It’s unlikely you’ll find many bands who’ve sparked as many differing opinions as Slipknot. On one hand, you’ve got the fans aka “maggots” who damn near worship the band like a collection of delusional Marilyn Manson fans. And on the other, you’ve got those who regard the band as either borderline or complete and utter trash. Toss in a few critics paranoid to the point of calling them Satanic and you’re close to the full picture. As a former maggot, it should go without saying that if you talked to me in high school, I’d praise and defend them to no end.
But that was back then, this is now.
Even before I came out of my Slipknot fetish I often at times found myself in disagreement with others over how I’d regard their releases. And what better way to demonstrate this than with their celebrated self-titled debut? I’ll even occasionally walk up to non-Slipknot fans and they’ll at least give some level of praise to this album. So, how does what many consider to be Slipknot’s finest release hold up after my first listening in years? Surprisingly, it’s a fairly decent mix.
What’s immediately apparent following the precursory track is that the nine boys from Des Moines have no qualms about being vulgar and blunt. What can easily be argued is that this has, from the get-go, been part of the band’s appeal, namely for teens to have something that helps quench their frustrations. Though one could also reason that the music itself is just interestingly fun material to shout, chant and outrage to. For my money at the time, it was simply the anger-releasing tone to the music. The generally thick tuning of the instruments, some unexpected and distorted moments combined with Corey Taylor’s dominant shouting (and occasionally silly rapping) makes for an irresistible mix placed in the ears of the right listener.
Of course, this type of appeal isn’t bound to last as listeners get older and, presumably, expand their tastes. Thus, returning to see how an album like this holds up becomes more of a means to see how good or bad it is with a more neutral standpoint as opposed to commending it for being “loud” and “there for me.” But even without the charm most tracks formerly had, this is still a (mostly) competent album thanks to some interesting enough tracks. Two songs that come to mind in this regard are Prosthetics and Scissors. Both take the listener through some rather peculiar mixes and samples with enough of the band’s thrashy nu metal-esque style present to give them a rebellious tone.
Yet the tracks that have endured on most live setlists such as Eyeless, Liberate and Surfacing, which show the band in their more familiar territory, don’t hold up quite as well. For instance, even with the easily likeable lyrics in Wait and Bleed it’s tough to get into a song with Taylor trying to dish out mellow vocals (he can do them well enough, see Bother by Stone Sour). He just sounds off and it isn’t until the song’s last few seconds when we hear his yelling and singing mixed together that it actually kicks well into gear.
Slipknot’s debut showcases a band that seemed eager to twist and turn things around. Generally, this works to the album’s favor and help it stand out enough from a crowd of cliché nu metal robots. But these aspirations only take the album so far. Ultimately, most of the songs wind up being good enough to warrant the whole album a recommendation, but we only get a few tracks that truly stand out. As for other former maggots wondering whether a return is in-order, I see no reason to not come here again for a couple listens every now and again.
If an album like Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is the big budget Michael Bay blockbuster film of the Wu-Tang saga, Liquid Swords is a Scorsese film with DeNiro. Ice cold, violent and skilfully handled by RZA’s threatening production, this is definitely the sound of everyone involved at the top of their game. I bought this directly after I heard the Enter the Wu-Tang album. The RZA’s cold keyboard-based beats are a lot more suited to GZA’s somewhat detached style than the Oriental heat of 36 Chambers.
Thinking about it more GZA’s not really so much a Scorsese character so much as a hip-hop version of De Niro’s character in the movie Heat: not a hardass gangsta but a cool, collected specialist whose every move is part of a larger tactical plan, slow to anger but once you’ve crossed him you’re fuckin’ dead. After this album he sort of retired his ‘Maximillion’ gangsta/mafiosa character, which was perhaps for the best considering the formulaic ‘I’m Scarface, niggaz!’ ‘No, I’m Scarface, motherfucker!’ posturing that lay ahead on that road.
There comes a time in many musician’s careers where their fans start to turn on them. Marilyn Manson is a textbook example, after the release of EAT ME, DRINK ME in 2007, many long time fans started to question the new introspective direction the band was taking, and in 2009 he became kind of a joke among fans with his drunk flailing onstage during the High End of Low tour. So understandably, many people were skeptical about the band’s latest effort, Born Villain. I was skeptical myself; after hearing some of the band’s performances in 2009, I seriously doubted the capacity for the band to produce anything good anymore.
So when you put on Born Villain and hear something like “Hey, Cruel World…” introducing the album, understandably, you are going to be thrown off your feet. Lyrically, the song sounds as though Manson is giving all his haters and critics a big “fuck you”, especially appropriate in the wake of his supposed “decline”. Incredibly strong, heavy, brutal start to the album, Marilyn Manson shows he’s not dead yet. It sounds reminiscent of “Little Horn”, albeit a little more tame. This really kicks you in the stomach, and the album could not ask for a better opening track. Something I’ve always liked about Marilyn Manson is his refusal to rhyme incessantly with No Reason to do so, and instead using wordplay to convey a point, which he does in this song.
“Hey Cruel World…” bombards you with brutal metal power chords and angry screams, then two tracks later we hear “Pistol Whipped”. I don’t know how to describe this song. It sounds like a sexy grind, but even that doesn’t adequately describe it. “Overneath The Path Of Misery” is possibly the most definitive song on the album. It’s a dark and edgy song starting with a quote from Macbeth, and it beats you over and over again with that riff. You’ll know what riff. Very, very heavy song for Marilyn Manson. “Slo-Mo-Tion” again showing off his love of wordplay, and sounds almost exactly like something out of Mechanical Animals. Without sounding recycled, “Slo-Mo-Tion” captures the glam-punk-metal elements of Mechanical Animals.
