April 30, 2019

Racer X - Street Lethal (1986) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Heavy Metal
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☠: Selected by Buccaneer
© 1986 Shrapnel Records
AllMusic Review by Andy Hinds
Racer X's 1986 debut is essentially a showcase for then teenaged guitar prodigy Paul Gilbert. The opening instrumental, "Frenzy," pretty much lays the cards on the table; a mostly unaccompanied survey of Gilbert's jaw-dropping fretboard tricks, it summarizes Street Lethal's modus operandi right at the outset. Gilbert himself described Racer X as "heavy metal with scary guitars," and that's pretty much what you get -- skillfully executed, Judas Priest-style metal (with flag-waving songtitles like "Hotter Than Fire," "Loud and Clear," and "Rock It,") loaded with gobs of Gilbert's virtuosity. Vocalist Jeff Martin adds appropriately Rob Halford-esque howls to the proceedings, and the rhythm section do their part in maintaining the excitement. For fans of the "shred" guitar genre, this album has plenty to drool over.

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Racer X - Second Heat (1987) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Heavy Metal
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☠: Selected by Buccaneer
© 1987 Shrapnel Reciords
AllMusic Review by Andy Hinds
Racer X's debut album, Street Lethal, established the band as little more than a vehicle for guitarist Paul Gilbert's virtuosic neo-metal soloing style. For its sophomore release, Second Heat, Racer X ups the intensity of its already terrifying instrumental attack by adding second guitarist Bruce Bouillet to the fold, thereby enabling some of the most amazing dual-guitar work ever recorded. What's more, the band has become more cohesive and have even penned some catchy songs with worthwhile melodies. Second Heat's overall style follows the well-established Judas Priest/Van Halen template (they even cover a Priest tune, "Heart of a Lion"), but each song is punctuated with detailed pyrotechnical touches from the guitarists, and the rest of the band, for that matter. While Bouillet's skill nearly matches that of Gilbert, the rhythm section of John Alderete and Scott Travis (bass and drums, respectively) proves to be one of the most formidable around. Check out the instrumental "Scarified" for a true demolition set piece. What ultimately makes Second Heat superior to its predecessor is its better-developed sense of songwriting; tracks like "Hammer Away" and "Living the Hard Way" are as good as anything else in the pop-metal arena that was popular in the late '80s. One word of warning, however: Beware of the bombastic cover of David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream" which strips away all the charm and subtlety of the original and makes the song a backdrop for (you guessed it!) more shredding. While some may find this sort of thing harmless, others may find it sacrilegious

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Racer X - Superheroes (2000)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Heavy Metal
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© 2000 Shrapnel Records
AllMusic Review by Brian O'Neill
From the outside, Superheroes seems to be a rather bizarre concept, as the band's members are all dressed to the nines in strange outfits and get accompanying odd nicknames; bassist John Aldrete is known as "The X-Tinguisher" and wears a red getup replete with several fire extinguishers. Apparently, the influential instrumentalists have watched one too many episodes of The Tick. Put the disc in the player and it's more along the lines you would expect from this virtuoso vehicle: a whole lot of shredding guitar solos courtesy of Paul Gilbert, intense drumming from Scott Travis (who rejoins the band during breaks from Judas Priest duties), and Jeff Martin's distinctive shriek. That said, there are some deviations from the norm this time out. Racer X's version of "Godzilla" is a Technicolor comeuppance of flash, truly making it their own; "Mad at the World" and the innuendo-laden "That Hormone Thing" border on hair metal commercialism, and "Evil Joe" is a sample- and quirk-laden rap-metal number. Still, you get the sense that Racer X will be relegated once again to preaching to the converted like most of the Guitar Institute set does

