Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Top 10 Double Albums

This summer’s release of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Stadium Arcadium has brought up the perennial issue of the prudence of double albums. Are double-albums a good idea? Are they a sign of the sheer volume of genius? Or are they just the bloated expression of artistic hubris? Or are they simply the result of a lazy production not willing to shave a record down to its best elements?

As with so much in music criticism, the wise approach to this inquiry is not to evaluate the double-album as a medium in general. Rather, one ought to evaluate each double-album on its own merits. Although there are many terrible double-albums, there are also many great ones. I have provided a list of the Top 10 Double Albums (according to my humble yet impeccable opinion). Note: I am excluding all compilations and live albums.

Top 10 Double Albums:

10 – Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland (1968)
9 – Sonic Youth, Dirty (1992)
8 – Bruce Springsteen, The River (1980)
7 – Wilco, Being There (1996)
6 – Derek & the Dominoes, Layla and other Assorted Love Songs (1970)
5 – Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde (1966)
4 – The Beatles, White Album (1968)
3 – The Clash, London Calling (1979)
2 – Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street (1972)
1 – Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti (1975)

The interesting thing about this list is that a number of these albums could also be placed in the Top 100 albums of all-time. Also, about half of these records are considered by some to be the best albums produced by the respective artist. So, despite the dangers of the double album, sometimes the risk pays off.

Unfortunately for the Chili Peppers, Stadium Arcadium will likely be categorized among the many double-albums that would have been great albums if they just would have been cut in half. Albums such as Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973) Pink Floyd, The Wall (1979), Prince’s 1999 (1982), Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion I & II (1991), Smashing Pumpkins’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995) and Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/Love Below (2003) were all good records boasting great songs, but they lack what the albums above had: solidness. If you find yourself skipping through the filler to get to the next “real” track, the hubris of bigness has trumped musical integrity. Despite its size, a great double album should feel like any other great album: you love every song on it.

What double-albums would you add to and subtract from the above Top Ten list?
What double-albums should also be place in the “should have been cut in half” category?
What generalizations (if any) could be made about double-albums as a medium?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Cornerstone Diary, Day Five

Dear Diary,

I'm in love! John Davis, John Davis, John Davis! The former lead singer of Superdrag (Remember "Sucked Out" from '96? Me neither.) was saved a few years ago and started writing songs about his faith. Good songs. Really good songs.

The bold faith and the humility of his song writing and stage presence was unlike anything else at Cornerstone. John played two sets (Yes!) on the last day of Cornerstone, one on the Gallery Stage and the other at the Jesus Village stage. His Gallery Stage performance was very rocking, including some new jams (he's headed back to the studio in a couple of weeks). Then John broke it down on the keyboard at the Jesus Village to play some of his gospel-ish burners including, "I Hear Your Voice" and "Jesus Gonna Build Me a Home".

John's music and his show were all about his testimony: Jesus gave him hope when we didn't have any. John made no bones about it: He was there to testify to what Jesus did for him. The spotlight of his performance was Jesus, not himself. That, I guess, is what true humility is all about. It was the best church service I'd been to in a while.

So, C-stone is now over. My top five C-stone performers are as follows:

5. Relient K

4. Underoath

3. The Violet Burning

2. mewithoutYou

1. John Davis

A good year. Although I was puzzled as to why Danielson, Pedro the Lion or Damien Jurado were not there. Maybe next year, Cornerstone?

The amazing John Davis.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Cornerstone Diary, Day Four

Dear Diary,

Day Four at main stage was filled with family-fun from MxPx and Relient K, although both bands played slightly subversive cover songs. MxPx covered "I Would Walk" by the Proclaimers and "Surrender" by Cheap Trick. Relient K covered Kenny Logins' "Flight into the Dangerzone" from Top Gun. It had all the 30-ish somethings smiling. (What can I say? Alien Corpse had two older sisters who loved pop music in the 80s!)

But the real entertainment of the evening was all about the metal. Here now is an interview with the original Metal Freak, Neil Beard.

Which band totally melted your brain last night?
The Showdown! They stole it!

What songs did they play?
Some new songs: "The Snake Pit" and "Give Us This Day."

How did the new songs sound?
Excellent and a lot heavier!

Did they turn the crowd into a pile of skulls?

Does liking the Showdown make us hillbillies, too?

Good interview, Neil,, the Metal Freak.

Dave from The Showdown. Yes, he is wearing his own band's shirt. Yes, those are snakes coming out of the skull, and yes, the back of the shirt does say, "High Voltage Heavy Metal."

