Thursday, June 29, 2006

Road Trip

I, the great and mighty Alien Corpse, am going on vacation next week. Yes, even all-knowing, transdimensional beings like myself need a vacation every once in a while. I will be vacationing at (where else?) the Cornerstone music festival in the middle-of-nowhere, IL.

In preparation for the big trip, I've been putting together a few playlists for the road trip. Here's what I've got so far:

1."Birthday" by the Beatles. It's got a driving beat and is probably the catchiest guitar riff George Harrison ever wrote. "Gonna have a good time," is the best sentiment for the beginning of a road trip.

2. "Party Hard" by Andrew W.K. A totally underrated songwriter in my opinion. Nobody writes songs that are as fun as Andrew W.K. I wanna go on vacation with him!

3. "7/4 (Shoreline) by Broken Social Scene. Anarchist Canadians create a great driving beat that will just push you down the road.

4. "Incinerate" by Sonic Youth. Their new album, Rather Ripped, is so good and this might be the best song on it.

5. "Conventional Wisdom" by Built to Spill. Ok, time to wake back up with this great piece of pop rock that becomes a great indie jam. This is how I wish Phish would have sounded.

6. "Good Vibrations" by Brian Wilson. Smile makes me smile. And you can't think about summer, vacations or road trips without the Beach Boys.

7. "Pretty Vacant" by the Sex Pistols. This is side two, track one. The opening guitar riff (which is really just Steve Jones picking through an A power chord; brilliant!) sounds like the notes are bouncing off great expanses of the American landscape.

8. "Tough as John Jacobs" by Maylene and the Sons of Disaster. How could you create a road trip playlist without some good old Southern rock and metal.

9. "Nature Anthem" by Grandaddy. This song will either make you stop at the next scenic overlook, or go buy a Honda.

10. "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley. "Crazy" is Alien Corpse's Number One Summer Jam for 2006!

11. "Walk on the Wide Side" by Lou Reed. This works as a great driving song because of the crazy bass line. Plus, it makes you want to do crazy things on your vacation dress and stuff.

12. "Learning to Fly" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
13. "Into the Great Wide Open" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Does anybody want to debate that Tom Petty is the best artist to drive to EVER?

So what are your favorite road trip songs or albums? Comment soon, because I can't wait to trash your taste!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Keane - Under the Iron Sea

Keane's first project - Hopes and Fears - was a well-crafted bit of ear candy that got some significant buzz going in the discussion of a new wave of "brit -poppers" (Starsailor, Travis, et al.) but somehow recently became a guilty pleasure album that was seared into the popular conscience not least when one of its tracks was used in the trailer to Keanu Reeves's and Sandra Bullock's new flick "Lake House". This would be an example of when britpop seems in my impression to no longer "work" - that is when it is no longer ironic - sort of like when the Oasis track "All Around the World" was sold as the new theme song for AT&T. ugh

Keane's new project was released in the US this week. As sophomoric releases go "Under the Iron Sea" seems in my impression to be somewhat of an archetype. It boasts of a kind of pseudo maturity that shows the band's growth in budget, but seems to lack real reflection and resorts too often to cliches and self-involvement in the struggles of newly found success. However, as to not isolate their quickly growing fan base they also include a number of elements that are reminiscent of the first album (with added string section and impressive new sounds from the keys - keeping the guitarless guitar-band vibe going). So in other words - if you liked the first album as I did - chances are while you can criticize the second one you might just enjoy it as well.

The band touted the writing on this album as a little darker than the first - representative of their experiences over the last two years having seen the "darker" side of life living on the road as mega-rock stars who deal with disillusionment with home and relationships. They also propose, however, to tackle broader sorts of "dark" issues like disillusionement with government and feelings of helplessness over not being able to influence decisions that will directly effect this generation's future (this is a self-proclaimed theme from their PR release on the album).

Most haters are going after the album saying things like, "the album is lyrically unimpressive and far too reliant on cliches". On the one hand the criticism is valid - but on the other I think it misses the point of Keane - and the broader britpop project which they may be described as having adopted. It is pop music insofar as the lyrics are broad enough to appeal to emotions that have no well defined carrier - could be about betrayal of a girlfriend or could be about perceived betrayal by Tony Blair and the New Labour Party. Contemp Christian music is master of these generalities by singing to Jesus and someone you are crushing on at the same time. So I don't think criticizing the album oon this front is appropriate without taking to task the broader pop project - can it work? Britpop was the tool to bring a new generation on board to overthrow Thatcherism and replace it with a younger more visionary government (see docu. Live Forever). In the end there was a lot of disappointment when britpop was left just as it had always been a tool - but there was no big idea or "something more" behind it. So this raises interesting questions as to whether it is the best method to pick up when one is criticizing New Labour and others for having abandoned the vision and betrayed their contingency. Is it effective? Could be - I don't know.

