Tuesday, 25 November 2008

ALBUM REVIEW: GUNS N' ROSES - CHINESE DEMOCRACY


I can't believe I'm reviewing this. After all this time, Chinese Democracy has finally been released. I picked up my copy when it went on sale in Ireland last Friday and ever-since I have been listening, nay studying the album in great detail. Forget the leaks that surfaced during the summer. Forget the live versions you may have heard. All that matters is the physical CD in my CD player. All of the hype surrounding the release will prevent it from ever living up to expectations but I will give it a fair and honest review because I for one have not given up hope on Axl Rose and his new band.
Lets get the obvious out of the way: This is no Appetite For Destruction. Anyone hoping for that would be a fool. Is it on par with the Use Your Illusion twins? Hmm... no, probably not. Is it an unashamedly grand album that still rocks like a motherfucker? YES.
Chinese Democracy is a complex, rich album with so much going on that its hard to really describe so much of what you will hear. There are industrial touches, Queen-style pomp and Aerosmith-style bombast. At the heart of this however, is Axl Rose. His voice is still one of the most impressive things on the album. Years have not faded its ferocity and instead we have a meaner, more introspective Rose who's anger now has added weight from age.
The title track is powerful, riff heavy and has a low growled vocal delivery from Axl and leads into "Shackler's Revenge", a pounding industrial anthem that features a typically complex Buckethead solo and a soaring chorus. Awesome. "Better" is a schizophrenic pop-rocker that again hits the spot before the ballad (the first of many) "Street of Dreams". Originally known as "The Blues", "Street of Dreams" is an Elton John style song. Rose's voice is a little incongruous in his ballads but the song features many melodies so I still like it. "If The World" is a funky, Spanish-guitar number that unfortunately doesnt work for me. It's a little to "bad porn soundtrack" for my liking. Its the only real mis-fire in my opinion.
"There Was A Time" and "Catcher In The Rye" are epic ballads, the former sounding like a Bond theme song and the latter an old-school, major-key rock ballad. Both are good, if a little over-produced (but then again, what song on this album isn't?).
There are throwbacks to classic GN'R in "Scraped" and "Riad N' The Bedouins". Both are awesome. The lyric's "Don't you try to stop us now" pretty much reignite the old attitude we love and missed so much in the 17 years since Use Your Illusion I & II.
"Sorry" is a slow-paced, doomy ballad that spews anger rather than love. Its vintage GN'R. The next track is I.R.S. which is another hard-rock punch to break up the ballads. It's also quite classic GN'R in its composition. The final 3 songs are all epic ballads.
"Madagascar" has been floating around in the ether since at least 2001 so to hear it now in all its glory, finished is quite a treat. It features brass, guitars and a grooving drum beat and had this been played with the original line-up, would have undoubtedly been hailed as one of their masterpieces alongside "November Rain" and "Estranged". It features an awesome Buckethead solo set against the backdrop of samples from Martin Luther King and Platoon.
"This I Love" is a moody, piano and string orientated song sung by Rose, probably mourning the collapse of his relationship with Stephanie Seymour. Its impressive and for once on the album, shows a little fragility underneath the anger. The orchestral backing is beautiful and the rather epic guitar solo is wonderful. the album closes with "Prostitute", a slick ballad that features an aggressive chorus. Its a re-affirming song to close a re-affirming album. There are a few over-indulgences on the disc. In particular, every song is produced within an inch of its life. There is sometimes too much going on. Its a flaw that was found on the Use Your Illusion albums and one that we had no right to think would be reversed here. At its heart, its magic. For all the digital messing about, Axl knows that every good song centres on a good tune and he delivers in spades.
I loved Chinese Democracy. I honestly do. Its not the Guns of old but thats not a bad thing. AC/DC churned out an album that bored me with its lack of ideas. Axl Rose certainly doesnt lack ideas. His album is an acquired taste perhaps, but one which you can savour for a long, long time. I'm going on a limb here with a 5 star review but, it's been a while since I have been so happy that an album I have been waiting for for so long, surprised me in a good way. t's a triumphant return. My faith in him has been restored. Thank you, Axl.
For the iPod playlist: "Shackler's Revenge", "Better", "Riad N' The Bedouins", "Sorry", "Madagascar". Hell, throw on "This I Love" too.
Verdict: ***** (5/5)

SINGLE REVIEW: GACKT - JESUS


Love it. Cool Gackt is back. The song "Jesus" is hard rocking and expertly delivered by the multi-talented Gackt. The digital trickery of the Diabolos era is gone replaced by a smoother quasi-metal sound. His vocals are top-notch and the small snippets of English are sang well for a jrock vocalist (unlike Kyo's mumbled gibberish). This is a great song that was long overdue.
The B-side is a new version of "Sayonara" which is fine but the original is better.
Verdict: **** (4/5)

SINGLE REVIEW: THE SMASHING PUMPKINS - G.L.O.W.