So already we have heard a lot of variety in the sound of this album, and we’re only five tracks in. This establishes Born Villain as what I would call a bipolar album. It has many ups and downs, highs and lows, and most of all it’s unpredictable at every corner and just as you think you have it figured out, something like “Children of Cain” comes along. “Children of Cain” sounds like something from Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile, with it’s dark electro-industrial drums and morbid piano overtones. “Lay Down Your Goddamn Arms” is very reminiscent of the Deftones with its tasty guitar riff, atmosphere and odd time signature. And then we have “Murderers are Getting Prettier Every Day”. My God. This album won’t stop beating me. Don’t let it stop. This song is like “Astonishing Panorama of the End Times” on steroids.
One of my favourite songs is the title track, “Born Villain”. Never have I heard an acoustic guitar sound so tuneful to music like this. It has an ambient-morbid-glam overtone to it, and it is a stunning summation of the album.
The final track, “Breaking The Same Old Ground” is an interesting one. I was disinterested with it upon initial listening and I found it quite boring, I never listened through to the end. But I had it playing in the background once and I treated myself to the thrilling ending which sounds like it could be taken out of a Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir album. No intense black metal shrieks or blast-beats, but the symphonic keyboards and bone-chilling ambient guitar riffs. The music box at the start is a neat little touch, adding a little hint of childhood innocence into the atmosphere. Mr. Manson’s struggled key-change screams towards the end make this an incredibly icy thrilling conclusion to the album.
Twiggy played guitar, which is an interesting change from his usual position as bassist. But one thing that has been prominent in Marilyn Manson right from the beginning is they have always had a very strong bass player. And Fred Sablan continues this tradition very well - just listen to “The Gardener”. This song is what would happen if The Cure binged on cocaine and started listening to Slayer - and the Cure influence is strikingly prominent. Funky-yet-edgy post-punk bassline with an incredibly powerful vocal performance. A spoken word song may be difficult to get used to for some due to it’s rhythmic dissonance.
Overall, however, Born Villain is a tremendous effort. As a bipolar album it tricks you, it turns down corners you wouldn’t expect, keeps you on your toes, leads you down dark alleys then stabs you to death. This is an album you just can’t keep track of. But without being inconsistent, and I would attribute that to Manson’s unmistakeable Bowie-esque vocal style as of late. While the music is ever evolving and shifting and changing, the vocal performance remains consistent and it unifies the whole album. Despite some awful vocal moments, it’s really quite incredible as a whole. Marilyn Manson have really made a giant leap in the right direction. More fun than The Golden Age of Grotesque, and darker than EAT ME, DRINK ME, Born Villain is one of Marilyn Manson’s better efforts to date and is easily on par with the creative playfulness of their debut Portrait of an American Family.
If you’ve listened to the Wu-Tang Clan at all, you’re surely familiar with the late Russell Tyrone Jones, AKA Ol’ Dirty Bastard, AKA ODB, AKA Big Baby Jesus, AKA Dirt McGirt. He introduced himself to the world with the second track of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), “Shame On A Nigga”, and didn’t look back. But over time, his batshit antics (anybody remember “Wu-Tang is for the children”? He was hijacking the stage years before Taylor Swift got Kanye’d!!) and constant legal troubles (it seemed that he was either in jail, or supposed to be in jail and on the run) became just as notable as his actual music, if not a little more. The second of these issues - the legal problems - resulted in him becoming less and less prominent on Wu albums until he died of a drug overdose in ‘04. Right now I’ll be taking a look at his second (and final) solo album, 1999’s Nigga Please.
Since this is an Ol’ Dirty Bastard album, the fact that it’s weird as hell isn’t too surprising. But Nigga Please (Black Man Is God, White Man Is the Devil) is so weird, so high-as-a-kite-circling-the-International-Space-Station, so fucked up, and so irreverent that there’s really nothing like it. This isn’t an album a critic can just sum up neatly with a quick “If you liked [Insert Album Here], you’ll love Nigga Please!” I guess you could say it’s like ODB’s debut Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, but even then it’s a bit different.
What is Nigga Please like? Well… it’s like a cross between Return to the 36 Chambers and a Rick James album starring a homeless version of Rick James who got reeeeally drunk and stoned before going into the studio (he even covers Rick James on here!). Really, that’s the best way I can describe Nigga Please without using the overused phrase “This dude was completely fucking nuts”.
I don’t even hardly want to call this a rap album. Though RZA and the Neptunes produced some of the tracks, ODB was in a whole different zone at the time - meaning, really fucking high. That’s what gives it a great sort of 60’s soul, 70’s funk vibe. You know James Brown would have cussed like this if he could have got away with it, Curtis Mayfield woulda held it up as an example of the debilitating powers of drugs & the ‘blaxploitation’ lifestyle, and Sly Stone would just have nodded sadly. It’s all paranoia, delusions of grandeur and sudden, complete bursts of euphoria. The Dirt Dog growls, screams, laughs hysterically, mumbles and occasionally raps his way across these tracks. There’s some real insanity at work here. “I want you to suck my lizzzard, lizard!” “Y’all can’t use the word napkin” and his “Y’all better be happy that the ol’ Dirty Bastard is here… You shut the FUCK UP and you shut the FUCK UP, that’s what the FUCK YOU DO” spiel are the most obvious quotes, but trust me, there are hundreds.
