Life on Other Planets
The fourth effort from Supergrass, the most exceptional group to emerge from the mid-'90s Brit pop scene, "Life on Other Planets" is a tour de farce, a brilliant, deeply musical record that benefits greatly from its refusal to take itself too seriously.
That it might never see a U.S. release is an absolute travesty and - bet you saw this coming - a sad commentary on the American record industry and its refusal to take anything even slightly resembling a chance.
"Life on Other Planets" - the British press has taken to calling the thing "LOOP" for short, so we'll follow their lead - is a glorious mess of an album, an endeavor progressive and ambitious on one hand and full of cheek and an undeniable musical moxie on the other. At a mere 40 minutes, the record is nigh on flawless.
Supergrass' eponymous effort from 2000 and its predecessor, 1997's "In It for the Money," established Supergrass as the preeminent British band of the decade. "LOOP" may not have quite the impact of either of those records, precisely because the band's honeymoon with the British rock press is over, but it ups the ante on both and presents itself as the group's most self-assured work yet.
All of the familiar elements are here - Marc Bolan's T Rex ("Rush Hour Soul," "Za"), the Buzzcocks ("Seen the Light"), "Village Green Preservation Society"-era Kinks ("Evening of the Day") and the Beatles, whose influence is ever-present and pervasive. But whereas a tendency toward stoned inside jokes occasionally plagued the band's past efforts, here the band laughs with us, not at us. Only once do the boys offer up the pub bloke giggle-giggle annoyances of old when, during the "White Album"-like coda of "Evening of the Day," they repeat the spacey mantra "He's so stoned," which is way more "Satanic Majesty's" then "Sgt. Pepper's."
However, when the band concludes this remarkable album with the ethereal, spacious and damn clever "Run" - picture early Genesis colliding head-on with Paul McCartney & Wings during their "Venus and Mars" sessions - you've gotta hand it to them; this is the stuff of genius, the sort that avoids pretentiousness and instead focuses on a blend of craft and coyness.
"LOOP" is available locally as an import. Seeking it out is highly recommended.
- Jeff Miers
Red Letter Days
[Interscope] *** 1/2
Rabidly perusing the Web in search of info on the forthcoming Wallflowers a few weeks back, I stumbled upon a German review of "Red Letter Days." Duly translated for me by Google, the review was a hoot, wholly due to the hilarious random inaccuracies of translation. Praising the record for its blend of "sophisticated songwriting and ingenious melody elbows," the review called the record "a new album from the house Dylan."
Which brings up an interesting point, accidentally or otherwise. Jakob Dylan will always be discussed in relation to his iconoclastic father. That's both unfair and, more than likely, unavoidable. Dylan and the Wallflowers' best work - both the mega-platinum "Bringing Down the Horse" and its commercially disappointing but musically sound follow-up, "Breach" - has no more of a debt to pay to Dylan the elder than, say, John Mellencamp or Tom Petty. Jakob's his own man; his music has always been more pop-oriented than anything his father offered.
"Red Letter Days" is another strong Wallflowers effort. The band hasn't attempted to reinvent its own wheel; these are sturdy, memorable, hook-heavy slabs of roots rock, the sort of stuff that folks who like their pop songs delivered with a heaping side of Americana and a garnish of grit can appreciate.
Opener "When You're on Top" sets the standard the rest of the album has no problem living up to. Taught, grimy verses give way to hallelujah choruses, the sort that stick to the ribs without much effort. "How Good It Can Get" is instantly memorable and should be played on the radio often, though increasingly constricted formatting will probably orphan the song.
"Red Letter Days" is exactly the album the Wallflowers should have made, family lineage notwithstanding.
- Jeff Miers
Complete Orchestra Works 2
Guitarist Ricardo Gallen and the Asturias Symphony Orchestra under Maximiano Valdes
[Naxos] *** 1/2
Unlikely as it might seem for this ultra-Spanish disc of Rodrigo's two great guitar concerti, there are Buffalo ties going in all directions here. Not only is the conductor former Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Maximiano Valdes, but the Asturias Symphony Orchestra debuted in 1991 under the principal conductorship, no less, of former BPO principal violist Jesse Levine.
The repertoire here is the two great guitar concertos of Joaquin Rodrigo - the "Concierto De Aranjuez" (arguably the greatest extant work for guitar and orchestra; certainly by now the most popular) and the "Fantasia para un gentilhombre," which Rodrigo wrote specifically for Andres Segovia (who always refused to play the far greater "Concierto De Aranjuez" because, it's often speculated, Rodrigo wrote it for someone else). Rounding out the disc is the "Concierto Andaluz" for four guitars, about which, the less said.
Under Valdes' direction, you might find this to be as oddly lustless, bloodless and dubiously refined a rendering of this music as you've ever heard but damned if Valdes' elegance doesn't get to you after a while. There are no concessions in the two great works here to the musical version of souvenir shop postcard pictorialism and parochialism. But nor does its proud salon propriety and lack of virtuoso display ultimately interfere with the haunting and primal beauty of this music, which is almost ineradicable.
- Jeff Simon
Missy Elliott's "Under Construction" begins, like so many albums in the genre today, with the artist taking the mic and spitting out whatever is on her mind by way of an "intro." Most artists who do this take it as an opportunity to dis somebody who has dissed them. For her "Intro," Elliott decides to let us know that "ever since Aaliyah passed I view life in a more valuable way. ... Hate and anger and gossip or just plain old bulls--- became ignorant to me." She advises listeners that "all the hate and animosity ... you need to kill it wit' a skillet!" How to do this? "You don't see Bill Gates and Donald Trump arguing with each other, 'cause both of them got paper and they got better s--- to do. Get mo' paper!"
It's the first non sequitur in an album full of them. "Under Construction" is clever, slick and sometimes creative, but ultimately inconsequential and wholly self-referential. No matter. Folks who love Elliott will love these groove-centric, classic old-school hip-hop tracks, full of loops, scratches, multitracked moans and groans, and more guest stars than Puff Daddy's after-hours Grammy party. "Gossip Folks" is dark and dirty and features some skanky guest rhymes from Ludacris. "Step to me, get burnt like toast!" says Elliott. "Back in the Day" echoes the funk of Rick James, as Jay-Z brings the noise. "What happened to the good old days, when hip-hop was so much fun?" asks Elliott. Yeah. That would seem to be the operative question.
- Jeff Miers
It's hard to listen to Audioslave's long-awaited debut without thinking that vocalist Chris Cornell is slumming it a bit. His 1991 solo debut, "Euphoria Morning," was an absolutely brilliant modern rock-pop pastiche, one of the most unfairly overlooked masterpieces of the past 10 years. Cornell proved himself to be a unique writer, supremely gifted vocalist and a multi-instrumentalist of considerable depth.
Bearing this in mind, joining up with the core of Rage Against the Machine is a step backward for Cornell. Whatever. One listen to "Audioslave" will forcibly evict such notions from your mind. "Crushing" is the word that comes to mind about 30 seconds into album-opener, "Cochise," a molten slab of Zeppelin-esque riffery and the sort of skull-shattering, virtuosic vocals Cornell perfected on Soundgarden's "Louder Than Love." "Show Me How to Live" is another instant classic, a blend of Sabbath-like sludge with a killer Cornell melody and the brilliant eccentricities of Tom Morello's guitar work.
There's not a weak cut here. Cornell's sophistication elevates the Rage boys well above their previous station; Rage provides Cornell with a powerhouse stability over which his voice soars like a beast half angel and half demon. This is the best heavy rock release we've seen since Soundgarden's 1996 swan song, "Down on the Upside." Remarkable.
- Jeff Miers