May 23, 2022

Strung Out - An American Paradox (2002)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hardcore
Style: Melodic Hardcore
Label Number: FAT633-2

© 2002 Fat Wreck Chords
It had been four years since Strung Out's last album, Twisted by Design, but it was well worth the wait. An American Paradox finds the group as hard hitting as ever, their music still a machine-gun fire of heavy-hitting sounds blending hardcore punk and lashings of metal frothed with harmonies and whipped up by the strong melodies. Behind the power and fury of the music, however, lies the eloquence of the lyrics, the band's true forte. Pretty much anyone can play raging hardcore, but Strung Out does it better and with more conviction than most; it's their words that truly connect them to the audience. Theirs is the lyricism of an all-night talk-fest, when suddenly thoughts crystallize and words become inspired and effortlessly skewer, amplify, and clarify salient discussion points. Even as Jason Cruz pours forth on "Alien Amplifier," "I'm wasting precious time on words that never seem to get through to anybody else," he's capturing the frustration of writer's block, the inner confusion of the tongue-tied who can never spit out the words they mean, the fury at the world's inability to communicate. With "The Kids," the quintet encapsulates teenaged nihilism, the overwhelming desire to tear the world down and build it up again afresh. The Sex Pistols raged about anarchy, but Strung Out is more nuanced and recognizes the hope that lives within destruction. That destructive force is taken into the personal realm on "Kill Your Scene," a furious assault on drama queens (or kings). Television gets an equal comeuppance and even sex gets a look, if an uncomfortable one, as does L.A. itself on "Cemetery," whose haunting line, "The sun holds no regrets/The natives sway under arrest/As all the stars fall from the sky," is sure to resonate with anyone familiar with the city of angels. The title track strikes out at a myriad of cultural touchstones, a meaty song meant for listeners to mull over.

tags: strung out, an american paradox, 2002, flac,

Strung Out - Exile In Oblivion (2004)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hardcore
Style: Melodic Hardcore
Label Number: FAT680-2

© 2004 Fat Wreck Chords
After over a decade in existence, Strung Out has settled into flagship position at Fat Wreck. But as Exile in Oblivion's streamlined sound and thoughtful lyrics suggest, the quintet has also reached veteran status musically. Beginning with its rich, evocative artwork, Exile is by no means just the next California punk-pop record. After a rousing opener that establishes the harder-hitting side of the band's mix of punk revivalism and melodic hardcore, Strung Out drops "Blueprint of the Fall." Over a Bad Religion backbeat and not-overdone metal guitar flourishes, vocalist Jason Cruz delivers a sobering rumination on 9/11 and the state of American freedom. "Imagine a place where freedom's just a word on the wall/Surrounded by the wreckage of towers that could never fall"; "One thief to rule them all along the Potomac" -- it's heavy stuff. But while he's certainly passionate, Cruz frames his words as poetry, so they don't come off as preachy. He also has some vocal similarity to Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba, which makes sense, considering that band's own move toward a more melodic yet still punk-derived sound. With their energetic pace and mix of love and morbidity, "Vampire" and "Her Name in Blood" would fit well on the Trio's Good Mourning. Despite Exile in Oblivion's tightly wound melodic sense and richer lyrical range, Strung Out still looks to hardcore for its aggression, as the choppy percussion and ringing instrumental breaks of "Lucifermotorcade" and "Scarlet" prove. But "No Voice of Mine" and "Anna Lee" feel like the album's centerpieces, as both incorporate punk-pop thrills into more creative arrangements that nevertheless retain a strong rhythmic drive perfect for video game soundtracks or skateboard Saturdays. If they're the sound of Strung Out's future, the veteran quintet is definitely on the right track.
  
tags: strung out, exile in oblivion, 2004, flac,

Strung Out - Blackhawks Over Los Angeles (2007)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hardcore
Style: Melodic Hardcore
Label Number: FAT721-2

