Rammstein “Sehnsucht”


(22 Aug 1997, Slash)

Today is the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the protestant reformation. It has now been half a millennium since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church of Wittenburg.

What does this have to do with anything?
I was reading the Economist¹ and it said: “To Luther music was a divinely inspired weapon against the devil.”

That struck me as somewhat odd, having listened to the music of such artists as Glenn Danzig, Ghost and Luther’s countrymen Rammstein.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Rammstein. But they’re about as far from “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” as it’s possible to get. I love heavy industrial music and these guys are up there with the best of them. Not only do they have brutal, punishing thrash-metal guitar riffs driving the songs and great danceable beats, but this album features some of the best keyboard work I’ve ever heard. Some of the sounds had to have been placed in a time capsule because I swear they came straight from the eighties but they don’t sound dated.

And singing in German just goes to help establish their heavy metal bona fides. Is there any better language for metal than German? I love the language because no matter what you say it sounds like you’re really, really angry. The coolest thing about listening to singing in another language is being able to focus on the melody instead of the message. And from what I’ve heard, the message in most Rammstein songs is horrible.

I’m embarrassed to say the first time I’ve listened to this entire album was for this review. I still remember seeing the terrifying video for “Du Hast” which I think is still they’re biggest hit in the US, but I enjoy other tracks just as much. “Engel” has a whistled intro that makes me think of that other German metal band, The Scorpions. “Klavier” is notable as being the lone ballad on the album. Most of the other tracks blend into each other, but they all have those great vocals, driving riffs and beautiful keys.

This might not be the kind of music Luther was talking about when he used the term “divinely inspired,” but it’s not as evil as other bands Germans like… such as David Hasselhoff.

 

¹.  Anonymous. “Nailed it.” The Economist. 7 January 2017: 45. Print

 

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Insane Clown Posse “The Great Milenko”


(12 August 1997 Psychopathic/Island)

I hold several very unpopular opinions. There are issues that I find myself on the unpopular side of with just about everyone. My enjoyment of the Insane Clown Posse is probably the most unpopular view I take.

Everyone is entitled to their guilty pleasures, but I probably go too far with this one.

The strange thing is that I enjoy ICP for the same exact reason most people hate them: they are completely ridiculous. I’ve always enjoyed the shock rock of Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper, but ICP are on another level. Whereas Marilyn Manson presents himself as a very intelligent social satirist, ICP dress up like scary clowns and rap about things that are impossible to take seriously.

Which is kind of a shame because they do touch on some important topics. Death, morality, rape, police brutality and greed. Of course, this album also features the lyrics:

“What is a juggalo?
A dead body
Well, he ain’t really dead, but he ain’t like
Anybody that you’ve ever met before
He’ll eat monopoly and shit out connect four

What is a jug..?
What the fuck? Connect four?
Man that shit is whack
Don’t worry about my shit
Just rap motherfucker”

But isn’t the purpose of shock rock to knock us out of our comfort zones? Maybe.

I’ve come across some hardcore juggalos who don’t care much for The Great Milenko because it’s the album casual fans like me tend to go for. This is an album that blends rock and hip-hop in a way that would become extremely popular over the ensuing years. They didn’t shy away from the standard rap practice of having guest musicians all over the album, but the inclusion of Sex Pistol Steve Jones on “Piggie Pie” and Slash on “Halls of Illusion” entices me in the way a Kanye appearance never would. I just found out that it’s Alice Cooper’s voice on the awesome introduction.

I enjoy the music on the album more than other hip-hop. I find a lot of that genre to be too simplistic and beat-oriented for my taste. There are tracks without a lot of stuff going on, but many of them have great guitar riffs or other strange instrumentation. I love the keyboard melody on “The Neden Game.”

I’m more embarrassed to say I’m a fan of ICP than any other guilty pleasure I have. With good reason I think, have you ever seen their fans? They tend to ruin the whole experience by taking it way too seriously. I probably just like them because they make me laugh. I have the juvenile sense of humor that led to belly laughs when I read the headline “Hubble just spotted something massive coming out of Uranus”

It’s hard to shower a group like the Insane Clown Posse with praise. When you come down to it they’re ridiculous, juvenile, misogynistic and impossible to take seriously; just like Donald Trump.

 

 

Days of the New S/T (Yellow)


(3 June 1997, Outpost/Geffen)

I started getting into music at a really inopportune time.

