead of gelling. Too often, the album whispers in a murmur so quiet it's quite easy to ignore -- "White as Snow," an adaptation of a traditional folk tune, and "Cedars of Lebanon," its verses not much more than a recitation, simmer so slowly they seem to evaporate -- but at least these poorly defined subtleties sustain the hazily melancholy mood of No Line on the Horizon. When U2, Eno, and Lanois push too hard -- the ill-begotten techno-speak overload of "Unknown Caller," the sound sculpture of "Fez-Being Born" -- the ideas collapse like a pyramid of cards, the confusion amplifying the aimless stretches of the album, turning it into a murky muddle. Upon first listen, No Line on the Horizon seems as if it would be a classic grower, an album that makes sense with repeated spins, but that repetition only makes the album more elusive, revealing not that U2 went into the studio with a dense, complicated blueprint, but rather, they had no plan at all.

tags: u2, no line on the horizon, 2009, flac,

U2 - Achtung Baby (1991)

Country: Ireland
Language: English
Genre: Pop Rock
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© 1991 Island Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Reinventions rarely come as thorough and effective as Achtung Baby, an album that completely changed U2's sound and style. The crashing, unrecognizable distorted guitars that open "Zoo Station" are a clear signal that U2 have traded their Americana pretensions for postmodern, contemporary European music. Drawing equally from Bowie's electronic, avant-garde explorations of the late '70s and the neo-psychedelic sounds of the thriving rave and Madchester club scenes of early-'90s England, Achtung Baby sounds vibrant and endlessly inventive. Unlike their inspirations, U2 rarely experiment with song structures over the course of the album. Instead, they use the thick dance beats, swirling guitars, layers of effects, and found sounds to break traditional songs out of their constraints, revealing the tortured emotional core of their songs with the hyper-loaded arrangements. In such a dense musical setting, it isn't surprising that U2 have abandoned the political for the personal on Achtung Baby, since the music, even with its inviting rhythms, is more introspective than anthemic. Bono has never been as emotionally naked as he is on Achtung Baby, creating a feverish nightmare of broken hearts and desperate loneliness; unlike other U2 albums, it's filled with sexual imagery, much of it quite disturbing, and it ends on a disquieting note. Few bands as far into their career as U2 have recorded an album as adventurous or fulfilled their ambitions quite as successfully as they do on Achtung Baby, and the result is arguably their best album.

tags: u2, achtung baby, 1991, flac,

July 25, 2016

The Wizar'd - Pathways Into Darkness (2010)

Country: Australia
Language: English
Genre: Doom Metal, Heavy Metal
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© 2010 Barbarian Wrath
*No professional reviews available for this release.

tags: the wizard, wizar'd, pathways into darkness, path ways, 2010, flac,

The Wizar'd - Sebado Negro (2008)

Country: Australia
Language: English
Genre: Doom Metal
Style: Traditional Doom
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© 2008 Bear In Your Ear Records
*No professional reviews available for this release.

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The Wizar'd - Infernal Wizardry (2008)

Country: Australia
Language: English
Genre: Doom Metal
Style: Traditional Doom
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© 2008 Rusty Axe Records
*No professional reviews available for this release.

tags: the wizard, wizar'd, infernal wizardry, 2008, flac,

The Wizar'd - Follow The Wizard: E.P (2006)

Country: Australia
Language: English
Genre: Doom Metal
Style: Traditional Doom
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© 2006 Rusty Axe Records
Reviewed by: Ulysses for MetalCrypt.com
This EP, gentlemen, is the best Doom release I've heard so far for 2006 (and perhaps the best EP I've ever heard in my life!) These crafty fellows from Australia play Doom in such an interesting style that although you can still trace the usual Black Sabbath/Saint Vitus/Candlemass influence, they still manage to end up incredibly entertaining, revolutionary and unexpectedly original. This band is to Doom what "Inquisition" is to Black Metal. This EP is no mere 15 minute listen though, it nearly clocks at 30 minutes (Hell, even Immortal full lengths are that long!). Enough with the Black Metal references in this thread, let's get on with the crushing DOOM presented by The Wizar'd (Odd name too – How would you pronounce that? The Wizar-duh?). The EP begins with "The Devil In The Woods", which starts off with a recording from this old movie I seem to recognize… but can't quite put my finder on it. After that, some sluggish bass notes crawl out onto the surface, which are then accompanied by slow, crushing riffs. Everything is revealed step after step in this track, from bass to drums to guitar to the vocals. The vocalist on this EP, (under the moniker Ol' Rusty Vintage Wizard Master) has perhaps some of the most effective Doom-vocals I've ever heard. He's sort of a weird mixture between Eddie Marcolin of Candlemass and Morris Ingram of Solstice, but he sings at a much slower pace to accompany the devastatingly slow doom riffs. The leads in the first track are also deviously clever, ringing in your head for days. The next track, an odd acoustic instrumental named "The Goblin Washes His Feet" is nothing more than a fun one minute interlude until you reach the third track entitled "Life Eternal". The EP maintains the same formula throughout, without becoming monotonous and always introducing some crushing new riffs, slothful drum beats and echoing bass lines. Follow The Wizard then concludes with "Funeral Circle", which is no less as excellent than the rest of the album. Everytime I finish this EP, I'm always craving for more Wizar'd, but I guess I'll have to wait a while! This is truly an amazing release, if this were a full-length I'd undoubtedly award it that extra "+".
Highly recommended, buy it if you see it!!

