The Look – We’re Gonna Rock

There once was a time when radio stations weren’t interested in a homogonized sound, and even promoted local bands by playing them during prime listening times. That was how I discovered The Look.

After the release of their debut album, “We’re Gonna Rock” in 1981, The Look seemed poised for national, even worldwide fame. They had a national hit single with the title track from their debut album. The video for that same song was getting regular airplay on MTV, making them the first Dxetroit area band to be played regularly on the fledgling cable TV station. They were getting lots of local radio air time at Detroit radio stations WRIF, WABX, and WWWW (W4). And they were opening concerts for the likes of Cheap Trick, The Kinks, John Cougar Mellencamp, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Joe Cocker, and the J. Giels Band. It looked like they were going to be the next big thing from Detrtoit.

Unfortunately, that never happened. Because of the shifting focus of local radio stations to have a more nationally familiar sound as they were bought up by large broadcasting conglomerates, their playlists started catering to national hits, with very little emphasis on local talent, and The Look faded away nationally after only a couple incredible albums that never achieved the recognition they were worthy of.

The Look was inducted into The Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2016. It was an honor they well deserved.

But they alsdo deserved so much more.

Roxy Music – Avalon

Even though thier seven previous albums had exhibited Roxy Music as one of the most versitile groups in modern music – a band that was never afraid to explore new musical ideas – “Avalon” was a departure from anything they had done before. When I first heard it, it was like nothing like I had expected. I don’t really know what I expected.  But this wasn’t it.

“Avalon” with its ebb and flow of synths, guitars, and sax, combined with Brian Ferry’s seductive vocals is a sensual rock masterpiece. Like a good brandy or bottle of wine, the songs are simple in thier initial presentation but full of complexity – and inexplicably intoxicating.

“Avalon” is an album you can crank up and jam to when you’re by yourself or hanging with friends. It’s also the perfect choice for a romantic, candle-lit evening with the one you love. It is easily, the most versatile album in Roxy Music’s catalog.

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

Normally, when I buy a new album I like to listen to it a couple times before I write down my thoughts on it. But I wanted to try something new this time, so here goes…

I’d heard of Lana Del Rey from many people I know. I also saw her name pop up in the music news from time to time.  Really, if you are into music today, it’s impossible to at least not know her name. I had the opportunity to sample a couple tracks off her second album but never heard any of the songs on it in their entirety.  I was almost flying blind buying this album.  I knew this was the kind of album I would need to listen to for the first time when I was in the mood for something new. I only hoped that I would like it.

I want to state here that I won’t write anything here about an album I don’t like. I hate reading negative reviews, because, by their nature, reviews are always subjective to the critic’s opinion. If a reviewer doesn’t like an album they should write about something else. Be positive. I have listened many albums that others have hated, and loved them; and vice versa. If I don’t like an album, I simply wont write it here.

That said, you’re reading this, so I obviously like what I am hearing, otherwise I wouldn’t still be writing and this album would be shelved for a future listening. (I never give an album only one chance).

The title track, which opens “Born to Die”, grabbed me right away. Absolutely beautiful lyrics; and the music is hypnotizing and invigorating at the same time.  I’m finding the rest of the album that way as well. There’s an influence of hip hop which in overdose, I don’t care for. But here, Lana Del Rey finds the perfect balance between it and jazz and pop, with a feel of…what is it … … …baroque? It’s that touch of contrast that makes her music so unique.

Ornate on top but subdued underneath. Extravagant but simply stated. Only a true artist could do this music. Someone who’s not afraid to break new ground.

Okay. Side two…

There’s influence of Kate Bush here, as well as Amy Winehouse. Maybe that’s why I’m digging this album so much.

I’m not a big fan of the f-bombs on “Radio” though.  Not that I’m against swearing on an album if it feels appropriate. In this song, it feels kind of forced though – like she wanted to get that “parental advisory” sticker to enhance sales. It’s a great song and although the f-bombs don’t ruin it, they do detract from it bit. Their verbal force would have been more appropriate in the following song, “Carmen”.  Still, the songs on the flip side so far do not disappoint. Even if the closing song, “This is What Makes Us Girls”, disappoints me, I will have no regrets about buying this album. The last time I enjoyed a new album this much was when I heard “Lungs” by Florence And the Machine.

I know this is an album I will listen to many, many times.  Buying it was a great gamble that paid off.

Oh, by the way, the closing song did not disappoint.

Steven Wilson – Transience

Four time Grammy nominee Steven Wilson is one of the most creatively talented recording artists around today. Yet so many people have not really heard of him.  If you happen to fall into that category, the album “Transience” is a great place to start.

Consisting of three sides of music recorded between 2003 and 2015 (the fourth album side is etched with lyrics to one of the songs) “Transience” is a collection of songs taken mostly from Steven Wilson’s previous solo albums. Three of them are reworked exclusively for this album and differ noticeably from their original incarnations. There is also a new re-recording of the song “Lazerus” which was previously recorded by Wilson’s former band Porcupine Tree.

If you haven’t given any of Steven Wilson’s music a listen, you owe it to yourself to do so. He has received praise from critics, numerous other musical artsts, and most importantly, those who have bought his records. He writes and records some of the most adventerous music being produced today. Sometimes intricate and complex, it quite often falls outside of the mainstream, but in no way does that mean his music is extreme or excessive.

The songs on “Transience” are selections that fall more in line with modern contemporary music. This is music that departs from the commonplace and defies being a mere musical backdrop. This is an album that is enticing and unique. It demands to be listened to; not just once but over and over. Because, as with all of Steven Wilson’s albums,  there always seems to be somthing new to hear.

The Smithereens – Especially For You

2017 was a sad year for rock and roll. So many legends and so much talent was lost this year. Perhaps more so than any other year.

Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Tom Petty, Chester Bennington (Linkin Park), Gregg Allman, Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave), J. Geils, Malcom Young (AC/DC), and most recently, Pat DiNizio from the Smithereens.

The Smithereens were formed by four friends from New Jersey who in 1980, decided to form a rock and roll band. They finally found success in 1986, with their debut album, “Especially For You”. The band had a hit single with the opening track to the album, “Strangers When We Meet”, and another with the opening song to side two, “Behind the Wall of Sleep”. But their biggest hit off the album…their biggest hit ever…was the unforgettable “Blood and Roses”. A song driven by an unfogettable bass line and lyrics about losing out on love because of not being able to express it. The song was an immediate hit on both ’80s alternative and mainstream rock radio stations.

Sadly, 2017 took its latest, and hopefully it’s last, rock and roll icon, Pat DiNizio, lead singer and guitarist for The Smithereens, on December 12, 2017. He will forever be remembered by so many for the multitude of emotions he brought to our ears.

In memory of Pat, and all the other legends and remarkable talent we lost in 2017, I will let the rhythmic thump/click of this album’s inner track resonate in the room for at least the next 17 minutes in honor of the rhythmic heartbeats of the those whom rock and roll lost in 2017.

‘Twas a sad year, 2017.

Muse – The 2nd Law

When I think of the band Muse, I think of innovation and originality. Every album by them is very different from its predecessor, yet it always sounds unmistakably like Muse.

“The 2nd Law” is perhaps Muse’s most ambitious and innovative album today – although that’s a hard call to make – all of their albums are pretty ambitious and innovative. From the James Bond feel of the opening song “Supremacy”, to the use of a full symphony orchestra and vocal chorus on “Survival”, to the heavy funk beat in “Panic Station”, to the dubstep and over-driven guitar insanity on “The 2nd Law (Unsustainable)”, to the obvious nods to Queen injected throughout it all, Muse seems determined to go in as many different directions as they possibly can on one album. For almost any other band, this would come across as a chaotic mess, Muse is one of those rare bands that can pull it all together with a unique cohesiveness.

Muse named this, their sixth studio album, after the second law of thermodynamics which the band uses as an analogy to make social-political and social-environmental statements with on the album’s two closing tracks, “The 2nd Law (Unsustainable)” and “The 2nd Law (Isolated System).”

This album is part of a limited edition box set that also includes the album on CD, a behind the scenes “making of…” DVD and some other goodies related to the album.

The Cult – Electric Peace

The Cult had just had their first major breakthrough with the album, “Love”, and the single from it, “She Sells Sanctuary”, when they went into the studio to record the follow-up to it. For that album, which they had already decided to title “Peace”, they again chose Steve Brown to produce it. Although they were happy with the work he did on “Love”, they were not at all pleased with Brown’s treatment on the new album.

They sought out a new producer for the record and found Rick Rubin. After hearing what they had done so far, Rubin had them go back into the studio and rerecord every song and also record a couple different ones. Because the record produced by Rubin sounded so strikingly different from “Peace”, The Cult decided to rename the new record “Electric”. It may have been a pain for them to go back and redo everything, but it was definitely a good call. “Electric” became The Cult’s most successful album ever.

Although “Peace” is a good record, and would have probably done alright for them, it really didn’t capture what The Cult were truly capable of. On “Electric”, Rick Rubin was able to capture one of the best bands from the ’80s at their very best.

The songs on “Peace” were never released in in their entirety until 2010 when all of songs from it were included with a 2010 limited edition CD. It was finally released in its entirety on vinyl with the originally intended artwork in 2013, included with the album “Electric”. The two album package was called “Electric Peace”.

The Cult – Love

The year was 1985. It was a good year. Not just for me but for music as well. This was the year The Cult broke into notoriety with the release of their second album, “Love”.

I first discovered The Cult on a sampler cassette that came contained in a sealed can. It was called “Survival Sampler: SR-1A Sound Rations”. It looked oddly similar to the many C-rations I had eaten while in the US Army. I had to buy it just because of the packaging. I wore that cassette out. It contained music by The Smiths, The Church, Scritti Politti, The Cure, and of course, The Cult, among others. Because of the song “She Sells Sanctuary”, The Cult was one of the first bands on that cassette that I had to go out and buy an albums by to check out further.

When I first heard “Nirvana”, the opening track on “Love”, with Ian Astbury’s unique vocals and Billy Duffy’s equally stand out guitar tone l knew I knew this was an album that was going to be memorable, if not incredible.  In essence, “Love” is a recording that is hard rock, goth rock, alternative rock, and even the core of classic rock all rolled into one.

“Love” would end up being the album that brought worldwide recognition to The Cult. They would follow it up with their album “Electric” which would go on to be even more successful for them. Both records are on my short list of must have records essential to any vinyl lovers collection.

INXS – Listen Like Thieves

“Listen Like Thieves”, the fifth album from INXS, was the Australian band’s big worldwide breakout album. It found the band moving away from the purely alternative rock sound they had on previous albums to a more mainstream sound. 

I originally bought this album partly because I owned their previous one, Shabooh Shoobah, and in part because I was a big fan of the producer of this album, Chris Thomas. He had worked with George Martin on the Beatles White Album, helped mix Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and produced albums by Roxy Music, The Sex Pistols, Pete Townshend, and many other albums I enjoyed. I honestly can’t say I know of one album he produced that I didn’t enjoy. He was a producer who was always able to bring out the best in a band. “Listen Like Thieves” was no exception.

“Listen Like Thieves” threw INXS into the national spotlight and yielded three hit singles for them; “What You Need”, “This Time”, and the title track. Their next album, “Kick”, which they wisely chose to also have produced by Chris Thomas, would prove to be even more successful for them.

The B52’s – Wild Planet

I’ve been told by my friends and family that sometimes I take life too seriously. Sometimes I even say that to myself. It’s times like those that the B-52’s are the perfect band for me to listen to. I don’t care what album it is by them. They’re all good. But “Wild Planet” is probably my favorite, but only because it’s the album I first heard by them. 

If ever there was a band that didn’t take itself too seriously it’s the B-52’s. They border on being a novelty band, but unlike most novelty bands, their songs are timeless and even have a decent level of musicianship. But most importantly, they are a band that reminds you to stop taking life too seriously and just have some fun.