Reflections in the Waves Spark My Memory

For more than a year, some of my friends and I have been sharing music. We’re supposed to review/rate what gets shared with us, and share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.

Styx – The Grand Illusion (1977)

It’s Styx. And literally half of these songs are on every greatest hits album of theirs I’ve ever seen. This is the album before Pieces of Eight (which I reviewed about nine months ago) and the album that really changed Styx from being just another prog rock kind of band to one of the leading acts of the time.

I’ll spoil the minor surprise by telling you that after Spencer shared this, Tim shared REO Speedwagon and it made me want to change what I had shared to someone who would have toured with these two bands. There are some other bands I put in this category of classic stadium rock from the ’70s and ’80s: Boston, Chicago, Foreigner, Journey, Kansas, .38 Special, Yes, and maybe some others I’m forgetting right now.

Let me start with the not-so famous songs. I really like Superstars, with its kinda slow groove chorus. Man in the Wilderness and Castle Walls were fine, too. I’ve never really been a huge fan of Miss America, and I don’t understand why it got picked as a single. Compared to the non-singles, Miss America doesn’t seem like anything special.

The first two tracks are fine, of course, except I’ve always liked The Grand Finale a little more than the title track. I think it’s because I like what The Grand Illusion set up, and I like the variation explored in The Grand Finale. By itself, it just leaves you wanting more. But in context with The Grand Illusion, the last track is the second best on the album (for me).

The epic alien abduction power ballad that is Come Sail Away is one of my top three Styx songs (Renegade is in there, too), but musically it’s rather boring. For me, it’s a constant reminder that great songs can be simple – if simple is done right.

I haven’t actually gone through and figured out (yet) which Styx album is my favorite, but this is a contender. 4/5

REO Speedwagon – Hi Infidelity (1980)

I haven’t listened to a ton of REO Speedwagon. In my flippin’ sweet mind-concert, when all the above mentioned bands play the best show ever, REO Speedwagon comes on stage second, after .38 Special opens. What I’ve heard from REO, I mostly like (although I’m not in love with Kevin Cronin’s voice). But when I’m in the mood to listen to music like this, why would I listen to REO when I can turn on Journey or Styx?

Don’t get me wrong, REO Speedwagon is a fine band. There were no real lowlights on this album. They had some good guitar solos (and piano work on In Your Letter) and did some things in their songwriting I wouldn’t have done. Not that I wish I did, or that I’ll emulate them on purpose. This is supposed to be their best album, but other than Take It on the Run, no complete song really stood out to me. 3/5

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991)

I expected to hate this, but I didn’t. There was even one song I really liked: When You Sleep.

Like I said when I reviewed the Lost in Translation soundtrack, I don’t get My Bloody Valentine. People have tried to get me into them before, and I don’t really care for them. It’s not my thing and I have a hard time seeing musical value in it.

I listened to this whole album once just sitting on the couch (eating ice cream) with headphones in while my wife watched You’ve Got Mail. I did nothing but pay attention to the album. Then, planning on listening to it again, I took an hour and tried to read as much stuff about the background of the album, so I could make sure I was really understanding this album. All I got out of my hour’s worth of research was that Kevin Shields is a diva. He’s got an ego to rival … I dunno … someone else who’s famous for having a big ego. I get trying a couple of different studios, but after a dozen studios (and who knows how many engineers)(that plenty of other artists had no problem working with, by the way) I think it’s pretty obvious that the common element in each of these bad situations is you.

I didn’t understand more than one word in a line on my first listen. Not that it’s a big deal. But as it turns out, they don’t really know what they’re singing either. They wouldn’t write lyrics ahead of time; just get into the studio and sing something, then go back and write down the stuff they liked. Yet, Shields said there’s nothing worse than bad lyrics. As if anyone could tell what your lyrics were. But all that about the lyrics don’t really have any influence on my score.

It’s not terrible, but most of the album didn’t do anything for me. I’m sure it would be better if i were on drugs. But I don’t want to have to take some other substance just to enjoy music. Come in Alone and Soon sound like portents of things to come in the ’90s grunge scene. Listening to Sometimes in its native environment, it’s actually one of the more forgettable songs on the album. Blown a Wish sounds like something John Lennon would have done following The Beatles’ trip (pun intended) in India. Only Shallow, To Here Knows When, I Only Said had little things that I liked, but mostly it was just a swirling sea of colorful noise. And I know that’s exactly what they were going for. It’s just not something I’d ever seek out again. But if I round up, it gets a 3/5.

Gold Motel – Summer House (2010)

I’m went camping this week. And then I’m went camping again this weekend. It finally feels like summer (summer solstice is in a couple of days). So I’m sharing something appropriate.

Gold Motel is fronted by the piano player from The Hush Sound, but they have a different musical feel. They remind me of Belle and Sebastian.

But I’ve already reviewed this album. I’m just sharing it with my friends this week. Feel free to tell me what you thought in the comments below. In the meantimes, here’s what my friends thought:

“I’ve listened to some of this before because of the association to the Hush Sound, but like Styx, the whole was more than the parts, so I don’t like the other projects the members started as much as the Hush Sound. Gold Motel was decidedly more poppy. But lets give it another go:

Safe in LA – I really like this one. It seems more vintage sounding.
Don’t Send the Searchlights – this sounds a lot like the hush sound. Not quite though. Not sure what it is thats missing
Summer House – another nice vintage sounding one, nothing magical, but fun. I like that the title track is last for some reason.

Overall its fun, but kinda meh. I don’t dislike anything here, but nothing really grabbed me in a couple listens.” 3.1/5 – Spencer

“I must be in a generous mood today. When this album started I thought it was a solid 3. After 3 songs, I thought it was a solid 3. But around half-way through, and until the end, my opinion changed. What I suddenly tuned into was the strong story and theme running from song to song. The album as a whole does a fantastic job of weaving that story, and it never seems to wander or lose direction. It’s very focused. I felt the vocals were good, and the music was good as well, but I didn’t think they were great on their own. For me, this album’s greatness truly comes from it’s presentation as a whole. I really enjoyed it, and I will listen to other albums from them.” 4/5 – Tim


4 thoughts on “Reflections in the Waves Spark My Memory

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