Something More than Life

Some of my co-workers and I started sharing some of our favorite music. We’ve been doing it for a while, but now we’re actually reviewing them and sharing those reviews with one another. So here are the four albums that were suggested to me this week.

A note on how I rate things. One star means I don’t think it qualifies as music. Five stars means I wish I wrote the thing. Most music for me is a three.

Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love (1987)

This is something I would never buy. I probably wouldn’t skip past most of the songs if they came on in a mix, but it was just OK. There were some good songs and there were some bad ones. All in all, though, this album just didn’t engage me. Probably my least favorite of these four. 2/5

Highlights: Ain’t Got You seemed like it might have been an early Elvis cover. I liked it. It was simple and straight forward. I like the harmonica on Spare Parts. It was a nice touch. That’s all. And Brilliant Disguise was good. Not sure what about it. I just liked it.

Cautious Man – If I didn’t know I was listening to Springsteen, I would have thought Bob Dylan learned how to enunciate better when he sings. I really liked this.

Lowlights: I liked how Two Faces started, but I’m not sure I like where it went. I’m dead sure I don’t like the weird guitar riff in the middle. I was too distracted by the effect to notice if I liked the actual solo. And then where did the elevator organ come from? I like it, but not in this song. It just seemed out-of-place.

Um, I stopped paying attention to Valentine’s Day. Was it any good? I just got bored with it.

Silverchair – Diorama (2002)

I may not always know what he’s singing about, but I like the execution. I think this is my favorite of these four. It just rocks. 3/5

Highlights: Pretty much the whole album. I can’t tell if they meant the lyrics of The Greatest View to be just a little creepy, but they were. Just a little. My Favourite Thing seemed so calm compared to the rest of the album, and I liked the contrast. After All These Years might be my favorite of the whole album.

Mediumlights: Without You and World Upon Your Shoulders just exist. They weren’t bad. They just … were.

One Way Mule and The Lever – Late 90’s early 2000’s alt. metal? Sure. It was a bit harder than I normally like, and I probably couldn’t do a whole album of this, but I liked it mixed in.

There weren’t really any lowlights, so you get mediumlights.

Bon Jovi – Crush (2000)

I had preconceived notions about Bon Jovi, and they were a little off from what I got on this album. But it got me thinking about the music more than any of the others, so there’s that. 2/5

Highlights: Next 100 Years is exactly what I expected from Bon Jovi. Solid rock. I don’t know if that’s what I’m supposed to expect, but I feel like the outro with the strings and trumpet and the gang vocals had a George Marin feel to it. It reminded me of the end of I Am the Walrus, except of course the supposed subliminal messaging to smoke pot. I’d blast Just Older with the windows down on the drive through the desert. I liked Mystery Train, and I’m not sure why. It’s just good 80’s soft rock played by hard rockers in 2000. What is Captain Crash & the Beauty Queen from Mars about? Oh, I don’t even care. It’s got a nice groove.

Mediumlights: Say It Isn’t So kind of reminds me of something Mellencamp would do. Wait, did they just make an Elvis reference and say “They deep-fried The King”? What is this song about? I like the electric piano solo, but I’m not sure it fits the song. It definitely doesn’t fit the trashy drums behind it. I like the background “Say It Isn’t So”s in the background of the chorus. I’m not sure what it reminds of (not Mellencamp, this time), but I like it. I was all prepared to not like She’s a Mystery, but for some reason the soft rock soundtrack worked for me this time. Except the southern country rock he sang “understand” a couple times – he put some real twang on that.

Lowlights: Why do I get the distinct feeling It’s My Life is a Backstreet Boys song played by 80’s rockers? Don’t get me wrong, I really like the talking guitar effect sometimes. And I like the sentiment of the chorus. I’m all about positive mental attitude and self-empowerment; I’m just not sure about how it was executed. I almost skipped Thank You for Loving Me. I really didn’t like it. It’s too soft rock. They try to break out of it in the bridge & solo. It’s something I would expect from the Armageddon soundtrack. It’s one saving grace is the into and outro bluesy guitar riff.

Save the World – A tease, this one. It started off with more solid 80’s rock (although I’m not sure how I feel about the fuzzy guitar solo). And then it turns into something they wrote the same day as Thank You for Loving Me.

Sheryl Crow – Sheryl Crow (1996)

Again, I had preconceived notions, and I was more wrong about these than I was with Bon Jovi. When I opened up the album in Spotify, I realized I already knew Everyday is a Winding Road. 3/5

Highlights: Of all the things I thought I would get from Sheryl Crow, the sweet groove and  healthy dose of fuzz on Maybe Angels was not what I expected. Also, how can you go wrong with a song about aliens, but refer to them as angels. It worked for Styx. I really like the guitar work on Redemption Day. It wasn’t face-melting, but I think it was great. There were a couple of places in Love is a Good Thing and Superstar where she sounded like Jackson 5 Michael Jackson. And that’s not a bad thing. Oh Marie had a little bluesy jazz feel to it and I liked it. Ordinary Morning started and I was unsure about it. By the end, I really liked it.

