December 31, 2017

N.W.A. & The Posse - N.W.A. & The Posse (1987)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop, Electro, Bass Music
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© 1987-1989 Priority, Ruthless Records
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
Hip-hop was still very much dominated by New York in 1987 when Macola Records (a company that distributed numerous L.A. rap labels in the 1980s, including Eazy-E's Ruthless Records) distributed N.W.A's groundbreaking debut album, N.W.A and the Posse. Ice-T was among the few West Coast rappers enjoying national exposure, and gangsta rap was far from the phenomenon it would become a few years later. A number of the songs -- including the brutally honest "Dopeman" -- would be reissued on Straight Outta Compton, while Eazy-E's first single, "Boyz-n-the Hood" would be included on his 1988 solo album, Eazy-Duz-It. And the entire album would be reissued by Priority in 1989. This CD ranges from those early and seminal examples of gangsta rap to songs that are pure, unapologetic fun -- such as the outrageously humorous "Fat Girl" and N.W.A associates the Fila Fresh Crew's "Drink It Up," an infectious ode to booze employing the melody from the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout." One of the Crew's members was the D.O.C., who Dr. Dre and Eazy-E took to the top of the charts in 1989. Though not quite on a par with Straight Outta Compton, this is an engaging and historically important CD that's well worth acquiring.

tags: nwa and the posse, n.w.a. and the posse album, 1987, flac,

N.W.A. - 100 Miles & Runnin': E.P. (1990)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Gangsta Rap
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© 1990 Ruthless, Priority Records
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier
Following a round of Ruthless Records releases (Eazy-E's Eazy-Duz-It, 1988; the D.O.C.'s No One Can Do It Better, 1989; Above the Law's Livin' Like Hustlers, 1990) and the departure of group member Ice Cube (who released a very successful debut, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, 1990), Dr. Dre went about producing new N.W.A music for a follow-up to Straight Outta Compton (1988). 100 Miles and Runnin', a five-track EP, was the first material to surface from the recording sessions, released in summer 1990 partly as a response to Ice Cube's departure (both Dr. Dre and MC Ren take verbal shots at him), a preview of what fans could expect on the group's forthcoming album (promoted on the two-minute, EP-closing "Kamurshol"), and a stopgap measure for a marketplace hungry for cutting-edge gangsta rap. The EP's title track is a clear highlight and is among N.W.A's all-time greatest efforts. Driven by a densely layered, fast-paced production, "100 Miles and Runnin'" is perhaps most noteworthy for its second verse, where Dr. Dre uncharacteristically delivers a fierce verse that stylistically resembles Ice Cube's classic opening verse from "Straight Outta Compton." The second song, "Just Don't Bite It," is another highlight, an alarming porno rap that at the time of its release was as explicit as anything out there, including 2 Live Crew. The third song, "Sa Prize, Pt. 2," is a passable "Fuck tha Police" rehash that suffers for the absence of Ice Cube, while next and final song on the EP, "Real Niggaz," is a fairly uneventful hardcore rap purposefully laden with the N-word. In little over 20 minutes, 100 Miles and Runnin' manages to broach the key gangsta rap points of controversy -- fleeing and/or killing the police, pornographic sex, obscenity, and extreme aggression -- as well as diss Ice Cube and promote the upcoming album. Years later, the controversial aspects of 100 Miles and Runnin' may seem ho-hum -- at least to anyone conditioned to expect such rhetoric from hardcore rap music -- but it's important to put this EP into its proper context, for the boundary-pushing showcased here was alarming for its time and a major reason why N.W.A earned such renown.

tags: nwa, n.w.a., 100 miles and runnin, 1990, flac,

Rush - Grace Under Pressure (1984)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Progressive Rock
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© 1984 Mercury Records
AllMusic Review by Greg Prato
Grace Under Pressure was the first Rush album since 1975's Fly by Night to not be produced by Terry Brown, who was replaced by Peter Henderson (Supertramp, Paul McCartney). The change resulted in a slightly more accessible sound than its predecessor, Signals, and marked the beginning of a period where many Rush fans feel that synths and electronics were used too prominently -- in effect pushing guitarist Alex Lifeson into the background. The songwriting and lyrics were still strong however, as evidenced by the video/single "Distant Early Warning" (a tale about nuclear war) and the often-overlooked highlight "Kid Gloves," one of the album's few songs to feature Lifeson upfront. Other standouts include a tribute to a friend of the band who had recently passed away, "Afterimage," the disturbing "Red Sector A" (which details a concentration camp), and one of Rush's first funk-based songs, "The Enemy Within." Whereas most other rock bands formed in the 1970s put out unfocused and uninspired work in the 1980s (which sounds very dated), Rush's Grace Under Pressure remains an exception.

