Probably the biggest surprise this year was the release of the first new studio album by
The Go-Go's in 17 years. A band that musically had everything going for it but each went their own way only to reunite once
every so many years to play live and disappear again. Would the magic be there? How will they sound?
This album is pure caffeinated energy. God Bless The Go-Go's opens up with the guitar assault of "La La Land" and the appropriate
announcement 'Hello world! We're here again!' Co-written with Green Day's Billy Joe Armstrong (who also adds a little guitar
on the track,) the first single "Unforgiven" is evidence to that. "Here You Are" and "Daisy Chain" are possibly the closest
to ballads you will get. "Vision Of Nowness" shows off the ladies vocal harmonies. Vague enough to let you insert your own
frustrating relationship, "Automatic Rainy Day" would make a great single on it's own. "Throw Me A Curve," "Kissing Asphalt"
and "Talking Myself Down" are also strong tracks.
Possibly the best thing to see on this album is that everyone contributed to writing somewhere which shows how much of a band
effort this was. At a time when female rock acts are few or just vocal groups, The Go-Go's have returned to show us why they
won't be forgotten. God Bless The Go-Go's!
A few Depeche Mode fans were left wondering what happened on their last album 1997's Ultra. But as many transitions go (Alan
Wilder's departure), some things will change. And when you name your band after a French magazine meaning fast fashion, fashions
are fickle and change constantly.
Probably the worst thing you can do before an album comes out is to listen to a bunch of samples online. Which left me entirely
unimpressed. Even the first single "Dream On" sounded like "Personal Jesus." But after paying more attention, "Dream On" is
a great fusion of acoustic guitar and keyboard programming that matches the dark undertow of the lyrics. "Freelove" is a personal
favorite possibly due to the lines 'no hidden catch, no strings attached... just free love.' While "I Am You" is an observation
in closeness, "When The Body Speaks" beautifully mesmerizes a yearning and "The Dead Of Night" is a dark romp through the
male libido. Throughout, Dave Gahan's vocals are the best they've ever been. The production is brilliant and writing impressive.
Yes, for an album with a lot of reflection on relationships, it's hard to call this album exciting let alone Exciter. But,
it's just a title on a package of great songs. The band has gone back to throwing a few instrumental breaks in but as we all
know they are transitions to greater things. And that's where I see Ultra... it was the transition to Exciter for a band that
is all about change.
After a 1994 self-titled release, The Cult went in separate directions. Ian Astbury worked
solo and Billy Duffy did some work with Mike Peters of the Alarm. A reunion tour in 1999 awoke the urge to return to the studio.
They then recorded the song "Painted On My Heart" for the Gone In 60 Seconds soundtrack which wound up getting more airplay
than they expected. What else could the band do but write some 60 songs for an album.
Beyond Good And Evil is probably the most haunting yet aggressive and hard that I've heard The Cult starting with the assault
of "War (The Process)." The amazing first single off the album, "Rise," is possibly the best song the band has written in
over a decade. If "Rise" is the pinnacle then the ballad "Nico" is the stop-gap. Other highlights are the mesmerizing "Ashes
And Ghosts," driving "American Gothic" and anthem-like "My Bridges Burn."
The Cult have truly reconvened. This is great driving music and has a pulse that doesn't quit. But that could be the only
problem I see with the album -- track order. The first 5 songs are so strong that, when running back to back, the variety
is missing. I'd only suggest adjusting the track order but that's such a minor complaint when all the material is tremendous.
Beyond Good And Evil is so beyond what fans expected that it's a sin to miss .
Simple Minds have returned with their first new studio album since 2002's Cry. If anyone
thought that Black & White 050505 was going to be another album by an 80's act trying to hold onto past successes, they'd
be very disappointed. The album opens with the lush strings and keyboard hook of the epic "Stay Visible." The song escalates
with the cry of Charlie Burchill's guitar behind Jim Kerr's unmistakable voice. The song's immediacy sucks you into the passion
driving many of the album's tracks. The first single, "Home," has a Billy Idol vibe as Kerr sings, "God gave me travelin'
shoes and I knew that it was time to go." The upbeat "Stranger" could be the most likened to U2's intro to "Numb" with throbbing
bass and atmospheric keyboard textures. Possibly the song that sounds furthest from their early work would be "Different World"
but that's not a snub as it shows that, with Black & White 050505, the Simple Minds are going unafraid into the future
with a balance of modern production and classic writing... successfully.
Returning with their 8th studio album, the Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have
added the familiar face and guitar of Johnny Marr to 7 of the 10 tracks on the album. That by itself should change the direction
of the album but instead of going for a harder and more aggressive album, the Pet Shop Boys have decided to show a more refined
and mature side of themselves that we haven't seen since Behavior.
The album opens with the first single "Home And Dry" which is by-and-far the best song they've recorded in ages. When I heard
the background music to the track on their Web site during a visit, I overlooked it as their version of elevator music. Amazingly
simplified and lush textures... beautiful. You hear the term Beatle-esque used a lot but "I Get Along" is a subdued Oasis/Beatle-esque
arrangement that I can mentally hear Noel Gallagher singing it while on a baby grand. Seems like the effects of Cher's "Believe"
vocal production was not lost on the Pet Shop Boys' "London." The song could have been just a beautiful acoustic ballad but
the vocal effect and some creative mixing make it even better. Without Marr's guitar-work songs like "Birthday Boy," "Love
Is A Catastrophe" and "You Choose" either would not have happened or would have been dance tracks. The love anthem "Here"
for some reason reminds me of an unmessy car accident between a PSB chorus and an Erasure verse where both cars wind up wearing
each other's paint and look good in it.