Mediumlights: Three songs in and we’re finally getting to what I THOUGHT I’d get from Sheryl Crow. I’m not sure that’s a lowlight. It was fine, it just isn’t really my thing. I realized I know If it Makes You Happy. I’m not sure I expected the slide guitar. It’s kind of a blend of the first two songs on the album and the third and fourth.

Lowlight: The Book. Just… no.

Guster – Easy Wonderful (2010)

Also, I shared Guster’s Easy Wonderful with them. I love Guster. They’ve got talent. They’ve got emotion. They’ve got more than a little quirk. And it all comes out on this album.

Plus, while not all “positive mental attitude” kinda music (but there is definitely a lot of that), this is one of those albums that I just want to blast with the windows down, summer or winter. It’s the best kind of late 90’s Alt Rock you could ask for. 4/5

Here’s what my coworkers had to say about it:

“This is a band I haven’t heard of before Monday, and I have to wonder how that happened. I really liked this album. The vocals blend incredibly well with the instruments. And even though that creates a consistent harmony of the two, there is still range and complexity to the music being played. I felt the songs on the album flowed well from one to another, and with the exception of one track towards the end, all seemed to logically fit together for a cohesive sound.  I am going to listen to more of their albums over the next few weeks, and I’m sure it’s one that my wife will enjoy too.” 4/5 – Tim

“Highlights: My sister always listens to Guster – Whenever I’m in her car I ask “Who plays this?” Usually the response is Guster. So I was pretty stoked to finally to listen to an album of theirs. Oh boy, I like it. I was surprised by This Could All Be Yours! The clarity and speed of the guitar was awesome. From what I understand it’s really hard to pull off a strum like that at that tempo. Bad Bad World – LOVED the lyrics to that one. I liked the harmonica on This Is How It Feels To Have A Broken Heart.  There is definitely talent in this group.

Lowlights: Not a fan of the beginning of On The Ocean. That threw me off a bit – and not sure if it’s my earphones, but the sound balance between the keyboard and other instruments seemed off. It was like they were pounding a key on the piano every few measures in this song – so that was driving me crazy a bit.  That one song was the only lowlight for me – I ended up moving on because it was distracting me too much.” – Kari

“Thoughts on Guster – This was the one band of all suggested this week that I knew the most about. Have and love their first few albums, and have seen them live twice (one of the best live shows you can see by the way). Their 2003 album Keep It Together was one of my favorites of the ’00-’10 decade, and the song “Careful” on said album is one of my favorites of all time. I used to be way into them, but around the time of their 2006 album Ganging Up On the Sun I lost interest for whatever reason, and haven’t picked them back up. So, I was kind of excited to have a reason to come back to them and see what they’ve been up to.

Thoughts on the album – Overall good stuff. Harmonies and melody (two of their absolute strengths) are pristine as usual. The vocal arrangements on the opener are great at welcoming you to the experience. One of their strengths I kind of miss on this album is GROOVE. I found it to be somewhat light on catchy rhythms. That’s not to say they are totally absent, just light. My favorite tracks were the ones that surprised me with slightly different sounds or themes like the almost 311-ish groove of “Jesus & Mary,” the minimal synth jam of “Do What You Want,” or subtle campfire storytelling of “Well.” My absolute favorite track on here was the closer, “Lost At Sea.” The upbeat, bouncing melody and typically quirky but serious lyrics of this one reminded me most of what I used to adore about this band in their early days. Great tune.

Highlights: Architects & Engineers, Jesus & Mary, Do What You Want, Well, Lost At Sea

Lowlights: No song in particular. I guess the one disappointing thing would be that, although I enjoyed this album, it wasn’t enough to quite point me back into being the bigger fan I once was.” 7/10 – Chris

“The best way to describe this album is “delightful.’ It’s actually a fun album, and I love their melodic tunes. I’m not a big fan of their lead singer’s voice – it reminds me of why I don’t like bands like Angels and Airwaves or Band of Horses: INCREDIBLE music, but the singing shuts it down for me. Architects and Engineers is fabulous, as is Lost at Sea, in fact, both have been placed into my jukebox playlist, so I love when I can find new stuff to listen to. No real low points in this one, but I kind of agree with Kari – it has some weird sound to it at times, but that’s the style, or just the band trying to change things up.

On a weird note, I found myself checking out some of their videos, look for Do You Love Me. It’s a fun song, and the video has a “Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel” feel to it with the funky stop motion feel. Loved it, and did not expect the band to look the way they do. Not a big deal, just an observation. Overall, I liked Guster and I will explore more of their stuff, so I’ll take from what Chris said and try another album or two.” 8/10 – Phil

“They have a great sound.” – Casey

“I really liked Do What You Want. Great, calm sound.” – Cameron

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