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Racer X - Getting Heavier (2002)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Heavy Metal
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© 2002 Shrapnel Records
AllMusic Review by Greg Prato
There was a period in the late '80s where rock guitar was headed in a highly technical direction, where you'd have to practice on your instrument for hours upon hours to keep up with the players in your latest edition of Guitar for the Practicing Musician. One of the best examples of this was Racer X, which included not one but two "shredders": Paul Gilbert and Bruce Bouillet. However, by 1989 the group was kaput when Gilbert decided to jump ship and join up with bass extraordinaire Billy Sheehan in pop metallists Mr. Big. When Racer X reunited in 2000, Gilbert assumed all the guitar duties in the band, which he obviously has no problem handling, as evidenced by such subsequent releases as 2003's Getting Heavier. Whereas some rock bands mellow as the years add up, Racer X is an exception, as they stick closely to their original game plan: highly skilled metal. In fact, they spend too much time focusing on the technical side, as the lyrics/vocals of "Lucifer's Hammer" are what you'd expect a collaboration between Nigel Tufnel and a high school metal band circa 1987 to sound like. But let's face it, it's safe to say that everyone buying a Racer X album is listening for the complex playing, not the lyrics, and there's loads of it here, especially such tracks as "Catapult to Extinction."

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Alisha's Attic - Alisha Rules The World (1996)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Pop, Pop Rock
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© 1996 Mercury Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Alisha's Attic's debut album Alisha Rules the World has a few moments of appealingly off-kilter dance-pop that sounds like Prince as sung by Cyndi Lauper and performed by Kate Bush, but too often the record bogs down in its own self-conscious style and fuzzy songwriting.

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Modest Mouse - The Lonesome Crowded West (1997)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Indie Rock
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© 1997 Up Records
AllMusic Review by Blake Butler
Talk about original -- this band has something for just about everyone. They can do quiet, brooding acoustics like "Bankrupt on Selling," dark and pounding thrashers like "Cowboy Dan," funky jump-around emo like "Jesus Christ Was an Only Child" -- just about anything. Throughout the whole album is a white-trash feeling and a sort of down-to-earth analysis of the state of the world, without sounding pretentious. Give this album a listen and you can be sure that you will be singing the rambling, catchy, almost whiny vocals in no time. If you dig indie rock at its very best, go pick this album up.

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Modest Mouse - This Is a Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About (1996)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Indie Rock
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© 1996 Up Records
AllMusic Review by Brandon Gentry
Expanding upon the themes of emotional and geographic isolation found in the band's previous work, This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About finds Modest Mouse mixing slow, brooding numbers such as "Custom Concern" and "Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset" with thrashing guitar workouts like "Breakthrough" and "Head South." The general mood here is one of loneliness and desperation, eloquently expressed through both the lyrics and the rhythmic, sprawling instrumentation. "Dramamine," for instance, with its driving, mid-tempo beat and ricocheting guitar line, sums up the hopelessness of a doomed relationship, while the frantic "Head South" deals with the feeling of "being ashamed of your old space." The mandolin, slide guitar, and cello featured throughout the album give the songs a certain degree of depth that makes them stand out from average indie rock fare. In general, This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About is a fine album, and Modest Mouse distinguishes itself here with songs whose meanings are simultaneously universal and painfully personal.

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Modest Mouse - The Moon & Antarctica (2000)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Indie Rock
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© 2000 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
Modest Mouse's Epic debut, The Moon & Antarctica, finds them strangely subdued, focusing on mortality as well as the moody, acoustic side of their music and downplaying the edgy rock that helped make them indie stars. Not that their first major-label release sounds like a sellout -- actually, the slight sheen of Brian Deck's production enhances the album's introspective tone -- but occasionally The Moon & Antarctica's melancholy becomes ponderous. Unfortunately, the album's middle stretch contains three such songs, "The Cold Part," "Alone Down There," and "The Stars Are Projectors," which tend to blur together into one 17-minute-long piece that bogs down the album's momentum. Individually, each of these songs is sweeping and haunting in its own right, but grouping them together blunts their impact. However, this trilogy does provide a sharp contrast to, as well as a bridge across, The Moon & Antarctica's more vibrant beginning and end. Though it explores death and the afterlife, The Moon & Antarctica's liveliest moments are its most effective. "3rd Planet"'s simple, ramshackle melody and strange, moving lyrics ("Your heart felt good"), the elastic guitars on "Gravity Rides Everything," and the angular, jumpy "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" and "A Different City" get the album off to a strong start, while the fresh, unaffected "Wild Packs of Family Dogs," "Paper Thin Walls," and "Lives" bring it to an atmospheric, affecting peak before "What People Are Made Of" closes the album with a climactic burst of noise. Their most cohesive collection of songs to date, The Moon & Antarctica is an impressive, if flawed, map of Modest Mouse's ambitions and fears.

