.

album reviews

Rod Stewart

Smiler Mercury

The magnificent catarrh has a new album, Smiler, and it contains what by now you would expect: several energetic new examples of the Stewart/Wood world view, a couple of boozy renditions of classic R&B standards, a sentimental soundalike of Rod's smasheroo "Maggie May," at least two ho-hum instrumental interludes lasting an average of less than a minute, plus at least one good old Dylan song and maybe a stray ballad or two. This must be Rod's conception of what a well-rounded po... | More »

Billy Joel

Streetlife Serenade Family Productions/Columbia

Billy Joel's pop schmaltz occupies a stylistic no man's land where musical and lyric truisms borrowed from disparate sources are forced together. A talented keyboardist, Joel's piano style creditably imitates early Elton John, while Joel's melodic and vocal attacks owe something to Harry Chapin. Joel's lyrics also seem Chapin-influenced in their appeal to Middle American sentimentality. "Piano Man" and "Captain Jack," the centerpieces of Joel's last album, compel... | More »

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 »

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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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