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album reviews

Eric Clapton

Backless

Eric Clapton must want to be the Mississippi John Hurt of his generation: a sweet-tempered old soul who can communicate great pleasure and great pain in a mumble. The surprise is that he gets away with it so easily. In its way, Backless is a seductive record, if you're attracted to the interplay of Clapton's dolorous voice and Marcy Levy's raspy backup vocals, George Terry's slide guitar and Glyn Johns' pristine production. It's disheartening only if you're ... | More »

Jethro Tull

Bursting Out: Jethro Tull Live

Jethro Tull's double live album is almost too perfect. Bursting Out can't be faulted on any of the usual live-record stumbling blocks: the performances exemplify Tull's technical mastery and omnipresent energy, the track selection runs the stylistic gamut and provides a quick academic history of everything the group's ever been about. It's hard to see how the LP could be improved — yet there's a nagging feeling that something's horribly wrong. Technic... | More »

Styx

Pieces Of Eight

Styx is an arena band from the progressive school. Every gesture's writ huge to the point of flatulence, their pomp is highly circumstantial (it's the only way to get the last row's attention) and around every chorus lurks a whirring synthesizer, if not a pipe organ hauled in from a genuine cathedral. The strategy becomes obvious: Dennis DeYoung's synthesizer (though sub-Rick Wakeman fluff all the way) is crucial because without its bubblicious curlicues, Tommy Shaw's... | More »

Kiss

KISS Casablanca

Kiss is an exciting Brooklynbased band with an imaginative stage presentation and a tight new album. The music is all hard-edged — they call it "thunderock" — and throughout their electrical storm solid craftsmanship prevails. Paul Stanley's rhythm guitar is the star of the proceedings, barking out the coarse chord patterns that comprise the foundation of the band's material. Gene Simmons can thus provide an extra dimension to the band's music by playing fluid bass ... | More »

December 20, 1978

Santana

Borboletta

As Carlos Santana evolves musically and spiritually — for the time being the two paths seem to be one — he chooses his associates more carefully. The demands of the music he conceives are dictating his personnel and the Santana band has become, for recording purposes, an aegis under which various players perform. Borboletta and Illuminations are noteworthy for their rhythm sections. Bassist David Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette, who sparked Miles Davis's late Sixties band... | More »

December 14, 1978

Billy Joel

52nd Street

On 52nd Street and The Stranger, Billy Joel is the quintessential postrock entertainer: a vaudevillian piano man and mimic who, having come of age in the late Sixties, has the grasp of rock and the technical know-how to be able to caricature both Bob Dylan and the Beatles as well as "do" an updated Anthony Newley, all in the same Las Vegas format. Joel seems to have been born knowing what many Seventies pop stars have had to find out the hard way: that rock & roll was always part of show ... | More »

November 30, 1978

Devo

Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo

What's Most Impressive about Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! is its authority: Devo presents their dissociated, chillingly cerebral music as a definitive restatement of rock & roll's aims and boundaries in the Seventies. The band's cover version of "Satisfaction," for instance, with its melody line almost completely erased and the lyrics delivered in a yelping, droogy chant to mechanical rhythms, at first comes across as an intentional travesty, a typical New Wave reject... | More »

David Bowie

Stage Virgin

Though Stage was obviously put together for purely commercial reasons — to regain for the Thin White Duke the audience he's lost since becoming the Thin White Computer — it's a curiously uncompromising album. With the exception of the furiously energetic "Hang On to Yourself," the Ziggy Stardust songs designed to suck in the dollars are given dispassionate, let's-get-this-over-with treatment. "Fame," another popular number, is attractive and glossy, but doesn't... | More »

November 16, 1978

The Beach Boys

M.I.U. Album

M.I.U. Album completes a kind of informal trilogy for the Beach Boys — a cycle begun by Brian Wilson's widely ballyhooed, confusing and ultimately some-what botched return to an active role inside the group with 15 Big Ones in 1976. The new record has little of the derivative, heavy-handed rock & roll revisionism that characterized 15 Big Ones and even less of the murk eccentricity of The Beach Boys Love You, the middle LP. Instead, it's a resolutely sunny retrospective: a... | More »

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Skynyrd's First… And Last

Although it was recorded primarily between 1970 and 1972, this isn't just a relic for Lynyrd Skynyrd fans. One of the best albums the band ever made, Skynyrd's First and...Last ranks either a notch above (better material) or below (slightly poorer playing) its first two records, Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd and Second Helping. A triumphant but ironic final chapter, it measures the extent of the tragedy of the group's demise. Historically speaking, the LP is hardly revelatory.... | 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 »
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