Post by nathanalbright on Nov 1, 2020 23:32:42 GMT -5
Feeling Strangely Fine, by Semisonic
In retrospect, it seems somewhat odd that this album is the only hit album in the United States that Semisonic ever had. Unsurprisingly, this was the first album I ever became familiar with of the band, thanks to my fondness for the big single that came off of this album, the airplay smash "Closing Time" with its faux-deep reflection on the similarity between drunks staggering home at the eponymous time when bars close and unborn children clinging to the womb before their painful entry into the world. The album as a whole stands up, and it is telling that other songs, most notably "Secret Smile" and "Singing In My Sleep" were particularly well-liked in other parts of the world as well as on rock and alternative radio. Semisonic comes off in this album as being a mix between nerdy alternative rockers and deeply romantic power pop musicians with just enough post-grunge muscle to drive these songs, and that was enough to give the band one hit and one hit album, and enough to make those of us for whom the blend of post-grunge, power pop, and nerdy alt-rock hit all the right buttons lifelong fans of the group. If their mass appeal was limited, their core appeal was great, and this album is as good a place as any to figure out why. Here is a track-by-track review:
Closing Time: This album begins on its most accessible note, a driving track with a prominent and simple piano melody that shows lead singer Dan Wilson musing on fatherhood given the troubled birth of his daughter and making a memorable contribution to famous lines that "every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."
Singing In My Sleep: By the time that this song was released, mixtapes and cassettes were certainly on their way out, but this song reflects the band's nerdiness and their close bond with those who created mixtapes (like yours truly) even during the late 90's, and the song was unsurprisingly a minor hit on alternative radio because it resonated with like minds.
Never You Mind: A rolicking song that details a humorous account of bickering couples, it is unclear if this particular song is autobiographical, but it does reference a particularly infamous episode of the original series of Star Trek and so the song demonstrates the interest of the group in romantic drama as well as nerd culture.
Secret Smile: A hit song in the UK and other countries (including Mexico), this particular song is slower and definitely on the romantic side, with the gentle melody and the warm sentiments of the song a testament to the power of love and appreciation in keeping relationships strong.
DND: This is another song that expresses the power and longings of romantic love, with the song consisting of the longings of the singer that the Do Not Disturb sign on the hotel room would allow the lead singer and (presumably) his wife to be left alone for some romantic bliss. One wonders exactly who was bothering the narrator, but it is possible that the song reflects irritation with the burdens of fame even as those burdens had barely started for the group, a la "Dance Monkey."
Completely Pleased: This song is perhaps one of the weaker tracks on the album, certainly so in my opinion, although it too falls into the band's tendency to write songs about love and longing. In this song the narrator expresses his desire to please his woman, punning cum and completely pleased (similar to Lit's "Miserable"), and while the sentiment of the song can certainly not be faulted and is quite praiseworthy, the execution of this song is a bit cringy.
This Will Be My Year: If the song is filled with more than a few zodiac references and other silliness in the lyrics, this Jacob Slichter-penned song also provided the band with a great many references to the level of success the album had and expresses careerist optimism for a group that was about to find its greatest level of success. In that light, it makes for a rather sly inside joke that makes for a strong album track for the loyal fans.
All Worked Out: This song inspired the title of the album, and it is a powerful and somewhat dark track about a woman who has her relationship with a man worked out, where she is driving the relationship to its culmination while the man involved feels strangely fine but not necessarily involved in the working out of her plans.
California: This particular song is an ode to California, and while it's not my favorite song on the album, the fact that Wilson would later move to California from his native Minnesota suggests a strong fondness for the life that the area would have to offer. And it likely made the song more popular in California as well, so that couldn't hurt.
She Spreads Her Wings: This track is the only number from John Munson, who sings lead on the album as well, and it fits in with the overall vibe here of dealing with love and relationships, and if Munson's singing is a bit weak the song itself has some drive and is thought-provoking in its look at a woman.
Gone To The Movies: A fitting close to the album, this is a downbeat album closer about a woman who has left, and the song has enough ambiguity in it that it manages to suggest the tension of the loss of someone to the showbiz life, the discouragement of white knight tendencies on the part of the listening audience, and a demonstration of the whine of Wilson to good effect.
Overall, this is a solid album, and if I feel more critically about some of the songs in the album than I did when I first listened to it, this is a solid album overall that certainly showcases the band in a balance between the post-grunge sound that dominated the late 90's and early 2000's on rock radio and the band's own power pop sensibilities that put them more in league with Ben Folds Five. The larger public seems to have been aware before too long of those power pop interests and unsurprisingly the band had limited long-term success except among devotees of romantic power pop, which includes this reviewer. Popular at the time it was released, this album stands the test of time as well.
Post by nathanalbright on Nov 5, 2020 3:44:15 GMT -5
One Night At First Avenue, by Semisonic
This album is, at least as far as I know, the only live album ever recorded and released by Semisonic over the course of their career. It tells the listener more or less what one would expect to see, in that it shows Semisonic dealing in a warm manner with an appreciative hometown crowd during the latter part of their active period in the early 2000's. The setlist focuses on "Great Divide," the first album the band recorded, but contains material from all of the releases up to that time, including their Best of compilation that was released just as they were about to be dropped from MCA after the failure of "All About Chemistry." If there is an overall approach to the live performance that is obvious, it is that Dan Wilson's voice comes off as being rather thin and even more whiny than in studio and that the band as a whole is grittier than their power pop production live. This is, in other words, the sort of rock album that they wanted to be thought of by the rock crowd and not the more ambivalent power pop/alternative band they were in the studio. A track-by-track review follows:
Sculpture Garden: An early ode to love written by drummer Jacob Slichter, this song is the only one that came from the "Pleasure EP" that was not included on any other works by the band. It is a strong point from that initial EP, though, and makes for an effective opener to showcase the band's interest in love songs and pretensions at high culture.
