Summer begins with new music.
- Stone Temple PilotsStone Temple Pilots. It’s been many years since the Pilots were last heard from on Shangri-La-Dee-Da, but they haven’t missed a beat. The band members stayed active, with Scott Weiland joining the dysfunctional crew of Velvet Revolver and the rest of the Pilots forming Army of Anyone with former Filter singer Richard Patrick. The Army of Anyone album sounded close enough to STP that it was clear the former Pilots were keeping their chops up, and Weiland brought the same melodic skill that elevates the Pilots to Slash, Duff, and Company. The result of keeping their hands in and playing to their strengths is that the new, eponymous STP album sounds a lot like the same band you’ve always known. If you like STP (and I do), you’ll like the album. If you think they’re a pack of posers, the new album won’t change your mind. The time off wasn’t all beneficial. This is their least impressive album since their overrated début, Core. Only “Between The Lines,” “Dare If You Dare,” “Fast As I Can,” and “Maver” are really top-flight material, worthy of being included with the songs from Purple or Tiny Music. Tracks like “Huckleberry Crumble,” “Hickory Dichotomy,” “Hazy Daze,” and “Bagman” are strictly filler material, and “Cinnamon” sounds amazingly like an outtake from Rooney’s second album. The rest of the tracks fall somewhere between the filler and the fantastic. They’re better than most of what you hear on the radio today, but still a far cry from the best work of the band. Hopefully, now that the band is ironing out the kinks on the road and in the studio, the next album will be a return to their best form.
- Sea Of CowardsThe Dead Weather. Jack White’s workaholism has generated yet another Dead Weather album, their second within a year. The first album was a triumph of feel and sound, with a fascinating vocal and lyrical interplay between Alison Mosshart and Jack White. (The world’s longest review of Horehound is here.) It was startling in how different it sounded. The second album loses that advantage of surprise. It sounds like the first album and while it has some songs that are as good or better than anything on the début, it also has several tracks that don’t measure up. There’s nothing as good as “Treat Me Like Your Mother” on Sea of Cowards, but “Die By The Drop,” “Gasoline,” “No Horse,” and “Jawbreaker” outshine almost everything else off Horehound. Unfortunately, that’s where it ends. “Blue Blood Blues” and “The Difference Between Us” are very good, but much of the rest sinks into mediocrity. “I’m Mad” suffers from the worst phony laugh since Phil Collins tried to sound menacing on Genesis’s “Mama,” and “Old Mary” is a bizarre (and dreadful) spoken word rip of the Hail Mary prayer. The big problem with the Dead Weather is that the distorted heavy industrial/noise sound of the band doesn’t lend itself to repeated listens. It’s impressive when you are listening to it and digesting it, but it’s not something you go back to. I genuinely like the Dead Weather, but I’m really starting to miss The Raconteurs and The White Stripes.
- Third Man Records Single Releases 2009Various Artists. This 2-LP (that’s vinyl, kids) from Jack White’s record label, Third Man Records, collects all the singles they released in 2009 as well as singles that were recorded in 2009 but released early this year. It’s a mixed-bag, but there’s a lot in it that’s very good. There are several Dead Weather singles, including a very good cover of Gary Numan’s “Are Friends Electric?” and a great cover of “A Child Of A Few Hours Is Burning To Death,” by the very obscure ’60s garage rock/psychedelic band the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. There’s also a spontaneous blues track White wrote and recorded for the It Might Get Loud documentary, that sounds like it was made up on the spot (it was). Jack White is all over these songs, playing drums on some, piano on others, and singing with the Dex Romweber Duo on their songs. Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler, the Greenhornes/Raconteurs rhythm section, also appear on several tracks. There’s some junk on the record. Mildred And The Mice (rumor has it that it’s Jack White’s wife, Karen Elson) has two completely unlistenable songs about dead vermin that I assume are meant to be a joke, but they’re not funny. There’s a track where the astronomer Carl Sagan has his voice Auto-Tuned into a sing-song monologue about the cosmos. More problematic, Rachelle Garniez’s sole song, “My House of Peace” has great music behind a voice that alternates between a sweet, breathy soprano and a slurred, drunken mumble, sometimes in the same line. The Black Belles make an interesting attempt at the garage rock classic “Lies,” but the song lacks power, Transit’s ’70s soul-style “C’mon and Ride” is pretty much a put-on. But then there’s the good: Dan Sartain’s Tom Waits-ish jazz blues, Dex Romweber’s howling guitar stomp, Wanda Jackson’s shredding Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” and Johnny Kidd’s “Shaking All Over,” the Smoke Fairies’ haunting folk blues, Transit’s “Afterparty” which begins as smooth soul and ends as a raveup, the Black Belles’ Dead Weather meets the Shangri-Las “What Can I Do?” And for those so inclined, there are two spoken word pieces from music scenester BP Fallon, who offers a solemn meditation called “Fame #9” about the pitfalls of being famous and a Jack White-conducted interview where he reminisces about everything from seeing Chuck Berry in New York to the nature of blues. He also “sings” a really interesting track called “I Believe In Elvis Presley.” It’s a fascinating collection, and a good glimpse into the mind of Jack White. This is truly alternative rock.
- A Little Madness To Be FreeThe Saints. This 1984 album finds Australia’s The Saints leaving in the dust any trace of the punk band that released three classic albums in the late 1970s. That’s not necessarily a problem since other bands with punk roots (The Replacements, for example) managed to leave punk behind and still do high-quality work. That’s not really the case here, though. While the album starts strongly with three very good tunes (“Ghost Ships,” “Someone To Tell Me” and “Down the Drain”) the rest of the album sinks into a midtempo malaise that makes for a listless listening experience. Some of these songs, like “It’s Only Time,” “Imagination,” and “Walk Away,” aren’t bad but they’re far from compelling. The rest of the album never rises above the blandly mediocre with the worst offender being “Photograph,” which is burdened with the type of maudlin string arrangement that’s supposed to indicate depth of feeling but only sounds like Muzak. The Saints would rebound from this with the classic All Fools Day, but while there’s not much on this album that’s genuinely awful, there’s even less that’s genuinely fresh and exciting.
- Time Fades AwayNeil Young. This album was called “the worst I ever made” by Neil Young. And this was after he released Re-Ac-Tor, Trans, and Everybody’s Rockin’. Young holds this album in such low regard that he included none of the songs on his Decade compilation and still has not released the album on compact disc. All of this just goes to show that Neil Young is not necessarily the best judge of his own material. Yes, Times Fades Away is so loose and rough it brings new meaning to the word “ramshackle,” but it is this ragged weariness that gives the album so much strength. Recorded during the tour for Harvest, the album that put Young all over AM radio, this is about as far away from “Heart Of Gold” as you can get. The sweet singer/songwriter country leanings of Harvest are replaced here with a bone-shaking, toxic stew of distorted guitar and vocals that don’t crack so much as they shatter. This album is really more like a live version of Young’s harrowing junkie tales from Tonight’s The Night than they are anything Young had released up to this point. The vocals are all over the place, the music is dense and distorted, the subject matter is dark, and the album is a powerhouse. It’s ugly, but it’s art.