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A Few Album Reviews

Gaith

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One of my New Year's Resolutions is to expand my music tastes/horizons, specifically, by listening to and rating at least three songs per day. When I complete an album, I'll post a review. Others are welcome to contribute reviews and thoughts of their own, and mimicking my format is not required (nor is individually addressing each track), but let's please have this thread comment on albums as whole works, and not just stray songs here and there. :)

My rating system is as follows. Of course, pop music is about as subjective as art gets, so all opinions are merely my own...
X = fail, remove from circulation
1 = lacking, but not worthy of outright removal
2 = average
3 = good
4 = very good
5 = excellent


To kick things off, I'll start with a few of my favorite albums ever, courtesy of Elton John and Bernie Taupin:


Elton John, The Captain and the Kid (2006)

Captainkid.jpg


1. Postcards from Richard Nixon: great historical fun, 4/5
2. Just Like Noah's Ark: naughty delight, 5/5    
3. Wouldn't Have You Any Other Way (NYC): pretty good, 4/5
4. Tinderbox: terrific anthem, 5/5
5. And the House Fell Down: propulsive, catchy, 5/5
6. Blues Never Fade Away: one moving ballad, 5/5
7. The Bridge: … and another, 5/5
9. Old '67: amiably groovy, 5/5
8. I Must Have Lost It On The Wind: nice mellow tune, 5/5
10. The Captain and the Kid: bluegrassy and nice, 5/5
11. Across the River Thames: bouncy London ode, 4/5

Notes: I listened to a certain amount of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road as a kid, but The Captain and the Kid, released when I was in college, was the first Elton John album I really grooved to as an adult. As a history fan, the strongly autobiographical focus of Taupin's lyrics was and remains tremendously appealing, and John's music and singing are first-rate. Old-school fans might find the overall sound a bit on the polished side, but it doesn't bother me. This is a near-perfect album. (Average: 4.7)


Elton John, The Diving Board (2013)

Eltonjohn_thedivingboardcover.jpg


1. Oceans Away: beautiful vet tribute, 5/5
2. Oscar Wilde Gets Out: great literary yarn, 5/5
3. A Town Called Jubilee: delectable tale, 5/5
4. The Ballad of Blind Tom: excellent portrait, 5/5
5. Dream #1: (brief instrumental)
6. My Quicksand: tender ballad, 5/5
7. Can't Stay Alone Tonight: splendid toe-tapper, 5/5
8. Voyeur: stone-cold classic, 5/5
9. Home Again: moving lament, 5/5
10. Take This Dirty Water: rousing recollection, 5/5
11. Dream #2: brief instrumental)
12. The New Fever Waltz: indelible dirge, 5/5
13. Mexican Vacation (Kids in the Candlelight): delightful memory, 5/5
14. Dream #3: (brief instrumental)
15. The Diving Board: mellow, jazzy, 4/5
16. Candlelit Bedroom: soulful farewell, 4/5

Notes: Its bafflingly modern and generic album art aside, The Diving Board is a treasure trove of impressionistic and nostalgic story songs, focusing on war, veterans, young lovers in rural places, Oscar Wilde's ostracism, broken hearts overseas... y'know, the usual. According to Wiki, "It is the second of [John's] studio releases since 1979's Victim of Love without any of his regular band members." I'm no Elton John scholar, but I'll be delightfully astonished if any of his albums are as consistently excellent as The Diving Board. It's a masterpiece, plain and simple, and it just might be my single favorite album. (Average: 4.8)


Elton John, Wonderful Crazy Night (2016)

Wonderful_Crazy_Night.jpg


1. Wonderful Crazy Night: agreeably funky, 4/5
2. In the Name of You: funky fun, 4/5
3. Claw Hammer: groovy, lyrically rich, 4/5
4. Blue Wonderful: nicely rousing, 5/5
5. I've Got 2 Wings: uplifting, spiffy, 4/5
6. A Good Heart: a schmaltzy blanket, 3/5
7. Looking Up: decently bouncy, 3/5
8. Guilty Pleasure: rousing paean, 4/5
9. Tambourine: a bit treacly, bland, 3/5
10. The Open Chord: beautiful tribute, 4/5
11. Free and Easy: mellow buttery toast, 4/5
12. England and America: jaunty fun, 4/5