F.N.T.: One of the early singles from "Great Divide," this song showcases the band in their post-grunge mode, with another ode to love and devotion to someone who is a fascinating new thing but will still be worthy of love and devotion when she is no longer new, a noble sentiment that is easy to appreciate.
Never You Mind: One of the songs off of "Feeling Strangely Fine," this song is an energetic number and makes for an effective live performance, showing the band in a mood to show off their soundtrack pop numbers for a hometown crowd that almost certainly knows most of these numbers well.
In Another Life: This song is one of the more obscure deep cuts from "Great Divide," and it makes for a pleasant listening experience. If it's not an amazing song it's certainly a good one and a touching one and makes for a nice change of pace for the concert.
Down In Flames: Continuing the theme of showcasing songs from "Great Divide" comes the first single and music video from that album, a rousing number that expresses a good deal of dissatisfaction at the course of life and relationships, which is a common enough theme but one done well here. One True Love: One of the highlights of "All About Chemistry," this song really should have been an AC or Hot AC single for the group instead of "Act Naturally." At any rate, the band deals well with the absence of co-writer and duet partner Carole King and the track is handled with an odd but interesting rhythm as well as excellent backup singing.
If I Run: Another strong track from "Great Divide," this particular song is an upbeat number with a lot of nice instrumentation that is handled well by the band and is obviously a familiar song to the audience as well, which is all the better because it's a good song and an enjoyable one to listen to.
Chemistry: The lead single from "All About Chemistry" and first song from that album, this song finds Dan Wilson in the mood to encourage the audience in a bit of a singalong, as well as encouraging a bit of riffing on the part of the band concerning the instrumental tracks, making this song a bit of a jam session for the group, in a good way.
Delicious: This song, another one coming from "Great Divide" as well as the second Friends soundtrack,, shows the group in a familiar mood of expressing appreciation for the love and sensuality that comes from having a loving partner. It's easy enough to see why this track, which fits along with such numbers as "Completely Pleased" or "Sunshine And Chocolates" from later albums, would be a popular one with the female fans of the group.
Closing Time: This song, the big hit of the group of of "Feeling Strangely Fine", is played well, and it is obvious that this song pretty much has to be played any time the band has a concert because it is the one song that even the casual fans of the group will know well. It is telling that this song is held towards the end so as to build up anticipation, though, but is not saved for the encore.
Secret Smile: Another one of the singles from "Feeling Strangely Fine," this song is another relatively slow number as one can see the band mixing in faster and slower numbers to keep the crowd's energy from getting too hyped too early. Again, we see a song that was quite a poppy number in the studio sound far more grungy live.
Over My Head: This song, a soundtrack song that was included on their "Best of" collection and on some international versions of "All About Chemistry," is definitely a strong one, and the band does it well, even if it was likely one of the more obscure numbers to the audience that was listening to it.
Singing In My Sleep: The second hit single from "Feeling Strangely Fine," this song is such an obvious testament to the band's nerdiness and their fondness for mixtapes and the aspects of musical culture of the 1990's that it is an obvious way to close the main set to an appreciative hometown audience. Giving the audience an obvious hit is a solid way to go, and the song ends up with some appreciative cheers.
Great Divide: The cheers, of course, lead the band to do one more song for an encore, and they choose the title track of "Great Divide," a beautiful song that is performed in an upbeat fashion to close the concert as well as the album on a high note, and is testament to the way that the band kept their repertoire going throughout their entire career rather than dropping early albums that came before their mainstream success.
Overall this album is what one would expect from a Semisonic live performance. If the performance isn't nearly as polished and there aren't nearly as many instrumental touches that make the albums so wonderful for fans of their pop sound, this is an album for the rock crowds and it's one that appears to have been greatly appreciated by the audience in Minneapolis, at any rate.
Post by nathanalbright on Nov 5, 2020 20:20:35 GMT -5
Great Divide, by Semisonic
In many ways "Great Divide" is an appropriate name for the debut album for Semisonic, as it finds them straddling several great divides in the search for success as power pop musicians who had deliberately aimed after a post-grunge sound that would appeal in the post-Seattle world. Yet the band did not only aim for music that would appeal to post-grunge audiences but also were clearly showing themselves to be not far from Toad The Wet Sprocket or other power pop artists at the time who had a much softer side, and that comes through. And the great divide is not only a matter of sonic textures, but also a great deal of ambivalence in terms of their attitude towards love (with some songs being down on love and others being even cloyingly romantic), and their attitude towards success. The end result is a solid album that is easy to enjoy and has a lot of great songs, but one which leaves the listener unsure of exactly where the band is trying to go and what they are trying to accomplish, especially given the gulf between the album's singles and its quieter moments. A track-by-track review follows:
F.N.T.: The second single off of this album, this song was a minor hit in alternative and mainstream rock and it is a solid song, certainly an excellent piece of soundtrack song and one with a noble sentiment about loving and appreciating someone whether they are new or not, showing off the band's romantic side.
If I Run: This song is a surprisingly jaunty song about the relief that comes from thinking that one's heavy burdens will be loosed at death, but not wanting to leave someone behind. This is a song that can be interpreted a variety of ways, including viewing one's love towards someone as a pull away from self-destruction, or something akin to the darkness of their later song "Surprise," but this is a standout track even with its ambiguous lyrics.
