Posts Tagged ‘Music’

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.

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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- W.E.T., “W.E.T.”

November 3, 2009

W.E.T.'s self-titled debut album

Most casual music listeners and hipster critics live in the belief that anthemic rock died out some fifteen-odd years ago and only belongs in cheesy montages, ironic references, middle-aged flashbacks and the bottom of department store bargain bins. Wrong. Since the (mainstream) downfall of hair metal, arena rock, glam, and AOR there have been a contigent of artists who have slaved, labored, toured, and rocked their way through life just to bring us quality music.  Three of these bands are the funk-influenced Talisman, the Toto-esque Work of Art, and the riff-oriented Eclipse.  Members of the aforementioned bands have come together to bring us the band W.E.T., and combine their talents to showcase what, on the surface, looks like what could be a melodic rock masterpiece.

Before I continue on with this review, I must acknowledge and promote a website that has done more to promote this genre of music than any other. Visit Melodic Rock to read reviews, news, press releases, and interviews centered around melodic rock bands old (Journey, Styx, Survivor, Van Halen), little-known (Pride of Lions, Gotthard, Tall Stories, Tyketto), and new (Anberlin, Airbourne, Shinedown, and now W.E.T.) Be sure to visit the forums for a wealth of entertainment and knowledge, and stay tuned for weekday updates on a variety of independent and major-labor artists.

The website through which I've discovered dozens of Melodic Rock and metal bands

Now for a bit of background on W.E.T. Robert Sall of Work of Art, Erik Martensson of Eclipse, and Jeff Scott Soto of Talisman are all veterans of the Swedish and international music scene, having decades of professional experience between them. Perhaps the most well-known of the lot is Jeff Scott Soto, who has also spent time with Yngwie Malmsteen’s band, Soul SirkUS, and even the gods of the genre, Journey. One can’t speak enough of Soto’s vocal talents, he’s one of the most underrated voices in any style of music. Equal parts Sammy Hagar, Chris Cornell, and Steve Perry; there isn’t much Soto can’t sing, and emote well while doing so.

The first track, “Invincible,” has a calm intro before an explosion of riffs splits the speakers. Soto’s voice combines soul, R&B, and funk influences with soaring, anthemic notes. The band is incredibly tight; the instruments weave in and out of one another while maintaining a punch. The guitars shift from heavy and surging to wafting and epic. Major props go out to the understated yet effective keyboard theme, and the fact that Soto’s vocals sound especially “from the heart” on this record thus far.

The first song seamlessly gives way to the second, “One Love.” This song sounds like a sequel to the first, but there’s evident difference in the feel. The method by which the riffs give way to Soto’s vocals, and the brilliance of the snappy rhythm section, make the song flow rather well. The vocals are mixed extremely well and this is definitely a “sing-along” type of tune. I love Soto’s vocal especially about 2/3 through the song, right before the destructive tapping solo that is equal parts Van Halen and Schon, but all W.E.T.

“Brothers in Arms” has a very effective main riff. This song soars just as much if not more than the others before it. It’s not proven, but I believe this song to be a tribute to the late Marcel Jacob, Soto’s longtime bassist in Talisman and friend. I find Soto’s voice to be inspirational, full, vibrant, and deep. The guitars chug in the bridge, and the song turns on a dime. It defies the typical formula of the genre, especially after the chugging near-metal section gives way to peaceful drum-and-key interludes.  The ending blast to the song is pseudo Dream Theater before the record gives way and lessens pace to the fourth tune.

“Comes Down Like Rain” does just that, a gentle shower of moody and moving lyrics from Soto. W.E.T. manages to keep an epic sound even in their first ballad of the record. The guys are masters of melody and prove it yet again here. The guitar solo is very technically good, but it honestly has a “come out of nowhere” feel to it and don’t think it fit well to the mood and rhythm section. Good, but just not for the song.

