Archive for August 2012

Led Zeppelin – Presence (1976) — 9.5/10   Leave a comment

Image

This is a bit of a cop-out album. I’ve heard this before. A lot. I don’t really need to listen to it.

Background:

Led Zeppelin, in late 1975, was coming off the high of being the biggest rock band in the world. Physical Graffiti had just been released, they’d had their famous Earls Court concert and, just before, a big, big tour of North America, with many more planned for the future.

But, in August 1975, Robert Plant, while on the Greek island of Rhodes, became involved in a serious car accident which nearly cost him his life and left him wheelchair-bound for a good period. Page’s addiction to heroin and Bonham’s alcoholism began to grow more forceful in their lives. The band members were against the wall.

During this tumultuous period of upheaval, the band wrote and recorded this “cry from the depths”–Presence–with the guitar dubs being done in one night, and the whole album seeing completion in a small period during November.

The album itself:

I’d like to start off by saying this album was far from my favorite for a while. It grows on you, you know.

Anyway, the album opens with this winding guitar riff, falling into this powerful groove that forms the backbone of “Achilles Last Stand”, which I’d call (with “Since I’ve Been Loving You” from III) the band’s best overall performance on a song. Bonham is, as Dave Grohl has described him overall, “teetering on the edge of a cliff”. Jones is in perfect sync, helping bring this already formidable rhythm section to new heights. Page’s guitar work dominates the track, and, impressively, sounds like the musical manifestation of war. Plant’s vocal ability was in a somewhat steady decline after ’73 and ’75, but he brings it all over “Achilles”. Energy, awesomeness–all you could want in an album opener, and it sets the stage well for the rest.

The song descends with another riff at the end, just similar enough to the opening to make you wonder if that’s what the opening sounded like, but just different enough to make you feel crazy. Then, a crashing G power chord and a slightly swung, off-kilter beat set the stage for “For Your Life”, something a bit more introspective than what we’d be used to. They’re oft criticized for misogyny, and it does occasionally make their material hard to listen to, especially in this age of social progression, but as becomes plain, the little misogyny in this album is used to do one of:

1. Show past beliefs and why they were wrong
2. Be a part of “Royal Orleans”

Back to the song, though–Plant does his best, keeping in mind his wheelchair, the rhythm section is fan-fabula-tastic, and parts like at 2:08, when the heavy riff in A (and later in G) comes in, make me wonder whether it was heroin or magic Page was shooting. It is, as the kids say, heavy as hell.

Then “Royal Orleans”, the only filler on the album. I do like the music, but the lyrics…describe John Paul Jones accidentally burning a hotel room to smithereens with a marijuana joint while asleep next to a transsexual prostitute. There’s so much “no” going on that I have to dock this album its only half point, and it’s not the transsexual part. Still, the riff is neat, and the heaviness present before, though intangibly so, is still there.

Then this spacey guitar comes through, and Plant moans and groans out an imitation. Back to the blues, ladies and gents. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is something of their tribute to their eponymous albums of ages long past, except with less “that woman ain’t been treatin’ me right” and more symbolism and introspection. Also, Bonham is ridiculous on this track (SO MANY CYMBALS), and Plant’s harmonica solo is to die for.

Then, the lesser known material. “Candy Store Rock” starts with this 50’s rock riff on steroids. Page manages to take an older genre of rock ‘n’ roll, closer to the heart of country, and make it sound fresh, and, frankly, awesome as can be. I must also, again, comment on the rhythm section–I almost wonder if a lack of keyboard focus is what drew Jones to be so much more awesome on the bass than anywhere except II.

“Hots On For Nowhere” is similarly rife with bass and blues, rather as “Nobody’s Fault” was. The solo is one of the most interesting parts of the song, there’s a few polyrhythms going on here, and all four band members are in great harmony, as the song morphs from the beginning sounds to the energized folk riff it becomes. (“HEY BABE, HEY BABE, HEY BABE, I LOST MY WAY”)

And now, for something quite like what avid Led Zeppelin listeners have heard before, but also quite different. A 6/8 slow blues song in the key of C minor. “Tea for One”, at first, sounds basically like an edgier “Since I’ve Been Loving You”. But there’s so much more to it. The vaguely polyrhythmic beginning, the lyrical maturity (it’s not as blatantly sexist as their early blues), the guitar work on the track, everything. “Tea for One”, a spectacular track by all involved, from the rhythms of Jones and Bonzo to the leads of Page and Plant, deserves a name of its own; it’s as identical to “SIBLY” as “SIBLY” is to “I Can’t Quit You Baby”. This track is the epitome of a “cry from the depths”, as Plant called the album.