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Rush - Hold Your Fire (1987)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Progressive Rock
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© 1987 Mercury Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
Hold Your Fire is an album in the purest sense; infinitely greater than the sum of its parts, it gradually draws in the listener by slowly revealing its nuances and secrets. While the use of keyboards is still overwhelming at times, Geddy Lee employs lush textures which, when coupled with a greater rhythmic and melodic presence from guitarist Alex Lifeson, results in a far warmer sound than in recent efforts. Of course, drummer Neil Peart is as inventive and exciting as ever, while his lyrics focus on the various elements (earth, air, water, fire) for much of the album. Opener "Force Ten" is the band's most immediate number in years, and other early favorites such as "Time Stand Still" and "Turn the Page" soon give way to the darker mysteries of "Prime Mover" and "Tai Shan." The multifaceted "Lock and Key" is quintessential Rush, and sets the stage for the album's climax with the sheer beauty of "Mission." As was the case with 1976's 2112 and 1981's Moving Pictures, Rush always seem to produce some of their best work at the end of each four-album cycle, and Hold Your Fire is no exception.

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Rush - Power Windows (1985)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Progressive Rock
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© 1985 Mercury Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
Like much of the band's '80s output, Power Windows finds Rush juggling their hard-rock heritage with new technology to mixed results. With Alex Lifeson choosing sparse, horn-like guitar bursts over actual crunch, Geddy Lee's synthesizers running rampant, and Neil Peart's crisp, clinical percussion and stark lyrical themes (evoking cold urban landscapes), the result just may be the trio's "coldest" album ever. Still, it does boast its share of important tracks in "Marathon" and "Manhattan Project," while offering an energetic, tongue-in-cheeck hit single in "The Big Money." In an album that rewards patience (repeated listens are the key), the most gripping moments are saved for last, with the beautifully eerie textures of "Mystic Rhythms," a song that was later used as a concert drum solo showcase for Peart.

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Rush - Counterparts (1993)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Progressive Rock, Hard Rock
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© 1993 Atlantic/Anthem Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
By 1993, alternative rock had arrived in a big way, and surprisingly, Canadian veterans Rush were game, releasing their most honest and organic rock & roll record in over a decade with Counterparts. Opener "Animate" is straightforward enough, but doesn't even hint at the guitar ferocity and lyrical angst of "Stick it Out," a song which undoubtedly polarizes Rush fans to this day. Intellectual melodic rockers like "Cut to the Chase," "At the Speed of Love," and "Everyday Glory" are also present (and less shocking), but diversity continues to rule the day with Geddy Lee's bass taking charge on the amazingly somber "Double Agent" and the giddy instrumental "Leave That Thing Alone." Pure hard rock resurfaces on "Cold Fire," but it is the largely acoustic "Nobody's Hero" which provides the album's most gripping moment with an impassioned plea for HIV consciousness and understanding.

tags: rush, counterparts, counter parts, 1993, flac,

Rush - Presto (1989)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Progressive Rock
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© 1989 Atlantic/Anthem Records
AllMusic Review by Gregory Heaney
Throughout their career, Rush have always been a band that you could count on to push the boundaries of what rock was capable of, and their discography contains a laundry list of ambitious albums that helped to bring prog to a wider audience. Having said that, Presto is not one of those albums. On this return to a more guitar-oriented sound after the synth period that dominated the '80s, the bandmembers emerge from the electronic fog and try to reorient themselves to once again working with their more traditional setup. While none of the songs here are out-and-out terrible, listening to the album definitely gives you the sense that things just aren't quite clicking, as if the band is just a little bit rusty after stepping away from this kind of songwriting for nearly a decade. This makes Presto a perfectly workmanlike album from a band that made a name for itself with its creativity, containing all the ingredients of a Rush album minus the sense of ambition and fun that ran through the veins of the group's earlier work. And though this isn't an album you necessarily need to run from, a brisk walk to their work from the '70s is advisable.

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Rush - Roll The Bones (1991)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Progressive Rock
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© 1991 Atlantic/Anthem Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
From a lyrical perspective, 1991's Roll the Bones is quite possibly Rush's darkest album (most of the songs deal with death in no uncertain terms), but from a musical point of view, the record treads territory (highbrow melodic hard rock) similar to its recent predecessors, with only a few surprises thrown in for good measure. These include an amusing rap section in the middle of the title track, a welcome return to instrumentals with "Where's my Thing?," and one of the band's finest songs of the '90s in the gutsy "Dreamline." "Neurotica" is another highlight which lives up to its title, and though their negative subject matter can feel stifling at times, fine tracks like "Bravado," "The Big Wheel," and "Heresy" feature wonderful melodies and arrangements.