“Running from the Heartache” is another dark and moody yet surging and big up-tempo number. The keyboards are tasteful yet again, and have been throughout the record. One criticism of the genre is that synths could be too overstated or used too much.. but yet in this album the keys are beautiful and accent the music rather than take it over. Guitars are big in melodic rock and this record is no exception.

I really do love “I’ll Be There.” This is the fastest track yet and its feel is a mix of Survivor, Soto’s solo material, and the best of pop rock. The lyrics could be passed off as “cheese” but Soto emotes them well enough to make them authentic; one can really “feel” listening to music like this. I love the riff, it’s very fist pump-worthy, and I can see myself cruising around to this song for years to come. “I’ll Be There” fits in well with any playlist of uptempo rock and roll. The best solo of the record thus far shreds through the speakers halfway through the tune. Melodic rock is packed to the brim with extremely talented instrumentalists. Martensson, Sall, and helpers Magnus Henriksson and Robban Back deserve their fair share of accolades and respect. It’s a shame that great players like these guys are relatively unknown and unappreciated while folk like the Jonas Brothers and Daughtry sell out stadiums and rack up platinum records.

“Damage is Done” is yet another up-tempo head-bobbing rocker. The shifts in timing and lush harmonies keep a fresh feel to the otherwise consistent mood of the record. There’s a great flow to this album, and should be listened to as an album despite the single-worthy qualities of the tunes. These songs could definitely be hits in the U.S. if it weren’t for the average listener being a sheep force-fed with ringtone rap and overmarketed pop-tarts… but that’s a rant for another blog.

Songs like “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” prove that the boys in W.E.T. are having a little fun with this album. It’s bluesier with more hard rock roots than the rest of the songs thus far. It wouldn’t sound out of place on a modern Whitesnake or Winger record, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s not as serious and dire as some of the other tunes but it’s a change in mood that’s very well-timed.

Another ballad comes in the form of “One Day at a Time.” In the vein of Journey’s “After the Fall” or Whitesnake’s “Is This Love?”, it’s a dense song with a snappy flow. I love how the twin guitar solo is layered, and how the harmonies are mixed. Production is top-notch; I can hear the instruments clearly. Authenticism isn’t subtracted and there isn’t any trickery, it’s just very well-recorded. The song takes nearly a minute to close out, with intense and morose keyboard and bass tones lulling me unsuspectingly into the next song.

“Just Go” revisits some of the gnarliest Talisman rockers with its churning feel. The drumming is impeccable and I really can’t say enough of the piercing guitar work. The keyboard is again wonderfully understated and accents the song. “Can’t choose the way we die/But we can choose how we live.” Brilliant lyricism and an inspirational feel. Are the guys saving the best guitar work on the album for the latter half? It sure seems so with this dynamic solo.

“My Everything” revisits the feel of “I’ll Be There,” and keeps a smile on my face as I tap my foot to these relentless riffs.  The guitar solo, again, is beautiful and fits smoothly into the rhythm section. Soto’s inflections and vocal trademarks are well-timed and precise, he’s a master of the vocal craft.

The album comes to a less hectic ending. “If I Fall” is possibly the best song on the album. It’s a mid-tempo song, faster than the ballads on the record yet not fast enough to fit in with any of the anthems. I love how the smooth intro goes straight into isolated guitar, thundering drums, tasteful piano, and then incredible vocals. The ringing, clean guitars throughout the background of the verses are extremely well-done and add to the passionate vocal work. The chorus is sensational, the harmonies are some of the best ever done in rock, I’m grinning from ear to ear, the song has definitely done its job. I can “feel” it, and love how this song makes me feel, it will be listened to many more times in my life. Fans of Journey will definitely eat this song up. The guitars are melodic yet piercing, it’s everything the genre stands for, was that even a “Who’s Crying Now” motif I heard thrown in? The outro is several minutes long, but it’s very effective and a great ending to what I see as a very good album. As I listen to the AMAZING guitar work, I wonder how the solos can get any better… and somehow, they do. It all fits well together and is a very mature, dense, impressionable piece of work.

