Beck – Mellow Gold

ARTIST: Beck                           220px-mellowgold

TITLE:  Mellow Gold

YEAR RELEASED: 1994

CHART ACTION: #12 US, #41 UK

SINGLES: Loser (#10 US, #1 Alternative, #15 UK), Pay No Mind (Snoozer), Beercan (#22 Alternative)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Probably no

LINEUP: Beck, Carl Stephenson, David Harte, DJ Smash and others.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: First proper album from Beck (after some screw around independent releases) that launched him into the alternative stratosphere with Loser.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The first two albums by Beck were full of experiments, audio collages, and sounded like someone messing with tapes for the first time.

Beck was a neo-folkie with a snarky sense of humor and definite musical gifts in song construction and lyrics. However, there are some tracks here which are more screwing around and no doubt were more fun to record than they were to listen to.

There’s definitely some good stuff here, and some items to exile. But “Loser” may be the song of the 90’s.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: There was a ‘hidden’ track that was just more screwing around on a synthesizer.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B-:  “Loser” and some decent tracks and tracks to avoid.

 

John Legend – Get Lifted

ARTIST: John Legend             220px-johnlegend-getlifted1

TITLE:  Get Lifted

YEAR RELEASED: 2004

CHART ACTION: #4 US, #1 R&B, #12 UK

SINGLES: Used to Love U (#74 US, #32 R&B, #29 UK), Ordinary People (#24 US, #30 Dance, #4 R&B, #4 UK), Number One (#86 R&B, #62 UK), So High (#105 US, #53 R&B, #118 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Let’s Get Lifted

LINEUP: John Legend with collaborations from Kanye, Snoop Dog, the Stephens Family, Lauren Hill and Min Ben-Ari. Kanye produced and many studio musicians were around.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After many collaborations, Legend releases his first proper solo album and cements his place in the R&B and pop music pantheon.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After working with the royalty of R&B and soul thanks to his connection with Kanye West, John Legend’s first solo album came out in late 2004 and he became a star in his own right.

Legend shows his influences, mostly old school soul from the past, but his work with Kanye and others filter those sounds with today’s engineering and production. Most of his songs were definitely about love and relationships, and his love songs definitely evoke a Marvin Gaye or Smokey Robinson feeling.

It’s an enjoyable album. Definitely radio friendly and good for listening and relaxing. There is some variety so it’s not all in the same old, same old as the hits. A fine start for a career that’s going strong.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Legend” was given to him by poet J. Ivy.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 

GRADE: B+:  A good modern R&B record for you and your honey.

Candlebox – Candlebox

ARTIST: Candlebox                                 220px-candleboxdebut

TITLE:  Candlebox

YEAR RELEASED: 1993

CHART ACTION: #7

SINGLES: Change (#18 Mainstream), You (#78, #18 Alternative, #6 Mainstream), Far Behind (#18 US, #7 Alternative, #4 Mainstream), Cover Me (#23 Alternative, #8 Mainstream)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Don’t You

LINEUP: Kevin Martin, Peter Klett, Bardi Martin, Scott Mercado

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Non alternative-rockers became successful thanks to their location and successful marketing.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Instead of focusing what Candlebox wasn’t (alternative, or grunge, or groundbreaking), I’m going to focus on what this album is.

What we have here is generic hard rock – not as edgy or metallicly punkish as Soundgarden – not as dark and disturbed as Alice in Chains – but rather generic hard rock that would have been on the radio in the 70’s and 80’s (but with 90’s drum and guitar sounds). Some songs go on WAY too long (thanks to the CD era, editing is out the window), and some are lifeless exercises.

The resentment for Candlebox (and yes, there’s resentment, and somewhat legitimate) is due to their marketing and branding as ‘grunge’ or a ‘Seattle’ band. Yeah, they’re from Seattle. They play rock. But location doesn’t an alternative band make. That resentment can color your acceptance of them. What I hear is passable hard rock that probably would have been a hit of some sort through time. It just so happened it was during the grunge era.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This thing took a year to hit the Top 10 in albums, thanks to the slow realization that “Far Behind” was the single of choice.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: C+:  They don’t deserve ALL of the slings and arrows thrown at them, just some of them.

Lynch Mob – Wicked Sensation

ARTIST: Lynch Mob                       220px-lynchmob_wicked

TITLE:  Wicked Sensation

YEAR RELEASED: 1990

CHART ACTION: #46

SINGLES: River of Love (#19 Mainstream), Wicked Sensation (#31 Mainstream)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Probably that’s a big fat no.

LINEUP: Oni Logan, George Lynch, Anthony Esposito, Mick Brown

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Former Dokken axe-man grabs the drummer, forms a band, and it’s actually an improvement over Dokken for the most part!