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December 30, 2017

Judas Priest - Nostradamus (2008)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Heavy Metal
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© 2008 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger
On 2005's (almost) divine comeback album Angel of Retribution, Judas Priest fans got a modern day update of the band's genre-bending 1976 classic, Sad Wings of Destiny. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal legends return to the mines for 2008's Nostradamus, though this time it's another band's treasure they're looting, specifically Iron Maiden's 1988 concept album, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Heavy metal's obsession with seers, sorcery, and anything else that falls under the nebulous blanket of the "dark arts" is legendary, and Maiden's loosely knit tale of a visionary "chosen one" provided listeners with one of the last great albums of the pre-grunge, epic metal era, due in part to some truly memorable songs that remain fan favorites even to this day. Nostradamus, on the other hand, manages to live up to nearly every Spinal Tap clich├ę (non-deliberate, laugh-inducing cover art; melodramatic spoken word interludes; rhyming "fire" with desire). At nearly two hours long, one expects a certain amount of filler, but the dated keyboard strings, soft piano, and bluesy, minor-key guitar licks that populate every nook and cranny in between (and often throughout) each track sound like discarded incidental music from The X-Files or an RPG video game "cut scene." The songs themselves are hit or miss, with the emphasis falling on the latter, due mostly to an over-reliance on three-chord, midtempo filler, but as is the case with nearly every Priest offering, when they're on they're dead on. Disc one closer "Persecution," after a lengthy organ/guitar intro, unleashes Nostradamus' finest six minutes, boasting one of the best choruses the band has produced since 1988's "Hard as Iron" (few things sound as natural and satisfying as Rob Halford's metallic voice running through a phaser, and his signature scream, when it arises, still has no equal). The predictable but effectively apocalyptic "War" (taking a cue from Holst's Mars, Bringer of War) spawns one of the few great orchestral breakdowns on the record, while both "Death" and the nearly seven-minute title track feature stunning guitar work from Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing. None of this, however, can save Nostradamus from the fact that even if it were reduced to a single album (it should have been), its flaws would far outweigh its triumphs. Excess and metal go together like blood and guts, but even gore loses its ability to draw a reaction after the umpteenth beheading.

tags: judas priest, nostradamus,2008, flac,

December 29, 2017

Oasis - Definitely Maybe (1994) ☠

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Rock, Brit Pop
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 1994 Epic Records Group
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Definitely Maybe begins with a statement of aspiration, as Liam Gallagher sneers that "tonight, I'm a rock & roll star" -- the words of a bedsit dreamer hoping he'd break out of those four walls and find something greater. Maybe all he could muster is a fleeting moment of stardom as he sings in front of a fleet of amps pushing out power chords, or perhaps he'd really become a rock & roll star; all that matters is he makes the leap. This dream echoes throughout Oasis' debut, a record which takes the dreams of its listeners every bit as seriously as those of its creators. Both the artist and audience desire something greater than their surroundings, and that yearning gives Definitely Maybe a restlessness that resonates. Certainly, Oasis aren't looking to redefine rock & roll here; they'd rather inhabit it. They scour through the remnants of the past three decades to come up with a quintessentially British rock & roll record, one that swaggers with the defiance of the Rolling Stones, roars with the sneer of the Sex Pistols, thieves from the past like the Happy Mondays, and ties it all together with a melodicism as natural as Paul McCartney, even if Definitely Maybe never quite sounds like the Beatles. All the Fab Four comparisons trumpeted by the brothers Gallagher were a feint, a way to get their group considered as part of the major leagues. Soon enough, these affirmations became a self-fulfilling prophecy -- act the way you'd like to be and soon you'll be the way you act, as it were -- but that bravado hardly diminishes the accomplishment of Definitely Maybe. It is a furious, inspiring record, a rallying cry for the downtrodden to rise above and seize their day but, most of all, it's a blast of potent, incendiary rock & roll. Soon after its release, Noel Gallagher would be hailed as the finest songwriter of his generation, an odd designation for a guy drawn to moon/June rhymes, but his brilliance lies in his bold strokes. He never shied away from the obvious, and his confidence in his reappropriation of cliches lends these bromides a new power, as do his strong, sinewy melodies -- so powerful, it doesn't matter if they were snatched from elsewhere (as they were on "Shakermaker" or the B-side "Fade Away"). The other secret is of course Noel's brother, Liam, the greatest rock & roll vocalist of his generation, a force of nature who never seems to consider either the past or the present but rather exists in an ever-present now. He sometimes sighs but usually sneers, shaking off any doubt and acting like the rock & roll star Noel so wanted to be. This tension would soon rip the group apart but here on Oasis' debut, this chemistry is an addictive energy, so Definitely Maybe winds up a rare thing: it has the foundation of a classic album wrapped in the energy of a band who can't conceive a future beyond the sunset.

