Pink Floyd: The Endless River (Columbia) It says something for the cultural impact Pink Floyd has had that on the very first day of the release of this set—a “new” album, offered up in various formats including Deluxe CD, Blu-Ray and, of course, vinyl—Amazon already has rolled up 104 customer reviews and counting. Most of them are positive—four stars on the average—and most show that love for the band has not dwindled one iota since they released The Dark Side Of The Moon in 1973. Much has changed since then, of course, not least the absence of band co-founder Roger Waters since the mid-‘80s, the pair of Waters-less album that followed, and the unfortunate passing of keyboardist Rick Wright in 2008. This new album, officially declared the band’s last-ever, is an atmospheric, predominantly instrumental collection originating from the 1993 Division Bell recordings—thus featuring band members David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Wright—but significantly dressed up, modernized, and alternately classy, stately, and everything one might expect from Pink Floyd circa 2014. In short, most of it sounds like the first 10 minutes of Wish You Were Here. But that’s OK. There are very few bands from the ‘60s still making relevant music this late in the game, and Pink Floyd is one of the very few—maybe the only—lacking a single stinker in their catalog. Well played, as they say, in more ways than one.
Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways (RCA) Most Foo Fighters reviews typically contain one sentence discussing band founder Dave Grohl, in which he is either described as an annoyingly ubiquitous scene-maker or an all-around good guy that absolutely no one has a harsh word for. And most reviews of this Foo Fighters record will probably spend at least a little time talking about the current HBO series documenting the band’s travels, in the course of making Sonic Highways, to eight cities well known for their music scenes. Word is it’s quite good. And maybe some reviews will mention that as albums go, this new one is pretty fair Foo: It sounds ultra-hot (Butch Vig’s on hand), it sounds just like contemporary rock should sound, in radio terms—loud, fast, and not too abrasive—and it sounds like itself. Repeatedly. Over and over. There’s not much sonic variety here, despite the city-to-city trek and the associated guest stars, in that the material resides in a certain zone of intensity and never seems to move above or below it. Result? Shove a few songs here in a 30-track playlist and they’ll pop. Listen to them in all in a row? Um, gotta go. Moral: Maybe you gotta love the guy, but maybe you don’t gotta listen.
Whitney Houston Live: Her Greatest Performances CD/DVD (Legacy) While it would be nice to go with the overwhelming sentiment that Whitney Houston was the “greatest singer of her generation”—as it says on the back of this CD’s cover, no less—and one would be foolish to deny most aspects of her vocal talents, let’s get real here: She was famous for being so famous, for having a skill-set that allowed her to be molded into what her well-known mentor Clive Davis considered a superstar of her era, and finally for selling so frickin’ many records. That last bit is not small, and the records she sold a lot of—“How Will I Know,” “You Give Good Love,” Greatest Love Of All,” and the inescapable “I Will Always Love You”—have been seared into an entire generation’s brain stems. Pair that with the insidious influence both she and her conceptually similar singing buddy Mariah Carey have had on every single American Idol contestant, and you’ve got something phenomenal, true—but whether it’s something most people are going to want to revisit more than occasionally remains to be seen.
Love: Black Beauty (High Moon) Despite several false starts—as Love’s late founder Arthur Lee might have it—Black Beauty is officially out, remarkably packaged, and ready for its close-up. And the long-awaited album, legendary among Love’s fans for being the one that got away—the long-lost album Lee recorded in the early ‘70s for Buffalo Records, the label that never was—probably sounds just like they’d expect. Meaning: Forever Changes this ain’t. Falling between Lee’s hard-rocking solo 1972 set Vindicator and 1974’s rock/funk set Reel To Real (aka Love’s Last Legs), there’s an awful lot of hardish rocking here. Most of it is interesting, especially for longtime fans, but some of it (the cover of “Walk Right In,” say) isn’t. With the extras—kudos to the High Moon people for digging up the Thomasine & Bushrod track—and the truly book-like packaging, there’s lots to recommend here, not least the fact that Arthur Lee is on each and every song, and that’s not going to happen again. Ignore the steep price and nab it while you can.
Marianne Faithfull: Give My Love To London (Easy Sound) One look at this captivating cover portrait and one listen to the sparkling arrangements within, and you might find it hard to believe this album comes a full 50 years after Marianne Faithfull began her recording career. And while an extraordinary number of things happened to her in the interim—many of them documented on her albums, in fact—she has not faded away into sweet nothingness. Her appeal, like her vocal rasp, has increased with time, and the artistic company she keeps could not be more impressive. Present here are Brian Eno, Portishead’s Adrian Utley, Ed Harcourt and the Bad Seeds’ Warren Ellis and Jim Sclavunos; mixed with several of her co-written originals are tracks by Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Roger Water, and Hoagy Carmichael. You cannot knock her taste—you never could—and you cannot argue with the raw conviction in her vocal delivery, which gives her version of “The Price Of Love” a notably different spin than the Everly Brothers might have intended.
Tears For Fears: Songs From The Big Chair [Super Deluxe Edition] (Mercury) In the world of deluxe repackaging, albums like this one—Brit band Tears For Fears’ huge-selling second set from 1985—may be the best candidates of all. They have hits galore (“Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” “Shout,” Head Over Heels”), they have substance (translation: the non-hits are good), and they are well produced, well arranged, and well regarded by an entire generation. You could also make a case that for a certain segment of our population, perhaps the ones who came of age when Martha Quinn & company populated their television screens, Tears For Fears were among the very best bands in their class. All of which means that were one to take the original 1985 Songs From The Big Chair album and make a 6-disc set of it—that would be 4 CDs and 2 DVDs—it might not be a bad idea at all. In this case it really isn’t: TFF came precisely at that time when 12-inch single remixes varied per country, city and time of day—and between shorts versions, radio versions, video versions, urban mixes, beat of the drum mixes, and U.S. remix alternates, you’ve a couple of new albums all over again. Throw in a 5.1 surround sound mix of the original album, courtesy of sonic fetishist Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, and this is a significant dressing-up of a very good album that is not quite the excessively overblown package it might’ve been. Call it an interesting test case and let’s see what happens next.
The Kinks: Muswell Hillbillies (Legacy Edition) (Legacy) The Kinks’ catalog—at least in the States—has been in disarray for years, shifting from distributor to distributor, bearing a bonus track here or a bonus disc there, and never quite having the associated benefit of the marketing pushes that the labels who control the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Who catalogs can whip out regularly. Which means it’s hard to figure out what’s available anymore and what isn’t. Hopefully this appearance of this 1971 gem, the band’s first album for RCA, will be just the start of the comprehensive catalog reissue the Kinks deserve; let’s cross our fingers. That said, this is one of the very last really good Kinks albums; by my count, the band’s three-LP streak of ‘66-‘68 (Face to Face, Something Else, Village Green Preservation Society) was one of the best showings ever in rock ‘n’ roll, and anyone seeking out the quality stuff should start there. But there’s enough really strong material on Muswell Hillbillies, including “20th Century Man” and “Alcohol,” that makes this album a must-have, and Legacy’s new version—bonus tracks, BBC video performances—makes the deal even sweeter. Recommended hearing.
Cool Ghouls: Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye (Empty Cellar) Have spent more than a few hours spinning the new album by San Francisco’s Cool Ghouls, a quartet who have a fascinating knack for taking old and much-loved rock structures—garage rock, fuzz guitar, echoed, layered vocal harmonies—and turning them into something sounding new, fresh and significantly fun. It’s real good, it sounds great turned up loud, and they’re exactly the band you’d like to have playing in your bar scene if you’re the sort of person who makes movies. And they do that up there, don’t they?