Delicious: It is little surprise that this song, which bears a strong resemblance to the more romantic material from acts like Toad The Wet Sprocket, made it onto a Friends soundtrack and onto the show. It is definitely a song that has a positive perspective about love and romance.
Down In Flames: The first single off of the album, this song is unusual in being the hardest this album hits, and its music video was banned as being too controversial to play, all of which suggests that those who liked this song would have been a bit puzzled by the rest of what the band had to offer, given the darker and more menacing tone of this song compared with the rest of what the band had to offer.
Across The Great Divide: This upbeat and happy song is the titlish track of the album and one that reflects the divide in the album itself. This is one of the more upbeat songs in the album, but it marks the division between the more upbeat and commercial songs of the album with the more reflective and downbeat songs on the album, and it is unlikely that the sequencing was accidental in this regard.
Temptation: One of the songs co-written between Wilson and drummer Slichter, this song is a moody and downtempo song about temptation, where the narrator is clearly going out of his way to court temptation, even if it tells him what he shouldn't do, which he should probably know already and be able to avoid.
The Prize: One of the two songs on this album taken from the Pleasure EP, this song reflects a considerable amount of ambivalence about the band's interest in success, and it shows the band hesitant and unsure about the prize that they are seeking and whether it is they want celebrity and all that comes with it. At least that's how I read it, although it could always be about love and relationships like so many of the band's songs.
No One Else: This song is a very slow and melancholy song that reflects upon the way that no one else can make the narrator cry like the subject of the song can, although knowing what a mensch the singer is not, this seems hard to believe as he strikes me as someone who would cry pretty easily, despite his protestations (see also "Never You Mind").
Brand New Baby: This song, the second song taken from the Pleasure EP for this album, is a classic of the genre of trying to pretend to be happy when someone has just broken your heart by cheating on you with someone else. It's not like this is a new sentiment, but Semisonic does it just about as you would expect and it's a compelling number.
Falling: This song is another part of the down on love set that comes at this part of the album, and it shows the narrator expressing some irritation that someone keeps telling him that they don't like him but are so concerned about falling, expressing sentiments that bother the singer. The song itself is a fitting one for those who have been stuck in the blob dealing with flirtatious friendships.
In Another Life: The only song on this album sung by bassist John Munson, and it expresses irritation (again) about the sentiments of a young woman, saying that maybe he won't be around waiting for her in another life when she will finally be interested in and available for him, which is a nice way of dealing with the reincarnation problem.
I'll Feel For You: The last song of the album, this number is a touching and romantic song that expresses the narrator's commitment to feel what his partner cannot, and it is a touching reminder of the love and devotion that happens between people in a relationship, and a loving and positive way to end an album that has been split and divided in its approach to love and relationships.
Post by nathanalbright on Nov 16, 2020 19:58:05 GMT -5
Pleasure E.P., by Semisonic
This EP marks the beginning of Semisonic's music career, and it is certainly a very interesting document of a band just starting out and exploring a variety of elements within their sound. There are really seven tracks to this as well as a bit of noodling that adds to the personality of the record without adding a lot of content. This particular EP comes from the band's first recording sessions at Elektra that were aborted and that led to the band being dropped. And before going to MCA, the group released the material that they had recorded so far, and what it turns out to be is an enjoyable look at a band trying to find its place in the music scene of the mid-1990's. I had listened to this EP before, but listening to it again I see that even the lesser tracks here have considerable value and appeal, even if there are clearly three songs that are better than the rest, and two of them ended up being added to the band's debut full length LP Great Divide, entirely unsurprisingly so. Yet the tracks that were not quite up to that level still show a band learning its way and beginning in a strong fashion that is certainly worth checking out if you like Semisonic's more famous material. Here is a track-by-rack review:
The Prize: The first song on the first recording by Semisonic already reveals the band's fundamental ambivalence about show business and the pop culture that they were in. Despite wanting popular success, the band knew from the start that there was a great deal of phoniness in the whole process, and the band itself, especially lead singer/songwriter Dan Wilson, would find himself considered among those twelve master geniuses a year, it's all so...ironically humorous.
Brand New Baby: This is the sort of song that most bands would be embarrassed to sing and perform, but not Semisonic, who try their hand with the 90's tone of irony in singing a song about seeing one's partner chicken her way out of a relationship and then step out with a brand new baby, all while the singer tries to pass himself off as happy for her and not devastated and in no need of her pity.
In The Veins: This is not as strong as the first two numbers, but as a song it has an ominous feel to it that really has the visceral quality of a harder 90's alternative sound than the band ultimately delivered on. This is a track that deserves attention, not least because its vocals and processing point the way to how some post-grunge acts would sound, following in Semisonic's wake.
Wishing Well: One of the more surprising songs on the EP, this song expresses the question of what has someone become, falling down a wishing well. This is yet another song that expresses the fear that seeking fame and one's dreams of popular success will change someone beyond recognition. I don't think that happened to Semisonic, but it has certainly happened to other groups.
Star: This song is a lovely song, right along the lines of love and relationship music that one has come to expect from the group. And it should come as little surprise that this song's reflections on love should find the singer/narrator saying that he would love to be a satellite revolving around the star that is his partner. That is precisely as one would expect it coming from Dan Wilson.
Sculpture Garden: This is the third strongest track on the EP, and it's a shame this song hasn't gotten more exposure (check it out on the band's live album, though). The song expresses the longing of the group to make love with a partner in the midst of the sculpture garden, where aesthetic and romantic pleasure can be combined in a place that doesn't feel as noisy or crowded as the rest of the city.