tags: oasis, definitely maybe, 1994, flac,

Oasis - (What's The Story) Morning Glory? (1995) ☠

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Rock, Brit Pop
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 1995 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
If Definitely Maybe was an unintentional concept album about wanting to be a rock & roll star, (What's the Story) Morning Glory? is what happens after the dreams come true. Oasis turns in a relatively introspective second record, filled with big, gorgeous ballads instead of ripping rockers. Unlike Definitely Maybe, the production on Morning Glory is varied enough to handle the range in emotions; instead of drowning everything with amplifiers turned up to 12, there are strings, keyboards, and harmonicas. This expanded production helps give Noel Gallagher's sweeping melodies an emotional resonance that he occasionally can't convey lyrically. However, that is far from a fatal flaw; Gallagher's lyrics work best in fragments, where the images catch in your mind and grow, thanks to the music. Gallagher may be guilty of some borrowing, or even plagiarism, but he uses the familiar riffs as building blocks. This is where his genius lies: He's a thief and doesn't have many original thoughts, but as a pop/rock melodicist he's pretty much without peer. Likewise, as musicians, Oasis are hardly innovators, yet they have a majestic grandeur in their sound that makes ballads like "Wonderwall" or rockers like "Some Might Say" positively transcendent. Alan White does add authority to the rhythm section, but the most noticeable change is in Liam Gallagher. His voice sneered throughout Definitely Maybe, but on Morning Glory his singing has become more textured and skillful. He gives the lyric in the raging title track a hint of regret, is sympathetic on "Wonderwall," defiant on "Some Might Say," and humorous on "She's Electric," a bawdy rewrite of "Digsy's Diner." It might not have the immediate impact of Definitely Maybe, but Morning Glory is just as exciting and compulsively listenable.

tags: oasis, whats the story morning glory, 1995, flac,

Oasis - Be Here Now (1997)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Brit Pop
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© 1997 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Arriving with the force of a hurricane, Oasis' third album, Be Here Now, is a bright, bold, colorful tour de force that simply steamrolls over any criticism. The key to Oasis' sound is its inevitability -- they are unwavering in their confidence, which means that even the hardest rockers are slow, steady, and heavy, not fast. And that self-possessed confidence, that belief in their greatness, makes Be Here Now intensely enjoyable, even though it offers no real songwriting breakthroughs. Noel Gallagher remains a remarkably talented synthesist, bringing together disparate strands -- "D'You Know What I Mean" has an N.W.A drum loop, a Zeppelin-esque wall of guitars, electronica gurgles, and lyrical allusions to the Beatles and Dylan -- to create impossibly catchy songs that sound fresh, no matter how many older songs he references. He may be working familiar territory throughout Be Here Now, but it doesn't matter because the craftsmanship is good. "The Girl in the Dirty Shirt" is irresistible pop, and epics like "Magic Pie" and "All Around the World" simply soar, while the rockers "My Big Mouth," "It's Getting Better (Man!!)," and "Be Here Now" attack with a bone-crunching force. Noel is smart enough to balance his classicist tendencies with spacious, open production, filling the album with found sounds, layers of guitars, keyboards, and strings, giving the record its humongous, immediate feel. The sprawling sound and huge melodic hooks would be enough to make Be Here Now a winner, but Liam Gallagher's vocals give the album emotional resonance. Singing better than ever, Liam injects venom into the rockers, but he also delivers the nakedly emotional lyrics of "Don't Go Away" with affecting vulnerability. That combination of violence and sensitivity gives Oasis an emotional core and makes Be Here Now a triumphant album.