'Recognise' is fucking hilarious. 'I Can't Wait' is fast as hell, insane rap with sparkly keyboard backing a la club rap-era Busta Rhymes. ODB has never been exactly coherent, but here he is totally crazed, one can only imagine what the recording sessions must have been like. It initially appears that the track will succumb to hip hop cliché as ODB offers shout outs to Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg as well as other rappers, but the fantastic climax actually has ODB offering shout outs to the army, air force, submarines and Eskimos and thanks them for, “playing my music in the submarines and the boats.” Any doubts as to whether or not ODB has lost the plot are answered on this track. 'Cold Blooded' reminds me of the 3rd Stooges album, where it sounded like Iggy Pop was going to have a heart attack the second he stepped out of the booth, just singing that hard. Plus, how cool is it that ODB covered Rick James? More rappers should cover their favourite songs, it’d be rad. ‘Got Your Money’ is a song I will always sing every word of because it was one of the first songs I loved. ‘Rollin Wit You’ is the bizarre, unhinged threats of a madman. ODB is a man wrought with conflicts, the chorus; “Jesus, I’m rolling wit you” is sandwiched between more profanities than nearly any track I’ve ever heard. It’s difficult to comprehend anyone thinking ODB was a sellout, listening to that song. ‘You Don’t Want To Fuck With Me’ is more insane threats and boasts. The title track probably has some of my favourite laugh-out-loud lines on here: ‘I’ll have it raining ice drops the size of automobiles’ ‘I kill all my enemies at birth/SHUT THE FUCK UP bitch and let me put my hands up your skirt’ ‘I’m the one who burned your home… watch your shit fall like Rome!’ Funny as hell. ‘Dirt Dog’ sounds like ODB has a pretty bad cold and/or has just had his nose froze, but the female backing vocalist at the end sounds pretty sexy. ‘I Want Pussy’ is a RZA-produced track, and has some good verses although he sounds soooo fucking hiiiiiigh. ‘Good Morning Heartache’ is definitely the weak spot, though it’s funny in concept. ‘All In Together Now’ is BRILLIANT even though ODB mainly is just rambling on and on over a great beat. ‘Cracka Jack’ is funny, and notable for having some of the most hilariously indefensible shit on here: ‘Bitch, you got herpes in your ass/Every time you fuck a nigga, he dies fast’ - it speaks for itself. The album closes with ODB offering some salient advise to the listener, “If you wanna die, you gotta drink my sperm / the other way to die, is eat a can of worms.” I guess the sensible thing to do is not to analyse what Jones is saying too closely.
If you liked ODB on the Wu albums (especially stuff like “Dog Shit”), you should like him here, and he does rap well… when he raps. It seems like this album is part rapping, part singing off-key, and part just ranting about random shit. In fact, the awesome “Got Your Money” with Kelis is about the only thing on here that feels like an honest-to-U God (sorry, couldn’t resist) song, and even then it’s pretty fucked up, and I’m sort of surprised that it actually became a pretty big hit. Also, in a bit of an unusual move for a Wu-affiliated album, there are no guest appearances from the other members. Chris Rock has a pretty amusing intro, Kelis does a good hook on “Got Your Money”, Lil’ Mo (who?) is on “Good Morning Heartache”, and some guys named 12 0’Clock, La The Darkman, and Shorty Shit Stain (best rap name ever, no debates or discussions), apparently from ODB’s subgroup “Brooklyn Zu”, show up on “Gettin’ High”. The guests are usually fairly good, but don’t overshadow ODB (which is pretty much impossible - that would be like Keanu Reeves overshadowing Nicholas Cage in full-on Wicker Man mode).
The production was done by the Neptunes, the RZA, Irv Gotti, Buddha Monk, True Master, DL, Flavahood Productions, and Mr. Fingers.They lend the album a fairly poppy sound that goes kind of weird with ODB, but I think it sorta works. Some have said that ODB and poppy beats go together like oil and water, but there you go.
Hell, Nigga Please is pretty divisive. Some think it’s one of the best to come out of the Wu canon, and some think it’s one of the absolute worst. I’m sort of in between - I enjoy the album a lot. It’s not a great album, but it’s not a terrible one either. Preview it before spending money on it, or you could end up with a case of buyer’s remorse. “What the fuck is this shit? Half of it isn’t even really rap!” But if nothing else, definitely spin “Got Your Money”.
Q:Brutha I don't mean to offend but your wrote an article on "Gravediggaz - 6 Feet Deep" where you mentioned that it was made before Wu Tang was even formed ... Enter the Wu Tang came out in 1993, while 6 Feet Deep came out in 1994.. Well written article however, I enjoyed reading it.. Meth would sound dope on it!! I dont know about GFK though.
Ah, nicely pointed out. Thanks for the heads-up.
Never really been much of a Ghostface fan frankly, outside of ‘Impossible’ and Ironman.
Have you ever found yourself saying ‘Damn, I love the RZA when he raps with the Wu-Tang Clan, but I can’t get with that whole ridiculous Bobby Digital persona he uses for solo stuff’? Well then! How do you feel about a pre-36 Chambers CD (but not too long pre) where RZA raps with a couple other dudes and the whole thing is produced (impeccably) by De La genius Prince Paul? ‘Oh boy! I feel like Christmas came early!’ I can hear you screeching. Well now! How do you feel when I tell you that the rappers all take the personas of ghouls and demons, stalking gangstas through NYC and dispatching them in gruesome ways, and that he’s backed up by a dude whose delivery is so over the top that he may as well be performing pantomime in corpsepaint? How do you feel about a dude who made his name with a group that rapped about the more ‘real’ aspects of low income, low class, low hope black NY street life becoming one of those horror movie villains who can be shot, stabbed, crushed and dismembered, but they keep coming? How does the prospect of FRZA Kruger sound to you? Any good? If you’re still even reading, you should probably buy Niggamortis.
