Tag Archives: 1 Star (of 5)

Best Coast – The Only Place

Best CoastThe Only Place (Mexican Summer)

Talk about an about face: I was ready to declare Best Coast’s last album the greatest record of all time moments after succumbing to its immediate charms. I was preparing for a similar infliction with The Only Place, Best Coast’s sophomore album, an effort that sees jack-of-all-trades Jon Brion tweaking the band’s surf rock worship into the posher confines of a more upscale zip code.

And by doing so, Brion completely dismantles every hint of charm, transforming The Only Place into a forgettable piece of polished mope, highlighting Bethany Cosentino’s discontent with her recent brush with fame thanks to Crazy For You.

If the bear on the cover doesn’t clue you in, Bethany will profess her love of the Golden State with about as much intelligence as Miss California’s question and answer section during the Miss America pageant. “We have fun / We have fun / We have fun when we please.” She tells us during the title track, adding, “We’ve got the ocean / We’ve got the sun / We’ve got the waves.”  As appealing as that all sounds, it doesn’t hold a candle to Brian Wilson’s simple declaration of “two girls for every boy” which was good enough for most boys to head for the coast with just the shirt on their backs.

Why would you live anywhere else? To avoid having to listen to Cosentino’s lyrics, for one.

Again, I fell head over heels for Crazy For You, including its inadequacies, so I’m not expecting her to turn into Joni Mitchell. What I didn’t expect was Brion to place Bethany front and center in the mix, neglecting the entire dream-girl fantasy that she conjured up underneath all that echo and reverb just a few years ago. Now she seems like any other California girl: made-up, plastic, and with very little personality to draw listeners in.

And what’s with all the moping? Before, the self-loathing was trying to nab a dude’s attention, but now it’s all about “my life, my life, my life” as she mutters on, yep, “My Life.”

Guitarist Bobb Bruno is lost within Brion’s banana hands over the guitars and gear he’s earmarked for each verse and chorus. The entire thing sounds like it was storyboarded to death with rhythms full of light ‘n airy complacency and guitars that never show much attitude for their part either. Bruno’s now become a session player, forgoing any voice he mustered previously and letting Brion turn him into a silent partner that only the fine print of the liner notes identifies.

Ironically, The Only Place uses the same old school paradigm that a major label would have used in introducing the first major label record from some underground darlings in an attempt for mass consumption. But since it’s coming from independent means already, the only excuse left for Best Coast is that all of that California sun seems to have baked away all of their charm and creativity, leaving outside influences with the duty of lathering on the sunscreen to cover it all up.

Audio: Best Coast – “The Only Place”

Scott Weiland – The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

Scott WeilandThe Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Atlantic)

The very idea of a Scott Weiland Christmas album is a strange concept for some, and while I’m not a fan of Mr. Weiland’s work, at least I can grasp the notion that he recently released a collection of holiday songs after hinting at the idea for several years.

When you consider that Weiland’s been flirting with a Bowie blueprint for a big chunk of his career, it’s a given that he would eventually stumble upon the WTF moment that was “The Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth” collaboration between Bowie and Bing.

But what’s equally bizarre is how Weiland attempts to channel both artists in his own holiday set, The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, and how he fails miserably with this approach.

You can judge by the cover that Weiland is attempting to paint a very 50s caricature of himself and much of Most Wonderful Time is drenched in that swingin’ motif. His band channels Dave Brubeck on “What Child Is This?” knowing very well that most of his fans think “Take 5” is just a candy bar rather than a legitimate homage to the hep cats of the Eisenhower generation.

But what Weiland doesn’t understand is the expectation that he too should provide at least some amount of effort for this record to serve as a homage instead of a reckless embarrassment to the artists he portends to honor.

The first half of the record finds Scott using lazy phrasing and a weird vibrato that’s either trying to mask his inability to find the correct pitch or, in fact, actually causing his struggles with staying in tune. I have no idea about Mr. Weiland’s current state of sobriety, but I can tell you that after hearing this vocal styling, it reminded me of my grandfather trying to sing “How Great Thou Art” with my grandmother on organ after too many cans of Hamm’s beer.

The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year can be described as an existential cry for help. His intent and the performance of his band clearly indicate a level of respect for material, but it’s Scott’s own performance that demonstrates an inability to devote a level of professionalism to even make this seem like a legitimate release. 

Michael Schenker – Temple Of Rock

Michael SchenkerTemple Of Rock (Inakustik)

Not only is Michael Schenker one of the greatest hard rock guitarists ever, he’s one of the most frustrating.