What can I say about it as a whole? There is an advantage do doing all the guitar in one night–the guitar is uniform, and that tone, Plant’s wailing and introspective lyrics, and the powerful rhythm section are the threads that tie Presence together. A beautiful example of an album, with accessibility, seperability, and unity all in one. If you want to blame anything for less than a perfect score, blame “Royal Orleans” for relating an anecdote that just kills the maturity. 9.5/10, and next to Led Zeppelin II, my favorite Zep album.

Advertisements

Posted August 10, 2012 by farglenargle in Uncategorized

Audioslave – Audioslave (2002) — 9.5/10   Leave a comment

Image

 

Whoa, two posts in twenty-four hours? UNPRECEDENTED.

Background:

Zack de la Rocha left Rage Against The Machine in 2001 for solo projects, and the band was, essentially, rendered defunct by his departure until they could find a new vocalist. So, they found Chris Cornell of the 80s/90s grunge rock band Soundgarden, and melded their musical interests into this sort of lovechild of blues, grunge, funk, metal, and rock that became Audioslave. After lots of managerial strife, they released this, the debut album, to a waiting crowd.

The album:

Tom Morello starts off the album with some of his trademark guitar experimentation: “Cochise” opens with this strange sort of clicking, almost helicopter-like in sound, before abruptly throwing its metalfunk at us.

That’s not to say that’s all this album is, though. Chris Cornell’s writing is poetic and majestic, Tom’s guitar work is intricate and mystifying, and the rhythm section of Wilk and Commerford is nigh as impressive as Bonham and JPJ in decades past. In fact, this album has a very Zeppelin-y feel to it, or a Sabbath-y one; it would nary be out of place in the 70s, as each song, light like “Bring Em Back Alive” or heavy like “Show Me How to Live”, has that indescribable vintage character.

As for the album itself, it’s very near flawless. They keep a simple four-piece set-up, but they make it so much more. The tracks have a “separate unity” matched only by the greatest: Graceland and its ilk, that is. Each track is unique enough to retain interest for ages, but is similar enough to the others to sound like Audioslave (and especially Audioslave (get it? I made a joke about formatting)). It’s not perfect, but it is very near it.

I’d recommend this to any listener of alt rock, or rock in general, or music in general. It’s got what I would consider a relatively wide appeal, and it’s not just RATM with Chris Cornell; it’s Audioslave, and that means so much more. 9.5/10, and bravo.

Posted August 5, 2012 by farglenargle in Uncategorized

Jack White – Blunderbuss (2012) — 8.5/10   Leave a comment

Image

If you couldn’t tell by now, the numbers for ratings are relatively arbitrary. But I do mean them.

Background:

You’ve all heard of The White Stripes, right? Or The Raconteurs? The Dead Weather? Well, Jack White was a pivotal member of these three bands, and has a distinctive driving sound to his vocals and guitar work that’s almost instantly recognizable. He’s been going through a bit of a tough time lately, though, and from that stems the material laid out on this album, something totally different from that which he’s done before.

The album:

We are brought in by a very simple electric piano riff that becomes “Missing Pieces”–a song about a lover who left, or so I gathered, anyway. I’m not sure if it’s any objective quality about the song or just my fascination with the sound of an electric piano that’s making that opener among my favorites by Jack ever.

The song ends rather abruptly, and we’re taken out of the nigh-synthy haze by a jarring electric riff: DU-NU-NU-NUH, DU-NU-NU-NUH. “Sixteen Saltines” is a beautiful song, one that morphs, one that shifts, but one that manages to remain coherent and cohesive. Also, it’s one that causes me to type “DU-NU-NU-NUH” like an idiot.

Then, as one spirals through the album’s meat and potatoes, a question bubbles to the front of one’s mind: just what in the hell is Jack, that grandmaster of garage, that king of crunch, doing? Why, he’s doing what any sane man does in a break-up–he uses his Mixolydian VII chords and writes a folk song or two. Or ten. Or just under ten, as the second half of the album has him experimenting in weird places.

But I’m not Rolling Stone, nor do I wish to resemble them. I’m not at all averse to this. Jack White is exploring some really neat stuff in this album, from something coming out of a musical (“On and On and On”) to acoustic anthems (“Blunderbuss”, the title track). Jack, I don’t care what you do with your guitar, just as long as you do it well.

Let me tell you, you do it fantastically. This album isn’t my idea of a perfect album; that is to say, it’s not Graceland, or Abbey Road, or Secret Treaties, but there is definitely cohesion, and there isn’t a song I hate on this LP.

I give it an 8.5 out of 10 for being awesome. If you’ve heard The White Stripes, listen to this album. If you haven’t, still listen to this album and smack yourself for never even having heard “Seven Nation Army”, find the nearest available way to listen to Elephant and relax for a day. Blunderbuss is no blunder.

Posted August 4, 2012 by farglenargle in Uncategorized