The Gravediggaz feature 3 MCs but the hero (or villain if you look at it that way) of those three is undoubtedly Poetic. Unlike Prince Paul or RZA, he’s not known for anything else but he sounds like Jello Biafra clawing his way out of a grave only to be confronted with a bunch of zombies and vampires who wish to engage him in a rap battle. You will either admire his dramatic delivery and witty turns of phrase or you will think he is over-the-top and just want to vomit. The RZA is not really my favourite rapper but he is really good here, again, only if you like super-overdramatic rapping. Frukwan is good but kind of similar sounding to RZA, I can’t think of much to say about him here. It would have been awesome if Method Man, Ghostface, or anyone from the Clan had showed up for a verse, but I guess the Clan as we know it didn’t exist yet. Also, the guest spots from Killah Priest and Scientific Shabazz are pretty lame.
The last third of Niggamortis is pretty much ‘Joke’s over, end this now’ time, though as I mentioned, ‘Bang Your Head’ is nifty. The real star of Gravediggaz is Prince Paul. His production absolutely makes the album. It’s dark, restrained and freakish. I’m not gonna go on about how awesome it is, anyone who’s heard 3 Feet And Rising knows he can make dense, incredible beats.
In terms of attitude, this is closer to goth-metal than rap: they all seem like they’re about to stop rapping and start just yelling ‘Satan laughs at our wicked japes!’ and absolutely none of it can be taken seriously. Imagine how huge a hit this would have been if it had come along in the era of nu-metal. All those fans of Korn, Mudvayne, Slipknot etc would probably have loved a cartoonishly dark, parent-annoying CD where the lyrics were just ridiculous, overly bloody horror movie violence. It also includes the metalhead-friendly track ‘Bang Your Head’, a gory anthem bolstered by distorted guitar samples. So yeah, kids who like rap-metal and are interested in exploring rap: this could be your gateway! You fucks.
Every now and then, a band comes along the scene that challenges, confuses, and to some extent, outrages many listeners with their controversial artistic output. When I say controversial, I don’t necessarily mean offensive, but, to provoke very strong reactions: whether positive or negative. Meshuggah is a band that fits this description perfectly - at least in the metal community. Come to think of it, I may as well mean to outrage, as Meshuggah has seemed to garner some pretty strong reactions from listeners. The negatives would be along the lines of “this band has no talent, and just make noise like a bunch of children who don’t know how to play their instruments,” and the positives would be something like “these guys are geniuses.”
I’ll try to shed some light on Meshuggah’s music, though many here have already done an excellent job on explaining what these guys are about. Meshuggah are a math-metal band, and what this means is that they make use of many odd time signatures, and use them in mathematical fashion, which will make the rhythms/tempos (or beats) sound really weird or “abnormal.” Not only that, most of their music is atonal, or amelodic, which in sonic terms, seemingly eludes typical (and/or pleasant) melodies. This creates two strong possibilites: (1). Musicians, especially drummers, will be the only people who will understand and appreciate this music. (2). Listeners who are only accustomed to standard rhythmic and tonal/melodic music will condemn this as pure “noise.” Along with the usual attacks on Meshuggah for being tuneless (among other things), Nothing was widely considered by fans of the band in 2002 to be a disappointment. Nothing is nothing (pun intended) like its predecessors… well that’s not entirely true - it is rich in disorienting polyrhythms and crushingly heavy guitar riffs, as we have come to expect from Meshuggah. But compared to the manic Destroy Erase Improve or the unrelenting Chaosphere, Nothing is… slow. It’s slow and it’s sludgey and it’s repetitive as fuck. Many of the riffs are far more abstract and melodically counter-intuitive. As the pitch becomes less and less important, the rhythm comes even more to the foreground. At this point, Meshuggah ceases to be a thrash band and becomes a trance band.
So what’s so disappointing about that? Well, for one, it alienates many of the non-musicians who must struggle to discover the tune buried under all the math. But that’s nothing Meshuggah didn’t do on Chaosphere - they just did it a lot faster, a lot angrier, and a lot scarier. So now, not only can it not be sung along to, but it’s too slow and confusing to headbang to. The song structures are less apparent as well.
But Meshuggah was really hinting at something here, which I think was lost on a lot of people until perhaps 2005’s Catch Thirty-Three was released (and judging by the reviews, is still lost on some of those people)… that is, the use of repetition and atmosphere to create a mood with their music as opposed to coming straight out with the riffs and calling it a day. There are more hair-raising dissonances and uncomfortable chromatic guitar riffs here than on any single other Meshuggah album, and sometimes it takes up to three or four minutes for the “hook” of the song to be revealed.
All of this put together can make it a difficult listen even for a seasoned metalhead. However, it has its fair share of extremely high quality tracks; “Stengah” is a great introduction to this Meshuggah, displaying just a few of the great things that can be done with this sludgey, droning style. It also introduces us to the basement-range 8-string guitars which were just prototypes at this point. “Closed Eye Visuals” is the central accomplishment of Nothing with its hypnotic, oscillating guitar riffs and creepy, psychedelic interlude/outro. “Spasm” is a standout track in Meshuggah’s catalogue, remaining one of my favorite Meshuggah songs for several years now - there’s a swaying, dance-like quality to it that is addictive.
In fact, the whole first chunk of the album is really fucking good. The main problems with this album take place after the initial euphoria of the first four tracks. For example, “Glints Collide” is a decent song with an amazingly cool bridge riff, but overall isn’t fantastic. That’s excusable, most albums have their-less-than-brilliant moments. But then another song comes on that buries its best riff somewhere towards the end, and then another and then… well then it starts to become tedious. If Nothing else, Nothing is just badly paced - too many songs based on the same concept were placed in clusters too large for the impatient listener to put up with. Nothing's songs, particularely in the middle, have more of a tendancy to run together than the other albums.
