February 28, 2022

The Jesus & Mary Chain - Stoned & Dethroned (1994)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Noise Rock
Label Number: 9 45573-2

© 1994 American Recordings
Having made a name for itself through its career for punishing noise combined with candy-coated hooks, the Jesus and Mary Chain took a sideways step on Stoned & Dethroned that actually worked rather handsomely. The Reids turned the emphasis toward much calmer, acoustic folk/country-tinged songs and, for the first time since Psychocandy, recorded with an actual full band, with Monti from Curve once again doing the drum honors and touring bassist Ben Lurie handling the same duties in studio. The appearance of Hope Sandoval on lead single "Sometimes Always" makes perfect sense, as Mazzy Star's electric/acoustic psych flow is, if not the inspiration for Stoned & Dethroned, a close enough cousin. "Sometimes Always" does indeed make for a lovely little duet, not quite a Lee & Nancy combination for a new generation, but a fine romp anyway, while on the other guest number Shane Macgowan from the Pogues takes a nicely mournful lead turn on "God Help Me." As for the album in general, the songs are much more than simply a toned-down Mary Chain -- it's almost as if the group were making its bid to finally demonstrate that it really was comprised of actual musicians, honest to goodness. What feedback there is appears as smoky atmosphere rather than skull-crushing scream, and oddly enough the end results almost suggest early-'70s Rolling Stones more than anything else, tinged as always with pure pop hooks and melodies. William's singing actually comes more to the fore than before, his warmer, less sneering vocals suiting the burned-out feeling of the album very nicely. A few songs could easily be full-on monsters -- the brief "Come On" and the almost uplifting "Girlfriend" in particular -- but, by and large, the drama is implicit rather than explicit.

tags: the jesus and mary chain, stoned and dethroned, 1994, flac,

The Jesus & Mary Chain - Munki (1998)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Noise Rock
Label Number: 489854 2

© 1998 Creation Records
As befits an album bookended by tracks titled "I Love Rock'n'Roll" and "I Hate Rock'n'Roll," the Jesus and Mary Chain's Sub Pop label debut, Munki, is schizophrenic and impassioned, a record that both summarizes the band's career to date and cleans the slate for their future. Virtually each of the 17 tracks here echoes a prior moment in the Chain's existence, moving at breakneck pace from the volcanic noise of their earliest material to the bleak grace of Darklands, through to the sleek, supercharged pop of Automatic -- even Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval makes a cameo, as she did on Stoned & Dethroned. In a sense, it's an ideal primer to the Reid brothers' mercurial world, flirting with both brilliance and mediocrity; even after well over a decade, the Jesus and Mary Chain continue to thrill, irritate, and confound -- they're a true love/hate obsession.

tags: the jesus and mary chain, munki, 1998, flac,

JT Money - Pimpin' On Wax (1999)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Pop Rap
Label Number: P2 50060

© 1999 Priority Records
JT Money's debut album, Pimpin' on Wax, sounds a little out of place in 1999. True, hardcore rap still ruled the hip-hop marketplace, but most hardcore rappers broadened their sound with late '70s/early '80s funk and smooth grooves. While he occasionally dips into that territory, JT Money pretty much keeps to hardcore California rap, with no apologies. He does this stuff pretty well, but his pimp style (heavily influenced by Too $hort, a featured guest on the album) -- as epitomized by "Playa Ass Shit," "Rap Ass Nigga," "On Da Grind," "Somethin' About Pimpin'" and "Ho Problems" -- sounds tired, especially since the 14 cuts run a very long time. Ultimately, the success of Pimpin' on Wax depends on your tastes -- if you can't get enough of the playas-pimps-n-hustlas scene, this will be a welcome debut, but to more discriminating tastes, this will sound a little rote.