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Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank (2007)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Indie Rock
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© 2007 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown
Now that Modest Mouse have fully established themselves as a major-label indie rock band -- no longer an oxymoron! -- with the success of 2004's Good News for People Who Love Bad News (though they had actually been on Sony, through Epic, since 2000's The Moon & Antarctica), they face the difficult task of trying to follow up a mainstream hit while still retaining the adroit quirkiness that won them fans in the first place. Finding that space between "creativity" and "accessibility" is not easy, but the band (with help from Johnny Marr, among others) is probably as well, if not better, equipped as anyone to tackle the challenge. The first single, "Dashboard," is catchy and interesting, even a little off-kilter, but it's also completely radio-friendly, in that dancey Franz Ferdinand kind of way, and the album's opener, "March into the Sea," has great juxtaposition between Isaac Brock's maniacal Cookie Monster laugh and lighter accordion and string work. It's slightly unconventional, and has that raucous energy the band has thrived on, but it's also wholly understandable and approachable, and a lot of fun. Still, too often it seems as if Modest Mouse plays it safe on We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. James Mercer, the singer of the "life-changing" Garden State darlings the Shins, shows up three times on background vocals, and while on "Florida" this works well enough, "Missed the Boat" and "We've Got Everything" are among the weakest tracks on the record, too predictable, in that radio-indie-rock style, to do much more than just take up space. There's nothing overtly wrong with them (or the similarly boring "Education" or "People as Places as People") -- Brock's lyrics are as wackily introspective as ever -- but the band had never just gotten by on being nice-sounding and unmemorable. It's not that Modest Mouse has lost it, or sold out; tracks like "Parting of the Sensory" and "Fly Trapped in a Jar" combine digestible guitar lines and phrasing with a rawer intensity, and show that the group is indeed capable of moving innovate "indie" music to the mainstream ("someday you will die somehow and something's gonna steal your carbon," Brock sings ingeniously over pounding, swirling drums in a kind of post-modern chant in "Parting"), but overall, We Were Dead Before... has chosen the safer, more acceptable route over the more adventurous one. Modest Mouse is a talented bunch, and so the album still works, is still enjoyable. But because they've built themselves on pushing boundaries and traditional sounds, it's also a glaring representation of all they could do, but won't.

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April 29, 2019

The Refreshments - Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy (1996) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock, Pop Rock
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 1996 Mercury Records
AllMusic Review by Bryan Buss
Hailing from Tempe, AZ, the Refreshments launched their short-lived career as a solid frat boy band, and Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big & Buzzy captures that period with muscled guitar riffs and strong vocals. Though much of this debut is about alcohol, Mexico, and girls (topics that the band later revisited on 1997's The Bottle & Fresh Horses, albeit with a stronger southwestern influence), the album also sports a sense of humor and lack of pretension that helped make the Refreshments minor stars. Listening to "Girly" or "Banditos," the album's flagship single, is like kicking back with a college bud and a brew: summery, smirky, and somewhat yearning. The irreverence in the Refreshments' lyrics makes all the difference between them and other increasingly self-serious bands in the same vein. All the anguished grunge and post-grunge posing got old fast -- and with clever lyrics, solidly melodic guitar work, and Roger Clyne's marketable voice, the Refreshments kept fun alive on the alternative scene throughout the decade's latter half.

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The Refreshments - The Bottle & Fresh Horses (1997)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock, Pop Rock
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 1997 Mercury Records
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey
For their second album, the Refreshments moved away from the half-serious alt-rock that made their debut effort Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy (specifically its caper-chronicling single, "Banditos") a minor hit. With the assistance of producer Paul Leary -- who helped his own band, Butthole Surfers, crack the Top 40 charts one year prior -- the group dreamed up an earnest, dustier sound, blending heartland rock & roll with elements of country and power-pop. Tracks like "Wanted" and "Preacher's Daughter" spun tales of western outlaws with poppy precision -- including handclaps, bright vocal harmonies, and crisp guitars -- while "Dolly" and "Good Year" were raw, hook-driven rock songs that went sorely unnoticed on modern rock radio. Although The Bottle & Fresh Horses effectively marked the end of the Refreshments, the album still encouraged frontman Roger Clyne to stretch his country legs, an opportunity that served him well several years later, when he launched the twangy follow-up project Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers. Meanwhile, likeminded groups like the Old 97's enjoyed a greater degree of success with the very same hybrid of rock, country, and pop, but The Bottle & Fresh Horses never really caught fire outside of the band's Arizona home, and it failed to maintain the Refreshments' place in the post-grunge mainstream. Accordingly, consider this record one of the best forgotten gems of its time

