November 30, 2017

Shaggy - Pure Pleasure (1993)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Dancehall, Reggae
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© 1993 Virgin Records
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
Shaggy's debut album, Pure Pleasure, has been described as a dancehall album for those who generally don't care for dancehall and, to be sure, the CD managed to reach a lot of listeners who find dancehall limited and one-dimensional. The toaster accomplished this by striving for variety and being more musical than a lot of dancehall artists. Plus, the fact that he is fairly recognizable doesn't hurt; when other 1990s dancehall upstarts were becoming Shabba Ranks clones, Shaggy combined dancehall aggression with such influences as Yellowman. Pure Pleasure has its share of conventional, sexploitive dancehall, but Shaggy takes some chances on conscious numbers like "It Bun Me" and "Give Thanks and Praise" as well as his infectious interpretation of Prince Buster's "Oh, Carolina." Pure Pleasure isn't a gem, but it's an often enjoyable album that has some variety and does its part to broaden dancehall.

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Shaggy - Hot Shot (2001 Special Edition) ☠

*Reissued in 2001 by MCA records. Contains 1 bonus track. 16 tracks total.

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Dancehall, Reggae
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 2000-2001 MCA Records
AllMusic Review by Bryan Buss
Shaggy's fourth album is a classic hybrid of reggae, R&B, and pop. Following duets with Maxi Priest ("That Girl") and Janet Jackson ("Luv Me, Luv Me"), the Jamaica native teams up with master producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and a myriad of talented guest vocalists who complement his personality on each track. Coming with the minor hit "Hope" from 1999's For Love of the Game soundtrack, the first couple of singles, "Dance and Shout" (featuring a Michael Jackson sample) and "It Wasn't Me," show the strengths of this album -- they are smart, warm, and playful. Shaggy's persona is hard to not like. On "It Wasn't Me," a friend laments being caught by his girl with another woman; Shaggy continually advises him to flatly deny it. To be able to use that sentiment and still seem likable is a gift. There are such heavy samples, some of the tracks almost sound like remakes at points, but there is such originality and gifted wordplay that the combination works as opposed to seeming unoriginal -- something most rappers can't seem to accomplish. Each song on Hot Shot from the opening title track on is different, inviting, and infectious.

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Ashanti - Ashanti (2002)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
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© 2002 Murder Inc. Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Young, pretty, sexy, stylish, and hip, Ashanti is everything a modern, post-hip-hop soul crooner should be. She looks the part, trucks with hitmakers -- at the time her eponymous debut was released, she was featured on a hit single by Fat Joe -- and even approximates Alicia Keys' visuals on the back cover. She can sing, but she's not showy; she never hyperventilates, she croons. Her first album sounds modern, with fairly fresh beats and lightly insistent hooks, and is just naughty enough to warrant a parental advisory sticker (though if you're just listening to this record, it's nigh on impossible to figure out where the objectionable lines are). So why doesn't Ashanti play as greater than the sum of its parts? Largely because it lacks distinctive material, in either terms of the actual songs or the production -- and when that's combined with a singer who is good, yet not distinctive herself, the entire production sounds as if its treading water or providing nifty aural wallpaper. It's not bad by any means, and it has its moments, but at 17 tracks, including skits, it all becomes a blur. A pleasing blur, one that shows promise, but a blur all the same.

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Ashanti - Chapter II (2003)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
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© 2003 Murder Inc. Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The pictures on Ashanti's album covers mean something -- not just because she's gorgeous, but because they signal in which musical direction she's heading. On her first album, she was a streamlined, diva-esque spin on Alicia Keys; on her second, she was styled like Beyoncé Knowles, the Destiny's Child leader who had released her solo debut a week before Chapter II. Ashanti is malleable like that. She has a sweet, appealing voice that has no defining characteristics -- she doesn't have the dizzying range of Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston, the sexiness of Janet Jackson, the riskiness of Aaliyah, the elegant smarts of Alicia Keys, the sheer ambition of Knowles, or, needless to say, the hell-bent skankiness of Christina Aguilera. She sings well and sounds good on modern R&B tracks, fitting into the fabric of the production more than delivering the song. That lack of personality, incidentally, makes her a good vocal foil for rappers, since she never overshadows them. This explains why Irv Gotti used her as the diva for his Murder Inc empire; he's also savvy enough of a producer (along with his colleague Chink Santana) to keep Chapter II entertaining -- more entertaining than her debut, actually -- all the way through. The key is that the production is seductive, whether it's on the actual ballads or the bright, sunny dance numbers, and that Ashanti's crooning fits right in without ever drawing attention to herself. She's not enough of a singer to really belt out the tunes and depart from the melodies with showy runs that are all about her, so she just sings the material straight, which is quite refreshing. The songs have about as much personality as Ashanti's voice, but that actually is a point in its favor, since it keeps everything on an even keel and makes Gotti and Santana's stylish production the star. They are the secret ingredients that make Chapter II good romantic mood music for the summer.

