Monday, July 19, 2010

Play Them Songs: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - 'Mojo'

I am a huge fan of classic rock. I mean I LOVE it. Led Zeppelin changed my life. But, as a personal rule of sorts, I don't buy new CDs by "old" artists. This stems from an experience I had in high school. For reasons still unclear, I decided to buy Aerosmith's 2001 release Just Push Play -- and it was awful.

However, a few weeks ago I was at Best Buy and saw that Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' new CD, Mojo, was only $10. So I picked it up.

Mojo sees Petty and his boys go back to Petty's Southern roots with a blues-infused rock and roll record. Right from the start, with "Jefferson Jericho Blues," Mojo displays an upbeat, guitar-driven foundation that continues throughout with tracks "Candy," "U.S. 41" and "I Should Have Known It."

With a few slower numbers to balance itself out, Mojo makes for a fairly solid listen. It isn't Petty's best, nor does it have any signature standout singles that have made Petty so famous. But what it gives you is a different side of Petty.

If you listen to Petty's library, you'll hear a very tight, very focused band that takes a very professional approach to their music. The case can even be made for calling Petty a perfectionist, if you recall the tale of how Petty broke his hand punching a wall after becoming frustrated while recording the song "Rebels" on the Southern Accents album (of course, drugs are also to blame for the incident).

Mojo, on the other hand, presents Petty and the band at arguably their most relaxed. While it doesn't posses the raw swagger of someone like The Rolling Stones, the blues influence does give the album a very laid back vibe.

It's not perfect, but the album is a gratifying listen for any Petty fans looking for something fresh. Plus, it got me to repeal my ban.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cycle of CDs: The Lemonheads - 'It's a Shame About Ray' (1992)

Yes, the first song I ever heard by the Lemonheads was a cover that they did. It truly defined them for me, though, at least for at least a little while. Their version of "Mrs. Robinson" was great for various reasons: it was already a popular song, it gave the band a chance to let people know their style, and they did a hell of a job of putting their spin on it. I really regret not putting it on my list of favorite covers.

And, I pretty much of bought It's a Shame About Ray because of that cover song.

The Lemonheads, almost as their name implies, were (and still are on most counts) just a perfect, sweet, pop band. Most folks will label them as indie, rock, or alternative, but that's not the case. They are pop.

See, it goes back to at least part of my theory on cover bands -- they used to be a great stepping stone for bands to get their start and to learn their trade before doing it themselves. It wasn't shameful or dull. People, not very different from today, like to go out and hear a band play their favorite songs. Forty and fifty years ago, though, popular songs played on the radio were actually good. The Beatles were a pop band. So were Elvis, Jerry Lee, and Chuck Berry. Who would be ashamed to play Beatles covers, even if it was "I Want to Hold Your Hand"? Somewhere, I would venture to say just after Michael Jackson peaked, pop music became disgusting, simplifying its music, its words, and its range. Our culture, on the whole, became dumb. What would a cover band have to play now that is considered "popular"? Miley Cyrus? The Black-Eyed Peas? Katie Perry? Those are usually names I see on the Top 40 Lists.

I've digressed. True, guitar-driven pop music still exists, though, and it's still as good as some of the original pop music of the late Fifties and Sixties -- you know, back when bands played their instruments and at least wrote some of their songs.

That's where The Lemonheads fall in the musical spectrum for me. And, It's a Shame About Ray is a wonderful, guitar-driven, pop record. I'd go so far to call it a masterpiece of its time if it wasn't for "Ceiling Fan in My Spoon," which isn't bad. It just sounds lacking compared to the rest of the tracks.

But, oh my God, the rest of the CD? I've never gotten tired of it.

First of all, the sentimental tracks are just beautifully made, no matter their content. Take "My Drug Buddy," a tale of two friends (I like to assume one of them is a girl), who are friends due to their shared interest in drugs, maybe beyond. "Hannah and Gabi," a cute tune of beginnings and doubt, has one of my favorite lines on the entire record ("Though it wasn't hard or far/I walked you to your car").

