Saturday, July 28, 2012

Dotcoms - Dotcoms

Dotcoms
Dotcoms
Independent Release/Remedy Music

Having cut their teeth playing covers with The Good Time Party Band, Collingwood (Victoria, Australia) based guitarist Jason Leigh and drummer Aaron Malmborg decided it was time to take things to the next level and start performing originals. After the demise of their former outfit, it wasn’t long before the pair officially announced the formation of Dotcoms. Despite some initial issues finding a suitable bass player, the pair finally managed to secure a capable bassist in the form of Jim Young, and have spent the last three years playing in and around Melbourne’s familiar live venues with regularity – and earning a reputation for their energetic live performances in the local street press. Having established themselves on the scene, the trio ventured into the studio with mixer Matt Voigt (Living End, Cat Power, The Killers) and Matt Neighbor, and have finally emerged with their self-titled debut E.P.
Anyone who’s seen Dotcoms perform live will already know that the trio are quite a lively act. And sure enough, the band’s debut offering reflects their live performances.
The opening track ‘Janie Got Super Cute’ (Which is also the first single lifted from the E.P.) is a funky little tune that showcases the band’s pseudo hip-hop influence mixed with heavy rock. Although the song isn’t the strongest effort on the E.P. (Leigh’s vocals do take a little getting used to, and the song itself is a bit simplistic), it’s a fun tune nonetheless.
The follow-up track ‘Big Man’ is where the band’s song writing and musicianship really gel, with the driving riffs and rhythmic combination of drum and bass injects a thriving pulse to Leigh’s powerful performance out front. ‘Big Man’ is a heavy/groove based track with a great chorus, and definitely one of the E.P.’s better offerings.
The humorous ‘Smack Ballad’ may slow down the pace and energy a little compared to the former tracks, but still manages to impress with the band’s ability to write a catchy tune and broaden the sound with the use horns, while the closer ‘Susie Likes To Party’ is a funky rock work out that again shows another side to the band’s wide ranging sound.
Dotcoms’ debut effort is a little all over the place style wise, and of the four tracks, two definitely stand out as stronger. But as a whole, the E.P. is a cool listen and an ideal taste of what you can expect from the band when they get up onstage and deliver what they do best – a rocking/energetic show.

For more information on Dotcoms, check out – http://www.wearethedotcoms.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Liberteer - Better To Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees

Liberteer
Better To Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees
Relapse Records

Grindcore isn’t a genre of extreme music that’s known for innovation or experimentation. But that’s not to say that the genre doesn’t offer up an album that takes you by complete surprise every now and then and makes you rethink everything you thought you knew about the genre. One act that’s completely taken me by surprise is California (U.S.) based outfit Liberteer, who have just released their debut effort ‘Better To Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees’.
Having been a member of acts such as Cretin, The County Medical Examiners (As ‘Dr. Morton Fairbanks’) and Exhumed, it’s not hard to image what sort of sound Liberteer mastermind Matthew Widener (Who plays all instruments and vocals on the album) has in store for listeners with his latest musical venture. But while Widener’s Liberteer is essentially a grindcore project, there’s more to the album’s seventeen tracks than simple pummelling blast beats, tight knit riffing and guttural barked vocals. What really makes  ‘Better To Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees’ stand out is the inclusion of horns, banjos and strings, all of which gives the album a very different feel from the average grindcore release.
The short opening track ‘The Falconer Cannot Hear The Falcon’ immediately lets listeners know that this album is going to be anything but ordinary, with the lone trumpet making way for banjos and military-like drumming – all of which usher in a cacophony of unrelenting grind with ‘Build No System’. Even on this track, Widener manages to incorporate a brief horn section, which gives the song a completely unexpected twist. On paper, it’s hard to imagine it working so well, but after giving the track a run through, it’s more than evident that the mix of traditional grindcore elements and the unexpected work exceedingly well.
Of course, not every track is an exercise in mixing things up, as tracks such as ‘Without Blazon (Is The Flag I Hold Up And Do Not Wag)’, ‘We Are Not Afraid Of Ruins’ and ‘Class War Never Meant More Than It Does Now’ all are blasted out in a relentless fashion.
The banjo/electric guitar/horns infused instrumental piece ‘Rise Like Lions After Slumber’ is a welcome respite from the onslaught around the middle of the album, while the hint of melody within tracks such as ‘That Which Is Not Given But Taken’, the title track ‘Better To Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees’, ‘When We Can’t Dream Any Longer’ and the symphonic instrumental piece ‘Sweat For Blood’ are well balanced amongst the destructive numbers such as ‘99 To 1’, ‘Barbarians At The Gate’, ‘It Is The Secret Curse Of Power That It Corrupts’ and ‘Feast Of Industry’.
Given that every track on the album bleeds into the next, it does feel a bit like the twenty-seven minute album is like one long track with several different movements. It also means that some of the individual tracks tend to get a little lost in the mix as well. But despite this, Liberteer’s debut effort is an adventurous and daring take on the traditional grindcore sound that manages to impress more than it does disappoint.