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

tags: jt money, pimpin on wax, 1999, flac,

Mark Morrison - Return of The Mack (1996)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
Label Number: 0630-14586-2

© 1996 WEA
Although it's not unique, Mark Morrison has a stronger voice than many of his urban soul peers, especially if he is just ranked among his British contemporaries. He doesn't have an ear for strong songs, and his production team is a little bland, but when they hit upon the right formula, like they do on the title track of Return of the Mack, the result is highly entertaining dance-pop.

tags: mark morrison, return of the mack, 1996, flac,

Sam Salter - It's On Tonight (1997)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
Label Number: 73008-26040-2

© 1997 LaFace Records
*No professional reviews are available for this release.

tags: sam salter, its on tonight, 1997, flac,

Tina Moore - Tina Moore (1995)

*European pressing. 
Contains 12 tracks total.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
Label Number: 74321522652

© 1995 BMG/RCA Records
Many of the urban contemporary singers who made their recording debuts in 1995 went out of their way to be as hip-hop as possible, but not Tina Moore. Instead of emulating Mary J. Blige or the members of TLC and En VogueTina Moore favors more of an "Anita Baker meets Whitney Houston" approach on this self-titled debut album. Six of the ten tracks were produced by Michael J. Powell (who is known for his work with Baker), including the melancholy single "Color Me Blue." Definitely a gem, "Color Me Blue" is the best thing on the CD, although her remake of Harry Warren's "At Last" runs a close second. Most of the material, however, is pretty routine, and that includes the funkier tracks as well as more adult contemporary-minded offerings like "All I Can Do" and "Love Don't Feel Like Love" (both of which are exactly the sort of ballads that Houston would record). But while Tina Moore is unremarkable more often than not, the album's best tracks let listeners know that the singer has potential. Unfortunately, Moore didn't have another label to go to when her relationship with Scotti Bros. ended, and six years later, she had yet to provide another full-length album.

tags: tina moore, tina moore album, 1995, flac,

The Tragically Hip - In Violet Light (2002)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Alternative Rock
Label Number: 01143-1006-2

© 2002 Zoë Records
The Tragically Hip weren't particularly concerned with being a mainstream breakthrough by the time they issued their ninth album, In Violet LightPhantom Power didn't do the job and the obscure Music @ Work was forgettable. Alas, the Hip didn't seem to mind. They don't bow to critics -- only to fans, and they're the reason why the band continues to sell records and sell out stadiums. The Tragically Hip are an honest man's band with an incomparable romance and fans are drawn to that. Their first for Rounder, In Violet Light is a tasteful blend of the band's sharp songcraft and Gordon Downie's classic poetic rants. Early on, Downie proclaims that there's "music that will make you feel great" on the celebratory "Use It Up." Name dropping Springsteen and Randy Newman around a song inspired by a Raymond Carver quote is clever and typically Hip. The ambitious drive of "Are You Ready," which is carried by the electric cross-fire of guitarists Paul Langlois and Bobby Baker, sparks enthusiasm whereas the airiness of "It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken" and "A Beautiful Thing" tame the band's dynamic disposition. The feverish "Silver Jet" is a great lyrical adventure; "The Dire Wolf" takes things a bit further with Wallace Stevens as its mainspring, soaring over the beauty of Newfoundland and the Bahamas. The Tragically Hip absorb their surroundings without getting lost, making In Violet Light a natural fit for loyalists. The lag of Trouble at the Henhouse is absent, while the matchless beauty of Fully Completely is reminiscent. The Tragically Hip have always followed their own formula and do it again with In Violet Light for a solid, cohesive piece of work.

tags: the tragically hip, in violet light, 2002, flac,

The Tragically Hip - In Between Evolution (2004)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Alternative Rock
Label Number: 01143 1060-2

