Tuesday, February 9, 2016

#475 – Mott The Hoople – Mott

for Bowie...
I’ll dedicate this one to the memory of Mott The Hoople drummer Dale Buffin Griffin and David Bowie, both of whom passed away earlier this year. Bowie was an early fan of the group and upon hearing of an impending break-up penned their biggest hit, “All The Young Dudes” for them (he also offered them “Suffragette City” which they turned down). Why the album of the same name was selected over this one I’m not sure. If I was going to pick an album from Mott The Hopple that would’ve been my choice. Granted that was based solely on looking forward to hearing “All The Young Dudes” (the song), since it’s really the only thing I knew about Mott The Hoople. However this album has a place in both the book and Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums list. It took quite a while to find a copy. Adding to the difficulty in tracking it down was the cover as the one pictured in the book is the UK version while the US version features a photo of the band. I found the 2006 version of the album, with 4 bonus tracks, at Princeton Record Exchange for $4.99. I knew I had the right album; I just wasn’t sure about the artwork. I’m sure the UK version was a die-cut gatefold which featured a different photo of the band in a Roman bust’s outline. Unlike many re-issues this one does not feature that artwork anywhere.  It does include a short essay and lyrics for the album tracks but not the bonus tracks. I found the lyric “I changed my name in search of fame to/find the Midas touch/I wish I never wanted then what I want now/twice as much” in “The Ballad of Mott The Hoople (26th March 1972 Zurich)” to be an instant favorite as Ian Hunter examines the group’s fortunes and the nature of fame. He does that repeatedly throughout the album, as the back cover states: “…Mott also showcased the songwriting abilities of Ian Hunter, whose honest lyrical observations on the brutal nature of the record business and the absurdity of fame were fused to sympathetic arrangements and performed wonderfully by the four piece band.” The group is also aided by Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay on saxophone on a pair of tracks. Guitarist Mick Ralphs gets to shine on “I’m A Cadillac/El Camino Dolo Roso” showing off the riffs and style he would take to Bad Company following his departure from Mott after this album. It wasn’t a bad listen but it’s not one I think I’ll be playing often either.      

Monday, February 8, 2016

#476 – Ghostface Killah – Fishscale

Tonight's Special: Fish
Solo Wu-Tang Week #4: “The sum total is a record that blends the classic breaks of yesterday and experimental hip hop of today into something you’ll still want to listen to 10 years from now – a rare claim for hip-hop albums of the past decade.” says the book’s review. I found that interesting since there are quite a few hip-hop albums in the book from the last decade included that I found instantly forgettable. Despite this the editors felt the need to include them and leave them in subsequent versions of the book. Is this one of them? No. From the opening blast of “Shakey Dog” to the last notes of the bonus track “Three Bricks” (with only a few slow skip-able points, notably the prerequisite skits between songs especially “Heart Street Directions”) this one, as corny as this sounds, brims with energy. The book points to “Ghost’s love of classic Sixties soul shines through on the beats he chose…Pete Rock and J Dilla joined by underground hero MF Doom” and it is clearly his secret weapon here. Notably it’s the only solo Wu-Tang album included that is not produced by RZA. Tracks include horns, harmony vocals, and interesting samples and plentiful guest appearances (as well as the requisite appearance of the entire Wu-Tang Clan on “9 Milli Bros.”). The background singers helpfully point out how many grams are in a kilo on “Kilo” or offer play by play of how their mother disciplined them in “”Whip You With A Strap” (incorrectly titled “Whip You Down With A Strap” by Windows Media Player for some reason) which echo those sixties classics even if their subject matter doesn’t. “Back Like That” is the most upbeat beef track I’ve ever heard. “Jellyfish” is a new millennium Marvin Gaye or Barry White track, though I doubt any of them had a lyric about sucking toes. If I had paid attention to my buddy’s CD rack I could’ve found this one there instead I spent $4.99 on it at aka music. Someone liked it enough to keep the bin sticker from the top of the case intact and put it in the CD tray but not enough to keep the disc. I had my doubts going in but the book may be right, I may indeed give this multiple spins years from now. The book mentions “the four or five seminal albums released in the wake of their devastating debut…”. Presumably that includes the three other Wu-Tang albums I reviewed this week (“Liquid Swords,” "Tical,” and "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx”) are included in that number but they make no mention of what the other two possible inclusions might be.     

