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Last updated: January 4th, 2017

NOTE: This page is under construction, so some older reviews might appear different from the newest ones. Some changes may also affect the layout of artist pages, and some links may not work.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Beach Boys – Surfin' USA

Year: 1963
Record Rating = 6
Overall Rating = 10

Best Song: LONELY SEA

On the album art of the Beach Boys' second LP, it is clearly printed on the top left corner – next to the group's name – "The No. 1 Surfing Group in the Country". Somehow, I'm really bothered by that statement. For one thing, out of five (six if you count Al Jardine) members, only Dennis surfed. And another thing, the Beach Boys' main specialty lied in vocal music, and vocal harmonies, yet surf music was primarily still an instrumental genre. It seems the execs down at Capitol figured that one out on their own, which would explain why this album is chock-full of surf instrumentals, two of which were penned by the real king of surf music, Dick Dale. Anyways, if the epithet on the cover is based on these numbers, than this is some seriously overdone marketing (respectable in a commercial sense, but as a consumer, its either offensive or persuasive, depending on how stubborn you are, or aren't).

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Little Stevie Wonder – Tribute to Uncle Ray

Year: 1962
Record Rating = 4
Overall Rating = 8

Best Song: HALLELUJAH, I LOVE HER SO

Another day, another review of an average album by Little Stevie Wonder. Even before recording Little Stevie's debut, Cosby and Paul they decided to try Stevie as the next Ray Charles, a seemingly obvious choice, as the former went blind shortly after birth while the latter was a young child when he succumbed to glaucoma (though I don't know the reason for this LP's postponement). And as it would turn out, our child prodigy was not only a gifted musician, but also a good vocalist. Now, I must admit, I have never been a big fan of the "child star" concept. One of the bigger problems is the material they are saddled with; more often than not, it's material not suited until you've actually dealt with a few heartbreaks. I highly doubt a 12-year old would have had too many of these, so all this considering, a tribute album to "Uncle Ray" might even be a worse idea than an instrumental album with a minimal amount of melodies.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bob Dylan – Bob Dylan

Year: 1962
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: FREIGHT TRAIN BLUES or THE HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN

While Bob Dylan is best remembered for his abilities as a lyricist, dismissing any of his work where the emphasis lies elsewhere only fuels the myth that Bob Dylan songs are only as good as the artists who cover them. I'm certainly not saying that all these acclaimed covers of Dylan's material are worthless (in fact, I can only name a few that are really overrated – such as Guns 'n' Roses' cover of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"), but I digress. The most accurate way of proving Dylan's worth as an artist rather than as a songwriter is to listen to what he can do when the words are not entirely his; of all albums who have this purpose (often, but not always, these are released during transitional periods; since there are so many different periods of his career, it's understandable that some transitional albums won't rely on this too much, yet even some main albums will have unlikely contributions, like on Desire), one of the best of these is before the lion's share of what Dylan recorded was of his own writings, his humble debut, released in good ol' 1962.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Little Stevie Wonder – The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie

Year: 1962
Record Rating = 5
Overall Rating = 9

Best Song: WONDERING

Before the series of artistically triumphant albums of near-conceptual grandeur, the chart-topping hits and the successful collaborations, Stevie Wonder, then known as Little Stevie Wonder, was a child prodigy picked up by Motown, to be guided and molded. By early 1962, the biggest successes for Motown were Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)", the Miracles' "Shop Around" and the Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman"; even if the label had yet to establish itself as the soul/pop factory, this stylistic front was quite evident, at least from those singles. With Stevie, they decided for a different route – an instrumental one. Considering that they had a multi-instrumentalist in their hands, the record execs (in this case, Berry Gordy and Stevie's "mentors", Clarence Paul and Henry Cosby) felt they needed to showcase this.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Beach Boys – Surfin' Safari

Year: 1962
Record Rating = 6
Overall Rating = 10

Best Song: SURFIN' SAFARI

The one thing I enjoy the most about early '60s pop music is how innocent it sounds. Everything is all cheery and sunny, and it makes you feel all warm inside. Modern pop music doesn't even have half the impact. Granted, I dislike most modern music with a passion (although I've gradually become more tolerant to it, at least), but admittedly, even if it has an impact on you, it's not the same one. The word "innocent" doesn't exactly come to mind when I think of kids/teens of the XXIst century; I think of debauchery, which I liked better as a word for successful rock stars who liked throwing their life away, but that's just me. So whenever a modern pop song tries to be cute and "lovey-dovey", rather than the fuzzy warmth I get from similar sentiment in older pop music, I get nauseous.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Odds & Sods #25