© 2007 Fat Wreck Chords
Strung Out has been comfortably residing over at Fat Wreck for close to 15 years now, but it's clear from one listen to Blackhawks Over Los Angeles that the guys are hardly resting on their laurels. The band has perfected its metal-infused skatepunk to ridiculously tight, guitar-shredding proportions, razor sharp licks pairing with precise, rapid-fire drumming to knock listeners over again and again. But as always, Strung Out's aggression is perfectly complemented by the slightly worn yet fiercely passionate vocals of Jason Cruz; the subtle tenderness he brings to the table keeps their collective power in check, ensuring there to be just as much heart as muscle in the proceedings. Rich sonics dominate the apocalyptic landscape of Blackhawks, where the war comes right to American soil. Strung Out is frustrated, angry and disenchanted by the government and their seemingly endless bloodshed, yet through it all, Cruz manages to embody and convey a certain sense of hope. The blazing opener "Calling" probes "Does anybody out there get the message that I send?," while the exhilarating "A War Called Home" professes "I was the son of the promised land/whose father's youth was lost in Vietnam...Come sing along with me our song/It can't be wrong/We are the last remains to carry on." There is such a pressing urgency and invigorating vitality pervading these songs that you can't help but want to pump a first straight into the air (regardless of being stuck in the middle of traffic or a moshpit), and these qualities aren't lost even in the handful of more pop-oriented cuts like the excellent "All the Nations" and "Dirty Little Secret." To put it simply, Blackhawks Over Los Angeles is a bracing, forceful and straight-up rocking album that earns Strung Out one hell of a gold star.

tags: strung out, blackhawks over los angeles, 2007, flac,

May 22, 2022

The Cure - Greatest Hits (2001)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: New Wave
Label Number: 62726-2

© 2001 Elektra Records
The Cure were never afraid of artistically defining themselves. They had their own sound, an eerie glamour surrounding a dark whimsicality, yet fans flocked to them throughout the '80s and '90s. Commercial or cult favorites, they're impressive as being one of the '80s' seminal bands who culled more than 30 critical singles. Compilations like 1986's Staring at the Sea: The Singles and 1997's Galore showcased the Cure's accessibility; therefore, having a solid greatest-hits collection might be a bit nonessential. Then again, releasing an album like this at the tip of the new millennium calls for a celebration, and that's what the Cure did. They collected 16 amazing cuts which spanned 23 years and recall what once was. From the saucy synth strut of "The Walk" and the cabaret stylings of "The Lovecats" to the lilting swan songs of "Lovesong" and "Just Like Heaven," the Cure's ever-changing moods were switched up for something desirable and blissful. They are selectively classic, leaving this package to be its own storybook of sorts. The Cure did treat the fans with two new songs: "Cut Here" rises with early sounds of Madchester, but the glitzy swirls of "Just Say Yes" mark the Cure's return to form. Republica's Saffron joins Robert Smith for something campy and carefree. Greatest Hits is basically for the fans who have to have everything, but also a decent collection for those who never fully enraptured themselves with the Cure.

tags: the cure, greatest hits, 2001, flac,

Pharoahe Monch - Desire (2007)

*Standard pressing. 
Contains 13 tracks total. 
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Label Number: B0008096-02

