Posts Tagged ‘rock’

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)

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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.