tags: the wizard, wizar'd, follow the wizard, ep, 2006, flac,

Scorpions - In Trance (1975)

Country: Germany
Language: English
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1975-1989 RCA Records
AllMusic Review by Barry Weber
The Scorpions' third release, In Trance, continues to display their high-energy music, which is impossible to ignore. With the eyebrow-lifting "Dark Lady" as the opening track, the album immediately captures the listener's attention and keeps it all the way until the end. The interesting title track is clearly the best song of the album, but singles such as the fast-paced "Robot Man" and the hard-rocking "Top of the Bill" also stand out as highlights. Excellent singing and powerful music make this the best Scorpions recording working with Uli Jon Roth.

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July 24, 2016

Guns N' Roses - G N' R Lies (1988)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hard Rock, Heavy Metal
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© 1988 Geffen Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Once Appetite for Destruction finally became a hit in 1988, Guns N' Roses bought some time by delivering the half-old/half-new LP G N' R Lies as a follow-up. Constructed as a double EP, with the "indie" debut Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide coming first and four new acoustic-based songs following on the second side, G N' R Lies is where the band metamorphosed from genuine threat to joke. Neither recorded live nor released by an indie label, Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide is competent bar band boogie, without the energy or danger of Appetite for Destruction. The new songs are considerably more problematic. "Patience" is Guns N' Roses at their prettiest and their sappiest, the most direct song they recorded to date. Its emotional directness makes the misogyny of "Used to Love Her (But I Had to Kill Her)" and the pitiful slanders of "One in a Million" sound genuine. Although the cover shrugs them off as a "joke," Axl Rose's venom is frightening -- there's little doubt that he truly does believe that "faggots" come to America from another country and that "niggers" should stay out of his way. Since he wasn't playing a character on the remainder of the album, there's little doubt this is from the heart as well. And what makes it harder to dismiss is the musical skill of the band, which makes the country-fried boogie of "Used to Love Her," the bluesy revamp of "You're Crazy," and the tough, paranoid fever dream of "One in a Million" indelible. So, you either listen to the music and are satisfied or else listen to the lyrics and become disturbed not only by Rose's intentions, but by the millions of record buyers that identified with him.

tags: guns n roses, gnr lies, 1988, flac,

July 23, 2016

Blondie - Eat To The Beat (1979)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: New Wave
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© 1979-1985 Chrysalis Records
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
Just as Blondie's second album, Plastic Letters, was a pale imitation of their self-titled debut, Eat to the Beat, their fourth album, was a secondhand version of their breakthrough third album, Parallel Lines: one step forward, half a step back. There was an attempt, on such songs as "The Hardest Part" and "Atomic," to recreate the rock/disco fusion of the group's one major U.S. hit, "Heart of Glass," without similar success, and, elsewhere, the band just tried to cover too many stylistic bases. "Die Young Stay Pretty," for example, dipped into an island sound complete with modified reggae beat (a foreshadowing of the upcoming hit "The Tide Is High"), and "Sound-a-Sleep" was a lullaby that dragged too much to be a good change of pace. The British, who had long since been converted, made Eat to the Beat another chart-topper, with three major hits, including a number one ranking for "Atomic" and almost the same success for "Dreaming," but in the U.S., which still saw Blondie as a slightly comic one-hit wonder, the album was greeted for what it was -- slick corporate rock without the tangy flavor that had made Parallel Lines such ear candy.