Notes: After the above classics, it took me a while to warm to Wonderful Crazy Night. According to Wikipedia, it was "written and recorded in 17 days," which might explain why it's not quite as great, but damn, if John and Co. can turn out an album this solid in under a month, I wish they'd do so several times a year! Apart from "I've Got 2 Wings," the story of a real-life musical preacher who lacks a Wikipedia page, the songs are frothy and less overtly personal than those of The Captain and the Kid; as the cover suggests, this is an album one can put on for background music at a party. And, on those terms, it's pretty darn good. (Average: 3.8)
 

Problem Eliminator

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Did you ever try out Elton John's album he did with Leon Russell in 2010? It's quite good. My own custom version drops a few tracks, but the album's solid.

 

Gaith

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Problem Eliminator said:
Did you ever try out Elton John's album he did with Leon Russell in 2010? It's quite good. My own custom version drops a few tracks, but the album's solid.

I have indeed! I prefer its Elton John/Taupin tracks, and agree there's some fine stuff in there. I'll get around to a full review eventually. :)

------------------------

I've long wanted to take a proper look at Runrig, the long-running Scottish folk/rock group that once gave one of the best single song performances of all time:


First up...


Runrig, The Cutter and the Clan (1987)

220px-The_Cutter_And_The_Clan.jpeg


1. Alba – 4:02: Gaelic rocker, 4/5
2. The Cutter – 3:51: rocking lament, 3/5
3. Hearts of Olden Glory – 2:14: short choral anthem, 3/5
4. Pride of the Summer – 3:59:  bagpipe-fueled march, 3/5
5. Worker for the Wind – 3:30: tedious, grinding dirge, X
6. Rocket to the Moon – 4:59: annoyingly twangy, X
7. The Only Rose – 3:51: decently mellow: 3/5
8. Protect and Survive – 3:23: likable audio wallpaper, 3/5
9. Our Earth Was Once Green – 4:01: grating preaching, X
10. An Ubhal as Àirde – 3:47: largely indistinct, 2/5

Notes: 1987's The Cutter and the Clan is Runrig's fifth and, according to Wiki, breakthrough album. The band seems to have two modes: midtempo, poppy nostalgia, and earnest, dirge-like lectures about the environment and world peace, man. I'm all for supporting those causes, but I'm not too interested in their extremely lyrically banal songs about the same. Wiki further reports that the album's closer, its second of two Gaelic-language songs, is "the first and only Scottish Gaelic language song to reach the UK Top 20, reaching #18 in 1995, and was used in an advert for Carlsberg lager." And yet, it just sounds like Runrig-inflected white noise to me; "Alba" is much more distinctive. Overall, the record features several tracks worthy of a Runrig playlist. (Average: 2.1)
 

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Runrig, Searchlight (1989)

220px-Searchlight.jpeg


1. News from Heaven – 3:36: poppy fun, 3/5
2. Every River – 4:46: decent pop, 3/5
3. City of Lights – 4:25: a bit treacly, 2/5
4. Èirinn – 4:55: dull Ireland dirge, X
5. Tìr A' Mhurain – 3:54: tolerable Gaelic pop, 2/5
6. World Appeal – 2:20: preachy and shrill, X
7. Tear Down These Walls – 4:08: snore, X
8. Only the Brave – 3:58: reasonably fun, 3/5
9. Sìol Ghoraidh – 5:21: upbeat Gaelic rocker        3/5
10. That Final Mile – 3:07: cloying dross, X
11. Smalltown – 4:02: sub, sub-Springstreen, X
12. Precious Years – 4:46: tiresome dirge, X

