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album reviews

Willie Nelson

The Troublemaker

If anyone is still dubious about the extent of Willie Nelson's success and influence, any of these six albums will serve to convince that he has become a model for country singer/songwriters. The Troublemaker, Nelson's latest release, was actually recorded for Atlantic almost three years ago Sales of his two previous albums for that label apparently weren't enough to warrant the release of this one, a collection of white gospel songs. But the big success of The Outlaws and Red... | More »

December 30, 1976

Elton John

Blue Moves

When another performer might have bared his chest and strutted onstage in trousers tighter than White House security, Elton John capered in clown suits and hid behind his glasses. There was something engagingly sly about the self-mocking caption on Rock of the Westies: "Elton John — a boring little musician ... prone to getting fat at Christmas." So much for the more glamorous forms of self-destruction and the stars who seek them. And a thumb of his nose to those who accept only the lea... | More »

Graham Parker

Heat Treatment

Heat Treatment, Graham Parker's second Mercury album, confirms the promise of his debut, Howlin' Wind, which appeared earlier this year. The rapidity of the followup is not the result of any change of direction; rather it reflects Parker's and the Rumour's abundant energy. The sheer attack on Heat Treatment makes the last album sound suddenly subdued. Parker and his band are firmly anchored in that generation of British musicians who came to artistic age in the mid-Sixtie... | More »

Tom Waits

Small Change Asylum

The people who populate Tom Waits' songs are deeply rooted in 20th-century American mythology. They come from tough-guy novels, pulp magazines, radio serials and film noir. Waits isn't interested in the heroes of this fiction, but with the people who exist on its fringes: cabbies, newsstand dealers, shoeshine boys and all-night waitresses. In the perverted language of American politics, they are known as "the little people," but Waits would agree with writer Joseph Mitchell that "th... | More »

Frank Zappa

Zoot Allures

With regard to poo-poo, snot, vomit, depersonalized sex, booze, zoot suits and the banality of mainstream rock, Frank Zappa, one of rock's original angry young men, remains vehement. And Zoot Allures is his latest blow against the Empire. You do remember the Empire? In other words, there are few moments of musical interest on this album, and nearly all are marred by a lyric text that is alternately mindless and condescending, always unfunny. We do not need to be reminded that for all th... | More »

December 16, 1976

Albert King

Albert

There is much to like in this album, starting with King's cooking guitar, which pops up in almost every groove. "My Babe," an old Willie Dixon tune, benefits from an inventive horn arrangement, appropriate background singing, and the feeling King meant business when he recorded it. "I'm Ready" is treated in like manner, but comes up dull, probably because it adds nothing to existing versions. But most of the album is mundanely organized. Part of the problem is King's longstand... | More »

AC/DC

High Voltage

Those concerned with the future of hard rock may take solace in knowing that with the release of the first U.S. album by these Australian gross-out champions, the genre has unquestionably hit its all-time low. Things can only get better (at least I hope so). A band whose live act features a lead guitarist (Angus Young) leering menacingly while dressed in schoolboy beanie and knickers, AC/DC has nothing to say musically (two guitars, bass and drums all goose-stepping together in mindless three... | More »

Stevie Wonder

Songs In The Key Of Life Motown

Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life, like some big Hollywood studio blockbuster, comes to us already weighted down with words, stabbed with exclamation points and wrapped — or is it shrouded? — in great expectations. Two years in the making, the album's imminent release was announced several times, and each time it was withdrawn to be haggled over, reworked, expanded and gossiped about until its release at the end of September. It is nothing if not ambitious: two re... | More »

Earth, Wind & Fire

Spirit

The songs of Earth, Wind and Fire combine pure urban fantasy with the type of facile brotherhood messages that also crop up in the music of Stevie Wonder and the O'Jays. But Earth, Wind and Fire wraps its sermons on universal love in fashionable mysticism. One has only to look as far as the cover of their current album to see the trappings: cleancut and dressed in white, the group stands, eyes closed, in positions of cosmic significance, while three white pyramids loom in the background.... | More »

Funkadelic

Tales of Kidd Funkadelic

What you see on Funkadelic album covers is what the band is about: "The saber-tooth, slippery tongued & most nastic mau-mau bootybusters of noxious neegrow humpanotical, moldy metal, marching noise music." These guys are no spring chickens — they've been playing psychedelic-tinged black music for almost eight years and were an early source of inspiration for Alice Cooper's stage antics. While the group is on the teetering verge of becoming the Next Big Thing, they aren... | More »

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Song Stories

“Santa Monica”

Everclear | 1996

After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

More Song Stories entries »
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