It’s week 25 of ’19 and as we hit the summer months, we’re hitting prime time for new releases. I’m downloading records on Tidal based on name recognition or album covers that intrigue me, only. Some artists I have a history with and some I’ve never heard of. This is how I discover as I trek through the new music landscape.
- Album: Hollywood Vampires – Rise
- Previous knowledge: Joe Perry’s in this band, so they were part of Tidal catalog #242
- Review: Hollywood Vampires is a supergroup consisting of Joe Perry, Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp. They formed years ago as a cover band performing songs from people that had died too early, as a tribute to them. That record was way better than really anyone could have expected, so the group decided that they would take the group beyond the one-off cover record. Rise, is mostly comprised of original material written the band with only a handful of covers, like David Bowie’s “Heroes” and the appropriate Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died.” I was a little suspect of original material from these guys but this works, very well. Apart of the twangy blues ditty “Welcome to Bushwackers,” and the occasional ballad, this is a rockin’ record that shows both Perry’s and Cooper’s influences (I can’t say Depp’s influences because there’s no real history there). On the previous record, Alice kind of reworked the songs to be more his style and that was fine but on this record, he really changes it up on the songs that Perry and Depp wrote, to keep it more in their style of music. This is the best project Joe Perry and Alice Cooper have worked on in ages. They really should think about making this their full time gig (when Johnny isn’t filming of course).
- Rating: 9/10
- Album: The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger
- Previous knowledge: “Steady As She Goes”
- Review: This is the first album this supergroup featuring Jack White and Brendan Benson has released in 11 years. I suppose even listening to this record depends if you can stomach Jack White or not. I know he elicits some extreme reactions of both love and hate from people. Personally, I love the concept of him. I thought the majority of the White Stripes records were pretty great and his solo records have been decent. What he always has though are some really unique rock guitar licks in his head and while his experiments are often pretty wild, when he creates a tight rock record, those interest me the most. What’s nice about the Raconteurs is that White’s licks are backed by Benson’s power pop sensibilities – so while on a Jack White solo album, you may get a lick that’s irresistible but that flies off the rails into a very different direction too quickly, with this Benson reels him back into more of a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure that allows that groove to really be captured well in a 3-4 minute burst of energy. I simply love how adventurous and yet refined this is, in one package. That’s not that easy to do and Help Us Stranger achieves both to perfection.
- Rating: 10/10
- Album: Mark Ronson – Late Night Feelings
- Previous knowledge: The Uptown Special album and most of the singles. Who could really get away from “Uptown Funk” after all.
- Review: For me, of all the faceless DJs/Producers that are creating albums under their own moniker, I think Mark Ronson is most my style. While I could likely tell you a Marshmellow or a Skrillex tune by sound and DJ Khalid clearly lets you know who made it in every track, I’m not sure I could identify a Mark Ronson tune just by the music. And that’s okay as it means he’s versatile. And his styles of have changed over time. His first few albums could be considered alternative hip-hop with some funk but he got his one actual hit in the US of course, with “Uptown Funk” off his previous record. And as great as that tune was, I liked “Feel Right” with Mystikal even better. If you look at the path he’s taken, he’s moved from mostly hip-hop guests, to funk and R&B singers on Uptown Special, to mostly female pop artists on this new album. Late Night Feelings is a smoothed out pop record at the core, with R&B influences, not devoid of funk or hip-hop at all but not the focal point either. Lykke Li, Camila Cabello and Miley Cyrus lead the way here for what Ronson has labeled as “sad bangers.” Five singles have been released from the record already and in the US, only “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” charted as a minor hit, which is weird. The US market doesn’t seem to be picking up on his singles but after you release a song that spent 14-weeks at #1 and was purchased/downloaded over 11 million times, I guess everything is downhill from there.
- Rating: 8.5/10
- Album: Collective Soul – Blood
- Previous knowledge: Their first four records.