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The Breeders - Title TK (2002)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock
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© 2002 4AD/Elektra Records
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
For most of the '90s, the Breeders seemed resigned to being just a part of alternative rock's mythology: a lightning-in-a-bottle success story that helped define the era's sound and spawned a classic single before disappearing into substance abuse and a severe case of writer's block. By the end of the decade, hearing new material from Kim Deal and company seemed about as likely as a new My Bloody Valentine album, so the fact that Title TK, their long-awaited return, exists at all seems more than a little miraculous. In a weird way, the long, long wait for them to resurface works in their favor -- at this point, it's welcome to hear anything from them. After a nine-year (!) wait, a new Breeders album is just a nice addition to what's going on in indie rock instead of its salvation. From its very name, Title TK (journalistic shorthand for "title to come") reflects this: it's a surprisingly low-key, self-effacing return that doesn't feel like an attempt at reclaiming Last Splash's glory. Instead, it blends the stripped-down sounds of Pod and the Amps' Pacer into a collection of strangely intimate, feminine garage rock. Steve Albini's quick- and cheap-sounding production throws a spotlight on the weathered, offhand quality of Kim Deal's voice -- which is more sandpaper than sugar nowadays -- as well as every quirk in the band's playing. Even revved-up guitar rushes like "Little Fury" and "Huffer" have a little vulnerability lurking around the edges, and on the sweet "Too Alive," it sounds like you're in the garage with the band. There's a fascinating duality to Title TK, from the way that nearly every song mixes and blends Kim's and Kelley's not-quite-identical vocals to the way it switches between sweet, playfully spiky songs like "Son of Three" and "Forced to Drive" and dark, mysterious tracks. With its brooding, druggy allure, "The She" recalls Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," and "Put On a Side" and the aptly named "Sinister Foxx" have a sexy menace that the Breeders haven't explored since Pod. "Off You," Title TK's first single, is about as far from "Cannonball" as the band can get, a dreamy, breathy ballad that sounds intimate but masks its feelings in beautifully cryptic imagery. Very much a take-it-or-leave-it work, Title TK doesn't even try to live up to fans' inflated expectations of what a Breeders album should be -- though the band may not have spent the entire nine years they were gone crafting this album, it feels like the only album they could make after such a long wait. Title TK isn't always a flattering portrait of the Breeders, but it is an admirably honest one.

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The Breeders - All Nerve (2018)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock, Noise Rock
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© 2018 4AD
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
The Breeders have always moved to their own rhythms, starting, stopping, and surprising listeners along the way. New music from them only arrives when the time is right, and in All Nerve's case, it was especially right: in 2013, Kim and Kelley Deal reunited with drummer Jim McPherson and bassist Josephine Wiggs to tour as part of the 20th anniversary celebration of their breakthrough album, Last Splash, and the dates went so well that the band went into the studio. At times, All Nerve does hark back to 1993. The way "Nervous Mary" slowly draws listeners into the album before kicking into high gear is a classic Breeders move. "Spacewoman," with its sun-soaked imagery and loud-quiet-loud dynamic shifts, is a power ballad made for the mosh pit, while the tender to roaring "All Nerve" is the kind of plainspoken song about a big, big love that has always been one of Kim Deal's specialties. Then there's "Wait in the Car," one of the band's most irresistible singles. As Deal fails to find the right words and meows while the guitars strut and tumble, it's as brashly charming as "Cannonball" -- and proves the Breeders haven't lost the ability to make their audience wish they could be best friends with them.
However, All Nerve isn't so much a conscious attempt to re-create the past as it is the rekindling of a special chemistry. That chemistry is especially strong when the Breeders try new things. Wiggs gets her first lead vocal on an album track with "MetaGoth," and her unflappable cool gives it a dark, restless post-punk beauty that isn't like anything else in the Breeders' songbook. Meanwhile, "Dawn: Making an Effort" is as vast and hopeful as a sunrise, with an openness that's all the more heartwarming because it's so unexpected. The band even finds creative ways of dealing with the feelings of mortality and history that accompany this kind of reunion on "Walking with a Killer," a deceptively pretty tale of murder in the cornfields, and "Blues at the Acropolis," which superimposes modern junkies and drunks with dead heroes of the past. The decade-long gap between All Nerve and Mountain Battles was the Breeders' longest hiatus yet, but it was time well spent -- this is one of the band's finest blends of sugar and swagger, space and noise. All Nerve lives up to its name: the Breeders' one-of-a-kind toughness and vulnerability are the heart of their music, and that it's still beating strong is cause for celebration.