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Oasis - Standing On The Shoulder of Giants (2000)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Alternative Rock, Neo-Psychedelia
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© 2000 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Since Noel Gallagher plays most of the parts on the album, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants isn't really the debut of the new, post-Guigsy/Bonehead lineup, but it is clearly the beginning of Oasis, Mark II. Such a grandiose statement may imply that it's a clear break from Oasis' past, yet that's hardly the case, since many signatures are still in place -- strummed acoustic guitars, big hooks, undeveloped lyrics, familiar rhymes, and a gigantic wall of sound. The arrangements are every bit as detailed as Be Here Now, but they're clearer and better focused, since Oasis' brains weren't clouded with excess and hubris. Ironically, this is also their most overtly druggy, psychedelic release to date -- Gallagher and Mark "Spike" Stent spent endless hours adding Mellotrons, swirling guitars, and vague dancefloor ideas borrowed from the Chemical Brothers and the Charlatans UK, while Noel's melodies invariably follow the minor-key patterns typical of '60s psychedelic pop. Yet for all of its heavy psychedelic influence, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants is really a self-consciously mature departure from the group's usual ebullience, a deliberately mellow, midtempo album spiked with hints of big beat and electronica to prove that they're with it. This may result in the most cohesive Oasis record since Definitely Maybe, but that cohesion has come at a price. Few songs are as bracing as Noel's best work from the first three albums; not even the rockers have the giddy rush or alluring sparkle of classic Oasis. Yes, this flows well, but it's the work of a self-consciously older band and it's hard not to miss the hard rock, pure attitude, and gigantic hooks that made the group's reputation in the first place.

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Oasis - Heathen Chemistry (2002)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Alternative Rock
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© 2002 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The official party line goes a little like this: sure, Be Here Now was bloated, but the boys were indulging in their phenomenal success at the time and, yeah, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants was a little uneven, but that was essentially due to overcompensation on the corrective steering, plus the defection of two founding members, so 2002's Heathen Chemistry -- the band's fifth album -- is where Oasis returns to form and starts acting like a band again (hell, not only does Liam contribute three songs, but so does bassist Gem Archer, while Andy Bell throws in a minute-long instrumental). If only it were that simple. First of all, this, like Giants, is produced by Oasis and mixed by Mark "Spike" Stent, so it should come as no surprise that it sounds like that album, only without the slight electronica flourishes, since the band is determined to make this their rock & roll comeback. But that Stent-mixed, Noel-helmed production keeps Heathen Chemistry from really rocking -- it's big and diffuse, sounding enormous and vaguely psychedelic, without much grit or kick. When it's matched with the right song -- such as the swirling, majestically nonsensical opener "The Hindu Times" -- it can be an addictive sound, but often it's mismatched with the songs; the sound expands the songs too much and they lose focus and dynamic, whether it's the muted "Digsy's Dinner" stomp of "Force of Nature" (a solo Noel tune unearthed from a 2000 soundtrack for a British-only Jude Law film), epic ballads ("Little by Little"), stabs at sweeping psychedelia ("Born on a Different Cloud"), or rockers (including the Stone Roses-meets-the Stones closer "Better Man"). These are songs that desperately need some kind of definition from their production, since they're Noel-by-numbers (even when they're tunes written by Liam): pleasant, moderately tuneful, but not too hooky, or memorable (especially in this setting), and their deficiencies are brought into relief by the times that he really connects -- the guitar-heavy drone of "(Probably) All in the Mind," a pretty good power ballad in "Stop Crying Your Heart Out," the delightfully unassuming "She Is Love" (sounding as refreshing here as "Rocking Chair" and "Talk Tonight" used to sound as B-sides), and "The Hindu Times," holding up the trend of the last three albums of having Oasis leading with their best song as the first single -- plus Liam's "Songbird," a wonderful, sweet country-rock tune that's easily the second best here. That's not a great average, especially since the flat production doesn't make any of these songs shine as brilliant individual moments, the way "It's Getting Better (Man)" did on Be Here Now (well, apart from "Songbird," which is the only spare production here), but it's not bad, either, and good Oasis songs are still a joy. Nevertheless, for those who rightfully believed that Oasis was a great band in the mid-'90s -- when Noel had so many great songs, they spilled over to three B-sides per single -- it's hard not to find this album kind of disappointing, a confirmation that no matter what they do, Oasis Mach II will never have the sheer abandon or thrill as Definitely Maybe through Morning Glory.

