It’s Such a Fine Line

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.

Neil Young – Harvest (1972)

While I’ve heard a bunch of Neil’s stuff, I’m more of a CSNY fan – if only because I love their harmonies. Neil’s voice is a little nasally and whiny, and you really notice that when it’s just him singing.

I had a hard time listening to the title track, or even paying attention to the lyrics. The music was so campy and repetitive. Actually, it sounded like how riding a horse feels (except more comfortable on my tail), which isn’t altogether bad. It just could have used a little change up to keep it interesting. But that was really the only bum song on the album.

However, I love Heart of Gold. I think it was one of the best tracks shared this week. Are You Ready for the Country? was also pretty strong. It had internal consistency without getting boring. It helped that the piano helped keep it moving. The electric guitar on Alabama really surprised me for some reason. The song would have had power anyway, but adding in that distortion really helped. The closer was pretty alright, too. I liked how musically intricate it was, although the guitar playing seemed a little … disjointed maybe?

On first reflection, the lyrics to A Man Needs a Maid were a little odd. But when I started thinking about why he was singing what he was, it got more depressing – and I think it made the song better. The piano was great, and the London Symphony Orchestra backing him up was wonderful. It really helped drive home that emotion. There’s a World was just as well performed, but it didn’t quite have the same result. It felt like an epic soundtrack piece that someone put meh words on top of. And let Neil Young sing. Where as A Man Need a Maid was melancholy, Neil’s voice really didn’t match the feel of There’s a World. Or maybe the feel of the song didn’t match the lyrics.

Still, this is a pretty good album and my favorite of the week (although they were all pretty close). 3/5

Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto (2011)

I heard this album a few months after this album came out. It’s been a few years, and I’d like to think I’ve matured a bit (although I’m still not a huge Coldplay fan). So instead of just referring you to the review I wrote at the time, I’m giving this album another shot.

I really liked Hurts Like Heaven. Everything about the song just worked. I don’t know that I was paying a ton of attention to the vocals, but I didn’t notice anything bad about them, so at least there’s that. Us Against the World was a wonderful little acoustic tune, and a nice change from the more synthetic tunes. And I liked how Major Minus started, but not so much once the vocals started. And then when the rest of the stuff came in, it reminded me of some U2 stuff from the late ’90s or early ’00s.

Up with the Birds sounded like it should have been named Down with the Whales, but it was still a pretty sweet song. I think the acoustic guitar was a nice foundation to an otherwise very “enoxified” song. The title track and M.M.I.X. have Brian Eno written all over them. I didn’t love them, but I didn’t hate them either.

I liked this better than I expected to. It’s catchy, but still feels pretty soulless. 3/5

Jeff Lynne’s ELO – Alone in the Universe (2015)

Don’t let the name fool you. This isn’t really Electric Light Orchestra. Like Zoom, it’s just Jeff Lynne cashing in on the name recognition. It’s literally a solo album. Jeff did “everything except the shaker and the tambourine” – and a couple of background vocals.

But since he’s the front man for the band, it felt like an ELO record. Right off the bat, I was amazed how much he sounds exactly like he did 30/40 years ago. Also, did When I Was a Boy remind anyone else of a John Lennon tune from the last few years of the Beatles, or was that just me? I can’t quite put my finger on why, but Jeff has said that the last few years of The Beatles was a huge influence on ELO, so I’m not really surprised. This is just the most Beatlesy thing I’ve heard him do.

I really liked When the Night Comes – despite the fact that I think the guitar upbeats were a little much. I think the drums were enough contrast to the sustained chords and were enough to keeping the song moving. One Step at a Time was alright too, but there was something about one of the synths that sounded just choppy and distracting. But the disco chorus was good. Maybe 35 years too late, but still good.

And I know it’s a bonus track, so maybe you haven’t heard it, but I really liked Fault Line. It was a country rock tune that I thought was a Robert Plant & Alison Krauss b-side that somehow made it onto my listening playlist.

I was expecting this to be different from ELO’s core stuff, but it wasn’t and that surprised me. It’s good. I’ll probably get this album way down the road. I just feel like Jeff should own it instead of using the name of a band that doesn’t exist anymore. 3/5

Slightly Stoopid – Meanwhile Back at the Lab (2015)

I have heard of Slightly Stoopid before, but never actually heard any of their stuff (as far as I am aware anyway). Even though I like reggae rock on paper, something about them has never appealed to me. So this is new experience for me.