W.E.T.’s debut album was moody, direct, well-paced, mature, mostly up-tempo and well-produced. A handful of the songs truly made me “feel” while the others delivered melodic rock with a seasoned feel. There wasn’t much that felt “cheesy” or “forced” or “formulaic” about this record; those are the typical criticisms of the genre as a whole. The instrumentalists are very talented and Soto has some of the best vocal work of his entire 25 year career, one can argue he gets better with age. The album did have one song that truly helped elevate it into greatness, and that was the beautiful “If I Fall.”  While W.E.T.’s work isn’t incredibly deep or innovative, it’s great rock and roll and worth every cent you pay to help support a good band, if you buy this record (which I kindly suggest you do).

Highly recommended to fans of any melodic rock, old or new, especially Work of Art, Eclipse, Talisman, Jeff Scott Soto, Journey, Whitesnake, Survivor, Pride of Lions, Boston, and Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen.

Great album, nothing goundbreaking, deep instrumentals under melodic sing-along lyrics, one of the best albums in years within the genre and perhaps one of the best since the 80s.

FINAL GRADE: B+

W.E.T.

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.

Concert Review: Taking Back Sunday, Anberlin, fun, Gavin Castleton

October 28, 2009

(Venue: LC Pavilion, Columbus, Ohio.)

Taking Back Sunday, Anberlin, fun, Gavin Castleton

10-23-09

I recently started a new job. That means, much to my delight, I can take up my old hobby of going to concerts once more. I was pleased to discover that one of my new favorite bands, Anberlin, would be coming to Columbus. I had seen them once before a few months ago in Cincinnati, but my girlfriend and I didn’t truly get to enjoy the show due to illness and a less-than-friendly crowd around us. Anberlin had put on a great show the last time around, so I wanted to come back for more. Hopefully this time I could take in the music with minimal disturbance.

A songwriter named Gavin Castleton opened the show with a brief set. His voice was decent enough and he proved to be a more-than-adequate keyboardist. Some of his material seemed a bit “different,” so to speak, especially considering one song was a “zombie murder love story.” He was entertaining, especially considering his talented drummer and the fact that two members of Taking Back Sunday sat in on his set. Most of Castleton’s set had a very Coldplayish vibe, with guitars taking on more of a “texture” than a lead, and with keyboards in the forefront of the mix. The highlight of Castleton’s performance was the second song, which was an insane six-minute funk-rock breakdown. The song was groovy, infectious, and featured all the “wikka wikka” guitar funk-rock enthusiasts desire.

A Gavin Castleton album.

The second band lived up to their name, “fun.” The band, come to find out, is an offshoot of The Format, who I hadn’t listened to much before beyond a few songs. I hadn’t listened to them at all before this show, but now I intend on picking up their album eventually and I would see them again without hesitation. fun’s music was a delightful blend of country, folk, blues-rock, rockabilly, punk, and pop. Three members of the band contributed vocals, making for delightful interweaving parts and thick, robust harmonies. The vocal harmonies weren’t unlike something that Alabama, The Eagles, The Beach Boys, or The Beatles would sing; and they were definitely a highlight of the show. Every musician in the band was very flexible and capable, the lyrics were thoughtful yet not overly heavy, and the frontman performed with a ton of energy. The frontman (his name escapes me at the moment) had the swagger of Mick Jagger, the working-class image of Bruce Springsteen or John Mellencamp, the vocal range of Steve Perry, and the punkish edge of Paul Westerberg. He sold the music with impeccible delivery and a great sense of humor. I also enjoyed a random trumpet solo during a song that made me immediately recall Neutral Milk Hotel. I can’t wait to hear more from fun.

fun's Debut Album.

Now it was time for Anberlin to take the stage… and take the stage they did. There’s a laundry list of reasons why I love this band, and they were all displayed during this performance. Fiery emotion, check. High energy, check. Soaring melodic vocals, check. Tight instrumental composition and devastating riffs, check. Vocalist Stephen Christian is by far one of the greatest young frontmen in any rock scene today. He commands the stage with a gripping presence, with his voice and movement grabbing everyone and refusing to let go. He’s definitely molded in the form of many great vocalists past, especially late Boston singer Brad Delp. The instrumentalists, especially guitarist Joe Milligan and drummer Nathan Young, were technically sound and delivered crisp brilliance in their play.

