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Home > Reviews > What We're Watching and Listening To > April 2009

 
             
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U2 —No Line on the Horizon
Artist:
U2
Album:
No Line on the Horizon
Genre:
Alternative Rock
Rating:
3 Stars
Bottom
Line:

U2 is finally making real music again, but don't expect to hear much of it on the radio.

If you’re like us, you will probably agree the past few U2 albums mark the bleakest period in U2’s writing career, releasing albums filled with lots of pop fluff for the masses surrounded by only a handful of truly memorable U2 songs. So it was with extreme skepticism that we plunked down our money at retail to buy the new album, thinking that perhaps another RED shirt at The Gap may have been a better way to support Bono’s life mission to save the world from suffering.

While fans of those other recent U2 albums may be greatly disappointed by No Line on the Horizon — it’s not a particularly catchy album (though it does have some great hooks), the new album will be a great breath of fresh air for those of us who almost gave up completely on this band that we loved dearly over the years.

No Line is a real listening album for fans of the sonic tapestry of U2 music, not encumbered by the boundaries of commercial song formats. The average song clocks in between five and six minutes in length, and the album seems at times to be more about grooves, guitar rhythms, and hooks than tightly constructed songs.

The first thing you have to do when you get the CD is to skip the first track. The title track is a disappointment — probably the worst song on the album, and should have been left off entirely. It’s followed up by a cool track, though — “Magnificent,” which opens sounding like it’s going to be something you’d despise from the White Stripes, but it morphs majestically into some William Orbit-like trance music that morphs yet again into classic Edge delay guitar work.

From there, the album goes into our next least-favorite track, “Moment of Surrender,” which has music pads that seem lifted from the Passengers soundtrack album (you have to be a diehard U2 fan to know the album I’m referencing, and this is good), but once the vocals kick in, the song hits you as something that belongs on a Bruce Springsteen album. Stick with the album, though, because from here on, it’s chock full of good stuff.

“Unknown Caller” takes you back to the Joshua Tree period — you can’t help but hear “Red Hill Mining Town” in the back of your head, but then the song has some big vocal hooks that are decidedly alternative!

“Get On Your Boots” features the Edge playing wicked cool vintage guitar riffs balanced against his signature delay tones, while another standout, “Stand Up Comedy” has more classic ‘70s riffing juxtaposed against a modern funk groove. Lyrics like “Stop helping god across the road like a little old lady” show Bono back in expert form, and it makes up for the lyrics that sing “I’ll go crazy if I don’t go crazy tonight” (though the song itself is a great one).

Adam Clayton — hello! He delivers some of the most noticeable bass grooves of his career on this album, even funking things up and playing notes after the beat (instead of those constant eighth-note runs) for variety!

Brian Eno makes a huge contribution to No Lines. He is more active as the keyboard player on this album than ever before. In fact, there is more deliberate keyboard playing on this album than on any previous U2 release! In the past, where the Edge may have had layers of guitars, No Lines features keyboard pads and melodies on top of which Edge just plays a handful of guitar lines and delayed rhythms, which gives the album a more “live” feel to it at times. We do have one exception that disturbed us greatly… on the track “Fez – Being Born,” Eno blatantly rips off a classic Telekon-era Gary Numan melody line that fans of Numan will be shaking their heads at.

While certainly not an album full of classic material, and front-loaded with a couple of carefully executed duds, fans of U2, and especially of The Edge, will definitely enjoy this generally refreshing return to form. Welcome back, boys!

— SK

 
Jimi Jamison — Crossroads Moment
Artist:
Jimi Jamison
Album:
Crossroads Moment
Genre:
AOR/Melodic Rock
Rating:
4 Stars
Bottom
Line:

One of rock’s most gifted vocalists returns to form.

When Survivor regrouped in 2006 for what would become Reach, the long awaited and highly anticipated follow up to 1988’s Too Hot To Sleep, reaction was decidedly split amongst fans. Jimi Jamison’s oftentimes raspy vocal delivery raised more than a few eyebrows, and the absence of chief songwriter and original member Jim Peterik was more than noticeable at the song level. Add to that guitarist Frankie Sullivan’s decision to handle some lead vocals himself, and it’s easy to see why that release did little to satiate fans awaiting a return to form. Perhaps it was time for a “Crossroad Moment?”