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Ashanti - Concrete Rose (2004)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
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© 2004 The INC Records
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman
Now that Ashanti's career runs three albums deep, not including 2003's floptastic Ashanti's Christmas, it's high time Inc head Irv Gotti put the Mary J. Blige comparisons to rest. Mary -- power tempered with finesse -- and Ashanti -- consistently soothing, never overstated -- are entirely different stylistically, and a compilation of the younger singer's best work wouldn't stand a chance against her elder's What's the 411? or My Life. Disregarding the ill-suited standards, an Ashanti album is always good for a handful of strong singles, as Concrete Rose helps indicate. As expected, Ashanti firmly believes this is her best album to date, but it's no better or worse than her 2002 debut or 2003's Chapter II, with the standout singles, decent album cuts, and filler fluff provided in equal doses. As opposed to Chapter II, which was essentially a production showcase for Chink Santana (with some work and guidance by Gotti), Concrete Rose puts most of the control back into the hands of 7 Aurelius, the one behind "Foolish" and "Baby." Excepting an appearance from T.I., the album is strictly an in-house Inc. affair, with staffers Santana, Jimi Kendrix, and Demi-Doc also on board. Ja Rule makes an appearance on "Turn It Up," the most energetic club track, and doesn't destroy it. He also seems to be having a good time -- a rare occurrence in 2004.

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Ashanti - The Declaration (2008)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
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© 2008 The INC/Universal Motown
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman
On her fourth proper studio album, Ashanti remains with The Inc., but you would not know it unless you checked for the logo. The closest tie is the occasional presence of ex-Irv Gotti associate and longtime Ashanti collaborator Seven Aurelius (who now calls himself Channel 7), followed by a minor assist from Chink Santana. Gotti himself is nowhere to be found. L.T. Hutton (Snoop Dogg, Bone) is behind most of the production work, with a handful of notables -- Rodney Jerkins, Jermaine Dupri, Ron Feemster, Babyface, Akon, and...Diane Warren -- on separate tracks. Even though this album marks a nearly complete break from The Inc., it's very much in line with what came before it, hardly a major departure. Each Ashanti release has had at least one major single, and in this case it's "The Way That I Love You," more in the mold and spirit of "Rain on Me" -- full of similarly effective melodramatic flourishes -- if much more vengeful in nature than depressive. Nothing is quite as irresistibly fun as "Baby" or "Rock wit U," or as sexy as "Only U," but "You're Gonna Miss" comes close in the case of the former, while the lifeless Akon/Nelly feature "Body on Me" is no good at all, containing no distinguishing qualities. Bottom line, this is neither a great nor a poor Ashanti album. It's decent, just like the rest of them.

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November 28, 2017

Drowning Pool - Drowning Pool (2001)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Metal, Hard Rock
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© 2010 Eleven Seven Music
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Drowning Pool have never been very much fun, but on their eponymous fourth album the group attempts to up the ante, partially due to much of it being written in the wake of various traumas in singer Ryan McCombs’ personal life. During the creation of Drowning Pool, McCombs lost his father and saw his marriage fall apart, so naturally these events bubble up throughout the 11 songs here, sometimes explicitly and sometimes elliptically. Since Drowning Pool are not a subtle band, they’re best when they address the pain head-on or, better still, avoid it for a dunderheaded rocker like “Horns Up,” which is the closest they’ve gotten to a fist-pumping anthem since “Bodies.” It also indicates what works best on Drowning Pool: McCombs may attempt to mine the darkness but the production is the slickest and cleanest they’ve ever had, which fits because the group’s hard rock has opened up some, no longer confined to a heavy minor grind. They’re still not a lot of fun but here they’re marginally entertaining -- which is both more than they’ve ever mustered before and rather ironic given the record’s tortured origins.

