Posted in Album Reviews

Bruce Springsteen – Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. (1973)

Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.

In about a week’s time, Bruce Springsteen’s first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. turns 48 years old. Produced by first manager Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos, the Dylanesque album was first rejected by Columbia Records owner Clive Davis which forced Springsteen back to writing two additional songs that would then become the singles.

“Growin’ Up” starts with a stark piano before it starts to pick up steam through the first verse where Springsteen declares  “when they said, ‘sit down’ I stood up”. According to setlists.fm, this is the song from the album that still gets played live the most and is a great introduction to The Boss brand of songwriting.  “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” features no chorus but one can hear the roots of the Hold Steady taking hold.  Throughout “For You”, the music strips away leaving just Springsteen singing before the drums of Vini Lopez revs the music back up again.  The horns of Clarence Clemons and handclaps in the chorus elevates, second single “Spirit In The Night”. 

The most famous song here is “Blinded By The Light”. The wordy first track and single failed to chart but is punctuated with horns and the breakdowns are a soulful delight. It would take a slim lined version by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band to bring out the hit potential and remains Springsteen’s only US #1 as a songwriter.

Where the album slows is on the more earnest tracks with just him and either guitar or piano.  “Mary Queen of Arkansas” drags on for five long minutes while “Lost in the Flood” does slightly better describing a veteran returning home. It is not a coincidence that the Essential Bruce Springsteen album from 2003 rescues the lighter, more brisk tracks and leaves the rest behind. A decent debut with a few bright spots that will start to burn brighter in just a few years.

7/10

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Haim – Woman In Music Pt. III (2020)

Women In Music Pt. Iii

In 2019 Haim released a handful of great singles including “Summer Girl”, the angelic “Hallelujah” and the Savage Garden like “Now I’m In It”. Following up that run of success, the three sisters released their third album, Woman In Music Pt III back in June of this year. Producer/writers Ariel Rechtshaid and Rostam Batmanglij are back on board from the band’s last album along with singer Danielle Haim in production and full band on writing duties.

Taking in 60s soul, 70s singer-songwriter, 90s indie rock, and modern R&B sounds; Haim cast their net wide. Horns introduce lead off track, “Los Angeles” that works as a love letter to their home city. Distorted vocals appear on “I Know Alone” with a dance oriented, percussive chorus. Este Haim’s slinky bassline on “Don’t Wanna” is irresistible and “Leaning On You” recalls Fleetwood Mac at their poppy best.

The scratchy “Man From the Magazine” calls out inappropriate male interview questions with just a guitar and drum beat which is in sharp contrast to the electronic beats of “All That Ever Mattered”.  Similar to past work, all the tracks here sound like something the listener will have heard before but with the band’s own spin.  Woman in Music Pt. III is a fine collection of songs but one where the 2019 singles tacked on at the end are the standout tracks.

8.5/10

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The Beastie Boys – Beastie Boys Music (2020)

Beastie Boys Music

Over the past few years, The Beastie Boys have released retrospectives in several different forms.  Following the far too soon passing of Adam Yauch in 2012, Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz have released a book, a documentary and now a Greatest Hits package, Beastie Boys Music.  The non-chronological single disc takes in highlights from their 1986 debut Licensed to Ill through last studio album Hot Sauce Committee Part Two released in 2011.

Eschewing the “Jimmy James” announcement of “this is the first song on our new album” from 1993’s Check Your Head, instead “So What’cha Want?” opens BBM with its distorted vocals and stomping beat as the band marries rap, alternative rock, and punk in one go. Check Your Head saw the group move in a new direction by using more instrumentation and yielded two more classics in “Pass the Mic” and the aforementioned “Jimmy James”.  “Pass the Mic” is one of the groups finest vocal performances as all three turn in memorable verses over a heavy percussion beat.

Most fans introduction to the group was through the frat boy schtick of the debut which contained seven singles and is certified diamond having sold over 10 million copies.  Five of those singles appear here, including “(You Gotta Fight) For Your Right (To Party!)” and “Brass Monkey”.  Next to the full sound of “So What’cha Want?”, 1986’s classic “Paul Revere” sounds a bit thin in comparison though it’s hard not to get caught up in the classic story as the track continues. One of the few stumbling moments on the album is the segue from “Paul Revere” into late period single “Make Some Noise”. An OK track but here it feels shoehorned in.  Much better is the segue from massive 90s club track “Intergalatic” to the energetic “Ch-Check It Out” from To the 5 Boroughs. The horn introduction “Don’t Play No Game I Can’t Win” turns into a dub reggae delight with added vocals from Santigold. By the time “Play No Game…” appears, the disc is still only half way through. 

