“1989” Ryan Adams (Music Review)

“1989” Ryan Adams (Music Review)

Now this is an interesting concept.

Ryan Adams, notorious mood rocker, has released a complete album that is a cover of the entirety of Taylor Swift’s massive hit record, 1989.

Not exactly what I would have expected.

What has been produced here, is an absolutely brilliant album.

Despite my musical taste being more towards classic rock and metal, I acknowledge, and unabashedly, adore Taylor Swift’s 1989. Say what you will about the current state of music, but there is no denying her ability to write catchy hit after hit, and create songs that have more depth than the infectious hooks may have us originally think.

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And Ryan Adams’ reconceptualization of the entire album enables us to see it, and hear it, in a whole new light.

I thought that perhaps this was one singer/songwriter making fun of another, but it never comes across that way. Adams treats Swift’s work with respect, and does a marvelous job of stripping down the music, and getting to the true heart of the songs. And he does a very impressive job of it.

The covers on this version of 1989 range from soft and moody, to upbeat and electric, and they are all very good. It would seem difficult to transform “Shake it Off” into anything other than what it is: a catchy pop song with a ton of repetition that you can’t help sing along to, but he manages to do it, transforming it into something dark, capturing the essence of the lyrics that Swift has created.

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The true strengths of the album lie in the hits. They are the best songs on Swift’s version, and the updates are the best songs on Adams’ version: “Bad Blood”, “I Wish You Would”, “Style”, “Welcome to New York”, “Blank Space”. They have already become significant pop hits, and Adams takes them to another place, making them wholly new songs that are very listenable, and very good.

With the stripped down versions, it is easier to see the very strong songwriting abilities that Taylor Swift has. And it is easy to see that there is depth to her lyrics, despite what we may initially think about her, that she just breaks up with boyfriends in order to write cheesy breakup songs about them. There is so much more there, and for those who haven’t seen it, Adams brings it to the forefront on his cover album. There is actual pain there, longing, below the lipstick and beats that T-Swizz produces.

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Adams takes care with each of the songs, and breathes a different life into each and every one of them. He was created a very listenable album, for someone who is a Taylor Swift fan or not. Each of the songs is unique enough that you don’t have to have ever heard the original version to like the Ryan Adams version. What he has created with 1989 is a very good album of songs. To be honest, this is the first Ryan Adams album I have ever purchased, so I can’t pretend to know what his normal sound is all about in detail. I don’t know if 1989 is different for him, or much of the same. All I know is that it is good.

It just so happens that the songs aren’t his, that they belong to the biggest pop star out there at the moment.

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It could be argued that Taylor Swift’s 1989 was one of the best albums of 2014-15 (I would argue this). With over 8 million albums sold, it is tough to say that others disagree. While she produced a fun batch of songs that will get you tapping your fingers, Ryan Adams has produced something deep, gloomy, and very listenable with his version of 1989.

Even though this album may primarily appeal to either Adams or Swift fans, it very much has crossover appeal, and should enjoy greater success that it probably will. This version of 1989 is one of the best albums I have listened to in a long time.

Well worth checking out.

R.I.P. Lemmy

R.I.P. Lemmy

You know you’re some kind of monster in your given field when you can go by one name.

I was saddened to hear about the passing of legendary Motorhead bassist and singer Lemmy the other day, and felt I needed to write a few words about him, and what he meant to me.

I got into Motorhead because they were a seminal influence on my all-time favorite band, Metallica, and when I love something, I love it hard, and want to know everything about it. So from Metallica, I ventured into the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands of the late 70’s and 80’s, which eventually got me to Motorhead.

And I never looked back.

British Summer Time 2014 - July 4th

 

Over the years, I would dabble with the band, going on all out binges of their raw metal sounds, even bringing some of their music to the most recent band that I played in, crushing cover versions of songs like “Hellraiser” and “Rock n’ Roll.”

There was something about Lemmy, and Motorhead, that was undeniably different. It was raw, unlike anything I have listened to before, or since. It had the speed of punk, the edge of metal, and in the end, it could only be described as one thing: Motorhead. The man behind the band, Lemmy, deserves all the credit, as the consistent piece to the band, over the course of tons of records and endless tours, and as the main songwriter.

Lemmy was prolific.

And he was great. He was just a badass, a throwback to a different time, when rock stars lived hard and left behind throngs of ringing ears behind them. Lemmy was a monster of rock, and it goes beyond the iconic symbolism of Motorhead.