© 2007 Street Records Corporation
What if Kool G Rap's second album came out approximately eight years after his first? That would be a period long enough to leap from Road to the Riches to Roots of Evil, over Wanted: Dead or AliveLive and Let Die, and 4, 5, 6. While it's an unfair analogy to make -- for many reasons -- when talking about the frustrating lag between Internal Affairs and Desire, it's a helpful one to think about if you're approaching Desire with the expectation of hearing Internal Affairs, Vol. 2. On Internal Affairs, a track-to-track strongarm tactic to reach more ears without too many creative concessions, Pharoahe Monch toughened up. It paid off to an extent: "Simon Says" and "Right Here" were loved by plenty of people who didn't know Organized Konfusion from Organized NoizePharoahe could've attempted to capitalize on the momentum, but he crept low, releasing the occasional single and compilation track (like "Agent Orange" and "What Is the Law"), and collaborating when the right situation presented itself (like Talib Kweli's "Guerrilla Monsoon Rap" and J Dilla's "Love"). As a result, Desire is a taut and focused work that energizes, packed densely with typically Monch-like quotables that might take a couple listens to catch. Production-wise, it's quite different from Internal Affairs, incorporating gritty gospel, anthemic funk, and laid-back soul (not to mention an ambitious, sprawling, three-part finale), along with a measured amount of material that sounds more like a logical extension of Pharoahe's past. Altogether, it's a brighter, bolder set of tracks. The lone trip-up is a well-intentioned cover of Public Enemy's "Welcome to the Terrordome"; despite a relevant added verse, no one can reinterpret Chuck D and the Bomb Squad at the peak of their powers without coming up a little short. This is the kind of album that could only be made by a veteran who knows the difference between running your mouth and speaking when you have something to say, and not many elder MCs can say they were as vital in their mid-thirties as they were in their early twenties.

* Due to past abuse, comments for the Hip-Hop section have been disabled. 


tags: pharoahe monch, desire, 2007, flac,

Montell Jordan - Montell Jordan (2002)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
Label Number: 586 482-2

© 2002 Def Soul
Throughout the seven years following Montell Jordan's gigantic breakthrough with "This Is How We Do It" in 1995, the sultry vocalist never had a problem garnering commercial success. Every one of his first four albums had at least one hit song. However, despite the commercial success, Jordan did have somewhat of a problem garnering respect, never being able to escape the towering shadow of "This Is How We Do It." No matter how successful successive singles such as "Let's Ride" or "Get It On...Tonite" were, they never equaled the success of his debut single. Plus, it didn't help that most of Jordan's first four albums were weighed down by too much commercial schlock -- the sort of by-the-numbers urban ballads streamlined for optimal radio play -- not to mention all the filler. For his fifth album, a self-titled effort, Jordan finally made an album for himself rather than for his fans, an issue he addresses in the liner notes: "This is the 1st MONTELL JORDAN album. I have made party albums, street albums, jeep albums, strip-club anthems, bedroom albums, and a bunch of other things that I thought YOU wanted to hear. This time, there was no one to look at but ME...sure, there is some 'ear candy' on this album, but a TRUE listener will come away from this album able to say that they finally know who Montell Jordan is, where he is at, and will hopefully appreciate and understand what I bring to the game." And, yes, this is a more introspective and sincere album than Jordan's past few efforts, justifying its eponymous title and worthy of the respect the vocalist hasn't been able to earn throughout his career. There aren't any big-name collaborations, and Jordan thankfully doesn't delve into pop-rap like he did on past albums in an effort to score crossover success. In a way, this was his least-commercial effort at the time of its release. Jordan works almost exclusively with producers Steven Estiverne and Focus..., and gets very deep toward the conclusion of the album, not ashamed to express his spirituality. Yet as personal and uncompromising as this album is, it's still very accessible, particularly the radio-ready moments like "You're the Right One," "You Must Have Been," and "Mine Mine Mine."

tags: montell jordan, montell jordan album, 2002, flac,

Cash Crew - From An Afropean Perspective (1996)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hip-Hop
Label Number: 74321380202

© 1996 Disques Vogue
*No professional reviews are available for this release.

