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Across from A Tribe Called Quest in the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame is N.W.A.. Of the two groups, the more notorious. There is no denying the impact of Straight Outta Compton. Most house parties worldwide will feature at least one N.W.A. track in a night. Straight Outta Compton is far more easily digestible than Midnight Marauders. Musically more simplistic with its looping samples and beats it also limits its vision to the more direct street concerns. What you can take, shoot or fuck. And yes there is something worth talking about in that. The prevalence of gunshot samples is a good indicator of what was happening to inner city communities. It’s nihilistic. An album about short term gains and no hope. Getting what you can and hoping you don’t die. I can see why gangsta rap took over after this album and leaving anything not in the same vein to be called “Alternative”. The lyrics are to the point with Fuck Tha Police really laying down the sound and direction for all future gangsta rap. Of course I enjoyed this album. Its impossible not to get caught up with the struggles in (some) of the lyrics. It’s a strong album which must have seemed like an explosion when it was released. It’s angry. And angry often makes great music.
Playlist Tack: Express Yourself
A great choice of sample over-layed with strong lyrics.
(Check out B. Dolan’s homage Film The Police)
Slipknot are on their way to Ireland. Apparently. I greeted the news with a, ‘That’s nice.’ And quickly forgot about it. Then remembered I have never listened to a single Slipknot album. So I asked the advice of the biggest Slipknot fan I know who immediately suggested VOL.3: The Subliminal Verses. During the reign of Nu-Metal I was still firmly entrenched in First and Second Wave Punk. So, apart from the odd System of a Down Track, I mostly ignored the members of the movement. Slipknot most of all who I viewed as gimmicky. After listening to the album I’m glad to say I was wrong to avoid them. The album goes between two modes. An acoustically lead singer-songwriter style and a pounding hardcore metal noise. Which gives the entire album some serious cadence. Changing gears from time to time keeps it interesting. Rather than one style washing the other out they support one another. I’m not convinced by vocalist Corey Taylor’s voice on the more melodic tracks. When you travel from Circle to Welcome the former song get’s a bit lost. Overall it might feature in my life from time to time.
Playlist Track: Circle
Yes, I know what I said about the more melodic songs, but in this case still my favourite track.
Slipknot got me thinking about other bands I had avoided during that same period of time. N.I.N would often join Slipknot on the must listen to bands of friends. So imagine my surprise when the grimy industrial sound immediately appealed to me. Despite the added knowledge that a lot of the album was recorded at 10050 Cielo Drive where the Manson Family committed their murders. It had an impact. The album is full of mood and texture. Listening to a song like Piggy is a moment of horror. The track, in fact most of the tracks on the album, have this air of inevitability. Which is fitting given the album’s clear concern with death and nothingness. More often I felt like I was locked in a room with an unstable man. Flipping from one mental state to the next. Becoming temporarily lucid before slipping back into some kind of horrible experience of Otherness. Sometimes whispering into my ear. Sometimes shouting in my face. But bloody certain he wants me to hear the same voices he does. The lyrics are tense and in your face. The clean synth noises play well against the album’s industrial edge. It’s scary. It’s violent. It’s good.
Playlist Track: Piggy
I nearly went with Closer but the drumbeat is too good not to have on the playlist.
This week I followed a lot of trends in search of new music. None more obvious than listening to Hozier whose self-titled debut album beat U2’s record for most successful first week. I don’t listen to the radio. At all. But I had heard about Hozier from my friends (and mostly my mother) and after his album was found rocketing up the US charts I thought I would have a listen. Such drama could only be indicative of a mind-blowing album from the Bray born Singer-Songwriter. And to that I say… it’s fine? I was underwhelmed by Hozier. He’s functional. Can play well. Sings well. Writes well. But I can’t find anything in his music to unlock the key to his success. I can often understand why a band or musician appeals. I found it a lot harder with Hozier. Right now I am putting it down to the strong historical love of blues and indie rock in Ireland. Which Hozier nails. His guitar riffs would be right at home on a Thin Lizzy track. His lyrics are true blues concerned with the pain of love and loss. Everything is polished with the now well-established indie sound. Still, I don’t connect. But it looks like I’ll be on the wrong side of history with this one. So best of luck Hozier.
Playlist Track: Take Me To Church
The opening tracks strong lyrics are an excellent interpretation and representation of the tragedy within love.
Hozier’s defeat of U2 to the top of the charts and their recent slithering into my iTunes brought me to a dilemma. Listen to their new album. Or ignore them altogether. In the end I compromised by listening to The Joshua Tree. Some of the tracks are ubiquitous. A constant background to life. I tried to separate myself from U2’s contemporary reputation. Big ask. It wasn’t until about halfway through the album that I started to unshackle myself from the what seems like deep-rooted biological prejudice. I’m sure this album did have the impact it was meant to have when it came out. The choice of subject matter is good. The lyrics have an earthy, travelled feel as though there actually was a journey to get to this point creatively. It certainly sounds like an album dedicated to America. A more classic American rock sound influenced by a bluesy approach to songwriting. In the end the album doesn’t leave me feeling cold. Which I thought it might. I can at the very least appreciate that the band was pushing themselves creatively. And that is the nicest thing you will ever hear me say about U2.
Playlist Track: With Or Without You
The album’s lynchpin song which brings all the best elements together.
After a raging argument over politics with a family member I needed to cool down. So I thought why not relax by listening to an album about politics. And according to more than one list up popped Marvin Gaye. A man I had no idea was viewed as political. After listening to What’s Going On I won’t make that mistake again. This is a tough album about drugs, poverty, environmental destruction and war. Same voice on Sexual Healing mind you. It’s a concept album told from the position of a Vietnam Veteran coming home to a country that’s socially imploding. The whole album is a plea for some sense in America. It shows up repeatedly on top 100 Greatest Album lists. I can see why. Gaye’s voice is perfect. Clear and sweet with that Motown pedigree. And Motown tended to shy away from overtly political messages. So there’s something satisfying about hearing a Motown singer tackle social issues. Something that wouldn’t become mainstream in R&B for some time. This is Soul with Soul. Each song rolls perfectly into the next. The album is one continuous conversation about morality, brutality and the fate of the planet. This album is going right into regular rotation for me.
Playlist Track: What’s Going On
A conscious effort by Gaye to call for some sanity which wouldn’t look out of place on a Gil-Scot Heron album.
A party took me here. After a couple of songs I started to wonder who the actual band was. Having no idea it was Barenaked Ladies. This lead my host to screw up his face in that irritating, ‘You’ve never blah blah blah’ face which makes every face instantly punchable. The next day I fixed that little issue (I didn’t punch him in the end). It’s probably weird that I feel like Gordon is a bit out of time and space. It, for some reason, doesn’t feel like it was made in 1992. Made today the album would probably be as successful. Barenaked Ladies are referred to as an Alternative Rock band. Which is the best you can expect. There’s so many elements to the music on Gordon that to give it a more accurate label would leave no room for the article. There’s a little rockabilly, blues, classic acoustic guitar, ska, etc. There’s not much in the way of a consistent tone. It doesn’t sound like the album was conceived as a whole but rather put together from a selection of tracks. Which does give it wild variation in quality. But there is more than enough good stuff to out weigh the bad. And songs like Grade 9 and Be My Yoko Ono alone could undo any damage done by some of the more dragging tracks.
Playlist Track: King of Bedside Manner
A brilliantly fast paced song with great lyrics and cartoon samples (which the band recorded naked apparently.)