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 mean I wish I wrote the thing. Most music for me is a three.
Mika – Life in Cartoon Motion (2007)
First, I think the title and the artwork pretty much give you an idea what the album is going to be like. Pretty much. My wife got a mix CD from her cousin that had some of Mika’s songs on it, and that’s how I got introduced to him. I think this is what Freddy Mercury would have done if he were born 30 years later. I am always a sucker for good harmony, and this album does not leave you wanting for that. There was one curiosity about this album, though; it seems like something that worked for one song would be the exact thing I didn’t like about a later song. 3/5
When my coworker suggested this album, I was a bit blown away. I know other people know all kinds of music, but I didn’t expect this album to come up. Especially from him. We live in a pretty conservative culture, so I guess he felt the need to put out disclaimer that the album has some homosexual overtones. Apparently, the first track, Grace Kelly, has minor innuendos (which I expect from most songs) and some drag queen references. I didn’t pick up on that at all. It just seemed like someone who wanted to feel loved and would do whatever the object of his affection wanted him to do. I think a lot of people feel exactly this way sometimes. I know I have. Also on the disclaimer was Billy Brown, which is about a man discovering that he likes other men. Frankly, I thought it was funny. The music, which felt a bit carnival-esque, helped bring a level of absurdity.
Lollipop, however, took me by surprise. I don’t know if it was Katy Perry, but I kind of assume every pop song is a double entendre. By the way, are there single entendres?
And then, after all this dancey pop, he tosses in My Interpretation, which made me think about my own experiences writing lyrics to songs. It’s about the songwriter, not the audience. I write songs because they mean something to me, so I’m going to write what I want and it’s going to be from my perspective. As an enjoyer of music, I like songs because they mean something to me, even though they weren’t written for me or my situation.
Love Today and Big Girl (You are Beautiful) are the two songs from this album I actually sought out and threw on running mixes, etc. Love Today is a great song. Musically simple, but so much energy. And it wasn’t until this listen through that I really listened to Big Girl. I had heard the words on previous listens, but this time I realized how many layers are in the mix. I love the synth sound, the aux percussion and the backing vocals. But Stuck in the Middle didn’t work for me for the same reason. I really loved the drums and the ragtimey solo piano stuff, but somehow everything else all together was just too much.
I thought Relax, Take it Easy is exactly what I’d expect of a remix of a really great song. As it turns out, that’s the original version, not the remix. So while I don’t dislike it, I feel like I could have liked it more if I were on drugs.
I liked the contrast Ring, Ring brought. And then Erase brought a different kind of contract. It’s like the lovechild of The Cranberries and Use Your Illusion-era Guns ‘n’ Roses. Is this even still Mika? It’s faux déjà entendu; I feel like I grew up listening to this, but I know I didn’t. I know this is at most the seventh time I’ve ever heard this song. I don’t dislike it. It just doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the album.
I really wanted to like Any Other World, but I’m not sure I liked the droning keyboard part or the children’s choir. And I wasn’t super impressed with Happy Ending, either. It seems like something Vitamin C would have done. Until about halfway through, when they break it down and start bringing it all back together. Then, I think the only thing they were missing were some claps on 2 and 4. And I don’t ever remember hearing Over My Shoulder before. I didn’t really like it. Maybe it’s what he was going for, but the piano and the discordant harmony was just haunting. It seems like something that would play at the end of a horror movie. And then the song just … ends. Which totally fits the rest of the song, so kudos on that.
Nickel Creek – Nickel Creek (2000)
I have conflicted feelings about Nickel Creek. The first time I was introduced to them was by a girlfriend who was obsessed with them. She turned out to be completely nuts (her family was pretty screwed up and she did pretty good coping with it, but she was still nuts), so whenever I think of Nickel Creek I think about her and that’s not really a good thing. 3/5
The next time someone sat me down and told me to listen to Nickel Creek was at work, and this time it was a musical friend whose taste I trust. So I started paying more attention to the music. Most people who are musically talented make me want to be better. Chris Thile, the mandolin player for Nickel Creek, just makes me hate myself, especially in Ode to a Butterfly. He makes me never want to pick up the mandolin again, so I’ll have to stick with other instrumentals like Cuckoo’s Nest and Robin and Marion which I can just appreciate without envy and self-deprecation.
Each time this album is recommended to me, The Lighthouse’s Tale is a must listen. And while it tells a moving story, I like Reasons Why and Sweet Afton more. They resonate with me personally. The Lighthouse’s Tale is just a sad song.
Also, I really liked The Fox. It’s just a fun, upbeat song. One of my favorites. Maybe because I feel like they were just having fun and not trying too hard.
Sufjan Stevens – Illinois (or is it Sufjan Stevens Invites You to: Come on Feel the Illinoise?) (2005)
Here’s another artist who I let previous personal relationships taint. I wasn’t really looking forward to listening to. But, I put on my big-boy pants and decided to be objective.
My first three thoughts were (in order)(mostly about The Black Hawk War): This is weird, but not what I expected. This has some really intricate grooves, but they don’t seem to clash. I’m not totally sure what he’s singing about, but I like this. 3/5
Did Come On! Feel the Illinoise! have a little Cure reference? They’re from England, not the midwest. Whatever. I’m okay with it.
I recognized John Wayne Gacy’s name as a serial killer, but the song was creepier than I expected. So kudos to Sufjan Stevens for making a piece where the music complimented the words so perfectly (or maybe the words compliment the music?), but I don’t know that I’ll ever listen to that song again on purpose. There were a lot of other cultural references I was happy that I understood, mostly from experiences I had when I lived in Michigan – Like Pulaski Day, which they also celebrate in Grand Rapids. Although there they celebrate it in October when he died, as opposed to in Chicago where they celebrate his birthday.