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: I always felt that George Lynch was sometimes buried in Dokken. The mediocre hair-metallers had a guitarist that could really wail, and it didn’t seem they used him to the fullest potential. When Lynch formed his own band, he was able to show what he could do leading a band.

The result – well it’s not going to win any songwriting contests. Lead singer Oni Logan’s lyrics are hackneyed most of the time, but Lynch’s riffs, fills and solos are worthwhile most of the time. It’s kind of an overlooked album, maybe due to the lack of a real hooky single that would have driven pop radio play. Alas.

As the record goes on, the songwriting limitations become more noticeable. It’s a decent effort, though, and much better than you’d expect except if you knew what Lynch was capable of.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: After their first tour, Lynch sacked Logan, for substance abuse I guess. Hard to say.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B-:  Great guitar, meh songs. Lynch is worth the listen, though.

Seal – Seal

ARTIST: Seal                               220px-seal_-_seal_1991_first_album_cd_album_cover

TITLE:  Seal

YEAR RELEASED: 1991

CHART ACTION: #27 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: Crazy (#7 US, #2 UK), Future Love Paradise (#12 UK), The Beginning (#6 Dance, #24UK), Killer (#9 Dance, #8 UK), Violet (#39 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: That’s over 1/2 of the record

LINEUP: Seal with session players assembled by Trevor Horn

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Contemporary soul / R&B / dance record shows off Seal’s vocals with some well written and well produced songs.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Trevor Horn showed he still had an ear for sound, and songs, when he produced this, Seal’s debut album. Seal had written or co-written several tracks that all could have been hit singles or dance club favorites, and Horn crafted them into a pleasing but interesting record.

Seal’s vocals work on both the panty-droppers and the up-tempo numbers. He’s got a natural gift of voice, and his songs are varied enough to provide a listening experience that doesn’t wear on you or get old.

It was the beginning of a long-lasting career for the singer, and the debut still could be released today and do well on the charts, thanks to Horn’s production.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The first hit, “Crazy”, was written as the world was changing in 1989. Also, “Killer” was used on the soundtrack of the NBC show Homicide: Life on the Streets.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A couple of versions – one is kind of a rush-release and the other has longer mixes on two songs. I think the latter is what is streaming..

GRADE: A-:  Good, contemporary R&B.

 

 

The Proclaimers – This Is the Story

ARTIST: The Proclaimers           220px-the-proclaimers-this-is-the-story

TITLE:  This Is the Story

YEAR RELEASED: 1987

CHART ACTION: #43 UK

SINGLES: Throw the “R” Away, Letter from America (#3 UK), Make My Heart Fly (#63 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not over here

LINEUP: Craig Reid, Charlie Reid. Ian Maidman helps om a couple tracks.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Scottish twins write and record endearing neo-folk acoustic songs in their verrrry thick brogue.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: There’s no escaping that Reid twins are Scottish – that’s evident from the first sentences out of their mouth. They also have a knack for charming and catchy acoustic folky songs using their natural twin harmonies. Unlike some folkies, though, they sing out loud, and they don’t hide their sentiments or their Scottish-ness.

They also can sing a gentle and tender love song to their lasses, sure. In fact, “Make My Heart Fly” is exuberant, and lovely.

This debut album became a sensation when “Letter from America” hit the UK charts in a full band version (that wasn’t originally on the album). Then everyone in the UK heard their potential, and they became sensations.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The song “I’m Gonna Burn Your Playhouse Down” isn’t the same as the soul song that was a hit for several singers.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The addition of the hit version of “Letter from America”, though the acoustic version sounds pretty big as well.

GRADE: B+:  Once in a while the accents detract for me (my ears…) but it’s a good 80’s folkie type album. Again, they’re loud singers!

Toad the Wet Sprocket – Bread and Circus

ARTIST: Toad the Wet Sprocket                              220px-bread__circus_cover

TITLE:  Bread & Circus

YEAR RELEASED: 1989

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: One Little Girl (#24 Modern Rock)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Fans only

LINEUP: Glen Phillips, Todd Nichols, Randy Guss, Dean Dinning.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Mellow-ish alternative band’s first album was self-recorded, picked up by Columbia, and starts them on their career.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Toad the Wet Sprocket’s mellow kinda-folky songs are prefect for adult alternative radio, as it’s not really pop for teens, and not album oriented rock. In 1988 and 1989, that really didn’t exist, but enough radio stations added them to give them a groundswell of support.

Jangly acoustic and electric guitars, harmonies, and a pleasant sound is what Toad the Wet Sprocket’s about. They’re not too hard, and not too wimpy and this first album really established their modus opreandi.

