album reviews

Jackson Browne

Hold Out Elektra

Everything that's right and everything that's wrong about Hold Out, Jackson Browne's first studio album since The Pretender (1976), can be found in its climax: the spoken confession at the end of the last cut, "Hold On Hold Out." Eight minutes long, "Hold On Hold Out" is the LP's anthem, its farewell address and would-be summation. With Technicolor clarity, the drive of the drums, the zing of the string synthesizer and the shoulders-thrust-back momentum of the piano jump o... | More »

August 21, 1980

The Cure

Boys Don't Cry

In the spectrum of self-conscious postpunk British bands, the Cure fall squarely between Wire's sophisticated, jagged architectonics and the Undertones' concise, wide-eyed pop music. They incorporate a little of each. I guess this means that these guys average out at the college-sophomore level, which is appropriate, since their first English single (the desert-spare "Killing an Arab") was based on an Albert Camus novel. The Stranger. It's hard to pull off such a feat without b... | More »

Alice Cooper

Flush The Fashion

This isn't the Killer album that Alice Cooper hoped it'd be, but give the ghoul credit for trying. At a time when his rock & roll stock is nearly bankrupt, Cooper has wisely scrapped the flatulent vaudeville trappings and tragicomic pretensions of his late-Seventies work and reassumed the punk mantle he wore when the original Alice band was cutting a General Sherman-like swath (with rapacious guitars and tortured chickens!) through hippie complacency. On Flush the Fashion, the ... | More »

August 7, 1980

The Grateful Dead

Go To Heaven

The cover photo is the biggest surprise. Eschewing the usual Zap Comix-inspired illustration, the world's most tenacious hippie survivors have chosen to pose — in slick suits of John Travolta white — for a very contemporary, very artsy, airbrushed soft-focus portrait. But don't let the packaging fool you. Go to Heaven is mainly more of the same uninspired fluff that's become the Grateful Dead's recorded stock in trade. The Dead move from Bob Weir and John Barl... | More »

Carole King

Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King

Nine of the ten cuts on Pearls — Songs of Goffin and King are rerecordings of oldies, and they represent Carole King's implicit acknowledgment that her songwriting talent has failed in recent years. There's no shame in that admission, however, considering how many classics King and her longtime partner, Gerry Goffin, have contributed to the pop-music hall of fame. And it's a relief to have a new Carole King album filled with material that's good. Her solo career actu... | More »

July 24, 1980

Paul McCartney

McCartney II

McCartney II is an album of aural doodles designed for the amusement of very young children. Recorded at home, with the instruments plugged into a sixteen-track tape machine, it's a crude affair that depends more on synthesizers than do Paul McCartney's previous discs. As his own one-man band, McCartney doesn't try to imitate Wings or re-create the precious atmosphere of his first solo LP, now ten years old. Most of the songs are merely sound effects. Instead of developing melo... | More »

Graham Parker

The Up Escalator

There's a big gap between being a rock & roll classicist and actually turning out classics. Specifically, it's the difference between reaffirming traditional rock truisms and reinvigorating them — between, say. Tom Petty, whose rich and ringing minianthems meld half-a-dozen heartfelt homages, and Graham Parker, who aims higher without thinking about it.   Parker's early records — like the Band's — didn't sound like anybody so much as every... | More »

Elton John

21 at 33

We're now into the fifth year of the Elton John crisis, and frankly some of us here on the Elton watch are getting worried. Ever since 1975, when the anti-John backlash set in and the piano pumper's finest album, Rock of the Westies, only went umpteen-platinum instead of his usual quadribillion, Elton has sounded confused, bitter, exhausted. Efforts to reenter John into the mainstream of things failed: Blue Moves (1976) seemed like a smart idea at the time — a double-LP sulk ... | More »

July 10, 1980

Lou Reed

Growing Up In Public BMG Ariola

Some people wait for things that never come." sang Lou Reed in "All through the Night" on last year's The Bells. "And some people dream of things that never been done... /Why can't anybody shed just one tear for things that don't happen?" In another number from that fine LP. "Families" (about a way ward son speaking to his parents across a gulf of reciprocal heartbreak). Reed had to pay twofold for some of those "things that don't happen" — once for his family'... | More »

June 26, 1980

Pete Townshend

Empty Glass

As a fundamentally religious artist, Pete Townshend fashions his music from sermons and confessions. Though it's not an easy thing for intellectuals to admit, this is well within the limits of rock & roll tradition. From the beginning, rock has been a music that's attracted evangelical Protestants, lapsed Catholics, cabalistically inclined Jews and yearning acidheads. What makes Townshend singular is his insistence on not separating his most transcendent spiritual convictions f... | More »

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Song Stories

“Wake Up Everybody”

John Legend and the Roots | 2010

A Number One record by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes in 1976 (a McFadden- and Whitehead-penned classic sung by Teddy Pendergrass) inspired the title and lead single from Wake Up!, John Legend's tribute album to message music. The more familiar strains of "Wake Up Everybody" also fit his agenda. "It basically sums up, in a very concise way, all the things we were thinking about when we were putting this record together in that it's about justice, doing the right thing and coming together to make the world a better place," he said. Vocalists Common and Melanie Fiona assist Legend on this mission to connect.

More Song Stories entries »