Released in late 2008, Crossroads Moment represents Jamison’s first release since the ill fated Reach, but this time Jim Peterik is back on board as co-producer and songwriter, giving us once again the magical pairing that contributed immensely to Survivor’s best recorded output. I will stop short at calling this a Survivor reunion in “everything but name,” but I will say this collaboration has as much, if not more, right to be called Survivor than the band currently bearing the name.

All of this doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if the music isn’t good, and it better be, because there is over seventy minutes of it to digest! Luckily, quantity and quality go hand in hand, and its apparent from the disc’s killer opening track “Battersea” that something special is going on here. Jamison is singing better than any 57 year old man has a right to, and the overall production is crisp and modern sounding, with loads of layered textures and harmonies. The band (which mainly consists of Peterik alumni) plays stunningly, and the arrangements have a sort of understated complexity that assures listeners will find something new with each play.

It’s hard to pick the CD’s best songs because, quite frankly, there are no weak tracks at all. However, “Crossroads Moment,” “Bittersweet,” and “Behind the Music” deserve special mention. All three songs (which run consecutively) are of such high quality, I would put them up against anything these two men have been a part of, including all those Survivor classics. “Love the world Away” is a rocking anthem, which stylistically gives a nod to the past, while its feet are firmly planted in the present. “As is” is a strong ballad sung with loads of emotion, and “Till the Morning Comes” is a mid-tempo tune with a great chorus guaranteed to stick in your head. “That’s Why I Sing” is another standout track, but the albums penultimate track “Friends We Never Met” is pure brilliance! The discs closing track, “When Rock was King,” is a lighthearted tribute to the 1980’s. Joining Jimi on this track are guest vocalists: Don Barnes of .38 Special, Dave Bickler (Survivor's original lead singer), Joe Lynn Turner of Rainbow, Mickey Thomas of Starship, Mike Reno of Loverboy, and Jim Peterik himself. The track, which contains cringe-worthy lyrics like “Motley Crue and Toto Too,” should be approached as a novel, less serious song than the album’s primary material.

You don’t have to be a Survivor fan to enjoy Crossroads Moment; in fact any fan of the AOR/Melodic Rock genre will appreciate this world class effort. Hopefully this is just the start of what will be a long, fruitful collaboration between the two Jims.

Jimi Jamison… welcome home.

— JQ

 
 
Steven Wilson — Insurgentes
Artist:
Steven Wilson
Album:
Insurgentes
Genre:
Progressive Rock
Rating:
3 Stars
Bottom
Line:

Like an old-school Porcupine Tree album, if there were such a thing.

We were impressed that a mainstream publication like Rolling Stone had the courage to devote page space to, and speak highly of, the new solo record from Porcupine Tree progenitor Steven Wilson. But what does the record have in store for the discerning MusicPlayers.com reader?

On Insurgentes, Wilson delivers something more akin to an early Porcupine Tree release than any of the recent band efforts that have made him a household name among serious musicians and critical music fans. In the beginning, Porcupine Tree was really a solo bedroom studio effort that eventually morphed into a collaborative band effort. On Insurgentes, Wilson goes back to his musical man cave to create music without the diplomacy that a band effort requires, and without the limitations imposed by trying to keep an album focused on one specific genre.

Insurgentes is heady progressive music — a listening experience for the devout as well as the clinically depressed. The album is dark, moody, and brooding. Forget Wilson’s pop effort Blackfield — even Porcupine Tree tends to sound uplifting by comparison to this album!

If Robert Smith from the Cure were getting ready to off himself, this music would paint a fitting soundtrack. The title track, “Insurgentes,” is worth the price of admission by itself. It is one of the most emotional and depressing ballads we can recall hearing in years — a moving piano piece of a timeless quality that will be remembered as one of the great songs of our time. From Wilson’s acoustic piano to the 17-string bass koto (played by Michiyo Yagi) and ambient pad layers, to the subtle vocal harmonies, it’s a song that you could just leave on infinite repeat on the CD player while your blood drains into the bathtub. Not that we suggest taking this course of action, however. You’d miss out on the rest of this great album (which features a second alternate recording of this song that is equally moving), and future CD reviews in which we dispense more horrible personal advice!

The future sounds brighter on “Veneno Para Las Hadas,” which sounds vaguely reminiscent of Coldplay until Wilson’s distinct vocal style kicks in and takes the music in a different direction, while “Significant Other” delivers more typical Porcupine Tree fare in the guise of a mid-tempo melodic journey. But overall, the CD delivers a mellow listening experience more than a rockin’ one, though it is certainly not without Wilson’s familiar distorted guitar tones.