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Despite the niche style to their music, he should be remembered as a legend in not just the metal genre, but all genres. He has influenced rock acts for decades, and his influence will live on.

It is a sad thing to see any great musician go, but the loss of Lemmy is one that I truly felt in my gut.

It pains me to say it, but Lemmy, Rest in Peace.

Whiplash (Film Review)

Whiplash (Film Review)

This is a fun movie to watch.

Sure, it is based on a teacher at an elite musical school who is an absolute tyrant to his students, pushing them beyond their limits in hopes of achieving a jazz band that is absolutely seamless and perfect in every way. He abuses them, fires them, replaces them, makes them practice in military ways.

But…it works.

WHIPLASHWhiplash is the story of Andrew, an ambitious drummer who has met his match with Fletcher, the most feared and respected musical teacher at the institution. Making it in his session band means that you have achieved something rare, and are able to play among some of the best musicians in the world.

But your spot is precarious. Fletcher pushes Andrew to extreme limits, always wanting him to be able to play faster, and to be exactly on “his time.” It can be grueling, but it is entertaining to watch, that is for sure.

The premise for the film is so incredibly simple, that it needs to be carried, and it is. By actor J.K. Simmons, who won an Oscar for his role as the demeaning and cruel teacher. And rightfully so. He is brutal, but still enjoyable to watch on the screen. His insults are harsh, yet somehow pretty funny at points, and he does everything he is able to do in order to push his band to be the greatest. He claims that the worst words someone can here is that something is good enough, because then there is little drive left for them to achieve greatness. The true greats need to be pushed harder and harder, to see how they are going to react to the criticism. Are they going to crumble? Or will they continue to rise to the challenge in order to prove that they are great?

whip3Simmons excels in this role. He owns it, and is completely believable in it. He is foiled by Miles Teller, who plays Andrew. He is able to hold his own, and his desire for greatness seems to fit so well with Fletcher’s teaching methods, until he is unable to take the abuse any longer.

The final scene of Whiplash is also one to behold, certainly worth a couple of rewatches.

The focus is definitely on these central characters, as many of the secondary story lines are underdeveloped, and often just there to fill up the space, at times. Not a ton is really revealed about any character aside from Andrew as the film moves forward. The real meat of Whiplash is in the interplay between our two central characters.

The film explores interesting issues, such as how hard people should be pushed. If it really is okay to be just fine, or if that is creating a world where mediocrity is accepted, and seen as a limit to the potential of people. It is a valid point. Will new greats, in whichever discipline, emerge if they are not pushed to their absolute limits and beyond by someone?

whip4Whiplash was a small budget film that did big things around the awards season, gathering a ton of nominations, including one for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, while winning 3 other Oscars, including the acting nod for the great Simmons. Really, Whiplash became the little movie that could, being made very quickly and on a shoestring budget, and then propelled to the forefront of American cinema, if only for a while.

It is a very watchable film, regardless of our opinions of the central themes. It is at times fun, at times brutal, but always filled with great jazz music throughout. For drummers, this is an absolute must-see, as some of the things that are done on the kit are exceptional and impressive to see.

After seeing Whiplash for the first time, I get what all the fuss is about. A very good movie.

Pink Floyd: “The Endless River” (Album Review)

Pink Floyd: “The Endless River” (Album Review)

The Endless River is the final album, ever, by one of the most unique and influential bands of all time, Pink Floyd. Their legacy will live in rock annals forever, as they are a group of musicians that managed to make incredible, and everlasting music, constantly pushing the boundaries with their high-end concepts and intelligent music.

But is The Endless River really Pink Floyd?

Since the departure of Roger Waters in 1985, the band has carried on, led by the incredible David Gilmour, flanked by drummer Nick Mason and the now passed keyboardist Richard Wright. They have only produced three albums, including The Endless River (the others being A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell). There is little doubt that the band is not the same without the incredible creativity and storytelling of Waters, but there was something left to Pink Floyd, and their post-Waters albums were alright. Nothing compared to the legendary masterpieces they made with him, like Wish You Were Here, Dark Side of the Moon, and The Wall, but still not bad. Something different in the music landscape.

endless2Once Richard Wright passed away from cancer, this album became his sending off, and the ending for the band, that had experienced great heights and great turmoil.

What they have come up with is, of course, something different from the usual musical released we have become accustomed to.