The Gift: This is a song that expresses the question of whether the person who gave the narrator a certain gift--presumably of a romantic and intimate nature--would have given it again knowing what was known afterwards. This is a song that expresses both the characteristic concerns of the group with intimacy and also the ambivalence about love and relationships that Semisonic explores.
Overall, this is a strong debut and gives a hint of the promise that would be fulfilled in later Semisonic efforts, while also showing at least some roads ("In The Vein") that the band would not travel further down later.
Post by nathanalbright on Nov 18, 2020 22:45:57 GMT -5
The Best Of Semisonic, by Semisonic
This album is, to date, the only best-of collection of Semisonic, and it checks off most of the boxes one would want in such a collection. It includes selections from all of the albums that had been released up to the point of the compilation (not including any live tracks or anything from the 2020 EP "You're Not Alone"), and it makes what are often very obvious choices. If one complaint could be made of the collection, it is that it could have included other songs, and been larger and thus even better because it would have more Semisonic in it. For example, including "Sculpture Garden" from the Pleasure EP, "Delicious" from Great Divide, "Made To Last" from Feeling Strangely Fine, and any number of songs from Chemistry like "I Wish," "Suprise," "One True Love," or "She's Got My Number" would have made this a better album, as would another soundtrack piece like "For The Love Of The Game." If there is room for a future Semisonic compilation, it is in providing more obscure material from the music of the band, but for the moment, in reviewing the album that is rather than that which we might prefer, it is exactly the sort of compilation that one would expect. Here is a track-by-track review:
Closing Time: This is the obvious opener, the biggest (some would say only) hit of the group, the song that broke them into the mainstream, and the one song of theirs that is likely to be remembered by casual fans. It is a gorgeous song full of thoughtful and reflective lyrics and the band's power pop style in its most accessible fashion.
The Prize: At this point, the compilation goes to the Pleasure EP and includes the first of two songs from that collection that were later included on the Great Divide album. This song has a pleasing approach, ending in a chaotic fashion that is impressive, and which demonstrates from the beginning that Semisonic had an ambivalent attitude towards the trappings of fame and celebrity.
Brand New Baby: The second of two songs from the Pleasure EP that were later included on Great Divide, this song is a 90's track laced with heavy degrees of irony showing the narrator trying not to sound too broken up about his partner stepping out on him with someone after saying she needed a break in their relationship while acknowledging how much it hurts at the same time.
F.N.T.: Short for Fascinating New Thing, this song, a moderate rock hit from Great Divide, expresses the band's romantic longings and the expression of the hope that a would-be partner who is fascinating for being new will remain fascinating when she is not new, a sentiment that is easy to endorse and expressed in a winningly quirky way.
If I Run: This song is one of the more striking in the band's body of work, a song that expresses a longing and a desire to escape from the tensions and pressures of life (see also "Surprise" from Chemistry and "The Prize," for example), but where the narrator finds himself tethered to life through his love of someone he doesn't want to leave behind, which is either a noble sentiment about the power of love in making one more happy to live or a disturbing sentiment, depending on one's attitude.
Across The Great Divide: Another upbeat power pop number, this almost title track of the debut Semisonic LP expresses the optimism of the band as well as a realistic sense of their being unknown, and it is an easy enough song to sing along with and cheer on, perhaps relating to the complicated label history that went into the recording and release of the album.
Singing In My Sleep: The follow-up to Closing Time, this was a moderate rock hit, and expresses a great deal of the nerdiness as well as the romanticism of the group as a whole, with its discussion of falling in love over a well-crafted mixtape (something that was a bit of a nerdy activity by the late 90's) as well as its reference to Romeo and Juliet, and it is a beautiful and romantic song.
Never You Mind: This is yet another song that expresses the nerdiness of Semisonic as well as their interest in romantic themes, as it looks at an ill-suited couple that drives each other crazy and yet finds themselves together anyway. Most notably, the song contains a discussion of an infamous and terrible episode from the original Star Trek series in its expression of the misguided relationship, fitting but nerdy.
Secret Smile: This song, an independent hit that did particularly well in the UK and Mexico, among other countries, is another song that demonstrates the romanticist approach of Semisonic as a whole, providing a praise of a secret smile that the narrator's partner has only for him. The song praises a partner for the good that they do in the narrator's life, a sentiment easy to relate to.
Chemistry: The first single and almost title track to the band's third album, this is a song that again deals with the favorite theme of love and relationships, perhaps unsurprisingly in a way that reflects on the disastrous experiments that people experience in the course of trying to find love. The song was a moderate international hit and a moderate rock hit, but it sadly failed to cross over, presaging the general commercial failure of the album itself.
Act Naturally: This song, a failed attempt at a Hot AC single, is another song that deals with romanticism in a way that frames the narrator as being a bit of a simp, which Dan Wilson's whiny lyrics and the general nature of the music assists in building up that sort of impression. The song was not a hit at all, and is not even among the stronger or more notable tracks of the "All About Chemistry" album as a whole, alas.
Over My Head: An energetic and upbeat song that was an attempt at a soundtrack for the film "Summer Catch," this song references Moby Dick and similarly mixes thought-provoking lyrics and nerdy references with an upbeat power pop song, demonstrating a great deal of continuity over the course of Semisonic's career up to that point.
Overall, this is an album that hits most of the high points of the album, only weak when it comes to providing only two songs from "All About Chemistry," but that album has few fans, alas, to complain about the slight, but otherwise provides a representative sample of great songs from a great band.