Aside from "The Night I Fell In Love," I was amazingly surprised and delighted with Release. Tennant is possibly at his best
lyrically and comes across as a more confident vocalist. This is a triumphant moment musically for a band that just keeps
When you have a career with peaks and valleys you'll have your detractors. Yet, overtime
an epitaph has been written for Duran Duran they make a comeback. Pop Trash is their first album recorded entirely as the
trio Rhodes, LeBon and Cuccurullo.
The follow-up to 1997's Medazzaland is a more cohesive work but instead of pushing towards electronica they've intermingled
psychedelic, acoustic, hip-hop and dance. It must have been extremely difficult to choose their first single. "Somebody Else
Not Me" is a terrific tune but took about 3 listenings to grow on me. Radio stations rarely give a song that much time to
decide if it deserves repeat plays. But there are a lot of great songs to choose from here. Pop Trash's "Starting To Remember"
and "The Sun Doesn't Shine Forever" are two of the most beautiful Duran Duran tracks I've ever heard. The album is far from
a ballad collection. A strong psychedelic influence is evident on "Lava Lamp" (must be the sitar playing through it) which
evolves with an injection of hip-hop on "Hallucinating Elvis" (note Simon rapping in the bridge). "Playing With Uranium" and
the guitar-rock agression of "Last Day On Earth" stand out on the album.
My only negative here is that they could have done without the song "Pop Trash Movie" which TV Mania (Warren and Nick) initially
wrote for Blondie to record. I'd actually love to hear what she'd do with it. Otherwise, Duran Duran are taking bold new steps
here instead of becoming redundant possibly due to TV Mania taking over production duties. My recommendation is to give it
more than a few spins before passing judgement.
The first studio album since 1990 from the recently reunited Styx has one of the most apt
titles I've ever seen. Brave New World starts with soul-infused track "I Will Be Your Witness" bears semblance of a classic
Styx. If there is a hit on here this one is screaming "Play Me!!" In all honesty, I was expecting more after the first track.
Maybe it was the rollercoaster intensity of the track order... I was ready to say hideous things about the album until my
It is like watching The Phantom Menace - the first viewing you are waiting to see characters you remember and remain judgemental
about who looks like a Jedi or not. The second time you pull the expectations and see it for what it is. After repeated listenings,
several tracks here start to grab your ears. You forget that you are looking for another "The Best Of Times", "Babe", or "Renegade"
and see the songs for themselves.
James Young's dark vocals on "What Have They Done To You" are mesmerizing when countered with Tommy Shaw's own pipes. Shaw's
guitar controls most of this album - sometimes so in your face that Dennis DeYoung ballads like "Goodbye Roseland" seem stark
and empty. Yet, there is redemption with "While There's Still Time" which also has single written all over it.
The book Brave New World by Aldus Huxley described an inhumane society controlled by technology and a loss of soul. It can
describe some of this album. But without the Huxley referrence this is a brave attempt at changing the sound of a band that
has spent three decades pleasing fans. Despite a few very notable tracks, I wasn't sure I liked where their new world was
going. But, I'm starting to like it more and more.
Get Ready is full of change. New Order has taken the next step in evolution with their latest
effort. This is the band's first album where they've recorded as New Order but included guests appearances. Whether the collaborations
here fueled the creative process or not, there is a burgeoning energy coming from these songs. I'd personally love to see
the songs they threw away.
The choice of former-Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan sharing vocals with New Order's Bernard Sumner on "Turn My Way" originally
had me upset. I think I was more in shock that there was another voice other than Sumner's but after repeated listenings I
realized that no other voice would do for the part. "Rock The Shack" (with Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie sharing the mic)
holds to it's title well and is a great rock party song. The rest of the album is packed full of gems. The first single "Crystal"
is simply the best song they have written in years. "60 Miles An Hour" drives with a heart-heavy lead foot. The amazing thing
about songs like "Close Range," "Someone Like You," "Primitive Notion" and "Slow Jam" is that they have a distinct overall
voice yet don't fall back on familiar ground.
Get Ready is the best track-for-track album of New Order's career and was well worth waiting through their 8-year sabbatical.
I just hope we don't have to wait as long for a follow-up.
Billy Idol has returned with his first new studio album since 1993's Cyberpunk a little
more suave, a little less electronic and with a sense of urgency. People will be shocked with this album. The return of guitarist
Steve Stevens is always worth praising. Right during the opening you get a feisty "Super Overdrive" with the fitting opening
line "In the devil's playground with an Idol mind." He isn't talking about American Idol folks. But more startling about the
song is the notes Billy hits during the chorus. Either he's taken lessons, never had a song in a higher range or he really
needed that time off but it sounds great. "World Comin' Down" is Idol letting his classic punk roots show. On "Lady Do Or
Die," Idol channels Johnny Cash in a song that could easily have been done by the late artist. Idol rocks through some serious
territory in "Body Snatcher" and "Evil Eye" while finding time to rework Eddie Marrs' "Plastic Jesus." My favorite songs in
this set are the sensuous "Rat Race," the blistering first single "Scream" and the beautiful pseudo-ballad "Summer Running."
Devil's Playground isn't Billy Idol trying to reinvent himself. He has finally shown the versatility he's always been capable
of with tracks running the gamut from punk, alternative rock, country to pop while making them his own. Yes, Billy Idol has
returned but he is taking prisoners this time.
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