© 2004 Zoë Records
The first few seconds of In Between Evolution offer a summation in miniature of both why the Tragically Hip are so great and why mainstream success has eluded them, at least in the United States. A distorted guitar chimes out a road-ready riff, soon joined by a taut rhythm section. Then lead singer Gordon Downie shouts out "Here's a glue guy, a performance God," in a pinched howl that sounds like it's ready to veer off-key at any second. That combination of arena rock and indie sensibility is exactly what fans have come to expect from the band; the approach isn't all that different from Pearl Jam's more recent work, except that Downie's lyrics have always been, well, weirder and more literate than the hits that took Pearl Jam to the top of the charts. None of that explains why the Hip still sell out stadiums and sell millions of albums in their native Canada, but In Between Evolution is both accessible and challenging enough to satisfy longtime fans and newcomers. The slight dissonance that marks that opening track, "Heaven Is a Better Place Today," fits perfectly the combination of mourning and triumph that the band captures in the song, a tribute to hockey player Dan Snyder, who died in a car crash in late 2003. When Downie sings "If and when you get into that end zone, act like you've been there a thousand times before," he breathes new life into the tired sports cliché because what's come before is so evocative and honestly rendered, and also because there's not another cliché to be found for the duration of the album, which is one of the band's hardest rocking and most politically charged. "It Can't Be Nashville Every Night" takes aim at Toby Keith and the mindless, macho jingoism he represents, while "Gus: The Polar Bear from Central Park" further dissects the "us and them" mentality Downie sees overtaking the world around him, particularly in the U.S. As usual, guitarists Rob Baker and Paul Langlois offer sympathetic accompaniment, giving "Gus" a sinewy, sinister feel that perfectly mirrors the lyrics' portrayal of a beast out to destroy whatever frightens it. The band thunders through almost every track, a juggernaut of guitars and drums that lets up only toward the end, easing back on the sonic assault on the rueful "Are We Family," where Downie tries to comprehend our common humanity in the face of a world where we're "taking care of each other one bullet to another." In Between Evolution is as rewarding as it is relentless, another fine addition to the Tragically Hip's catalog of thinking person's rock.

tags: the tragically hip, in between evolution, 2004, flac,

The Tragically Hip - World Container (2006)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Alternative Rock
Label Number: 02517 05589

© 2006 Universal Music Canada
World Containerthe Tragically Hip's eleventh studio LP, finds the Canadian quintet going for their biggest sound to date. Sure, their previous two albums -- 2002's In Violet Light and 2004's In Between Evolution -- found the band experimenting with a larger guitar-driven sound, but not in the same way that World Container reaches for the brightest sound imaginable. This ten-song set comes off with as much fever as the band's live shows, and frontman Gordon Downie finally captures his bona fide rock star appeal as a performer on record! Songs such as "Yer Not the Ocean" and "In View" retain that intoxicating energy that's made the Tragically Hip one of the decade's favorite concert draws. Working with veteran rock producer Bob Rock (Mötley CrüeMetallica), was one smart move. As he did with Mötley Crüe's Dr. Feelgood album, Rock zeroed in on what makes the Tragically Hip such a vital rock band -- the dual guitar attack of Paul Langlois and Rob Baker, and Downie's clever and poetic state of mind as expressed in his singing -- and drew it in, forcing the Tragically Hip to embrace a sonically richer sound while doing some soul searching for what rock & roll ultimately means to them. The swaggering hard rock leanings of "The Drop-Off" are as classic as anything from Day for Night, while gritty, anthemic moments like "The Kids Don't Get It" and "Luv (sic)" define the band's newfound rawness. "The Lonely End of the Rink," which debuted on Hockey Night in Canada one week prior to the album's Canadian release in October 2006, continues on that path with its U2-like, arena-sized guitar riffs, and Downie, too, has never sounded better. The poetic obliqueness that's carried his lyrics since the Tragically Hip's 1983 inception has obviously made him a Canadian celebrity, but Rock tossed such dramatics aside, encouraging Downie to really rip it all apart and say things in a more straightforward fashion. Getting back to a simple approach might have been a difficult find at first, but World Container does it all without losing sight of what the Tragically Hip have achieved in their 20-plus years in the business, once again solidifying their mark on alternative rock.

tags: the tragically hip, world container, 2006, flac,

The Tragically Hip - We Are The Same (2009)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Alternative Rock
Label Number: 01143-1129-2