Nothing does have an oddly appropriate ending sequence though: after the almost painfully slow and sludgey “Nebulous” comes the actual closer, “Obsidian”. “Obsidian” starts out as an instrumental in the vein of “Acrid Placidity”, but then explodes into a repetitive sequence of brutal dissonances that goes on for several minutes - not entirely unlike the end of Chaosphere, actually, but slowed down several notches and prolonged for zoning-out-purposes. It is probably the weakest ending sequence of any Meshuggah album (bar Contradictions Collapse) but is appropriate nonetheless.
In the end, I can affirm that yes, Nothing is a bit of a disappointment. It lacks the songwriting prowess of Destroy Erase Improve and the insanely tight focus of Chaosphere… but it is an important evolutionary step in Meshuggah’s sound. The use of the riff as a tool for creating atmosphere heavily foreshadows the drama of Catch Thirty-Three. The worst moments on Nothing are probably a result of the band getting used to their new 8-string guitars, and they seem to have a better handle of it on subsequent releases. All in all there’s really no good reason not to buy this album, although I would recommend new people try Destroy Erase Improve or Chaosphere first as they suffer from fewer shortcomings and are far more inviting, especially if you’re not a musician.
Somebody, somewhere, just had to make this album sooner or later. And I say that for a whole bunch of reasons.
Firstly, somebody had to make an album that fused rap and metal the way this does. As the twinned voices of the disaffected youth of America, the two genres were always destined to meet in a way that exploited the anger that fuelled the best of both - earlier tracks like “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and “Walk This Way” had only really hinted at that, failing to break away from novelty simply because they didn’t have that anger behind them. Really, it’s incredible that it took until 1992 for anybody to do it (forget the likes of Esham, Stuck Mojo, and Faith No More - they were never quite this focused or furious - and forget Anthrax too, as they always made it clear that they were still a metal band, just experimenting for a bit). Body Count came out the same year, of course, with “Cop Killer”, but Rage will be remembered for far longer (perhaps simply because they’re white, but that’s a debate for another time).
Secondly, somebody had to be this political at the same time. The politics on Rage Against the Machine sound almost quaint today - ‘fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’ carrying more of a reminder of a 14 year old not wanting to do his homework than the Buddhist martyr on the album’s artwork - but the majority of the political music that had found serious success before this had never been violently angry. It had been quietly fuming, perhaps; more often it was either resigned or hopeful, as the songwriters tried to put themselves up as sages capable of rising above it all. And at times, it had attempted to offer up some kind of debate, cramming just a little too much information into what was still essentially a pop song. The angry stuff, the balls-to-the-wall I-hate-the-world-and-everyone-who-runs-it stuff? That was underground. Nobody wanted to hear it, especially in the ’80s. So Rage - with their simplified version of the politics of Fugazi et al - hit home in the right way, and at the right time. The whole point of Rage Against the Machine was that their music, while always expressly political in nature, never forced the listener to actually know anything but the basics about politics. And that’s very important. It was Rage’s outward hostility, combined with their inner refusal to make anybody an outcast, that made their music seem so special - millions upon millions of people were allowed to believe that they were taking on the world and Rage were on their side.
Thirdly, somebody had to do what Tom Morello does to his guitar on this album, and they especially had to do in this context. Plenty of other people had already fucked about with effects pedals to see what they could do, obviously. People had even done it in famous bands on albums with impressive sales figures (cf. Talking Heads - check the guitar solo on “Born Under Punches” from Remain in Light). But people weren’t listening to Talking Heads for the guitars. People who listen out for guitars - specifically listen out for guitars - tend to gravitate towards metal almost by default, so while somebody had to properly fuck about with killswitches, pitch shifting, tremolo arms, pick scrapes, and delay units like Morello does here, they also had to do it in the gaps inbetween some old-school headbanging. And so we get the riffs on “Bombtrack”, “Wake Up”, and “Bullet in the Head” - all of them could have been written by Tony Iommi.
And fourthly, somebody simply had to re-tool Public Enemy for a mass audience. In terms of popularity, they’d gone as far as they could - somebody else needed to pick up that baton and run with it. You could get angry at Rage for being that band, because they weren’t as smart, weren’t as revolutionary, weren’t as musically inventive, and weren’t black, but these are the realities of a mass audience in the early ’90s. Rage connected the dots between Public Enemy fans and Metallica fans, and since they were the biggest acts in their genres during 1990 and 1991 respectively, that was an important bridge, and a bloody big one to boot.
It’s because of all these things that Rage Against the Machine still sounds vital - it was necessary. Their other two albums Evil Empire and The Battle of Los Angeles have dated badly and fallen by the wayside, but this one remains a staple of ’90s rock music. Kids who weren’t even born in 1992 still bump this record like it came out last week - that just about says it all, really.
Listening to Andrew WK s debut album I Get Wet brings to memory a scene from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. After the boys have been whisked off to Rufus’ parallel world and told the truth about their future, they are getting ready to go back home. As they prepare to leave and salute the future dwellers, Bill goes with “Be excellent to each other,” but the far more dimwitted Ted simply states, “Party on, dudes!”
And that’s what we ourselves feel like saying when we listen to this album: PARTY ON, DUDES! Just like that, in capitals, and preferably with two fingers stuck high up in the air representing the sign of the Devil. This is a party album, purely and simply. Not in the cheesy, trashy, summer-jam sense of, say, Caribe Mix, but in the balls-to-the-wall, all-out-party sense of Turbonegro’s similarly inclined Party Animals.
