.

album reviews

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 »

Elvis Presley

Today

Elvis Presley is the greatest singer in the history of rock & roll. As each of his frustratingly mediocre albums appears, we are forcibly reminded of that fact. There is almost nothing on any of them to keep us listening. But I have never heard an Elvis record which didn't reveal something about the man and his capacities and therefore, somehow, about everyone's. Instinctively and accidentally, Presley's product (with no other artist does that term have such resonance) teac... | More »

June 19, 1975

Kraftwerk

Autobahn

Not to take anything away from Ralf, Florian, Klaus or even Wolfgang — who are probably real nice geezers once you get to know them — but dis ist nicht so gut as Walter Carlos, who hasn't been in the Top Ten in months and months. By the same token, of course, Bachman-Turner Overdrive is no better than 4000 bar bands attempting to induce people to dance to "I Got the Music in Me" in 4000 bars across the length and breadth of these United States even as we speak. Crazy how the ... | More »

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Song Stories

“American Girl”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | 1976

It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

More Song Stories entries »
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