* Due to past abuse, comments for the Hip-Hop section have been disabled. 


tags: cash crew, from an afropean perspective, 1996, flac,

Montell Jordan - More... (1996)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
Label Number: 533 191-2

© 1996 Def Jam Records
Montell Jordan's second album More to Tell unfortunately doesn't quite live up to the promise of its title, despite a handful of excellent tracks. Jordan hasn't backed away from the hip-hop soul that brought This Is How We Do It to the top of the charts, and he delivers it as well as he did his first time around, but he just doesn't have as many strong songs as he did the last time out. "Falling" is an entrancing ballad and "Bounce Ta This" is a good up-tempo cut, yet they aren't enough to maintain interest over the course of the entire album.

tags: montell jordan, more, 1996, flac,

Montell Jordan - Get It On... Tonite (Tonight) (1999)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
Label Number: 314 546 714-2

© 1999 Def Soul
Montell Jordan's fourth album Get It On...Tonite is a mixed bag of intelligently written songs and overbearing clichés. Jordan established himself in the mid-1990s as a surprisingly consistent R&B star with several successful albums, each featuring at least one major hit single. He also established himself as a top-notch songwriter, especially after penning Deborah Cox's unforgettable monster smash "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here." Those reasons make it all the more frustrating when, on his fourth album, Jordan relies so heavily on R&B loverman clichés, with tired "between the sheets" lyrics such as "your body layin' next to mine," "scream and moan," and "kisses down below" permeating way too much of his music ("Can't Get Enough" is beyond tacky). The album, which is divided into two halves (the first being "for those who like it fast," the second being "for those who need it slow,") does include several great tracks, including the irresistible lead off single "Get It On...Tonite" (the single version featured LL Cool J, while the album version is just Jordan), the wonderful story song "Once Upon a Time" (which is also included as a surprisingly well-pronounced Spanish-language bonus track), the fun and funky disco party jam "Come Home," and the Latin/Asian influenced "Maybe She Will." Jordan also employs plenty of female vocalists (á la Luther Vandross) to incredibly pleasing results, and there's no denying his talent in crafting a catchy pop song. If Jordan would lay off the clichès, and concentrate on well-written songs like "Once Upon a Time" then the sky is the limit, but his overbearing reliance on tired lothario lyrics is frustrating for those listeners who are well aware of his potential. As a final note, Jordan includes an adequate cover of Phil Collins' 1984 hit "Against All Odds."

tags: montell jordan, get it on tonite tonight, 1999, flac,

Scythe - Undead Infantry (2020 Reissue)

*Reissued in 2020 by Carnivorous Records
This pressing contains 6 tracks total. 
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Death Metal
Style: Blackened Death Metal
Label Number: CRCD001

© 1999-2020 Carnivorous Records
*No professional reviews are available for this release.

tags: scythe, undead infantry, 1999, 2020, reissue, flac,

May 21, 2022

Martha & The Muffins - Far Away In Time (1987)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: New Wave
Label Number: COMCD 12

© 1987 Virgin Records
A rather poorly assembled best-of from Martha and the Muffins' first three albums, released on DinDisc/Virgin. In fact, it's just the Metro Music release, with seven added tracks from Trance and Dance and This Is the Ice Age, and the latter is poorly represented, so it's not even a good overview of the band. The music is excellent, with tons of great songs and great memories ("Echo Beach" one of the finest singles released in the '80s), but it is the overall packaging that is particularly disturbing. The liner notes do not provide much information, and at times the notes appear almost insulting. With the exception of the odd but interesting "Insect Love" (previously only available on a single), there are no rarities or interesting oddities. With the wealth of material available to Virgin from the first three albums, this could have been a great, well-thought-out package. Martha and the Muffins deserve much better than this. Still, the music is top-notch, and fun to listen to once again.

tags: martha and the muffins, far away in time, 1987, flac,

Young Soldierz - Young Soldierz (1994)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Gangsta Rap
Label Number: QALCD-6704

© 1994 Dangerous/Pump/Warlock Records
*No professional reviews are available for this release.

* Due to past abuse, comments for the Hip-Hop section have been disabled. 


tags: young soldierz, young soldierz album, soldiers, 1994, flac,

Mental Dimension - MD's..... On The Come In (1996)

*First pressing. 
Contains 12 tracks total.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Label Number: HD2594

© 1996 High Density Records
*No professional reviews are available for this release.