But who exactly is Andrew W.K.? He’s a young man (22 at the time of recording) who was fed up with the drab, negative music scene and decided to take it back to its partying roots. That’s why all the songs on here are fast, simple, in-your-face, catchy, festive and loud. Very loud. In fact, less aware listeners may be blown away when the opening blast of It’s Time to Party roars into their speakers. The production is top-notch and it allows for this record to basically become one massive, relentless wall of sound.
Andrew’s backup band is no laughing matter, either. For someone who abhors negative music, it may seem a little strange to use Donald Tardy of Obituary as your drummer, but he is a clear asset for the band. Apart from him, Andrew uses no less than three permanent guitarists, three keyboard players and three programmers, as well as a plethora of guest musicians! Fortunately, the bass player is the same throughout the record, known simply as Gregg.
As for the songwriting, the subject matter leaves little to no space for imagination: girls, partying, drugs, and booze are the main aspects being focused here. However, strangely enough, most of the verse sections have absolutely nothing to do with the choruses, Take It Off being the immediate example. As far as catchiness, most of these songs are immediately appealing, while others such as I Love N.Y.C. or Girls Own Love are more of an acquired taste. However, as a whole, this album is as straightforward as it is appealing.
But no album would be complete without its filler tracks. Mercifully, I Get Wet has precious little in that department, apart from Got To Do It, Take It Off and the title track itself. All the other songs are excellent, and sure to deliver a good time.
Another thing you rockers out there may miss are guitar solos, but trust me: this album doesn’t need them. They would only cramp up the songs in most cases, therefore straying this endeavour away from its main target: catchiness. As it is, the album just grabs you by the nuts and very seldom lets go throughout.
All in all, the twelve songs on this album barely add up to 35 minutes of music. But that’s how it should be: all parties should end at the right moment? After all, who likes an overlong party? By the end of this one, you ll be so worn out, hungover, nose-bleeding, high, horny and deaf that you’ll be glad it ended. That’s how this record is: fast, wild and very pleasing. Like a drink-induced one-night-stand with the girl of your dreams.
Cookie recipes, old-timey organ intermissions, testicle jokes, Bill Hicks’ stand-up comedy routine samples, weird messages from a Green Jellÿ members’ answering machine, songs about fisting, about scat play, about all the yuppies drowning when Los Angeles falls in the ocean, and about as direct a fuck you to cries of sellout as has ever been written, yet people call this overly serious and pretentious? Come on.
Yes, Ænima is at times very much an intellectual and cerebral album, and there are some dark, serious themes within. Much of Tool’s humour is obscure or obscured (and frequently metaphorical in nature), but it thrives in a mixture of the direct and indirect, much as with the high level of complexity in the music, albeit never swerving into anything technical and lifeless. It is an album of vast emotions and their various manifestations. Not before or since has Maynard James Keenan written a song so emotionally bare as “H” even steeped as it is in ancient symbolism and Jungian psychology.
Speaking of Jung, let’s get this out of the way right now - this whole album is filled with psychological/psycho-pharmacological references and themes in which, after taking a couple university psych courses, I can say I am not the slightest bit interested anymore. I’ll just leave that all more or less un-decoded. It diminishes my enjoyment of the album in no way. Actually, that is part of what is so great about this album, that there is so much that can be dug into, but it is also so musically and emotionally satisfying that the intellectual element is just icing on the cake.
Rising out of weird metallic sound into sloping, warped, down-tuned chords is the first song “Stinkfist”, about fisting or in a larger sense, about pushing boundaries, breaking taboos in search of something genuine in an overstimulated world, ‘until I feel something.’ This was the giant hit single, and it being right there on the surface a song about something of an extreme sex act, that fact is delightfully insane. However, the next two songs are both far greater. “Eulogy” is a sour goodbye to a departed self-proclaimed somebody (most theorize that it is directed to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard) - ‘Standing above the crowd, he had a voice that was strong and loud and I swallowed his façade ‘cause I’m so eager to identify with someone above the ground, someone who seemed to feel the same.’ Then, with “H.” they create their greatest song, with a constant sense of quiet tension threatening to spill over into something louder and more frantic, which it does for the final minute. “Hooker with a Penis” is a diatribe against those who cry sellout any time a band has sucess regardless of artistic integrity, and the noisiest, most rampaging song they’d written to this point, more akin to muscular groove-metal than anything arty or progressive. The smeared, rhythmic ten-minute “Pushit” announces the final, raging section of the album composed of two interstitials and two songs. “Ænema” (note the different spelling from the title) is a prayer for Los Angeles to be dropped into the ocean by massive earthquakes - ‘One big festering neon distraction. I’ve got one suggestion to keep you all occupied - learn to swim.’ Then, the grand finale of “Third Eye” ushered in with a series of Bill Hicks quotations as the guitars rise into the stratosphere, a song in praise of mind-expansion by any means.
Ænima is a titanic album of exploding boundaries, emotion, personality, and psychology, and one I can personally credit with a great deal of my dedication to music, and there is not one moment of it that I dislike.
Needless to say, American Life was a flop. In typical fashion, Madonna dusted herself off and decided it was time to go back to her roots. With British electronic musician, Stuart Price, Madonna crafted Confessions on a Dance Floor – a collection of delicious nu-disco dance club tracks that hearken back to the glory days of Abba and ‘70s/’80s discotheques.
Helmed by the ABBA-laden powerhouse, “Hung Up,” the album is perhaps most notable for being the only album in Madonna’s catalog where all songs segue into each other. Madonna’s idea was that she wanted the songs pre-mixed to exist as one piece of continuous dance music that could be played from start to finish, inadvertently discouraging the dissection and reconstruction typically done by music listeners in this 21st century digital world.