"G.L.O.W." is a heavy track from chicago duet The Smashing Pumpkins (because truthfully thats all thats left of the band if you look at the credits). Billy Corgan is a difficult artist to follow as his musical indulgences are plentiful and his curiosity or flights of fancy are never reigned in. On the one hand this gives rise to masterpieces such as 1995's Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness but the flipside are Machina I & II and the rather soulless (if still awesome in my opinion) Zeitgeist.

I am a fan of the Pumpkins. I loved their Belfast gig in February of this year and I would consider seeing them again if they returned but despite this, there is a palpable coldness from Billy Corgan that resonates with every new release. Its almost as if he will do what he wants and we should like it regardless. It's off-putting and alienating and if the reports from their recent 20th Anniversary shows are to be believed, the fans have maybe had enough (lots of fans walked out and Corgan mocked them, the following night, another fan told Corgan on stage that last night's show "fucking sucked".)

"G.L.O.W." is standard and average and completely what I expected from the current iteration of the Pumpkins. Its heavy but soulless, like a Zeitgeist B-Side. Its not bad but its nowhere near the standard we know they are capable of.

The second track is the much-hyped and oft-played live "SuperChrist". Its a long, rambling track, full of bombast, with riffs that sound like the start of "Doomsday Clock" which isnt a bad thing. Live it sounds awesome. However, the vocals are annoying in their delivery and the constant back-beat is also grating. There is one nice bit in the middle with acoustic guitars and strings but its a fleeting moment of inspiration in a largely dull track.

I wanted to defend the band so much but its really beyond that now. Nostalgia only gets you so far. I'll always be a fan but I just want some inspiration again and less of Corgan's musical ego. Don't follow every idea you have man. Let it go, let it go...

Verdict: ** (2/5)

Monday, 24 November 2008

LIVE REPORT: SIGUR ROS @ ALEXANDRA PALACE, LONDON - NOVEMBER 21st 2008


Micheál caught the train to London to bring back a slice of Iceland. Here's what he had to say:
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More Suited to the fringes…

As the magnetism of Sigur-Rós’ most recent album had just begun to fade away and the listening endlessly began to grow tiresome and as the album takes its place among all those other greats that have preceded then it was time to revitalise my enjoyment and sheer awe at one of the most elemental bands in contemporary music. No better way to do this than engage in, what was for me, a quasi-religious, aesthetically perfect, well measured, supremely balanced night of entertainment.
Sigur-Rós’ potential to inculcate wonder and awe in their presence is largely undisputed yet, that still does not mean that one is left aghast at their overwhelmingly beautiful command of the live concert. Sigur-Rós entered into the rapturous applause of a crowd clearly hanging on in eager anticipation at what marvels would await them and indeed Sigur-Rós did bestow upon us an abundance of delights right from the off. For their first numbers Sigur-Rós played Sevn-e-glar and Ny Batterí proving that their older (and less mainstream) material holds just as much credence as the music that has propelled Sigur-Rós to fame within the last few years. This was simply a treat to listen and it only grew more enthralling with every alluring sonar ping and every violent stoke of Joní’s bow on his guitar. It was also extremely tactically placed, as from this moment Sigur-Rós were able to command the temperament of the crowd to ensure that it was totally in line with their disposition. With this power in hand Sigur-Rós opened the gig up to their more mainstream music with Við Spilum Endalaust, Hoppípolla Með Blóðnasir and Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur. It was at this point that one could notice, in spite of the vigor and energy that these songs were played with, Sigur-Rós were more comfortable with their more epic soundscape and while it was still a treat to hear these great tunes, it was possible to see the fragility and vulnerability of Sigur-Rós if they are pushed into the mainstream and that is why, in this authors opinion people should stop doing it.
The magnanimity of Sigur-Rós was soon to return in E-Bow and Sæglópur which also included the best visual element of the night, a huge water screen falling from the ceiling with images then blending into this ‘magical rain’. It was one of the design features, like many others, that gave itself so well to the music. Sigur-Rós finished the night with Festival, Hafssól and Gobbledigook and in the end it was the humorous, joyous, parodic and eccentric Sigur-Rós that left us demonstrating that they are truly capable of taking diversity to new levels of extreme. For the Encore we had All Alright and Popplagið. In the end despite its atmosphere, its well polished and brilliantly executed design and even its music, it was the personality of Sigur-Rós that won the day demonstrating that their character complexities, their artistic integrity and their musical ingenuity will remain sovereign lest anyone try to sell it off to the nearest wishing to push them into the ‘mainstream’.