These ten tracks have some highlights, but after a while they all wash together. I probably would have picked a different single (the lead off track “Way Away” caught my ear more than anything else), but I’m not in charge.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: One member, singer Glen Phillips, was in high school still when they put this album together originally in 1988.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B-:  I can’t say this excites me, really, but it’s not horrible and it’s good for background music.

 

Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour

ARTIST: Sam Smith                       sam_smith_-_in_the_lonely_hour_official_album_cover

TITLE:  In the Lonely Hour

YEAR RELEASED: 2014

CHART ACTION: #2 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: Money on My Mind (#107 US, #1 UK), Stay with Me (#2 US, #1 UK), I’m Not the Only One (#5 US, #3 UK), Like I Can (#99 US, #9 UK), Lay Me Down (#8 US, #15 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not on the radio

LINEUP: Sam Smith and a boatload of session musicians, producers, etc.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Angelic voiced English singer-songwriter breaks out big time as a solo artist after collaborating with Disclosure, and his voice and material meld effortlessly.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: He’s kind of a throwback, in a way. Not really a crooner, because he’s got a high tenor, but he’s definitely one that is more of a love song / torch singer. What is appealing about Smith is that his songwriting is on par with his vocal ability.

Unlike some other pop stars, the album’s deep cuts are just as well-crafted and thought out as the singles. Even though there are a lot of producers and engineers, the album just sounds good, and that’s important. The arrangements are fitting, not forced, and while it sounds great on the radio, it’s not built especially for that medium. file-sam_smith_-_in_the_lonely_hour_drowning_shadows_edition

Smith’s debut showed that there’s still good musical craftsmanship in today’s pop music.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Yes, that’s right, he did unwittingly plagiarize “I Won’t Back Down” for “Stay with Me”, but just a little, and Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne get a 12.5% cut of that song. Well, that’ll help the bank account a bit.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, at nine: Deluxe, European, Google Play, Target, three in Japan, a special deluxe and a Drowning Shadows edition. $$ on the prize.

GRADE: A-:  I really like this. There aren’t many negatives, and it’s well done.

Rush – Caress of Steel

ARTIST: Rush                                                        220px-rush_caress_of_steel

TITLE:  Caress of Steel

YEAR RELEASED: 1975

CHART ACTION: #148 US (and only #60 in Canada!)

SINGLES: Return of the Prince (part of the Necromancer), Lakeside Park

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Bastille Day

LINEUP: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neal Perst

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A prelude to their prog-suite phase, and a record that caused a career crisis due to its failures musically and commercially.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: I was dreading how to put my feelings about this record into words. First there are absolutely two classics here (“Bastille Day” and “Lakeside Park”). There’s an absolute failure of a song where they tried to lighten up.

Then there are the two suites. “The Necromancer” meanders a bit, and has some nice segments and some segments that seem unfocused or pretentious (oh, if they’d get rid of the narration that’d be great). Then the entire second side was “The Fountain of Lamenth”, which really just sounds like a bunch of stuff stuck together even though there’s a story line. There’s no flow between parts, no connection. It’s Part A, then Part B, etc…

That last suite just bums me out, seriously. Record buyers stayed away, too, even in Canada.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “I Think I’m Going Bald” was written for Kim Mitchell and his band Max Webster.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: C:  Two classics, one song with some good parts, one absolute BS song, and twenty minutes of unfocused diddlying around. They’d rebound in due time.

Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables

ARTIST: Dead Kennedys      dead_kennedys_-_fresh_fruit_for_rotting_vegetables_cover

TITLE:  Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables

YEAR RELEASED: 1980

CHART ACTION: #33 UK

SINGLES: California Uber Alles, Holiday in Cambodia, Kill the Poor

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Chemical Warfare, Let’s Lynch the Landlord, Viva Las Vegas

LINEUP: Jello Biafra, East Bay Ray, Klaus Flouride, Ted

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Demented surf guitar, abrasive lyrics, relentless drumming, skilled and musical bass playing, and a IDGAF attitude. In other words, a punk rock milestone.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The first four songs of this album (“Kill the Poor”, “Forward to Death”, “When You Get Drafted”, and “Let’s Lynch the Landlord”) I often cite as punk rock’s greatest opening salvo. Then you move towards other classics throughout this record and this, this may be the best record in US punk history.

At times, you need to be fully versed in the US pre-Reagan (but moving towards his election) to get some of the references Jello Biafra is on about, but you gotta know your history, man. “Holiday in Cambodia” will make you want to pick up a Pol Pot primer.

At times, it’s really creepy and uncomfortable. But that’s good art.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This was released in the UK first, then went through numerous changes to the back cover, additions to track lists (on accident, maybe?), and weird colorations. It’s nuts. But the music is the thing, right?

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: At times, “Too Drunk to Fuck” and “Police Truck” were inserted into the track list on some European versions.

GRADE: A+:  Essential music for those times, this time, any time.