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
Label Number: 314 586 830-2
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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
Label Number: 440 077 156-2
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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
Label Number: B0003409-02
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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
Label Number: B0011318-02
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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
Label Number: 88843-09008-2
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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
Label Number: 88697-84493-2
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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 - 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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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.

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Our Lady Peace - Burn Burn (2009)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Alternative Rock
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© 2009 Coalition Entertainment (Records) Inc.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The major thing to happen to Our Lady Peace since the 2005 release of Healthy in Paranoid Times is the public embrace of David Cook, winner of the 2008 American Idol. Cook often called OLP his favorite band, enlisting the group's Raine Maida to co-write three songs on his debut, a development that could theoretically lead to a bigger audience for the Canadian post-grunge band, something that OLP appear to have kept in mind for their 2009 album, Burn Burn, if its streamlined sound is any indication. For all intents and purposes, this is another Our Lady Peace album, still sounding like a hybrid of Joshua Tree-era U2 and latter-day Goo Goo Dolls, but the quirks, including the political inclination of Healthy, are toned down in favor of a gleaming adult alternative sound. Because OLP still fancy themselves a rock band first and foremost, the slower moments are anthemic rather than sappy and the fist-pumping rockers are infused with righteousness and not mirth, with the two extremes tied together with an earthbound spaciness that splits the difference between U2 and Coldplay. The textures are right but Our Lady Peace remain deficient in hooks and melodies, something that didn't matter as much when their sound boiled with indignation instead of merely simmering, as it does here. Without that energy, they just tend to drift into the background, creating a perfect mall-rock accompaniment to their disciple David Cook.

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Our Lady Peace - Healthy In Paranoid Times (2005)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Alternative Rock
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© 2005 Columbia Records
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus
In the liners for Healthy in Paranoid Times, Our Lady Peace's first studio album in three years, there's a photo of a wall where facts are scrawled. "Within these 1165 days..." it says, referring to the lengthy time it took to record the album, "11 thousand dollars was spent on food for the band." "2000 hours were spent both discussing and playing music." But then the tone changes. "30 active wars were fought across the globe," "54 million people died from extreme poverty." The list goes on, itemizing everything from how many hours OLP spent on airplanes to the number of North American deaths from cancer. Are we supposed to see the futility of rock & roll in the face of international strife and hunger? That's certainly an honorable notion, but it seems sort of ham-fisted, too, mostly because no one made Our Lady Peace take that long to record their album. But it also has very little to do with the music on Healthy in Paranoid Times. Well, in "Wipe That Smile Off Your Face," Raine Maida does use metaphors of wars and bombs to describe a failing relationship, so maybe he's aiming for some connectivity between the music and those suffering phrases on the wall. Healthy is also a much moodier album than 2002's Gravity. The highlights of that record were the Goo Goo Dolls-ish singles "Somewhere Out There" and "Innocent." Here songs have a tendency to drag on -- opener "Angels/Losing/Sleep" plods along for nearly five minutes, and even the single "Where Are You" -- which otherwise has a peppy guitar line comparable to the Killers -- overstays its welcome with an extended "This could be the best day of your life" singalong. But the biggest problem with Healthy in Paranoid Times, besides its inflated thematic framework, is its lack of distinction. Our Lady Peace has proven how good they are at approximating U2's epic scope with modern rock atmospherics. So why did it take them over a 1000 days to do that again?

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November 24, 2017

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus - Lonely Road (2009)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Punk Rock
Style: Pop Punk
Label Number: 50999 5 20106 2 0

© 2009 Virgin Records
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey
The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus enjoyed a good deal of crossover success in 2007, when "Face Down" became a hit single with pop fans and modern rock audiences alike. Rarely had an emo band cracked the Top 40, much less with a song that featured screaming vocals, and the group's debut album sold over one million copies as a result. Released two years later, Lonely Road attempts to maintain that audience with a wildly eclectic track list, all the while remaining rooted in the familiar emo world of nasal vocals, anthemic choruses, and distorted guitars. Veteran producer Howard Benson gives the album a slick studio polish, stacking guitar riffs like bricks in an attempt to build something noteworthy, but Lonely Road ultimately collapses under the weight of its own spectacle.
The entire project is misguided, but vocalist Ronnie Winter is perhaps the worst offender. Having suffered from bronchitis during the band's previous tour (a disease that excused his inability to hit any of the high notes in concert), he embraces his healed throat by performing acrobatic flips around every melody, oversinging the songs within an inch of their lives. Tracks like "Represent" are excessive, filled with symphonic string schmaltz and fist-pumping guitars, but far worse is the doo wop/emo ballad "Believe," where Winter croons with all the earnestness of an American Idol contestant aping Steve Perry. Later, the band employs an honest-to-God gospel choir during the title track, a move that ushers some Southern rock clichés and Kid Rock-styled soul into the mix. The most ridiculous highlight, though, is "Godspeed," a flawed war ballad filled with rat-a-tat military percussion, a drill sergeant's voice-over, and an imagined story line that involves bayonets and tear-sealed letters. Like the ten previous tracks, "Godspeed" is too far-reaching for a band like the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, whose ability to perform these songs live is questionable at best. Don't You Fake It may have suffered from a lack of variety, but Lonely Road is plagued by different diseases: misguided ambition, outlandish excess, and a bad case of the ol' sophomore slump.