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Drowning Pool - Desensitized (2004)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Nü-Metal, Hard Rock
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© 2004 Wind-Up
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus
Desensitized doesn't dwell directly on Dave Williams' death. The fallen singer is remembered in the liners, and the band's search for the reason behind his untimely demise seems to drive tracks like "This Life" and "Numb." But for the most part Drowning Pool's sophomore effort takes the band and new shouter Jason "Gong" Jones to places they likely would've anyway. Instead of the blistering pummel of breakthrough hit "Bodies," lead single "Step Up" is a muscular hard rock number with a bona fide hook -- it's closer to the midrange rock hedonism of types like Saliva or Monster Magnet than anything on Sinner. This makes sense, as the spooky and tuneless churn that typified turn-of-the-century active rock has largely given in to rockers capable of both aggression and melody. There are still moments of gritty sludge on Desensitized, amplified (or downtuned, rather) by producer Johnny K, who helps give opener "Think" a dirty sting similar to his work with Disturbed. Late album entries "Cast Me Aside" and "Killin' Me" are better -- they cross a catchy, "Bodies"-like groove with Jones' guttural scream and thick, nearly atonal distortion. But the rest of Desensitized takes the relative tunefulness of "Step Up" (and a hint of Alice in Chains) as a guide, and delivers throaty, catchy hard rock laced with metallic elements. Highlights include "Bringing Me Down" and "Love and War." All in all, a decent second album from a band that's persevered. Too bad about that porn star cover art, though -- it looks like the packaging for the stupidest Seduction Cinema sexploitation film ever.

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Drowning Pool - Full Circle (2007)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Metal, Hard Rock
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© 2007 Eleven Seven Music
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
First off, Drowning Pool are docked points for not featuring Jesse Jane on the cover of Full Circle, but then again, the Jenna Jameson wannabe never quite seemed appropriate for Drowning Pool, who never quite seemed to capture the sleazy girlz, girlz, girlz vibe a porn star cover girl lends a band. No, the band returns to a gloomy black-and-white cover photo, as if we've been plunged back into the murkiness of a Saw dungeon, which is a pretty fair representation of the roiling torment of Full Circle. It's an album filled with drop-D tunings and grinding grunge riffs hammered into submission as if they were pure, processed metal. Often, this comes across as a flattened Stone Temple Pilots crossed with Alice in Chains, but instead of being either the unabashed revival of Puddle of Mudd or the lunkheaded arena rock of Nickelback, Drowning Pool concentrate on slick, stylized angst that theoretically could play with teenagers, assuming that they'd be into this music in 2007. The thing about this glossy gloom is that Drowning Pool aren't good at the murk: they're good at the riffs, they're good at piecing together hooks, they're good at the rhythms -- all the things that make them sound like a heavy party band. These are elements that were present on Sinner, particularly the chant-along "Bodies," and Desensitized, and they're here too, just buried underneath affected darkness that is starting to feel a little long in the tooth. Maybe next time around, they'll lighten up a bit and make an album that just has a little bit of fun -- enough to warrant Jesse Jane coming back for another cover, perhaps.

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Drowning Pool - Sinner (2001)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Nü-Metal, Alternative Metal
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© 2001 Wind-Up
AllMusic Review by Kurt Morris
Drowning Pool's debut album, Sinner, is a surprise. Sure, the four guys who compose the band are displayed on the back cover like they were tailor-made for the rap-core scene which had arisen out of the late '90s, but musically they're a little better than the rest. Singer Dave Williams has really impressive vocals, which unlike many of their comrades actually shows diversity and a refreshing breadth. Multiple variations of melodic singing to multiple ranges of screaming that is unlike little of what comes out from the Ozzfest crowd. Musically, Drowning Pool are a cross between Korn and Tool, but much more akin to Tool, primarily in reference to the vocals. Everything else on the album is smooth and perfect, like a plan having gone off according to plan. The riffs on Sinner are huge, with enormous grooves and great dance parts. In fact, the track "Bodies" was written inherently to be a song to get people to dance with its line of "something's got to give/let the bodies hit the floor." While Drowning Pool may not be the next musical Beethoven, they are a welcome breath of fresh air in the midst of all the so-called "hardcore" that is on the airwaves today. A strong starting piece, Sinner shows Drowning Pool's great potential.