There are a number of great guest musicians on the album, the most obvious style-wise throughout being Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison. Other exceptional players include keyboardists Jordan Rudess (piano on just a few tracks) and bassist Tony Levin (on most of the CD).

Wilson recognizes the beauty of sound and music as an art form. To that end, Insurgentes is recorded and mixed beautifully by Steven, and if you’ve got some extra money to spend, you can obtain a deluxe limited edition version of the album that includes a 100-page hardcover photographic expose by familiar Porcupine Tree documentarian Lasse Hoile, along with additional photographer Susana Moyaho. This beautiful coffee-table photography book captures the mood and feelings of Insurgentes, shot in Hoile’s recognizable style, and this special edition also includes a third disc, a DVD-A mixed in 5.1 surround sound that provides one more justification for purchasing a luxury automobile with a premium sound system. Or, you can even opt for the more-exclusive pressing of the album on vinyl! And fear not, Porcupine Tree fans. The band is already at work on their next album.

— SK

 
Days Before Tomorrow — The Sky Is Falling
Artist:
Days Before Tomorrow
Album:
The Sky Is Falling
Genre:
Melodic Progressive Rock
Rating:
4 Stars
Bottom
Line:

Something original sounding, great musicianship, and infectiously catchy!

The members of Days before Tomorrow almost read like a roll-call of the staff here at MusicPlayers.com — the two guitarists are editors, but lest anyone think this reviewer is biased, allow me to speak candidly of my initial thoughts when tasked with writing a review of their first full length CD, The Sky is Falling. Having been made aware of the band’s major influences, I painted a mental soundscape of what this was going to sound like. I envisioned long songs with jarring tempo changes, bizarre time signatures, the best Rush and Dream Theater songs never recorded; shred solos that sound like a Mel Bay exercise and, well, you get the picture.

Now, Mama always told me not to assume, and that’s advice well taken when it comes to DBT because I could not be farther from the truth! What I found instead was an extremely well crafted musical statement that defies any attempt to apply a genre-specific label, and this is the best compliment that can be given – they don’t sound like anybody else.

The first thing that impresses is the stunning sound quality, and there is good reason, as it was produced by industry legend Ron Nevison and mixed by Grammy award-winning Earl Cohen (if you don’t know who they are, Google is your friend!). Every instrument is discernable, and the stereo image really allows you to hear the interplay between the instruments, creating a brilliant “weave” of sound to immerse yourself in.

Guitars (Courtesy of Derek Davodowich and Scott Kahn) play off of each other, play in unison, or play completely independent parts, but never once overplay. And few rhythm sections “lock” like the backbone of bass player Rob Maziekien and drummer Jason Gianni. With these two, you can especially feel the Dream Theater/Porcupine Tree/Rush influence. On top of it all, soaring effortlessly through the octaves is singer Eric Klein and, like DBT themselves, Eric’s pipes defy any attempt to compare him to other singers stylistically (though if I had to compare I might suggest a mash-up of Mickey Thomas, Steve Perry, and Dennis DeYoung). Rounding out the aural experience are guest performances by former band member Jason Buchwald (keyboards, and also a MusicPlayers.com editor) as well as classical pianist Huub Douma, whose Keith Emerson-like piano performance on “Confrontation” is sure to make you wish you had practiced more as a kid.

One thing that really separates these guys from other prog bands are the big hooks and choruses, guaranteed to stick in your head. Case in point: the opening track “Lighters” has one of the most addicting choruses I have ever heard! And in case anyone thinks my earlier references to the lack of overplaying implies Days Before Tomorrow is devoid of technical chops, listen to Davodowich’s wonderful “out of the box” guitar solo in “Lighters” or the multiple time signatures playing against each other in the instrumental section of “Can’t Do Anything.”

Throughout the album a layered, almost orchestral vocal sound is employed on the choruses, reminding me at times of Rabin-era Yes or classic Survivor (the latter also produced by Nevison) — “Can’t Go Back” is one fine example. Other highlights include the driving and punchy “Survival,” “Your Kate,” and the epic three part “Wasted Years.”

Days Before Tomorrow are not yet signed to a label (though I hear talks are underway), making this release quite the masterwork for an “Indie” band. The initial pressing of 1,000 copies is available worldwide from CDbaby.com (and has some fantastic artwork and a whole concept story in its 24-page booklet), so get them while you can!

— JQ
 
   
             
             
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