Two or my all time favorite guitar players have played in the Scorpions-younger brother Michael and his replacement Uli Jon Roth-but it’s Schenker’s work in UFO where he destroys so consistently.

From there, his popularity led him to a solo career which started promisingly enough before becoming labored with volatile drinking issues and egotistical clashes with a revolving door personnel that seemed to change with each record.

The latest effort isn’t even identified as a group, just Michael Schenker as a solo artist. Actually, make that Michael Schenker the solo artist coming out of the top of a motherfucking pyramid!

Temple Of Rock is nowhere near as relic crushing as the cover suggests, and nowhere near as promising as the all-star ensemble listed in the liner notes would have you believe.

It’ll make you do a double take, especially when you discover it’s none other than William Shatner doing the little spoken word into to Temple Of Rock, only until you start listening to the nonsense they have him reading.

Rudy Schenker, Leslie West, Carmine Appice, Chris Slade and an endless parade of hard rock guests show up, but it’s the guest vocalist Doogie White who ends up stealing the spotlight when it comes to real contribution.

He only appears on one song, “Before The Devil Knows Your Dead,” and that’s a shame.

Inexplicably, Schenker gives the majority of the vocals on the record to Michael Voss who possesses a flaccid vocal tonality and renders the album as nothing more than an irritant. His limited ability magnifies the album’s other huge flaw: the woefully clichéd lyrics. 

What’s bewildering is how Schenker works mindblowing solos in between all of the shit sandwiches and formulaic prose. It’s during these moments when Schenker still shows signs of previous greatness and it hints that he may be nothing more than a six-string savant with flashes of technical brilliant, but with nothing in terms of the social skills needed to share the stage with a complimentary partner.

Temple Of Rock acts like it’s still 1987 and it’s attitude mines the possibility that it can compete with Giuffria or some other second-tier hair metal band trying to break out of MTV’s light rotation.

While the record seems content with that very low expectation, Schenker compellingly finds this schlock as a good enough reason to play against. It’s a very frustrating experience, which means that Temple Of Rock is just business as usual for this could-have been shredder contender.

Lou Reed and Metallica – Lulu

Lou Reed & MetallicaLulu (Warner Bros)

The pairing is so unusual that one is inclined to immediately react with “Wha?” followed by a gut-checked “It’s gonna suck.”

And after listening to Lulu, I would encourage everyone to listen to their impulse reaction.

I’m curious to hear the responses of people who are admitted fans of this record, true loyalists who find some redeeming value to this project, beyond the canned responses that I’ve been hearing all along. Sure, the making of Lulu may have indeed been a liberating experience for the members of Metallica, but how liberating is it for fans of either artist who already view each new release with a distrusting eye?

Because ultimately, Lulu will have to be defended by them and they should be prepared for a long, arduous journey.

The entire idea of matching Lou Reed with Metallica doesn’t make sense. The band is not known for rubbing shoulders with the avant-garde while Reed isn’t exactly known for running around in thrash circles.

To be polite, the two sound as uncomfortable together on tape as they do in your mind.

At one point during “Pumping Blood,” the band repeats a monotonous guitar figure while Reed barks out the song title, occasionally breaking out into what appear to be verses. One example during the song finds Lou spitting “Waggle my ass like a dog prostitute coagulating heart…Pumping blood…C’mon James!”

He’s encouraging Hetfield because the song–as does most of the album–plods along like a lazy rehearsal. No interesting riffs arrive and Lars Ulrich tentatively drums the whole mess into nothing. There’s huge holes in some of his parts suggesting that he could have been replaced by Mo Tucker and Lulu would have least sounded rhythmically appealing.

There are no solos for Kirk Hammett in Lulu and I could hear no evidence that he wanted to get his feet wet with any real weirdness to break up the endless parade of jug-jug-jugs and big chord bridges. At some points, and I don’t know if it’s James or Kirk playing, you can hear someone pick up an acoustic guitar and start playing like they have no idea what they’re supposed to be doing.

And if you turn the volume up as loud as you can on Lulu, you may be able to hear the voice of bassist Robert Trujillo muttering under his breath “What the fuck am I doing here? I wonder if I can get my gig with Suicidal Tendencies back?”

There’s something going on with Reed’s mouth too, and you can hear it throughout the record. I mean, if you’re intending for Lulu to be powerful, provocative, right?! He sounds like an old man with a lazy drawl. Hard consonants are a challenge for Lou and when he musters enough strength to scream, it sounds as though he’s merely shaking free a bunch of mucus in the back of his throat. “I want so much to hurtcha!” he threatens on “Frustration” with about as much menace as a grandpa trying to figure out how to work the remote.

There are moments where you can audibly hear Lou breathing through his nose, further suggesting the grandpa factor.

But the ground zero of shittyness is the lyrics that Reed attempts to spew out. He’s prominent in the mix, giving listeners a good glimpse of his parade of crap. There are moments when you’re jaw will drop in shock (“You’re more man than I/To be dead to have no feeling/To be dry and spermless/Like a girl/Like a girl!”). There are moments when your mouth will just be agape while your head shakes in disbelief (“The taste of your vulva…and everything on it!”). And there are moments where you’ll just blurt out in laughter (“The female dog don’t care what you got/As long as you can raise that little doggie face/To a cold-hearted pussy”).

It sounds like an improvisational affair, a project initiated on a whim while becoming a permanent artifact will be remembered as nothing more than a “What the fuck?!” moment. Generations will ponder it, and you may even find a few weirdoes in the corner that will defend this moment.

Ignore them. There’s nothing remotely redeeming here.

Lulu is something that may have indeed been something therapeutic for those involved, and it may even hold a special place in their heart. But that doesn’t mean it should have been offered a legitimate release date. It’s something that should have left to the vaults, a curio whose legend grows from its own silence.

Unfortunately, it’s here. It’s real. And it’s awful.

Ratatat – LP4

Ratatat - LP4RatatatLP4 (XL Recordings)

My wife hates leftovers.

Her reasoning is sound: She grew up in a large family where leftovers were a financial necessity in many cases. But no matter how I try to convince her that the chili is always better on the second day or how there is nothing better than a cold meatloaf sandwich, she inevitably will chose a bowl of cereal over yesterday’s menu.

I bring this up because LP4 from Ratatat essentially is composed of the leftovers from their last effort, LP3. There is the element of an actual string quartet on the latest offering and a bit more drama in some of the electronic flourishes, but make no mistake: The songs presented here were first introduced for possible inclusion on the previous release.

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Ozzy Osbourne – Scream

Ozzy Osbourne - ScreamOzzy OsbourneScream (Epic)

What happened? At one point, he was an adorable, self-proclaimed “Prince of Darkness” shuffling around his home for public consumption, releasing forgettable solo albums that took the bite out of any horrorshow he conjured up in earlier days. Then next, he’s a puppet to his wife’s celebrity and a slave to her authority, shuffling around in a goddamn variety show while firing longtime guitarist Zakk Wylde, giving him the pink slip during an interview in a magazine.

Scream is Ozzy Osbourne‘s 10th album and the first with thirty-year old guitarist, Gus G. It has a thoroughly modern sound with lots of compression and heavily processed vocals that usually find Osbourne yelling some anthemic phrase like “Scream!” or “I’m Fearless!” or “Let It Die!” or “Soul Sucka!”

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Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Mojo

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - MojoTom Petty and the HeartbreakersMojo (Reprise)

Hot off the class-reunion jam of Mudcrutch, Tom Petty attempts to bring a similar sense of noodling over to the Heartbreakers. The most glaring question, considering the bands under-appreciated keep-it-simple-stupid approach on record and cole slaw grind on stage, is “Why?”

With that sense of “Let’s ring up the fellas and play guitar awhile” approach out of the picture with Mojo, Petty’s twelfth album with the Heartbreakers sounds like lazy meanderings and the most uninspired collection of songs in his otherwise impressive catalog.

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Happy Birthday – Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday - Happy BirthdayHappy BirthdayHappy Birthday (Sub Pop)

Happy Birthday is the kind of intentional lo-fi band that reminds you, “Holy shit, there’s a lot of lo-fi bands!” Then you think, “There’s really no need for all of these lo-fi bands!” and you immediately put Happy Birthday on the long list of “Lo-Fi bands that don’t need to be around any more.”

Hailing from Vermont, this trio features some interesting lineage—not the kind that make you think “Sup Pop’s newest hitmakers!” but intriguing nonetheless.

With guitarist Kyle Thomas taking a break from his work with J. Mascis in the stoner-metal band Witch and his own folk musings on Feathers, he joins up with Merrill Garbus’ (Tune Yards) sister, Ruth, and bassist Chris Weisman for a project that sounds great on paper. On closer examination, they should have saved the notepad to write the answer to the question “What kind of band do we want to be?”

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