Foo Fighters, One By One (RCA)
Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters singer, songwriter and ex-Nirvana drummer) recently toured and recorded as a temporary drummer for Queens of the Stone Age. He should've stayed on with the band. As a guitarist and songwriter, Grohl's pretty good, but let's be honest: the dude is a born drummer.
On their latest CD, One By One, the Foo Fighters sound like they found a formula that they're happy with. So happy, in fact, that the music comes across decidedly comfortable. Maybe even a bit lax. There are no surprises here. With all the competition for listeners' ears from rock bands like fellow inspired screamers the Vines and the White Stripes,
the Foo Fighters need to come up with something that's going to make us freak out. One By One doesn't hack it. It's good, but it needs to be great to stay in the game.
The Foo Fighters' last moment of glory was 1997's Colour & the Shape, which offered something unbearably charming in both the songwriting and the delivery. One By One is an average modern rock album coming from above-average rock musicians. If you really enjoyed 1999's There Is Nothing Left To Lose, rejoice because There Is Still Nothing Left To Lose has arrived.
The territory is familiar catchy harmonies and blasted chunks of energy and the Foos approach it without enthusiasm. The album's use of repetition makes that clear. The intros are arranged in similar ways. Songs begin in a simple yet concentrated manner, like hors de oeuvres that lead to aggro-rock sandwiches. Likewise, the songs each end in a similar fashion. Finishing off most songs, Grohl yowls one phrase over and over. For example: "Done I'm done, onto the next one"; "As low as you go"; "Haaaave it all"; "I won't go getting tired of you"; "I will come back."
How in the hell did this go unnoticed by the band? The songs are almost comical in their predictability.
Yet, if you break it down, One By One is an erratic listen. "Low" is like a Rob Zombie cover song with charging and rumbling guitars. "Have It All" is pop-friendly and streamlined with an armful of harmonies. The sunny cali-pop rock tune "Times Like These" is One By One's "Learn to Fly" (the band's hit single from There Is Nothing Left To Lose).
"Disenchanted Lullaby" is a dreary track that borrows its dark weight from Soundgarden. The stripped down "Tired of You" lightly and cautiously leans on a steady strum beneath Grohl's whispers. "Lonely As You" is similarly despondent but breaks into off-keyed rocking.
There are plenty of potential singles including "Halo" and especially "Overdrive" with its steady energy and punchy hooks. But as a continuous listen, One By One chases its own tail.
More Foo Fighters
David Gray, A New Day at Midnight (ATO Records)
This album will go platinum. Just as White Ladder, Gray's previous album did (well, double platinum in the U.S., actually). Why? It's quite simple. Gray is talented, breezy, and targeted at a demographic that has money to spend. And let's not forget how radio adores him. Hence, he shall go far. And good for him, you know, because it took five friggin albums before the labels got smart and decided to champion this guy.
What's interesting about A New Day at Midnight is its foray into electronica and sampling. Gray is sonorous in his attempt to get trippy with it. "Dead in the Water" (sadly, not a cover of the Supersuckers tune) opens the album on a velvety, atmospheric note, with Gray's quivery voice exploring darker moods than expected, though I was dumb not to have gotten the hint from the song's title.
Similarly, on "Freedom," there's a damn sad horn intro and a miserly toned Gray sings, "Take your eyes off me, there's nothing here to see.... There's nothing good that lasts forever." The music's given an extra jolt by way of dramatic piano parts and a burst of fuzzy din in the background. Way to explore your inner Trent Reznor, David.
On "Caroline," minimalist techno is followed by sweeps of slide guitar and country tones over haphazardly scattered beats that work astonishingly well. The Far-Eastern strings and percussion of "Kangaroo" fall
like fat raindrops and blend smoothly into an electro base. Gray gives more than a few nods to a lover, and it's easy to paint him as a cuddly dreamer-songwriter. Though I have to admit, he threw me a bit on "Last Boat to America" when I heard him say "Baby, let's go all the way this time." It was like hearing your literature professor utter the same words. Eeew.