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Oasis - Don't Believe The Truth (2005)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Alternative Rock
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© 2005 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Since Oasis has an instantly identifiable, seemingly simple signature sound -- gigantic, lumbering, melodic, and inevitable, as if their songs have always existed and always will -- it can be hard to pinpoint what separates a great Oasis song from a merely mediocre tune. It could be anything from overblown production to a diminished swagger, or it could be a self-satisfied laziness in the songwriting, or a panicky attempt to update their defiantly classicist pop with an electronic shine. All of these problems plagued the group's records since their blockbuster 1995 blockbuster second album, (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, and while none of the three albums that followed were outright bad, by 2002's Heathen Chemistry it seemed that even Noel and Liam Gallagher had lost sight of what made Oasis great. While that record had its moments, it often seemed generic, suggesting that the group had painted itself into a corner, not knowing where to go next. Surely, all the reports from the recording of their long-gestating sixth album suggested a faint air of desperation. First, the electronica duo Death in Vegas was brought in as producers, bringing to mind the band's awkward attempts at electronica fusion on Be Here Now and Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, but those recordings were scrapped, and then their second drummer, Alan White, left only to be replaced by Zak Starkey, the son of Ringo Starr, suggesting that the Gallaghers were coming perilously close to being swallowed by their perennial Beatles fixation.
All of which makes the resulting album, Don't Believe the Truth, a real shock. It's confident, muscular, uncluttered, tight, and tuneful in a way Oasis haven't been since Morning Glory. It doesn't feel labored nor does it sound as if they're deliberately trying to recreate past glories. Instead, it sounds like they've remembered what they love about rock & roll and why they make music. They sound reinvigorated, which is perhaps appropriate, because Don't Believe the Truth finds Oasis to be quite a different band than it was a decade ago. Surely, Noel is still the first among equals, writing the majority of the songs here and providing the musical direction that the rest follow, but his brother Liam, bassist Andy Bell, and guitarist Gem Archer are now full and equal partners, and the band is the better for it. Where Noel struggled to fill the post-Morning Glory albums with passable album tracks (having squandered his backlog of great songs on B-sides), he's now happy to have Bell and Archer write Noel soundalikes that are sturdier than the filler he's created over the last five years. These likeable tunes are given soul and fire by Liam, who not only reclaims his crown as the best singer in rock on this album, but comes into his own as a songwriter. He had written good songs before, but here he holds his own with his brother, writing lively, hooky, memorable songs with "Love Like a Bomb," "The Meaning of Soul," and "Guess God Thinks I'm Abel," which are as good as anything Noel has written for the album. Which is not an aspersion on Noel, who has a set of five songs that cut for cut are his strongest and liveliest in years. Whether it's the insistent stomp of "Mucky Fingers" or the Kinks-styled romp of "The Importance of Being Idle," these songs are so good it makes sense that Noel has kept them for himself, singing four of the five tunes himself (including the soaring closing duet "Let There Be Love," the brothers' best joint vocal since "Acquiesce"). But the key to this new incarnation of Oasis is that this move by Noel doesn't seem like he's hoarding his best numbers, or a way to instigate sibling rivalry with Liam. Instead, it emphasizes that Oasis is now a genuine band, a group of personalities that form together to form one gang of charming rogues. Apart from the tremendous, rambling "Lyla" that channels the spirit of the Faces and the occasional ramshackle echo of Beggars Banquet, there's not much musically different here than other Oasis albums -- it's still a blend of British Invasion, the Jam, and the Smiths, all turned to 11 -- but their stubborn fondness of classic British guitar pop is one of the things that makes Oasis great and lovable. And, of course, it's also what makes it hard to discern exactly what separates good from great Oasis, but all the little details here, from the consistent songwriting to the loose, comfortable arrangements and the return of their trademark bravado makes Don't Believe the Truth the closest Oasis has been to great since the summer of Britpop, when they were the biggest and best band in the world.

tags: oasis, dont believe the truth, 2005, flac, don't,

December 28, 2017

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake (2011)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Folk Rock
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© 2011 Vagrant Records
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
PJ Harvey followed her ghostly collection of ballads, White Chalk, with Let England Shake, a set of songs strikingly different from what came before it except in its Englishness. White Chalk's haunted piano ballads seemed to emanate from an isolated manse on a moor, but here Harvey chronicles her relationship with her homeland through songs revolving around war. Throughout the album, she subverts the concept of the anthem -- a love song to one’s country -- exploring the forces that shape nations and people. This isn’t the first time Harvey has been inspired by a place, or even by England: she sang the praises of New York City and her home county of Dorset on Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. Harvey recorded this album in Dorset, so the setting couldn’t be more personal, or more English. Yet she and her longtime collaborators John Parish, Mick Harvey, and Flood travel to the Turkish battleground of Gallipoli for several of Let England Shake's songs, touching on the disastrous World War I naval strike that left more than 30,000 English soldiers dead. Her musical allusions are just as fascinating and pointed: the title track sets seemingly cavalier lyrics like “Let’s head out to the fountain of death and splash about” to a xylophone melody borrowed from the Four Lads’ “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” a mischievous echo of the questions of national identity Harvey sets forth in the rest of the album (that she debuted the song by performing it on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show for then-Prime Minster Gordon Brown just adds to its mischief). “The Words That Maketh Murder” culminates its grisly playground/battleground chant with a nod to Eddie Cochran's anthem for disenfranchised ‘50s teens “Summertime Blues,” while “Written on the Forehead” samples Niney's “Blood and Fire” to equally sorrowful and joyful effect. As conceptually and contextually bold as Let England Shake is, it features some of Harvey's softest-sounding music. She continues to sing in the upper register that made White Chalk so divisive for her fans, but it’s tempered by airy production and eclectic arrangements -- fittingly for such a martial album, brass is a major motif -- that sometimes disguise how angry and mournful many of these songs are. “The Last Living Rose” recalls Harvey's Dry-era sound in its simplicity and finds weary beauty even in her homeland’s “grey, damp filthiness of ages,” but on “England,” she wails, “You leave a taste/A bitter one.” In its own way, Let England Shake may be even more singular and unsettling than White Chalk was, and its complexities make it one of Harvey’s most cleverly crafted works.

