Monday, March 31, 2008

Gnarls Barkley, The Raconteurs, and Counting Crows

Last Tuesday (March 25), three albums came out that I was pretty excited about. So, instead of stringing them out over the course of a month (and missing other albums well-deserving of some time), I’ll give them all some time here. So...here we go.

Gnarls BarkleyThe Odd Couple

It is no secret that I am a fan of Danger Mouse. It is also no secret that I loved the first Gnarls Barkley album (it was co-album of the year a couple of years ago). Suffice it to say, I was very excited about this, their new album.
The first track, “Charity Case” kicks off the album in grand fashion; a wicked bass line laced over a 60’s surfish-pop groove. When Cee-Lo starts singing, you’ve already forgotten what decade you’re currently living in. “Run (I’m a Natural Disaster)” also fits pretty nicely into this description; upbeat, complete with handclaps and a pretty cool organ hanging out in the back.
There are enough songs in this upbeat vein to make the soccer moms flock to buy this CD in the same way they bought St. Elsewhere in droves after hearing “Crazy” (“Run” is the first single), there are a number of songs that don’t fit that mold.
“Would Be Killer” sees Gnarls Barkley as dark as they have ever been (yes, even more so than on “Necrophilia”), both musically and lyrically. By the end of the song, I was looking over my shoulder, making sure this killer wasn’t lurking somewhere behind me (this could also be due to the large number of Dexter episodes I’ve watching lately).
Even with “Would Be Killer” on the album, “Open Book” is, far and away, the least accessible song on the album. It’s a song that, upon the first couple of listens, seems to have no formation whatsoever, save for a spot in the middle. It consists of a skittering beat, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Radiohead remix album.
“Whatever” is definitely the worst song on the album. It is sung from the perspective of a teenage outsider, whining about his life and yelling at his mom. It wouldn’t be so bad if Cee-Lo didn’t insist on singing in a whiny, teenage voice. It’s not terrible, just a little obnoxious.
The rest of the album stays pretty true to the soul singer singing 60’s pop side of things; some songs (“Surprise”, “No Time Soon”) stick to this a little closer than others (“Neighbors”, “A Little Better”).
While Cee-Lo has an amazing voice (he fits this style perfectly), this show belongs to the production talents of Danger Mouse. Without his creativeness, Gnarls Barkley wouldn’t be half the band that they are.

Rating: With more listens, this album could be better than the first one. A fantastic album if you’re looking for a creative, genre-bending album in the soul-pop vein.

Favorite Songs: “Charity Case”, “Going On”, “Surprise”, “Neighbors”

The RaconteursConsolers of the Lonely

I liked Broken Boy Soldiers (The Raconteur’s first album) at first. Even now, there are some songs I love on it. But, unfortunately, it didn’t really hold up all that well. I don’t know what it is, but I haven’t been able to listen to it straight through for a while now. So it was with excitement and trepidation that I listened to this, their new album (announced only a week before its release date).
And...I love it. Granted, it’s only been a little less than a week, but this album seems a lot more creative than the last album. On Broken Boy Soldiers, they were just putting feelers out there; seeing what they could do. On this album, they have really gone all out. They’re mixing Brendan Benson’s pop songwriting with the overall-creativeness of Jack White, and throwing in the blues of their Greenhorne rhythm section. I can hardly believe the massive strides they have made over the course of just one album.
The title track shows off Jack’s talent and influence, with the stop-and-start blues hitting overdrive rock for the verse, then kicking back into a blues breakdown for the chorus. “You Don’t Understand Me” and “Old Enough” show off the pop songwriting of Brendan Benson, who sounds a bit like McCartney at times.
Along with the obvious blues and pop influences, they also show off some bluegrass roots on “Top Yourself” and the beginning of “These Stones Will Shout”.
There are, of course, some pretty obvious Zepplin influences (“Rich Kid Blues”) to go along with some Stones (“Many Shades of Black”).
The stand-out track (to me, anyway) is the last track, “Carolina Drama”. It’s a story-song, which starts out sounding a bit like “Take Take Take”, but it eventually makes its way from a smoldering, slow-rock tale of a dysfunctional family to an explosive, violent climax. Words can’t explain how fantastic this song is; just listen to it a couple of times, and you’ll understand.
This album goes to show that rock music can still be creative and inventive; you just have to know what you’re doing.

Rating: Fantastic, creative, and epically relistenable. If you’re depressed about the state of rock music, this album is for you.

Favorite Songs: “Consolers of the Lonely”, “Salute Your Solution”, “Many Shades of Black”, “Carolina Drama”

Counting CrowsSaturday Nights & Sunday Mornings

I am a Counting Crow fan. I don’t apologize. There’s no need to. Over the years, they have made some great albums.
Counting Crows have been known for writing great pop-rock songs, as well as some gorgeous piano ballads. So what could be better than splitting an album down the middle? One half would consist of their upbeat side (Saturday Nights), while the other half would consist of their piano ballads (Sunday Mornings).
Well, as it turns out, a lot could be better than that.
It’s not that there aren’t good songs on here; there are. “Cowboys” is the best song on the album, and it brings to mind their rockers like “Angels of the Silences” (which is never a bad thing). “1492” also fits into this vein, as does “Insignificant”.
Then there’s the rest of the album. It’s not that the rest of the album is bad, there’s just nothing spectacular about any of the songs. “You Can’t Count on Me” is nice enough, but it’s just kind of there; nothing to love or hate about it.
Los Angeles” starts out almost exactly like Ryan Adams’ “Rescue Blues”...until Adam Duritz starts talking about streetwalking on Sunset Blvd. and saying how LA is a great place to find yourself a taco (I still have no idea why he says this). “Sundays” starts out suspiciously like a Sheryl Crow album.
I always enjoyed the slower songs and piano ballads on their previous albums, but none of these songs really stand out. Again, they’re nice enough, but none of them really stood out to me on this album.
And that’s the story of this album. It’s fine...but not there aren’t many songs that stand out and demand to be heard again.

Rating: It’s not a bad album. In fact, it may even be a good album. But, for now, it’s just a kind of blah album. There’s enough on here to warrant a purchase if you’re already a Counting Crows fan. But, if you’re not already a fan, I doubt this album will make you one.

Favorite Songs: “1492”, “Insignificant”, “Cowboys”

3 comments:

Fosterface said...

"Consolers of the Lonely" is the ass kicking for the ears that I thought I was talking about when I said "Hell Is For Wimps" was real rockandroll.

Dusty said...

"Hell is for Wimps" IS real rocknroll. What planet are you on?

Anonymous said...

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