Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Album Review- Marillion, “Misplaced Childhood”

January 20, 2010

Marillion's 1985 record, Misplaced Childhood.

“Two hundred Francs for sanctuary and she led me by the hand to a room of dancing shadows where all the heartache disappears, and from glowing tongues of candles I heard her whisper in my ear: J’entend ton coeur. I can hear your heart….” -Bitter Suite (III. Blue Angel)

41 minutes is all I need for sanctuary as Marillion takes me by the hand, leading me into a world of dancing melodies where all my heartache disappears. From the glowing lyrics, frontman Fish seems to hear my heart indeed. I’m going to warn my readers now, I’m extremely biased about this album. I don’t know if I can fairly grade it, considering this is far and away my favorite album of all time. This piece of music means a lot to me. Forgive me, but realize.. this IS a great album, a must-listen for anyone, especially those with emotional investments in the records they enjoy.

Marillion is one of those bands that have two distinct eras due to changes in frontmen, like Genesis or Van Halen or AC/DC. The first four albums the band released, all in the 1980s, were under the lead of a charismatic Scottish poet by the nickname of Fish (Born Derek Dick). The band and Fish parted ways in 1988 and changed style significantly while picking up Steve Hogarth as their new frontman. While I enjoy Hogarth-era Marillion, I have much more emotional connection to the work Fish produced with the band, especially the album I’m preparing to discuss.

I discovered Marillion a few years ago when I realized that I had an obsession with “Progressive” rock. The term is loosely applied to any band with concept albums, superb technical ability, longer compositions, ambitious lyrical content, and influences outside of traditional rock roots. I acquired some Marillion, eager to absorb the keyboard solos, psychedelic vibes, out-of-this-world grooves and trippy rhythms that other prog bands were known for. Marillion displays all of these traits and then some, HOWEVER; it wasn’t their “progressiveness” that hooked me. The band seemed to have a more gentle, realistic, and authentic touch to their music and lyrics than many other prog bands did. Much of this can be traced to Fish, a well-travelled and cultured poet with a bold way of speaking and wearing his heart on his sleeve. Fish is one of the best emoters in rock history, I dare to say, up there with greats like Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, Steve Perry, Robert Plant, and Bono. Every word, melody, note, and afflection Fish sings has a meaning; no word is without a purpose, no lyric is superficial.

I don’t think this is an album that casual listeners can truly grasp after one listen; nor do I think it’s an album that can be played in the background. It’s a wholesome, full work that is best enjoyed in isolation, without distraction. There’s so much going on in Misplaced Childhood, so many layers of meaning and music, that it takes time to “get.” It took me time.

Now, on to the review….

Fish

“Pseudo Silk Komono” seeps into the listener’s ears, a haunting, creepy organ melody lurking in the shadows of conscience. When Fish sings the lyrics, I can imagine a tired, weary, sage old man speaking these words as he reflects, struggling with some past sin or memory that he wishes to forget. This sets up the album on a somber, heavy note. “The spirit of a misplaced childhood is rising to speak his mind to this orphan of heartbreak, disillusioned and scarred; A refugee.” Fear and regret soak Fish’s words. I am able to feel the sorrow and remorse. Even if I haven’t faced the same horrors the narrator has, I can relate due to the emotion that drips from these poetic lyrics.

Marillion’s guitarist, Steve Rothery, is well-regarded for his melodic and atmospheric, clean playing style. This style is best exemplified in the intro of the second song, “Kayleigh.” His ringing riff is accented by clever piano and bass harmonies, while Ian Mosley’s drumming is snappy and tasteful. Fish pours out his heart to an old lover, begging her to come back, sharing very personal memories in a catchy and melodic tune. Yes, this is a rather “poppy” song, and was a huge hit in the United Kingdom, but the music and vocals are quite authentic. The heavy, haunting build-up in “Kimono” contrasts the jangling melodies that came here, but it works to be very effective as Fish begins to recall happenings past.  Rothery’s guitar solo captures the essence of yearning and separation, complimenting the hearty Fish vocal. Having undergone a recent split, and having had to comfort myself with this album as I had done many a time before, something about this song struck me to the core.  “Kayleigh I’m still trying to write that love song, Kayleigh it’s more important to me now you’re gone. Maybe it will prove that we were right, or ever prove that I was wrong.”