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The Breeders - Pod (1990)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock
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© 1990 4AD
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
On their 1990 debut album Pod, the Breeders -- led by the Pixies' Kim Deal and Throwing Muses' Tanya Donelly -- prove that they have more potential, and more fun, than the average side project. In fact, thanks to the album's creative songwriting, immediate production (courtesy of Surfer Rosa producer Steve Albini), and clever arrangements, Pod is a fresher and more successful work than the Pixies' Bossanova and the Muses' Hunkpapa, their main projects' releases from around that time. Though the album doesn't feature as many of Donelly's contributions as was originally planned -- which was part of the reason she formed Belly a few years later -- songs like "Iris" and "Lime House" blend the best of the Pixies' elliptical punk and the Muses' angular pop. Pod reaffirms what a distinctive songwriter Deal is, and how much the Pixies missed out on by not including more of her material on their albums. With their unusual subjects -- "Hellbound" is about a living abortion -- and quirky-but-direct sound, songs like "Opened" and "When I Was a Painter" could have easily fit on Doolittle or Bossanova. But the spare, sensual "Doe," "Fortunately Gone," and "Only in Threes" are more lighthearted and good-natured than the work of Deal's other band, pointing the way to the sexy, clever alternative pop she'd craft on Last Splash. A vibrantly creative debut, Pod remains the Breeders' most genuine moment.

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The Breeders - Last Splash (1993)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock, Noise Rock
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© 1993 4AD
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
Thanks to good timing and some great singles, the Breeders' second album, Last Splash, turned them into the alternative rock stars that Kim Deal's former band, the Pixies, always seemed on the verge of becoming. Joined by Deal's twin sister Kelley -- with whom Kim started the band while they were still in their teens -- the group expanded on the driving, polished sound of the Safari EP, surrounding its (plentiful) moments of brilliance with nearly as many unfinished ideas. When Last Splash is good, it's great: "Cannonball"'s instantly catchy collage of bouncy bass, rhythmic stops and starts, and singsong vocals became one of the definitive alt-pop singles of the '90s. Likewise, the sweetly sexy "Divine Hammer" and swaggering "Saints" are among the Breeders' finest moments, and deserved all of the airplay they received. Similarly, the charming twang of "Drivin' on 9," "I Just Wanna Get Along"'s spiky punk-pop, and the bittersweet "Invisible Man" added depth that recalled the eclectic turns the band took on Pod while maintaining the slick allure of Last Splash's hits. However, underdeveloped snippets such as "Roi" and "No Aloha" drag down the album's momentum, and when the band tries to stretch its range on the rambling, cryptic "Mad Lucas" and "Hag," it tends to fall flat. The addition of playful but slight instrumentals such as "S.O.S" and "Flipside" and a version of "Do You Love Me Now?" that doesn't quite match the original's appeal reflect Last Splash's overall unevenness. Still, its best moments -- and the Deal sisters' megawatt charm -- end up outweighing its inconsistencies to make it one of the alternative rock era's defining albums

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Gin Blossoms - New Miserable Experience (1992) ☠