ALBUM REVIEW: THE KILLERS - DAY AND AGE



Meh. Thats my honest opinion. It's not quite great, it's not quite bad either. There was a time when I hated The Killers. I was more snobbish than usual, despised their bland jock-rock sound and unfairly lumped them in with the vile, disease-ridden Kaiser Chiefs in a bucket of musical fail. However, reappraisal came a couple of years ago when I found myself liking a couple of songs here and there, particularly the rocking "When You Were Young". The Killers were saved from the bucket and dried off. "You're ok" I told them. I listened again to "Hot Fuss" and decided I had been a fool to dismiss them so easily.

However, I honestly and unbiasedly didnt like their new single "Human" when I heard it. Over time though, it grew on me. Its quite endearing in an 80s new-wave way. Even the much debated lyrics: "Are we human?/Or are we dancer?" didnt bother me as it seemingly has bothered the rest of their fanbase.

Disappointment spread like a dropped ice-cream at Disneyland when I listened to "Day And Age". Its just...meh. "Human" is undoubtedly the strongest track which is worrisome considering that it took so long to grow on me. The other tracks are instantly forgettable if not bad enough to make me condemn this album outright. I quite liked "A Dustland Fairytale" but maybe it stood out so much because the previous track "Joy Ride" was so mind-numbingly awful, it's space-reggae sounding like an even worse version of Dexys Midnight Runners' "Come On Eileen".

But look! REDEMPTION! Somehow, the final track on the album (well, if you don't count the now-mandatory bonus tracks) "Goodnight, Travel Well" manages to break out of the blandness and is genuinely as beautiful as it is brilliant. It's slow and gloomy, dripping with despair and angst. It certainly made me smile after sitting through so many sub-par tracks.

As for the aforementioned Bonus Tracks, they are better than most of the main album songs. "Forget About What I Said" in particular is quite good. In conclusion, its a disappointing album but maybe it will grow on me in time. For now though, its their worst album so far. Please inject some emotionality into the music guys. "Goodnight..." is so good because it has genuine emotional punch, like their early material. Its just vacuous stadium pop now.

For the iPod playlist: "Human", "Goodnight, Travel Well."

Verdict: ** (2/5)

LIVE REPORT: DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE @ ST.GEORGE'S MARKET, BELFAST - NOVEMBER 12th 2008


Death Cab For Cutie brought their West-coast melancholy to Northern Ireland for the first time with a well-chosen set focused primarily on their latest album "Narrow Stairs". Opening with the medium-paced "Bixby Canyon Bridge", its ending riffs led into fan favourite "The New Year" from their seminal 2003 album "Transatlanticism".
They didnt speak much, Ben Gibbard in stoic mood all night, save for one slightly worrisome moment (for us in the audience at least) when he addressed a random scumbag in the crowd who threw something at him. They quickly stormed through their set which, although impressive and cd-perfect, felt slightly empty as though nerves had taken over. It was afterall, the first date on their European tour.
The band played all the big hitters such as "I Will Follow You Into The Dark", played by Gibbard alone on an acoustic guitar, and finished with the epic, lighters-in-the-air "Transatlanticism".
All in all, a perfectly fine show but its hard not to feel slightly cheated by the lack of interaction. Maybe they'll feel more comfortable next time.
Verdict: *** (3/5)

video

Thursday, 13 November 2008

SINGLE REVIEW: THE GAZETTE - LEECH



"Leech" rocks like a motherfucker. Grooving bass and drums, low-end guitars and some funky vocal work from Ruki and the GazettE backing singers. It sounds like a mix between "Hyena" and "Filth In The Beauty" - always a good thing in my book. Great single.

The B-Side is "Distorted Daytime" which is a grungy metal track with angry shouted vocals and a rough melodic chorus. It's nice and heavy and another top notch B-Side from the band that never fob us off with live tracks or poor remixes.

Lastly, those of you who purchase the Auditory Impression of the single will get a third song called "Hole". Its bass heavy and funky. There is some psychedelic guitar going on but there are some bits that are a little too similar to the previous track. Perhaps more variation would help in future.

