Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pink Floyd- "The Endless River" review

 Pink Floyd - The Endless River
Pink Floyd
The Endless River
Rating: *** (3.25)

Earlier this year in July, many were surprised to hear that Pink Floyd would be releasing a studio album. The album, The Endless River, isn’t exactly a brand new album: most of the album was originally recorded in 1993. Now with newly recorded parts from guitarist David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason, The Endless River not only serves as the band’s official swan song but also as a tribute to keyboardist Rick Wright, who passed in 2008. While this album didn’t need to be released, it’s good that Pink Floyd will finally have some sort of closure.

            As mentioned before, The Endless River not an entirely new album. The album was recorded sometime during the time The Division Bell was being recorded. This wasn’t originally meant to be a Pink Floyd project but instead a side project leaning more towards an instrumental ambient sound (so that means with the exception of one track, the entire album is instrumental) . These sessions were referred as “The Big Spliff.” The band considered releasing the album but it was shelved until two decades later. Gilmour and Mason went into the studio to record new parts for the songs, trying to make them sound complete. Bassist Roger Waters, in case you are wondering, is nowhere to be found on this album. Given Waters had left in 1985, he didn’t need to be on this album (though admittedly, it would’ve been neat to have seen Waters contribute to Floyd’s last album).

            With it being almost entirely instrumental, it’s hard to review an album like The Endless River. There are 18 tracks, many of which only last for a little over a minute. Even for the CD version, the tracking list is labeled as a four sided album as if it were a vinyl record. Sometimes, the album can be boring to listen to. While songs such as “Unsung,” “On Noodle Street,” and “Eyes to Pearls” have nice melodies, they end up going nowhere else musically. Some songs on the album take a while to kick in. “It’s What We Do” features some great keyboard work from Wright but it’s not until halfway through the song that we hear Gilmour’s screeching guitar. This is also the case for “Sum” and “Talkin’ Hawkin’.” The former showcases all three members playing together while the latter samples words from Stephen Hawking.

I personally enjoy “Skins,” which allows Mason to show off his drumming skills. Wright also shines throughout the album, especially during “Autumn ‘68” which features Wright working his magic on the Royal Albert Hall pipe organ. I also enjoy both “Allons-Y” tracks as they’re the most “Floyd-ish” sounding of the 18 tracks. However, I wish the tracks were longer as both only last for less than two minutes. The album does end on a high note with the powerful “Louder Than Words.” Written by Gilmour and his wife Polly, it’s the only song on the album with vocals. The song is well written and even 20 years after The Division Bell, Gilmour’s voice still sounds great.

While it doesn’t feel like a completed product, The Endless River still manages to be a solid album. As mentioned before, I don’t think it was necessary for this album to be released. The Division Bell, while not intended to be the band’s original last album, did end their discography well. Still, this isn’t a bad album and it is a touching tribute to Wright. My concern for the album is if it will age well. Will people go back to this album years later and say great things about it? For the time being, The Endless River is good for what it is. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd arrested for attempting to procure a murder (UPDATE: Charges dropped 11/6)

AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd was arrested on Thursday morning in New Zealand. The 60-year-old drummer was charged with the attempt to procure a murder of two people. The news was reported first by Stuff.co.uk, and has since then been confirmed by the Tauranga Central division of New Zealand. News sources have reported that Rudd was also charged for possession of methamphetamine and cannabis. Rudd appeared at Tauranga District Court later in the afternoon and was released on bail. He is scheduled to appear in court again three weeks from now. While the police didn't go into further detail about the arrest, it has been reported by the Sun in New Zealand that the murder would've taken place sometime during September 25th to 26th of this year. The identities of the two people Rudd allegedly tried to have murdered have yet to be revealed at this time.

Rudd first joined AC/DC in 1975, a time in which AC/DC had only been around for two years. In terms of drummers, Rudd was the band's fourth. Rudd stayed with the group up until 1983 before the release of Flick of the Switch. AC/DC would continue with two other drummers, Simon Wright (1983-1989) and Chris Slade (1989-1994), until Rudd rejoined after reconciling with the Young brothers in 1994. AC/DC have already announced the release of a new studio album, Rock or Bust, for December 2. It will be the band's first album without co-founding member Malcolm Young, who was forced to retire from the band as he suffered from a stroke earlier this year and is now being treated for dementia. The Young Brothers' nephew, Stevie Young, will be taking his uncle's place (which he had done before during the Blow Up Your Video tour while Malcolm was in rehab). Rudd released a solo album himself back in August entitled Head Job.

I'm very surprised to hear this news. As much as I adore AC/DC, I have to admit that I really don't know much about the members as people. From what I've heard, the guys are really nice and down-to-earth. Still, you never really hear about the other members doing other things outside of the band (with the exception of Brian Johnson, who is usually giving interviews and is almost the band's spokesman in a way). In a way, the guys seem to keep private. Phil seemed like a cool guy in a great band. It really is a strange situation here and we'll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.

UPDATE (11/6/14): According to Blabbermouth and various other sources, the charges against Phil Rudd for attempting to procure a murder have been dropped. Rudd's lawyer, Paul Mabey MC, stated on Friday November 7 (in New Zealand time) that there was "insufficient evidence" for the charge to be justified. Therefore, the charges have been dropped. However, Rudd is still charged with possession of drugs (methamphetamine and cannabis), as well a threatening to kill charge. Mabey stated that the drug charges are "minor" and that Rudd will now be defending the threatening to kill charge.

