Break the Spell of the Typical

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.

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.

The Clash – London Calling (1979)

The truth is, I’ve only been a radio listener of The Clash. It’s not because I don’t like what I hear. I don’t know why, but I just haven’t ever sought them out. I have heard Joe Strummer with The Pogues and The Mescaleros, but never The Clash (beyond the hits). So I was kind of excited when Greg suggested this album. It felt like something I should have listened to a long time ago.

I know The Clash is really known as a punk band, but really felt like there was a notable lack of true punk on the record. It is obviously a record by British punk artists, but instead showing off their love for almost every other genre. I can obviously tell these guys influenced Rancid.

Let me talk about some of the highlights. I don’t know if it was the accordion or what, but Hateful was a real surprise. I also really liked the pop rock feel of Spanish Bombs, even if their Spanish was terrible.

Just from the title, I knew I could expect some great ska/reggae from Rudie Can’t Fail. And I wasn’t disappointed. Actually, I was rewarded with a groove that was just easy to get into. And there wasn’t much of a guitar solo, but what I got was absolutely perfect. It was a rather unassuming guitar solo. It’s like Mick Jones knew the song wasn’t about the guitar.

Now the highlights. There weren’t really any. Sometimes their vocals were a bit gritty, and I wasn’t always a fan of that. And their cover of Revolution Rock isn’t the best I’ve ever heard, but it wasn’t bad.

All in all, I’m sad I hadn’t really gotten into The Clash before. I’m not sure there’s anything I wish I would have written, so I can only give this album a 4/5. Only. I need to give these guys more of a listen. Some of their influences are my influences. And some of the people who were influenced by them in turn influenced me.

Bon Jovi – Have a Nice Day (2005)

Tim shared Bon Jovi more than 20 weeks ago when we started making a little game out of sharing and reviewing music. This Bon Jovi record comes two albums (and 5 years of growth for the band) after that other album he shared. But in short, my opinion of Bon Jovi hasn’t changed.

Some of Welcome to Wherever You Are‘s lyrics are blatant ripoffs from Semisonic’s Closing Time. And that’s not cool.

Wildflower was one of those songs that I should have liked, but I didn’t. It was like there had been some real emotion behind it, but then they over thought it. I’m not sure that it’s formulaic, but it is definitely calculated. They tried too hard, and I think it showed. I think other songs on this album were that way, too. Complicated and Welcome to Wherever You Are were definitely that way, too. Bon Jovi said he wanted Welcome to Wherever You Are to be “a universal, timeless theme song of unity.” Well, I don’t think he got there. Actually, he doesn’t even think he got there, so at least he’s honest with himself about how his music turned out.

I’m torn about Novocaine. It seems exactly like the kind of song I would have written about this same time. The difference is that I was just out of high school when Bon Jovi wrote this song, and he was a professional musician with decades of experience under his belt. That’s not supposed to be a commentary on my songwriting skills so much as a commentary on his.

And it was listening to this album when I realized that Bon Jovi sounds kinda like Robby Takac, the bass player from Goo Goo Dolls who always sings a couple of songs on their records. And that’s not really a good thing. I always skip those Goo Goo Dolls songs when they come up.

I did like some of the tracks off this album, though. The only song I felt reflected the artwork was Last Man Standing. It rocked. It had a lot of energy. And I really liked it. Another song I liked (almost for the completely opposite reason) was Bells of Freedom, which felt like a modern rock cover/update of a Joan Baez song. I’m not sure how Joan would feel about that, but I think it’s a compliment to Bon Jovi’s songwriting.

Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (1993)

Someone out there might poo in their pants a little, but I would take Smashing Pumpkins over Nirvana, Pearl Jam or Jane’s Addiction any day. And most days, I’d take them over Red Hot Chili Peppers. Billy Corgan’s oddly shaped bald head and all. Although I do think he’s grown into the look in the last 20 years.

Like most music before I was in junior high, I was introduced to Smashing Pumpkins through my brother, although not until their next album came out in 1995. Anyway, on to this album.

Even if you’re only a greatest hits listener, you should recognize Cherub Rock, Disarm and especially Today. And they deserve to be greatest hits. One critic (in 2002) said Today just felt stale, although that was more a complaint against the radio stations and MTV overplaying it than the song itself. Any song can get that way. I think we’ve all found a new band or album and listened to it over and over for weeks or months before we got sick of it. And then we didn’t listen to it for weeks or months because it got stale. But we always come back to it sometime. Maybe I don’t listen to the radio enough, but I don’t feel like Today is stale. Although I do think Disarm is a better song. They’re similarly composed songs, both with rather depressing lyrics, but Disarm feels more heartfelt to me.

But those aren’t the only songs that should have been greatest hits. In fact, I think Rocket is better than Cherub Rock. Chris would say that every song on this album is a hit. I don’t know if I’d always agree, but Soma totally deserves to get more attention. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s 6:38 length is what kept it off the air and greatly hampered its chances at serious recognition. Geek U.S.A. is another great song, although rather bipolar.

To be honest, I had a hard time getting through Mayonaise, and I’m not sure why. Part of it might be the super-clean cheap guitar sound in the intro/outro. But the composition of the song is fine. Like Hummer and Spaceboy, it’s okay and better than a lot of other stuff from the early ’90s. But in comparison to other Pumpkins stuff?