Wu-Wisdom: “Who want to battle the Don?/I’m James Bond in the Octagon with two razors/Bet cha’all didn’t know I had a fake arm…” – in “The Champ” which contains some dialogue from “Rocky III”

Thursday, February 4, 2016

#477 – Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx

purple tape not included
Solo Wu-Tang Week #3: Despite the book’s claim that “Alongside GZA’s Liquid Swords, and possibly Method Man’s Tical, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx stands out of the greatest of this first wave.” of the three solo Wu-Tang albums so far this week I found this one the most difficult to get into. Granted, I listened to these three albums in the incorrect chronological order since this predates “Liquid Swords’” release by a few months (At least I know with certainty that “Fishscale” wasn’t released for a decade after these albums so at the very least I’ll finish the week in correct order). I enjoyed the GZA and Method Man albums more than I thought I would so I was looking forward to hearing this one. When last I heard from Chef Raekwon he was dueling with Method Man on “Meth Vs. Chef” from “Tical.” I popped it in and got about halfway through the album and nothing had struck a chord with me. I returned to it a couple of days later and it still wasn’t doing it for me so I decided maybe I needed to take it for a spin. So I took I put the disc in the car and it soundtracked a trip downtown and back, timing out almost perfectly as I pulled back into my parking spot. Was a blown away? Did I come away with some new insight? Did it click like a clip sliding into the glock tight? No, not really. The influence is clear to see, but 20 plus years after its release the initial impact this album made has faded since so many have copied it, or at least the idea of rappers with Mafioso alter egos. Song titles like “Wu-Gambinos” and  “Incarcerated Scarfaces,” along with the album art clearly illustrate to direction Raekwon wanted to go. Again this one contains enough guest appearances from other Wu associates and RZA’s production to almost be a Wu-Tang Clan release. Most notable is Ghost Face Killer aka Tony Starks and Nas as Nas Escobar on “Verbal Inbtercourse.” I bought this one for $5.99 at Princeton Record Exchange. I had passed up a copy at an FYE due to it’s purple jewel case, which I later learned was intentional as the album was originally issued as a purple cassette tape. A deluxe anniversary issue has re-issued it in its original form. Raekwon has since revisited the album with a sequel, “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II.”

Wu-Wisdom: “And big ups to my French vanillas/parleez vous Francais/mi amour, merci/oui oui, bon bons/and all that good stuff…” Chef Raekwon dropping a French lesson…right?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

#478 – Method Man – Tical

I intended to get these reviews all done back in December. However the holidays got in the way and right when I was ready to start blogging again I found out the Motörhead’s Lemmy had passed away. I spent the better part of the next couple of weeks listening to mostly Motörhead. I’ll have more on that soon but without further ado I return to this week’s reviews.

Methodtical, now I get it...
Solo Wu-Tang Week #2:  I realized shortly after listening to this one while reading some other reviews of the album that I had made a mistake when laying out this week’s reviews. I thought GZA’s “Liquid Swords" was released prior to this one when in reality this is the first solo Wu-Tang release. It features RZA’s trademark production as heard on “Liquid Swords” and “Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” (and every Wu-Tang album in the book except one, stay tuned to find out!). Not nearly as reliant on movie clips as other Wu-Tang releases the focus here is clearly Method Man’s unique style.  When I started listening to his one I was just hoping it was better than his 2001 movie with Red Man “How High” (currently at a 29% on Rotten Tomatoes critics score but with 75% positive fan response). The first track that caught my ears was “All I Need,” which was notable by being almost a ballad, at least somewhat in lyrical content.  The book notes that the label bribed Meth with a Lexus to re-record the song with Mary J. Blige. And as a result, “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To To Get By,” pushed the album to platinum status. How I don’t know considering it’s not on the album proper. The book notes: “Annoyingly, it’s not on Tical’s remasterd reissue…” That one, I found out was released in 2000 and includes some remixes. This album had also, like Star Wars, spawned a prequel and a sequel and a 20th Anniversary special edition. The deluxe version (not released at the time of the book’s review) does indeed include both versions of the single and a multitude of other versions/remixes as well. Other highlights include “Bring The Pain,” the album’s first single, and “Meth Vs. Chef,” Chef of course being Chef Raekwon (the later track contains this entry’s Wu-Wisdom). “Release Yo Delf” is an interesting hip hop take on Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”  I also like what RZA does with the horn sample. I found this one to be an interesting listen which took me back to that mid-nineties hip hop sound. I’ll throw a bunch of clichés which I probably sublimated from other reviews in here for good measure, it’s gritty, raw and real, a look at the dark side of the good times presented on his latter day albums. Once again I’m left with a choice after listening to this one, especially considering I only paid $1.99 for this one at Princeton Record Exchange. Now that I know there is a deluxe version out there I kind of want it but is it worth $25 (or more)? There is also a single of the Mary J. Blige song which features both remixes (one by Method Man and one by Puff Daddy) which I’ve seen for about $6. I think I need at least one of those to complete my listening experience for this album. Thus are the dilemmas of a CD junkie. Clearly, I enjoyed this one but enough to invest more than two bucks in?