I'm happy for Phil that this turned out okay. I was worried that this would be something pretty huge. With any luck, this shouldn't affect AC/DC's touring plans.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Paul McCartney & Wings- "Venus & Mars" and "Wings At the Speed of Sound" reissue review

            Following last year’s reissue of Wings Over America, MPL and Hear Music/Concord have released the next two entries in the Paul McCartney Archive Collection. The albums, Venus and Mars and Wings at the Speed of Sound, were albums released during the peak of Wings’ career. As with the previous entries, the albums are newly remastered and each come with a second disc of bonus tracks. In terms of sound, the remastering on both albums is top notch and should make any McCartney fan happy.

  Wings - Venus and Mars
Venus and Mars
Album Rating: ****
Bonus Disc: ****

            Released in 1975, Venus and Mars was Wings’ follow up to the critically acclaimed Band on the Run. At this point in time, Paul McCartney had expanded the line-up of Wings. Along with McCartney was his wife Linda on keyboards and guitarist/singer Denny Laine. Guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell had both left before Band on the Run was recorded, leaving Wings as a trio for that album. In 1974, 21-year-old Scottish guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Geoff Britton were added to the group. This line-up did not last for very long. After only a few recording sessions, Britton left the group. He would be replaced by American drummer Joe English. With McCulloch and English in the group, the band were about to embark on what would be the band’s most successful time in their career.

            Venus and Mars has always been a personal favorite of mine. As a follow-up to Band on the Run, I think it’s a very strong album. Compared to the band’s previous work, Venus and Mars does sort of have a hard rock edge to it. The album opens with the brilliant two-parter of the title track and “Rock Show.” The latter is a fun track to listen to, as the lyrics make references to different venues and rock music in general at that time. While the big hit single from is album is “Listen to What the Man Says,” there are plenty of great song on this album. There’s the rocking “Magento and Titanium Man,” the funk riddled “Letting Go,” and Laine’s spacey “Spirits of Ancient Egypt.” Being a fan of McCulloch’s work in and out of Wings, his anti-drug rocker “Medicine Jar” is another favorite of mine.

In terms of remastering, the sound quality is quite impressive. My older copy of Venus and Mars is the 1987 CD issue. Compared to that, the new remaster sounds rich and better (I am aware that the last time most of McCartney’s albums were reissued was in 1993 as part of the Paul McCartney Collection). Some things do stand out more, such as the keyboard work.

            The bonus disc is certainly an improvement over the last few ones, as it clocks in at 50 minutes. However, six of the fourteen tracks- such as the hit single “Junior’s Farm” and “My Carnival”- have all been released before as bonus tracks (though “Sally G,” “Walking in the Park  With Eloise” and “Bridge On the River Suite” were all bonus tracks on older versions of Speed of Sound). The eight new unreleased tracks are quite good. There’s a great rendition of “Soily” on here from the One Hand Clapping documentary and new songs in “Let’s Love” and “4th of July.” While it can be boring at times listening to the bonus disc, completists should be happy nevertheless.

 Wings - Wings at the Speed of Sound
Wings at the Speed of Sound
Album Rating: *** ½
Bonus Disc: ***

            Wings at the Speed of Sound was quite a big seller when it was released in 1976. The reviews for the album, however, did not match with the sales: reviews were mixed, most feeling that the album was weak. For me, At the Speed of Sound is a strange album. There are some great songs on here but compared to Venus and Mars, it feels like the band went soft on this one. Still, At the Speed of Sound is not a bad album at all.

            Speed of Sound features two of the band’s biggest hits- “Let ‘Em In” and “Silly Love Songs.” While there are some people who don’t like these songs (especially the latter), I have a soft spot for them. There are other great songs on here with some of them sounding better when performed live. For example, Laine’s “Time to Hide” and the heavy “Beware My Love” are great songs but have more of a punch to them when they were performed live. Speed of Sound also holds the distinction of being the only Wings album to feature all of the members singing at least one song. Laine gets two sing two songs- the aforementioned “Time to Hide”  and his sorrowful “The Note You Never Wrote” (the latter of which has a killer guitar solo).  Being a fan of McCulloch, I do enjoy the guitar-driven “Wino Junko,” which is another rocker about the dangers of drugs (unfortunately for McCulloch, he would die from a drug overdose three years after the release of this album). Joe English even gets to sing a song- the McCartney-penned “Must Do Something About It,” which is a really great deep track on here. English’s voice is sensational on here and I wish he had leant his vocals on more Wings tracks (After English left Wings, he had a career as a Christian Rock artist). While Linda McCartney is sorely missed by all of us, I have to admit that “Cook of the House” was not one of her best moments.

As for the remastering, it’s quite strong. My previous copy of Speed of Sound was a CD issue released 1989. Compared to that, this new remaster is way better. I’ve said before that Speed of Sound has been a strange album for me, but I think the new remaster makes me appreciate it a little more. For me, the bass is ridiculously good. It stands out remarkable. Just listen to “Silly Love Songs” and you’ll see (or rather hear) what I’m talking about.

            The bonus disc for Speed of Sound is quite disappointing, as it consists of only 21 minutes of material. Still, none of the seven tracks on here have been released. There is an interesting take of “Beware My Love” featuring John Bonham of Led Zeppelin pounding away at the drums. The demos for “Silly Love Songs” and “Let ‘Em In” are interesting, as you get to hear Paul harmonize with Linda and Denny respectively.

            Overall, I’ve enjoyed both reissues of Venus and Mars and Speed of Sound. Both albums sound great and for me, are better than any other versions of the album I’ve owned before. For those of you who own the 1993 remasters, it’s completely up to you. If you were happy with the previous reissues in this series, I’d say go for it and buy them.

It should also noted that with these two reissues, all of the albums on the small paper ad that came with the Band on the Run reissue have been released: McCartney, McCartney II, Ram, Wings Over America and now Venus and Mars and Speed of Sound. The Paul McCartney Archive Collection will now continue with the reissues of Tug of War and Pipes of Peace