For more information on Liberteer, check out – http://www.liberteer.bandcamp.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Stone Temple Pilots - Alive In The Windy City

Stone Temple Pilots
Alive In The Windy City
Eagle Vision/Eagle Rock Entertainment Ltd./Shock Entertainment

It’s hard to believe that after twenty years together, San Diego (California, U.S.) based hard rock outfit Stone Temple Pilots have never released a live D.V.D. outside some scattered bits of footage from throughout the years on the D.V.D. that accompanied their greatest hits package ‘Thank You’ from 2003. Whatever reason for the lengthy delay of available live footage, Stone Temple Pilots (Who comprise of vocalist Scott Weiland, guitarist Dean DeLeo, bassist Robert DeLeo and drummer Eric Kretz) have finally given fans what they’ve been asking for in the form of ‘Alive In The Windy City’.
Recorded in front of a sold out audience at Chicago’s Rivera Theatre on March 27th in 2010 – ‘Alive In The Windy City’ showcases a rock solid live performance from Stone Temple Pilots at the start of their comeback tour in support of their as then unreleased sixth album ‘Stone Temple Pilots’ (Which was eventually released in late May, some two months after this show was recorded). Having seen the band live once before (On their debut visit to Australia in 2011), and being downright disappointed with what I witnessed (The band rocked, but Weiland let the band down with his autopilot performance), I can’t say that I was holding out for anything astounding with this release.
But contrary to my expectations, ‘Alive In The Windy City’ was a whole lot better than I expected, and show that despite the issues behind the scenes, Stone Temple Pilots can still put on a great show.
Set list wise, ‘Alive In The Windy City’ is virtually a greatest hits live set, which is not surprising given that this is the first official D.V.D. release from the band. Tracks from all of the band’s albums are represented on the eighteen tracks offered up (Running for a total of seventy-seven minutes), including four from their as yet unreleased self-titled album.
In terms of performance, Stone Temple Pilots appear to be in top form here. Sure, the band is getting on these days, but you would be hard pressed to know it for the most part. Of course, Weiland is still the weak link in the band’s chain, with his vocals wavering a little in certain places (Particularly on ‘Creep’, ‘Lounge Fly’ and ‘Interstate Love Song’ where he has a little sustaining the notes), but I can’t complain given that when I saw them live, Weiland’s performance was well below what I had hoped for a band making their first appearance in front of Australian audiences.
The lighting, projection screen shots/visuals and camera angles definitely help enhance the band’s show in a big way, and help maintain the live feel of the D.V.D., and Weiland’s occasional banter with the crowd between the songs (Not to mention his snake like dancing throughout) also adds a human element to the show (Something that was virtually nonexistent when I saw them live).
Every song played here is played admirably, but those performances that really stand out as highlights include the opener ‘Vasoline’, ‘Crackerman’, ‘Hollywood Bitch’, ‘Between The Lines’, ‘Plush’, ‘Sex Type Thing’, ‘Dead And Bloated’ and ‘Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart’.
In regards to extras, well things aren’t quite as impressive. The fifteen minute ‘Interviews’ segment is primarily a promotional vehicle for their upcoming self-titled album, which was previously made available as part of the iTunes deluxe edition of the self-titled album. So while the extras are promoted as something new, they’ve actually been around for some time. What makes it worse is that the interviews seem to be stilted and almost painful (Almost like they didn’t want to be there – Especially Kretz, who doesn’t say a word throughout), making it hard to enjoy.
Personally, I would have loved to have seen some newly filmed interview footage filmed for the D.V.D., and some more obscure tracks making their way into the set list for diehard fans.
But for what it is, ‘Alive In The Windy City’ is a solid D.V.D. release, and should appease those who have been waiting for a proper live Stone Temple Pilots show to make its way to D.V.D.