Wu-Wisdom: “…with all the dangerous diseases/Sniffling, sneezing, coughing aching, stuffy head fever/F*^ker, I think it’s time that you suffer…” This gets my vote as best use of a cold remedy jingle in a rap song ever in “Meth Vs. Chef.”

#479 – Genius/GZA – Liquid Swords

Solo Wu-Tang Week #1: A few weeks ago there was a reported stabbing at RZA’s (he produced this album) house in New Jersey. When I read the story my first thought was “did they use a Liquid Sword?” Perhaps hearing that was the inspiration I needed to finally get around to listening to these albums. I bought most of these in the first year or so I was doing the blog. Then they sat in the blograck. Originally I had a different idea for a Wu-Tang theme week. I was going to review these four solo along with “Enter The Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers).” Then I cahnged my mind and decided to save the 108 albums I owned when I started the blog for the final set of reviews (assuming I get through the 378 other albums on the list). So I popped the CD in to start the week’s reviews a couple of weeks ago and was greeted with Ghostface Killah’s “Ironman.” I listened to a few songs and checked the Windows Media Player and a tracklist and confirmed that I did indeed have the wrong CD. I bought that copy at Princeton Record Exchange for $3.99 a long time ago. The disc itself features an illustrated Wu-Tang logo so on a quick glance you’d have no way of knowing it was the incorrect album. I looked a couple of places for another copy, including a trip to Princeton which yielded a couple of discs I wanted but not this album. The trip was then cut short by a blackout. I don’t know why I have so many problems finding a copy of this album. So I thought I’d have to shelve these albums again until I could find another copy of this one. Then a few nights later I went to Oxford Valley Mall to get dinner and saw a sign saying that the FYE was open (their original location there closed some time in 2014 if I remember correctly). They’ve moved across the way into a smaller store but it did have a new copy of “Liquid Swords” for $5.00. It was a good deal considering I toyed with the idea of buying the deluxe version (which runs about $25 new) for a minute since it includes a chess set. As for the album itself, after all I went through I was pleasently surprised. Although it is technically a solo album it contains enough guest appearances to be a proper Wu-Tang album (almost). It’s a solid listen despite being a little heavy on dialogue bits from kung-fu movies (which wasn’t all that surprising considering the source but there’s one on almost every song). Standout tracks for me included “Living In The World Today,” “Gold,” and “Cold World. “Shadowboxin’” is my favorite track here (see Wu-Wisdom below for more on that one). Overall I really liked the album but if I had a complaint, and this is a failing on my part, it’s that sometimes hard to remember who is MCing on particular songs/verses. Granted I haven’t listened to much Wu-Tang in the last few years and if I did I’d be more familiar with individual styles, voices, and flows. Method Man, ODB, and of course GZA standout but it would take more time than I have to sort them all out. I'm sure I'll be familiar enough with each vocie by the end of the week. As it is even of you didn’t like hip hop I think you’d enjoy this one. It’s got me primed for the rest of the other albums in this week’s offerings.  