Breaker (1981)
****

Now, normally I'm not the type to make grand, end-all statements about albums being, say, "one of the greatest heavy metal albums I've ever heard in my life", but Accept's third album is one of the greatest pure heavy metal albums I've ever heard in my life. Gone are the disco experiments, and while there are two ballads still present, the remaining 8 songs are ass-kicking rockers with the majority rendering nearly everything from their first two albums inessential (and I was quite fond of a good number of tunes from them, mind you). Not only that, Accept's classic style, proto-thrash metal with pop-metal choruses is in full flight, when it was only hinted at before.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Odds & Sods #24

The Album (1977)
****

This album, whose official title is ABBA: The Album, was to be released in conjunction with the concert film ABBA: The Movie, centered on their 1977 tour, whose own centerpiece was a four-song mini-musical called "The Girl with the Golden Hair". With that in mind, it shouldn't be too hard to understand why The Album ended up being their most artistic offering. Björn and Benny's compositional and arrangement skills continued to improve, and while this album is harder to get into than the previous two – due to the lack of major pop hits and stronger presence of slower tempos – it's ultimately an effort that should be made to truly see what ABBA were capable of doing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Odds & Sods #23

Concrete (1981)
**1/2

With a name like Concrete, you would think that 999's fourth studio offering would really be heavy and leaden, but, aside from the band's punk vocals and guitar tones, the only "heavy" thing about it is Pablo Labritain; the drummer is back from an injury that prevented him from playing on Prize, but here, he plays like his life depends on it, so on most of the tracks, each hit on the drums sounds like a slab of concrete is falling on your head. I don't know if "the John Bonham of punk" is a possible title, but if it were, give it to ol' Pablo, then!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Odds & Sods #22

Levitation (1994)
***

With a band whose live reputation is fairly abundant, it's a wonder an official live recording from the 13th Floor Elevators has never surfaced. The only case I can think of where a band with such a reputation was ignored was with Sly and the Family Stone, but even their iconic Woodstock performance saw release (even if it took 40 years after the event in question). On the bright side, quite a few semi-legal Elevators releases have seen the light of day since the late-'80s. This one here named after one of their most enduring cult classics is not only one of the easiest found of the bunch, but is also said to be one of the earliest, some stating that the recordings may be from late '65, which may seem odd considering some of the Easter Everywhere tracks that are performed, but it also explains why their best songwriting ideas were almost completely exhausted by the end of 1967.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Odds & Sods #21

You Didn't Like It Because You Didn't Think of It (1976)
***1/2

10cc have a fairly interesting pre-history, stemming all the way to the mid-'60s, though the first recordings by the fearful foursome were only made in 1969. Most of the recordings from that period, the 1969-1972 recordings as in-house session band for Strawberry Studios, have been made available on the Strawberry Bubblegum collection, which I unfortunately have not been able to locate. However, with Graham Gouldman's brief departure from the studio to work in New York for bubblegum conglomerates Kasenetz and Katz in 1970, Godley, Creme and Stewart continued to record, even making an album called Thinks: School Thinks (with a cover that looks amazingly similar to Alice Cooper's School's Out, although I highly doubt the former could have influenced the latter, as big a coincidence as it may seem) in an attempt to capitalize on the success of a surprise hit single made during Gouldman's absence.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Odds & Sods #20

Arrival (1976)
***1/2

I think I figured out why this album is called Arrival, and not the one that precedes it. See, ABBA (the album) is self-titled because it sort of says, "this is ABBA", in a very introductory sort of way. By calling it so, it reminds you that some hints of their past flaws are still noticeable, even if it's in the form of decidedly superior filler to that of their first two albums. With Arrival, not only do they really arrive, but it's also when a style of their own invention – okay, so that's a bit of an exaggeration… let's say that they helped create – makes its first appearance. The style in question, for those of you that don't know, is that of Europop.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Odds & Sods #19

The Biggest Tour in Sport (1980)
***1/2

First off, I should mention that this live record was originally a 19-minute long EP, but the version I have here is expanded by another 15 minutes worth of music, in the form of three studio single sides. Of course, the 6 live tracks and these singles are available as bonus tracks on certain CD issues of Prize. Speaking of which, am I the only one that's certain the similarity of name must have caused some confusion, what with the minimal time gap between the two original releases? Or maybe that's why their first live release was an EP rather than a full LP, so as to avoid this problem… of course, they could have given this one a different name, but I digress.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Odds & Sods #18