* Due to past abuse, comments for the Hip-Hop section have been disabled. 


tags: mental dimension, mds on the come in, 1996, flac,

May 20, 2022

Rainbow - Down To Earth (1979)

*U.S. first pressing. 
Mastered by Greg Colby
Contains 8 tracks total. 
Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
Label Number: 823 705-2

© 1979-1986 Polydor Records
The departure of Ronnie James Dio gave Ritchie Blackmore a chance to reinvent Rainbow, which he does to a certain extent on Down to Earth. Adding former Deep Purple colleague Roger Glover as bassist and Graham Bonnet as vocalist, Blackmore tones down some of the excess of the Dio years, particularly in terms of fantastical lyrics, and turns to straight-ahead hard rock, only occasionally adorned by prominent synthesizers. In general, their material is fairly solid, and "Since You Been Gone" easily ranks among the band's best songs, but overall the record is a little generic and sounds very much of its time -- namely, the late '70s, when album rock still ruled the arenas. Nevertheless, Rainbow has a distinct idea, primarily through the guitar artistry and mystical sensibility of Ritchie Blackmore. He sounds invigorated on the album, turning in muscular performances and strong solos on each cut; clearly, the reunion has revitalized him. Unfortunately, Bonnet tends to oversell his vocals, screaming a little bit too often, but he doesn't distract from the fact that BlackmoreGlover, and drummer Cozy Powell turn Down to Earth into a fine hard rock platter. It might not offer anything unique, but it delivers the goods.

tags: rainbow, down to earth, 1979, flac,

Rainbow - Difficult To Cure (1981)

*European first pressing. 
Mastered by Greg Colby, Sterling Sounds. 
Contains 9 tracks total.
Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
Label Number: 800 018-2

© 1981-1984 Polydor Records
Rainbow ditched vocalist Graham Bonnet after Down to Earth, hiring former Fandango singer Joe Lynn Turner as their frontman. As it turns out, Turner is less hyperbolic than his predecessor, which fits the focused polish of Difficult to Cure. Where Down to Earth was a streamlined version of early Rainbow, Difficult to Cure is a shot at crossover. Problem is, the band never comes up with the right crossover songs. Russ Ballard's "I Surrender" comes close, but much of the record is fairly undistinguished, riding on strident melodies and big riffs that are never quite memorable. It's all given a contemporary sheen, with plenty of studio gloss that now instantly evokes the early '80s. On that level, it's somewhat of an entertaining artifact -- anyone pining for an example of what album-oriented radio sounded like in the pre-MTV years should check this out -- but it's never more than that, since the bids at chart success are only occasionally memorable ("I Surrender," "Magic"). Perhaps Ritchie Blackmore felt stifled by the exacting nature of Difficult to Cure's attempt at crossover -- witness how "Spotlight Kid" veers from a dexterous Blackmore solo to a ridiculous keyboard run, then just verges on collapse -- and that's the reason why each side ends with a pretentious pseudo-classical instrumental that functions as nothing more than a guitar showcase. Certainly, his playing is impeccable, but both numbers are really awkward (particularly the title track, based on Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and with a weirdly synthesized pulse as a rhythmic underpinning) and just highlight the fact that Difficult to Cure would have been better if Blackmore had channeled that energy into the rest of the album.

tags: rainbow, difficult to cure, 1981, flac,

Rainbow - Straight Between The Eyes (1982)

*European first pressing. 
Digitally mastered by Greg Calbi
Sterling Studios, New York. 
Contains 9 tracks total.
Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
Label Number: 800 028-2

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

tags: rainbow, straight between the eyes, 1982, flac,

Rainbow - Bent Out of Shape (1983)

*European first pressing. 
Contains 10 tracks total. 
Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
Label Number: 815 305-2 Y H

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

tags: rainbow, bent out of shape, 1983, flac,

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

*U.S. first pressing. 
Contains 10 tracks total.
Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
Label Number: 74321303372

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

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