We are now roughly within the three-week perimeter in which today’s top record labels strategically release the albums they hope will be among the year’s biggest sellers—and like you, I am excited as heck!
New albums by Eminem? Avril Lavigne? Celine Dion? Il frickin’ Divo? If there is a God, surely He oversaw this week’s mammoth new release schedule! And even if He did take a lunch break, 2013 looks pretty darn hep, all things considered!
That being said, it’s probably worth discussing: If God was into buying records, would He think this was a pretty good year? Would He be kind of bummed that the “clean” version of Eminem’s new album was incomprehensible to everyone who spoke English but lacked His ability to know everything before it happened? Would He think jokes about Avril Lavigne trying to look like a raccoon on her new album cover were actually funny, or does He have some special thing going on with raccoons where, well, you know, the whole thing would bum Him out?
Plus, even though He’s immortal, do you think He’ll keep paying for Hendrix reissues or maybe wonder how long the dude can keep putting out new releases?
Luckily, this week’s new Scott Stapp release fills us in on this–and much, much more!
Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (Aftermath/Interscope) It would be easy to make a joke about the cover of Eminem’s new album depicting the slave shanty where he and his forefathers spent close to a century picking cotton, calling for pizza delivery, or wondering whether Detroit would finally declare the complete bankruptcy it was long due, but that would be missing the point! And the point is: Eminem albums are less about music than audio theatre, and between good ol’ Em’s cynical sense of humor, his preference for the occasional four-letter word, and his decision to throw a little royalty cash toward the Zombies for their “Time Of The Season,” all 21 of the tracks here are at least good for one solid consecutive and entertaining listen! Will they change the course of pop history? No! Will they make you grateful in their spotlighting of such guest stars as Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, Skylar Grey, Nate Ruess, Sia and Jamie N Commons? No! Will they take your mind off the fact that we are all, each and every one of us, destined to die and eventually decompose to nothingness? Yes, at least for an hour! And where I come from, that makes this a great album!
Celine Dion: Loved Me Back To Life (Columbia) There are very few people like Celine Dion in the history of pop music: Extraordinarily talented in their root skill (singing), wildly acclaimed by a certain demographic (older Gen-X’ers and baby boomers) but perceived to be of another world entirely by those just a few years younger, and either oddly corny or quirkily charming in her song selection, career path, re-location to Las Vegas, etc. I find her extraordinarily fascinating! With conspicuous guests like Ne-Yo and Stevie Wonder here—and a fascinating list of 26 “producers and songwriters” involved, which, you’ll agree, is not too shabby when you’re talking about 13 songs—this new Celine album is a damned fine, polished thing, exactly what you’d want to release when you’re renowned as the highest-grossing touring artist in the world from 2000 to 2010, and a solid listen through and through! And talk about planning ahead: You think The Walking Dead won’t need a new theme song soon? She is a goddess, and she is better than nearly all of us!
Avril Lavigne: Avril Lavigne (Epic) She’s a pretty perky pop singer, is young Ms. Lavigne, and between her upbeat song-stylings such as “Here’s To Never Growing Up,” “Bitchin’ Summer,” and “Bad Girl,” I’m reminded here of a brief incident a few months ago when, while camping out in the woods in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, my friends and I heard a brief scampering on the roof of our cabin, thought nothing of it, eventually turned in, then later woke up after hearing a jarring crash in the kitchen—only to find young Ms. Lavigne herself, decked out precisely as she is on this album’s cover, ripping through several jars of Jif peanut butter, a few boxes of Ritz crackers, and a half-dozen cans of Vernor’s ginger ale! We turned off our flashlights, pulled out a few decks of cards, started playing Euchre, chatted about Chad Kroeger and Nickelback, and then—all of us!—later discussed why these were the greatest days in rock ‘n’ roll history! We didn’t want to kill that Canadian animal control dude, but Avril had this gleam in her eye and the Stroh’s was a-flowin’!
Il Divo: A Musical Affair (Columbia) There are times late at night—say maybe between 12:30 and 2 am—when nothing really sounds right to me except for, say, a brand new album featuring hugely popular singing combo Il Divo running through a sparkling combination of some of Broadway’s biggest all-time numbers, including hits from South Pacific, West Side Story, Les Miserables, and much more! And what else could you expect from a group that has sold over 26 million albums worldwide? It would be totally in bad form to fantasize about a concept album in which the guys declare artistic war against younger singing sensations Il Volo—note the similar name!—challenge them to a mud-wrestling match, and declare “partial ownership of the ‘Il’ descriptor”! Might I suggest both groups simply make a date to briefly meet for coffee, talk over their artistic differences, and check out some of the latest black metal bands from Scandinavia? It worked for Celine and Cher!
