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album reviews

Earth, Wind & Fire

All 'N All

At their worst, Earth, Wind and Fire indulge in some of the most pretentious excesses in current black music. As on past Earth, Wind and Fire records, All 'n All is filled with leaded brotherhood platitudes, Star Trek sci-fi and stiffly poetic love songs. This sounds overwrought and depressing (and maybe it is). But there's a catch: I like the record, for like much current black music, All 'n All elicits a schizophrenic response. If the album represents some of the worst in bla... | More »

January 12, 1978

Kiss

Alive II Casablanca

One of the perennial saving graces of rock & roll is its accessibility to the true believer. In a sort of Horatio Alger formula, if you need it badly enough and have the right attitude, eventually you'll become an adequate rocker. Kiss, a band built almost entirely around an image, offers the latest proof of this maxim. Kiss has improved dramatically during its recording career, first to the high point of raw efficiency achieved on "I Wanna Rock & Roll All Night," more recently ... | More »

Iggy Pop

Lust For Life Toshiba EMI

Iggy Pop's second comeback album leaves one with ambivalent feelings: glad that Iggy is alive, apparently well, writing, singing and performing again, but upset because his new stance is so utterly unchallenging and cautious. Taken purely on its own terms, Lust for Life is a successful album. Side one is quite good, starting with the title cut, which rocks with a Sandy Nelson-like drum style while Iggy delivers his survivor message to the masses, and continuing to the closing track, "Ton... | More »

David Bowie

Heroes EMI Music Distribution

Heroes is the second album in what we can now hope will be a series of David Bowie-Brian Eno collaborations, because this album answers the question of whether Bowie can be a real collaborator. Like his work with Lou Reed, Mott the Hoople and Iggy Pop, Low, Bowie's first album with Eno, seemed to be just another auteurist exploitation, this time of the Eno-Kraftwerk avant-garde. Heroes, though, prompts a much more enthusiastic reading of the collaboration, which here takes the form of a ... | More »

December 29, 1977

Eric Clapton

Slowhand

Eric Clapton's solo albums have tended to be so evenhanded and laconic that they often seem interchangeable. His pain was always so apparent that every move he made seemed frozen for eternity. At first glance, Slow Hand does nothing to alter that pattern — a few good tracks interspersed between the usual filler — but there's a lot more going on here beneath the surface. Clapton is showing signs of psychic rehabilitation. His love songs are pointedly realistic. In a chill... | More »

December 15, 1977

Meat Loaf

Bat Out Of Hell

Meat Loaf earned his somewhat eccentric name as a performer in the Rocky Horror Show, the theatrical torture, although he had previously spent several years as a rock singer in Detroit, even recording a single or two for Motown. Bat Out of Hell reflects such diversity, but can't resolve it. Meat Loaf has an outstanding voice, but his phrasing is way too stage-struck to make the album's pretensions to comic-book street life real. He needs a little less West Side Story and a little mo... | More »

Rod Stewart

Foot Loose & Fancy Free

There's something to be said for the New Wave rebellion against (to borrow a phrase from the not-so-young-himself Willy De Ville) "old meat." Even if this reaction is mostly confined to England, it seems very healthy. There are a lot of kids in England who don't care what kind of fashionably gauche trinkets decorate Rod Stewart's high-class, Hollywood home or what the exact terms (if any) of his separation from Britt Ekland will be. They do care that Stewart has lost touch with... | More »

The Ramones

Rocket to Russia Sire/London/Rhino

Rocket to Russia is the best American rock & roll of the year and possibly the funniest rock album ever made. Not that the Ramones are a joke — they're more worthwhile than almost anything that's more self-conscious because they exist in a pure and totally active state. Rocket shows substantial progress in the group's sound — it has opened up so that hints of Beach Boys harmonies float among the power chords, kind of like moving with the Who from My Generation ... | More »

Billy Joel

The Stranger Sony Music Distribution

This is the first Billy Joel album in some time that has significantly expanded his repertoire. While Streetlife Serenade and Turnstiles had occasional moments, the bulk of Joel's most memorable material was on Cold Spring Harbor — despite its severe technical flaws — and Piano Man, which gave him his only major single success. This time, while such songs as "Movin' Out" and "Just the Way You Are" are forced and overly simplistic, the imagery and melodies of The Stranger... | More »

December 1, 1977

Elvis Costello

My Aim Is True

Herewith, two rock & roll singers distinguished by their almost total disregard for the music and marketing strategies of their contemporaries. One is as established as such a performer can be and, it seems, is settling into an acceptance of the refusal of the great audience to accept him; the other is new on the scene and, just possibly, a star for these times. God knows what other times he might be a star for. Little Criminals offers all the minor charms of Randy Newman's music an... | More »

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Song Stories

“Vans”

The Pack | 2006

Berkeley, California rappers the Pack made their footwear choice clear in 2006 with the song "Vans." The track caught the attention of Too $hort, who signed them to his imprint. MTV refused to play the video for the song, though, claiming it was essentially a commercial for the product. Rapper Lil' B disagreed. "I didn’t know nobody [at] Vans," he said. "I was just a rapper who wore Vans." Even without MTV's support, Lil' B recognized the impact of the track. "God blessed me with such a revolutionary song… People around my age know who really started a lot of the dressing people are into now."

More Song Stories entries »
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