Of the album, Madonna said: “I wanted a record with no ballads. I wanted there to be no breaks, with one song segueing into the next — just like in a disco. (…) Whenever I make records, I often like the remixes better than the original versions. So I thought, screw that. I’m going to start from that perspective. I want to hear all these songs in a club. I approached the album from more of a DJ’s point of view, but Stuart [Price] is a DJ. That really influenced the vibe —the dance aspect — of the record.”(…) “We listened to a lot of other people’s records when we were making this - obviously ABBA and Giorgio Moroder - so to me it’s more of an homage to other people’s records than mine. If there are references to earlier records it’s probably done unknowingly, part of our molecular structure; it comes out again and again, hopefully not too boringly and repetitive.”
I strongly feel that Confessions on a Dance Floor is Madonna’s best album since Ray of Light. It’s its own mini-masterpiece – not quite of the same scale as Ray of Light or Erotica, but pretty damn close, in my opinion. It’s its own universe, you get lost in it – an intoxicating E trip.
The album feels just like a night at the disco, complete with all of the highs, lows, and melodrama that go along with it.
…I Care Because You Do came right before Aphex Twin became famous (though “fame” may seem like an oxymoron when describing the still-niche electronica genre, a level of fame which might make Britney Spears scoff seemed to have a profound impact on the outlook of this bedroom knob twiddler). So forget the incessant images of a grinning/leering Richard D. James, and Chris Cunningham’s perversely brilliant videos. Though Richard’s face does appear on the cover, ironically I think at this point it was as much a bid for celebrity as a comment on it; when the album came out in 1995 people must’ve thought “Ugh, what an ugly portrait, who is this guy?” Now everyone knows. I wonder if Richard has ever received any award for self-promotion - aspiring musicians should follow his inspired example. Squarepusher, just seems to have caught on fifteen years later with Ultravisitor, featuring his emotionless mug.
This was his last record working with analogue gear as his next decade of albums was composed via computers, so it’s the end of a style for him. It’s quite different from his past acid house, ambient, and general techno pursuits as it features lengthy drum machine loops layered with analogue synthesizers, with the occasional string piece. Anyway, moments of “fuck with the listener’s head” music do appear here, eg. on the track Ventolin, but at this point they were the exception rather than the rule. What you get is a continuation of the subliminal vibe present on both Selected Ambient Works albums, only with harsher beats (I think Autechre took many of the harsh beat/fragile melody innovations on display here, and ran with them in their own direction.) When I say subliminal, I mean it; someone once said it was “mind control music” and they have a point. If I were a psychologist studying music (or perhaps Boards of Canada, who seem fascinated with discovering the mathematical underpinnings of great music), I would dissect this album to try and figure out how the simplest of tones, and the simplest of contrast in melody and rhythm, evoke such vivid mental images and strange feelings. Incidentally, Richard said he used to have the ability to lucid dream, and that all of his pre-DrukQs music sounded “yellow” to him. I’m somewhat dubious of his synesthesia claims given his penchant for playful self-promotion, but I bet there’s something to this. It’s funny how you can tell if something is made for the artists’ enjoyment, or to satisfy/annoy his fans (this sort of evaluation has little to do with artistic merit - there have been many pop albums with clear target demographics that were nonetheless brilliant.) To my ear, …I Care Because You Do is one of the best examples of the former type of album; it sounds like Richard made it for himself, though you can see him toying with the idea of celebrity in the cover art and playful song titles, many of which are near anagrams of the word “Aphex Twin.”
Back to the music. Well, it’s hard to classify. I will say that this album has a “cowboy western” motif not present in RDJ’s other work. Really. Listen to Wax the Nip, Wet Tip Hen Ax, and Mookid and I swear there is a whistling sort of melody that brings to mind Ennio Morricone and Clint Eastwood squinting at the sun. As others have said, there’s also a serious “classical” vibe to the melodies, that caught Philip Glass’ attention among others. If you’ve listened to DrukQs and find the idea of Aphex Twin aspiring to Erik Satie legitimacy sort of sad, don’t fret: the “classical” arrangements here sound much less forced and are really beautiful.
I’m a bit tired of people labeling RDJ a “genius,” as though everything he puts out is pure gold. I think somehow the label genius is only applied if an artist has a prickly, attention-getting personality, a dash of charisma and fame-hunger. Why do people never say, for example, that Orbital are geniuses, when their Snivilization and In Sides albums show better consistency and have tracks that, to my ear, blow much of Aphex Twin’s work out of the water? Who knows. Anyway, point being that this album is still a bit uneven like all Aphex Twin stuff. As is often the case with electronic artists, it seems as though RDJ has trouble finding good bridges for songs. Even the much-praised Alberto Balsam has a boring percussion breakdown in the middle that bugs me every time. Like I said it’s subliminal, and much more likely to put you in an altered state of consciousness, than stimulate the way the Richard D. James Album does. Nevertheless …I Care Because You Do is still great, and if you are someone who’s just curious about this Aphex Twin guy, you can’t go wrong with this album or the Richard D. James Album, though I’d start with the Come to Daddy EP, which is the purest distillation of RDJ’s “genius” to date in my opinion.
The soundtrack to love gone horridly wrong. Portishead’s self-titled is designed to appeal to those who have often buried their faces in their hands crying “Why God, why?” after enduring one painful heartbreak after another. These rusty, frigid, and ominous anthems of despair will not appeal to the casual listener. Coming off of the groundbreaking Dummy released in 1994, Portishead present us with a genuine, anti-pop, no non-sense downbeat record driven by heavy orchestration, dismal organs, choppy low-rider beats, detuned atmospherics, chaotic record scratching, and not to mention Beth Gibbons’ distinct fragile vocal delivery.