Widely considered one of the best videos of all time from Spike Jonze, the actual audio of “Sabotage” still sounds like a bomb going off. The funky “Root Down” appears along with one of the surprise inclusions of the Q-Tip aided, “Get It Together”, a highlight of 1994’s Ill Communication.  Upon release in 1988, it wasn’t long before the blue tape versions of Paul’s Boutique ended up in the bargain bins at local record stores.  With only two singles and sales way down from the debut, it took several years before the album was rightly regarded as a landmark 80s rap release that is represented here by “Shadrach” and the disco funk of “Hey Ladies”.

After leaving the listener breathless for well over an hour, the metal guitar of “No Sleep to Brooklyn” closes things out. While most fans will have a few favourites left off (“The New Style”, “Shake Your Rump”, “Gratitude”, etc), it’s hard to argue with what is included.  The non-chronological order of songs allows it to jump from era to era, classic to classic with minimal energy let down. In the end, Beastie Boys Music does what a greatest hits album should do – it reminds the listener of the consistency and greatness that MCA, Ad-Rock, and Mike D achieved over their three-decade recording career and provides a sampling of some of their best moments.

10/10

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Matt Berninger – Serpentine Prison (2020)

Serpentine Prison

(say something about distant axis) While his bandmate Aaron Dessner was working with superstar Taylor Swift on her excellent folklore album, The National singer Matt Berninger was working on his debut solo album with the legendary Booker T Jones.  Originally slated to be an album of mostly covers, instead they started working on a slate of original song ideas that Berninger had. 

The title track was released as the first single back in May and lyrically works as a stream of consciousness with a fine vocal melody and horns. Those same horns punctuate “All Or Nothing” where Berninger pleads “Just tell me there are swimming holes in outer space/With train cars at the bottom”.  Album opener “My Eyes are T-Shirts” is instrumentally more sparse, voice not much above a whisper singing “my eyes are t-shirts/they’re so easy to read”. On his recordings with The National, Berninger’s lyrics really standout but here they often blend into the music.  Booker T adds a nice bit of organ on “One More Second”, the drums add more texture with backing vocals from Gail Ann Dorsey.  The five minute length lets the band breathe.

Second single, “Distant Axis” is a more laid back affair but on “Take Me Out of Town”, Berninger allows himself to be vulnerable where he wonders where he’d be without his partner.  “I’ve never been so burned out/Gonna lose it any minute/This is about how I feel right now”.  There is no chorus on on “Collar of Your Shirt” but Berninger really lets his vocals become more vulnerable as the song builds, mournful violins and additional organ add to the weight. On Serpentine Prison, Matt Berninger and Booker T release a mature album that is consistently solid and frequently very good.

7.5/10

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Paul McCartney – McCartney (2011 Special Edition)

McCartney - 2CD Special Edition

After the break-up of The Beatles in the spring of 1970, John Lennon decamped to America to work on primal therapy before working on the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album.  Several months before, Paul McCartney went to his home in St John’s Wood in London and started working on his solo debut album. McCartney appeared one month before The Beatles’ final release; Let It Be.  Mostly recorded on his own on a four track, McCartney has a more ragged and less polished effort than the meticulous work The Beatles typically released.

“The Lovely Linda” opens the album and washes over the listener like the breeze from an open window. It disappears as quickly as it came, replaced with a blues riff of “That Would Be Something” that sounds off the cuff and rides a cool groove. “Every Night” speaks to McCartney’s depression of the Beatles’ falling apart where he sings about staying in bed all day and blocking out the outside world.

“Hot As Sun/Glasses” is the first of four instrumentals on the album, a happy tune that changes into the playing of wine rims. “Junk” is a leftover from The Beatles sessions where Macca sings of items found in a junkyard, the track also later appears as an instrumental. “Teddy Boy” is decent leftover from The Beatles trip to India in 1968 that was originally worked on during the Let It Be sessions.  “Man We Was Lonely” is a catchy yet throwaway track.

The most popular song here, “Maybe I’m Amazed” was never actually released as a single until several years later as a live version from Wings Over America.  The song shows McCartney’s vulnerability in his love for the lovely Linda. “I’m a man, maybe I’m a lonely man/Who’s in the middle of something/that he doesn’t really understand”.  The album shows it’s spirit when it follows up one of his most beloved tracks with an inconsequential instrumental.  The album has a feel of a really trendy 90s indie rock album, veering from one style to another.  While some of it is throwaway, it is always charming as Macca works out the start of his post Beatles life.

The 2011 special version of the album adds seven bonus tracks including outtakes and live versions of “Every Night” and “Hot As Sun”. Two live versions of “Maybe I’m Amazed” appear of which the echoey version from One Hand Clapping gets the nod over a more vocally raw 1979 performance.

McCartney8.5/10

Extra Disc6/10