Notes: Runrig’s Searchlight is both more didactic and treaclier than their previous album. “News from Heaven” is a fun and bouncy track, and “Sìol Ghoraidh” is a fun Gaelic track but overall, it’s a mediocre effort. (Average: 1.4)


The Revivalists, Men Amongst Mountains (2015)

a1543851993-16.jpg


1. Keep Going – 4:13: rousing number, 4/5
2. Wish I Knew You – 4:33: outstanding track, 5/5
3. Gold to Glass – 3:57: mellow groove, 4/5
4. It Was a Sin – 5:00: solid if a bit loud, 3/5
5. Monster – 4:43: self-pitying ditty, 2/5
6. King of What – 2:47: quiet rumination, 3/5
7. Stand Up – 3:52: admirably funky, 4/5
8. All in the Family – 3:57: overly loud, grating, X
9. Move On – 3:38: engaging anthem, 4
10. Need You – 4:27: another quiet reflection, 3
11. Amber – 4:25: starts well, gets too loud, 1
12. Bulletproof – 4:13: cacophonous, 1
13. Fade Away – 5:13: atmospheric lament, 3/5
14. Men Amongst Mountains – 3:24, mellow coda, 4/5

Notes: The excellent single “Wish I Knew You” just propelled The Revivalists into mainstream success for their third album. Several of Men Amongst Mountains’ tracks build and build until they become too chaotic and garish for my tastes, but it’s good to know an American band can still score a big hit with old-fashioned instruments and vivid lyrics. (Average: 2.9)
 

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Runrig, The Big Wheel (1991)

220px-The_Big_Wheel.jpeg


1. Headlights – 5:09: pretty schlocky, 2/5
2. Healer in Your Heart – 5:34: shapeless and colorless, 1/5    
3. Abhainn an t-Sluaigh – 5:17: rousing chant, 4/5
4. Always the Winner – 5:41: pretty blah, 1/5
5. This Beautiful Pain – 4:15: somnolence defined, 1/5
6. An Cuibhle Mòr – 6:07: Gaelic, but bad, 1/5
7. Edge of the World – 5:00: blandly repetitive, 2/5
8. Hearthammer – 4:27: solid rocker, 3/5
9. I'll Keep Coming Home – 2:33: please don’t, X
10. Flower of the West – 6:36: okay, I suppose, 2/5

Notes: The Big Wheel has fewer overtly lecturing tracks than Searchlight, but it’s still a slog. The exceptions are the evocative Gaelic track “Abhainn an t-Sluaigh” and “Hearthammer,” which compares decently to Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.” The rest, however, is utterly disposable. (Average: 2.9)



Dead or Alive, Youthquake (1985)

220px-DeadOrAliveYouthquake.jpg


1. You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) – 3:20: a true classic, 5/5
2. I Wanna Be a Toy – 3:57: kinky paean, 3/5
3. DJ Hit That Button – 3:27: slightly jazzier, 3/5
4. In Too Deep – 4:09: tolerable funk, 2/5
5. Big Daddy of the Rhythm – 3:24: fun flamboyance, 3/5
6. You Spin Me Round… (Performance Mix) – 7:25: nah, X
7. Cake and Eat It – 4:41: quasi-instrumental, 3/5
8. Lover Come Back to Me – 3:07: “Spin Me” redux, 4/5
9. My Heart Goes Bang (Get Me to the Doctor) – 3:10: good clean fun, 4/5    
10. It's Been a Long Time – 8:02: fairly mellow groove, 3/5    
11. Lover Come Back to Me (Extended Mix) – 5:24: nah, X

Notes: One certainly shouldn’t look to a group named Dead or Alive, responsible for the classic 80s banger “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” for subtlety, and, fittingly, Youthquake has none. What it does have, however, is a number of agreeably funky New Wave dance jams. It's a lot of fun. (Average, not counting the extended mixes: 3.3)
 
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