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album reviews

Smokey Robinson

A Quiet Storm

A Quiet Storm begins with the sound of a summer shower, a flute, tremulous congas and vibes and Smokey breathlessly caressing the words, "Soft and warm, a quiet storm." As the title tune progresses, the sensuality of its lyrics and the loose, improvisational feel of the backup suggest that the album is going to be Robinson's What's Going On or Innervisions, a formula-defying statement of both personal and social import. But Robinson is moved neither by Marvin Gaye's macho sensi... | More »

Aerosmith

Toys In The Attic Columbia

Aerosmith, a five-piece Boston hard-rock band with almost unlimited potential, can't seem to hurdle the last boulder separating it from complete success. Like Toys in the Attic, their two previous LPs have had several stellar moments which were weakened by other instances of directionless meandering and downright weak material. That these albums stood the test of time is testimony to the band's raw abilities and some outstanding production on the part of Jack Douglas — Toys in... | More »

July 17, 1975

Elton John

Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy MCA

First things first. This is one of Elton John's best albums. He hasn't tried to top past successes, only to continue the good work he's been doing. And he's succeeded, even taking a few chances in the process. The record is devoid of the gimmicky rock numbers from the Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player phase. It isn't weighted down with the overarranging and overproduction that marred so much of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It sounds freer and more rela... | More »

Kiss

Dressed To Kill Casablanca

Kiss does not play music — it makes very high-volume noise. If rock & roll intrigues you, though, you'd best be advised that for all the simplicity, overstatement and repetition within its records, Kiss does make fantastically successful rock. Driven by Gene Simmons's remarkably inventive bass lines and the cacophonous poundings of drummer Peter Criss, Kiss makes Chuck Berry chords and basic rock progressions come alive with energetic urgency. Simple? Yes. Repetitive? Yess... | More »

James Taylor

Gorilla Warner Bros

James Taylor pretty much wrote the book for the singer/songwriters of the Seventies. That may be a dubious distinction but Taylor's early work, characterized by subdued singing and restrained, clean backings, was also marked by an undercurrent of extreme agitation and angst. It was this sense of powerful emotions barely held in check that gave Taylor's music its dramatic tension. When that undercurrent diminished and disappeared after the definitive Sweet Baby James, Taylor's m... | More »

Bee Gees

Main Course Universal Distribution

Main Course, the best-sounding Bee Gees album ever, represents a last-ditch effort to reestablish the group's mass popularity in front of their upcoming U.S. tour. My guess is that it should succeed, at least to some extent, due to Arif Mardin's spectacular production, which presents the Bee Gees in blackface on the album's four genuinely exciting cuts. "Nights on Broadway" and especially "Fanny (Be Tender with My Love)" boast spacious disco arrangements against which the Bee G... | More »

July 3, 1975

The Kinks

A Soap Opera

It isn't only because I received this album gratis that I won't take the safe way out and coo something glib like, "To hear Ray Davies intone such lines as 'You'd better come to bed, darling' (in tones so urbane as to cause Bryan Ferry to tremble with envy) is alone sufficient justification for the purchase of Soap Opera." Nor on the other hand will I succumb to the enormous temptation to sniff, "On Soap Opera the Kinks sound pretty well washed up." What I will tell... | More »

Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Four Wheel Drive

When it sells its soul to a formula, rock dies. Or so the argument goes: The music went into hibernation when the wild heroes of early rock 'n' roll were replaced by the groomed idols of American Bandstand, the challenging innovators of progressive rock by the hackneyed boogie bands of the modern ballroom circuit. In both instances, the eccentric vitality essential to rock gave way, under commercial pressures, to a predictable mix of familiar ingredients that insured popularity, bu... | More »

Barry White

Just Another Way To Say I Love You

Barry White seemed so filled with self-parody at first that it was easy to dismiss him. But it is becoming increasingly obvious with every additional release that he is a very talented man. His distinction rests with the fact that he is currently one of rock's great bandleaders. At his best, he can perform any song at what feels like the beat of the universe, the perfect tempo. White doesn't make albums, only singles mixed with filler. On his latest, the record revolves around the ... | More »

Earth, Wind & Fire

That's The Way Of The World

Lousy production works to this LP's detriment — Maurice White has surprisingly chosen to have the entire album sound "hot." It easily befits such uptempo numbers as "Happy Feelin'" and the popular single "Shining Star," helping them glow with an incendiary charge that once moved record producer Sandy Pearlman to term EW&F "the closest thing to a black heavy-metal band." But numbers like "Reasons." "All about Love" and the title cut — ballads cut from the Four Tops/Ta... | More »

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Song Stories

“Road to Nowhere”

Talking Heads | 1985

A cappella harmonies give way to an a fuller arrangement blending pop and electro-disco on "Road to Nowhere," but the theme remains constant: We're on an eternal journey to an undefined destination. The song vaulted back into the news a quarter century after it was a hit when Gov. Charlie Crist used it in his unsuccessful 2010 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Florida. "It's this little ditty about how there's no order and no plan and no scheme to life and death and it doesn't mean anything, but it's all right," Byrne said with a chuckle.

More Song Stories entries »
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