Saturday, September 28, 2013

Yoko Ono- Take Me To The Land of Hell album review

 Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band - Take Me to the Land of Hell
Yoko Ono
Take Me To The Land Of Hell
Rating: ****

Many things have been said about Yoko Ono over the years. For some, she is seen as the person responsible for the split of the Beatles as she was the wife of John Lennon. Some deem her as controlling and simply cashing in on her late husband. For others, Yoko Ono is seen as an amazing artist. When it comes to her musical career, some critics have gone as far as saying that she was ahead of her, influencing artists such as the B52’s and Lene Lovich. Ono’s latest album, Take Me to the Land of Hell, sees her at it again with her son Sean Lennon and the revamped Plastic Ono Band. This is Ono’s first studio album since 2009’s Between My Head and the Sky. Even at 80 years old, Ono has made an album that sounds very modern.

            For this album, Ono has collaborated with artists who are familiar with electronic music. In recent years, Ono has been able to nab several #1 hits in the Billboard Dance Charts. The collaborations actually pay off. Even with the collaborations, it still sounds like a Yoko Ono album. Ono’s genre of music would be best described as experimental rock or avant garde, which this album certainly is.

            The album’s opener, “Moonbeams”, isn’t the strongest song but it opens the album perfectly: the futuristic sounds mixed in with Ono’s spoken word poetry sets you up for what you’re about to hear. Once you hear Ono’s traditional scream, you know what you’re in for. This is followed by the pleasantly psychedelic “Cheshire Cat”. It has an impressive bass line that drives the entire song in this stoner rock rhythm. “Tabetai” is collaboration with tUnE-yArDs and it’s a very good one: the track is catchy and has great drumming/percussion work. The most interesting of the collaborations would have to be the bouncy “Bad Dancer”, which features the surviving members of the Beastie Boys. I really like this one and the strangest thing is that I have no interest in the Beastie Boys whatsoever.

            Ono also has the chance to shine with several ballads. The self-titled track and “Watching the Dawn” have pretty melodies. The former uses violins while the latter is piano-oriented. While Ono isn’t known for having the greatest voice, she knows how to use it when it comes to ballads. It isn’t much but I think she knows it works. Ono leaves time on the album for the autobiographical “NY Noodle Town”, the funky spoken word “7th Floor” and the surprisingly jazzy “Leaving Tim”.

            Overall, Take Me to the Land of Hell is a very good album from Yoko Ono. It’s impressive that she can pull this off at her age. However, I can’t say I’d recommend the album. Obviously, Yoko’s music isn’t for everyone. I’d say if you happen to appreciate some experimental music (i.e. Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and/or Tom Waits), give Yoko’s music a chance. If you’re already a fan of Yoko’s music, this is a no brainer: you must get it. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Kiss Solo Albums- 35 years later

By 1978, Kiss were one of the biggest rock bands in the world. From their iconic make-up to their explosive concerts, they were instantly loved by teenagers alike. In fact, a 1977 Gallup poll showed that Kiss were the most popular band. The band were also known for their long line of merchandise. Everything from action figures to pinball machines were out there for people to buy.

It was also it 1978 that their management decided that the band was movie material. During this time, the band took part in filming the campy made-for-TV-movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. The filming for the movie was disastrous: the band couldn't act to save their lives and there were also tensions within the band. The movie would later premiere on ABC in October 1978. While it was a hit in the ratings, the movie was panned by critics. Some countries went as far to releasing the movie theatrically (under a different title and with additional scenes).

After the filming of Phantom, guitarist Ace Frehley felt like it was time for him to leave the band. He was told not to and instead, make a solo album while still in the band. This idea grew and in the end, it was decided all four members would  make their own solo album.

The albums were released on September 18, 1978.

Usually in anniversary articles, I go into detail about how the songs were written and came to be. In this case with their being four albums to cover, I will simply review each album.