“Lavender” begins on one of the sweetest, simple, pure piano lines that I’ve ever heard. Fish’s voice drips of longing and remembrance as he recalls the innocence of childhood. The lyrics in this song are a bit more straightforward than in the other two, as this is done on purpose to tie into a popular nursery rhyme and perfectly capture the mood of youth. While Fish begs for his love to return to him in “Kayleigh,” in “Lavender” he acknowledges that he owes her for her love in a powerful chorus that gives way to another delightful Rothery solo.

In “Bitter Suite,” the mood reverts back to what is felt in the beginning of the album. Thundering, chaotic drums and dark, desolate bass chords resonate as the guitar picks and prods at inner demons deep within the listener, summoning forth mistakes and regrets that cling to this very day. The first part of the song is definitely a “mood” piece. Fish recites the lyrics in the beginning of the song, rather than sings them. The poem he reads is very pessimistic and dark in nature. Fish launches into his singing once more with a gusto, recalling lost souls who struggle with their pasts. “She was a wallflower at sixteen, she’ll be a wallflower at thirty four. Her mother called her beautiful, her daddy said, “A whore”.”

From here the music begins to build a bit, Rothery taking over for Fish, the guitar’s passionate lines just as useful as any lyric or word could ever be. The song shifts a bit, recalling the same mood as “Lavender” and “Kayleigh,” as Fish ponders another lost lover. My favorite lyrics in the entire album are sung in a heart-wrenching fashion: Two hundred Francs for sanctuary and she led me by the hand to a room of dancing shadows where all the heartache disappears, and from glowing tongues of candles I heard her whisper in my ear: J’entend ton coeur. I can hear your heart…”

The heart is certainly a recurring theme in Misplaced Childhood. One can tell that Fish and company put their hearts and souls into this work. It’s a deep, moving piece so far that has touched a wide variety of emotions, and the album isn’t even halfway over at this point. Fish, overwhelmed by the pressures and personal tragedies he’s faced, finds himself lost and directionless. “ On the outskirts of nowhere, on the ring road to somewhere, on the verge of indecision, I’ll always take the roundabout way.”

“Heart of Lothian” is a rip-roaring, spectacular, powerful anthem. Pete Trewavas plays a rumbling, active bassline as Rothery grinds out a flying, nonstop guitar line that brings to mind banners, parades, color, and smiles. There’s more satisfaction and bravado in Fish’s voice as he spectacularly describes “rooting, tooting cowboys” and “lucky little ladies at the watering hole.” Whatever darkness that plagued the narrater is forgotten, or at least covered up, by this swaggering fist-pumping sing-along. Has Fish moved on from his troubles? Has he made some kind of revelation about his life? Has he discovered that misplaced meaning once again?

It doesn’t appear to be so, as in the latter half of the song Fish’s voice suddenly turns to lament and confusion, the music melting around his mournful vocal as he proclaims, “The man in the mirror has sad eyes.”

“Waterhole (Expresso Bongo),” is a rhythmic whirlwind, as the keyboards and drums prance around in circles around an arrogant and bitter-sounding Fish asserting that “the heroes never show.” This is a quick song, but its punch is well-felt as it immediately gives way to “Lords of the Backstage,” which functions as a companion tune. The victorious tone of “Lothian” returns, with the snappy rhythm accenting Fish’s confession that he “just wanted you to be the first one. Ashes are burning, burning. A lifestyle with no simplicities, but I’m not asking for your sympathy. Talk, we never could talk, distanced by all that was between us. A lord of the backstage, a creature of language, I’m so far out and I’m too far in.”

Last night you said I was cold, untouchable. A lonely piece of action from another town. I just want to be free, I’m happy to be lonely. Can’t you stay away? Just leave me alone with my thoughts. Just a runaway, I’m saving myself.” In “Blind Curve,” Fish suddenly becomes closed-off and isolated. His voice drips of the kind of self-depricating hate that only the most upset and lost people can feel. Nearly anyone can empathize with the brutal heartbreak he expresses, as the soul-searching narrator goes on a directionless journey, “still trying to write love songs for passing strangers.” Many due props are given to keyboardist Mark Kelly, whose lines throughout the album have been extremely tasteful and have added so much to the moods. Here his synthesizers waver and weep as Fish succumbs to yet another wave of tragedies; losing a friend, facing his own mortality, and descending into substance abuse. Fish “never felt so alone” as he travels to yet “another temporary home.” Fish asks if he’d gone insane, and the music reflects this depression, slow and sporadic, haunting and meloncholy.