The genre of rock that first appealed to me was grunge. I’ve written about the profound effect Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” had on me and it was truly life changing. Before that, I listened to whatever my parents handed down to me. After that, I was eager to set out on my own.

So why was it a horrible time? By the time I heard that song, Kurt Cobain was already gone. Soundgarden broke up just a few years later. Alice in Chains never officially broke up, but they went into hibernation shortly after my conversion. Pearl Jam is the only grunge band who continually released new music, but they put a lot of effort into remaining obscure.

It was almost like I discovered something I really loved and as soon as I did it was stolen from me by the Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls.

When I first heard Days of the New it was a breath of fresh air. There was finally something for me to get excited about. An unwashed, detuned, yarling ray of sunshine.

They never really dominated the airwaves, but “Touch, Peel and Stand” has become a rock radio staple. I’m even hearing that track on the local non-profit station. “Shelf in the Room” still pops up occasionally, but “The Down Town” seems to have faded into the ether.

I always loved how hard this album rocked. You wouldn’t expect a tune like “Freak” from a band with acoustic guitars. It’s a dumb gimmick, but it really helped to create a unique sound and establish a place on the map.

A lot of the other stuff is more experimental. “Face of the Earth” and “Solitude” are a bit too droning for me to get it down off the shelf very often. A few are good, but not really groundbreaking. The highlight for many tracks is the lead guitar work of Todd Whitener.

I was always a much bigger fan of their second album, which I found much more interesting.

Unfortunately, by the third album they were all out of tricks and produced a lackluster effort I didn’t buy. I think this will conclude my Days of the New series, but it won’t be the last time I load these albums on my MP3 player.

 

 

Foo Fighters “The Colour and the Shape”


(20 May 1997, Capitol)

I’m not a baseball fan, so pardon me if I screw up this analogy.

Foo Fighters’ debut was at least a triple play. It could be almost be said it was a home run, but I don’t think it quite made it over the fence. It was good. Hell, it was great. But there was something missing. It wasn’t quite a perfect album.

But as the old saying goes, you have as long as you need to write your first album. Dave Grohl had years to compile the songs on that album. The band had a considerably shorter time period to write the follow-up. Could they deliver? What were they going to do in their next at bat?

I’d have to say The Colour and the Shape is a grand slam. This was the album that catapulted Foo Fighters into the stratosphere. Before this album, you could expect to hear one Foos song on the radio for every ten Nirvana plays. Now you’re lucky to hear one Nirvana track for every twenty from the Foo Fighters.

They’re no longer “that band with the drummer from Nirvana.” Foo Fighters are now “the biggest fucking rock band in the world.” I’m not saying that every song on The Colour and the Shape is great, but they all flow together so well that even the throwaway tunes work in the context of the album to make it great.

“Monkey Wrench” was the perfect lead single. That hummable, descending guitar line and poppy melodies mix perfectly. It’s just heavy enough to appeal to metalheads, but light enough to bounce around to. “My Hero” is one of those songs where I like the video more than the actual song, but it’s still a great one. Those goofy guitar turnarounds at the end of the chorus make it all worth it for me. How do you listen to it and not play air guitar to those licks?

And how do you follow up something like “Big Me,” which is as close to a perfect love song as I’ve ever heard and puts a smile on my face nearly every time I hear it? With a song that the rest of the human population feels that way about! I can’t help but wonder how many children were born because of the song “Everlong.”

If you take the time to look past the singles there’s still great stuff. I’m not a fan of some of the lighter fare. “Doll” and “Walking After You” are a little too light for me. They remind me of a bag of potato chips – mostly air.  Stuff like “See You” and “New Way Home” are a lot better. Fun, simple rockers that get the feet tapping, but it’s the raunchy rockers that get my blood pumping.

I love “Hey, Johnny Park.” The main riff is just pure brilliance. I’m not sure if I heard this many years ago and it stuck in my head. It sounded familiar when I got my copy recently, but maybe it’s just one of those riffs that is so catchy I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t in my head.

“The Colour and the Shape” might be my favorite Foo Fighters song. When you hear the tunes “Times Like These” and “Best of You” it’s easy to forget that Dave Grohl cut his teeth playing in punk bands. When you hear the screams and noise of the title track it’s front and center.

The best thing about The Colour and the Shape is that it sounds like a group effort. Grohl already proved he could write and record an album on his own with Foo Fighters and the Late! cassette he released while still with Nirvana, but he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who needs absolute control like Trent Reznor or Prince.