Okay well all of this is important to understand the context of the album - but here I have probably not given fair mention to the album itself: A synopsis will have to do.

1) If you hated the first album stay away - this is Keane to the power of 10 - new approaches but same methods.

2) If you loved the first album - you will love this one too probably - they have expanded on the elements of the first album - it is more produced but not to the point that it gets in the way - there is still no guitar - and yes Chaplin's voice does soar oh so high

3) If you are not sure - I still would reccomend Hopes and Fears as an entry point - there is too much polish on this album to make the old school britpop elements come through.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

From the Vault: Frampton Comes Alive! 30th Anniversary

Thirty years ago, the album that ruled America's charts, AOR radio, and lava-lamp-lit bedrooms was Peter Frampton's live double record, Frampton Comes Alive! It topped the charts for sixteen non-consecutive weeks between April and September 1976. It was the album of the bicentennial summer. As Wayne Campbell puts it, "Of course I have Frampton Comes Alive! It was issued to suburban homes along with samples of Tide."

The question for this 30th anniversary retrospective is why Frampton Comes Alive! was such a big album and, more important but not unrelated, why is it still worth listening to today? It remains a mystery why the live versions of unknown material by this second-rate Humple Pie drop-out became standard AOR fare and endure as classics to this day. Live albums are usually used by established acts as time buffers after a long tour so they do not have to go back into the studio right away. I am not aware of any compiled live album to do for an artist what it did for Frampton. So what makes Comes Alive! different?

First, there's the gimmick. Frampton is credited for making significant use of the guitar voice box. He certainly was not the first to use it. But he was the first to make it a major part of his song writing and style. As can be heard on "Show Me The Way" and "Do You Feel Like We Do?" the audience goes nuts for his voice-box solos. It was a fresh gimmick then and so it created a buzz. However, now that the voice box has been relegated to Bon Jovi come-back singles, it is hard to get excited about the technique anymore. Some appeal remains for vault-listeners, as Frampton was one of the few who put the voice box to melodic use.

But the gimmick alone cannot explain its popularity then and classic status now. The 1970's where full of technical advances that do not necessarily result in great albums. Technique must accompany songs. And Comes Alive! does not lack great songs. Although it has been spoiled for many in my generation by a terrible 1990's cover version, "Baby I Love Your Way" was and is a perfectly simply love song worthy of its heavy airplay. In college I managed to loose track of the second CD on account of lending it out too many times to people wanting that song.

But more important than the love songs are the deep album cuts like "I Wanna Go To The Sun" and "Lines On My Face" that used to receive airplay on AOR stations before the Classic Rock format took over in the early 1980's. Ironically, now we can only hear singles from classic bands who made their names on an anti-single, anti-Top-Forty format. So every band between 1969 and 1978 (with the major exception of Led Zeppelin) are relegated to one-hit-wonder status, as we hear the same songs over and over, never realizing that these albums were full of songs much better than those on the air now. So Frampton Comes Alive! deserves a fresh hearing simply because it cannot be heard via radio the way it used to. Hopefully on-line digital music will help to resurrect a number of smaller acts that have become punchlines over the years.

So buy the CD, or at least a couple of songs on iTunes. Try to imagine what it would be like for a live rock record to be the number one album in the summer of 2006. Ponder what it would take to happen again. Better yet, get an old turn table and buy the vinyl for $1 at a used book store or yard sale, set it up next to your lava lamp and see if you can recapture the excitement of the first time someone heard the opening notes of the voice-box guitar solo on "Do You Feel Like We Do?" blare through a pair of over-sized earphones.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Worst album ever...

What is the worst album on your iPod/iTunes Library/CD Holder?

This could be a/an:

  • Guilty pleasure
  • Newly released album that came with high expectations and disappointed
  • Recommended album that surpassed all levels of suckiness
  • Album that you used to LOVE but now realize its true undeniable lowliness
Or any of your own criteria...I just want to see the seemy underbelly of your record collection.

Let 'er rip.