Thursday, August 30, 2012
The Advantage (named after the NES Advantage, an arcade-style joystick for the NES) is one of only a handful of bands to devote themselves entirely to the performance of vintage video game music. What kind of market is there for such a thing? Much bigger than you'd expect. I bought it, if that tells you anything.
The downfall of The Advantage, and just about every other video game cover band out there, is neither the band's talent nor their ability to effectively mimic vintage video game tunes. They all just tend to have really poor production values. I don't know if this album was self-produced or just locally produced, but it sounds like it was recorded in someone's living room.
Despite the shortcomings in production, this is still a very enjoyable album, provided you are a huge nerd. I was especially appreciative of the Ghosts n' Goblins and Bubble Bobble covers on this album, but it was fun to not look at the track listing and try to guess which game the song came from. I was right most of the time, which is why I'm in the target market for this kind of music. Anyway, if you're a big ol' nerd, you might find yourself enjoying this album.
This album is exactly what the name implies: just the instrumentals from Blackalicious' groundbreaking Blazing Arrow (go buy it. It's the greatest hip-hop album I've ever heard). While this double LP set was no doubt intended to be used by DJ's, I listened to it straight through. It was an enlightening experience to dig a little deeper into what makes one of my favorite albums great. I could hear all the little nuanced instrumental bits that were buried underneath a barrage of Gift of Gab lyrics on the original album. I can't say that it's better to listen to this album this way, but it was certainly an interesting experience.
Regardless of where she fits genre-wise, this is another fine Pat Benatar album. "Shadows of the Night" is clearly the best song on the album, but there's plenty of good in the rest of the album. I was especially impressed with "Looking for a Stranger" and "I'll Do It." If Pat Benatar is your bag, it follows that this album is as well.
Precious Time is probably my favorite Pat Benatar album. It starts of with "Promises in the Dark," which, if I remember correctly, is the first Pat Benatar song I ever heard and the reason I became a fan in the first place. "Fire and Ice" really allows Pat to wail, and "Helter Skelter" is an interesting if not necessary Beatles cover. This album just comes together a little better than the others as far as my ears are concerned.
Crimes of Passion really established what it is that Pat Benatar does. She's not quite a pop diva and not quite a rocker. She's somewhere between Madonna and Lita Ford, incorporating elements of both rock and pop into her music. It works well for her, especially when the songwriting is strong. Crimes of Passion has some of the best songs Pat Benatar has ever performed, so it makes for a nice listening experience.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
In the Heat of the Night opens with "Heartbreaker." It's an amazing song that still absolutely rocks, but I can't escape the mental image of Steinbrenner from Seinfeld singing it in the episode where George builds a nap space under his desk. "We Live for Love" is the other major hit on the album, but I was most blown away by the awesomeness of "I Need a Lover," but was sad to find out it was a John Cougar Mellencamp song. Anyway, In the Heat of the Night is a great debut for Pat Benatar. She rocks the weird non-shirt on the cover and rocks all the tunes on the album. I like me some Pat Benatar, and this is as nice a slice as any.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
I honestly believe that "Rock 'n Roll Train," the album's opener and lead single, came about for two reasons: 1) they all decided Ozzy's "Crazy Train" was a good song and 2) They needed another song they could build an elaborate stage prop for. They already had the giant cannon for "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)" and the giant bell for "Hells Bells" and they wanted a reason to have their stage crew build another monstrosity. Nothing will convince me otherwise.
Anyway, although Black Ice isn't nearly as good as the other AC/DC album with the word "black" in the title (you know the one I mean) it's still a solid effort. AC/DC sounds like a band that has been doing what they do for a really long time so it's best to just step aside and let them do it. I get the feeling that they can put out albums like this for another couple decades if they feel like it, and heaven help us they just might.
Anyway, Razor's Edge is the much-needed long-sought-after return to form that longtime AC/DC fans were looking for. It has the first truly spectacular AC/DC tune in a nearly a decade in "Thunderstruck." Songs like "Moneytalks," "Are You Ready" and the title track are great - if not all-time-great - rockers as well. The only song on the album I didn't really care for was "Mistress for Christmas," but that's only because I don't like Christmas songs on non-Christmas albums. This is a solid album by AC/DC and it marked a big step back toward greatness.