© 2009 Zoë Records
Initial reaction to We Are the Same among longtime fans seemed to range, according to chit-chat on various blogs, from halting acceptance to outraged disdain. There is no denying that the latest from this now 26-year-old Canadian band bears little resemblance to the rawer, rootsier sound of the Hip's earliest works. But it's by no means a radical departure from 2006's World Container; it's more of an incremental step toward something less distinctive and more universally appealing in a commercial sense. Producer Bob Rock (MetallicaMötley Crüe), who also took the reins for that last album, returns here on the band's 12th studio effort, applying a polish to these generic arrangements of largely uninspired lyrics and hackneyed tunes that undeniably takes the Hip closer to a mainstream -- or, rather, an edge-free, knuckle-dragging -- pop/rock sound. Some might call it a bloated overproduction and leave it at that, but the malaise is deeper than over-ambition, approaching something closer to creative bankruptcy. Perhaps it shouldn't be so surprising that, after so long in the game, the Hip might harbor a desire for greater recognition and choose a producer who can deliver what's been elusive all these years. And at isolated moments the drive to reinvent as something more consumer-friendly succeeds: while there is a definite softer edge to most of these tracks, and an overall tameness, although that's not to say that theTragically Hip has abandoned everything that's identified them until now. Paul Langlois' and Rob Baker's guitars still scream and shout, or glimmer and shine, when required to, the rhythm section, bassist Gord Sinclair and drummer Johnny Fay, can kick up dust when given a chance, and Gordon Downie, when he's not over-emoting, still delivers his words convincingly and with emotion. The problem is more with the songs themselves and the gloss within which they are bathed: there is a derivativeness to much of the record, and a silliness to the fancy-pants settings they are given (strings abound, ballads plod, layers of unnecessary window dressing are added), a feeling that too many of these tunes were created with the sole desire to find a larger audience rather than to reflect what Downie and the band are really about after so much time together. It opens with a promising enough country-rocker, "Morning Moon," that would, in a more just world, be a huge hit single. And "Coffee Girl" too, with its bold, tasty trumpet, is the kind of perfectly crafted gem these guys have time and again proven they can turn out. But it quickly descends into pretense and earnestness with the back-to-back treacly "Now the Struggle Has a Name" and the nine-and-a-half-minute "The Depression Suite." With its oft-repeated tag line "Don't you wanna see how it ends?" the epic only has the undesired effect of causing the listener to say, "No, I don't, just end it already." From there, it stays in an abyss, as songs like "Love Is a First" (the first single), despite an attempt at rhythmic punch, and "Speed River" fail to drag the album back from the pit of mediocrity it's plunged into. At this point in their career the Tragically Hip should be making grander, more honest statements than this. We Are the Same is obviously meant to resurrect the band's fortunes rather than to further their artistry. Whether it does or doesn't find what it's seeking, its main accomplishment is that it drives the Tragically Hip closer to irrelevancy. And that's tragic.

tags: the tragically hip, we are the same, 2009, flac,

February 27, 2022

Az Yet - Az Yet (1996)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
Label Number: 73008-26034-2

© 1996 LaFace Records
Az Yet's eponymous debut is an engaging collection of straight-ahead party hip-hop highlighted by the single "Last Night." Although the remainder of the album isn't quite as memorable as "Last Night," there are enough strong moments to make it a worthwhile listen.

tags: az yet, az yet album, 1996, flac,

Alice Cooper - The Last Temptation (1994)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hard Rock
Label Number: EK 52771

© 1994 Epic Records
Though Alice Cooper's 1989 comeback gave him his first hit album in over a decade, the Trash record left some diehard fans disappointed, as did 1991's Hey Stoopid. Many listeners felt that Cooper had sold himself short, now completely focusing on sleazy sexual anthems, making him just another face in the heavy metal crowd. By the time The Last Temptation was released in 1994, the hair band fad that had fueled Cooper's return was dead, and Cooper was obviously aware of its downfall -- the album sounds almost nothing like its two predecessors. Instead of relating to such albums as Motley Crue's Dr. FeelgoodLast Temptation seems more similar to Ozzy Osbourne's No More Tears. Thematically, the record returns to mostly conceptual songs, such as "Nothing's Free," "You're My Temptation," and "Cleansed by Fire." Though the album still has a few goofy interruptions, such anthems as "Lost in America" nonetheless boast more originality than anything off of Hey Stoopid or Trash. Far surpassing anything Cooper recorded in almost 20 years, The Last Temptation is unquestionably some of his best work.

