Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Soul Caddy (Mojo Records)
So you're in a swing band, and finally, for a brief shining moment, swing becomes the thing. There are crazy parties during the summer months, forties dresses are flying off the racks at second-hand stores, and the phone is ringing off the hook at any Arthur Murray dance studio. Sure it's cool, but when public appeal looks elsewhere, what do you do? Keep playing the swing, or look for another genre to catch the next wave? It seems the Daddies took the latter course.
Oh, there's still that big naughty swing sound, with the huge kick drum beat, the shouting, the honking of the saxes, of which most fans of the band are familiar. The opener, "Diamond Light Boogie," is a mid-tempo number, featuring the above-mentioned traits, along with a heavy guitar weaving in and out. Things get a bit weirder though, on "God Is a Spider," a song that starts off ska-like with a wavering guitar scale bathed in echo. Then it progresses into a fuzzy, heavy guitar, changing chords all fast and furious, and winds up sounding more like a Styx number. Styx? Yeah, you heard me. Styx with a horn section.
Lead singer Steve Perry's voice sounds big and Broadway bound, and while it helps on the swinging numbers, on others, like "Spider" or "Irish Whiskey," the aural result is that of a bad rock opera (or a Styx song take your pick). It's also unusual that his voice is often buried somewhat in the mix, overshadowed by the guitar or organ.
There are some good moments here, and the title track (well, "Soul Cadillac") is one of them, a reggae-influenced R&B number with some nice organ work. "So Long Toots" is an up-tempo number that'll have you running your fingers across your fedora. The piece shows the band's strength.
Yet, ultimately, there are just too many different styles and sounds here, perhaps a ploy by the band to toss out a variety of tunes and see what sticks. Whatever the methodology, the resulting product is a bit uneven.
Green Day, Warning (Reprise Records)
You know, there's always been something odd about Billie Joe Armstrong, coming from Oakland, and singing like he's from London. That minor annoyance out of the way, the sixth disc from Green Day, Warning, is a pleasant compilation of pop tunes. Though the media continues to refer to the boys as punk, it's such an obvious misnomer, it's a wonder it still hangs on. Suburban punk might be better, or maybe domestic punk. Nothing on the CD rages; the songs are more along the lines of fodder for young girls and boys.
"Hold On," for example, contains a bit of harmonica in the chorus that sounds more like the Beatle's "Love Me Do" than anything from punk predecessors such as the Sex Pistols or the Clash. Semantics aside tho, the songs are light and likeable, bouncy, with just a hint of an edge.
The title track carries forward with a Jam-like feel, the lyrics culled from warning labels. An interesting angle (hey, it's also easier to write if you get the words from someplace else hope he doesn't get tapped for plagiarism), but when a philosophical bit is added, "Sanitation, expiration date, question everything? Or shut up and be the victim of authority," the CD begins to grow wearisome.
"Minority," the single, is another tune that trifles with lyrics. "I want to be the minority, I don't need your authority, down with the moral majority, 'cause I want to be the minority," sings Armstrong, and it just sounds ridiculous.
Juvenile lyrics aside, there's a good-natured feel across the board. The final cut, "Macy's Day Parade," shows that Armstrong still knows how to write a killer pop song when necessary. It starts with acoustic guitar, slowly builds, and features an introspective, pensive sound. And you can be sure in the school hallways across America, six-grade girls will be swooning like daisies in the wind.
Interview with Green Day, Oct. 2000
Radiohead, Kid A (Capitol Records)
I feel like a Belgian on this one, since I've been waffling back and forth on whether this is a brilliant piece of work, or my ears have just been jerked off. First of all, this is not an album in the sense of an album; oh sure, there's a collection of songs (and that word must be used loosely), but this is more of an art project, a mood-invoking avant-garde piece of work.
The opening cut, "Everything in Its Right Place," continues Radiohead's evolution of a distant, haunting sound that first appeared on OK Computer a few years ago. With just keyboard and vocals, the song goes from stark to swirling when some added effects blend the sound. The second cut, the title track, offers more of the same, free-falling, space-jam, groundless sounds. It's here that the CD starts to abandon the traditional blues-based rock-and-pop construction of songs, providing a sense of the future. In my head, I see a vision of Woody Allen's Sleeper, meets Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. This mix of mood and imagery, sonically induced, is what happens in the absence of structure. Hell, this could be a movie soundtrack, but it's not. The listless, eerie sensation that continues is in part due to not knowing where you're headed, and it's on that unsteady ground that you wonder, Is this great, or simply shit?
When "How to Disappear Completely" comes up, and Thom Yorke's plaintive wail seeps out, there are glimpses of the Radiohead of old, or at least two years ago. A slow track, layered like a wedding cake, it's cryptic and yet tuneful, but something is still amiss, and it's here that you can hear both where the band has been and where they're (seemingly) headed.
This is not a CD that you toss on and start humming along to, and you can bet dollars to donuts it won't see much airplay. More a work of art than a collection of pop tunes, like a spin-art painting at a small country fair, the band has taken the music and given it a good, hard spin. The result is something that's familiar, somewhat recognizable, and altogether new as well.
Given the band's history, there's too much on hand to suppose that they all decided on a throw-away disc, a punkish prank to gather some quick change. Sure, there's a surprise inside the jewelbox, behind the CD. But Kid A is new and different, and there is a possibility that in 40 years or so, this will be seen as a major album, one that caused a paradigm shift at the turn of the century.
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