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Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways (2014)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock
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© 2014 Roswell/RCA Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Nobody ever would've thought the Foo Fighters were gearing up for a hiatus following the vibrant 2011 LP Wasting Light, but the group announced just that in 2012. It was a short-lived break, but during that time-off, lead Foo Dave Grohl filmed an ode to the classic Los Angeles recording studio Sound City, which in turn inspired the group's 2014 album, Sonic Highways. Constructed as an aural travelog through the great rock & roll cities of America -- a journey that was documented on an accompanying HBO mini-series of the same name -- Sonic Highways picks up the thread left dangling from Sound City: Real to Reel; it celebrates not the coiled fury of underground rock exploding into the mainstream, the way the '90s-happy Wasting Light did, but rather the classic rock that unites the U.S. from coast to coast. No matter the cameo here -- and there are plenty of guests, all consciously different from the next, all bending to the needs of their hosts -- the common denominator is the pumping amps, sky-scraping riffs, and sugary melodies that so identify the sound of arena rock at its pre-MTV peak. There are a few unexpected wrinkles, as when Ben Gibbard comes aboard to give "Subterranean" a canned electronic pulse and Tony Visconti eases the closing "I Am a River" into a nearly eight-minute epic, but the brief eight-song album just winds up sounding like nothing else but the Foo Fighters at their biggest, burliest, and loudest. They've become the self-proclaimed torch barriers for real rock, championing the music's history but also blessedly connecting the '70s mainstream and '80s underground so it's all one big nation ruled by six-strings. That the mainstream inevitably edges out the underground on Sonic Highways is perhaps inevitable -- it is the common rock language, after all -- but even if there's a lingering predictability in the paths the Foo Fighters follow on Sonic Highways, they nevertheless know how to make this familiar journey pleasurable.

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Foo Fighters - Wasting Light (2011) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 2011 RCA/Roswell Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Forget all that nonsense about Dave Grohl listening to the Bee Gees and ABBA when writing Wasting Light. You can even forget Bob Mould's killer cameo on "Dear Rosemary,” no matter how seamlessly the Hüsker Dü frontman’s patented growl slides into the Foo Fighters' roar. What really matters is that nearly ten years after Songs for the Deaf, Josh Homme's influence finally rears its head on a Foo Fighters record, Dave Grohl leading his band of merry marauders -- including Pat Smear, who returns to the fold for the first time since 1997’s The Colour and the Shape -- through the fiercest album they’ve ever made. Nowhere is Homme's tightly defined muscle felt as strongly as it is on "White Limo," a blast of heavy sleaze that's kind of a rewrite of "You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar,” yet Grohl isn’t thieving -- he’s tweaking his frequent bandmate with a song that could have graced SFTD or Them Crooked Vultures. That sense of humor is welcome on Wasting Light, nearly as welcome as the guitars that ring loud and long. Things tend to crawl on the ballads, as they usually do on a Foos record, but these slower spots have a stately dignity that contrasts well with the untrammeled rock of the rest of the album. Perhaps Butch Vig -- working with Grohl for the first time since Nevermind (and that’s not the only Nirvana connection, as Krist Novoselic plays bass on “I Should Have Known”) -- should take some credit for the ferocious sound of Wasting Light, but the album isn’t the Foo Fighters' best since their ‘90s heyday because of its sound; it’s their best collection of songs since The Colour and the Shape, the kind of record they’ve always seemed on the verge of delivering but never have.

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Rainbow - Rising (1976)⚓

*Digitally remastered from the original master tapes by Dennis M. Drake, Polygram Studios, USA

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1976-1987 Polydor Records
AllMusic Review by Geoff Ginsberg
On their second release, Rainbow not only avoid the sophomore jinx; they hit a home run. After replacing the entire band (except Ronnie James Dio) immediately following the recording of the first album, Ritchie Blackmore and the Rising lineup (Blackmore; Dio; Tony Carey, keys; Jimmy Bain, bass; and the late, great Cozy Powell, drums) had plenty of time on the road touring the first album to get the chops and material together for their second. In particular, "Stargazer" really came together on the 1975 tour and featured stunning keyboard work from Carey. The material is uniformly strong, with "Starstruck" and "A Light in the Black" standing out in particular. Ronnie Dio turns in a great vocal on the stunningly direct (under three minutes!) "Do You Close Your Eyes." All six songs on the album are up there with anything the band has done, before or since. The playing has a very tight, colorful feel to it, which was lacking a bit on the first record. This album can legitimately be mentioned in the same breath as classic Deep Purple.

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Rainbow - Down To Earth (1979)

*Digitally remastered from the original master tapes by Dennis Drake, Polygram Studios, USA.