The addictions and depression get the best of the narrator. Fish laments, “I’ve never been so wasted. I’ve never been this far out before.” Another moody spoken word passage follows as he detects a presence, the drums and synth working together to generate a very dark atmosphere. He cries out to anyone who will listen to give his childhood back to him. Fish challenges industry, religion, and politics, saying he can’t take anymore, calling out the world for the evil that it produces. “How can we justify,” he asks, “they call us civilized!” The atmosphere of the album climbs back out of the darkness, as it seems Fish is on the verge of an epiphany. He finds meaning in his quest for innocence and justice. The guitar lines revisit “Heart of Lothian,” if not a bit more melancholy and purposeful this time around.

I’ll never forget the time I first truly got “hit” by “Childhood’s End?” This song, simply put, is my life story, musically and lyrically. It’s a revelation, happy and forward-thinking, a butterfly breaking out its coccoon, the dawn after the night, the light after the rain. Fish has found the meaning of his life, and has discovered that he’s still the same child he was in the past. “The only thing misplaced was direction, and I found direction. There is no childhood’s end!!” The music is victorious, Fish sounds genuinely happy, and the synth solo in the end of the song is one of the most powerful passages in music I’ve ever listened to. I can’t sum up how much this song means to me, especially the bolded/italicized part below…

And it was morning
And I found myself mourning,
For a childhood that I thought had disappeared
I looked out the window
And I saw a magpie in the rainbow, the rain had gone
I’m not alone, I turned to the mirror
I saw you, the child, that once loved

The child before they broke his heart
Our heart, the heart that I believed was lost

Hey you, surprised? More than surprised
To find the answers to the questions
Were always in your own eyes

Do you realize that you could’ve back to her?
But that would only be retraced in all the problems that you ever knew
So untrue
For she’s got to carry on with her life
And you’ve got to carry on with yours

So I see it’s me, I can do anything
And I’m still the child
‘Cos the only thing misplaced was direction
And I found direction
There is no childhood’s end
You are my childhood friend, lead me on

Hey you, you’ve survived. Now you’ve arrived
To be reborn in the shadow of the magpie

Now you realise, that you’ve got to get out of here
You’ve found the leading light of destiny, burning in the ashes of your memory
You want to change the world
You’d resigned yourself to die a broken rebel
But that was looking backward
Now you’ve found the light

You, the child that once loved
The child before they broke his heart
Our heart, the heart that I believed was lost

So it’s me I see, I can do anything.
I’m still the child
‘Cos the only thing misplaced was direction
And I found direction
There is no childhood’s end
I am your childhood friend, lead me on

The album ends on “White Feather,” a marching and boistrous number where Fish asserts possession of his own heart and soul, that he belongs to no nation, but he is the owner of himself and a free spirit with free will. It’s not the most powerful song on the album, by far, but it is a happy conclusion to this journey of negative and reflective moods.

I can’t use words to describe what Misplaced Childhood means to me. It’s one of the albums with a nonstop “shiver factor” and depth unparalleled. It’s the kind of music that you hear, and you think to yourself, “Where have I heard this before? Why is this so familiar?” It’s familiar because Marillion has harnessed the fabric of the human spirit, of love and loss and everything in between, and channelled it into one of the greatest albums of all time.

I long to speak with more people that have been touched as deeply as I by this album, who have listened to it literally dozens of times and love it just as much as I. If you take my advice and listen to it, or already have, whether you like it or not… I’d love to read your thoughts in the comment section..

Point-blank, I recommend this album to every person who listens to music with emotional investments, who look for something “more” out of their listening.

Anybody who is a casual fan of progressive rock such as Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, and Camel can find a good bit to enjoy in Misplaced Childhood as well, so even if you’re not an emotional listener, the record’s still good for a couple spins.

Timeless classic, an epic of love and loss and rediscovery…

Final Grade: A+

BUY THIS ALBUM HERE!!

Marillion: An Underrated Band

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Farewell to The Rev

December 29, 2009

Today, The Rev died.

James "The Rev" Sullivan

For those who don’t know, James “The Rev” Sullivan was the drummer for the metal band Avenged Sevenfold. Yes, people die all the time. Sure, I’ve never met the man. The impact of his passing is nowhere near what a family member or friend would give.

But still.. it sucks.

I have to imagine that how I feel right now, is how young rock and roll fans felt when they found out Keith Moon, John Bonham, Cliff Burton, or Randy Rhoads died. It’s a meloncholy, blah feeling. A talented artist I enjoy has passed away far before the time he should’ve, due to reasons unknown. The future of a band I enjoy immensely is up in the air.