What makes Portishead so appealing is not necessarily how different they are from other artists coming from the Bristol scene. This record might possibly annoy the fool out of you upon first listen but something keeps bringing you back. Is it the unwillingness of Portishead to provide the listener with a genuine pop hook even after a good hundred or so listens? Is it the unholy imbalance of treble and bass that plagues every track? Is it because you realize that Beth makes you feel every word that oozes from her lips in pathetic anguish? I think it is all of the above. Yep.
After listening to the relentless cacophony of tracks like “Cowboy” and “Half Day Closing” the first few times, you may wonder why Portishead is so hell bent on tormenting you with their nails-across-the-chalkboard sonic textures. However, you eventually start to appreciate it for what it is and wonder why you ever thought the songs would have been better without it. Another track sure to make your hair stand on end is “Undenied,” which has quite possibly the creepiest beat ever composed. “Humming,” “Over,” and “Seven Months” are the most immediately accessible songs on Portishead but there’s nothing as radio friendly as the semi-hit, “Sour Times” from Dummy.
Portishead is a recording years ahead of its time and is sure to spawn an army of imitators. If you are looking for a modest collection of phat beats, go buy Massive Attack’s Blue Lines. If you are looking for reasons to cry, Portishead has plenty.
I have never known about the length of the dreams. Maybe one dream does not last more than few seconds while giving the feeling to last for hours when it is just in fact a frenetically quick kaleidoscope of images. Strange how while dreamed, a dream seems clear and real when it is in fact even less present than a breath. There is an other life underwater, an other world perception, an other reality inside our own chasms, a reality which access get denied as soon as we come back on the surface of the reality.
Tracks do not need a name at all. They just need to get chained one into the others like the incoherent thoughts of a dream. Chained with a logic that is proper to them and which remain definitely denied to conscious intelligence. If a music ever had to exist to illustrate the vaporous world of the dreams, then it would be Selected Ambient Works II. Maybe this music comes from the kingdom of dreams finally, fallen into reality by accident. Maybe. While you are into the album, nothing else does exist anymore. The dilution of the feelings is so intense and elongated that it goes up to the limits of stretching extension of time… But as soon as the album is over, there are few chances to remember the whole thing. Time suddenly find its normal size and only some short parts evoking the general ambiance hardly remain. This is mysteriously one of the only albums that have this effect on me. May I want to remember it completely, it does not want to enter into my memory and remain half hidden behind the door of my consciousness, on the side of the obscure part of my brain, this part I will never be allowed to access.
So there is very little to do beside closing my eyes, letting my heart beats decrease until I reach my minimum beats per minute and slowly sinking into my underwater, down to my deepest depths, far, far, far. Very far away from you.
With Inland Empire, David Lynch broke his longtime creative partnership with composer Angelo Badalamenti and scored the film himself. While accusations that Lynch desires an ever-increasing level of creative control over his work may be true, in this case that desire has yielded a profound benefit. Although Badalamenti’s absence is certainly notable, Inland Empire is a brilliant film soundtrack that, while different, surpasses all of the duo’s past collaborative efforts in successfully conveying the film’s sense of mood and emotional power.
Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of this score is the music performed and produced by the director himself. Lynch, a multifaceted creative surrealist juggernaut, has found a unique voice in every medium he has attempted. His work on Inland Empire is of two distinct styles. First, the dark ambient pieces (“Woods Variation,” “Call from the Past,” “Rabbits Theme,” etc.), which capture with insurmountable accuracy the mysterious and dreary atmosphere that haunts most of the film. Second, and no less noteworthy, are Lynch’s rock pieces (“Ghost of Love” and “Walkin’ on the Sky”), which can be heard as more conventional than the ambient works (in Lynch’s world, though, nothing is quite conventional). On these songs he makes his first ever singing appearance, making liberal use of the Auto-Tune effect, and evokes a mood reminiscent of the psychedelic episodes of Pulp Fiction. Neither the ambient nor the rock styles had been attempted in such a way in previous Lynch soundtracks, and it is only by the director’s supreme, uncompromised control that such a result was to be achieved.
Even though Lynch’s own compositions may be the most remarkable, it is the balance of his dark, psychedelic music on the one hand with the collection of other artists’ songs on the other that makes the soundtrack so effective. Atonal pieces such as Lutoslawski's “Novelette Conclusion” and Penderecki's “Als Jakob Erwachte” brush up - almost too close for comfort - against lighter, more uplifting ones like Joey Altruda's “Lisa,” Dave Brubeck's “Three to Get Ready,” and Beck's “Black Tambourine.” The latter is used to supreme cinematic effect - juxtaposed with high-pitched dissonant strings and Hollywood Boulevard street noise, the song, while disturbing, is the highlight of the entire album. The inclusion - and embellishment - of these songs demonstrate a more experimental leaning than any of Badalamenti's work ever exhibited.
David Lynch is a master of creating balance between disparate elements in his films and artistic endeavors, and Inland Empire is no different. The album flaunts a cohesion that the Badalamenti-helmed soundtracks lack. Rather than playing like the usual movie soundtrack, this one feels more like a proper David Lynch album. One of Badalamenti’s more common devices was to write light, swinging jazz pieces with an intimation of evil and darkness to create the uneasiness that is a staple of Lynch’s films. But Lynch himself, while taking a very different route, ends up at the same effect, and with a more profound sense of realization. Regardless who composed the music, this score has done exactly what an effective score is meant to do. It conveys the general sense of atmosphere that pervades the film, and as an additional benefit can stand on its own as an album, something that Badalamenti’s soundtracks have a much more difficult time doing.