And the last few tracks of the album didn’t really engage me. I think Corgan’s voice, while not my favorite, really fit the feel of Sweet Sweet. But that’s the only really notable thing I can take from that song.

While most of the album is a 4/5, the album as a whole can’t be more (or less) than a 3.

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (1971)

I’ve never really been able to get into Marvin Gaye. He seems to come up in most influential musicians. Not just African-Americans, or from the ’70s, but anyone of ever. And I’ve never really been able to get into his stuff. I think it might be because I don’t really understand where he’s coming from. I’ve never really understood the Vietnam War beyond the basic of the US trying to do what the French couldn’t and sticking their nose where it didn’t belong because they were concerned about communism. Oh, and a lot of young Americans died. Maybe that’s all there is to it and I’m expecting more. And I only get the basics of the Civil Rights movement, too. It should have been solved 100 years earlier. I can’t actually relate to any of it.

The best song on the album is Right On, which has a Latin jazz groove. The other stand-out tracks were Save the Children and God is Love, which were just flowed from one to the other. This album is good. Those two songs were a notch above good.

The only thing I didn’t like were the last few seconds of Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), which were a bit weird.

All in all, I love the groove he gets set up and the harmonies. But it’s not really a remarkable album to me. 3/5

Mutemath’s self-titled (2006)

I’ve heard of these guys before. And that’s it. I’ve heard their name. I knew nothing about them or their style before listening to this album this week.

And I was pleasantly surprised. On the surface it doesn’t seem like much more than alt. pop rock, but they do it really well. They contrast swirly, dreamy background mood with slightly crunchy guitars. They seem to be a blend of The Police (Mutemath’s vocalist, Paul Meany, especially sounds like Sting from time to time) and modern alt. rock groups with electronic influences. Like maybe Incubus? That’s harder to put my finger on.

It doesn’t sound like it’s very complicated songwriting, but they still know how to make it interesting.

Other than the album being loud as a whole, the only song I didn’t really like was Stare at the Sun, which went a little overboard on the digital background noise. It kinda carried over into Obsolete, which was a musically interesting track, even though a lot of it was repetitive. The end of Break the Same had it too, but not so bad.

It did seem like the album was longer than it actually was. I’m not sure what to make of that. Maybe just because this was a long week with a lot of recommended music.

This will be a band I’ll have to listen to more. Maybe just because it feels like something so familiar, but also obviously new, but I’m giving this 4/5. Maybe someday when I’ve listened to more of their stuff, my opinion will cool. But even then I can’t imagine giving this less than a 3/5.

Mägo de Oz – Gaia II: La Voz Dormida (2000)

Okay, here’s my suggestion for this week. Chris started me thinking about this band when he shared Love Psychedelico, who didn’t always sing in English. Tim sealed the deal last week when he shared a double album from ELO. At this point, if you’re thinking I’m going to share a double album in which they don’t always sing in English, you’d be correct.

Let me start by saying I have no idea what’s going on in the album artwork. To me, this looks like some junior high kid’s notebook doodles cleaned up and colorized. Whatever. Just ignore it.

These guys are from Spain, and they blend Spanish folk music with hard prog rock. Jethro Tull is probably the closest English-speaking equivalent. And they’ll go from one style to another to yet another – all in about 30 seconds.

This album isn’t on any free streaming service, but the whole thing is on YouTube:

This is the second of three concept albums, and has a story Dan Brown could have written. Sometimes they get really political or anti-Catholic, and they just come across as bitter – so your not knowing Spanish isn’t always a bad thing in this case. But that’s not most of what they do.

I like a lot of what these guys put out. I got into them through greatest hits and mixes, so I’m not saying this is their best album. But some of my favorite songs are on here. They’ve influenced my music writing and arranging quite a bit. I really recommend listening to more of their stuff (not just this album). My favorites from this album are Hazme un Sitio entre Tu Piel, La Posada de los Muertos and Hoy Toca ser Feliz.

Personally, I didn’t really like El Poema de la Lluvia Triste – it was a bit too manic for me. And the heavy in that song got a little too death metal for me. And it was about 6 minutes too long. There were good parts (especially the last 30 seconds), but as whole it was just too much. I think their music got away from them. 3/5

Also, my favorites of theirs from other albums I’ve put into a Spotify playlist here.

Here’s what my coworkers thought:

“I know I gave Paul a hard time on this one. It had an uphill battle for me. 1) it was only on YouTube which is not the best music experience, 2) it was almost 2 hours long, and 3) it was all in Spanish. So yeah, I went into it a little skeptical. BUT, I really enjoyed the album. Musically speaking it is a masterpiece. But, I reserve 5 stars, because I just don’t know the lyrics! I would like to know more…like how many band members they have and how much is doubled, synthesized, etc.” 4/5 -Tim

“Whew! That was a trip. An interesting trip, but very much a trip. In honesty I’m still listening to it, but I think I’ve heard enough to formulate a first impression opinion. I love the structure and range of the songs. I’m not partial to Spanish in my world music. I don’t know what it is, Spanish is just the last language I want to hear in music for whatever reason. Even still, this thing had enough novelty that it was fun despite that odd bias. I can’t single out any tune specifically, but I can imagine listening to this thing in the background while working on some projects. But because of it’s length and the Spanish, it’s probably not something I’d come back to for fun any time soon. Although I did like it more than I thought I would. Respect.” 7/10 -Chris


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