Dig Out Your Soul
Review: 3 stars (Out of 4)
They're lazy. They're arrogant. They're rip-off artists. They're not even half as great as they repeatedly claim to be. They ran out of "idea" almost as soon as they arrived on the scene, over a decade ago. And yet, the Gallagher brothers and their Oasis still seem to matter.
"Dig Out Your Soul," the band's seventh album, is a pile of refried musical beans, liberally borrowing from the band's influences -- er, the Beatles, Kinks, Pretty Things, the Who, of course -- bullheadedly refusing to break any new ground and generally behaving as if the swinging London of 1968 still existed anywhere other than in their minds. Somehow, the record is still a very good one. That either means that Oasis is like a Brit-Rock AC/DC, firmly in control of a winning formula that needs no changing, or that we as listeners demand very little, so used to mediocrity have we become.
Just for kicks, I'll go with choice No. 1, because "Dig Out Your Soul" makes me smile, even if I can spot its every plot twist and chord change from a mile off. "Dig" does indeed take itself a bit too seriously -- one of three Liam Gallagher contributions, "I'm Outta Time," is almost comical in its Beatle ballad earnestness, for example. But on balance, the record's a hoot, a dense sonic garbage plate comprised of distorted open chords, taut, solo John Lennon-style production, and frantic Keith Moon drum fills breaking up the straight-up Ringo Starr beats that underpin every single song on the album. It should all be more annoying than it ends up being.
In fact, the strongest songs here also happen to be the ones where playing "spot the influence" is easiest. "Waiting for the Rapture" begins by appropriating the Doors' urgent death march, "Five to One," then proceeds to get all chummy with the "Plastic Ono Band" album for the duration. (Man, Noel Gallagher has gotten some serious mileage out of the "I Found Out" riff!) "The Shock of the Lightning" finds the band ripping itself off to great effect -- undeniably, this is a fantastic radio single, even if it misses the age of radio by a few years. "Falling Down" revolves around the descending chord progression so often associated with the Beatles, circa "The White Album," and its mellotron and piano overdubs manage to conjure a bit of early Pink Floyd, but still, the song is wonderful, its hook sinking pretty deep pretty quickly.
Oasis may be treading water. But they're still afloat. And in this instance, that's what counts. "Dig" is likely to end up one of the 10 best rock records released this year.
-- Jeff Miers
Hallelujah Junction: A Nonesuch Retrospective
[Nonesuch, two discs]
Review: 3 1/2 stars
A Flowering Tree: An Opera in Two Acts
Performed by soloists and London Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer
[Nonesuch, two discs]
Review: 3 stars
John Adams is in cultural season. (Like oysters, he always seems to be in months that have R in them.)
Even as we speak, his autobiography, "Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life," is being published -- and not by an academic or music press but Farrar, Straus and Giroux (340 pages, $26). That's a crystal clear indication of the post-minimalist composer's stature as THE public classical composer of our time in a way that even John Corigliano and Philip Glass are not (though Glass comes awfully close). No small part of that status is the devotion of the Nonesuch label to first-rate performances of all of Adams' major works, often with very little lag between their appearance in the world and on disc.
In tune with all that, the two-disc retrospective omnibus of Adams' music on the Nonesuch label shares its title with Adams' superbly written new memoirs for a very simple reason: This is the two-disc companion to the book. While it's invariably true that the Whitman's Sampler approach to any composer's career is far less persuasive than anthologies of complete unexcerpted works (for which see the large, expensive Nonesuch box set called "Earbox"), "Hallelujah Junction" is a rather brilliant two-disc portrait of a composer who is a classic establishmentarian example of a public composer in our time.
Which is to say that Adams, in his career variety, is quite rewardingly excerptable, whether you're hearing pieces of his almost-symphony "Harmonielehre," his own synthesizer performance of "Hoodoo Zephyr" or excerpts from his major operas and virtuoso instrumental pieces. The disc booklet appropriately excerpts his memoirs, and when Adams writes, at one point, "I'd loved American pop music, particularly of the late 1960s, almost as much as I'd loved the classical canon," no one will have trouble believing it.
Much more specialized is the recording of his latest critically orphaned opera. "A Flowering Tree," which he describes in his memoir as the result of wanting to "composer my own 'Magic Flute,' something that would share with the Mozart opera themes of youth and transformation." While he calls the final piece "pan-cultural," he quotes one New York Times critic's notion that it was "a big sloppy kiss to multi-culturalism" and the Viennese critical consensus that saw its premiere that it was "multi-kiri."
-- Jeff Simon
Review: 4 stars
When Todd Rundgren passed through Buffalo over the summer, he treated a full house inside the Tralf to his yet-to-be-released new album, "Arena," in its entirety. Many were likely shocked that the revered pop auteur was engaging in what was largely an uber-aggressive, guitar-centric collection of songs. By the end of the night, however, Rundgren had convincingly sold the audience on a body of work its members were wholly unfamiliar worth. It was quite a night.
"Arena" itself suffers only for the absence of the live band -- including guitarist Jesse Gress and drummer Prairie Prince -- he'd assembled to perform the material live. Like most of the albums Rundgren has released in his incredible career, particularly of late, this one bears the "written, produced and performed by Todd Rundgren" marking. And though there are some "real" drums on the record, there is also ample use of the drum programming and looping Rundgren has pretty much mastered since releasing "No World Order" 15 years back. You get over this pretty quickly, though; by your second time through the record, you're concentrating on the songs, not the programming.
And what songs they are. Though there is vitriol in abundance on "Arena," and elements of industrial music, metal and techno are in evidence, the album is all about the songwriting -- and in that department, Rundgren can't help himself. He's a slave to melody and is a master at stacking vocal harmonies.
The guitar playing runs the gamut, too, from the Nine Inch Nails-like wall of sound heralding "Mercenary," to the "Something/Anything?" nods during "Mad" and "Afraid." Throughout, the songs are smartly conceived, flawlessly performed and immaculately produced, which should surprise no Rundgren fan who has been paying attention. Lyrically, the album operates on twin levels. Part of Rundgren's genius in this department lies in his ability to create multiple levels of commentary through a single narrative voice, which means irony, suspect narrators and an abundance of suggestion take the place of flat-out statement, for the most part.
Easy to locate amidst all of this is Rundgren's heart, which despite his bountiful intelligence, irreverence and refusal to do what is expected of him, beats passionately beneath the din. Count "Arena" as yet another masterwork in a career chock full of them.