The return of the amazing thin white duke (and other reviews)
Fifty years is a long time. For a musician, it's a career, a reunion tour, a possible induction into the Hall of Fame, a tribute album and special awards earned at various shows throughout the retirement years. Of course, this kind of half-century exists only for a precious few.
David Bowie made his first release 33 years ago at the age of 17 and, besides his unfortunate musical stints in the '80s and his Black Tie, White Noise release, Bowie has consistently proven he knows how to pen a masterpiece. Recent efforts Buddha of Suburbia and Outside have proven Bowie can still deliver the goods.
With Earthling, Bowie returns once again to the forefront of the music world, testing the waters of a relatively new genre that he takes even further into his own unusual realm, bringing it to a more melodic, intelligent disposition.
For those unaware of the new Bowie, just refer to the recent music scene emerging in England, with techno/ambient/trip hop/jungle themes penetrating the soundwaves.
Bowie was amused, enticed and bewildered by this sonic boom. On Earthling, he uses the ideology that today's young artists live by and adds to it offering his own creative characters, stories and accomplished band of musicians, themselves easily among the top in their field. Just like Bowie.
The lead-off single, the very-addictive "Little Wonder," is filled with the jungle sounds of speed drumming and contains a truly melodic musical moment with the chant of "So far away."
The special Internet release "Telling Lies," which includes a sampling of Bowie's '70s classic "The Supermen" is also included. With this song and most of the album for that matter, Bowie integrates the elements of acts such as Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers and displays them in a form that makes it more accessible to larger audiences.
Bowie peaks with "Seven Years in Tibet." The track is filled with wailing guitars, power chords, samples and keyboards, which surround the singer's own sympathies regarding events in Tibet's history. The power and intensity of the song are melded perfectly between music and lyrics.
In his career, Bowie has grown more than most of his peers. He has created sounds and styles that are continually representing the future movement in music, though the songs he has created have timeless qualities. Fifty years is a lifetime for most, but to David Bowie, it's just the beginning.
Toronto's Made tap through its debut with a somewhat honest approach: distorted pop with the most common quartet set-up (guitar times 2, bass and drums); catchy choruses with strong supporting vocals and the odd dissonant note. At times, Bedazzler freely spins, as if some innovation is finding its way out of the speakers. Other moments, however, sound like generic pop from any of the last three decades that has undergone an 'alternafication' in order to accommodate the '90s CD consumer.
The track that is guilty of this accusation is the band's first single, "Hairdown." Beginning with a warm, distorted hum and working its way through a brief first verse it reaches the objective of the song the chorus. Interspersed are bridges and short guitar solos. Does it sound like a radio-made song? Or maybe a radio-Made song?
Making palatable pop songs is this band's forte. Songs like "Smudge" linger in one's mind like ink from a fountain pen stains a human hand. "Joanne" features a little of the lead singer's torment, backed by the band's collective high-pitched 'wooooohs'. To complement this singing pattern, Made includes a track called "Wooh!" which backs the singer's crooning: "My body/ My mind/ My will/ My soul/ Your body/ Your mind/ Your will/ Your soul."
Approaching philosophical issues, such as the body, mind, will and soul, within the framework of a pop song, offer the listener an alternative to simply tapping along with the beat.
Violent World - A Tribute to The Misfits
"The bands on this record carry on The Misfits' legacy and Caroline Records encourages you to show your support for them."
By including this statement in the liner notes, Caroline Records has summed up the motives behind most of the recent tribute albums pushed by money-hungry record companies to promote and improve sales for the bands featured on the album and not the artist who is being paid tribute.
It is questionable whether Glenn Danzig and the rest of The Misfits would consider this album a tribute to their rough, spontaneous punk style. With '90s bands like NOFX, Sick of It All and Goldfinger doing covers, the result is an over-produced, processed sound that is more representative of what punk has evolved into today than the original sound.
"Last Caress" was definitely assigned to the wrong band, as NOFX's lead singer cannot compare to Danzig's forceful vocals. Instead, he comes across as a wimpy mimic who definitely couldn't "kill" anyone.
Even names like Prong and Therapy? can't save this weak compilation. Prong's techno cover of "London Dungeon" is so far from the original straightforward punk sound that it becomes unrecognizable. "Where Eagles Dare" is a song which has often been imitated but with even less success than most by Therapy?.
There are only a few songs on the album which actually complement the band. Pennywise does a coherent and competent cover of "Astro Zombies" which is a good mix of the band's signature style and The Misfits' raw energy. Another decent attempt is made by 108 in "Death Comes Ripping," with vocals imitating Danzig's repetitive and distinct "whoa-oh's."
Violent World only features 14 songs and lasts about half an hour. With so much space and so many other better contemporary bands who could have participated, Caroline Records should have made more of an effort at substance. Instead, it mainly includes songs taken from seven-inches which are probably unknown to most listeners and therefore the inadequacies of the covers would be less apparent.
In order to spend the $20 to purchase this album, a person would really have to like the bands featured otherwise, it's a pathetic "tribute" to The Misfits and would be an insult to any real fan.
The Charity Of Night
It's tough being a Canadian recording artist. It really is. Unless you migrate to the states and come back with a red, white and blue sticker on your forehead, you're likely to be taken for granted in your homeland about as much as a blizzard in February. Don't believe it? Compare the differing career fortunes of say, Joni Mitchell and Bruce Cockburn and see if it doesn't ring true.
In recent years however, Cockburn has bitten the bullet and travelled to the land of milk and honey for his recording sessions and tours. And surprise, surprise a few years back he turned in one of the best albums of his career, the T-Bone Burnett-produced Nothin' But A Burning Light. With The Charity Of Night, he's produced another exceptional, though decidedly-different, disc.
The Charity of Night is a subtle stunner, a thoughtful meditation on night, a capitalized record from the opening "Night Train" with its chugging rhythms to the meditative "The Whole Night Sky." There's even a hushed instrumental called "Mistress Of Storms" which in many ways musically summarizes the album's theme with nary a syllable in sight.
It helps that Cockburn has surrounded himself with absurdly gifted sidemen, both new and old, most notably bass master Rob Wasserman and jazz keyboard legend Gary Burton. Jazz? Cockburn? Sure, listen to his early discs. In fact, The Charity Of Night is in many ways a musical synthesis of all things Bruce Cockburn. Credit also should go to co-producer (with Cockburn) Colin Linden who brings to Night the loose-limbed openness of his own records as well as a sense of playfulness and musical daring. Cockburn has never sounded so relaxed and well, even content. He should try it more often: it suits him quite well.
This is a major album for Cockburn in ways commercial as well. The Charity Of Night is coming out on the prestigious Rykodisc label in the U.S. and with the growing respect he's garnered in the states over the past years, this could help him to expand his audience south of the border.
But a new record by Cockburn is often taken for granted here in the land of the frozen. It would be a shame if that were to happen to The Charity Of Night. Canada may not have noticed but in recent years Bruce Cockburn has been regarded as one of the most respected singer/songwriters on either side of the border. The Charity Of Night is a remarkable album, a daring one in many ways. It's also one of his very best. Miss it at your peril.