As for the order I review them in...most Kiss fans will go by the cataloge number of the album. If this is the case, this is the order:

Gene Simmons
Ace Frehley
Peter Criss
Paul Stanley

 Gene Simmons - Gene Simmons
Gene Simmons
Rating: ***

According to his 2002 autobiography Kiss & Make Up, Gene Simmons had one thing in mind when he was making his solo album: his would be the best. The result: certainly isn't the best but there are some very interesting songs on Gene's album. Of the four albums, Gene's is by far the most diverse. While this is a rock album, Gene experiments with disco, soul, R&B, and even a classical tune. When it comes to rockers, Gene does okay: songs such as "Radioactive" and his re-recording of Kiss' "See You In Your Dreams" are examples. However, Gene doesn't shy away from showing his Beatles influences in "See You Tonight", "Mr. Make Believe" and "Man of 1000 Faces". Gene's album is also the most star-studded featuring musicians such as Joe Perry and Rick Nielsen. Donna Summer is on backing vocals on "Burning Up With Fever" and Cher can be heard on "Living In Sin".  Now what's bad about this album? Well, the soul/R&B songs are the weak spots this album as they are pretty forgettable. He even has the balls to end his album with a cover of "When You Wish Upon a Star".

 Ace Frehley - Ace Frehley
Ace Frehley
Rating: ****

It's pretty funny: it was suggested he should make a solo album and he ended up making probably the best of the four albums. At this point in time, no one had really heard Ace Frehley take the mic. His singing debut was "Shock Me" from Love Gun but this time, he was singing an album's worth of songs. Statistics show that Frehley's album sold the most copies and there's a reason why: it's a great album. Even Kiss' harshest critics have a soft spot for this album. I think what make Ace's album so great is because of its simplicity: basic, hard-hitting rock n roll- no frills. It sounds as if he really wasn't trying. He just went in and made a rock album. Ace certainly doesn't mess around with rip roaring rockers such as "Rip It Out", "Ozone" and "Speedin' Back to My Baby". There even more melodic numbers with "What's On Your Mind" and the instrumental "Fractured Mirror". Unlike the other solo albums, Frehley was able to score a hit single with his cover of Hello's "New York Groove". 

 Peter Criss - Peter Criss
Peter Criss
Rating: ** 1/2

It really hurts me to do this: Peter Criss' solo album is, without a doubt, the weakest of the solo albums. Even sales show that his album sold the least of the solo albums. I really don't know what to think of Peter Criss. I think he's a great drummer but he just seems very bitter when he talks about his times in Kiss, especially about the current line-up. As for the album,  it's just boring. I will admit that Peter has a great singing voice but the songs here are dull. I only really like a few songs on here: "I'm Gonna Love You" is a nice pop track while "Tossin' and Turnin'" is good fun. I even like the album's closer, "I Can't Stop the Rain". The rest of the album is mediocre at best. I do like that Peter tried something different but this album could've really used some good hard rockers. There's even a song on here titled "That's The Kind of Sugar Papa Likes". Seriously? Still, I can somehow sit through Peter's album but that doesn't mean it's easy.

 Paul Stanley - Paul Stanley
Paul Stanley
Rating: ****

With him being my favorite member of Kiss, Paul Stanley's solo album has albums been a favorite of mine. Sometimes, I can't decide whether I like Paul's or Ace's more. The thing I like to say is Ace's is the best but Paul's is my favorite. I know that doesn't really make any sense but please work with me for a moment here! Of the four solo albums, Paul's album sounds the most like a Kiss album which what I think I like about it: it's a great combination of hard rock and pop hooks. "Tonight You Belong to Me" is a killer opening track while "Wouldn't You Like To Know Me" has a very power pop sound to it. There are more hard rockers in the form of "Love in Chains" and some more on the pop side such as "It's Alright" and "Goodbye". Paul can't help but have several ballads. The strongest of them, for me personally, is "Take Me Away (Together As One". Paul's vocal performance alone makes that song great.

The solo albums by Kiss were big sellers but critically, the albums were not well received at the time. The band were blamed for being lazy just for taking on such an unusual project. In 1979, the band regrouped for Dynasty. The album was another big seller and featured the hit single "I Was Made For Lovin' You". The fans, however, felt that the band had sold out given the single and the album leaned more towards a disco sound than a hard rock sound. Criss left in 1980 and Frehley followed in 1982. After a series of poor selling albums in the early 1980's, Simmons and Stanley decided it was time for the band to remove their iconic make-up. On September 18, 1983 (five years to the day the solo albums were released) Kiss finally unmasked on MTV and released Lick It Up. It was a brand new chapter for the band and Lick It Up was well received.  

As of 2013, Kiss is still performing (though with the make up back on since 1996). Simmons and Stanley remain the two sole constant members of the band. Since 2004, they have been with guitarist Tommy Thayer and long time drummer Eric Singer. 

As for the Kiss solo albums, some overlook them as flops. Still, there are members of the loyal Kiss Army who still enjoy listening to these four albums.