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The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus - Am I The Enemy (2011)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Punk Rock
Style: Pop Punk
Label Number: CS 002

© 2011 Collective Sounds
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey
Red Jumpsuit Apparatus lost their way with 2009’s Lonely Road, which threw every conceivable genre at the studio wall -- Southern rock, screamo, doo wop, even gospel -- to see what stuck. On Am I the Enemy?, the guys consolidate their strengths and clean up the mess that Lonely Road left behind, focusing instead on the sort of emo-influenced alt-rock that reaches for the rafters without losing sight of the ground. Ronnie Winter wins the “most improved” award; his caterwaul of a voice has grown into something stable, and he resists the urge to turn ballads like “Dive Too Deep” into an overblown showcase for his vocal range. Singing instead of screaming, he leads his bandmates through their most mature album to date, with “Salvation” and “Dreams” standing out as particular highlights. Red Jumpsuit Apparatus may write music for teenagers -- the songs are filled with fist-pumping bravado and carpe diem sentiment, both of which tend to target younger listeners more than their jaded elders, and the very first line of the album reads, “They say that life would be its hardest in your teenage years” -- but Am I the Enemy? still sounds like the product of a band that’s begun to grow up gracefully.

tags: the red jumpsuit apparatus, am i the enemy, 2011, flac,

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus - Don't You Fake It (2006) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Punk Rock
Style: Pop Punk
Label Number: 0946 3 62829 2 3
☠: Selected by Lass
© 2006 Virgin Records
AllMusic Review by Corey Apar
The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus sounds nearly like what would result should Hawthorne Heights and Hoobastank have a love child. Basically alternative rock with occasional screamo tendencies, their slick and accessible debut, Don't You Fake It, comes ready for radio airwaves, while remaining just abrasive enough for the Warped Tour stage. Despite having a completely ridiculous band name, RJA is a competent group and their music is pleasant enough. But unfortunately, look past the gloss and too much of the record just sounds like the quintet copping many of their contemporaries (Story of the Year, Jimmy Eat World, the Used, etc.) instead of creating a sound to call their own. "In Fate's Hands" layers on the crunching riffs and urgent drumbeats, contrasting singer Ronnie Winter's smooth delivery against harsh background and gang vocals. As the lead track, the song actually turns out to be one of the record's strongest moments, one upped only by the album's dark first single, "Face Down." The track defiantly stares domestic abuse in the face with swirling guitars and a hooky chorus that proclaims, "Do you feel like a man when you push her around?/Do you feel better now as she falls to the ground?" The song is such a standout, however, that the rest of Don't You Fake It sounds more like a vehicle for that one song than a cohesive album. It's not that the band has to create something entirely new, as memorable songs can still be crafted out of recycled elements; but this is where the band stumbles. Quieter moments supply some break from the album's steadfast urgency -- as in the confessional "Cat and Mouse" and the power ballad "Your Guardian Angel" -- and Winter's voice does bring some needed maturity to the table. But unfortunately, it's all not quite enough to wash out the generic taste left in one's mouth by the end. The band may not be faking anything, but even earnestness isn't always enough.

tags: the red jumpsuit apparatus, dont you fake it, 2006, flac, don't,

Various Artists - Scream 2 (Music From The Dimension Motion Picture) (1998)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock, Pop Rock, Hip-Hop, R&B
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© 1998 Capitol Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Scream was one of those rare teen phenomenons -- a huge motion picture that failed to generate a hit soundtrack. The producers attempted to rectify that situation with Scream 2, filling the soundtrack with alt-pop, hip-hop and urban stars, adding a couple of up-and-comers and Nick Cave's omnipresent "Red Right Hand" for good measure. It reads better than it plays. The two best moments are covers, with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion tearing through Dr. John's "Right Place, Wrong Time" and D'Angelo successfully tackling the wonderful Prince obscurity, "She's Always in My Hair." Other bands -- Dave Matthews Bands, Foo Fighters, Everclear, Collective Soul -- sound like they're contributing material that wasn't good enough to make their own albums. A few cuts, such as the Eels' "Your Lucky Day in Hell," are passable, but there are a couple of atrocious moments, which both figure heavily in the movie itself: Less Than Jake's plodding, smarmy cover of "I Think I Love You" and Master P's frighteningly incompetent title track, whose main hook is his ridiculous "UUUUUHHH!" trademark, repeated after Silkk Tha Shocker lethargically murmurs "Scream." It was supposed to be the hit, but instead it set the tone for an uneven, disappointing album.

tags: various artists, scream 2 soundtrack, scream 2 ost, scream 2 music from the dimension motion picture, 1998, flac,

Stuck Mojo - Declaration of a Headhunter (2000)

*European release. Contains 1 bonus track. 14 tracks total.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Rapcore
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© 2000 Century Media
*No professional reviews available for this release.

tags: stuck mojo, declaration of a headhunter, 2000, flac,