For more information on Stone Temple Pilots, check out - http://www.stonetemplepilots.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Tesseract - Perspective

Tesseract
Perspective
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Although I’m not a huge fan of the ‘djent’ movement as a whole (Too many Meshuggah sounding acts, and too few that genuinely offer something new and original sounding for my liking), there are a few acts in the scene that I have taken a liking to. One such act is Reading (U.K.) based outfit Tesseract, who quite literally blew me away with their 2011 debut full-length effort ‘One’, which showcased the band’s ability to deliver the familiar ‘djent’ sound, but with a progressive edge that really made them stand out against the countless other clone acts in the scene. Needless to say, I was quite excited to see what the band would come up with on their follow-up release. But to my disappointment, vocalist Daniel Tompkins decided to part ways with the band in August 2011. As one of the band’s huge stand out features, the loss of Tompkins was a blow to the band to say the least. Nonetheless, Tesseract (Comprising of guitarists Alec ‘Acle’ Kahney and James Monteith, bassist/backing vocalist Amos Williams and drummer Jay Postones) quickly announced the addition of ex-Sky Eats Airplane/Of Man Not Of Machine/Zelliack vocalist Elliot Coleman to their ranks, and hit the road in order to introduce their new front man to fans.
Inspired by an acoustic radio session the band played in Brooklyn (New York, U.S.) a year beforehand, and realising that Coleman’s vocals have a completely different sound from those of Tompkins, Tesseract have decided instead to record a new E.P. rather than dive into a new full-length effort – which brings us to their latest effort ‘Perspective’.
My initial concerns were how big a shift in style Coleman is to Tompkins on the vocal front and how Tesseract’s progressive ‘djent’ music would translate in acoustic form? Well, to sum it up in a short few words – Different, but in a good way.
The band opens up the E.P. with ‘Concealing Fate - Part Four - Perfection’, which immediately reveals the direction Tesseract deliver for most of the E.P. The keyboards still play a large part in the band’s overall sound, but where you would normally expect the guitars to come crashing in with their huge riffs, the duo take on more of a supporting role to the keyboards, drums and Coleman out front, with the electrics used sparingly. It’s a new take on a familiar sound, but one that definitely works on the musical front. Coleman positively excels in the moody atmosphere of this reworked track, with his range being given a full work out. Style wise, it wouldn’t be a stretch that his vocals bring to mind Jeff Buckley for the most part.
On ‘April’, the changes between the original and this revised effort aren’t as blatant as the former track, aside from lack of aggression in Coleman’s vocals compared to Tompkins. Although having said that, it has to be said that Coleman does an admirable job at following Tompkins’ difficult melodies.
Much like the opener, ‘Concealing Fate - Part Six - Origin’ showcases some subtle changes over the original (Most notably it’s higher key), which successfully transforms the song into something quite different – yet strangely familiar at the same time.
Given Coleman’s style of vocals, it’s not all that surprising to see the band cover Jeff Buckley’s ‘Dream Brother’ (From 1994’s classic ‘Grace’). Despite the fact that it’s a cover, the song is a definite highlight, and sounds like a perfect fit for Tesseract with Coleman out front.
Obviously keen to show that Coleman is more than capable to handle the heavy material as well, the band finish up the E.P. with a reworked ‘Eden’, which has been retitled as ‘Eden 2.0’. Although Coleman lacks a bit of the aggression compared to Tompkins, his performance here still works well enough to find the track thoroughly enjoyable.
Unfortunately, Coleman has moved on since the release of ‘Perspective’, which has put Tesseract back to square one. It’s a disappointing outcome, because I really think that Coleman was a good fit for the band. But while the pairing was a short lived one, at least they managed to document their short time together with a solid stop-gap E.P.