tags: alice cooper, the last temptation, 1994, flac,

Alice Cooper - Brutal Planet (2000)

*European pressing. 
Contains 11 tracks total. 
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hard Rock, Industrial Rock
Label Number: EAGCD115 GAS 0000115 EAG

© 2000 Eagle Records
For the Alice Cooper fans who feel his output was spotty before and after the 1989 classic Trash on Epic, Brutal Planet is a cause to rejoice. It is a solid hard rock offering. Cooper is in great voice, and he sounds mean and spirited. The title track would be a blessing on radio today. It has great bottom, sizzling guitars, and wonderful backing vocalists. The most impressive thing about this album is Cooper's lyrics. "Sanctuary" could be Lou Reed meets Deep Purple in their heyday. Back in 1987 Cooper performed with an unruly band all over the map. It was very uncomfortable and a far cry from his heyday of "I'm 18" and "Under My Wheels": guitars too loud, and an artist obviously struggling with his personal demons.

This disc rocks hard with hooks galore and is delivered with the intensity of a Mike Tyson punch, double entendre fully intended. "Wicked Young Men" continues the thump thump brigade of this fine album. Cooper is now being a bad boy with sophisticated lyrics. "I am a vicious young man" sounds like the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange II: the aforementioned street lingo of Reed and Springsteen turned up a notch. "I've got every kind of chemical pumping through my head/I read Mein Kempf daily just to keep my hatred fed/I never ever sleep, I just lay in my bed/dreaming of the day when everyone is dead."

Cooper is ready to exterminate everyone and everything. And though listeners who love Alice Cooper know it's all tongue in cheek, the bigger picture is that a known artist has created a very studied, very calculated, and very electric compact disc. It works on so many levels, and how many listeners had written Cooper off? There may be no song here that will brand itself into the consciousness as "School's Out" or "Elected" did, but those were different times. This is more powerful than most rap. It is direct. It is hard hitting. It is Alice Cooper at his most absolute sinister. Burt Reynolds said that "nothing plays as good as an old Stradivarius" and Alice Cooper proves that saying true. He has created a splash of cold water that could rip radio wide open if given the chance. In "Blow Me a Kiss," Alice sings "blow me away... I'm in my room... I'm Dr. Doom... I'm not me, I'm someone else." Where has Cooper been hiding these lyrics all these years?

tags: alice cooper, brutal planet, 2000, flac,

Alice Cooper - Dragontown (2001)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hard Rock, Industrial Rock
Label Number: SPT-15200-2

