That Funny Feelin’ Again Winding Me Up Inside

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.

Kiss – Destroyer (1976)

When my coworker shared this, he acknowledged the fact that this might not be Kiss’ best album, but it is one that he really loves.

I’ve never actually listened to a whole Kiss record. I’ve only ever heard their hits on the radio from time to time.

Of course Detroit Rock City and especially Shout it Out Loud are great songs, but I also really liked God of Thunder. Not only was it heavy, but it was even creepier with the little kid in there. And then they flip 180 degrees and play Great Expectations, which I also liked. Neither of these songs are really mind-blowing song writing, but I wouldn’t have expected these extremes from Kiss. I mean, you look at them and you expect God of Thunder, but most of what you get is Flaming Youth (which has some enjoyable organ bits, even if the organ sound isn’t quite right for the setting). So it’s nice when they give you the heavy you really want.

No. Kiss did not have revolutionary music. It was their theatrics and marketing which made them money. The music was just an excuse. But that doesn’t make it bad. There’s not a bad song on this album, except for maybe Beth. I could have been okay without that. Don’t let the glam fool you, these guys are 100% ’70s hard rock. They are not ’80s heavy metal (not that there’s any problem with ’80s heavy metal). Which means they earn a solid 4/5.

Michael Jackson – Dangerous (1991)

I knew this was coming. Frankly, I expected it a lot sooner after I suggested The Beatles’ Abbey Road.

Sometimes people share music and I think, “I totally get why these people are famous and why other people buy their music.” Then there are other times when I listen to an album and I don’t get it. U2. Coldplay. Michael Jackson. I just don’t get why people like them. And it seems like Michael Jackson is the most extreme example. I will say there are a handful of songs across his library that have a sweet groove, but for the most part it’s just a monotonous barrage of synthesized, overproduced noise. Those few songs are not enough to justify all the worship this guy gets.

Anyway, I’m going to focus on this one album.

I tried. I really tried. The one positive thing I have to say about this album is that he at least wrote most of the songs himself. He at least earns some points for that, as opposed to some artists who just sing what’s written for them. There’s no talent in that. I can tell he really cares about what he’s singing about, especially in Who Is It, but that doesn’t make me care any more.

Black and White was one song I didn’t mind. I’ll still change it when it comes up on a radio station, but I didn’t mind it as much as any of the others. That’s the closest I can come to a medium-light. I’m discounting Slash’s guitar solo on Give In to Me, or the last half of that song would bump the rating of this album up. But it’s not Michael, it’s a guest artist. The same thing with the prelude of Will You be There, which has the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus doing a bit from Beethoven’s ninth symphony. I will say that Will You be There does bring back memories of watching Free Willy. Even with the gospel feel, I’d add this to the other medium-light.

Just to even things out, though – did you know they plagiarized the Cleveland Orchestra’s recording and didn’t even credit Beethoven until after the orchestra sued? And when an Italian artist tried to sue, Michael’s defense was that Will You be There and this Italian fellow’s song were admittedly similar because they were both inspired by another song, which had entered the public domain. That reminds me of Led Zeppelin’s legal issues from their first couple of albums.

Heal the World is easily the lowest low-light here. Calling that cheesy, new-age music is an insult to Yanni. Rolling Stone was a little meaner (but not wrong) when they called it “a Hallmark-card knockoff of We are the World.” Gone Too Soon was another that was just painful to listen to.

My general impression of this album is that it was made entirely of looped beats and samples; some are Michael, some are real instruments and some are midi. I will say nobody can imitate Michael’s voice, but the rest of the album could have been done by anyone. And I felt like the title track was a phoned-in performance.

Some albums I can appreciate the talent that went into it, but still not like it and so give it a 2/5. I can’t even say that for this album as a whole. I’m only giving it a 2/5 because a 1/5 is a very special dishonor in my book only deserving of a few. This is the first time I wish I had been doing my ratings out of 10 so I could give this album a relatively lower score.

ZZ Top – Eliminator (1983)

Ahh … back to something I know I can appreciate. One thing that has always impressed me about ZZ Top is how much they can do without getting overly complicated. They keep it all pretty simple, but it doesn’t ever get boring.

Sharp Dressed Man will always remind me of one of my ex-girlfriends’ dad. He was not a tall man. He was shorter than me even when I met him when I was a sophomore in high school and hadn’t stopped growing. He’s a lawyer and I wonder if he felt like he had to make up for his stature in the courtroom by being the classiest looking guy in the room, but this song describes him to a T, except the top hat and white gloves.

Just like Destroyer earlier, this is not a mind-blowing musical experience. It’s just fun hard rock with driving beats and gritty guitar solos. An easy 3/5.

Also, after Kari shared this, it reminded me of the best drummer (as an entertainer, at least) I have ever seen. Most of this video is Wipeout (which is pretty entertaining to watch), but for the last couple of minutes they play Sharp Dressed Man (it starts at about the 6:14 mark). This is not something you can just listen to (it’s live, so the sound quality isn’t even that great), you have to actually watch this.

Van Halen – 5150 (1986)

And the great classic rock keeps coming. This is another album I own on vinyl (although I’m missing the cardboard jacket – I only have the paper inner sleeve), so I took the time to listen to the original release rather than the digitally remastered version on Spotify.

Since I was born the year this album came out, I obviously didn’t know Van Halen before Sammy Hagar. Actually, I’m not sure I ever heard Van Halen until after Hagar left them ten years later. My introduction to Van Halen was through classic rock radio, which gave me a mix of both eras. While I can hear the difference in the singers and the writing style, I’ve never really thought of one as better than the other. They’re just different, and I like them both. And let me just say that I’ve never heard anything from Van Halen III when they had that other singer everyone forgets about, good ol’ whatever-his-name-was.