Post by nathanalbright on Nov 20, 2020 16:22:27 GMT -5
Re-Covered, by Dan Wilson
In the 1970's, there was a large amount of albums that were made by songwriters like Laura Nyro and Carole Bayer Sager and others which were pillaged for material by those who (generally rightly) believed that they could sing the songs better than the original writer, while simultaneously bringing the writer to greater critical renown for being able to help others have a better career as a musician. In this particular case, Dan Wilson has spent most of his career apart from Semisonic in trying to become a singer-songwriter (to generally little notice) and also in becoming a songwriter for hire for a lot of artists, to considerably greater notice, including multiple Grammy wins as a songwriter (both songs included here). What this album seeks to do is show a songwriter for hire recovering his songs (hence the title) and burnishing his own reputation as a songwriter while also trying to demonstrate how he can perform his own material in cover versions.
This album consists almost entirely of sparse acoustic settings of material, sometimes as piano ballads and most of the time as acoustic guitar-driven songs, sometimes with strings added. Doing a song-by-song review seems redundant because the production of the songs is so predominant and the vocals by Dan Wilson so whining that the stripped down nature of this particular production serves to bring out what is the least enjoyable about Dan Wilson's music, namely the voice of Dan Wilson and his ordinary skills at the piano and acoustic guitar. As someone who is a big fan of Semisonic, this album demonstrates a lot of what is missing in Dan Wilson as a solo artists, in terms of fun and an upbeat approach, although it must be admitted that what makes this album at least tolerable to listen to is the songs. Dan Wilson brings some interesting and thoughtful material to the table, and if he has a lot to be desired as a solo act--Semisonic really plays to his strong suit as an able collaborator--he can bring the songs. In one way, this serves to the detriment of the original artists, in that so many of these songs appear to have been crafted as personal statements for the artists who originally performed them but end up being the work of a competent songwriter for hire, which undercuts the personal credibility of the songs even as it demonstrates Wilson's skill as a writer. An error on the dust jacket that switches the order of songs 9 and 10 demonstrates that the graphic design of this album also lacks some credibility.
And these songs, it should be admitted, are quite a diverse group. Wilson's career as a songwriter appears to have embedded him within the intersection of adult contemporary and country music where the importance of outside songwriters is still immense. There are some really touching and beautiful songs here--album closer "Closing Time" reminds us of the strength of the composition in this piano ballad cover, "Borrowed" gives a touching look at an adulterous relationship co-written by LeAnn Rimes and Darrell Brown, and one of the more lively songs on the album is not surprisingly a standout track in "Never Meant To Love You," a song that deserves to be much better known. The fact that Wilson shows off songs written with John Legend ("You And I"), Josh Groban ("If I Walk Away"), Taylor Swift ("Treacherous"), and Chris Stapleton ("When The Stars Come Out") demonstrate that he is a studio pro when it comes to writing, even if his voice is more than a little thin. Interestingly enough, some of the least notable covers here are of the most obvious songs, The Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready to Make Nice," and Adele's "Someone Like You," both songs that helped give him credibility as a writer but, in the latter case especially, remind us that a torch ballad without a belting voice is not nearly as appealing.
Post by nathanalbright on Nov 24, 2020 1:13:23 GMT -5
The Very Best Of Dan Fogelberg, by Dan Fogelberg
This cd makes a decisive moment in the history of Dan Fogelberg as an artist, and that is when his best of compilations and the recognition of his greatness as an artist started expanding far beyond small retrospectives of ten songs or so apiece to full cds and later even multiple cds, a demonstration that Fogelberg was an artist of far greater importance than the norm. It is interesting that this is the album that would do it, because I was a bit concerned that I would not like this album as much as I did when I listened to it, since I only knew about half a dozen songs on it or so when I started listening to it. This concern ended up not being a problem, because this ended up being the best kind of album, namely the sort of compilation that makes one a lot more familiar with the work of an artist and makes one listen to a lot more of the back catalog of the artist. Far from being a sign that this artist only had a few worthwhile songs, this album demonstrated that there was a lot more material that was worth appreciating than met the eye for casual fans, and that is something that was a pleasure to listen to, and that may inspire future listening pleasure to a great deal more of the singer-songwriter's catalog of songs.
This particular collection is a generally chronological collection and it is a blend of the most notable hits that Fogelberg had and the best of his major label songs that were not big singles. The collection begins with the obscure "Nether Lands," a gentle enough number, before moving into the gorgeous "Part Of The Plan," which sounds like it could have been on a Crosby, Stills, and Nash album, and which was predictably Fogelberg's first hits. From this point in the album to track #11, the collection moves from hit to hit across Fogelberg's music of the late 70's and early 80's, including "Heart Hotels," the gorgeous and tender "Longer," the reflective "Hard To Say," with its complete production and instrumentation that shows of Fogelberg's skill as a producer, the gorgeous and melancholy ode to the singer's father in "Leader Of The Band," the awkward and touching "Same Old Lang Syne," the romantic waltz "Run For The Roses," the questioning "Make Love Stay," the arena rock frustration of "Missing You," and the amazing "Language Of Love." This stretch of songs is well worth the price of the collection as a whole, and from here we get the ballad of troubled love "Believe In Me," the evocative "Lonely In Love," the bittersweet "She Don't Look Back," the gorgeous "Rhythm Of The Rain," a cover which I heard frequently as a child on adult contemporary stations, the cod reggae of "Magic Every Moment," and the touching "A Love Like This," with nary a weak spot in the entire collection.