Avenged Sevenfold has a special place in my life.

In the fall of 2008 I spent most of my time working at a factory in town called Menasha. I would wake up at 5 AM every morning, work until 2:30, come home, and split time between bumping around the internet and playing X-Box Live. I mainly played the game Halo 3 with a variety of friends.

It was on Halo that a good friend of mine introduced me to a girl we had went to school with, yet I never talked to. (We knew each other as kids, come to find out, but that’s a story for another day.) Her name was Ashley. We hit it off right away, it seemed. We would talk for hours on end, a couple nights a week, playing games with one another while talking about a variety of topics. There were times we’d play Halo, even though we didn’t want to, just to talk to one another.

One day Ashley left a bulletin on MySpace asking anyone interested if they would be interested in going to a concert with her in November. Of course, I said, I’d be more than interested. Being a rock music enthusiast and live show addict, I couldn’t turn her down! The bands playing were Saving Abel, Shinedown, Buckcherry, and Avenged Sevenfold.

I had heard a song or two by each band, and didn’t dislike anything by them. I had seen Saving Abel open for one of my favorite young rock groups, Airbourne, so knew what they had to offer. It seemed like it would be a fun show, and if nothing else, I could find a few new favorites. It was a huge bonus that I could get to spend some time with an attractive young lady that seemed interested in me.

The night of the show came around, Ashley and I had a connection, we enjoyed the concert and had a blast. The entire night was very memorable, and I could write for hours about the experience. However, today I will only focus on the impact of Avenged Sevenfold on me that night and beyond.

After Buckcherry’s set ended with a disgustingly interesting 13-minute progressive rendition of their hit single “Crazy Bitch,” I sat there with Ashley talking about the show we had witnessed so far. Shinedown certainly left a massive impression. I enjoyed their singer’s passion for rock and roll, the depth of their lyrics, and the tightness of their compositions. Plus, their bassist played his four-string with a pair of drumsticks, how sick is that? They were an instant favorite and I ended up buying their shirt and album that night. Buckcherry’s set couldn’t end fast enough for me, as I felt their ballads were tame and their rock songs were repetitive, derivative, emotionally bankrupt, and sleazy for the sake of sleaze. I didn’t enjoy them at all.

Queensryche blasted over the PA while they set up the stage for Avenged Sevenfold, randomly enough. I wasn’t expecting to hear a chunk of the Operation Mindcrime album that night, but it pleased me and got me pumped up for A7X (of whom I had only heard “Bat Country and parts of the “Waking the Fallen” album before). Ashley couldn’t stop talking about how huge the mosh pits were going to be, how hard she was going to bang her head, and how brutal riffs were about to pound me into the ground. Sure enough, I counted FORTY-FIVE Marshall amps stacked on top of eachother on the back of the stage. Damn. This was going to be intense.

Sure enough, it was. The lights dimmed down. The only light on stage was a green spotlight on a keyboard front and center. A built man with sleeve tattoos, sunglasses, and shaved head began playing a haunting organ melody. I had no clue what was about to happen, and I could feel myself tense up. Ashley grinned at me wide as the crowd cheered, the band members running onstage. Synyster Gates began playing a beautiful intro.

All of a sudden, the built man playing the keyboards (M. Shadows) ripped out a long, fierce scream. Typically not into screaming, I braced myself and winced. What was I in for?

One of the best damn shows I’d ever seen, that’s what I was in for.

It was all uphill from there.

The musicians (including the amazing Rev himself) launched into a series of delightful churning riffs. Apparently this was their song “Critical Acclaim.” I watched, slack-jawed, as M. Shadows and The Rev exchanged incredible vocals. The Rev sang as he pounded away, viciously keeping time with double-bass insanity. M. Shadows practically rapped, in pseudo-Rage fury while Synyster, Zacky Vengeance, Johnny Christ, and company blasted my eardrums with their sweet heavy metal. This was delightful. This was what I had been missing out on by not being a metal fan for most of my life. This was music I could get into.

The whole concert was amazing. I loved the yearning chorus of “Afterlife.” I dug the country/blues tinges of “Gunslinger” and “Dear God.” I nearly fell over at the majesty of dueling solos during “Bat Country.” The lusty “Scream” stirred the animal within me. My fist pumped during “Unholy Confessions” and I made a poor attempt at headbanging to “Almost Easy.” Ashley far out-classed me in that department, with her long dark locks whipping around her head as she cackled, rocking it out to her favorites.