Wu-Wisdom: “Shadowboxin’” is probably the album’s best track. It also contains one of my new favorite rhymes of all time, a shout out to pro wrestler Ken Patera: “Yo I slayed MC’s back in the rec room era/my style broke mother*^kin’ backs like Ken Patera”

Monday, February 1, 2016

Solo Wu-Tang Week

So much Wu I don't know what to do...
When I decided to start doing theme weeks for this blog I had planned to include Wu-Tang’s debut album “36 Chambers” with this week’s reviews. However, at some point I decided the final reviews should be the albums that I owned before I started the blog. One of those albums is “36 Chambers” which I agree should be on the list. The only other Wu-Tang album I own is “Wu-Tang Forever.” I liked both albums but at some point there were just too many other solo albums, side projects, affliated groups, and long gaps between actual Wu-Tang releases for me to keep track. When I got the book and saw not one, not two, not three, but four Wu-Tang related solo albums included I thought that was a lot. I tracked most of them down in my early blopping trips but have left them sitting on the shelf until now. I had to delay the start of the week since it turned out I was missing one of the albums but read the GZA “Liquid Swords” review for all the details on that one. I’ll also be listening to albums by Method Man (“Tical”), Raekwon ("Only Built 4 Cuban Linx), and Ghostface Killah (“Fishscale”). Had I gone through my buddy’s CD rack before I started this blog I would’ve found all of those save the GZA album. Oh well, it’s not like I’ve never bought a CD I didn’t need.  However before I jump into the albums I think you should remember these lessons I learned from the Wu-Tang Clan.

Everything I Need To Know I Learned From The Wu-Tang Clan:

1)      C.ash R.ules E.verything A.round M.e
2)      You’ve gotta protect ya neck
3)      And the Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nuthin’ ta f*#k wit

With that in mind each of this week’s reviews will feature a tidbit of Wu-Wisdom highlighting my favorite rhyme from each album.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

#481 – Love – Da Capo

I feel no Love for this album
I went back and re-read my review of Love’s “Forever Changes” which was the follow-up to this album. I was not a huge fan of that album and subsequently after listening to it still haven't quite figured out why it has such a standing on most, if not all, greatest albums lists. The fact that the editors felt the need to include a second album by Love immediately makes me question iof they were actually listening to these things. Considering the long list of artists that rate a single album on the list two from Love seems like at least one, if not two, too many. If this album has one thing going for it at least the songs are short, none of the tracks on what would be Side One exceed four minutes (3:37 being the longest running time). Of course that brevity is offset by the track “Revelation” which took up the entire Side Two on vinyl (a touch under 19 minutes at 18:57). “She Comes In Colors” and “Orange Skies” are a pair of pretty love songs, although notably dated in both lyrical content and musical style. It’s probably the harpsichord. “Seven & Seven Is” took over 50 takes to record noting that group founder Arthur Lee and drummer “Snoopy” Pfisterer  swapped drum duties several times “because the part was so energetic” according to the book’s review. After hearing it I’m not sure why as the track is only 2:15 in length. The beat, and granted I’m not a drummer, does not seem overly complicated just fast. In fact it reminded me of “Wipeout” or any generic surf-rock track you can think of so I’m still not sure what the issue was there. “Revelation” has faced both praise and scorn and I’d fall squarely in the middle of that argument. Having grown up listening to blues based jams by Led Zeppelin and Cream this wasn’t anything unusual to me nor was it anything spectacular. There is a point about seven minutes in where it sounds like Lee is going to break into a slowed down version of The Doors’ “Break On Through” which was released the same year. He sings “Everybody wants my baby…” but then takes the song in a different direction. I was kind of hoping for a cover version like that as teases like that are often present in those types of jams. In fact after listening to this I think if you played it for someone who didn’t know the song and told them it was live Doors jam they’d easily believe you. Well, at least until the horn solo. Despite the book’s assertion that the song is “frankly only worth listening to once” I kind of liked it. At least I liked it more than anything else I’ve heard from Love thus far. I guess we’ll see if I ever have urge to listen to it again though. Again I’m left wondering why, critically speaking, there is so much love for Love. Perhaps I’m missing something. I tracked this one down at Princeton Record Exchange for $4.99. It took a while and I'm not sure why. I presume it doesn't sell very well but "Forever Changes" is relativly easy to find by comparison. I guess it's like they say, Love can be hard to find.