Utilizing the whole band turned out to be a good decision. This was the album that led to sold out arenas and a quarter billion dollar net worth. Sometimes all it takes is four guys in a room jamming to come up with a masterpiece.

 

RIP Chris Cornell


Wow. Just… wow.

You know, when I was younger I wanted to grow up and be Chris Cornell. I was extremely disappointed to discover the job had already been taken.

Now that it’s open again I doubt I could fill his shoes.

I’ve gone on record as saying I wasn’t a huge fan of King Animal, but I was looking forward to its followup. I’m disappointed that I’ll probably never hear that now.

Hope you enjoy my hastily thrown together playlist.

 

 

Soundgarden Superunknown

Soundgarden Down on the Upside

The Where’s My Shirt Tour

#Top15onthe15th

Rock on the Range 2013

Helmet “Aftertaste”


(18 March 1997, Interscope)

Helmet are one of those deceptively brilliant bands. A cursory listen will leave one thinking this is a simple, caveman rock band with no depth and a modicum of talent. And the caveman description would be somewhat appropriate. They called their third album Betty and opened it with the track “Wilma’s Rainbow.” I can only assume these were references to the most well-known cave women in pre-history.

Most of the songs on Aftertaste are pretty formulaic. Simple, syncopated riff+angry vocals=Helmet. The strange thing is Page Hamilton’s ability to sing in a tone so close to yelling, but still so melodic. It’s the perfect balance of rage and tunefulness. I haven’t heard anyone else combine these elements and produce such a satisfying product.

Opener “Pure” relies on one chugged chord for the main riff and a strummed octave chorus, but it creates a beautiful wall of sound. This is a band that uses negative space better than any other band in existence. The brilliance is not just in the notes they play or don’t play, but in the spaces between those notes.

The most well known cavewomen in pre-history

It’s easy to let an album like this fade into the background. To be honest, most of the songs sound so similar it’s difficult to tell them apart. But every now and again you hear something like the guitar solo of “Driving Nowhere” or the superb noise of “Broadcast Emotion” and it’s like catching a glimpse some mythical beast rising from the murky depths. The bass heavy intro of “Renovation” is hard to ignore as it hearkens back to “Milktoast” from Betty.

After a few listens light finds its way through the cracks in the stone to illuminate cave drawings I missed on the first pass. I’ve been jamming to Betty in my car for the past few days thinking it’s a superior product to this one, but then I hear “Like I Care” for the second time and I’m amazed that I listened to it with anything other than… amazement.

 

I could go on and on about this album, but mostly I just want to- wait, what the hell? Did you catch that? There’s a string of like four songs that clock in at about 2.5 minutes and sound like they’re cut off in the middle. Is that a problem with my Spotify account? Or is is supposed to be like that?

I’m not even sure how to classify Helmet. Hard rock seems most appropriate. They’re a bit too heavy to call alternative, but not quite heavy enough for metal. And even though Hamilton is an accomplished Jazz player with chops to spare I don’t think prog or fusion fits. Wikipedia calls them post-metal, but I’m strongly opposed to defining any type of music by saying it came after some other type.

I imagine if Goldilocks were to find this in the three bears’ record collection she would describe Aftertaste as just right.

Marcy Playground – Self Titled


marcy_playground_-_marcy_playground_album_cover-1(25 February 1997, Capitol)

I was driving in the car with my girlfriend the other day when the Seven Mary Three song “Cumbersome” came on the radio. She told me she was really into Seven Mary Three when she was younger and listened to their album all the time. That blew my mind. It never even crossed my mind that Seven Mary Three would have an album and fans. To me they were just something that was always there. Like a DirecTV satellite dish that you mow around because you don’t want to take the time to pull it out of the ground. That’s how I thought of Seven Mary Three.

It wasn’t until today that I realized other people must think of Marcy Playground in the same way.

“Sex and Candy” is just as prevalent than “Cumbersome.” I hear it on the radio. I hear it at the gym. I hear it at Walmart. It’s all over the place; just like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” or “Possum Kingdom.” But I actually own the album.

It’s not a bad album. It’s Folksy, Post-Grunge AOR. There are songs that I really enjoy and a few that I can’t tell from one another. Opener “Poppy’s” is held down by quirky guitar riff. Songs like “Gone Crazy,” “One More Suicide” and “Vampires of New York” are simple folk tunes made interesting by the wry vocals.