- Review: Well, Collective Soul came out during my first year of college when “Shine” was played all over both college and commercial radio stations. I listened to Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid quite a bit that year and then their second album (Collective Soul) just a year later, contained some more pretty solid hits. While I realize the first record was basically just a demo, both of those records are unmistakably 90s. There’s not a whole lot of records from that post-grunge era that have aged really well over time and I’ve often used these guys as a prime example of that. Go back and listen to either of those two records and tell me they don’t sound as dated as any album you’ve heard in a while. Still though, a new Collective Soul record was intriguing to me as I figured this was a comeback record, but it’s not. I’m honestly shocked these guys have never stopped making music as Blood is their 10th studio record. And guess what? They still make the same post-grunge rock they were known for. You could have blindly passed me this record and while I don’t know that I would have picked it up immediately as a Collective Soul creation, I would have told you it came out in 1996 for sure. Although the tracks are solid enough that it’s worth one listen, you’ve heard it before. Maybe a few decades ago, but still. I can’t imagine anyone other than die-hards and people looking for a bit of nostalgia would even bother.
- Rating: 6/10
- Album: Lil Nas X – 7 EP
- Previous knowledge: “Old Town Road”
- Review: Well, this is really interesting if nothing else. “Old Town Road” is now one of the most downloaded songs of all time and honestly, it’s one of those tunes that’s so bad, it’s actually good. I sing it all the fucking time even though I claim to hate it. Maybe it’s the common bond with steeds and all? In all seriousness, Lil Nas X desperately needed to follow up his lone single with something to keep momentum going (since “Old Town Road” kind of sounds like in 20 years we’ll look back at it as a novelty song) so we get this 19 minute EP. I’m torn what to think about this. It’s not a standard trap record, like I would have expected and some of it isn’t even hip-hop at all. I understand why he has to go around wearing the cowboy hat and boots now and I didn’t grow up with the dude to know but my guess is that he wouldn’t know a trusty steed if it repeatedly kicked him in the dick.
The second single is “Panini” which is a way stupider song than “Old Town Road” was and features a chorus that uses the same cadence as “In Bloom” by Nirvana. Right after that is “F9mily (You & Me)” which is a track written and performed on by Travis Barker. While I know Barker often collaborates with hip-hop artists, this is a pop-punk tune with no rap elements at all. Then comes “Kick It,” a trap song with prominent saxophone in the mix. Then “Rodeo,” with Cardi B – another try at a country themed tune. That’s followed by the Ryan Tedder written “Bring U Down” which is yet another rock song.
So, what I can make of this EP is that it seems that it’s pretty different from anything else that has a vaguely trap vibe these days. But it doesn’t give me any clue as to who Lil Nas X really is. He’s certainly not a country star. He’s probably not a rap star. He’s just won’t be a rock star. So the only conclusion I can come to is that he’s a fucking novelty of Right Said Fred proportions.
BTW: Watch the lyric video below and laugh at the dumb ass verses.
- Rating: No clue
- Album: Craig Xen – Broken Kids Club
- Previous knowledge: None
- Review: Craig Xen is part of the Members Only collective with includes a bunch of dudes that you’ve likely never heard of before but two you might have, as it was really started by XXXtentacion and Ski Mask the Slump God back in 2014. This is a seven-track EP that picks up where XXX left off. I don’t know if all of the Members Only collective make the same type of music but everything I’ve heard so far has been part of the niche subgenre of “Soundcloud rap” (which BTW, needs to go away as that means nothing) or at least the somewhat meaningful “Emo rap.” I wasn’t a fan of XXX at all – just didn’t think he could carry much of a tune but Craig Xen seems to have some real talent. Whether he’s rapping or singing, he’s making music that fits the genre, running through a lot of emotional baggage in vaguely shoegazey songs with urban undertones. Broken Kids Club is very different than anything else I’ve heard and Craig Xen just might be the artist to take this odd new genre of music to the next level.
- Rating: 9/10
Albums ranked 10/10 so far in 2019 (ordered only by release date)
- Terror Jr. – Unfortunately, Terror Jr
- Emily King – Scenery
- Good Fuck – Good Fuck
- The Claypool Lennon Delirium – South of Reality
- UB40 – For the Many
- Griz – Ride Waves
- Pup – Morbid Stuff
- Lizzo – Cuz I Love You
- Howard Jones – Transform
- Mavis Staples – We Get By
- Prince – Originals
- Yeasayer – Erotic Returns
- Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real – Turn off the News (Build a Garden)
- Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Servants of the Sun
- The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger