Wednesday, March 13, 2013

David Bowie- The Next Day review

 David Bowie - The Next Day
David Bowie
The Next Day
Rating: ****

Over the last decade, people have been wondering what David Bowie has been up to. His last album, Reality, was released in 2003. Bowie also had a small part in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige in 2006. Other than that, Bowie has been keeping a low profile. Some thought he had retired. Some thought he was now a recluse. However on the day of Bowie’s 66th birthday, it was announced Bowie would release a new solo album. The new album, The Next Day, is Bowie’s first album in almost a decade. Bowie had been working on the album in secret with long-time producer Tony Visconti for the last two years. I think it’s safe to say that Bowie has made a great album.

            It’s hard to describe an album like The Next Day without being familiar with Bowie’s previous albums. Bowie is known for being a chameleon when it comes to his music, having his different eras.   This album is very much in the vein of what Bowie did in the late 1970’s with his “Berlin trilogy”, which saw him dabbling in the waters of Krautrock.

            The self titled track is a great way to open the album. Bowie’s voice sounds great and the song sounds very artsy. In fact, you could say that about the entire album. Bowie’s music is the perfect definition of art rock and he isn’t afraid to be experimental. Take a song like “Dirty Boys”, a jazzy sax-ridden romp: this shows that Bowie is still at it. Personally, I think the best song on here is “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”, the second single released for this album. It’s a very catchy song with great lyrics and Bowie’s vocals are just superb. It just seems like the kind of song Bowie would be playing based on the lyrics: “But the stars are out tonight/Here they are upon us/Sexless and unaroused/They are the stars, they’re dying for you/But I hope they live forever”.

            The other single from this album, “Where Are We Now”, is an interesting track. For one thing, this was the first new song from Bowie fans heard in almost ten years. Listening to it the first time, I wasn’t crazy about. Now after hearing a few times more, I find myself liking this more. Supposedly the song is about the falling of the Berlin Wall, which almost makes it a sequel lyrical to “Heroes”. The song moves at a slow pace, which suite Bowie’s fragile vocals perfectly which build up during the chorus.

            “Valentine’s Day” sounds an awful lot like something Bowie would’ve done during his glam rock phase. Just listening to the guitar work, the vocals, and child-like lyrics it really screams Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane. Other highlights include the melodic laid back “I’d Rather Be High”, the fast-paced rocker “(You Will) Set the World On Fire”, the bouncy “Dancing Out in Space”, and the Krautrock driven “How Does the Grass Grow?”

            Overall, The Next Day is an outstanding album from David Bowie. It’s hard to believe that he spent two years making this album and no one knew where he was. That’s pretty impressive in these “TMZ days”.  Whether or not Bowie decides to tour for this album doesn’t matter: I think we should be happy with the final product he has given us. 

Clive Burr dead at 56

Clive Burr
March 8, 1957-March 12, 2013

Clive Burr, former drummer for metal legends Iron Maiden, has died. Burr is said to have died yesterday in his sleep after a long battle with multiple sclerosis. He was 56. Burr joined Iron Maiden in 1979 and played on their first three albums (Iron Maiden, Killers, and The Number of the Beast). Burr left the band in 1983 and was replaced by drummer Nicko McBrain, who has been in the band ever since. Burr would continue to drum until he was diagnosed with MS, which left him in debt. Iron Maiden helped their former band mate by performing charity shows. Burr also founded his own charity in 2004 called Clive Aid. 

While this is not surprising, it is sad to hear that Clive has passed away. My thoughts go out to his friends and family. 

Rest in peace, Clive. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Peter Banks dead at 65

Peter Banks
July 15, 1947-March 8, 2013

Peter Banks, original guitarist for Yes, was found dead in his home in London last week. The news of Banks' death was announced today. The former Yes guitarist's cause of death is unknown but some sources are reporting that Banks died from heart failure. Banks was a founding member of Yes when the band formed in 1968 along with singer Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, drummer Bill Bruford, and keyboardist Tony Kaye. Banks played on the band's first two albums (Yes and Time and a Word) before being fired in 1970. He was replaced by guitarist Steve Howe. Banks would go on to have a solo career and join bands such as Flash and Empire. 

It is sad to hear of Peter's death. I'm not a huge Yes fan but it is sad to hear that someone from Yes has died. I'll have to check out those first two albums sometime soon.

RIP Peter. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Alvin Lee dead at 68

Alvin Lee
December 19, 1944-March 6, 2013 

Guitarist/singer Alvin Lee, former and founding member of Ten Years After, died on Wednesday March 6. He was 68. As for the cause of death, Lee was to have died from respiratory failure while having procedural surgery. Lee was one of the four members in Ten Years After. The band were formed in 1966 and released several albums from 1967 to 1973. The band gained a wider audience after they performed at the legendary 1969 Woodstock festival. The band stole the show with their performance of "I'm Goin Home", to which a member of the audience rewarded Lee with a watermelon. The band were able to have a few hit singles with "Love Like A Man" and "I'd Love to Change the World". The band split in 1974 but reformed some 20 years later without Lee. Prior to his death, Lee had been a solo artist. 

I am saddened to hear of Alvin's passing. Personally, I'm not a big Ten Years After fan but I do own a handful of their albums via vinyl transfers. They were a really great blues rock band and Alvin was a great guitarist as well as a great singer. My thoughts go out to his family and friends.

Rest in peace, Alvin..

Also I want to note that this obituary is late but please understand that I was on a trip when Alvin died and was unable to post a blog on his death. This is the next best thing. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

We're Only Ordinary Men: Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is 40

 Pink Floyd - The Dark Side of the Moon
Pink Floyd
Dark Side of the Moon
Rating: *****

By 1973, Pink Floyd had been through a lot. From lineup changes to unsuccessful albums, the band were still going despite not being very popular. However on March 1, the band released their eighth studio album Dark Side of the Moon. Not only was the album a success in their homeland of England but Pink Floyd had finally made it big in the United States. Four decades later, Dark Side of the Moon is seen as one of the greatest albums of all time as well as one of the most successful albums of all time.

            Pink Floyd were formed in 1965 in England. The band consisted of guitarist/vocalist Syd Barrett, bassist Roger Waters, drummer Nick Mason, and keyboardist Richard Wright. The band started playing in clubs, including the UFO Club. The band caught the attention of EMI, who signed the band and in 1967, released their debut single “Arnold Layne”. The song charted at #20 in the UK charts and the follow-up “See Emily Play” charted at #6. The band’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was released in August 1967. The album was praised for its child-like approach and the songwriting of Barrett. By late 1967, the band were losing contact with Barrett as he became addicted to LSD. The man they once knew was no more. Barrett’s bizarre behavior hit its peak when during one gig, Barrett stood still for the entire show.

            In 1968, the band added guitarist David Gilmour as a fifth member to substitute for Barrett when he wasn’t around. Before the band could complete work on their second album, Barrett announced he was leaving the band. Aside from releasing two solo albums in the early 1970s, Barrett became a recluse until his death in 2006. With Barrett gone, the band had lost their main songwriter. Still, Pink Floyd went on. The albums that were released after the debut and before Dark Side were…

A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
More (1969)- soundtrack to the film of the same name
Ummagumma (1969)- a double live-studio album
Atom Heart Mother (1970)- include the 22 minute self-titled suite, composed with Ron Geeshin
Meddle (1971)- included the 23 minute track “Echoes”
Obscured By Clouds (1972)- another soundtrack but for the film La Valle

            All of these albums were group efforts but still, the band had yet to make an impression on US audiences. Recording for Dark Side of the Moon began in June 1972 and ended in January 1973. The album was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London.

            Of the four band members, it was Waters who pitched the idea/concept for Dark Side of the Moon. The album was originally titled Eclipse but was soon changed. The songs on the album would all have a common theme: the everyday life of a human being. This would include things such as money, time, religion, and even insanity.

Song-by-song review

1.      “Speak to Me/Breathe”- The first part of this song is called “Speak to Me” which serves as an introduction to the sounds and music that will be heard throughout the album. This then goes into “Breathe”, a calming and sooth psychedelic track. The keyboard playing of the late Rick Wright stands out and it should. According to Wright, he was inspired by the chords used in Miles Davis records and the emotion of them. As for lyrical themes, it seems to be about the freedom of being human and making choices. It’s a great track, with great double-tracked vocals from Gilmour.

2.      “On the Run”- The song that you hear on this album isn’t what the band had originally planned. When Dark Side was being written and performed, “On the Run” was originally titled “The Travel Section/Sequence”. It was more of a psychedelic guitar jam accompanied by keyboards. The band were looking for something different and they found this in a synthesizer (or an EMS VCS 3 to be exact). It works for the track as well as the album.

3.      “Time”- “Time” is a song that is considered one of the band’s best songs. Personally, it’s my favorite song from the album as well as my favorite song by Pink Floyd overall. The clocks that set off at the beginning of the track were all recorded individually in an antique shop. The two minute passage after the clocks has Mason on Rototoms while the tick tocks are coming from two strings off of Waters’ muted bass. The lyrics for “Time” are pretty simple. It’s a about how time just seems to fly by and before you know it, you’re older. Gilmour and Wright share lead vocals while Gilmour wails during the guitar solo. The song does go into a brief reprise of “Breathe” at the end, which is nice. Overall, it’s my favorite Pink Floyd song.

4.      “The Great Gig in the Sky”- This soul-ridden track was originally titled “The Morality Sequence” when it was played live by the band in 1972. Wright would play his Hammond organ to the sounds of preaching via tape. So in short, “The Great Gig in the Sky” is the religious song on Dark Side. The song was recorded as a basic band jam and was left as that until Alan Parsons brought in singer Clare Torry. Torry went in the studio and recorded the improvised vocal track that you hear on the album. Torry’s vocals do give the track a sort of gospel feel in some ways. In subsequent years, Torry sued the band for not receiving co-writing credit for the track, being that the vocals were improvised. Subsequent reissues of Dark Side credit Torry as a co-writer as a result.

5.      “Money”- “Money” was to be the lead single for the album when released in 1973. The song opens up with one of the most recognizable bass lines ever written. According to Waters, “Money” was originally a blues track in a demo Waters recorded before it became a rock track. Waters described the demo as “Transatlantic” but also “prissy and very English.” “Money” is also notable for its strange time signature of 7/4. The song is basically about money and how one spends it. The song also features a saxophone solo from Dick Parry and a great guitar solo from Gilmour.

6.      “Us And Them”- One of the best known songs off of Dark Side was actually written several years before it was recorded for the album. Pink Floyd helped provide the soundtrack for director Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point in 1970. Wright was asked to compose a piano track for the violence sequence in the film. When Antonioni heard the final product, he didn’t like it and complained it was “too sad” and made him “think of church.” The piece wasn’t used until the band were working on Dark Side. Using Wright’s piano piece, the band pretty much made it into “Us and Them”. The song, according to Waters, asks the question whether or not the human race is capable of being humane. The song becomes more powerful during the chorus/bridge where Gilmour and Wright share lead vocals, accompanied by female back-up singers. It’s a beautiful song and very much in the vein of progressive rock.

7.      “Any Colour You Like”- Of the nine songs off of Dark Side, “Any Colour You Like” is sort of the forgotten track from the album: there’s barely anything written about the track. It is an instrumental and it’s a pretty good one. Gilmour’s guitar playing is great and very psychedelic as well. There is dispute over the song’s title but for what it is, it’s a good song.

8.      “Brain Damage”- The album starts to wrap up with “Brain Damage”, a song that explores the last theme of the album: insanity. According to Waters, the song was obviously inspired by Syd Barrett and how he went crazy. Waters also says that the song is about “the notion of being different.” The chorus uses the album’s title, which has resulted in people incorrectly referring to this song as “Dark Side of the Moon.”

9.      “Eclipse”- This is the second part of “Brain Damage” which brings the album full circle. It almost serves as the bookend to the album, mentioning all of the themes covered on the album. It’s a brilliant way to end the album with the band just letting it all out in this full-blown psychedelic track. Abbey Road Studios doorman Gerry O’Driscoll is the man who gives the speech at the end about if there is a dark side of the moon.

 When released on March 1, 1973 Dark Side of the Moon sky rocketed to the top of the charts. It was a huge success, selling millions and millions of copies. It held the #1 spot on the Billboard charts for just one week but the album stayed there on the charts for an impressive 741 weeks. It’s up there with Michael Jackson’s Thriller and AC/DC’s Back in Black as one of the best selling albums of all time, having sold 50 million copies.

            With the success of Dark Side, Pink Floyd were able to continue with their career. Forty years later, Dark Side of the Moon is still seen as a classic album. It’s also amazing for a band that was pretty much unknown to all the sudden release an album that millions buy. With this exposure to classic rock music in the last decade or so, perhaps a whole new generation of people will go out and buy this album.