The Metal Freak hanging out with the number one heavy metal band, The Showdown.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Cornerstone Diary, Day Three

Dear Diary,

How lucky am I to be able to see mewithoutYou TWICE at Cornerstone this year! mewithoutYou opened main stage (!) on Thursday night with "Tie Me Up! Untie Me!" Hearing lead singer Aaron shout out, "Did you untie me, Lord? I haven't even thought about killing myself in almost 3 years!" rather than the 5 months testified to on mewithoutYou's brilliant record, Catch for Us the Foxes was an awesome testimony indeed. (If you are interested in checking out mewithoutYou, start with "January 1979" and "Paper Hanger" from Catch for Us the Foxes.)

mewithoutYou on Cornerstone Main Stage. Photo by Neil Beard.

The highlight of mewithoutYou's set was a new song they played last. They invited all of their friends to come out and dance with them on the last song, which included a ton of tribal drummers, a girl dressed in sackcloth, and man in a Native American-ish bird suit. I wasn't sure about the bird suit (hiding in the shadow of His wings?), but it was dramatic. The new song really demonstrated mewithoutYou's musical growth, adding much quieter elements to their songs, and much more melody as well. The song ended with Aaron shouting, "I do not exist!" over and over, a testimony to how a Christian can lose themselves in Christ completely.

mewithoutYou's set was awesome, but the best part of the day came as a surprise to me. I happened to wander over to the indoor stage and caught a set by the seminal, alt-Christian band, the Violet Burning.

First of all, the Violet Burning were a great break from all of the emo and metal acts that dominate Cornerstone. It was very cool to hear some British influenced rock for a change. My Bloody Valentine, Depeche Mode, U2 and the Cure could all be heard in the Violet Burning's set.

But what was most impressive about their set were a few short words by singer Michael Pritzl. Michael talked about how God loves all of us just as we are, which is a message you could hear at just about any evangelical church this Sunday morning. But Pritzl took it one set further and told the crowd that God loved the church just as it is. Yes, the church has its problem, and we should all want to change those, but God loves his church as it is.

In this age when so many intelligent young believers (David Bazan anyone?) are being turned off by the sins of the church, it was refreshing to hear someone stand up and say, "I need the church! God loves the church and so do I!"

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Cornerstone Diary, Day Two

Dear Diary,

The Cornerstone Festival has always been the Christian music festival that was more open to alternative music. They always had the underground stage that featured all the newest punk, hardcore and indie rock bands. And there are always dozens of bands set up at generator stages throughout the festival campgrounds. But main stage at Cornerstone was always about the mainstream rock acts. You know, like DC Talk and Third Day.

But this year all that changed. Main Stage at C-stone day two was invaded by a bunch of hardcore, screamo and heavy metal bands.

The evening started with the beauty and blister of As Cities Burn. These guys define screamo. It sounds like these screamo bands have been listening to U2 or something, because their spacey, melodic riffs were more than enough to fill the whole arena. Well, their intro song was a Sigur Ros song(!), so what should I expect?

The Chariot was up next with their destructive, spastic hardcore. I actually feared for the welfare of the band during their set. But it didn't compare to the brutality of Norma Jean.

Norma Jean. Photo by Neil Beard.

The highlight of their set (and maybe of the whole evening) was when the lead singers of The Chariot and mewithoutYou came out to sing "Memphis Will Be Laid to Waste." What a scary and inspiring song!

Next up was Ozzfest regular As I Lay Dying. Straight up metal with some melodic vocals. Not bad. But something could compare to the set Underoath put on. Underoath is definitely the biggest emo/screamo/Warped Tour-ish band in the whole world right now, and deservingly so. They played several songs from their new album, Define the Great Line, which sounded perfectly constructed for arenas and mass consumption. And I do not mean that in a bad way. Also, it was way cool to see all of the cell phones out when Underoath played their OC-hit, "A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White."

But what was most exciting about this whole main stage spectacle was a man named Chad Johnson. Johnson is the A&R man for Tooth and Nail/Solid State Records (he used to own Takehold Records before it went under). He came out just before the Underoath set and...well...preached a sermon.

It was shocking and wonderful. Tooth and Nail was one of the first to preach the "We're Christians in a band, not a Christian band," thing. And I understand that position. Not everyone has the spiritual gift of preaching, and we shouldn't always expect our art, including music, to be a tool for ministry.