tags: pj harvey, let england shake, 2011, flac,

PJ Harvey - Uh Huh Her (2004)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Alternative Rock, Folk Rock
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© 2004 Island Records
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
Even though she's not quite as overt about it as Madonna or David Bowie, PJ Harvey remains one of rock's expert chameleons. Her ever-changing sound keeps her music open to interpretation, and her seventh album, Uh Huh Her, is no different in that it departs from what came before it. Uh Huh Her -- a title that can be pronounced and interpreted as an affirmation, a gasp, a sigh, or a laugh -- is, as Harvey promised, darker and rawer than the manicured Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. That album was a bid for the mainstream that Harvey said she made just to see if she could; this album sounds like she made it because she had to. However, despite the playful tantrum "Who the Fuck?" and the noisy mix of pent-up erotic longing and frustration that is "The Letter," Uh Huh Her isn't the Rid of Me redux that one might envision as a reaction to the previous album's gloss. Instead, Harvey uses some of each of the sounds and ideas that she has explored throughout her career. The gallery of self-portraits, juxtaposed with snippets of Harvey's notebooks, gracing Uh Huh Her's liner notes underscores the feeling of culmination and moving forward. The results aren't exactly predictable, though, and that's part of what makes songs like "The Life and Death of Mr. Badmouth" interesting. Earlier in Harvey's career, a track like this probably would have exploded in feral fury, but here it simmers with a crawling tension, switching atmospheric keyboards for searing guitars. Indeed, keyboards and odd instrumental flourishes abound on Uh Huh Her, making it the most sonically interesting PJ Harvey album since Is This Desire? Lyrically, heartache, sex, and feminine roles are still Harvey's bread and butter, but she manages to find something new in these themes each time she returns to them. "Pocket Knife" is an especially striking example: a beautifully creepy murder ballad, the song conjures images of hidden feminine power -- a pocketknife concealed by a wedding dress -- as well as lyrics like "I'm not trying to cause a fuss/I just wanna make my own fuck-ups." "You Come Through," meanwhile, is nearly as direct and vulnerable as anything that appeared on Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. Uh Huh Her isn't perfect; the track listing feels top-loaded, some of the later songs, such as "Cat on the Wall" and "It's You" come close to sounding like generic PJ Harvey (if such a thing is possible), and the minute-long track of crying seagulls is either a distraction or a palate cleanser, depending on your outlook. Still, Uh Huh Her does so many things right, like the gorgeous, Latin-tinged "Shame" and the stripped-down beauty of "The Desperate Kingdom of Love" (one of a handful of short, glimpse-like songs that give the album an organic ebb and flow), that its occasional stumbles are worth overlooking. Perhaps the most nuanced album in PJ Harvey's body of work, Uh Huh Her balances her bold and vulnerable moments, but remains vital.

