- On Fyre—Lyres. The 1984 début album from Lyres is a superior collection of organ-heavy retro garage rock. Band leader Jeff Connolly is completely enamored with 1960s Nuggets-style music, but comes off as a genuine practitioner of the craft and not a mere copycat. On Fyre features songs that qualify as genuine garage rock classics as surely as anything by the Music Machine, the Standells, or the Chocolate Watchband. “Help You Ann,” “Don’t Give It Up Now,” “She Pays The Rent,” “I Really Want You Right Now,” and “You’ve Been Wrong” are all original compositions that sound like they’ve time traveled from 1966. Covers of two Kinks songs—”Love Me Till The Sun Shines” and “Tired Of Waiting For You”—are faithful and fantastic. On “Love Me Till The Sun Shines” it’s downright spooky how much Connolly’s voice has the same tone and timbre as Dave Davies, who sang the original. The album stumbles a bit with “I’m Telling You Girl,” which mangles a Kinks-style riff and lacks anything resembling a tune. “Not Like The Other One” and “Someone Who’ll Treat You Right Now” are okay album tracks, but well below the high standards set by the rest of the album.
- Army Of Anyone—Army Of Anyone. Call them “Audioserf.” It’s amazing what a difference one band member can make. Army of Anyone was the second attempt by Stone Temple Pilots to replace the notoriously unreliable Scott Weiland. The first, Talk Show, released a surprisingly good album that played up the poppier side of STP. Army Of Anyone, with Filter vocalist Richard Patrick replacing Weiland and Ray Luzier taking over for Eric Kretz behind the drums, accents the heavier side of STP. As the drummer, Luzier is excellent, superior to Kretz. But while Patrick has a great voice, he’s simply not Scott Weiland. The secret weapons of STP are Weiland’s melodies and the way his voice weaves into the music. Weiland’s voice complements the music, riding with it. Patrick seems determined to bludgeon the listener with bombast, even as he comes close to getting Weiland’s extraordinary sense of melody. There’s nothing wrong with the quality of his voice, but his style is overwrought. Almost every chorus sounds like he’s about to launch into Filter’s signature tune “Hey Man, Nice Shot.” There’s some great stuff on this album: “Father Figure” is the proto-metal sound they seem to be shooting for throughout, but it’s the only song where every piece locks together perfectly. “A Better Place,” “Non Stop” and “Disappear” are almost as good. “This Wasn’t Supposed To Happen” is strongly reminiscent of the softer side of Stone Temple Pilots, mainly because Patrick tones down the histrionics and concentrates on the melody. It’s no surprise that it’s the track where he sounds most like Weiland. The rest of the album falls below that level. None of it is bad, but there isn’t much remarkable about any of it either. It’s likely that this was a one-off collaboration, since the DeLeo brothers have reunited with Weiland and Kretz. In a way, that’s too bad. The album is good, but there is great potential here. It reminds me of the first STP album, Core, in that sense. Whether Army of Anyone would have followed this with something as majestic as STP’s Purple is anyone’s guess, but the talent was there.
- Last Words: The Final Recordings—Screaming Trees. Seattle’s best unknown band has a reputation of being grunge also-rans, but they were so much more than that. The albums Sweet Oblivion and Dust are every bit as good as more famous albums from Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains. The Trees broke up in the late 90s, a few years after their last and best album, Dust. Singer Mark Lanegan went on to concentrate on his solo career, and the rest of the band drifted into obscurity. Now comes Last Words, a collection of tracks the Trees had recorded for the followup album to Dust, but had never released. This is not a rarities collection, but really an unreleased album that’s been sitting in the can since 1999. Had it been released at that time it’s difficult to see how it would have been viewed as anything less than a letdown after Dust, but all these years later it comes as a nice reminder of how great a band they could be. What mars the album is that it sounds somehow unfinished. There’s a solid skeleton of great songs, and a lot of meat on the bones, but what’s lacking are finishing touches. Songs like “Crawlspace,” and “Tomorrow Changes” are good, but sound more like solo Lanegan than full-fledged Trees songs. Much of the rest sound like outtakes of songs from Dust. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because Dust was so great. “Revelator,” “Black Rose Way,” and “Anita Grey” sound the most finished and are the best tracks on the album. The rest of the album is very good, but lacks the power of earlier songs like “Nearly Lost You” or “Witness.” The result is an album that would have been truly great if they had just done a few more takes, maybe added a few more overdubs, or tweaked the writing a bit.
- Pleased To Meet Me (Deluxe Edition)—The Replacements. The best band that never happened hit their songwriting peak with 1987’s Pleased To Meet Me, an album that perfectly combined thrashy punk rock, power pop, and acoustic tenderness. The march of progress the Replacements were on reached its culmination here, with all due respect to the masterpieces that preceded it, Let It Be and Tim. The only flaw of Pleased To Meet Me was the production that put a shiny gloss on the record and smoothed out the drunken charm of the earlier albums. Tracks like the lovely acoustic ballad “Skyway” suffer the most from the production. Rather than sounding like a troubadour with an acoustic guitar, “Skyway” practically glistens and it detracts from the desired effect. The Replacements were many things but this was the first time they could be called “smooth.” Fortunately the eleven bonus songs on the Deluxe Edition are, with the exception of “Cool Water,” the sound of the scruffy ‘Mats near and dear to the hearts of fans. There are three songs in the bonus tracks that appear on the album: a studio demo of “Valentine,” what sounds like a run-through of “Alex Chilton” and an early pass at “Can’t Hardly Wait.” None of these come anywhere near the quality of the official releases, but all are fascinating. “Alex Chilton” and “Valentine” sound like outtakes from the rough, brilliant Let It Be. There are brutally ragged versions of “Route 66” and “Tossin’ ‘N’ Turnin'” that give a sense of the anarchic heart of the band, and the studio demos of “Birthday Gal,” “Bundle Up,” “Photo” and “Kick It In” are loose and fun, though it’s also clear that these songs are not as good as the ones that ended up on the finished album. None of the bonus tracks are really essential, though all are worthwhile, and the alternate versions of the album tracks give a tantalizing glimpse into how much greater this incredible album might have been with a little less shine and a little more ragged glory.
Original album grade: A+
Bonus tracks grade: B+