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1979-1988 Polydor Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The departure of Ronnie James Dio gave Ritchie Blackmore a chance to reinvent Rainbow, which he does to a certain extent on Down to Earth. Adding former Deep Purple colleague Roger Glover as bassist and Graham Bonnet as vocalist, Blackmore tones down some of the excess of the Dio years, particularly in terms of fantastical lyrics, and turns to straight-ahead hard rock, only occasionally adorned by prominent synthesizers. In general, their material is fairly solid, and "Since You Been Gone" easily ranks among the band's best songs, but overall the record is a little generic and sounds very much of its time -- namely, the late '70s, when album rock still ruled the arenas. Nevertheless, Rainbow has a distinct idea, primarily through the guitar artistry and mystical sensibility of Ritchie Blackmore. He sounds invigorated on the album, turning in muscular performances and strong solos on each cut; clearly, the reunion has revitalized him. Unfortunately, Bonnet tends to oversell his vocals, screaming a little bit too often, but he doesn't distract from the fact that Blackmore, Glover, and drummer Cozy Powell turn Down to Earth into a fine hard rock platter. It might not offer anything unique, but it delivers the goods.

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Rainbow - Difficult To Cure (1981)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1981-1985 Polydor Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Rainbow ditched vocalist Graham Bonnet after Down to Earth, hiring former Fandango singer Joe Lynn Turner as their frontman. As it turns out, Turner is less hyperbolic than his predecessor, which fits the focused polish of Difficult to Cure. Where Down to Earth was a streamlined version of early Rainbow, Difficult to Cure is a shot at crossover. Problem is, the band never comes up with the right crossover songs. Russ Ballard's "I Surrender" comes close, but much of the record is fairly undistinguished, riding on strident melodies and big riffs that are never quite memorable. It's all given a contemporary sheen, with plenty of studio gloss that now instantly evokes the early '80s. On that level, it's somewhat of an entertaining artifact -- anyone pining for an example of what album-oriented radio sounded like in the pre-MTV years should check this out -- but it's never more than that, since the bids at chart success are only occasionally memorable ("I Surrender," "Magic"). Perhaps Ritchie Blackmore felt stifled by the exacting nature of Difficult to Cure's attempt at crossover -- witness how "Spotlight Kid" veers from a dexterous Blackmore solo to a ridiculous keyboard run, then just verges on collapse -- and that's the reason why each side ends with a pretentious pseudo-classical instrumental that functions as nothing more than a guitar showcase. Certainly, his playing is impeccable, but both numbers are really awkward (particularly the title track, based on Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and with a weirdly synthesized pulse as a rhythmic underpinning) and just highlight the fact that Difficult to Cure would have been better if Blackmore had channeled that energy into the rest of the album.

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Rainbow - Long Live Rock N' Roll (1978)⚓

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1978-1989 Polydor Records
AllMusic Review by Geoff Ginsberg
Long Live Rock 'n' Roll may be singer Ronnie James Dio's last album with Rainbow, but at least he went out on a high note. While the material is not quite as strong as on the previous studio effort, Rising, Long Live Rock 'n' Roll maintains the momentum the band had built up. "Kill the King" had been previously heard on the live On Stage record, but here it sounds more fully realized. Also, the title track from the album stands as one of the best songs the band did, not to mention a noble sentiment. The chugging "L.A. Connection" is another highlight. As with all of their first four albums, this one was produced by Martin Birch (who produced everyone from Blue Öyster Cult to Wayne County), and he really knows how to get the best out of the band by this point. The result is that the songs couldn't sound any better, so even if some of the material isn't quite up to their best, the album is still very cohesive, steady, and, ultimately, satisfying. This would turn out to be the last great album Rainbow would ever make, although they did enjoy a great deal of chart success in the post-Dio era.

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Rainbow - Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow (1975)

*Digitally mastered by Dennis M. Drake/PolyGram Tape facility

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1975-1986 Polydor Records
AllMusic Review by David Kent-Abbott
Perhaps the first example of "dragon rock" -- a style perfected by bands like Iron Maiden and Dio in the early to mid-'80s -- was Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, a 1975 collection from the guitarist's first post-Deep Purple project. Fittingly enough, a young Ronnie James Dio provides the goblin-like frontman presence required by the increasingly Baroque Blackmore. The young Dio is at his best when he fully gives in to his own and Blackmore's medieval fantasy leanings in hard-rocking tracks like "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves" and "Man on the Silver Mountain." The dark, trudging doom rock of "Self Portrait" most clearly showcases what they were capable of. The album's ponderous lyrics are occasionally punctuated by poetic phrases such as "crossbows in the firelight." Although Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow provides a few listenable tracks, its primary value is historical. Look to Rainbow's next album, Rainbow Rising (1976), to grasp the heavy metal potential that is only hinted at here.