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PJ Harvey - White Chalk (2007)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Chamber Music
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© 2007 Island Records
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
The quiet ones are always the scariest. Polly Jean Harvey's appearance on the cover of White Chalk -- all wild black hair and ghostly white dress -- could replace the dictionary definition of eerie, and the album itself plays like a good ghost story. It's haunted by British folk, steeped in Gothic romance and horror, and almost impossible to get out of your head, despite (but really because of) how unsettling it becomes. White Chalk is Harvey's darkest album yet -- which, considering that she's sung about dismembering a lover and drowning her daughter, is saying something. It's also one of her most beautiful albums, inspired by the fragility and timelessness of chalk lines and her relative newness to the piano, which dominates White Chalk; it gives "Before Departure" funereal heft and "Grow Grow Grow" a witchy sparkle befitting its incantations. Most striking of all, however, is Harvey's voice: she sings most of White Chalk in a high, keening voice somewhere between a whisper and a whimper. She sounds like a wraith or a lost child, terrifyingly so on "The Mountain," where she breaks the tension with a spine-tingling shriek just before the album ends. This frail persona is almost unrecognizable as the woman who snarled about being a 50-foot queenie -- yet few artists challenge themselves to change their sound as much as she does, so paradoxically, it's a quintessentially PJ Harvey move. The album does indeed sound timeless, or at least, not modern.
White Chalk took five months to record with Harvey's longtime collaborators Flood, John Parish, and Eric Drew Feldman, but these somber, cloistered songs sound like they could be performed in a parlor, or channeled via Ouija board. There is hardly any guitar (and certainly nothing as newfangled as electric guitar) besides the acoustic strumming on the beautifully chilly title track, which could pass for an especially gloomy traditional British folk song. Lyrics like "The Devil"'s "Come here at once! All my being is now in pining" could be written by one of the Bront├ź sisters. On a deeper level, White Chalk feels like a freshly unearthed relic because it runs so deep and dark. Harvey doesn't just capture isolation and anguish; she makes fear, regret, and loneliness into entities. In these beautiful and almost unbearably intimate songs, darkness is a friend, silence is an enemy, and a piano is a skeleton with broken teeth and twitching red tongues. "When Under Ether" offers a hallucinatory escape from some horrible reality -- quite possibly abortion, since unwanted children are some of the many broken family ties that haunt the album -- and this is White Chalk's single. What makes the album even more intriguing is that it doesn't really have much in common with the work of Harvey's contemporaries (although Joanna Newsom's Ys and Scott Walker's The Drift come to mind, mostly for their artistic fearlessness) or even her own catalog. It rivals Dance Hall at Louse Point for its willingness to challenge listeners, but it's far removed from Uh Huh Her, which was arguably more listenable but a lot less remarkable. In fact, this may be Harvey's most undiluted album yet. When she's at the peak of her powers, as she is on this frightening yet fearless album, the world she creates is impossible to forget, or shake off easily. White Chalk can make you shiver on a sunny day.

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PJ Harvey - The Hope Six Demolition Project (2016)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Alternative Rock, Indie Rock
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© 2016 Vagrant, Island Records
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
On 2011's Mercury Prize-winning Let England Shake, PJ Harvey connected World War I bloodbaths with the 21st century world in harrowing, moving ways. Its follow-up, The Hope Six Demolition Project, feels like a companion piece with a wider focus and more urgent mood. For this project -- which also includes the 2015 book of poetry The Hollow of the Hand and a film -- Harvey and her Shake collaborator, war photographer Seamus Murphy, emphasized documentation: The pair spent years researching in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington, D.C.; later, Harvey was literally transparent about the recording process, making Hope Six at a recording studio behind one-way glass for public audiences at London’s Somerset House. Befitting its origins, the album's sound is blunt and raw, mixing rock, blues, jazz, spirituals, and field recordings into the musical equivalent of photojournalism. Indeed, The Hope Six Demolition Project often resembles a collection of dispatches. "Near the Memorials to Vietnam and Lincoln"'s title is as detached as a photograph's cutline, while "The Ministry of Defence" offers a slide show of images from Afghanistan spanning "fizzy drink cans, magazines," jawbones, and syringes. However, the best moments echo Let England Shake's emotional impact and immediacy, which made listeners feel like they were in the trenches. Harvey delivers more feeling than reporting when she juxtaposes fading photographs of missing children with relentless brass and beats on "The Wheel" or lets her lyrics pile on top of each other with funereal inevitability on the weary "Chain of Keys." However, the album's weak moments are almost as striking as its strengths. "Medicinals"' portrayal of a Native American woman wearing a Redskins cap and drinking alcohol ("a new painkiller for the native people") while surrounded by weeds her ancestors knew were healing plants, is more patronizing than poignant, while the way "River Anacostia" borrows "Wade in the Water" feels heavy-handed. Harvey is more nuanced when she comments on the limitations and complications of reporting and correcting injustices. Though it doesn't address all the aspects of the effects of gentrification on Washington, DC's 7th ward -- a tall order for a two-and-a-half minute rock song -- the ironic distance between "The Community of Hope"'s rousing sound and its depiction of "shit-hole" schools conveys some of the situation's complexity. An aid worker's troubling uncertainty on "A Line in the Sand" ("We got things wrong/But I believe we did some good") makes it one of The Hope Six Demolition Project's most haunting moments, along with "Dollar Dollar," a ghostly expression of Harvey's anguish when her car pulls away before she can give money to a starving child. Tellingly, it's the only song written from her own viewpoint, suggesting that her commitment to her role as observer on The Hope Six Demolition Project -- as well-intended as it is -- robs it of her best work's potency. While it's just one piece of a bigger work, on its own the album isn't as satisfying as its predecessor.

tags: pj harvey, the hope six demolition project, 2016, flac,