There are a few aspects of this album that strike this listener as particularly impressive. One of them is the fact that the album has seventeen songs across two decades of a major label career with not a single bum track to be found. Fogelberg's music shows an immense diversity from spare love ballads like "Nether Lands" and "Believe In Me" to arena rock to Caribbean-inspired songs and so on, and yet what shines through in all of the songs is touching and vulnerable and honest songwriting, winning charisma, a great voice, and solid instrumentation and production choices that show Fogelberg was always more than a white guy with an acoustic guitar. This music shows the full range of what adult contemporary can provide the listener, and it deserves to be enjoyed by fans of Fogelberg's work as well as fans of the adult contemporary genre as a whole. What is perhaps even more striking about this album is that it could have included still more songs, but it proves its case that a long compilation is required to even begin to do the artist justice, and this lesson was heeded in future retrospectives for the singer which continued to demonstrate that longer and longer collections were required to capture the flavor of his work with any hope of conveying its full range and greatness to the listener.
Post by nathanalbright on Mar 22, 2021 18:27:22 GMT -5
Greatest Hits, by Dan Fogelberg
If you're asking me, this particular compilation was released a little early in Fogelberg's career. This particular compilation, which includes previously unreleased songs in "Missing You" and "Make Love Stay" was released after the massive success of the singer-songwriter's magnum opus "The Innocent Age," and it tells of a period of personal difficulty and struggle that would lead to albums like Exile later in the artist's career. There is something of a prophetic air to this album, in that even though the album was immensely successful, going triple platinum, and even though its song choice is stellar--the songs are all solid here--Dan Fogelberg experienced a commercial decline after this album. Even the new songs themselves have a prophetic aspect about them, in that the two new songs are somewhat prophetic about the personal struggles that the singer would face in his personal life, with "Missing You," discussing the difficulties of being alone on the road and missing one's spouse, and "Make Love Stay" asking the plaintive question of how one could make love stay, something that Fogelberg never seemed to completely solve, alas.
This song fulfills one of the essential aspects of a Greatest Hits album and that is to contain the artist's hits up to that time, and all of the songs here qualify as hits. The order of the songs is changed, so this retrospective does not go beginning to end as some do, even so there is a rough placement of songs from the beginning of Fogelberg's career first with most of the big hits from The Innocent Age towards the end, with the new and more unfamiliar songs in the middle of the collection. So it is that we begin with Fogelberg's first hit, "Part Of The Plan," and then move to a set of three songs that contains two songs from the middle of the time period included here in "Heart Hotels" and "Longer" along with one of the hits from his most recent album in "Hard To Say." After this comes the two new songs as well as a somewhat lesser known but still wonderful top 40 hit in the next segment of the album, with "Missing You" and "Make Love Stay" being separated by "The Power Of Gold," which came from one of the singer's duet albums with Tim Weisberg. The album is then closed by three songs that were massive hits from "The Innocent Age," specifically the lasting hits "Leader Of The Band," "Run For The Roses," and "Same Old Lang Syne."
Overall, this album is somewhat disappointing only it that it contains just about every big hit of the artist on the Billboard Hot 100 and thus may give casual listeners the understanding that there was little more to the artist than these songs. Still, every song on here is a hit, and a great many of them remain worthwhile songs as part of the singer-songwriter canon of the 1970's and early 1980's. If later compilations are preferable to me, it is mainly because they include more songs than this one does. With only ten songs there is simply not much room at all for hidden gems, and the retrospective came early enough in the singer's career that it misses another decade of great songs that were successful on the Adult Contemporary chart (if not the Billboard Hot 100), but those are issues that later compilations would solve. A fan should consider this album to be half or less of the essential songs of Dan Fogelberg, and something that ought to whet the appetite for even more martial from the artist.
Post by nathanalbright on Mar 25, 2021 2:16:40 GMT -5
A Grand Don't Come For Free, by the Streets
I must admit that I am not that familiar with British hip-hop, but an acquaintance of mine told me about one of his favorite albums from the decade of the 2000's, an album that did not really cross over to the United States but sold extremely well in the UK. Without knowing anything about the group except that someone I know liked it, I gave it a listen and found the eleven-track album to be immensely interesting and also surprisingly relatable (more on that shortly), and if the album is not my favorite of an entire decade, it certainly is a great album and one that deserves a lot of attention. I get the feeling that this album is one of those cases where if you know you know, and I did not know before and now I do, and I can understand why the cognoscenti of music in the UK would see this album as a major touchstone in the hip-hop music of the nation, a moment where a challenge was laid down to other similar artists to be that real and that epic about a life that a great many ordinary Brits, and ordinary people who are not Brits, can easily relate to. I can see myself coming back to this album, as it hits hard, and its ending is deeply satisfying from an ethical point of view as well, which is not something that can be said for every classic hip hop album in existence.
This album contains 11 songs that tell a connected story of a British working-class man who deals with a host of complications that result from losing a thousand pounds. This story, which sounds cinematic in scope, involves a man who thinks he has lost a thousand quid and has a broken tv, finds himself in a relationship with a girl whose body language suggest she might be into him (which she is), tries to earn money by gambling on sports and finds himself fortunate not to lose even more money than he already owed, has a bad night where a bad trip makes him paranoid and jittery, moves in with his girl and smokes a lot while watching tv at her house, gets kicked out of her house for drinking and smoking and not doing something productive, tries to get a rebound relationship with a pretty but not very moral girl, blames himself for his struggles and expresses a desire to get back with his girlfriend, tries to figure out who stole his money while realizing that his girlfriend was with another one of his friends, and then keeps a stiff upper lip about it while trying to dry his tears, and then comes to a resolution, one of which provides insight to his bad choice in friends and some self-awareness about personal responsibility.