For more information on Tesseract, check out – http://www.tesseractband.co.uk/

© Justin Donnelly

Friday, July 27, 2012

Ginger Wildheart - 555%

Ginger Wildheart
555%
Independent Release

Ginger Wildheart is an artist that has pretty much seen it all in the world of rock and roll. In his twenty years in the music business, Ginger has seen the highs, the lows and everything you could possibly imagine in-between within that time. But despite critical acclaim and the success he’s attained with his various musical endeavours, things were looking fairly bleak as little as a year ago. His group The Wildhearts had once again gone into an indefinite hiatus, and the prospect of doing the rounds of record labels to fund a new solo venture was far from appealing (So much so that Ginger was seriously considering taking a lengthy break from making music and taking up a day job to pay the bills). But salvation came from Ginger’s manager Gav McCaughey, who suggested that Ginger sign up with PledgeMusic – a website dedicated to giving fans the ability to help artists fund their musical projects directly, in exchange for exclusives and updates that wouldn’t otherwise be possible through more traditional means. The PledgeMusic concept appealed to Ginger, and in August 2011, Ginger announced his plans for a new musical project to fans – a triple album!
Never one to do things by halves, the prospect of a triple album appeared to be nothing short of commercial suicide – especially given the history surrounding double albums in general. But within six hours, the project had already reached its one hundred percent target (A new record for PledgeMusic). By the project’s completion, fans had pushed the pledges to five hundred and seventy percent (Hence giving the album its title). So even before ‘555%’ was released, you could say that it’s already been an overwhelming success.
So what about the album itself? Does it stack up against his first three solo releases (Especially 2008’s classic ‘Market Harbour’), or is ‘555%’ an incredible single album fleshed out with a whole lot of filler (Which is a fairly common complaint made of most double albums)?
Well in short, ‘555%’ is a great album, and simply a must have for any fan of Ginger’s vast body of solo work, and the kind of release that reinforces the notion that Ginger Wildheart is one of rock and roll’s greatest unsung heroes.
The first disc opens up with ‘Forget About It’, which is definitely an instant favourite with its huge choruses and melodic pop rock approach, while the infectious Ramones-like rocker ‘I-N-T-E-R-N-A-L R-adio’ (Which is the first of many tracks to feature Victoria Liedtke’s (We've Got A Fuzzbox And We're Gonna Use It!!) angelic vocals and the slick sounding ‘Lie When You Tell Me The Truth’ could easily be released as singles in their own right.
‘Incidental Noises’ is a surprisingly experimental number that sees Ginger playing around with harmonies and mellow melodic elements over the power of the riff, while ‘It Appears That The Party Is Over’ is a dance floor based rocker that is sure to become a fan favourite.
There’s plenty of great songs on the first disc, but ‘Deep In The Arms Of Morpheus’ is an absolute classic. Full of riffs, twists and turns and filled to the brim with Ginger’s memorable melodies, this song is quite possibly the greatest song written by The Wildhearts (Apparently as far back as 2001) but never recorded.
Speaking of The Wildhearts, ‘Baby Skies’ and ‘Silence’ features a guest appearance from ex-The Wildhearts members guitarist/vocalist C.J and drummer Ritch Battersby, giving the songs a sound that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘iChutzpah!’ (2009), which earns both tracks their place alongside ‘Deep In The Arms Of Morpheus’ as hands down the strongest efforts on the first disc.
Finishing up the first disc is the melodic gem ‘Powderkeg’, and the epic ‘Time’, which is a great song the deals with the onset of age set against a soundtrack that’s wide in scope and sound. It’s not surprising to find that this track is one of Ginger’s favourites from the album.
‘Another Spinning Fucking Rainbow’ opens disc two with a funky/bass heavy/multilayered shout-out vocal driven sound that’s both fun and a little different for Ginger, while ‘Westward Ho! (A New Reputation)’ sees Ginger duet with Laila K (Sonic Boom Six) in what can be best described as a quirky pop tune that mixes heavy rock and subtle Caribbean influences and a gospel choir providing hand claps and backing vocals. But as confused as it sounds, Ginger makes it work wonders.