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Blondie - Plastic Letters (1977)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Pop Rock, New Wave
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© 1977-1985 Chrysalis Records
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
In artistic terms, Plastic Letters, Blondie's second album, was a classic example of the sophomore slump. If their debut, Blondie, was a precise update of the early-'60s girl group sound, delivered with an ironic, '70s sensibility, its follow-up seemed to consist of leftovers, the songwriting never emerging from obscurity and pedestrian musical tracks. The production (again courtesy of Richard Gottehrer) was once again bright and sharp, but in the service of inferior material it alone couldn't save the collection. The two exceptions to the general mediocrity were "Denis," a revival of Randy & the Rainbows' 1963 hit "Denise," for which Deborah Harry sang a verse in French to justify the name and gender change, and "(I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear," written by Gary Valentine, who had left Blondie shortly before the recording of the album. Due to these two songs, the album became a commercial success, at least overseas. British-based Chrysalis Records had bought out Private Stock, giving Blondie greater distribution and more of an international marketing focus. The result was that "Denis" broke them in Europe, nearly topping the U.K. charts and followed into the Top Ten by "(I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear," with the album also peaking in the Top Ten. In the U.S., Blondie finally charted, making the Top 100. The songwriting problem did not seem to bode well, but they would take a distinctly different approach next time out.

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Boy George - Sold (1987)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Pop
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© 1987 Virgin Records
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
Boy George teamed up with Lamont Dozier to write many of the songs on his debut album, much of which has a harder dance pop edge than his work with Culture Club. But it's still that bouncy, vulnerable voice, notably on the reggae-tinged hit "Everything I Own," that remains his trademark.

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Mariah Carey - #1's (1998)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: R&B
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© 1998 Columbia Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Protest as she may -- and she does, claiming in the liner notes that #1's is "not a greatest hits album! It's too soon, I haven't been recording long enough for that!" -- it's hard to view #1's, Mariah Carey's first compilation, as anything other than a greatest-hits album. Carey was fortunate enough to have nearly every single she released top the pop charts. Between 1990's "Vision of Love" and 1998's "My All," all but four commercially released singles ("Anytime You Need a Friend," "Can't Let Go," "Make It Happen," "Without You") hit number one, with only a handful of radio-only singles ("Butterfly," "Breakdown") making the airwaves, not the charts. That leaves 12 big hits on #1's, all number ones. Since Carey's singles always dominated her albums, it comes as no surprise that #1's is her best, most consistent album, filled with songs that represent state-of-the-art '90s adult contemporary and pop-oriented urban soul. That said, it isn't a perfect overview -- a couple of good singles are missing because of the self-imposed "#1 rule"; plus, the Ol' Dirty Bastard mix of "Fantasy" is strong, but fans familiar with the radio single will be disappointed that the chorus is completely missing on this version. The album is also padded with a personal favorite (her Brian McKnight duet "Whenever You Call," taken from Butterfly) and three new songs -- the Jermaine Dupri-produced "Sweetheart," the Whitney Houston duet "When You Believe" (taken from The Prince of Egypt soundtrack), and "I Still Believe," a remake of a Brenda K. Starr tune -- which are all fine, but not particularly memorable. Still, that's hardly enough to bring down a thoroughly entertaining compilation that will stand as her best record until the "official" hits collection is released.

tags: mariah carey, number 1s, #1's, 1998, flac,

July 19, 2016

Steel Panther - Balls Out (2011)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Glam Metal
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© 2011 Universal Republic Records
AllMusic Review by Gregory Heaney
Whether or not you’re a fan of Steel Panther’s ridiculously over the top glam metal, you have to appreciate their dedication. For a comedy rock band, they manage to tell a joke with a surprisingly straight face, jamming out sleazy hair metal in a way that is equal parts caricature and homage. With the band's pedigree lying with acts like L.A. Guns and Fight, it’s not really a surprise that Balls Out is such a spot-on tribute to the excess of that bygone era, coming from people who were there to see the rise and fall of the genre from the inside. Songs like “It Won’t Suck Itself” and “17 Girls in a Row” show that Steel Panther are still the comedy rock masters of the single entendre, but to be fair, subtlety isn’t what an album like this is all about. This isn’t a carefree, “hang around the house and mow the lawn while you reminisce about the '80s" record, but more of an “all-night bender at a strip club while you reminisce about the '80s" record. As a hair metal album, Balls Out is finely crafted and well produced, evoking the glossy sound of the era, but as a joke, it’s pretty one-note, so either you’re going to get it or it’s going to grate on you. That said, if you’ve been looking for the glam metal equivalent of a theme park ride to be the soundtrack to a guys' night out bird-doggin’ chicks, you’ve found your holy grail.