*Second pressing with an alternate cover. Contains 12 tracks total.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Pop Rock, Alternative Rock
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 1992 A&M Records
AllMusic Review by Rick Anderson
The Gin Blossoms were one of the more truly damned rock & roll bands to grace the pop charts in the 1990s. The group was founded and spiritually led by singer-guitarist Doug Hopkins, who also wrote the band's best songs; however, by the time New Miserable Experience marked the band's major-label debut in 1992, Hopkins had been kicked out (his bandmates had apparently tired of dealing with his alcoholism). Hopkins killed himself shortly thereafter, and the band later enjoyed the biggest hit of its career with "'Til I Hear It From You" (which, perversely, never appeared on a Gin Blossoms album, but only on the Empire Records soundtrack -- and was written by outside writer Marshall Crenshaw to boot). The band dropped from sight not long after.
Released during the heyday of grunge music, New Miserable Experience remains the best and most representative document of the group's existence, a tight and lean collection of brilliant, edgy pop music that was markedly different from the bulk of 1992's modern rock albums. "Hey Jealousy" and "Until I Fall Away" are the two songs that leave the deepest impression -- and, appropriately, both were successful singles -- but the crunchy, jangled melodicism and lyrical desperation of "Hold Me Down" is similarly notable. Two dilettantish genre pieces -- "Cajun Song" and a country weeper called "Cheatin'" (as in "you can't call it cheatin' 'cause she reminds me of you") -- provide the program's two low points, but even those aren't completely without charm.

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Gin Blossoms - Congratulations I'm Sorry (1996) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Pop Rock, Alternative Rock
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 1996 A&M Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Most observers wondered if the Gin Blossoms would be able to deliver a consistent second album after the departure (and subsequent suicide) of Doug Hopkins, their former guitarist who wrote "Hey Jealousy" and "Found Out About You," the two big hits from the band's debut. Congratulations...I'm Sorry proves that they can. The Gin Blossoms haven't backed away from the sound that made New Miserable Experience a hit. It's filled with chiming guitars, sweet melodies, and simple, catchy hooks, as well as a sturdy grasp of traditional pop/rock songwriting that results in a number of gems. The only fault of Congratulations...I'm Sorry is that it sounds a bit too close to the debut -- there's virtually no difference in terms of style and production. As such, it builds a case for their craftsmanship. The Gin Blossoms may not have much new to say, but they say it well throughout Congratulations...I'm Sorry.

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April 28, 2019

Arctic Monkey - Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007) ☠

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Alternative Rock, Post Punk
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 2007 Domino
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Breathless praise is a time-honored tradition in British pop music, but even so, the whole brouhaha surrounding the 2006 debut of the Arctic Monkeys bordered on the absurd. It wasn't enough for the Arctic Monkeys to be the best new band of 2006; they had to be the saviors of rock & roll. Lead singer/songwriter Alex Turner had to be the best songwriter since Noel Gallagher or perhaps even Paul Weller, and their debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, at first was hailed as one of the most important albums of the decade, and then, just months after its release, NME called it one of the Top Five British albums ever. Heady stuff for a group just out of their teens, and they weathered the storm with minimal damage, losing their bassist but not their sense of purpose as they coped in the time-honored method for young bands riding the wave of enormous success: they kept on working. All year long they toured, rapidly writing and recording their second album, Favourite Worst Nightmare, getting it out just a little over a year after their debut, a speedy turnaround by any measure. Some may call it striking when the iron is hot, cashing in while there's still interest, but Favourite Worst Nightmare is the opposite of opportunism: it's the vibrant, thrilling sound of a band coming into its own.
The Arctic Monkeys surely showed potential on Whatever People Say I Am, but their youthful vigor often camouflaged their debt to other bands. Here, they're absorbing their influences, turning their liberal borrowings from the Libertines, the Strokes, and the Jam into something that's their own distinct identity. Unlike any of those three bands, however, the Arctic Monkeys haven't stumbled on their second album; they haven't choked on hubris, they haven't overthought their sophomore salvo, nor have they cranked it out too quickly. That constant year of work resulted in startling growth as the band is testing the limits of what they can do and where they can go. Favourite Worst Nightmare hardly abandons the pleasures of their debut but instead frantically expands upon them. They still have a kinetic nervous energy, but this isn't a quartet that bashes out simply three-chord rock & roll. The Monkeys may start with an infectious riff, but then they'll violently burst into jagged yet tightly controlled blasts of post-punk squalls, or they'll dress a verse with circular harmonies as they do at the end of "Fluorescent Adolescent." Their signature is precision, evident in their concise songs, deftly executed instrumental interplay, and the details within Turner's wry wordplay, which is clever but never condescending. Indeed, the remarkable thing about the Arctic Monkeys -- which Favourite Worst Nightmare brings into sharp relief -- is their genuine guilelessness, how they restructure classic rock clich├ęs in a way that pays little mind to how things were done in the past, and that all goes back to their youth.
Born in the '80s and raised on the Strokes and the Libertines, they treat all rock as a level playing field, loving its traditions but not seeing musical barriers between generations, since the band learned all of rock history at once and now spit it all out in a giddy, cacophonous blend of post-punk and classic rock that sounds fresh, partially because they jam each of their very songs with a surplus of ideas. Some of this was true on their debut album, but it's the restlessness of Favourite Worst Nightmare that impresses -- they're discovering themselves as they go and, unlike so many modern bands, they're interested in the discovery and not appearances. They'll venture into darker territory, they'll slow things down on "Only Ones Who Know," they'll play art punk riffs without pretension. Here, they sound like they'll try anything, which makes this a rougher album in some ways than their debut, which indeed was more cohesive. All the songs on Whatever shared a similar viewpoint, whereas the excitement here is that there's a multitude of viewpoints, all suggesting different tantalizing directions they could go. On that debut, it was possible hear all the ways they were similar to their predecessors, but here it's possible to hear all the ways the Arctic Monkeys are a unique, vibrant band and that's why Favourite Worst Nightmare is in its own way more exciting than the debut: it reveals the depth and ambition of the band and, in doing so, it will turn skeptics into believers.