It’s something I enjoy, but when I listen to it and find it difficult to write more than 300 words about it I understand why they were a one-hit wonder.

Day of the New – S/T (Green)


Days of the New green(31 August 1999, Outpost)

One of the greatest things about music is its ability to take you places. Hearing a song can make you feel like you’re back in junior high school without a care in the world. A lot of songs bring scenes in movies to mind (think of Forrest Gump). Sometimes it can take you to a whole other world. Days of the New’s second album has the power to transport me from wherever I happen to be back to Hyrule.

My mom met the man who would become her second husband while I was in high school. He was living in a small apartment above a bar with a mattress, a chihuahua/shih tzu mix and a huge stereo from Rent-a-Center. It didn’t take long until he moved in with us; and brought the dog and the stereo. It’s easy to date when he moved in because he only had four CDs: Ozzy’s No Rest For The Wicked, Yngwie Malmsteem’s Facing the Animal, Godsmack’s debut and DotN’s second album.

“Enemy” was a big hit at the time and he loved it. He would play that album over and over while drinking at the kitchen table with his buddies. Being in high school I wasn’t old enough to drink and probably spent at least a little bit of time studying. But when I wasn’t studying I was sitting in front of the television with my little brother because around the same time he moved in with that huge stereo we got a Super Nintendo and A Link To The Past. I have no idea how many times we played through that game together, but I can remember having a lot of fun with him. I think that may have been the best bonding we ever did.

And the great thing is that whenever I hear Days of the New’s second album I can think back on those days.

the_legend_of_zelda_a_link_to_the_past_snes_game_coverIt probably helps that the album starts off with the sound of horse hooves. How else can I get from the water level to the desert level quickly? I’m a huge fan of all the segues that blend the tracks together. I honestly can’t name most of the songs on this album, and probably couldn’t tell you where most of them begin or end because it works as such a great cohesive whole.

The secret weapon is Nicole Sherzinger who would later achieve mega stardom as the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls. It feels really weird to write that because the musical styles of the two groups couldn’t be more distant. But Sherzinger does have a beautiful voice and uses it to great effect with Days of the New.

Singer/Guitarist/Songwriter Travis Meeks got a lot of grief for pulling one of those megalomaniacal stunts of firing his whole band, but in his defense did you ever listen to Tantric? That was not a band I enjoyed. Sure, they were competent musicians and their stuff was okay, but there was no fire behind it. It always sounded like safe, middle-of-the-road rock to me. I just imagine them bringing the songs to him and him saying “No. You’re all fired.”

The acoustic guitars are still front and center but there’s plenty of other instrumentation to shake things up. The acoustic guitar thing was a good gimmick that definitely got them attention with their debut, but I’m guessing that wouldn’t have kept peoples interest if they’d just repeated that formula.

I’m not sure what all the instruments were used on this album , but I’m guessing there’s an ocarina in there somewhere. It really takes me back then.

 

Bush “Razorblade Suitcase”


Bush "Razorblade Suitcase"(19 Nov 1996, Trauma/Interscope)

When I checked the list of 20-year-old albums earlier this year, Bush’s sophomore album Razorblade Suitcase seemed like a great one to do a Platinum Anniversary Albums review on. I remember really liking it when it came out and it’s remained in my collection for most of those two decades. It was produced by Steve Albini, who recorded hundreds of underground punk albums as well as Nirvana’s In Utero. But after I revisited the album the idea seemed… well… not as great.

I don’t want to give the impression that Razorblade Suitcase is a bad album. It’s not bad by any means. It’s just not exceptionally good.

I’m guessing most people still remember the singles. “Swallowed” was a reasonably big hit. It’s not a bad tune. I really like the first verse being just guitar and vocals before the chorus kicks in to rock out, but when the second verse is stripped down to bass and vocals it comes off as jarring. It strikes me as a song that could have been great with a little more consistency.

I remember “Mouth” from the film An American Werewolf in Paris. (or was it London? I never actually saw the movie.) Unfortunately, that was a remixed version of the track. On this album it’s stripped down to it’s bare bones and quite underwhelming after hearing the other version. Do you remember the single “Cold Contagious”? You’re forgiven if you don’t. I honestly can’t think of anything to say about it one way or another.

My favorite track on the album was always “Greedy Fly.” Whether it was because of the awesome video or the twinkling guitar lines I can’t say. The funny thing is that for as much as I dislike the everything-but-the-bass-cutting-out effect in “Swallowed,” I love it here. The stop/start quality of that heavy chorus riff gets me every time. This is one of those songs I can listen to over and over and never get sick of.