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Mötley Crüe - Mötley Crüe (1994)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Heavy Metal, Alternative Metal
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© 1994 Elektra Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
On Mötley Crüe's first album recorded without vocalist Vince Neil, the band revamped its trademark dirty but melodic heavy metal, adding elements of '90s grunge and alternative metal. New vocalist John Corabi is a hoarse shouter without Neil's charisma, so he wasn't able to put a distinctive spin on the pedestrian grind the rest of the band churned out. Mötley Crüe seems to have equated grunge with seriousness on this eponymously title release, since very few of the songs on the record recall the hedonistic atmosphere of the band's '80s albums. Unfortunately, this also means they have neglected to write memorable hooks and riffs, which makes Mötley Crüe the weakest effort in their catalog. [In 2003, the Crüe remastered and reissued Mötley Crüe on the band's own Motley/Hip-O label with three bonus tracks: two unreleased songs ("Hypnotized" and "Livin' in the Know") and the non-LP track "Babykills."]

July 18, 2016

Metallica - Death Magnetic (2008)

*This is the original first pressing release.
Country: U.S.A
Genre: Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal
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© 2008 Warner Bros. Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Call Death Magnetic Kirk Hammett's revenge. Famously browbeaten into accepting Lars Ulrich and producers Bob Rock's dictum that guitar solos were "dated" and thereby verboten for 2003's St. Anger -- a fraught recording chronicled on the 2004 documentary Some Kind of Monster -- Metallica's lead guitarist dominates this 2008 sequel, playing with an euphoric fury not heard in years, if not decades. This aesthetic shift isn't because Hammett suddenly rules the band: powerless to add solos to St. Anger, he couldn't reinstate them without the blessing of Ulrich and James Hetfield, the politburo of Metallica. The duo suffered some combination of shame and humility in the wake of the muddled St. Anger and Monster, convincing these two unmovable forces to change direction. They ditched longtime producer Rock -- who'd helmed every album since 1991's breakthrough blockbuster Metallica -- in favor of Rick Rubin, patron saint of all veteran rockers looking to reconnect with their early spark. Rubin may be the go-to producer for wayward superstars but as the producer of Slayer, he's also rooted in thrash, so he understands the core of Metallica's greatness and gently steers them back to basics on Death Magnetic.
Of course, Metallica's basics are pretty complex: intertwined guitar riffs, frenetic solos, and thunderous double-bass drums stitched together as intricate seven-minute suites. Metallica slowly weaned themselves away from labyrinthine metal during the '90s, tempering their intensity, straightening out riffs, spending nearly as much time exploring detours as driving the main road, all the while losing sight of their identity. This culminated in the confused St. Anger, a transparent and botched attempt at returning to their roots, crippled by the chaos surrounding the departure of bassist Jason Newsted. With all their problems sorted out in public -- including replacing Newsted with Robert Trujillo, who acquiesces to the Metallica custom of being buried far, far in the mix -- the group embraces every gnarled, ugly thing they eschewed in the years since "Metallica." Death Magnetic bounces the band back to the days before Bob Rock, roughly sounding as if it could come after ...And Justice for All. Such a deliberate revival of the glory days can be tricky, as it could make a group seem stuck in the past -- or, just as badly, they can get essential elements wrong -- but Death Magnetic is a resounding success because they hunker down and embrace their core strengths, recognizing that their greatest asset is that nobody else makes noise in the same way as they do.
That's the pleasure of Death Magnetic: hearing Metallica sound like Metallica again. Individual songs and, especially, Hetfield's lyrics -- less the confessional ballast of St. Anger, more a traditional blend of angst and terror -- are secondary to how the band sounds, how they spit, snarl, and surge, how they seem alive. Metallica isn't replicating moves they made in the '80s, they're reinvigorated by the spirit of their early years, adding shading they've learned in the '90s, whether it's the symphonic tension of "The Unforgiven III" or threading curdled blues licks through the thrash. Listening to the band play, it's hard not to thrill at Metallica's mastery of aggression and escalation. There is no denying that the band is older and settled, no longer fueled by the hunger and testosterone that made their '80s albums so gripping, but on Death Magnetic older doesn't mean less potent. Metallica is still vitally violent and on this terrific album -- a de facto comeback, even if they never really went away -- they're finally acting like they enjoy being a great rock band.

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