Actually, I was a bit disheartened to hear Guitar Hero: Van Halen wasn’t going to have any of the Hagar tracks, only David Lee Roth. And don’t tell me it just didn’t happen. Some of their best stuff comes from that decade.

Like the tracks off this album.

I feel like it has been on plenty of greatest hits, but Why Can’t This Be Love is easily my favorite song off this album, and is one of my three favorite Van Halen songs (FYI – Jump is really fun to play on the keys). Dreams is another great one I feel has been on plenty of greatest hits, but even the less popular songs are great. I feel like Good Enough, Summer Nights and the title track are the epitome of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar’s famous “brown sound.” It’s not muddy distortion; it’s relatively clean, but just dirty and gritty enough to fit the hard rock sound while letting each note be its own note and not fuzz into one another. The solo section of Summer Nights is a bit cacophonous, but the guitar riff in the rest of the song is great.

Van Halen has more natural, raw musical talent than any other of the bands this week. Michael Jackson might have the best voice, but no album as a whole showcases as much talent as 5150. From this selection, anyway.

The only song off this album that I didn’t really like was Inside. I’m not sure if it was the super-synth bass (which fits in DuckTales, but not so much here), but the opening dialogue exactly echoed my thoughts, “Man, what kind of crap is this?”

But even with that last track, I think this album deserves a 4/5.

The Eagles – The Eagles (1972)

I formed my first real band my sophomore year of high school. I had been in an One-ders cover band (which lasted one performance) and got brought into another band when I was in junior high. But my first band in high school was the first time I got together with my friends and we really wrote our own stuff. While we had plenty of musical influences, the four main ones were The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Billy Joel and The Eagles. Since we’ve heard The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Billy Joel in the last few weeks, I figured it was time to share one of my early influences.

I didn’t actually start buying music until junior high. I remember my first two albums were Chumbawamba and Elvis. The next few albums were things like Semisonic, Fastball, Weezer, and The Eagles.

I’ve broadened and refined my musical tastes a lot since I first really discovered music, but The Eagles’ first album is still one of my favorite albums; country or classic rock. And apparently, they’ve admitted they were high on peyote most of the time they worked on this album. The banjo playing was especially influential as I was just getting into that instrument in junior high. There are three other bands that have really influenced my banjo playing, including Flogging Molly. So maybe this album is just full of nostalgia for me, but I think you’ll all enjoy it. 3/5

As a side note, my brother keeps suggesting I listen to a band called The Eagles of Death Metal. The Eagles called themselves classic rock, but are mostly known to be a bit softer; soft rock or country rock. The Eagles of Death Metal are the same way. They call themselves death metal, but are really a bit softer and are just hard rock. While they are good and I like them in a mix of other stuff, they’re not one of my favorites. So if you find yourself wanting more this week, give their 2006 Death by Sexy album a listen. Here’s a little sample:

Feel free to share what you thought about the Eagles or any of these other albums. In the meantime, here’s what my coworkers thought:

“Disclaimer: I promise this review isn’t a bitter response to Paul’s review of MJ.

Michael Jackson’s Thriller has sold more copies of any other collection of music in American history…except for one: The Eagles Greatest Hits. That has always pissed me off just a little, because I’ve really grown an interesting abhorrence to their sound over the years. Paul mentioned some classic groups that he just can’t understand the appeal to, and I’d put the Eagles in that category for me. But when I really think about it, I actually do understand why most people like them. It’s the exact kind of harmless American cheese that the general public loves. It’s easy to digest, it’s harmless, it’s bland and white bread as hell. To me, they are one of the most boring, soulless, and annoying classic rock bands of all time. Maybe it’s because I’ve heard the endless “Hotel California” a billion times (almost never by choice), or maybe it’s because something about Don Henley’s voice makes me want to punch kittens. Like listening to paint dry, which is worse than watching it dry because at least then I can listen to something else.

It’s funny that Paul and I came to the same conclusion with each other’s albums. I mean objectively they are a talented band – good harmonies, decent melodies and song structure. But there is simply nothing at all about this album that get’s my engines going. “Take It Easy” is actuality the only song I’ve heard off this album (that I can remember, I may have heard others but they weren’t worth remembering). And that one was ok in the “Oh I know this song…” kind of way.  “Earlybird” was probably my favorite song on the album. Great harmonies, fun banjo sound, and upbeat tempo. But the only other interesting bit of this entire album to me was the drawn out harmony that closes “Train Leaves Here This Morning.” I love when vocals bend like that, but I can’t say I remember a thing about the rest of that song.

Anyway, as I expected, it was overall just a slow, uneventful experience for me. Objectively, it’s not terrible, so it gets at least a 4. I usually reserve 1-3 for albums that are memorably bad. Albums that are almost fun for how terrible they are. But this is just forgettable. I don’t think I’ll ever like these guys. Just so much other music I’d rather be listening to. 4.5/10” -Chris

“Confession: I’m a “greatest hits” listener when it comes to the Eagles. It was kind of weird to listen to this because I actually have never listened to THIS album before! It feels like a debut album to me, and not solid as a whole, but the parts are good. Take it Easy is one of my favorites, so that’s a great way to kick off a career. Witchy Woman is okay, not one of my favorites, and then it seems like it’s a bunch of kind of good, kind of boring tunes from there. Peaceful Easy Feeling is an okay catalog tune for the Eagles, but overall, this album is alright. Of the songs I’d never heard before, Nightingale was my favorite. I would say it’s a solid debut, but not legendary (like Led Zeppelin, for example). I’ve never been a huge Eagles guy, so I was lukewarm going in, but it was just okay for me. 6 out of 10” -Phil

“This album was great for me. It just has a nice vibe, and you can totally see the future potential of the band. 4/5” -Tim

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