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Rainbow - Bent Out of Shape (1983)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1983-1990 Polydor Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
With Joe Lynn Turner on board, Rainbow tried one crossover record and one no-frills hard rock record -- which meant that Bent out of Shape, their third album with Turner, provided a fine opportunity to get a little arty. Not that the band has turned into Genesis or even returned to the mystical pretensions of its early work; they have merely broadened their horizons. Ironically, that means that they've retreated, at least partially, to the radio-ready sound of Difficult to Cure, but this time, they aren't just trying for a crossover hit. As producer, Roger Glover has widened their sonic horizon without losing sonic muscle, making sure that the album is, at its core, hard rock. His production works, since the record hits pretty hard even when it gets a little fruity, which it does quite often -- the stately, silly church organs that "Can't Let You Go," the fugue-like cadences of "Fire Dance," the mock-classical instrumental "Anybody There." Those instrumental flourishes highlight Bent out of Shape's true strength, which is its sonics -- the record sounds good and the music flows well. However, beneath that surface, there's not much there -- the songs don't have strong hooks, or are memorable in and of themselves. With that in mind, it's not entirely surprising that this is the last studio record Rainbow cut (although they would later reunite in the '90s), but it's not a bad way to go out. It sounds good and has some prime Ritchie Blackmore performances, plus it rocks pretty hard -- all essential ingredients for a good Rainbow record, even if this time it adds up to a record that's merely solid, not remarkable.

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Rainbow - Straight Between The Eyes (1982)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1982-1983 Polydor Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Straight Between the Eyes undoubtedly has one of the worst album covers in rock history, but the record is an unexpected return to form from the journeyman hard rockers. Just a record before, Rainbow sounded as if they were verging on Billy Squier territory, but here, they reverse course and deliver a solid, no-frills hard rock record. It isn't just that the material is stronger, though it certainly is, it's that Roger Glover abandoned his smoothed-out, radio-ready production that marred Difficult to Cure. That's not to say that Straight Between the Eyes doesn't sound dated -- Rainbow was a band that was forever tied to its era -- but the album does have a harder-hitting, muscular sound that is more appropriate for the band. Similarly, vocalist Joe Lynn Turner sounds more comfortable with the group, and the entire band just seems to gel, turning even the generic numbers on the album into enjoyable, straight-ahead hard rock. There may not be any specific showcases for Ritchie Blackmore, but his playing is better heard in this setting, where he's not only soloing, he's propelling the band with his powerful riffs. As always, he's the driving force behind the band, but this is truly a band effort, which is one of the reasons why Straight Between the Eyes is one of the strongest albums the group ever cut.

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Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow - Stranger In Us All (1995)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1995 BMG Entertainment
AllMusic Review by Bret Adams
Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore resurrected the beloved hard rock band Rainbow in 1995 for the album Stranger in Us All. The new lineup -- technically named Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow -- was not an all-star who's who of hard rock like the groundbreaking original version with vocalist Ronnie James Dio or the radio-targeted AOR version with vocalist Joe Lynn Turner. All incarnations of Rainbow, even the mid-period lineup fronted by bellower Graham Bonnet, are generally revered in hard rock circles. In its own way, Rainbow's music was just as influential as the music Blackmore made during his years in Deep Purple. Stranger in Us All feels like Blackmore's shot-in-the-dark, semi-inspired effort to reconnect with his hard rock fan base. Around this same time, he was gearing up his Renaissance-flavored new age project, Blackmore's Night. For Stranger in Us All, Blackmore recruited vocalist Doogie White, keyboardist Paul Morris, bass guitarist Greg Smith, and drummer John O'Reilly. Many songs, such as "Wolf to the Moon," "Cold Hearted Woman," and "Stand and Fight," are decent enough. The two standout tracks, "Hunting Humans (Insatiable)" and "Black Masquerade," are the best at recapturing classic Rainbow's energy, drama, and dynamics. Blackmore also proffers another cover of the Yardbirds' "Still I'm Sad." He clearly loves this song since it has appeared in studio and live versions on previous Rainbow albums. Does Stranger in Us All live up to the Rainbow name and reputation? Not really. White is a decent, fully capable hard rock vocalist, but he is not as distinctive as Dio, Bonnet, or Turner. Then again, few vocalists are. (On tour, White did do a fine job of singing all of the old Deep Purple and Rainbow favorites in the set.) Rainbow soon fell by the wayside as Blackmore concentrated on Blackmore's Night. Perhaps some variation of the classic lineup will reunite eventually; even without the late, great Cozy Powell on drums; something like Yes' 1991 Union tour, which gathered multiple members to celebrate its overall legacy, would be a hard rock fan's dream.