tags: arctic monkeys, favourite worst nightmare, favorite, 2007, flac,

Artic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (2006) ☠

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Indie Rock, Punk Rock
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 2006 Domino USA
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Breathless, hyperbolic praise was piled upon the Arctic Monkeys and their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, an instant phenomenon without peer. Within the course of a year, the band rose from the ranks of an Internet phenomenon to the biggest band in the U.K., all on the strength of early demos circulated on the Web as MP3s. Those demos built the band a rabid fan base before the Monkeys had released a record, even before they played more than a handful of gigs. In effect, the group performed a complete run around the industry, avoiding conventional routes toward stardom, which paid off in spades. When Whatever People Say I Am hit the streets in January 2006, it sold a gob-smacking 118,501 copies within its first week of release, which not only made it the fastest-selling debut ever, but it sold more than the rest of the Top 20 combined -- a remarkable achievement by any measure.
Last time such excitement surrounded a new British guitar band it was a decade earlier, as Britpop hit overdrive with the release of Oasis' 1994 debut, Definitely Maybe. All four members of the Arctic Monkeys were a little bit shy of their tenth birthday at the time, a bit young to be sure, but old enough to have Oasis be their first favorite band. So, it's little surprise that the Gallaghers' laddism -- celebrating nights out fueled by lager and loud guitars -- is the bedrock foundation of the Arctic Monkeys, just the way as it has been for most British rock bands since the mid-'90s, but the Monkeys' true musical ground zero is 2001, the year the Strokes stormed British consciousness with their debut, Is This It. The Arctic Monkeys borrow heavily from the Strokes' stylized ennui, adding an equal element of the Libertines' shambolic neo-classicist punk, undercut by a hint of dance-punk learned from Franz Ferdinand. But where the Strokes, the Libertines, and Franz all knowingly reference the past, this Sheffield quartet is only concerned with the now, piecing together elements of their favorite bands as lead singer/songwriter Alex Turner tells stories from their lives -- mainly hookups on the dancefloor and underage drinking, balanced by the occasional imagined tragic tales of prostitution and the music industry.
Whatever People Say I Am captures the band mashing up the Strokes and the Libertines at will, jamming in too many angular riffs into too short of a space, tearing through the songs as quickly as possible. But where the Strokes camouflaged their songwriting skills with a laconic, take-it-or-leave-it sexiness and where the Libertines mythologized England with a junkie poeticism, the Arctic Monkeys at their heart are simple, everyday lads, lacking any sense of sex appeal or romanticism, or even the desire for either. Nor do they harbor much menace, either in their tightly wound music or in how Turner spits out his words. Also, the dry production, sounding for all the world like an homage to Is This It -- all clanking guitars and clattering drums, with most of the energy coming from the group's sloppy call-and-response backing vocals -- keeps things rather earthbound, too; the band doesn't soar with youthful abandon, it merely raises a bit of noise in the background.
In a way, Whatever People Say I Am is an ideal album for the Information Overload Age -- nearly every track here is overloaded with riffs and words, and just when it's about to sort itself out, it stops short. But even if it's an album of and for its time, Whatever People Say I Am doesn't sound particularly fresh. After all, the Arctic Monkeys are reworking the sounds of a revival without any knowledge -- or even much interest -- in the past, so they wind up with a patchwork of common sounds, stitched together in ways that may have odd juxtapositions, but usually feel familiar, because they're so green, they repeat the same patterns without realizing they're treading a well-worn path.
This, of course, doesn't make them or their debut bad, just surprisingly predictable: they're competent, lacking enough imagination or restlessness to do anything other than the expected, which for anybody who hears them after reading the reviews, is quite underwhelming. The one thing that sets them apart, and does give them promise, is Alex Turner's writerly ambitions. While he may fall far short of fellow Sheffield lyricist Jarvis Cocker, or such past teenage renegades as Paul Weller, Turner does illustrate ample ambition here. While his words can be overcooked -- allusions to Romeo & Juliet do not necessarily count as depth -- he does tell stories, which does distinguish him from his first-person peers. But it's a double-edged sword, his gift: the very thing that sets him apart -- his fondness for detail, his sense of place -- may be the quality that makes his work resonate for thousands of young Britons, but they also tie him completely to a particular time and place that makes it harder to relate to for listeners who aren't in his demographic or country (and perhaps time). If his band had either a stronger musical viewpoint or more kinetic energy, or if their songs didn't play like a heap of riffs, such provincial shortcomings would be transcended by the sheer force of the music. But the music, while good, is not great, and that's what makes Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not a curiosity that defines a time when niches are so specialized and targeted, they turn into a phenomenon overnight and last just about as long.