I loved One Bright Day. I thought the ukulele (or nylon stringed whatever) was a great choice. And while I’m not sure I could listen to Angela Hunte’s voice for a whole album, I thought it was perfect for this. Plus I can stand behind the lyrics.

Life Rolls On was alright, but I thought the drums were overbearing. Drums should never be that prominent in a song – especially when they’re that boring. There are a couple of points where the drums suddenly drop out, and the song sounds really good without them. The drums on The Prophet are similar, but somehow less annoying. It actually felt very ’90s – and considering it was originally a hidden track on their 1996 debut album (with Sublime front-man Bradley Nowell playing bass), that makes sense. It specifically reminded me of the Dub Pistols’ Cyclone (albeit it with less hip hop vocals).

I’ve just never been a huge dub reggae fan. A lot of it seems to either get weird or get repetitive. This Version was more on the repetitive side, but wasn’t terrible. Rolling Stone got old really fast, however. It was an okay song and was a change from what I was hearing on the album, so it wasn’t that bad. But it still went on too long without much change. Fades Away and Come Around were still dub reggae, but had better drums. They’re songs I’d cover just to hear done with less programming.

And I am a fan of ska. Don’t get me wrong, if there’s a crappy ska song, I won’t hesitate to tell you. But the genre is just so upbeat (literally) and generally positive (or super sarcastic), I have a hard time not feeling good listening to it. So Hold It Down will be a song I listen to much more.

The song I had the hardest time with had nothing to do with the title (and lyrics). The distortion of the guitars combined with the repetition of all the instruments was just too grating, which I guess was well suited to the lyrics. But as short as it was, I had a hard time listening to it the whole way through. 3.3/5

The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street (1972)

This week, I’m doing something a little different, although not without precedent in this little game.

I’m picking an album I’ve never heard before.

This is Number 7 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. And while we’ve had many discussions on the pros and cons of lists like that, I have heard from many sources that this is the best Stones album. I’m not really a Stones fan, so I decided to listen to this to see if I can “get it.” Here we go.

I really liked Sweet Virginia, but it didn’t really feel like the Stones. It was a country folk rock tune. Shine a Light was also very different from what I think of the Stones playing. And hard to classify beyond “gospel.” But it might have been my favorite on the album. Another good one was Shake Your Hips. It’s a cover, and I haven’t heard the original, but it really felt like they were going for a ZZ Top kind of feel. Although this came out first. And the Stones have more intelligible (and I think better) singer. Which is saying something.

Ventilator Blues was okay. I felt like his voice was more intense than the music. It’s like they were somewhere between hard rock and swamp rock, but couldn’t commit to either one. The piano was great, but I’m not sure the horns added anything. And I would have had sustained, dirty guitar instead of the slide. But that’s just me. It was a cool song, I just don’t think the execution lived up to the idea of what it could have been. I felt pretty much the same about Let it Loose, except that song also felt like it was the first time they actually played through the whole thing together all at once. It just felt rough around the edges, which I guess might be something they were going for.

Actually, that pretty much sums up how I feel about this album and The Stones in general. If this is the best The Stones have to offer, I may not give them another shot. There are little things I like in every song. There are more songs I really like than I really don’t. But there aren’t really any that I love. They’re mostly just pretty good. But I did like this album a bit more than Jeff Lynne’s album. 3/5

Here’s what my friends had to say:

“This album seemed typical of the stones that I’ve heard. Its a bit sloppy, again, raw. There really aren’t a lot of riffs or catchy melodies here to pick up on. I consider the Stones quite overrated. Their sound doesn’t seem like it’s had that large of an influence considering their notoriety. That said, you can’t help but think ZZ Top’s La Grange is coming on when Shake Your Hip Thing is there. Not sure if they ripped the lick off or it just happened, but La Grange actually goes somewhere with it, unlike this track. There’s not a lot of excitement or drama here to entertain. It seems like these songs might work well for bar room sing-alongs or something, but for dedicated listening I still don’t get it.

I suppose I agree that Mic is probably a better singer, his vocals weren’t enough to make me not just want to go listen to La Grange instead of this.

The Ventilator blues had a good groove. Shine a Light also had some cool stuff happening in there.” 3.2/5 – Spencer

“I have never understood the massive appeal of the Stones based on their music alone. I think they have this appeal due to surviving in the industry alone and not dying from drug overdose- that’s about it. This is another example of an album that loses my interest very quickly. Highlights are the song “Shine a Light”- awesome tune. The songs on this album get better toward the end for some reason. Blues tracks are better than the rock and roll style songs as well.” 2/5 – David

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