Nothing much to say overall, its a great single. "Leech" is obviously the highlight on the disc and its well worth your money alone.

Verdict: **** (4/5)

Friday, 7 November 2008

ALBUM REVIEW: DIR EN GREY - UROBOROS


Forget 2007's metalcore oddity that was "The Marrow of a Bone", the real majesty of Dir en grey has returned in the form of "Uroboros", one of the finest albums of the year. After doubting the band's continued descent into western screamo mediocrity (that they no doubt picked up from America when they went on tour), Dir en grey have returned to their roots to deliver an album bristling with ideas. Screams and riffage merge with mandolins and acapella singing and the result is one of the most defiantly oriental metal albums I've ever heard.
The disc opens with the moody, "Sa Bir" which is reminiscent of second album Macabre's "Deity" and sets the mood for "Vinushka", a 9 and a half minute tour-de-force that will rock you back in your seat. It contrasts from soft, semi-acoustic passages to all-out metal and some vocal pyrotechnics from Kyo. It is awesome from start to finish.
"Red Soil" is another Macabre-era sounding ditty that rocks hard between detuned jangly verses. "Doukoku to Sarinu" follows and is very heavy, Marrow-style but makes up for where Marrow's songs failed: melody. Its chorus is great.
Possibly my favourite new track is "Toguru". It is a slower, atmospheric groover with alt-rock guitar and smooth crooning vocals. Epic song. "Glass Skin" has been altered from the single version in that it now features English lyrics but I think the bass may also have been mixed louder too which adds to the song's greatness because its one of bassist Toshiya's best moments on the album.
The album lulls a little in the mid-section with "Stuck Man" and "Reiketsu Nariseba" providing decent if forgettable harshness to the albums sound. Although kudos to "Reiketsu Nariseba" for its quiet Oriental pause and Buddhist feel. We then come to the ballad "Ware, Yami Tote..." which isnt one of their best but still provides a needed repreive from the heaviness of the previous two tracks. It is followed by "Bugaboo" which is an ominous, grungey, trudging song that chainsaws riffs, allowing Kyo to growl against backing singing. Very impressive.
"Gaika, Chinmoku Ga Nemuru Koro" starts softly but turns into a quasi-thrash song with a great chorus. It preceeds single "Dozing Green" which is still awesome despite first being released a year ago.
The album closes with "Inconvenient Ideal", a powerful and moving ballad with beautiful vocals and arrangement, a stunning closer for a brilliant album. My faith has been rekindled. Dir en grey are back and better than ever.
For the iPod playlist: "Vinushka", "Toguru", "Glass Skin", "Dozing Green", "Inconvenient Ideal".
Verdict: ***** (5/5)

ALBUM REVIEW: GIRUGAMESH - MUSIC


Girugämesh's new album "Music" is confused and disappointing. For a band that had so much promise with their last album, they have decided to give up the direction they were going and instead become a GazettE cover band. With its DJ scratches and odd burst of rapping (the horror!), Giru have decided to load a revolver and put it in their mouths to see what happens. They have dodged the bullet this time but this is not the direction they should head in. I suggest they go back to the drawing board and begin to eliminate any traces of the words: DJ, Linkin Park, rapping.
The GazettE got there first and do it way better than this. Their album "Stacked Rubbish" was released last year and it rocked. Girugämesh's "Music" in contrast feels dated. "Break Down" has some nice verses but then the rapping and horrific poppy chorus rip through the song like a knife-weilding rapist. "Ultimate 4" is its ugly bastard child.
"Angry Juice" is an electronic experiment that sometimes works but frequently descends into structureless, forgettable dross. "Evolution" features awful vocal bursts of "evolution!" but it features a good chorus and the onslaught of effects make it an aural assault. One of the better tracks.
There is a brief instrumental interlude on Track 7 that again misses the mark. It has some pretty piano but its horrendous dance-beat makes it sound like a leftover from the Matrix soundtrack. It leads onto the dancey and bearable "puzzle".
"Ishtar" is ok. A little uninspired perhaps. Closing track "enishi" is fine too. Damn. The overall feeling of this album ranges from "Ugh" to "Meh". Sorry girugämesh but, MUSIC is a mis-step.
For the iPod playlist: "Evolution", "Puzzle"
Verdict: ** (2/5)

ALBUM REVIEW: KEANE - PERFECT SYMMETRY



Fuck, what is the world coming to?! I like this album?!

