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album reviews

Tom Waits

The Heart of Saturday Night Asylum

Tom Waits is an urban romantic poet whose lyrics echo the oral Beat poetry pioneered by Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Corso in the Fifties. Like the Beats, Waits has an ear for the underlying rhythms of American speech and an impressive ability to catalog and juxtapose provocative snatches of cityscape while creating a grandly sentimental vision. Waits has the special ability to redeem cliches — to make such phrases as "lonesome ol' town" and "ol' bloodshot moon" at once... | More »

November 21, 1974

John Lennon

Walls And Bridges Apple/EMI
6

Walls and Bridges shows John Lennon to be as mercurial as ever. I anticipated an unbearable suffering occasioned by the collapse of one of this century's most public love affairs — after all, Yoko Ono was presented as the membrane between agony and peace for Lennon, between illusion and reality. Yet the relative clear-headedness of this album suggests that she may have been only the most recent in a series of causes from which Lennon is extricating himself with customary agility. H... | More »

Carole King

Wrap Around Joy Ode

Since her landmark Tapestry, Carole King has both oversimplified and overelaborated that masterful album's style until her music has become something more overtly but less effectively personal. The spontaneity and simple joyfulness of her earlier Brill Building music and the contemporary beauty of Tapestry eventually turned into the arid, stilted sound of her worst album Fantasy. On Wrap Around Joy she has taken her first faltering steps back to a more solid style.   On her first ... | More »

November 7, 1974

Bonnie Raitt

Streetlights

On her newest album Bonnie Raitt, one of the most gifted contemporary pop interpreters, partially succeeds in coping with uncongenial production by Jerry Ragovoy. The uneven results illustrate an important record industry problem: How are artists to deal with a sophisticated production technology that dictates the creation of flawlessly manufactured commercial "product" and tends to disallow the idiosyncratic, spontaneous and simple? Increasingly, the outcome is a bland MOR slickness that dep... | More »

Jackson Browne

Late For The Sky Asylum

Like Browne's two previous albums, Late for the Sky contains no lyric sheet. The three or four hours required to make a full transcription will, however, be well worth the effort for anyone interested in discovering lyric genius. I can't think of another writer who merges with such natural grace and fluidity his private and public personas in a voice that is morally compelling yet noncoercive. Late for the Sky, Jackson Browne's third Asylum album, is his most mature, conceptua... | More »

October 24, 1974

Barry White

Can't Get Enough

We got it together, didn't we? Barry White asks in that husky bedroom voice of his at the beginning of this newest album. "We've definitely got our thing together, don't we baby? Isn't it nice? I mean, really, when you really sit and think about it, isn't it really, really nice?" Well, no, really. White's lush compositions have become dance and make-out standards — here, he has turned out five more in what is now an overly familiar mold. Another original, "... | More »

Brian Eno

Here Come The Warm Jets

One of the more intriguing developments on today's English rock scene has been the emergence of a cult of marginal musicians bent on doing "weird" things to the traditional pop song format. Be it in the name of being "trendy" (Elton John) or just for the sake of seeming mysterious (Roxy Music), these folks have taken so many liberties with a hackneyed old genre that it frequently ends up sounding quite unlike the early Beatles records which were its foremost representation. Brian Eno, f... | More »

Fleetwood Mac

Heroes Are Hard To Find Reprise

After a brief identity crisis (another band usurping their identities), the real Fleetwood Mac is back on record. They've still got the same smooth soft-rock sound they've had for three years, since Jeremy Spencer found religion (or vice versa). The group's gone a little funkier in places, which turns out both annoying ("Born Enchanter," "Angel") and intriguing ("Heroes Are Hard To Find"). Their smoother numbers alternately mesmerize ("She's Changing Me") or narcotize ("Co... | More »

Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Not Fragile

Imagine Black Sabbath without instrumental dynamism and lyrical vision; imagine Led Zeppelin without pyrotechnics: What you're imagining is the Bachman-Turner Overdrive — a lowest-common-denominator rock band that's found immense commercial success in a stylistic limbo between heavy-metal and MOR rock. They rely heavily on the basics to convey their musical message, but unlike 99% of their competition, BTO give the impression that the basics are about all they have to offer. ... | More »

October 16, 1974

The Rolling Stones

It's Only Rock 'n Roll Rolling Stones Records

It's Only Rock 'n Roll is a decadent album because it invites us to dance in the face of its own despair. It's a desperate album that warns at the end of one side that "... dreams of the nighttime will vanish by dawn," and on the other that a Kafkaesque "someone is listening, good night, sleep tight." It's a rock 'n' roll album because it's so goddamn violent. At its simplest level the album deals with the psychosis of being in a rock 'n' roll ban... | 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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