Because I knew I was listening to an album about Illinois, I was often thinking about the three-ish times I’ve visited that state. Oh, and doing work. For no discernible reason, a song came on which reminded me of the one time I drove west around Lake Michigan to Chicago. As it turns out that song was Chicago, so that was handy.
All in all, I really liked this album, even if there were hidden layers that I just didn’t get. By the time I got to Seer’s Tower, I think I started to get used to it. It stopped being new. Considering that’s about an hour straight, that’s pretty good. When I listen to this album again, I will probably pick what songs I want to hear and then throw it in a mix. Unfortunately, that’s probably exactly what I shouldn’t do. It’s obvious that Stevens wanted this album to be one experience, not just a collection of related songs.
Howard Jones – Dream into Action (1985)
Previous to this listen through, the only Howard Jones song I had ever heard was when my band covered Things can Only Get Better. Based on that one song, I was expecting a certain kind of British ’80s Synthpop. But I got a completely different kind. And I liked it. While all of these album suggestions were good, this might be the one I was most surprised by and the one I like the most. Nearly every song falls into the highlights category. The title track was a little industrial for my taste and Elegy just killed the rest of the album’s energy (and is more the kind of stuff I expected), but if those are the two lowlights, this album is doing okay. Specialty and Why Look for the Key were fine; they were mediumlights suffering from poor placement behind Elegy, but then Hunger for the Flesh brought it all back to greatness. 4/5
I feel like I didn’t have a lot to say about this album and a ton to say about Mika’s. Except for those few songs, I just really liked this. And the great ones were so good, I’m not really bothered by the couple of not-so-great ones. Elegy is probably the only one I’d skip past in future listens.
So, because it’s pertinent, I give you a cover of Things can Only Get Better. Sorry for the low lighting. Also, there’s some white noise because it was SO HOT and there was a fan.
The Beatles – Abbey Road (1969)
I suggested they listen to what I think is The Beatles’ best album. You can read how I feel about it here. 5/5 Here’s what my coworkers had to say about it:
“Like any rational human being, I enjoy The Beatles and respect their legacy. Culturally speaking, they are hands down the greatest band of all time. “Right band, right time” like Tim says? Perhaps, but you could say that about any successful group. A flash of luck and opportunity will always be main ingredients for success. But, if I’m being honest… I’ve never loved them. It seems like every music fan goes through a “Beatles Phase” where they discover the magic and obsessively go to town on all their stuff. I’ve never really done that. At least not yet. For whatever reason, I’ve never really “connected” with them on that level. Respect? 100%. But when it comes to my very favorite artists/albums of all time, they don’t come close, and likely never will.
Even so….this is Abbey Road. I mean, what else can you say? It’s such a classic album. I have a hard time deciding which I like better between this and Sgt. Pepper’s. I love the unabashed experimentation going on with Pepper. But some of my favorite Beatles tunes definitely reside on Abbey Road. The Harrison tracks stand on top here. “Something” and “Here Come The Sun” are PERFECT. But “Because” is runner-up for my favorite Beatles track ever. These guys were always great at harmonies, but DAYAMN. I also think this album flows very well despite the band being pretty fractured during its recording. It really is amazing how well they hide the turmoil in this thing. And yet, knowing there was turmoil somehow adds to its legacy. So…despite not really having that “love” for The Beatles that seems to be requisite among music nerds, I still recognize that this thing is a golden landmark among popular music history, and for good reason. A fine specimen of classic rock n’ roll.
- Come Together – I think we take for granted how forward-thinking this groove was for its time.
- Something – That guitar…those harmonies…perfection.
- Oh! Darling – Paul sings the hell out of this old school jam.
- Here Comes The Sun – Harrison was king on this album.
- Because – Maybe my favorite Beatles track ever. In fact, my brother and I covered it once out of boredom.
Lowlights: Nope.” 8/10 -Chris
“This is my favorite Beatles album. Not much more needs to be said, really. Great pick Paul. How about just a quick history lesson instead of a review of something I love almost as much as my children.
This is actually the Beatles “final” album. It was recorded after the Get Back/Let it Be sessions. McCartney asked George Martin if he’d record an album “the way he used to” and Martin said he would, if the guys would allow him to. So they recorded Abbey Road. The album is more or less two solo albums (one side Paul, one side John) with the original Beatles acting as session musicians on all the tracks. They were in full on “I’m done with this band” mode when they recorded this, but even when they are disengaged, they still did great music. For the deep Beatles buffs, take note that “She’s So Heavy” was the last time the four recorded together. Ever.
This is also an album that I own “four” times. I have the vinyl album (actually, it’s my dad’s album, an original pressing in pristine condition!), I have the cassette tape, the CD from about 1990 and the newly re-mastered CD from the 2009 box set.” 10/10 – Phil
“This is honestly the first Beatles album I listened to purely from end to end (I admit to only listening to extensive greatest Beatles Hits…like the compilations by year). It really is a work of art, and considering it was essentially recorded separately, a testament to the Beatle’s raw talent as individuals as well as a group. I honestly can’t say anything really negative on this one. Well worth the distinction of one of the best albums of all time. The tracks flow nicely from one to another, and never once did I want to skip a track. But most surprising to me was the number of songs attributed to George Harrison; as a Beatles outsider I always thought of 90% or more of the songs coming from Paul and John. So thanks for opening my eyes Phil! I must say, I am not a big Beatles fan, and sometimes see them as over rated/right band right time. BUT, I can respect their place in history, and feel this album shows why they have lasted as long as they have…the music is timeless. 4.5/5 (Would have been 5, but I still hold that the Beatles are a right band right time group)” -Tim