Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Knopfler v. Zevon

Benthoven here...back after a long hiatus with a musically inspired quandary recently encountered at my local Borders. After a particularly stressful week, I decided to unwind in the coffeeshop, catch up on some paperwork and decompress. In order to keep myself on task with the aforementioned work, I decided that if I completed everything I would peruse the bargain music table and pick up an album.

Well, to cut to the end, I did finish doing everything I hoped to do and after careful inspection found myself torn between two albums, each selling for around $10 which was about the right price range for a casual music purchase. The trouble was picking between them...

The two albums in question were Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms and Warren Zevon's Learning to Flinch. I present below an abbreviated summary of my thoughts on each album as I stood looking at the track listings.

Brothers in Arms
  • Dire Straits=quintessential 80s British rock!
  • Mark Knopfler=the man. (Outstanding guitar work and lyrics, plus a wry sense of humor!)
  • Haven't I been looking to expand my British rock knowledge?
  • Walk of Life? Money for Nothing? : I know those songs...and they are good!
  • Didn't someone rank this album as one of the best of all time?
  • Wait a minute...I'll go check. (stroll to music section...check in 1001 Albums You Should Listen To Before You Die)
  • Yup...there it is!
  • Definitely worth considering!
Learning to Flinch
  • Warren Zevon=quirky, sardonic American rock
  • This is an acoustic it's just Zevon, his guitar, and a piano. Could be pretty sweet.
  • Haven't I been looking to expand my American rock knowledge?
  • Werewolves of London? Lawyers, Guns, and Money? I know those songs too...and they are also good!
  • This was probably not ranked as one of the best albums of all time...but Warren Zevon's still cool, right?
  • I mean he lived in Philadelphia.
  • Wait a minute...I'll go check. (stroll back to the music section.)
  • Hmm...this book is relatively Zevon free! And while we're at it...there's no XTC either! (Which says something about the reference book I chose...)
  • Still, definitely worth considering.

Ultimately, I don't think there was a bad choice to be made. But, ultimately, the Straits were two dollars cheaper and on the right side of the coin flip. And having listened through the album several times, I'm happy to say it was a worthwhile purchase. Besides the songs mentioned above, the album's title track and other gems like So Far Away and The Man's Too Strong are all outstanding examples of British rock at its finest.

So did I make the right choice? Does Knopfler trump Zevon or was this really just another case of Money for Nothing?
And what do you think about books like the one I consulted? Are they really worth looking at? Are there any that are particularly reliable?

C'mon you mongreloids...sign in and sound off! This blog's finally getting lively again!

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Monday, May 29, 2006

The Boy With the Cherub Crap

After ten years of ardent recommendations from friends, I may be finally opening up to Belle & Sebastian (BS). Or not. I've gone through BS's early works, LPs and EPs through Arab Strap, with mixed reactions. I write this post with the hope that someone will read it and be inspired to convince me that I should bother with the remainder of their oeuvre.

I think I understand the pull of BS. Sweet, direct melodies, intricate arrangement, and clever, literate lyrics that extend beyond the scope of the singer (a welcome change from pop/rock's solipsistic tendencies). For those who would mistrust BS's seemingly perfect songcraft, all of this comes off very genuinely.

My problem is that very little of it is interesting. Perhaps it's their insistence to filter their music through the styles of their 60s/70s idols (Arthur Lee, Simon & Garfunkel, Paul Simon, etc.). However smile-inducing their music or witty/involving their literature, I'm always left with the feeling that nothing of substance has passed through my head. Of course it doesn't help that the greatness-to-dud song-ratio (of at least their LPs) is highly variable, never exceeding 2:1 and as low as 1:3 (Arab Strap?). But even at their best, they never seem to offer anything beyond what their idols were offering via radio, 30 or 40 years ago (barring maybe lyrical content). See "I'm Waking Up to Us" off of the same-titled EP. Vocals, guitars, violins, and various wind-instruments played/arranged to great excitement, emotional impact, and wit. But this is nothing Love never achieved all over its first three LPs. It's not that BS doesn't acknowledge this, either; the singer has Arthur Lee all over his lyrics and delivery. Just, in the end, the imitation comes off as somewhat superficial; the Love records develop these ideas to much greater and more meaningful ends.

It doesn't help that the reviews for records succeeding Arab Strap tend to be mixed or less than positive. Sinister was great. Almost timeless (at least the first 7 songs). The surrounding EPs were also consistently enjoyable (3 6 9 is my personal BS favorite). After going from Tigermilk up through Arab Strap, I'm left with ~80 minutes of great music that may nicely fit on a mix CD (and hopefully won't leave me with mixed feelings). Is this it though? Should I continue? Does BS ever push the boundaries of its craft? Or will I just be left "tired of this BS"?

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

a radiohead rant

radiohead is heading out on tour, and im home early tonight so i can week up on east coast time to sit at a computer and try to buy tix to see them in philly this summer. as i prepared for this event, updating my info with ticketmaster and such, i checked to see the last concert ticket i had purchased from, and it was...radiohead, 2003.

they continue to be the only arena rock band i would ever care to see, but im beginning to have my doubts. maybe its the fact that they dropped their best records almost in lock step with the advance of my musicial maturity as a listener: the bends in middle school when i was getting into british rock, ok computer in high school when i was becoming sophisticated about art rock, and kid a in college when i was first learning about post modernism (did i just write that? yuk).

then came hail to the thief.

we all expected big things, but this album fell flat. it didnt move the band FORWARD like every one of their previous releases. it sounded like radiohead, which isn't supposed to be sounded like OLD PEOPLE playing radiohead. All the past albums had out-paced the ones before it: whether they were better or not (my favorite is still the bends) is not the point. The point is that they were progressive. with hail to the theif, raiohead sounded like themselves, which is the worst thing they can do.

Anyway, some new songs from the first live shows are out, and im worried we are in for more of the same, folks. check this one, e.g.:

yeah, i know.

in short, the band was never about synthesis, it was always about rebirth. these songs, however, seem to continue to hone their sound in on a center, rather than pushing it to the periphery where it belongs. which is bad.

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