tags: artic monkeys, whatever people say i am thats what im not, 2006, flac,

Arctic Monkeys - Humbug (2009) ☠

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Indie Rock, Alternative Rock
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 2009 Domino USA
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Facing the third album blues, the Arctic Monkeys turned to Josh Homme, the Queens of the Stone Age mastermind renowned for his collaborations but heretofore untested as a producer. On first glance, it's a peculiar pair -- the heirs of Paul Weller meet the heavy desert mystic -- but this isn't a team of equals, it's a big brother helping his little siblings go wayward and get weird. Homme doesn't imprint his own views on the Monkeys but encourages them to follow their strange instincts, whether it's a Nick Cave obsession or the inclination to emphasize atmosphere over energy. Wading into the murk of Humbug it becomes clear that the common ground between the Monkeys and Homme is the actual act of making music, the pleasure of not knowing what comes next when an entire band is drifting inside a zone. Since so much of Humbug is about its process, it's not always immediately accessible or pleasurable to an outside listener, nor is it quite the thickly colored freakout Homme's presence suggests. The Monkeys still favor angular riffs and clenched rhythms, constructing tightly framed vignettes not widescreen epics, but they're working with a darker palette and creating vaguely abstract compositions, sensibilities that extend to Alex Turner's words too, as he trades keen detail for vivid scrawled impressions. Every element of the album reflects a band testing its limits, seeing where they could -- not necessarily will -- go next; it's a voyage through territory that's new to them as musicians (which doesn't necessarily mean that it's also new to their audience), offering at a peek at what lies beyond via three songs cut after the desert sessions, songs informed by what they learned during their sojourn with Homme. This trio of tunes, highlighted by "Cornerstone," aren't as darkly as evocative as the rest of the dense, gnarled Humbug but they're among the best songs the album has to offer suggesting that the record may mean more in the long-term that it does on its own. Nevertheless, Humbug makes two things clear: Arctic Monkeys are serious about being in a band, about making music, and they are the first major British band in generations unencumbered by fear or spite for America. Humbug was not done with hopes of breaking the American market or reacting spitefully against it, it is solely about big, loud, dark noise. No wonder Josh Homme sensed he had a band of little brothers in Arctic Monkeys.

tags: arctic monkeys, humbug, 2009, flac,