From “Paper Thin Hymn” to “Godspeed,” from “The Resistance” to “Feel Good Drag,” Anberlin chugged through their more well-known songs. It’s too bad the group had a shorter set, as they have four albums worth of high-quality material and and have the talent and following to headline a tour on their own. However, Anberlin had enough room to experiment a little bit. The yearning “Disappear” included extended synthesizer breaks, and speaking of synth, the set’s penultimate song was a very surprising, and overly epic New Order cover. I can’t tell you what the song was, though I wish I knew, because what I witnessed was a pseudo-prog rock face-melting synth-punk throwdown. With the way the synth and bass were pounding, and with Christian’s soaring vocals, I felt like I was at a Muse show for a few minutes. The cover was a great choice, it had people dancing and clapping, and it showed a little bit more of what Anberlin’s capable of.

I know this is just supposed to be a concert review, but I’d like to take time to state that Anberlin is a band that most fans of any kind of rock music should definitely check out. Some people claim they’re a punk band… yet they pay great tribute to AOR with precise composition and catchy hooks. Others yet say Anberlin are Christian rock… but I didn’t hear the word “Jesus” once in the entire performance. They’re definitely a band that’s hard to categorize, and that’s a great attribute, as they certainly have a broad appeal. I highly recommend to anyone reading this, to go out and buy Anberlin’s newest album New Surrender, or at least its best songs: “The Resistance,” “Breaking,” “Feel Good Drag,” “Disappear,” “Burn Out Brighter (Northern Lights),” “Breathe,” “Younglife,” and “Haight Street.”

Anberlin's "New Surrender"

Stephen Christian of Anberlin.

All good things must come to an end, and Anberlin left the stage to give way for the show’s headliner, Taking Back Sunday. I’ve never been very big into most of the groups that fall under the “emo” or “pop-punk” genre (for the record, I hate using genres to describe music, but it’s the best way to communicate to most people that have genre driven into their skull), so needless to say I haven’t listened to very much Taking Back Sunday. I’ve checked out some of their studio material, and while it’s good for what it is, it’s nothing I would buy or collect for myself.

Being the headliner, Taking Back Sunday had over an hour and a half to perform. They had no shortage of material, and packed their set with hit after hit. I expected a lot of songs similar to something right between Fall Out Boy and Jimmy Eat World, but I was surprised to hear a few songs get very heavy. I found myself thrashing my head as if I were at a Metallica show once every now and then. The band aren’t slouches at all when it comes to throwing down meaty riffs and aggressive rhythms.

There was plenty of room for improvement. Too many of Taking Back Sunday’s songs sounded “samey.” There wasn’t enough variety in the material to keep me interested. The guys were set to overdrive the whole time, and although that’s not a bad thing and it’s part of the music they make, I found myself yearning for something just a little bit different. Then again, I’m used to Porcupine Tree and Rush shows, so it’s hard for me to make myself appreciate something a little less experimental.

Massive props go out to Taking Back Sunday’s vocalist Adam Lazzara. The dude clearly believed in his music, and threw every mic-swinging trick this side of Roger Daltrey out in an attempt to energize the crowd; and it worked seamlessly. Taking Back Sunday will likely never enter the Rock Hall of Fame, win over critics, or pen an album on par with Born to Run or Abbey Road. That said, they certainly perform with a robust edge, and have fun doing it. The fans get just what they wanted and needed, and even though I’m not a fan, I thoroughly enjoyed their show and wouldn’t object to seeing them again. I wouldn’t go out of my way for them though, and do believe Anberlin should headline and hope that they will in the future.

Thanks for reading my first concert review on this blog.. hopefully there will be more concert trips made very soon, more music discovered, and more memories made.

Adam Lazzara, Taking Back Sunday's energetic frontman