‘Do The Lonely Suffer More, Or Less, Or Just The Same At The Point Of Death?’ is a difficult track to describe with its disco like undertones, Devin Townsend sounding wall of sound and vocal harmonies that rival anything Brian Wilson created back in the ‘60’s. But what I can say is that it’s one of my favourites on the second disc.
The philosophical ‘The Other Side’ (Which again has Liedtke in a co-lead vocal role), the up-tempo feel good rocker ‘Strange New Year’ and the pop/rocker ‘Lover, It’ll All Work Out’ are all great tunes, and showcase a growing personal perspective in Ginger’s lyrics, while ‘Illuminating Times’ veers a little toward the darker side of the mind with its heavy lyrical tones, but not at the expense of its glorious choruses.
‘Begin From Within’ is another track that sees Ginger delve into the dance beats mixed with touches of industrial rock, but unlike the former tracks, the song takes a twist towards its latter half that’s sure to have fans singing along in no time.
In stark contrast, ‘Return Of The Northern Cardinal’ reveals a bit of a folk/country feel, and brings to mind some the sound that Ginger took on ‘Market Harbour’.
Finishing up the second disc is ‘Taste Aversion’, which is an amazing piece of progressive/avant-garde pop rock that sits alongside some of Ginger’s best solo work. Only Ginger could make the masses sing along to the chorus line of ‘Fucked from behind’ without giving it a second thought.
Moving onto disc three, the ridiculously titled ‘You’re The One, You’re The One, Yeah, I Know You’re The One, You’re The One (Yeah I Know You’re The One)’ opens up the set in pseudo-The Wildhearts fashion with its hard rock/riff driven structures (I’m thinking something around 2003’s ‘The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed’), with ‘Beautifully, Blissfully Unsettled’ following in similar sound and style (Which is not surprising given that C.J and Battersby appear on the track). ‘Confusion’ is another venture into the dance beats blended with Cheap Trick-like rock, and possibly the closest thing to filler on the triple album. The track isn’t so much horrible, but more a throwaway bit of repetitive fluff that pales against much of the rest of the album. The chilled out ‘Sleeping In The Light’ on the other hand is a mature piece of classy pop that boasts an incredible chorus. This one is a definite favourite.
The instrumental piece ‘In Vino Veritas’ (Latin for ‘In Wine There Is Truth’) is an interesting addition to the album with its dominate progressive rock elements, and brings to mind how ‘G.T.T.’ (From 2005’s ‘Valor Del Corazon’) allowed Ginger to not only showcase his musical prowess, but also how he can sometimes deliver something completely unexpected.
In complete contrast, ‘Very, Very Slow’ (A track that is dominated by bassist/vocalist ‘Random’ Jon Poole) is an eighty second punk/metal tune that may lack any real intelligence, but more than makes up for it in aggression and volume.
‘Just Another Song About Someone’ is a laid back and completely stripped back track that relies on simplicity to get its message across (Which it does perfectly I might add!), while ‘There Is Something Wrong With My Mind’ is a bizarre tune that mixes military sounding choruses, stirring orchestral backing and elements of pop within. It’s strange, compelling and twisted, but it all works somehow.
The short acoustic track ‘We’ve Been Expecting You’ is a personal favourite with its sparse instrumentation, cleverly timed hand claps, subtle percussion and its mellow vibe. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this tune turns out to be a rarely played gem on Ginger’s acoustic tours in time to come. Finishing up the album is the appropriately titled track ‘The End’. As you would expect, Ginger pulls out all the stops to create a fitting grand finale to proceedings. The track is part theatrical, symphonic and part epic, all of which come together to conclude the album in classic Ginger like fashion.
‘555%’ isn’t the kind of album that’s going to have much appeal for fans of The Wildhearts. If on the other hand you’re familiar with Ginger’s solo work, you’ll have an idea what Ginger’s latest effort has to offer musically (That’s everything imaginable, experimental and strange in sonic terms!). In other words, ‘555%’ is another classic offering from the legendary singer/songwriter, and a definite to-die-for release for fans.