The rockers are just plain fun. The opening, hectic riff of "Rockin' Stroll" starts the album off perfectly. "Kitchen," another song of romantic beginnings, can't be beat, either, especially with lines like, "I'll tell you things I know you like to know/Treat me to cake every night" and "We repeat the same stories/But, of course, never in front of friends/How it all started in the kitchen/Remember the time when you said we could wait a while?/You'd let me know when you changed your mind/Yeah, I was sad for some time."

Add that to the fact that Juliana Hatfield played bass and sang idealized backing vocals for the album, and you've got a collection of songs that you'll want around forever.

Nevermind Evan Dando's dick-and-douche personality in his live shows. Forget the cover, which was originally included only as a bonus track. You'll get addicted to the simple greatness that is The Lemonheads with this one CD.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cycle of CDs: Hole - 'Live Through This' (1994)

When I was sixteen or thereabouts, I hung out with these older folks around our incredibly small town. It was a tiny commune of people who were "cool." At least, that's the way I looked at them before I "joined" the group. Looking back, I don't think any of us considered ourselves to be cool at all; we just liked to do the same things, i.e. drink, and we liked to listen to a lot of the same music. We tried our best to keep each other abreast of bands and songs.

In that group was an even smaller subgroup of two older girls that I thought were just the hottest things ever. For one reason or another, they took me up as a friend and I was sometimes allowed to hang out with them.

Anyway, they loved Hole. They thought Courtney Love was the shit. When I was around them, we would listen to Live Through This constantly. Since it was almost always on cassette tape, we would listen to all of side one, flip it, and listen to all of side two while riding around and finding cemeteries to haunt. I would've liked the CD on my own. That's my theory, anyway. The fact that they were jamming it at all hours in Tiny Town, U.S.A. like the roll n' roll, bad-ass bitches they were certainly didn't hurt.

I recently double checked myself, though, to see if I would still like it. I got the CD out and put it in the car for a couple of days. I just let it play straight through, just like the old days.

My conclusion? It's still flawless. It is a rock masterpiece, easily, that is roughly themed around doing drugs and having to furiously grow up due to several obstacles, many of which center around a baby entering one's life. Just polished in just the right spots, perfectly raw in all other areas.

Look, forget the contraversy of whether Courtney wrote all the songs or not. She would've had to have been influenced by Kurt, right? Of course! She was married and lived with him for years. Did he write some of the album? Take a listen to Hole's first. It's similar to Live Through This; her latest work reflects that she has some talent, even if it may be fading. Honestly, I don't know.

More importantly, I don't care. If he did write some of it, that's fine. The album is still a motherfucker. It would be very different if she didn't (or couldn't) play her own instrument(s). She did, as far as I know -- that's usually not the argument I ever hear against the album. For more on that type of controversy, scroll down and read the third-to-last paragraph here. There are your rock gods for you, tweens.

The lyrics on Hole's second album are stout, man; it doesn't matter if you are male or female. Who can't relate to high school being a factory to keep everyone formulaic -- a place where you'd do anything to fit in -- especially when said with such beautiful brashness? ("Well, I went to school/In Olympia/We look the same/We talk the same/We even fuck the same.")

Haven't we all dealt with self-conscious issues, even if they aren't quite drug induced? ("I am/doll arms/big veins/dog bait/Yeah, they really want you/They really do.")

Surely you've been jealous, right? ("Was she asking for it?/Was she asking nice?/If she was asking for it/Did she ask you twice?")

I'm telling you, haters, subside with the did-she-or-didn't-she-write-it shit and embrace this raging, wonderful, rock n' roll record.

In fact, when I first saw/heard this video on MTV, I was sold, even if those cool chicks had already somewhat sold me on Live Through This:

Sorry that it skips, but you get the idea.

Editor's Note: This is number thirteen of a series of essays where the author takes a look and listen into every CD he has in his collection.