A New Day at Midnight is textured, but not impassible. It's painstakingly produced like layers of linen, yet moves along as effortlessly as the wind.
More David Gray
The Pretenders, Loose Screw (Artemis Records)
Chrissie Hynde used to be tha man. On Loose Screw, the Pretenders' eighth album, she's noticeably softer than the tuffy who sang "Tattooed Love Boys." Loose Screw doesn't rock. Perhaps the band is taking cues from that new Faith Hill album. The candidness that Hynde is famous for blankets the album, only now she's exposing herself instead of someone else. Where she once would have let you have it from the core of the action, she stands above the situation now. This once-archetypal tough broad now embraces her vulnerabilities in song. Hyde is all grown up, and has seemingly accepted her sensitive side. You can hurt this woman.
The only way to describe Hynde's approach is by saying she makes her mouth softer. Her words won't nick you. Behind those bangs lies an artful songbird; she effortlessly croons the high and low notes with her trademark cool, albeit now it sounds a bit selfless. Gentle, swaying ska rhythms breeze through songs like the self-realizing "Complex Person" and "Nothing Breaks Like a Heart," where Hynde wistfully admits, "You don't love me any more, I can feel it, but I want you more than before." Her heartbreak is center stage, but she doesn't fight it. "I wasn't this shook in the LA earthquake," she admits.
Strings open "I Should Of," where Hynde laments not giving enough to her lover. "I could have, I could have, oh fuck, I really miss you, I really miss you," she confesses. The "oh fuck" sounds exasperated, like she's had enough of her own mantra and is finally getting the truth out.
Hynde is not her only target. The slinky "Walk Like a Panther," co-written with Pulp's Jarvis Cocker, features shining guitars and leather-clad reprimand.
"Miguel has set up home, with a woman half my age, a half-wit in a leotard, stands on my stage." Ouch. But instead of wanting to bludgeon the bastard, she tisk-tisks him for disrespecting himself by failing to keep up with her. He didn't have the hunger anymore, and it insults her. Likewise on "Clean Up Woman" where woman takes care of the man's mess. "She carries the blame she doesn't deserve, she bears his name when he loses his nerve." It's a simple, stark song. Hynde makes her points and exits.
There are some definite Pretenders-ish songs, most notably "Fools Must Die" and "Lie to Me." Beats shoulder their way through the snarling guitars. Hynde's vocals sound sly, like she's treading shaky ground. On the opposite end of the musical spectrum, the songs "Saving Grace" and "The Losing" sound more suited for Shania Twain or Faith Hill than the Pretenders. The music is very adult-radio ready. The latter is a song for the perennial underdog. "Every time I win I have to start again, Can't rest, rest until I'm losing," sings Hynde and it's hard not to grin. She needs a challenge to overcome. She clearly lives for the fight.
Loose Screw is not a rock-n-roll album. It used to be that Chrissie Hynde would rather break than bend. Not anymore.
Johnny Cash, The Man Comes Around (American Recordings)
The fourth in a series of discs that mixes the veteran Cash with producer Rick Rubin is as solid as the man in black himself. There are, however, some rather strange song choices here. They're not what you'd expect were you to be told Cash had a new disc coming out. The title track, penned by Cash, is pure Cash, with the strong and simple acoustic guitar, and his vocals, though jagged from years of performing, still wise and sage-like, dispensing lyrics as a real storyteller would, giving the listener the impression that he knows much more than he's letting on.
Yet it's the second cut where things get, well, interesting. The track starts with a plaintive guitar playing a riff that's familiar, and then Cash begins, "I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel," and then you realize, hey, this is a Nine Inch Nails tune ("Hurt" to be exact). And when he falls into the chorus, there's a hypnotic pull to his voice; it's difficult to describe,
but his singing, and the emotion that goes into it gives the song a whole new sheen. The instrumentation is minimal, with his voice and guitar out front, and keyboards laying back, building in the chorus. It's the kind of song that gives you goose bumps when you listen to it.