First off, the entire album is instrumental, save for the final song, “Louder Than Words.” What this creates for the listener is a sense of yearning. While the music, keyboard heavy and ambient, is pleasant to listen to, we yearn for it to be more like Pink Floyd. There are certainly glimpses, and some of Gilmour’s guitar work brings us to that place we want to be, it is as though there isn’t enough. I like the idea of a primarily instrumental album, but I missed Gilmour’s vocals, to be honest, and felt perhaps the album, the completion of the story of Wright and of Pink Floyd, would have been better served with at least a couple more tracks that contained lyrics and vocals. So that they could finish the incredible journey that they started back in the 1960’s, being led by Syd Barrett. I also would have liked to hear more guitar-driven songs, since Gilmour has produced some of the most memorable and understated guitar solos in rock history. Who wouldn’t want more of that?

One thing that I will give credit to on this album is that it manages to provide an escape while listening to it. It is possible to slip away, only hearing the quiet sounds of the music. Pink Floyd has always been able to do this, and it continues here.

Looking at the release of the album, and seeing how it reached number 1 in so many different countries, I wonder how the fan reaction is to the new music. Obviously, the name Pink Floyd still carries a ton of weight with listeners, and it was even the most pre-ordered album of all-time prior to its release in the UK.

Are we happy with the way that Pink Floyd has wrapped up?

Forgetting for a moment that this is Pink Floyd, it would be difficult to imagine that this album would have much commercial success. However, what we have here is a collection of pleasing music, with hints to the past, and taking us to the end of one of the all-time greats.

It is, of course, infinitely sad to know that Pink Floyd, in its most famous incarnation, with Waters and Gilmour at the creative helm, will never make another album. And while not perfect, The Endless River provides fans of the band with a quiet conclusion to the whole journey.

The Death of Bunny Munro (Book Review)

The Death of Bunny Munro (Book Review)

Nick Cave is a mad genius.

The singer, known best as the frontman of groups such as The Birthday Party and the more famous Bad Seeds, is also a damn fine writer.

For those who have seen him live (https://gatsbyfuneral.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/nick-cave-and-the-bad-seeds-in-edmonton-concert-review/), understand how he is a psychotic preacher on stage, taking the audience in, and not releasing his firm grip around their necks until the show has concluded. He can command an audience unlike many vocalists out there. When he is on stage, he owns the audience, bringing them into his world of darkness, love, and murder, before releasing them, gasping, into the night.

bunny2Many years ago, I read And the Ass Saw the Angel, and was taken in by Nick Cave’s dark, gothic, prose. It was a good book. Disturbing, as would be expected from someone like Cave, but undeniably well written.

Upon realizing that he had another novel, The Death of Bunny Munro, I immediately pounced upon it, ready to be taken into his dark world once again.

And I was definitely not disappointed. In fact, I was riveted.

Bunny Munro is a degenerate who sells women’s beauty products door-to-door, a man who proclaims that he could sell “a bicycle to a barracuda.” Bunny is obsessed with sex, and his depraved sexual fantasies often rule his day-to-day existence. Despite trying to sleep with every woman who has a pulse, Bunny is married, and has a young son, Bunny Junior.

When his wife commits suicide, Bunny is left in the care of his son, and is forced to face a strange world in which there is a little person who depends on him for absolutely everything. What better way to christen their new lives, than going on a road trip to try and shake the money tree, and hit up some potential clients for some sales, and some money.

Bunny comes across as one of the most grotesque heroes in literature that I have read. At every turn, he does something only the purest of scumbags would even consider doing, and all the while, he has his impressionable son in tow.

He sells product to people who don’t need it, he tries to take advantage of the elderly, he sleeps with women with the most vile of reputations, he fantasizes constantly about celebrity musicians like Kylie Minogue and Avril Lavigne (in extremely graphic detail, especially with the latter), and he ignores the obvious impairments that Bunny Junior is dealing with. He is an awful father, and an awful person.

Yet, we can’t help hope that things work out for him in the end.

bunny3The Death of Bunny Munro encompasses several subplots, including a madman scouring English towns as a serial killer, dressed in devilish goat horns and red body makeup, terrifying people all across the nation. While this is taking place, Bunny must deal with the visions he has of his dead wife (similar to the visions his son is having about her), and try to remain focused while his life spirals out of control.