For more information on Ginger, check out - http://www.gingerwildheart.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Friday, July 20, 2012

Nile Rodgers - Le Freak - An Upside Down Story Of Family, Disco And Destiny

Nile Rodgers
Le Freak - An Upside Down Story Of Family, Disco And Destiny
Sphere/Little, Brown Book Group/Hachette Australia

The New York City (U.S.) born vocalist/guitarist/songwriter/producer Nile Rodgers has enjoyed a career that has spanned more than forty plus years - with his work alongside his own group and with some of the biggest names within the music industry reportedly selling in excess of more than two hundred million records within that time. But despite the impressive sales figures, and a career that has kept the musician in the business longer than most other artists, Rodgers has to be one of the most well known unknowns within the music industry.
All that is set to finally change with the release of Rodgers’ autobiography ‘Le Freak - An Upside Down Story Of Family, Disco And Destiny’. Rodgers’ biography is essentially a book of three parts, with the first third of his self-penned tome spent documenting his early upbringing, which pretty much reads like a coming of age tale. Rodgers talks openly about the drug environment of his early home life, his constant moves cross country to live with other family members, and the role drugs played in his early life through the addictions of his mother Beverly Goodman, his biological father (Nile Rodgers Sr., who was also a musician) and Jewish white stepfather Bobby Glanzrock. Rodgers’ early childhood is best described as dysfunctional, with Rodgers stating that ‘I was the oldest eight-year-old on earth’. But despite his rough background and difficult start in life (He suffered with asthma, moved into a convalescent home for some time, skipped school frequently and moved out of home to sleep on the New York subways by the age of fifteen), Rodgers doesn’t look back in any sort of negative way, but more as a precursor to what would eventually be his calling in life – making music.
Although the first third of the book is a little slow for the most part, it’s the middle third that Rodgers steps up the pace of his book – the chapter that details Rodgers discovery that making music was his call in life.
Starting out as a session guitarist with the Sesame Street band (Alongside Luther Vandross no less), Rodgers soon made the leap up to semi-professional level as a member of Harlem’s Apollo Theater house band, where he met his musical partner in crime in bassist Bernard Edwards. Together, the pair formed The Big Apple Band, before hooking up with drummer Tony Thompson – all of whom would soon find success with their own group – Chic.
Given how big Chic was in Rodgers’ life, it’s not surprising to find that a large chunk of the book is dedicated to the band, their phenomenal success (Producing hits such as ‘Good Times’, ‘Everybody Dance’ and ‘Le Freak’) and how their sound came to bring about the rise of disco in the late ‘70’s.
Any good autobiography has its up’s and down’s in the storyline to keep the reader enthralled, and Rodgers’ effort is no exception. Without pulling any punches, Rodgers also details the demise of disco, and the eventual downturn in popularity of the group in the face of the growing ‘Disco Sucks’ movement. Adding to Rodgers’ woes was the lack of success with his own solo album.
In a lot of ways, you would expect Rodgers’ story to end here. After all, Rodgers has already enjoyed success (Both as a member of Chic and his production efforts with Edwards – especially with Sister Sledge), and was wealthy enough to fade away without having to do a thing for the rest of his life. But deep inside, Rodgers writes about still having plenty to offer on a musical level - and so started the reinvention of Rodgers as a songwriter and producer.
Despite a false start with Diana Ross (The record company were less than enthused with Rodgers and Edwards’ work on Ross’ 1980 album ‘Diana’. So much so that the pairs version of the album wouldn’t see the light of day until the album’s re-release in 2003), Rodgers managed to find success once again with his work alongside David Bowie on his ‘Let’s Dance’ album from 1983.
For most of the ‘80’s, Rodgers’ skims through much of the details on his production work, with only his work alongside INXS (1984’s ‘Original Sin’), Madonna (1984’s ‘Like A Virgin’), Duran Duran (1984’s ‘The Reflex’ and ‘The Wild Boys’), Michael Jackson (1995’s ‘HIStory: Past, Present And Future Book I’) and Stevie Ray Vaughan (Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ and Vaughan Brothers’ ‘Family Style’ album from 1990) given any real coverage. Instead, much of the story within the middle third of the book is split between his work, and his growing appetite for everything the ‘80’s had to offer for the rich and famous – sex, drugs and more drugs.
The last third deals with Rodgers’ growing dependency on drugs (Rodgers’ makes no bones about loving drugs), his slow decline and his eventual downfall (Rodgers came close to death on numerous occasions, and even goes as far as to detail a couple of near death experiences towards the tail end of the book). Of course, the book does have a happy ending, with Rodgers spending a couple of years in the mid-90’s to clean himself up (The irony that the Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards was Rodgers’ inspiration to clean himself up isn’t lost when six months on and clean and sober, Richards calls him up to score!), return to the stage with a revamped line-up of Chic and resume his role as an in-demand production/session artist.
Given the lack of profile Rodgers has, ‘Le Freak - An Upside Down Story Of Family, Disco And Destiny’ goes a long way to give those only familiar with his music an idea of who he is as a person. Rodgers tells a great story, as there’s times when it’s funny, sad, almost incredible (But true) and definitely delivered with a whole lot of passion. But unlike most autobiographies, there an undeniable thread of humanity that ties the whole journey Rodgers takes you on.
If there were any flaws evident, it would be that the book takes a while to take off, only to feel a bit rushed towards the end. The other real problem I have is that some of artists that Rodgers has worked with in the past aren’t even mentioned (Such as Johnny Mathis, David Lee Roth, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Debbie Harry, Jeff Beck, Mick Jagger, Thompson Twins, Laurie Anderson, Grace Jones, Philip Bailey, Al Jarreau, The B-52’s, Dan Reed Network, Ric Ocasek and Tina Arena). And don’t even get me started on his solo albums. Yes, I know they weren’t successful, but why is 1983’s ‘Adventures In The Land Of The Good Groove’ only given coverage? And as for his soundtrack work – well that doesn’t even warrant a mention whatsoever.
Perhaps the book would have ended up twice of thick had everything Rodgers has been involved in was given the same amount of space his work alongside Bowie had been given, but then at least the whole story would have been told.
Despite my few criticisms, ‘Le Freak - An Upside Down Story Of Family, Disco And Destiny’ is a great read. You may not know the name, but you can be sure that at any given moment, something that Rodgers has had a hand in shaping is playing somewhere out there on the radio.