This album, even though it is written from the point of view of a British working-class guy, is really relatable even outside of that circle. In listening to this album I found I could very easily relate to its material. The production on here is simply superb. I saw a quote from Pitchfork that compared the music to film score, and that combined with the epic storytelling does give this album a cinematic feel. This is a true concept album in the best way, where the artist has given great thought to an overall narrative, with elements that keep on re-appearing over and over again. The Streets manages to combine both deeply personal detail as well as material that is relatable to a huge audience, which is a difficult balance to strike. The singer's attempts to avoid personal responsibility, his desire for easy ways out of his problems, including his debts, his lack of motivation, and his longing for love and for others to look out for him, end in self-realization about the fact that others have tough lives that they wrestle with so he has to take responsibility for himself. This is the sort of album I wish more hip-hop albums would be like, with the struggling over debt, over a lack of ambition, over the negative consequences of seeking easy solutions to money problems and easy women to provide sexual intimacy or the use of drugs and alcohol to self-medicate one's problems, rather than seeing empty flexing from people who haven't made it yet who brag about stealing your girl. Here, the protagonist loses the girl, but finds something else, namely an insight and a realization about himself and his life that allow him to make some positive changes.
Post by nathanalbright on Mar 27, 2021 3:09:34 GMT -5
High Maintenance, by Miranda Cosgrove
This ep is five songs long and it is both the sort of music that I enjoy greatly but one that is less and less comfortable the more one thinks about it. For example, there is a quote from Miranda Cosgrove in the promotion of this EP that says that she had been working with Dr. Luke for a while and then he introduced her to Rivers Cuomo, who helped write and co-sing the title track to this EP. The two have decent chemistry, but Cosgrove was still a teenager when making this album and Rivers Cuomo was about 40, making their romantic chemistry a bit suspect. Again, this is musical material that is pretty familiar to anyone who liked pop music at the time, but it is music that actively discourages one from thinking too much about it because the more one thinks about it, the worse one feels for liking it and pondering what it means. Here is a track-by-track review:
Dancing Crazy: Aggressively co-written by Avril Lavinge, this song and its music video appear to have been the inspiration for "Friday," released a few years later. It was a minor hit on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #100, and it shows Cosgrove singing a lot like Avril Lavinge, showing she studied the demo hard at least. I think it's a cute song, but it's not the sort of song that encourages one to think about the sort of fun that a girl has when she doesn't know where she's at and just goes along with the flow.
High Maintenance (f/Rivers Cuomo): This song is fun and enjoyable on a surface level, as it features Cosgrove playing the role of a fun girl who enjoys making Rivers Cuomo's life more difficult, but again, Rivers was more than twice Miranda's age, making it uncomfortable when she coos about knowing some games that they could play. I can see why she had fun making this song, but it feels uncomfortable to ponder the sort of relationship that is being portrayed by the song, and the singers' obvious chemistry only makes it more uncomfortable.
The Face of Love: This song is a mix between the dance pop that predominates on this EP, which was pretty popular at the time, and a Hot AC approach that shows Cosgrove becoming more and more convinced that the guy she is with is the one, based on what she sees and what she hears. Again, as a pop song about love this is pleasant enough, but the more one thinks about it the more one thinks that this is likely not going to end well.
Kiss You Up: This song is my favorite on the EP, and it is also (not coincidentally), the one that is the most close to Adult Contemporary that this album provides. Rare among the songs on this EP, it is a song that sounds better the more one thinks about it, as Cosgrove resolves to be loving and affectionate and encouraging with a partner, a sentiment that I think is likely one that strikes home for the artist given the music she has released, although this song is certainly the exact sort of music I would want someone to be singing to me.
Sayonara: This song is a return to the dance pop that predominates here, and sounds like the lost b-side of Avril Lavinge's "Hello Kitty" in terms of its lyrics and like a lost Nicki Minaj song with its beeping "pound the alarm-type" production. Fortunately Cosgrove can sing well and it is catchy enough, but those beeps and alarms can get pretty annoying, and they reminded me about some of the less pleasant aspects of the production of that era.
All in all this is an enjoyable collection that demonstrates Cosgrove's attempt to maneuver her way into young adulthood by singing songs about love and devotion as well as being young, wild, and free. If you're a fan of the pop music of the early 2010's dance scene there is a lot to enjoy here, and Cosgrove has lots of charisma in her singing. This is material, though, that one would do well not to think too much about.
Post by nathanalbright on Apr 1, 2021 5:14:52 GMT -5
Sparks Fly, by Miranda Cosgrove
This album is something that fits Cosgrove's musical career in general in that it is better if you don't think too hard about it. Although this is by no means as good as the following EP "High Maintenance," a lot of the same elements present there are present here, with the focus on love and relationships, the dodgy connections with songwriters and producers ranging from Dr. Luke to Rodney Jenkins to Kip Winger to Max Martin to Chantal Kreviazuk and Avril Lavinge (some of whom are repeats that Cosgrove had or would work with again). And this material is not bad material, although it is in most cases not the most distinguished work by the various mostly famous songwriters involved. If Cosgrove is an appealing singer throughout, and clearly gives her all, there is a lot here that could have used a bit more editing, especially the song titles, which are deeply uninspired for the most part. I must admit that this album is not and was not aimed at me as a listener, but it would have been nice to see a bit more effort. Most puzzling here is what this album does not include--Cosgrove's biggest hit, "About You Now," which would have added a ninth track to an album that could have used another hit and another worthwhile song to listen to.