All in all, it was a great show. Whenever I spoke of the concert, I’d always make note of how impressive The Rev was. The only other drummer I could think of that compared to his versatility was Deen Castronovo. The Rev not only banged and thundered, he could be tasteful when he needed to. There was a new drummer I could add to my list of favorites, alongside Peart, Portnoy, Gavin Harrison, Chad Smith, and Steve Smith.

Ashley and I ended up bonding over Avenged Sevenfold several times after that concert. We would watch their videos on MTV’s website. I discovered Ashley’s amazing, soaring singing voice whenever she would cover “Afterlife” playing Rock Band 2. When I needed a laugh, she would provide with her “Duckie Dance,” flipping unseen foes off while snarling out the “Shh, be quiet, might p*ss somebody off…” parts of “Critical Acclaim.” She cackled at me one night, when I was exhausted and not in my right mind from a long day of driving, as I stated that “Scream” was a “modern heavy metal version of ‘Stone in Love’ on steroids.” When I spent a gift card from Christmas in a Target in another town, I purchased the self-titled Avenged Sevenfold album.

Avenged Sevenfold's self-titled

During long, cold days and treacherous nights I would grow exhausted and frustrated with my life. I’d vent by playing the game NHL 09 with a group of my friends. “Afterlife” was on the soundtrack, and would cycle as an ‘entrance song’ for our hockey team as we took the virtual ice. I have vivid memories of Woodbridge, Kuhner, Russell, Benson, Riding, and Chidester ripping onto the ice together as A7X blasted furiously, heralding the arrival of The Heartlanders. We also played “Afterlife” and “Critical Acclaim” while playing basketball at Russell’s private gym.

I needed to keep myself pumped up as I slogged my way to my humdrum factory job. What better way to do that than crank A7X while going to work? One of my favorite album sides to listen to on my trips to the Menasha plant was the first side of the self-titled record.

There’s video evidence of me playing Rock Band drums to “Afterlife,” my own awkward untalented tribute to The Rev. The video even includes me singing some incorrect lyrics badly. I remember the night clearly though, I had immersed myself in the song, became one with it and truly had “a moment” with it.

Early in our relationship, Ashley and I would take long drives for the hell of it, listening to music and talking about our hopes, dreams, and feelings. We would go back and forth between her favorites and mine. Somehow we could always agree with no fighting on listening to Avenged Sevenfold. My soundtrack of 2009, and for my relationship with Ashley is packed with the band’s work.

I vividly remember the day after Michael Jackson died. Ashley and I had a long conversation while parked on the side of high street about the effects of major celebrity deaths, or the deaths of any musician or athlete. Ironically we discussed how Ashley’s stepfather would need to be held if a Tennessee Titan were to die early. Steve McNair was shot and killed the next week. I thought about how I would feel if I lost a treasured Cincinnati Bengal…recently Chris Henry fell off a truck and perished. I recall all too well Ashley and I laughing about us being middle-aged and married, going through a midlife crisis and following the bands we loved in our youth, and travelling with Avenged Sevenfold on their 2035 Retirement Tour….

Revisiting the conversation we had after Michael Jackson died, I know Ashley said she would need extra cuddling if we ever lost a member of Pearl Jam, Shinedown, or Avenged Sevenfold before their time.

As always, I look forward to extra cuddles with Ashley tonight.

I just wish it wasn’t for this reason.

R.I.P. James “The Rev” Sullivan.

The Rev, a drummer extraordinaire and man lost too young.

Album Review- Eve 6, “Eve 6”

November 8, 2009

Eve 6's self-titled record

Today, I tackle my first Review by Request. A bud of mine that I had been in a band with and still talk music with from time to time offered Eve 6 for an interesting review. He said of this album, “‘Inside Out’ was a huge radio and MTV hit, but few know of the rest of the album, which is incredible, both musically and lyrically, thanks to simple song construction, catchy riffs, and brilliant word play.” There’s nothing that delights me more than helping shed some light on a band or album who may have a reputation based on a hit single, showing that the band has more merits to stand upon.