© 2001 Spitfire Records
Dragontown continues the assault of Alice Cooper's gift to the new millennium that was Brutal Planet. Considered a third chapter of a trilogy initiated by 1994's The Last Temptation, this shadowy production plays like hardcore in slow motion. There is no one identifiable song like "Gimme" or "Brutal Planet" from the last episode, but the production values are high and the innovative riffs consistent. This work stands on its own, chock-full of the dark prince of pop's nasty humor. "It's Much Too Late" is supposed to be for John Lennon, but the Beatlesque backing vocals sound like Carole King's hit from Tapestry on hard drugs. There are references to the sacrilege spread out over Lennon's work from Plastic Ono Band to Imagine, but here Alice takes off the gloves and gives the church the finger: "I'm sending you all to hell/I'm tired and I'm wired here...." Continuing the dismal discourse of the previous record, Cooper takes Ray Davies' advice in a way the Kinks' leader never could -- A.C. actually gives the fans what they want. "The Sentinel" is some creature of the devil out there harvesting souls -- possibly the souls of dead rock & rollers. The ode to Elvis Presley is a bit more unnerving: "Disgraceland" is metal rockabilly with blazing guitars -- "Went to the pearly gates/Said I'm uh here to sing/And Peter said, 'Well son, you see we already got ourselves a king.'" If you don't think Alice Cooper is the Bob Dylan of nastiness, you clearly haven't followed his pernicious poetry over the years. (Hasn't everyone tried too hard to like Bob Dylan's Love and Theft? Do you really think it will have a place in history as solid as "Like a Rolling Stone" or "Ballad of a Thin Man"?) Where Mariah Carey goes through the motions and wonders why no one cares, Alice Cooper proves that he still does care. This might not be as platinum as Trash or as explosive as Killer, but the older, wiser Alice Cooper devastates with subtle intensity and venomous lyrics. The 12-page booklet inside the very Halloweenish cover contains print that is much too small, but the great photos are exactly what the fans crave: Alice showing the world he was Freddy Krueger long before that character came to life. "Every Woman Has a Name" is a beautiful evil ballad, a throwback to the days of "How You Gonna See Me Now," only Cooper's vocals are even better years later; he is a great singer, the Perry Como of hate. It's too bad the songs are so utterly negative -- at ten minutes shy of an hour, this album succeeds in going further down into the depths and would be a perfect horror movie soundtrack. If you can't figure out who "I Just Wanna Be God" is about you haven't read your Bible. "I'm the omnipresent ruler of the human race...I was born to rock/I was born to rule." Alice Cooper narrates from the first person, the Devil's frustrations are the angst that punks, metal heads, and rappers are floundering around looking for. "I Just Wanna Be God" is rap in slow motion -- a loud, sludgy dirge. It explodes after the ballad and disintegrates into "The Sentinel." If St. Peter stands by the pearly gates, then Alice Cooper is putting in his nomination to be the guardian of hell's entry point. He should be careful what he wishes for. From the blitz that is "Triggerman," which opens the album, to the crunching conclusion, this album is so good that it appears Alice has already landed the job. Listener beware.

tags: alice cooper, dragontown, 201, flac,

Alice Cooper - The Eyes of Alice Cooper (2003)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hard Rock
Label Number: SPITCD090B GAS0000090SPR 

© 2003 Spitfire Records
Give him points for persistence: Alice Cooper just won't quit. He's seen it all from the bottom to the top -- and done the trip more than once -- but still continues on his merry-morbid way, punching out albums like a spry young'un. The first thing one has to say about The Eyes of Alice Cooper is thank Jehovah and all his witnesses that the Mascara'd One has grown out of his metal/industrial phase. That look just never took. Discs like Brutal Planet (2000) and the somewhat better Dragontown (2001) offered little to his legacy or his legion of fans -- aside from nascent headbangers discovering the Coop for the first time. Eyes harks back to Alice's overly maligned early-'80s discs Special Forces and Flush the Fashion -- albums that suffered by comparison with his landmark '70s releases but remain far more musically appealing than the aforementioned new-millennium fare. It takes a couple of listens to "get it," but there is some very good material here: largely derivative, yes, but energetic and entertaining nonetheless. And the old sneer-and-wink is back and comes through in lyrics that, unlike the sonics, are distinctive. The punkish "Man of the Year" is a tragicomedy rip on button-down-collar types who climb life's ladder only to end up putting a gun in their mouths. "Novocaine" (the very word brings back memories of Billion Dollar Babies and "Unfinished Sweet") has, believe it, a Bruce Springsteen guitar sound. The best rocker of the pack is "Detroit City," a quasi-anthemic, mid-tempo grunter fuelled by a slapping, tom-tom beat and a fist-pumping chorus. (MC5's Wayne Kramer adds an extra axe on this one.) The classically Cooper-esque ballad "Be With You a While" is another scene-stealer ("I wish I could tell you/Something you didn't know/I wish I could give you/Something you didn't own") and shows that the ol' snake-twirler still has a sensitive side. The most autobiographical moment comes with the second track, "Between High School and Old School." To wit: "I'm stuck somewhere between high school and old school." Ah, but was it not always thus? For more than three decades Alice has been everyone's favorite grown-up in teens' clothing. And that's why he's loved. Alice being Alice. It's tried and true and it works again here. Not exceptionally, but more than acceptably. In the sweeping context of his legendary career, one could say that The Eyes of Alice Cooper is far from his best album and just as far from his worst.

tags: alice cooper, the eyes of alice cooper, 2003, flac,