This novel is very well written, creating a mood and a tone that is apparent throughout the text. Cave is a master with words, painting pictures that are easily visualized, and never coming across as someone who is a novelist in their spare time. This book writes like it is written by a pro, something that Cave, after two very strong novels, needs to be seen as. He can write more than a passionate and creepy song. In the larger scale, he is able to write a full-sized text, and have it be as completely engrossing as one of his live performances of “Jubilee Street.”

Relatively short in length, The Death of Bunny Munro could easily be a one-sitting novel. It is intriguing, and entertaining. From the beginning, we are forced to wonder if Bunny really will die at the end, as the title suggests, or if he will be able to find some kind of redemption for his life full of sin.

This book is excellent. And not only for fans of Nick Cave. It is just a very good book. Since it happens to be written by a rock star, it will have an immediate audience, but it deserves more than that.

In The Death of Bunny Munro, Nick Cave exhibits once again that he is a true storyteller, and a craftsman with the language of words. This novel is well worth a read for anybody.

Metallica: Through the Never (Film Review)

Metallica: Through the Never (Film Review)

There definitely aren’t many concert movies that come out any more, especially ones that attempt to intertwine a narrative within a concert that is occurring on the stage.

Metallica, never a band that is afraid to push the boundaries, has done so for their entire career. They have always been willing to try something new, either to the glee or disdain of their fans. They became the most successful heavy metal band in the world by altering their sound into more radio friendly lengths of song, they began making music videos, they wrote some ballads, they had classical influence in their music, even in the early days, they wrote a couple of albums in the 90’s that isolated many fans who felt they had sold out, they released several concert DVDs, they had a film based on their fractured relationship and near-breakup during the days of James Hetfield in rehab. They have seen it all, and done it all, so it was not entirely surprising that they would attempt to make a concert film, in 3D no less.

Metallica: Through the Never was filmed during their most recent world tour, something that have seemingly been doing almost non-stop since 1982.

metallica3The narrative centers around a young kid, who has a menial job working for the Metallica road crew. While he gets to begin watching the concert, he is asked on a favor for the band, to find one of their vehicles that had run out of gas, and contained a bag that the band really needed. He goes on an adventure, all the while when Metallica is rocking on the stage. He walks into a world that is borderline apocalyptic, yet he always maintains his mission of finding the truck and the bag within.

While the story is a little odd, and often doesn’t even really fit with the things that are happening on the stage, it does provide us with some pretty cool visuals. I never had the chance to see it on the IMAX, or in 3D, but you can easily tell the scenes that would have looked really cool popping out at you while sitting in the theater.

The story is definitely not the best thing I have ever seen, but it never really takes away from the concert, which is good. It doesn’t add a ton, but like I said, some of the visuals are really well done.

As for the concert itself, Metallica is in their usual fine form, hammering through a near flawless show. They maintain their tendency to play some of their songs a little quickly compared to the album versions, but this has always just added to the speed and fury of their live shows. The stage used it another great one, incorporating elements of their past concert tours. There are the crosses from the days of Master of Puppets, the massive, and eventually crumbling, statue of Lady Justice from …And Justice For All, something similar to the Snake Pit from the Black Album days, and they even reuse one of their stunts from the Load tour, in which a couple of roadies get injured when the stage collapses, leading to an intimate finale, with the band in close proximity to one another, as though they are back playing in the garage.

metallica4For those who have seen Metallica live, at any stage of their careers, it is always known that the pyrotechnic introduction to “One” is always a highlight of the shows. In Through the Never, it is the best I have ever seen it, with extra explosions, and impressive looking machine gun fire. Very cool.

The setlist provides a little bit of everything for Metallica fans new and old: the usual entry to “The Ecstasy of Gold,” they tear into Creeping Death, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Fuel, Ride the Lightning (which includes an awesome Tesla machine), One, The Memory Remains (one of their most impressive live songs, regardless of your thoughts on Load and Reload, the sing-a-long ending is amazing), Wherever I May Roam (not in its entirety, though), Cyanide, …And Justice For All (I can’t hear this song live enough times), Master of Puppets, Battery (not the full version either), Nothing Else Matters, Enter Sandman, Hit the Lights, and a beautiful conclusion with Orion, during the closing credits, that really shows off the impressive nature of the band’s writing, as well as the incredible skill of bassist Robert Trujilo.

metallica1The sound of the concert is very strong, and I happily listened as Hetfield’s guitar came across with the crunch that fans of the band have loved for so long. Despite getting old, and getting a little more grey, Metallica is still able to put on a great show, full of energy, and they are always able to amp up a crowd, regardless of the size. The band is still huge, and they are still on top of their live game, in my opinion.