Eve 6 is typically pigeonholed as a “pop punk” or “alternative rock” group. Looking at their Last FM page, it appears they are similar (either in musicality or fanbase) to Everclear, Stroke 9, Third Eye Blind, Lit, Fastball, Better than Ezra, and The Verve Pipe. Wow, this is certainly unfamiliar territory for me. I can honestly say the only song by ANY of these bands that I know is Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy,” thanks to hours of Rock Band 2 with my girlfriend. I’m looking forward to engaging myself with music of a different variety than what I’m accustomed to. Perhaps I could even find a new favorite? On to the review of their self-titled record from 1998!

“How Much Longer” is an energetic track that launches into my eardrums with punch and tenacity. Upon first impression this is definately pop-punk rock, but a few characteristics help the group (and song) stand out. I love frontman Max Collins’ voice. The riffs are are indeed catchy, and the word play is indeed brilliant. I enjoy the lyrics, especially “A stone has blocked my hourglass/No progress made no time’s run out.” The basslines warble along and drive the rhythm. It’s a nice song.

The second track is one of Eve 6’s biggest hits, “Inside Out.” I like “How Much Longer” more, however this isn’t a bad track. I can tell already that this is one of those bands whose biggest hit isn’t their best song by far. The lyrics are surprisingly strong for the genre, most of this type of music suffers from overly simple and direct lyrics. Max Collins sounds like he’s really trying to say something, and I can tell by his voice that the lyrics are genuine. One thing to keep in mind when listening to this album is that the band was VERY young when they recorded this album; late teens, and very early twenties. For such a young and raw group to make a mature slant on pop punk is incredible.

The album slows up a bit when I get to “Leech.” This is my favorite track yet. The lyrics attack a liar and a showoff whose stories are false and shallow. The obvious strong point to the group is their lyrical ability. When I listen to just the music, it could just as easily be any of a litany of bands that came out between 1998 and 2004. However, Collins’ voice and the strikingly deep lyrics set the group apart from the pack, making for a nice surprise.

“Showerhead” is an unspectacular song. It blends too much into the rest of the songs, and the lyrics aren’t as strong before. There’s really not alot to say about it, it’s not bad but it doesn’t catch my ear at all.

I am a sucker for open road songs, so it’s only appropriate that I take to enjoying “Open Road Song.” Anyone who loves to go for a long drive while blasting their favorite music can certainly dig this tune. The guitar solo features some of the best music on the record yet and Max Collins’ voice dazzles some more. Eve 6 makes fun music and makes no bones about it, so I can’t knock this album for being pretentious at all… yet the lyrical work keeps the whole thing from being TOO poppish.

Max Collins of Eve 6

“Jesus Nitelite” has a different tone than the rest of the album. It’s more laid back, it’s not as “riffy.” The lyrics seem a little too faux-genuine and are disposable. I like the sound of the music but this is the first time I’ve had a negative reaction to the actual songwriting and singing. This song, along with “Showerhead,” are “skip” songs. Again, this isn’t a bad song, it just misses the mark.

I dig “Superhero Girl.” Almost every man has been in this position; where they’ve desperately longed for a seductive and teasing beauty who always manages to be right out of reach. The song captures the essence of this mood perfectly. Who hasn’t met one of these girls that you’ve cancelled plans and jumped through hoops just to see, and had her haunt your dreams and memories? This tune is a brilliantly understated snapshot of that situation.

My major knock against this album is how it all blends together, but in the wrong way. Much of the time the music isn’t exactly challenging, complex, different, or unusual. That’s to be expected in pop rock music, and I’ve spoiled myself on Dream Theater and Rush for the better part of this decade, so I may be a bit harsh. But in “Tongue Tied”  hoppy riffs and predictable choruses reign.

“Saturday Night” is a decent song. More lyrics that are noticeably deep for the genre, and more up-tempo riffs. The guitar work is different from most of the other songs, with what seems like a blues slide pattern as well as funky palm-muted wicka-wicka riffing. The drum work is decent too. Imagine that… they get better musically right after I critique the instrumental work! Who would’ve thought?

It appears that guitarist Jon Siebels saves his better work for the last part of the album, as the riff in “There’s A Face” is yet again a little different from the song before. A little variety in the music is present and it helps boost the album’s score.

“Small Town Trap” closes out the album, with what seems to be the best music the band has put on this record yet. Being a small-town guy, naturally I relate to the sentiment and find myself laughing at a few of the lines; primarily because they sound like parts of my life! Many artists (see: Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Mellencamp, etc.) have seemingly overdone the “let’s break out of this backwater burg” type of song, and I was afraid of this song trying too hard to be like them at first, but it stands on its own feet and offers a different slant. Good song, one of the best on the record and a positive ending to Eve 6.