 

The rest of the album is predominantly forgettable. This isn’t like Sixteen Stone where you’re going to want to play it over and over again because the songs get stuck in your head. It’s more like you’ll want to play it several times because you can’t remember if you liked it. The opener “Personal Holloway” is a good rocker to kick things off, but the momentum doesn’t really continue. “Straight No Chaser” and “Bonedriven” try to recapture the magic of “Glycerine” with just Gavin Rossdale accompanied by a cello, but neither really comes close.

Sure, there’s great design and a lot of potential here, but this is the definition of a sophomore slump. I give them credit for branching out, taking risks and trying something new (and this album sold way more copies than anything I’ve ever put out); but this is one of those unhappy cases where artistic integrity didn’t pay off.

 

 

Marilyn Manson “Antichrist Superstar”


antichrist_superstar_4170(8 October 1996, Nothing/Interscope)

There’s something I like to call the “Smoke on the Water Principal (SWP).” You see, as a songwriter I’ve always found it a lot easier to write a more-elaborate-than-necessary guitar riff, jam packed with odd chords and enough hammer-ons and pull-offs to make your head spin than to write a simple, catchy riff. The main riff to Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” is the perfect example of an accomplished musician opting to play something so simple that anyone who picks up a guitar can master it in about three tries, but it’s also one of the most memorable pieces of music written in the past 50 years. Some of the greatest guitar riffs in history have utilized the SWP, even if they didn’t know it. “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Paranoid” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” are all prime examples.

And so is the biggest hit of Marilyn Manson’s career “The Beautiful People.”

Antichrist Superstar is a sloppy mess of an album, but that’s part of it’s appeal. It’s strange that something produced by Trent Reznor contains so much feedback and noise, but much like The Downward Spiral it serves as a record of the band at the time.

The only live opener on a studio album that I know of is “Irresponsible Hate Anthem.” I’m not sure if they couldn’t get the sound they wanted in the studio or if they ran out of time and had to pull out a live recording. Either way, it works. The only problem I have with it is the notes say it was recorded on Valentine’s Day 1997, six months after the album came out. Do I have a new pressing? Was this a typo? The world may never know.

“Tied Up, Dried Up and Dead to the World” sounds like Korn to my ears. Not so much the chorus but the ending part with the chugga-chugga-chugga squeal. That’s something I’ve heard in just about every Korn song ever. “Tourniquet” was always one of my favorites. I’m a sucker for those simple riffs with long bends. It’s like “Interstate Love Song,” but way, way darker.

 

The middle portion of the album is where things start to drag. There are a few gems in there. “Little Horn,” “Mister Superstar” and “Angel With The Scabbed Wings” are all decent rockers, but some of the stuff just seems half finished. This is one of those instances of artistic ambitions getting in the way of just making a good album.

But then the third cycle really knocks it out of the park. “Antichrist Superstar” is perhaps the strongest on the album. Drop D chords mesh with crowd cheers to make you feel like your at a Nazi rally. “1996” is great in spite of (or perhaps because of) it’s poor production. It all sounds live in the studio complete with a guitar being smashed at the end. “Minute of Decay” is the one song on the album written completely by Manson. The simple bass line and distorted guitars have always made this a favorite of mine. Plus, it’s the one place you can tell that he really does have a great voice.

“Your world is an ashtray,” is a line that’s been repeating in my head for a few days now. “The Reflecting God” may be the heaviest thing on this album. Is has a frenetic bass line that smashes into the three-chord chorus and really makes me want to smash something. I think that’s about all you can ask from a good heavy metal song. Yet again they use live material for the third pre-chorus and it makes the song that much more intense.

Antichrist Superstar Back CoverI can still remember when the Shirley Jackson inspired video for “Man That You Fear” premiered on MTV and I watched it about seven times. It’s a great closer. The slow track floats along with Reznor playing piano and ends with Manson’s distorted voice saying “When all of your wishes are granted, many of your dreams will be destroyed.”

Yes, Antichrist Superstar is a hectic, dis-joined and messy album. I can’t help but wonder what it would have sounded like if they’d spent less time snorting cocaine and destroying equipment and more time writing songs and practicing. But it stands as a portrait of what the band was like when they were young, hungry and had something to prove to the world and that’s something we’ll never hear from Marilyn Manson again.