AC/DC songs are like jokes in that you have to buy into the premise in order for there to be a payoff. If you don't buy the fact that a rabbi, a horse, and Obi-Wan Kenobi walked into a bar, chances are you won't laugh at whatever hilarious thing the bartender says. If you don't buy into AC/DC's metaphors for hard rocking or sex, chances are you won't enjoy the song. Case in point: "Brain Shake" from Flip the Switch. It's a stupid premise and therefore a stupid song.
Blow Up Your Video is a bit of a mixed bag. While there are legitimate rockers like "Heatseeker" and "That's the Way I Wanna Rock and Roll," there are also duds like "Go Zone" and "Kissin' Dynamite." The songs that work on this album work very well. The ones that don't just fall flat. Taken as a whole, Blow Up Your Video is a better album than Flick the Switch or Fly on the Wall, but it's still a far cry from Highway to Hell.
Aside from the lone good moment on this album in "Shake Your Foundation," this album is filled with subpar music. On songs like "First Blood" and "Stand Up," I had to look at my iPod because I couldn't for the life of me figure out what Brian Johnson was shouting. "Sink the Pink" is an embarrassing non-innuendo (it can't be innuendo when you just come out and say exactly what's on your dirty mind) worthy of Spinal Tap. The same could be said of "Playing With Girls." AC/DC is better than this and everyone knows it.
Anyway, all 5 songs on this EP are great, especially the classic "Soul Stripper" and the look inside the life of a rock star in "Show Business." '74 Jailbreak was a timely and necessary release in 1984, but it stands very well on its own today.
Here's the thing about AC/DC: they have a tried and true formula for making great rock. They take big chords, throw some distortion on them, and toss in some lyrics about one of the following: 1) Causing trouble 2) Rocking really hard 3) Loose women. So yeah, that's pretty much it. The funny thing is that even though AC/DC's music is ostensibly simple, nobody else is able to do it like they do, and their formula has proven that it still works nearly 40 years after they invented it. Anyway, Let There Be Rock has great songs about causing trouble in "Bad Boy Boogie" and "Problem Child," a great song about rocking hard in "Let There Be Rock," and great songs about loose women in "Go Down" and "Whole Lotta Rosie." While it isn't as iconic as Highway to Hell or Back in Black, Let There Be Rock is a solid chunk of 70's hard rock that should please any fan of the genre.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
As far as I'm concerned, this is the best thing A.F.I. has ever done. The songs on this album are not all superfast no-holds-barred punk, as it was with previous A.F.I. albums. They mix things up a bit, but don't really stray too far outside the confines of whatever it is that makes punk punk. A song like "The Despair Factor" is a far cry from "Yurf Rendenmein," but it still seems like oldschool A.F.I. Anyway, this is the best A.F.I. album in the world, at least according to the guy who prefers what they were to what they are.
That said, Answer That and Stay Fashionable is exactly what I like from A.F.I. They included soundbites from random movies on this album, so it feels like a punk mix-CD from the late 90's (did you guys ever do the thing where you put weird .wav quotes and stuff in-between songs? It was all part of being awesome in the late 90's). The songs are a blur of furiosity (also a good thing in punk) and don't let up for a single moment. As I hear these songs, I am always transported back to that violent mosh pit in 2001 where I first heard A.F.I. It makes me more happy than straight up punk should.
Anyway, this album compiles a-ha single dating from their former synthpop days all the way into their elder statesmen of Euro rock years (no seriously, they get a lot of props in Europe. Bands like Keane and Coldplay cite them as major influences). If you want an overview of a-ha's career, this is a good place to start. It's not necessary if you own most of their studio albums, but that could be said of almost all compilations.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Even though it doesn't have a major hit (songs from this album did make their way onto the charts, but not even close to the way "Take on Me" did), it's still an enjoyable album. "I've Been Losing You," is the best song on the album, but "Manhattan Skyline" is the song that best foreshadows what future a-ha releases would sound like. Oh, and for some reason I can't stand "We're Looking for the Whales." So yeah, that takes a couple points off.
Hunting High and Low begins with "Take on Me," and it certainly doesn't end there. This album also has "The Sun Always Shines on TV," which was also a hit (see? I told you they aren't a one-hit wonder) as well as "Love is Reason" and "I Dream Myself Alive," which are better than average 80's songs. Hunting High and Low is a great 80's album. Go back and listen to everything that comes after "Take on Me." I promise there's a bunch of good stuff on there, you just have to be willing to find it.