I'm a Rebel (1980)
**1/2

Accept's second album is significantly shorter, in the number of tracks at least (down by two). This wouldn't necessarily have been a bad thing, if not for the fact that with 8 tracks, there are more chances of filler spoiling the picture, and the filler might be lengthier since the album is only 3 minutes shorter than their debut. Not that their debut gave us any real reasons to worry. They were all catchy rockers, maybe not as good as their classic period, but nowhere near the 1-star album the AllMusic Guide proclaimed it to be.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Odds & Sods #17

Bull of the Woods (1969)
***

Well, it had to happen sooner or later. You can't be the leading psychedelic band and hail from Texas without someone trying to bust your lead vocalist for some kind of drug possession. As fate would have it, Roky would be arrested for possession (for a single joint, apparently; even if the group's drug use went far beyond that), but would escape from imprisonment by pleading insanity – which had some factual basis, showing signs of having developed schizophrenia in 1968 – but was institutionalized, preventing the band from continuing with their frontman.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Odds & Sods #16

How Dare You! (1976)
****1/2

As their albums became gradually cinematic (on this, their fourth LP, the references to film go from the screenshot-esque album art, the closing number that fits said album art and the opening title track that sounds like it could be a song in an intro to any moving picture of the epoch), their musical approach became more progressive. If you've ever wanted to hear 10cc as a prog band, this is the record for you. Of course, there is one danger with going "progressive", and that's taking oneself too seriously. Fortunately, with G&C still sharing the helm with the Gouldman and Stewart team, there's nothing to make their most mature album particularly pompous and self-elevating.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Odds & Sods #15

ABBA (1975)
***1/2

While they wouldn't refer to an album of theirs as an "arrival" until the next year, it's with their third LP that we hear the ABBA we know and love (or love to hate). The titles of their first two LPs are quite telling in retrospect, their sole purpose being the title tracks, the rest being a sea of filler with which to surround the hit single. They had the occasional moment of interest, for sure, but more often than not, they were repetitive, derivative, naïve and annoying. Here, though, even what should be considered filler is quite pleasant.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Odds & Sods #14

The Biggest Prize in Sport (1980)
****

A new year, a new producer, and a new album; wait a minute, it's actually been two years since the last 999 album. If you're a punk band, that's particularly risky. New Wave and post-punk were born and the Sex Pistols were no more, after all. As for what your options were as a group, you could either go to something musically different but spiritually in tune with your past, like the Clash, except 999 were never about the politics. You could continue doing the same thing until the formula runs out, like the Ramones. 999's solution was to look at everything around them – not just at their contemporaries, but at their ancestors as well – and come up with their best album.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Odds & Sods #13

Accept (1979)
***

Before becoming an ass-kicking proto-thrash band, Accept started out as a not-so-ass-kicking proto-hair band, and not in a hip and ironic way like Van Halen, but more like the Scorpions, who took their cue from the more cock rock-like tunes of the otherwise artsier metal bands (Uriah Heep and their main disciple, early Judas Priest). We could have been compensated with some rougher hewn guitar tones, and the guitars are rather heavy, but on some songs are a bit too glossy; not glossy enough to be as accessible as hair metal bands, but that might actually be an advantage.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Odds & Sods #12

Live (1968)
**1/2

These sneaky record exec types are always trying to pull a fast one on their customers. Since the 13th Floor Elevators are one of the original psychedelic bands (as the announcer boasts at the start of this record) with a sizeable live reputation, it was obvious to these cigar-smoking, money-hungry businessmen (okay, so maybe they weren't all like that; but who's the critic here?) that a live album by these spirited Texans would be the next best investment. The problem was getting a decent live recording of these guys; live albums weren't quite what they would be in the '70s. The best examples at the end of 1967 were probably the Yardbirds' Five Live Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones' Got Live If You Want It! (in rock, at least; but it doesn't mean the sound quality of Benny Goodman's shows in the '30s were necessarily hi-fi). The solution: take studio outtakes and add audience sounds for a "thrilling" simulated live appeal.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Odds & Sods #11

The Original Soundtrack (1975)
****1/2

I don't think there's another album that uses the word "soundtrack" in its title without being an actual soundtrack to a film, and yet the title fits so perfectly. It's nothing like real soundtrack albums, usually consisting of filler-ish instrumental re-recordings of a band's hits with an occasional highlight thrown in. First of all, there's no film to associate this album with (unless someone's tried the Dark Side of the Rainbow trick with this one, which I highly doubt). The whole LP itself feels like a movie without the images, with nods to cinematic or theatrical music throughout (operetta for musicals, Hollywood ballads, etc.). If that limits them in anyway, it's that they try to stick to the same sound for the duration of a whole song rather than jumping all over the place like on Sheet Music; but who said maturity is bad, as long as the band's (un)usual sense of humor is still intact?