There are other covers here that Cash gives a new spin to, such as "Bridge Over Troubled Water," which he delivers in a country gospel way. Sure, his voice wavers in spots, but there's a sense of integrity that is associated with Cash, and though some may scoff at his interpretation of the song, talking in spots, or singing with Fiona Apple
on the chorus, his simple and direct delivery kind of pushes away any thoughts of criticism. Again, a large part of this is due to the production, which is as simple, clean, and as direct as Cash himself. His take on Sting's "I Hung My Head" makes the song seem like an American classic. The simple tale of an accidental killing is given credibility via Cash's voice and guitar.
And though I wasn't too crazy about "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," a song Roberta Flack hit big with ages ago, it still possesses the dramatic pull that Cash exerts. With an organ playing lightly in the background, it could almost be mistaken for a church hymn. He also gives the Eagle's "Desperado" a spin, and a song like that is tailored to a man like Cash. Perhaps the strongest cover track choice is the traditional "Danny Boy," played with just an organ behind him, and done in an LA church in just two hours. If you don't get pensive and brooding during this number, well, it might be time to check in with a shrink.
In the end, you get 15 solid numbers from Cash. Though the song choices may not be what you'd expect from the man, put any worries aside and give the disc a spin. Cash, like Willie Nelson, is one of the last of the living greats, an American icon. His simplicity and integrity come through the music like few other artists are able to manage, and he proves this on the cover tunes here. His originals are stronger than ever, and let's just hope this series continues.
More Johnny Cash
Lou Reed, Take No Prisoners (Arista/BMG Heritage)
Does the world need another live Lou Reed album? Well, not exactly new, having first appeared way back in 1978, but now digitally remastered, and ready for your consumption. And on the upside, there are some hilarious moments as Reed fires away like a loose canon, bantering with an equal mix of sarcasm, vitriol, and humor. And seen from that perspective, it's an interesting work, almost like a Ken Burns documentary, as you get the feel and flavor of the late '70s when this concert was recorded at the Bottom Line in New York City. Then again, when it lays flat, with the random crowd noise, or garbled sounds, for example, you might reach for the fast forward button.
There are songs that can be taken alone and listened to, like the version of "Satellite of Love," which is one of the best on the disc. Yet, overall, the two CDs are best listened to in one sitting to get the full effect. The only drawback is I don't know how many times I'll be doing that in the coming years. It's not that I dislike Reed or the songs, it's just, well, though I'd suggest that everyone have this in their collection, I see it more as a reference than as day-to-day play-list material. As for Reed's performance, David Fricke of Rolling Stone mentions in the liner notes that Reed recorded this in SBS, or stereo binaural sound, and attempted to capture the sound using microphones placed on the ears on dummy heads in the crowd. He also notes that Reed thought the only successful track was "Leave Me Alone," but you had to wear headphones for the rush.
So despite the technology, there are a few bumps in the road. And, jeez, right now "I'm Waiting For My Man" is playing, clocking in just shy of 14 minutes, and Reed is rambling, and maybe it's lack of sleep on my part, but I just can't get into it. "Your mother, your father, your cocksucking brother, they don't mean shit to me," Reed sneers out about halfway into the song, and it illustrates why I can't back the disc wholeheartedly. It's one of those you-had-to-be-there things. I'm sure back in May 1978, it worked well, but 25 years later, it doesn't play as well. Ask a 20-something about President Reagan, and you'll know what I mean.
And yet as much as it bothers me, I think it's important to have just for that reason, that it is a slice of history, and from an artist who has contributed much to the world of rock and roll. It may not be the best offering from Reed, maybe not the best band lineup, or collection of songs. But it does provide a glimpse into a time when a music scene was vibrant, and Reed's tirades will strike a chord with some who were around in those days. Oh, and do put the headphones on for "Leave Me Alone."
More Lou Reed
Send this page to a friend Mailing list Current stories Classifieds