Posted in Album Reviews

The Cars – The Cars (1978)

Originating in Boston in the mid-70s, The Cars released their self-titled debut in the early summer of 1978.  Forever featured on compilations like Time Life Collections, the band was at the foreground of the new wave scene.  Adding synthesizers to classic, but minimalist songwriting proved to be a winner. Though none of the three official singles cracked the top 25, the album stayed on the charts for a mind boggling 139 weeks with most of the tracks being played endlessly on AOR radio stations.

In 2002, Elektra Records released The Cars compilation Complete Greatest Hits that pulled 6 of the 9 songs from the debut.  The three aforementioned singles; “Good Times Roll”, “My Best Friend’s Girl”, and “Just What I Needed”, are all classic American rock songs.  80s teenage movie goers will always remember “Moving In Stereo” being used to great effect in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  Of the tracks not appearing on the greatest hits collection, only “I’m In Touch with your World” suffers from a bit too much artiness.  “Don’t Cha Stop” is a fun upbeat romp and “All Mixed Up” pushes the synthesizers to the foreground, adds some atmosphere with Queen like group singing and a fine sax solo at the end. 

The Cars debut features the songwriting of bandleader Ric Ocasek who wrote all the tracks with help from keyboardist Greg Hawkes on “Moving In Stereo”.  Bassist Benjamin Orr takes over lead vocals on several tracks including “Just What I Needed” and sounds very similar to Ocasek’s so blends in seamlessly.  Along with guitarist Elliot Easton and drummer David Robinson, The Cars was one of the best debut albums of the 1970s.

10/10

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Posted in Album Reviews

Jenny Lewis – On The Line (2019)

On Jenny Lewis’ Wikipedia page, the reader is struck by how much she has accomplished in both TV/film and music.  Starting in acting at a young age, Lewis switched over to music with her old band, Rilo Kiley, formed with her then boyfriend Blake Sennett.  On The Line is her fourth solo album, including 2006’s release as the Watson Twins, and second since the break-up of Rilo Kiley in 2014. 

On The Line features an impressive list of collaborators including Beck and Ryan Adams (both producing), Ringo Starr, Don Was, Benmont Tench, etc. Common themes of drugs, drinking and broken relationships emerge throughout the eleven songs.  “Wasted Youth” is a peppy track that features the line, “I wasted my youth on a poppy, just for fun”.  First single “Red Bull & Hennessy” is a standout that is certainly more polished and somehow seems brighter than the other tracks here.  “Taffy” is slower and more dramatic as Lewis taps into her inner Lana Del Rey before the album ends on a sparkling, upbeat 60s influenced “Rabbit Hole” that namechecks both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

The supporting cast never outshines the star, and it is clear that Jenny Lewis is the star here.  While failing relationships make up the bulk of the album, it rarely comes across as a downer. On The Line tells a lot of tales and is more than happy to bring the listener along for the ride.

8.5/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Solange – When I Get Home (2019)

Sometimes going back and looking at your own “best of lists” from past years can be painful. While Solange’s last album, A Seat At The Table, was in our top 5, somehow the towering loveliness “Cranes in the Sky” didn’t even get into our top 20 songs (gulp!!).  The expansive song appeared on CBC Radio 2 earlier this week and still sounds magnificent.  Solange released her follow-up, When I Get Home, in March to enthusiastic reviews.

19 tracks appear in 39 minutes with plenty of interludes between the longer songs.  The first track to really hit is “Way To The Show” with its 80s influenced synths.  “Stay Flo” is a slinky jam guaranteed to make shoulders dance.  “Almeda” is harder hitting with its lyrics about brown liquor and a strong cameo from Playboi Carti.  Co-Produced by Panda Bear, album highlight “Binz” is the bounciest track here with the playful vocal play hitting all the right notes.  When I Get Home could use a few more substantial tracks but it plays like a really good jazz record that burns with cool blues in the background and hot reds that grab your attention.

7.5/10

Posted in Album Reviews

David Bowie – Space Oddity (1969)

In 2015, David Bowie started releasing remastered versions of all his albums and spreading them out over several box sets in a project that still continues. The first disc to appear on Five Years (1969-1973) is not his self-titled debut but rather 1969’s self-titled more commonly referred to as Space Oddity.  Because of this, our David Bowie review journey will start here and hope to be done by the time we reach retirement age as we work through all the sets….

The standout is the title track and first song to appear on the album. A staggering work that seems teleported from outer space, “Space Oddity” is tailor made for late night rock radio.  The lyrics have the listener float among the stars while the guitar hook halfway through is one every rock fan has memorized. A countdown appears in the background and just after it hits “lift off”, the song sets its controls for the sun and explodes into sound. While the rest of the album was produced by long time collaborator Tony Visconti, “Space Oddity” was cast off to Gus Dudgeon who helped create one of Bowie’s best loved songs.

The rest of the album struggles to be as important as the title track but not for a lack of ambition on some of the longer songs. The nearly seven minute “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed” about an unwashed hippie dating a rich girl features some great harmonica and horns. Bowie loses the hippie dream on the unwieldly “Cygnet Committee” that veers in several directions.  Second single “Memory of a Free Festival” about a festival Bowie played the year before closes out with the mantra, “sun machine is coming down and we’re gonna have a party”

The remaster brightly highlights the bass on “Janine” and “An Occasional Dream” could easily slide onto a Belle & Sebastian album from the 90s.  Elsewhere, a woman steals a can of stewing steak and declares “God Knows I’m Good” and that “God may look the other way today”.   The orchestral “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud” is a bit ridiculous but compelling at the same time.  This pretty much sums up Space Oddity as a whole.  It has many snippets of music that Bowie would later perfect on future albums so there are not many reasons to return here other than for the title track. Nonetheless, it is an interesting portrait of an artist starting to find his feet.

7.5/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Piroshka – Brickbat (2019)

A few months ago, if someone had said that an album on the state of the world from former Brit Poppers was going to be one of the best releases of the year thus far, I would have been skeptical at best… but here we are.  From the ashes of the Lush reunion comes the new project from Miki Berenyi.  Joining forces with her partner KJ McKillop, Elastica’s Justin Welch and Modern English’s Mick Conroy, the band released first single “Everlastingly Yours” last November and the debut album followed in February.  Berenyi’s voice is as distinctive as ever and while there are clearly shoegaze elements on this release, it is not rooted in nostalgia.

In the 90s, the emotional lyrics were about drinking and relationships but here Piroshka come out firing with political lyrics that claim “I take what’s yours and I’m not going to stop” and declare that “nobody here ever escapes with no blood on their hands”.  One of the best songs here, “Hated By The Powers That Be”, turns the simple “I am love” lyric into “and you should feel as proud as me because we are love and we’re hated by the powers that be”.

 “Village of The Damned” about school yard shootings is somehow breezy in the weight of its subject matter and in “Everlastingly Yours” features a nice bit of Welch working the hi-hat.  The ballads “Blameless” and “Heartbeats” are the two that most sound like Lush at their quieter moments.  Brickbat is a timely release that has its full eyes and hearts on the here and now.

8.5/10