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album reviews

Jackson Browne

The Pretender Asylum

Like most performers who transcend their genre, Jackson Browne often seems more a symbol than an artist. Singer songwriter fans find in him the fulfillment of the style's promise: Browne's songs really do merge poetic vision and rock. But there are also those (like my friend who suggested that this album's proper title is The Pretentious) who find the genre symptomatic of all of rock's current weaknesses. Browne is the epitome of everything they find disagreeable, both lyr... | More »

January 13, 1977

Patti Smith

Radio Ethiopia BMG

On her second album, Patti Smith lays back, refusing to assert herself as she did on last year's Horses. The key is in the billing: on Radio Ethiopia, her group dominates. But while Smith can be an inventive, sometimes inspired writer and performer, her band is basically just another loud punk-rock gang of primitives, riff-based and redundant. The rhythm is disjointed, the guitar chording trite and elementary. Even at best ("Distant Fingers," for instance), the Patti Smith Group isn'... | More »

Styx

Crystal Ball

Although Crystal Ball doesn't have the immediate impact of its predecessor, Equinox, I still found it to be one of the most dynamic and satisfying rock albums of the year. Although Styx is based in Chicago, the group has its English scam down pat, from the Yes-like vocal harmonies on "Madamoiselle" to the slightly pretentious, somewhat pointless, nonetheless fun use of "Claire de Lune" as an intro to "Ballerina." Styx merges the cocky edge of the finest English outfits with the commercia... | More »

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 »

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Song Stories

“Long Walk Home”

Bruce Springsteen | 2007

When the subject of this mournful song returns home, he hardly recognizes his town. Springsteen told Rolling Stone the alienation the man feels is a metaphor for life in a politically altered post-9/11 America. “Who would have ever thought we’d live in a country without habeas corpus?” he said. “That’s Orwellian. That’s what political hysteria is about and how effective it is. I felt it in myself. You get frightened for your family, for your home. And you realize how countries can move way off course, very far from democratic ideals.”

More Song Stories entries »
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