tags: rainbow, stranger in us all, 1995, ritchie blackmores rainbow, flac,

November 25, 2017

Our Lady Peace - Naveed (1994)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Alternative Rock
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© 1994 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by MacKenzie Wilson
Canada's Our Lady Peace makes a stunning debut with Naveed, almost avoiding the mid-'90s reign of Seattle's grunge. Mixing fierce melodies among '60s hard rock guitars, Our Lady Peace projects confidence, but is not as angry as Pearl Jam; however, they're abrasive and ready to rage against the corporate social machine. Percussion is tight, and frontman Raine Maida's lyrical poetry is also solid and wailing. Songs like "Supersatellite" and debut single "Starseed" gnarl with Maida's scratchy falsetto, which complements Mike Turner's riveting licks. They're anxious, and that's refreshing for a young band. They're not exactly hoping to define anything, but Our Lady Peace does wish to relish the rock & roll hardballers who came before them. "Hope" and "Denied" are both infectious with Zen-like rhythms similar to the likes of Led Zeppelin, making a definitive stance for the band. Our Lady Peace yearns to achieve a musical position, and Naveed is a decent introduction to the group's own musical spirituality.

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Our Lady Peace - Gravity (2002)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Alternative Rock
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© 2002 Columbia Records
AllMusic Review by Robert L. Doerschuk
The fact that every song on Gravity ends exactly the same way -- Our Lady Peace repeats the chorus at roaring volume, then hits a final chord, like a truck hits a wall, and lets it ring down to silence -- hints at the predictability of this album. The lyrics rage at the spiritual bankruptcy of suburban oldsters ("All for You"), express tender regret over love lost ("your purple hair" is among the items missed in "Somewhere Out There," a kind of apocalyptic variation on "These Foolish Things"), and otherwise zoom in on the blemished face of modern life. It's apparent that Raine Maida has a message, and the pipes to deliver it with angst and fury in appropriate proportion. All that's missing is a willingness to challenge musical convention as boldly as he takes on his demons and those of his audience. (He might have begun by finding something other than the "we are" riff, which sits a little too close to P.O.D.'s "Youth of the Nation," for "Innocent.")

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Our Lady Peace - Happiness... Is Not a Fish That You Can Catch (1999)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Alternative Rock
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© 1999 Columbia Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
It's clear that Our Lady Peace has ambition. The title of the band's third album, Happiness Is Not a Fish That You Can Catch, feels like a relic from the late '70s, when even average arena rockers had the ambition to at least title their record as if it were a concept album, or some sort of mystical discourse. Our Lady Peace shares that desire for grandeur, even if its music remains entrenched in the days after Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden conquered the rock world. As a matter of fact, Our Lady's music has pretty much stayed the same since its debut -- the main difference is that now there is an overarching sense of ambition, even pretension, that runs through the music. It doesn't always translate to tape, it may never be something concrete, but it sure as hell can be sensed, which is half the battle. The second half is actually achieving something concrete, and the band needs to jump the next hurdle and get itself out of the post-grunge straightjacket. They do heavy angst guitar rock well, but it hasn't really progressed much since their debut; they simply execute it better. Not even the addition of jazz great Elvin Jones to the final track, "Stealing Babies," changes the sound of the band, which is quite an accomplishment. Since OLP remain tethered to the gargantuan guitars and rhythms of grunge, that means their main distinguishing feature is vocalist Raine Maida, whose convoluted phrasing manages to undercut any melodic hook he may have written. This has been true since their debut, but it fits Happiness the best, since the music also lurches in unpredictable ways without ever really escaping convention. So, it's easy to respect what Our Lady Peace is trying to do with its third album, but it would be easier to like it if the band actually had succeeded.

tags: our lady peace, happiness is not a fish that you can catch, 1999, flac,