But Johnson and Underoath showed the crowd that music can be a way of sharing the most important thing in the world, the gospel of Jesus Christ, with lost people. (Whoops, I hope you don't accuse Alien Corpse of being a Christian site now! :) ) Johnson's message was short and about how we sin when we turn rock artists into idols. Convicting.

Underoath was unashamed about their faith, as well, and the fact of them being a Christian band, not Christians in a band. "We are here to represent Jesus Christ," said vocalist Spencer Chamberlain. Now, I don't now if they say things like that when their on tour with Killswitch Engage, but they said it last night, and it was amazing.

What do you think, Alien Corpse readers? Is it OK to use art as a tool for the gospel. I think my feelings on the subject are pretty clear. But I am interesting in discussing this hot topic.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Posthumous Music -- Cashing in or Remembering Our Heroes?

With this week's release of the first American Recordings posthumous release from Johnny Cash, ALIEN CORPSE has been pondering the cash cow of life after death in the recording industry.

Is this practice simply the record company giving the fans what we want; giving us a way to connect with our fallen/tortured/misunderstood heroes? Or are we being taken advantage of, manipulated into spending money on typically subpar releases because our beloved is no longer with us?

There is certainly a great amount of attention received after a musician passes away that encourages a record company (or the surviving members of the band) to polish and then push a release of a "not quite finished" record. There is also the "dead artist" mentality that maintains an artist's work is more valuable after the artist passes on.

Also, many times the artist was in process or nearing completion of a project when they die, and it just takes their producer adding finishing touches to release the record, sometimes (especially in the case of Elliott Smith) giving the listener insight into their state of mind prior to their death (suicide).

As one being that has tasted death, ALIEN CORPSE has decided to take this stance: Immediate releases of unfinished work are acceptable especially in the case of suicide, greatest hits are acceptale, whereas remixes/"from the vault"/B-sides/other crap are offensive to fans and should be treated as such.

Here are some posthumous examples:

  • Elliott Smith - From A Basement on a Hill(2004), Smith passed on October 22, 2003.
  • Johnny Cash - Unearthed (11/03) (!), My Mother's Hymn Book (4/04), The Legend of Johnny Cash (10/05) American V: A Hundred Highways(7/4/06), Cash passed September 12, 2003.
  • Elvis Presley - Too many to mention, the most notable is the FRIGHTENING 2002 remix of "A Little Less Conversation," Elvis passed August, 1977.
  • Russell Jones (aka ODB, Dirt McGirt) - A Son Unique (expected 06), ODB passed November 2004.
  • 2Pac - Greatest Hits (1998), Until the End of Time (2001), All Eyez on Me (2001), Better Dayz (2002), Ressurection (11/03), Loyal to the Game (12/04), 2Pac passed in 1996.
  • Nirvana - Nirvana (10/02), With the Lights Out (11/04), Sliver: The Best of the Box (11/05), Kurt Cobain passed April 5th, 1994.
What are we missing? What's your favorite or (even better) your most hated posthumous release?

Cornerstone Diary, Day One

Dear Diary,

Well, Cornerstone Day One is officially over. Today was Tooth and Nail Day, with just bands that Tooth and Nail Records invited to play. There was actually a great variety of music to hear today, from the arena anthem rock of The Honour Recital to the goth-core of The Becoming. Even good old Project 86 was there (8 Cornerstones in a row?). Hearing the crowd sing along with Andrew Schwab, "I do not need anymore truthless heroes!" was truly one of the highlights of the night.

But two bands really stood out to me today: Becoming the Archetype and mewithoutYou.

Becoming the Archetype is straight up death metal. That's right, not metal-core, not some metal-emo hybrid, but straight-up finger tapping metal.

Here is the Jason of Becoming the Archetype. Yes, at times he did raise his hand as if he were holding a mystical energy orb to help him hit those really low notes. Photo by Neil Beard.

Alex of Becoming the Archetype. Photo by Neil Beard.

mewithoutYou definitely stole the show on the first day of Cornerstone 2006. What is so exciting about mewithoutYou is their creativity. NOBODY (secular or inspirational market) sounds like mewithoutYou. They started out as an art damaged hardcore band, but they have let the art damage finally take over. At this show, they used keyboards, maracas, djembes, acoustic guitars and a harp alongside their normal instrumentation to create a truly psychedelic experience.

mewithoutYou, of course, has always been a very visual band, as well. Lead singer Aaron is one of the most expressive and theatrical artists at Cornerstone, and he was in full form at this show, twirling and shaking out his vocals. I can't wait to catch their main stage performance on Friday night!