The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Jimi Hendrix Experience: Miami Pop Festival (Experience Hendrix LLC)/Legacy) Okay, now speaking purely as a guy who’s been writing about rock ‘n’ roll for a few years but would hate to be seen as anything less than a young and spritely cub reporter, how do you think it makes me feel to tell you that when this absolutely fabulous, unexpected live performance by Jimi Hendrix at the Miami Pop Festival was recorded in 1968, I was in the frickin’ audience! Yep, time travel is great! That said, that it took this long for this fairly stellar recording to surface—close to 50 years, no?—is something of a miracle. Surprisingly hi-fi, good performances all, filled with songs that adolescents such as myself had no way of recognizing at the time—i.e. “Tax Free,” “Hear My Train A Comin’”—the disc is yet another reminder of the guitarist’s rather impeccable legacy, the musical adeptness of the core Experience trio, and the fact that the very best rock ‘n’ roll artists never ever repeated themselves—and that this version of “Fire,” say, sounds different than any other Hendrix ever played. Highly recommended.
Robert Wyatt: ’68 (Cuneiform) Speaking of Jimi Hendrix in 1968, as we just were, you can hear him playing bass here on “Slow Walkin’ Talk,” one of four tracks from this unexpected release by Robert Wyatt—former drummer and vocalist with the UK’s brilliant Soft Machine, and a band that toured the US that same year with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. A great set, one that longtime fans will be stunned even exists—most of this has never been heard before—the album captures Wyatt laying down tracks that would later make up much of Soft Machine’s classic second and third albums, all in high fidelity, all marvelously creative, adventurous, humor-filled and, all things considered, rather stunningly ahead of their time. By far one of the year’s best releases; find out more here.
M.I.A.: Matangi (Interscope) It’s hard not to feel a special joy when listening to the colorful, deliberately controversial singer/rapper/rude gesturer M.I.A., the Brit-based performer who’s been making hip records since 2005’s Arular, took her stage name either as a tribute to those brave warriors around the world who are still “missing in action,” Miami’s wonderful international airport, or that little-known 1967 TV show featuring some crazy elephant and former Dennis The Menace actor Jay North! A pretty wild but fun record that in pure auditory terms is not unlike what you’d hear while strolling in a K-Mart during a blue-light special while someone was hitting you in the head with a plastic mallet, Matangi is a complete blast, nothing at all like a sonic version of Howard Hawks’ classic 1962 film Hatari!, and—like the latest albums by Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears—designed to be played through speakers! Like it? I sure do!
Various Artists: ¡Released! The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998 (Shout! Factory DVDs) Now that we’ve all agreed content is king, and the complete works of major artists like Harry Nilsson and his ilk are available in entirely affordable and sweetly annotated box sets, let’s move over to the world of DVDs—where the methodically pure and consistent Shout! Factory label continues to make aesthetic waves with their unexpected releases. This jam-packed 6-DVD set features a commendable array of highlights from a series of Amnesty International Human Rights Concerts held between 1986-1998—and the line-up, as these things go, verges on the staggering: U2, Springsteen, Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, Jimmy Page & Robert Plant and…just about anybody any good ever! Rather than recap the laundry list, suffice to say that there are over 1020 minutes of great content here, some of it—bonus content—fairly recently derived, and most of it very much worth your time and energy. And be advised: About 85% of this has never been released on home video before. Great stuff; get it while you can.
Cut Copy: Free Your Mind (Loma Vista) It has always bothered me that I reviewed Cut Copy’s great 2011 album Zonoscope and, despite unavoidable references to great ‘80s Brit bands like China Crisis, couldn’t resist mentioning the word “colonoscopy”! The Ausssie band’s new set—equally great by my count—apparently takes its name from Funkadelic’s Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow! Don’t know about you, but when it comes to Cut Copy, I’m getting a little behind in my listening!
Scott Stapp: Proof Of Life (Wind-Up) Critics can accuse former Creed vocalist Stapp of many things, but—as this new album’s title amply proves—false advertising won’t fly! When you set the bar this low, everyone wins!