While a fan of the band probably won’t be watching this one for the story that goes along with the show, it does look cool, and it doesn’t take anything away from the Monsters of Rock on the stage. The concert itself is quite good, and the sound is one of the best parts. Definitely a must watch for all those Metallica fans who have been faithful to the group as they have aged and changed, respecting the fact that they are willing to try something new, and willing to push that envelope.

Downloaded (Film Review)

Downloaded (Film Review)

Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker changed the world. There is no way to even argue that. With the development of their Napster software in the late 1990’s, they managed to change the way we listened to music, and in turn, they completely changed the music industry, the effects of which are still being felt today.

With the concept of peer-to-peer sharing, users were able to access the hard drives of all Napster users, and download music from them. For free. This allowed people to build up massive collections of mp3s that they would have never been able to afford had they been forced to go out and buy all of that music.

The advent of Napster also created a massive war in the music industry, as some were in favor of people being able to “share” music, while others were completely against it, as it was a form of stealing and piracy. Basically, at its core, Napster was copyright infringement.

down2Downloaded is a documentary that tells the story of Shawn and Sean, and their meteoric rise to the top of the music world. It is fascinating, how people with no training came up with an idea, then worked endlessly to get it to work, to the point where it had millions of users worldwide. The movie provides us with tons of interviews, both then and now, of the main players in Napster, and the controversy it sparked.

The interviews are insightful, and we get a complete picture of the story of Napster. From its beginnings, to the rise and height of its fame, to the massive fallout when it was shut down by the courts. There are legal ramifications, as well as financial ones, to the point where the music industry began suing thousands of users of the service, usually winning the cases, and collecting an average of $4,000 from users.

I liked that this documentary described what the guys were doing in detail. It doesn’t shy too much away from the technical aspects of it, allowing us to understand how Napster worked. It also uses a lot of archival footage from the time, especially the court battles, which adds more realism to the story telling. This not only allows us to hear people reflect on the impact of Napster, but to see the circus it had created at the time, and how it was, in fact, changing things.

It is also very interesting to learn a few things about the service, such as that the founders never made any money off of it. Creating something that millions of people use usually means somebody is getting rich, but in the case of Napster, it really was only the lawyers fighting for and against it that made any money. The post-Napster ventures of Shawn and Sean are also quite interesting. We know that Sean Parker made his millions from his involvement in Facebook (his involvement is chronicled by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network), and in the end, Fanning was able to make his money as well, in a video game venture. Agree or not with what the two did, and regardless of the validity of the service that Napster provided, it was an ingenious idea, and it was kind of satisfying to see these guys get their money, even if it was for something different. They are very good thinkers.

Downloaded provides a pretty good, unobscured view of Napster. They present both sides of the argument, and even Shawn and Sean are able to see both sides of the argument. They wanted a place where a network of people could share music, and learn about new music, and love new music. They had never planned on it being so massive, and the legal issues quickly caught up with them. It is up to us to decide if we believe that Napster was a good thing, since we got a free product, or a bad thing, because it was essentially stealing from musicians. There could have been more about the artists who openly spoke out against Napster, and those who fought tooth and nail against it. Metallica, Dr. Dre, and Trent Reznor, all have snippets in the film coming out against Napster, but no current interviews were conducted. They all appear in archival footage, which is great (specifically when Reznor is trashing Fred Durst for being an idiot), but it would have been really cool to see their reflections now on the Napster issue, if their views had changed, if they regret anything, and how it all changed because of it. These artists won the war, but they all surely faced fallout in what was perceived as actions against their own fans (I personally don’t believe what these artists did was wrong, they only wanted the credit for what was their hard work).

Now that CDs are pretty much dead, and we get the majority of our music from the Internet, at more legal places such as iTunes, the impact of Napster is plainly visible in our daily lives. Downloaded does a great job at telling the story fairly. By the end, we like the reflective nature of Fanning and Parker, having them realize what they truly had done, and how they overcame the obstacles of doing it in the first place.

As far as documentaries go, Downloaded is great at describing something that is not yet ancient history, but had a dramatic effect on the way the world works now when it comes to music and the Internet. very interesting, and very informative.