Believe it or not, Keane have actually impressed me with an album so unashamedly 80s and cheesy that it rocks. Lead single "Spiralling" is an inspired, retro-pop anthem that sets up the whole album and whilst the other songs can't match it for quality, they do put up a pretty good attempt. "You Don't See Me" is a dark song dressed as an 80s power ballad. Its filled with synth and piano but packs an emotional punch that is totally unexpected.

There are some clunkers: "Pretend That You're Alone" is a bit Dexys Midnight Runners and for that reason, unforgivable. Also, some of the songs are just disposable in that they just roll out filler-style. But for every moment of doubt, something happens to reaffirm the good points in the album. Its the cheesy record modern 80s lovers reminisce about. And for THAT reason, it gets a thumbs up from me.

For the iPod playlist: "Spiralling", "You Don't See Me".

Verdict: **** (4/5) - Against my better judgement, I can't help but love this album.

ALBUM REVIEW: RENTER EN SOI - MEGIDDO



I'm shocked. I actually like this. Rentrer en Soi (or RENTRER EN SOI as they like to be called after going to the DIR EN GREY school of Caps lock) were never a band I had much time for. I found their major label releases to be Diru clones and one of their recent singles was absolutely awful.

Then they decided to disband. As a send-off we are getting a greatest hits package and this rather brilliant mini-album called "Megiddo". Its heavy and melodic in all the right places and damn if I didnt have a smile on my face throughout. "Crusade" has perfect melancholic passages interspersed with growling and chunky riffs and an angelic chorus. "Baptism" is a v-kei style sinister growler and its great. "Damnation" starts with pounding drums and then a funky riff which cements the track in groove territory and those little cascading guitar licks are orgasmic. Vocally, they've never been better. The choruses are awesome and there are harmonies to rival even Kyo's.

Its still Diru-lite but now they have a better voice of their own. Its more like Luna Sea meets Dir en grey. Fantastic.

For the iPod playlist: Put it all on, its only a 5 song mini-album. And its their best.

verdict: ***** (5/5)

ALBUM REVIEW: SNOW PATROL - A HUNDRED MILLION SUNS


Snow Patrol are one of those bands you either like or you hate. Some people despise the melancholic pop-rock of our home-grown heroes but even the cynics can admit they have the odd catchy hit. In saying that, even the most ardent fan can admit that they can be as bland and as boring as MySpace.
We're in familiar territory with A Hundred Million Suns. Its chock-full of radio anthems to inspire quiet singalongs to those stuck in traffic. Its what they do and they're good at it. You just wish they would push themselves a little. That said, I found myself enjoying a few of the songs here. I enjoyed the odd beat and arrangement of the poignant "The Golden Floor". Its almost Radiohead-esque. Note: Almost.
The quieter songs are very much in the vain of Bell X1. They have a dark, if slightly passive mood and are quite enjoyable.
The last track is...unusual.
At 16.19 mins long, "The Lightning Strike: Parts I, II & III" is both spectacular and over-indulgent. It features beautiful piano movements and Coldplay style guitar chords and whilst interesting, one can't help but feel that it overstays its welcome. But it certainly is epic and fair dues to a band that I had thought incapable of stirring things up a bit. It should be quite impressive when / if they play it live.
I quite like A Hundred Million Suns. Overall its well written and if you can handle the slightly irritating boredom of their faster radio songs then the quiter songs on the album offer a nice reward.
For the iPod Playlist: "The Golden Floor", "The Lightning Strike" (if only for its epicness).
Verdict: *** (3/5)

ALBUM REVIEW: AC/DC - BLACK ICE



Sorry I havent posted anything in a while. I've been quite busy. However, I have had time to listen to quite a few new releases so its time for a review party.

First up is the long-awaited new album from hard-rock veterans AC/DC. Black Ice is everything you would expect from an AC/DC album. There are chunky, simplistic riffs, vocal-chord-damaging screeches and the type of bawdy lyrics that ooze good ol' fashioned hedonism. Angus Young said that rock n' roll was just about going out and having fun and getting your dick wet. That pretty much sums up the album. Its good fun but its also nothing we havent come to expect from AC/DC. Its pile-driving road-trip rock at its most predictable. Sigh... Its also, dare I say it, kinda boring... Apart from "Rock N' Roll Train" there arent many decent hard rockers on the album. Its just song after song of the same, not-quite-good-enough AC/DCness.

Preaching to the converted. But then again, the converted can populate a small continent.

For the iPod playlist: "Rock N' Roll Train", "War Machine".

Verdict: ** (2/5)