Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Sounds of Summer (Were So Fine)

Having spent much of the year searching for, thinking about, and listening to older music, I spent the closing weeks of summer trying to catch up on stuff that I’d missed while I was out buying things like “Billboard Top 10 Hits: 1972” and “Ultimate Disco: The Collection.” Beginning today, an overview of my initial thoughts on some of the booty:

Dylanesque, Bryan Ferry. Roxy Music holds a proud spot in my personal pantheon; Siren and Avalon are two of my all-time favorite albums. But it had been years since I’d bought a Bryan Ferry album, and I was surprised (if not stunned) to hear how his voice has changed in the last decade. If he’s not a smoker or a drinker or some combination of the two, I’ll eat my hat. He’s always had an affinity for Dylan songs, and his new voice matches up with them perfectly. Ferry doesn’t bat .1000 on Dylanesque, but I much prefer it to Patti Smith’s covers album from earlier in the year. With a couple of notable exceptions, he does better on the “lesser known” songs, with the following as highlights: “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” “Positively 4th Street,” “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down,” “Gates of Eden,” and “All Along the Watchtower.” And special kudos are deserved for his harmonica playing, which for me has always been a glaring weakness of Bob's. I’ve never been able to figure out how Dylan came to be known as a great harmonica player – for me, his playing almost ruins several of his greatest songs.

Kala, M.I.A. I bought this album strictly on the strength of Robert Christgau’s rave review in Rolling Stone. Probably to my own discredit, I wasn’t familiar with her earlier work, or with her backstory, which is interesting in and of itself. Doing this sort of thing has gotten me in trouble in the past, leading me to run out and buy stuff like My Chemical Romance, which just didn’t do anything for me, and The Flaming Lips, one of the few bands in existence that I actively dislike (my failing, perhaps, but there you have it). But what the heck, let’s try again…which led to a funny moment as I was making the purchase, one of 5 CDs I was buying that day. The cashier, a young woman who couldn’t have been nicer, was ringing up the purchase, looked at me with a quizzical look on her face, and asked in all innocence, “are these all for you?” Yep, I chuckled, thinking to myself, “boy, I really am an old guy.”

This one takes a while to sink in, and is still sinking in with me, but the best parts of it are absolutely hypnotic. I won’t even pretend to be an expert in the various genres that make up the eclectic mix here, but I hear African rhythms, I hear reggae, I hear rap/hip-hop, I hear what I swear sounds like a bunch of kids just standing around and chanting, and I hear pop – and sometimes all in the course of a single song. The best part of it is that it just sounds exciting – music that you want to tell someone about, in the hope that they’ll give it a listen, and find something that speaks to them. Highlights: “Bamboo Banga,” “Boyz,” “Hussel,” “Paper Planes,” and “Come Around.”

Under the Blacklight, Rilo Kiley. This album is also my introduction to this band; bought on the strength of last year’s Rabbit Fur Coat by lead singer Jenny Lewis, who was joined on that record by the Watson Twins. Perverse soul that I am, I have to admit that I’m enjoying the fact that so many long-time fans seem to be turned off by the new one, just because (based on the comments I've read on the band’s gone in a different direction. I look forward to exploring their older work, because this one is great - easily one of the best of the year. For the last couple of weeks, even the weakest of the songs have been working their way into my mind, distracting me at very inopportune times – for instance, when key work needs to be done, with key deadlines looming.

Sure, it’s a pop album, but a very hard-edged one, at least to these ears. It’s got its Fleetwood Mac homage (which is not a problem for me), and it's got some stuff that sounds like it came straight out of the mid-80’s pop boom. But there’s also some nice, tough, obsessive little songs like “The Moneymaker” (and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how the protagonist is making the money), “Close Call,” and “15.” I haven’t had this much fun enjoying an album that folks accused of being a “sell-out” since Liz Phair a few years ago.

1 comment:

Bradley Sroka said...

I love your comment about M.I.A.'s Kala: "The best part of it is that it just sounds exciting – music that you want to tell someone about." I love some art because it speaks to me emotionally, and some because it says something in an exciting and new language. Albums like Kala work both ends, and it just makes me melt. I called everyone I know when I first heard this album! It's nice to read a brother of the same mind: unblind. Thanks for the reviews.