For more information on Nile Rodgers, check out - http://www.nilerodgers.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Friday, July 13, 2012

Lostprophets - Weapons (Deluxe Edition)

Lostprophets
Weapons (Deluxe Edition)
Epic Records/Sony Music Entertainment

Welsh alternative/hard rock outfit Lostprophets made a huge impact on the scene with their debut effort ‘Thefakesoundofprogress’ (2000), with both fans and critics alike hailing the band as the next big thing. And sure enough, by the time they released their sophomore effort ‘Start Something’ (2004), it sure looked like the band were well on their way to fulfilling expectations. But with their third release ‘Liberation Transmission’ (2006), it was clear that things had changed within the band, with the Bob Rock produced effort bringing out a greater melodic edge to the band’s sound, which led some to believe they had lost some of the magic that made the band so special in the first place.
In response to the backlash of their last release, Lostprophets eventually emerged with ‘The Betrayed’ in 2010, which was not only darker and heavier than anything the band had released before, but also the songs on the album saw the band pulling back on the melodic tendencies in their song writing. Not surprisingly, the album was something quite experimental for the band, and polarised fans. Two years on, and Lostprophets (Comprising of vocalist Ian Watkins, lead guitarist Lee Gaze, rhythm guitarist Mike Lewis, bassist/co-producer Stuart Richardson, keyboardist/sampler/backing vocalist Jamie Oliver and drummer Luke Johnson) are back with their all-important fifth full-length effort ‘Weapons’.
The album is opened up with ‘Bring ‘Em Down’ (The first single lifted from the album), and it’s a powerful statement from the band. Although the song isn’t anything you haven’t heard from the band before, the use of huge riffs, infectious synths/electronics and big catchy choruses give the song an unmistakable catchy groove, which will get even the most jaded of Lostprophets fans moving. Proving the band still have what it takes, the follow-up track ‘We Bring An Arsenal’ (The album’s second single, and which is introduced by a football chant of sorts) is every bit as punchy and energetic as the opener, and the kind of song that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘Start Something’.
After the one-two punch of the opening pair of tracks, the band take the foot of the accelerator to something a little more cruising on ‘Another Shot’ and ‘Jesus Walks’. Although far from something unexpected or different, the songs are solid and catchy, and maintain the standard set from the start. Unfortunately, as promising as the guitars sound at the start of ‘A Song For Where I’m From’, the song turns out to be a fairly ordinary effort. There’s no denying it’s catchy, but it’s hard to overlook its blandness as well. The same can be said for the pop based ‘A Little Reminder That I’ll Never Forget’ and ‘Heart On Loan’, both of which lack any real sense of spark that was prevalent on the band’s earlier efforts.
‘Better Off Dead’ does manage to liven things up a bit, with the prominent guitars in the mix bringing to mind the vibe the band were going for on ‘The Betrayed’, albeit with a little more emphasis on the melodies in the choruses. But once again, the consistency takes a turn for the worse with the acoustic based ‘Somedays’ coming across as catchy, but fairly unremarkable.
Finishing up the album is the heavily orchestrated ‘Can’t Get Enough’ which does fair better than some of the songs around the tail end, but still falls a little short of what we’ve come to expect from album closers from the band.
As mentioned earlier, this review is for the deluxe edition, which boasts an additional five tracks tacked onto the end of the official album. The opening trio of tracks (‘The Dead’, ‘Save Yourself’ and ‘If You Don’t Stand For Something, You’ll Fall For Anything’), are interesting inclusions here on the album as they originate from the band’s ill-fated John Feldmann produced ‘Garage Sessions’ from 2007 that were eventually scrapped. Despite the less than polished feel of the demos (Particularly on the vocal front), there’s an air of vibrancy in the recordings, with ‘If You Don’t Stand For Something, You’ll Fall For Anything’ a real stand out.
Elsewhere, there’s a demo version of ‘Another Shot’ (Which is somewhat interesting given its acoustic delivery, but otherwise unremarkable) and a remix of ‘Bring ‘Em Down’ from Bloc Party guitarist Russell Lissack (Which is actually pretty cool), before the album is concluded with the short and aggressive ‘Weapon’ (Which is also from the lost 2007 demo sessions).
As expected, ‘Weapons’ is essentially a mix of ‘Liberation Transmission’ and ‘The Betrayed’ both in terms of sound and consistency. What this means is that while some will be disappointed with the band’s lack of push towards something new and ground breaking, most will see this as another solid and likeable effort from a band that clearly want to maintain their existing fan base without straying too far from the sound they established many years ago.