This mini-album has eight tracks, and of them only "Kissin' U" managed to crack the charts and become a minor hit. It is the easy single here and it not surprisingly is the first song, co-written by Dr. Luke and pure wish-fulfillment songwriting at a high level. Other than that, there are only a couple of standout tracks, such as "Bam," which is an upbeat song about infatuation that masquerades as love, something that the singer's core audience can likely identify with all too well. "Shakespeare" works well as a song that has Cosgrove urging a partner to slow down on the intimacy until she knows the answers to various questions that are important to her that would show common interests like Shakespeare and kissing in the rain. "Hey You" offers encouragement to someone who thinks badly of themselves but makes things better for others. But after that there is definitely a drop-off to most of the tracks, which are pleasant and hooky filler, but definitely filler. "Disgusting," is sung in an upbeat fashion but features lyrics that are more than a bit unpleasant, talking about the singer's "walk of shame." Similarly, "There Will Be Tears," is an upbeat approach at a revenge fantasy over a broken relationship, "Oh Oh" is another revenge fantasy about making a guy miss her by being impossibly attractive to others, while "Daydream" features ambiguous lyrics about the narrator's fantasizing about someone who appears not to be all that good of a guy in reality.
As a listener, the predominant tone of this album and its content inspires in me as a listener the strong urge to polish a weapon. The only question is who the weapon needs to be polished for. On the one hand, the album portrays at least a few different ways that the narrator sings of guys who have done her wrong in one way or another, whether they pretend that they are not looking for a relationship until they find it with someone else, try to push too fast, or engage in unpleasant or even abusive behavior. A young woman should not feel it necessary to sing how it is "disgusting" how much she feels attracted to someone, or how ashamed it makes her. Yet these songs were written and produced by older and definitely more worldly wise and experienced songwriters, who clearly knew what they were doing in trying to portray this material as relatable to its intended audience of young people. And then there is the whole unseemly matter of the people involved in producing this album, which makes it deeply unsettling to listen to, and to realize that even its most appealing aspects come with the far darker realization of what this album and indeed the industry of teen actresses turned singer is wrapped up in.
Post by nathanalbright on Apr 18, 2021 14:49:27 GMT -5
iCarly: Music From And Inspired by the Hit TV Show, by Various Artists
As far as a sound track album is concerned, this album has a lot to commend itself for. It features a blend of songs that are from the most conspicuously talented member of the cast, hit singles, and more obscure numbers, all of them framed with dialogue spoken in character by the four lead actors of the iCarly series written by showrunner Dan Schneider. While the skits themselves are generally short and full of bickering, which is not necessarily to my personal tastes, the conception of this soundtrack album is certainly worthwhile. It would be worthwhile to see this album's approach in soundtracks be more popular in that there is a clear link between the characters of the show, acting in character, and the songs that are chosen for the soundtrack. And in particular I have to enjoy the way that this album ends in a rather meta way by having the characters explicitly talk about going back to the beginning, with the resulting encouragement to listen to this album on repeat. While that is not necessarily the most obvious of responses to the album, there is still a lot to appreciate about the way that this album was put together. Quite a few soundtracks have no obvious relationship between the music and the film or show and this album definitely manages to avoid that issue.
This particular soundtrack is divided into 29 tracks, fourteen of which are songs and fifteen of which are skits that are self-aware, at least at points, about this being part of an album. The skits themselves deserve to be talked about separately, and as is the case with most such cases the skits are generally inconsequential, though not entirely so. The songs themselves are highly interesting. Four of the songs are from Miranda Cosgrove herself, with standouts in the show's theme song "Leave It All To Me," featuring Drake Bell, "Stay My Baby," and her most successful single, "About You Now," co-written and produced by Dr. Luke. A later song, "Headphones On," is a self-aware reference to her in-character older brother viewing headphones as both cool and archaic, I say as I listen on my headphones. A second group of songs are hit songs that are recorded in Nickelodeon mixes that change the lyrics to be less suggestive, including Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls," which talks about being "in denial" rather than "suicidal" at the end of a relationship, Good Charlotte's, "I Don't Want To Be In Love," and Avril Lavinge's "Girlfriend," featuring Lil Mama. The rest of the songs are generally good if more obscure, including Leon Thomas III's "I Like That Girl," Natasha Bedingfield's "Freckles," The Naked Brothers Band's "Face In The Hall," a cover of "Let's Hear It For The Boy," by The Stunners, Boys Like Girls' "Thunder," Menduo's "Move," and "I'm Grown," from Tiffany Evans featuring Bow Wow.
The skits of this album (as well as the tracks by the show's lead actress) are the most obvious connection between the show and the listening experience. Some of these skits deserve high praise. For example, the last skit which urges the listener to re-listen to the album is pretty inspired. Similarly, the show is wise enough to give character Freddie the last word in insight on what boys like, namely girls, before a song by the band Boys Like Girls, which is similarly an inspired conceit. Other skits are very clearly connected to the show itself, including the discussion of headphones from the character of Carly's older brother before a song about headphones by Miranda Cosgrove and the discussion about how it is that the show begins with a countdown from Freddie before the opening song of the iCarly theme. Likewise, there is a reference to the fact that everyone hated Freddie's first season girlfriend before the track "Girlfriend" conveys the same feelings in a less emotionally mature manner than Carly managed to do. Not all of the skits are good ones, though, and a few of them are quite uncomfortable, with one of the skits referring to Sam's second toe, which I suppose is here because of Dan Schneider's foot fetish, and another skit about building a bra that makes Freddie painfully and awkwardly uncomfortable and that fits into the show's frequent tendency to make young actresses act in provocatively mature ways, which is a lamentably frequent aspect of contemporary youth culture.
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