Eve 6 was a decent foray into the pop-punk movement that was prevalent in the 90s and early 00s. While not a groundbreaking or absolutely brilliant piece of work, it was enjoyable and certainly had a few merits. Max Collins is underappreciated as a lyricist; I truly enjoyed listening to and reading the words on this record. I wasn’t as much of a fan of the actual music though, it was a bit repetitive at times and not overly interesting. That worked for the vibe of the album and complemented Collins’ songwriting style and therefore isn’t a crippling drawback.

Alright album, surprisingly good lyrics and no shortage of fun punky riffs, not very hard to get into but not a lot of reason to listen to frequently. There’s better stuff out there, but it’s worth a few listens and some appreciation.

FINAL GRADE: C (Average)

Album Review- Pearl Jam, “Backspacer”

October 29, 2009

Pearl Jam's new record, Backspacer.

From their humble beginnings in the “grunge” movement to the sold-out stadiums and legions of followers today, Pearl Jam have enjoyed a long and varied career in rock music. Their ninth release, Backspacer, has a ton of expectations to live up to. Many critics and fans hold Pearl Jam to a high standard, with the band having had several of the greatest records of the 90s and possibly all time. Their distinctive tone, style, and vocal approach have been rock staples for nearly 20 years now. Going into my third critical listen, there are several pressing questions on hand. Does Pearl Jam still have “it” after a brief hiatus and a lengthy career? Have they continued to develop and progress, have they reached a creative standstill, or are they going back to their roots? And will the music be as chaotic as the multi-colored album cover?

The first track of the album, “Gonna See My Friend,” kicks off the party with promise. Bluesy, boogie-woogie guitar pounds away as Eddie Vedder launches into his singing with the punch one has come to expect from uptempo Pearl Jam numbers. The bass line has an interesting jive to it, and the song has my head nodding and foot tapping. The fast, happy tone of the song offsets the somewhat cynical lyrics, with Vedder lamenting a pain he can’t shake, and wanting to give up.

“Got Some” picks up right where the first track leaves off. It’s another up-tempo rocker with a positive vibe to the music. Bassist Jeff Ament is in top form thus far, holding down the bottom end yet propelling the song. Matt Cameron, as always, is crisp and driving with his percussion. “Got Some” has a bit of a political slant to the lyrics, calling for diplomatic resolve and asking what side the listener’s on.

Backspacer‘s first single, “The Fixer,” maintains the mood set in the first quarter of the album so far. This song is the most optimistic on the album so far, and possibly of Pearl Jam’s entire career. “The Fixer” is a great choice for a single, it’s a great rock tune and is immediately catchier and more accessible than the first two tracks. That’s not a bad thing however, it’s overall a much better song with the lyrics being more cohesive, with a clearer message. This is truly an inspirational tune, it leaves me in a good mood with a smile on my face, a result that most people don’t associate with listening to Pearl Jam music. It seems as if Eddie and the boys have cast aside bitterness and are willing to compromise with others to make life better. That’s a message I would hope nearly anybody could agree with.

“Johnny Guitar” has the best music of any track on the album yet. The lyrics take on more of a “story-telling” approach and seem disposable on the first few listens. Stone Gossard and Mike McCready make up for that with varied guitar textures, ranging from driving blues riffs to funky wah-wah guitar.

I cannot say enough about how much I loved listening to the fifth song, “Just Breathe.” The band finally slows down after four consecutive rockers to start the album.  A delightful wash of acoustic guitars and melodic organ open the song, and Eddie Vedder stretches his folk muscles yet again with a powerful, deep lament in the vein of Bruce Springsteen. The lyrics are phenomenal. I admit that this song brought a tear to my eye the first time I listened to it. “I understand that every life must end/As I sit alone I know someday we must go/I’m a lucky man to count on both hands the ones I love/Some folks just have one/Others they got none.” These lyrics gave me the shiver that music listeners yearn for, this is a song that connected with me on a deep and personal level. An good album can be elevated to a great album with just one of these type of songs, and I’m thinking this may be the case with Backspacer.

“Just Breathe” is a gorgeous ballad that has similarities to Pearl Jam classics such as “Black” and “Daughter,” but it has a refreshing atmosphere that is unlike anything the band has written in their entire career. Eddie Vedder seems to be at terms with his mortality, but in a bright and honest manner. In his middle age, I wouldn’t say he has “lost his edge,” but Vedder has matured since the beginning of his career and it’s reflected in this haunting glimpse at a relaxed, fortunate man who acknowledges that he’s looking down at the rest of his life.

Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam vocalist and songwriter

A snappy drum pattern leads into the chill intro of “Amongst the Waves.” I don’t think I’ve ever gotten this far into a Pearl Jam listening session before having maintained a smile on my face. The metaphors of swimming are reflected in the music, with the guitar patterns emitting a sea-blue color. This song has a romantic tone to it, and one of the finest guitar solos in recent memory cuts through the calm of the track to leave me with a huge grin. I can relate to this song, for it’s seemingly Vedder’s tribute to either a woman who changed him for the better, or salvation through religion. Either way, it’s an incredible song.

“Unthought Known” has a very Everyman tone to the guitars and lyrics. The song isn’t as positive or reflective as the last two, but it has a dreamy texture and includes tasteful piano in the mix. While not nearly as poignant as “The Fixer,” Just Breathe,” or “Amongst the Waves,” this is not a throwaway track by far. Looking back on the first part of the album, I’d have to say Backspacer‘s first truly good song is “The Fixer,” and the album doesn’t drop in quality at all from there on until now.

“Supersonic” isn’t necessarily a throwaway track either. It’s possibly the fastest track on the album with driving basslines and pump-your-fist riffs. Gossard and McCready delight with their guitar chemistry, trading rhythms and solos as only they can. Another track with a positive tone, Vedder screaming about wanting to live life with the volume full… nothing depressing at all here, folks!

“Speed of Sound” moves at anything but; it’s a slower track. It’s also possibly the least optimistic track on the album so far. It’s still positive in parts, just not as overwhelmingly thumbs-uppy as other tracks before it. Just when Vedder sings “somehow I’ll survive,” he realizes that he’s “waiting on a sun that just don’t come.” I wouldn’t say the song is bitter or sad so much as it is an honest reflexion at the ups and downs of life. It’s a great song, and I think that many people could relate to certain lyrics within.

The penultimate track, “Force of Nature,” is the last rocker on the album. It’s in the vein of “Johnny Guitar,” with story-telling lyrics recounting the romance between a siren and a mortal man. Lost love, or unrequited love, the theme and vibe of some kind of missing affection is evident in the track.  Some of my favorite lyrics on the album so far (and my favorite guitar solo; so melodic!) are featured in “Force of Nature.” I’m sure most can agree with this amazing line, “Is it so wrong to think that love can keep us safe?”

“The End” is, well, the end of the album. It revisits the acoustic folk-influenced aura of “Just Breathe,” but this time with a different emotion. The lyrics drip of regret, fright, and sickness. This song comes from the voice of a man who’s dying, reflecting on what his life has become and wondering what his legacy shall be. With a grandfather going through an illness right now, this song hit me especially deep. “The End” made me shed a few tears, but for a different reason than “Just Breathe.” Vedder’s vocals and lyrics are stunning. It’s amazing how a song can make my hands tremble and my eyes salt up with no warning. I wasn’t ready for this track. It’s almost as if Vedder wrote Backspacer with a mostly positive vibe throughout to build up the listener’s mood, only to tear it down with this final devastating track. Eddie Vedder is on a level that many lyricists could only aspire to reach. The last line of the song, and album, rips into me and ends abruptly in perfect fashion. Amazing.

Reflecting over the album as a whole, I think Backspacer stands up to the rest of Pearl Jam’s catalogue and holds its own. It’s definitely one of the most positive records Pearl Jam has created, well, at least until the mind-blowing “The End.” None of the songs are disposable, all of them are good. A few of the rockier numbers have so-so lyrics, yet Vedder makes up for that with a few smoother tunes that seize my heart with their depth and honesty. As I said earlier, songs that have a “shiver factor” can elevate a good album into a great one, and Backspacer features two songs of that nature, “Just Breathe” and “The End.” Also, the album hearkens back to the days of vinyl with the short running length. At just over 36 minutes, the album has a solid flow and a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Literally, on “The End.” While it’s not a concept album, it’s a record that one should surely listen to from front to back at least a few times to fully digest the scope of its content. Just like a good movie with a clear resolution, this album has me satisifed with my listening and living with fuller emotion.

I highly recommend purchasing Backspacer, especially to listeners who enjoy music with their hearts and ears at the same time.

Great album, nothing groundbreaking, a mix of fun and deep lyrics, good musicianship throughout and one of the best vocalists alive.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Pearl Jam.