For more information on Lostprophets, check out – http://www.lostprophets.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Magellan - Keep It

Magellan
Keep It
Independent Release

It’s hard to believe that it’s been five long years since San Francisco (California, U.S.) based progressive metal/rock act Magellan released their last full-length effort ‘Innocent God’ (Which was released Muse-Wrapped Records). But given how much the music industry has changed in the last decade, it’s not surprising that the veteran act has been keeping a somewhat low profile in recent years. Taking time out to rethink their game plan and business model, Magellan (Who comprise of lead vocalist/keyboardist Trent Gardner and guitarist/bassist/backing vocalist Wayne Gardner) made a welcome return to the scene earlier in the year with a cover of The Beatles’ 1967 hit ‘Hello, Goodbye’ in digital form. Needless to say, the release of the single was quite a success, which prompted the release of the follow-up single ‘Dust In The Wind’ – a cover of Kansas’ classic rock single from 1977.
Buoyed by the overwhelming success of their first ventures into the digital realm, Magellan (With the assistance of long time drummer Roger Patterson) has decided to take things to the next level and start recording a new album. But unlike many who have adopted the idea of releasing their new music in digital form, Magellan has decided to boldly release their new recordings as soon as they’re completed. That brings us to the here and now, and ‘Keep It’, which is the band’s first new original composition in five years, and the first taste of what to expect from their upcoming full-length effort ‘Inert Momentum’.
Opening with the brothers’ trademark harmonies running through the song’s chorus, the band quickly move into familiar progressive rock territory, with the brief instrumental passage at the start of the song filled with heavy riffs and prominent bass underpinning throughout, lashes of keyboards and effects, and some powerhouse drumming from Patterson. Once the song truly gets underway, ‘Keep It’ reveals itself to be the perfect combination of classic rock and progressive rock – something that Magellan have been slowly perfecting throughout the years. The strong and catchy choruses within ‘Keep It’ may be the big stand out feature on initial listens, but it’s the deceptively complex passages of tight instrumentation, tempo changes and subtle key changes that pop up at various moments in and around the choruses that really glues the composition together in a way that showcases the skills the Gardner brothers have as both musicians and song writers.
It’s been a long time between releases for Magellan, but on the strength of ‘Keep It’, the wait has been well worth it.
If ‘Keep It’ is a sign of what Magellan promise with ‘Inert Momentum’, I eagerly anticipate the next digital instalment.

For more information on Magellan, check out - http://www.magellansongs.com/

© Justin Donnelly