Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Listmania #5: Seemed like a good idea at the time...

Inspired by a certain poorly-received collaboration involving a certain metal band and a certain former Velvet Underground member, I had a think about some other situations where artists have tried something slightly or drastically different, to varying degrees of success/failure...

1. Lou Reed and Metallica - Lulu
Old rock dude meets not-quite-so-old metal dudes
Originality: 1/5
Execution: 0/5
So, a couple of big name artists collaborating isn't that original.  Nor do Lou Reed and Metallica really constitute an 'odd couple' pairing.  The only thing that is a little different and original here is that the album itself has some funny concept thing going on that I didn't really have the patience to delve into too deeply.  At times Metallica deliver some decent grooves but the glaring problem is that the collaboration just doesn't work on any level, and this should have been obvious from their duet on Sweet Jane last year.  Something about Hetfield and Reed's vocal styles just grates when they're alongside each other.  Anyway, there's been enough negatives about this and I don't really dig negative-for-the-hell-of-it.  Chuck Klosterman wrote, "If the Red Hot Chili Peppers acoustically covered the 12 worst Primus songs for Starbucks, it would still be (slightly) better than this" and that more or less covers it.

2. Rage Against the Machine - Renegades
Revolutionary rockers do an album of other people's songs
Originality: 2/5
Execution: 4/5 
Covers albums are also not that original.  But Rage were always the sort to carve their own path, and so they get a couple of stars for originality, and having the guts to completely reinvent Bob Dylan's Maggie's Farm.

Renegades is a strong album, and the covers of Bruce Springsteen's The Ghost of Tom Joad, Afrika Bambaataa's Renegades of Funk, and Cypress Hill's How Could I Just Kill A Man are amongst the highlights.

3. The Flaming Lips - Zaireeka
Parking lot experiments lead to 'synchronous' album
Originality: 4.5/5
Execution: not rated
So, the Flaming Lips are no strangers to trying weird and wonderful things, but this was one of their first really crazy things (as opposed to just regular crazy stuff i.e. their 'normal' discography).  Inspired by a whole lot of fooling around with cassette tapes played on multiple cars at the same time in parking lots, the Lips released an album that spanned 4 CDs, designed to be played on 4 separate stereos at the same time.  This might sound crazy but you'd be amazed to learn that it actually pales into insignificance compared to some of their more recent adventures...

4. Public Enemy vs. Anthrax - Bring tha Noise
You can blame this for rap metal but it actually was a good idea at the time...
Originality: 4/5
Execution: 5/5
Cross-genre collaborations are nothing weird now, but take yourself back to 1991 and the concept of a bunch of bogan white dudes collaborating with a very politically motivated black hip-hop group was pretty groundbreaking.  Not to mention the fact they subsequently went on tour together (with what I'm guessing were particularly awkward crowds).  While this unfortunately gave birth to a bunch of really shitty rap metal bands, you can't blame these guys for having lame imitators.  This track sits comfortably alongside the best material from both of these groups, which is pretty rare for collaborations of this ilk.

5. Korn - The Path of Totality
Fad band from 90's attempts to cash in on current dance fad
Originality: 2/5
Execution: I don't want to find out 
In the 90's Korn did the whole angsty teen nu-metal thing.  It had its moments at the time but they haven't really changed a lot and Jonathan Davis doing teen angst at age 40 is rather lame.  But now they're doing a dubstep album with various collaborators (some of which, like Noisia, are actually quite credible... for now) and this pretty much screams 'tryhard attempt to be relevant'.  Dance/rock crossovers haven't been anything particularly unusual since the Spawn soundtrack in the mid-90's and tend to date as badly as electronic music in general, so I don't this one is going to score highly on any fronts.

And the winner is...
6. The Flaming Lips - 7 Skies H3
24 hour song encased in human skull
Originality: 5/5
Execution: I don't have the time to find out
So here is the deal: the Flaming Lips have produced a 24-hour song, which will have a physical release limited to 13 copies, each on a USB drive encased inside a chrome-covered (actual) human skull.  You can stream it online too, if you happen to have a spare day.

I've come to the conclusion that there are only two logical explanations for this:
1. Oklahoma (the Lips' home town) is more boring than you or I could possibly imagine, and/or
2. Wayne Coyne and co. were visited by aliens and given some absurdly hallucinogenic time-warping drugs.

Either way, there certainly aren't many acts around that would come up with this sort of thing.

Megadeth - TH1RT3EN review

Megadeth's recent albums have bucked the general trend for 80's metal bands to increasingly suck as time goes on.  In fact, Megadeth's career in general has - despite the countless well-documented dramas of both the band and Dave Mustaine - been remarkably consistent.  Across their 12 albums up to this point, I personally count only one dud and one mediocre effort.  And even on those two albums (Risk and The World Needs a Hero, respectively), there are still some genuinely decent moments.  As for the rest, well it ranges from good (Countdown to Extinction) to outstanding (Rust in Peace, Endgame).

In contrast to their Big 4 contemporaries, this streak is practically unmatched.  There's no St. Anger, no Stomp 442, no Undisputed Attitude.  There's certainly no Lulu (and unfortunately, the less said about that, the better).  Even if one widens the net to include the great NWOBHM bands like Iron Maiden, well the 'Deth certainly never had a Blaze Bayley phase.

And the good news is that album number 13, entitled TH1RT3EN, certainly holds its own amongst the wider Megadeth discography.  In fact, one of TH1RT3EN's most notable traits is that it borrows tricks from Megadeth's earlier work while still pushing bravely ahead at times.

The instant, hooky catchiness of Public Enemy No. 1 is strongly reminiscent of some of the Countdown-era material (most notably Symphony of Destruction), whilst the punkish energy of Whose Life (Is It Anyways?) feels even more old-school - we're talking Peace Sells here, people.  But this shouldn't in any way be taken as a suggestion the 'Deth are reliving past glories because both tracks sound distinctly 2011.

Admittedly some of the tracks recall certain eras because they are actually from said eras.  Millenium of the Blind and New World Order both trace their origins back to the 1990's.  There has been some criticism (admittedly mostly on internet forums) of the band for recycling these tracks but personally I have no issue with it.  It's not uncommon for songs - or more correctly song ideas - to be floating around for indeterminate periods of time before finally being finished.  Both these songs were demoed but never got to anything resembling a final product.  Maybe they don't normally float around for quite that long, but still, it's no big deal.  And a time signature geek like me is never going to get annoyed at a track like New World Order which dips into 7/4 time in the verse.

As good as some of these tracks are, the highlights for me personally are Sudden Death and Never Dead.  Both are brilliant examples of the urgent, unrelenting power and aggression and refined technicality (dueling guitar solos ftw!) that has characterised some of Megadeth's best recent tracks (think Blackmail the Universe and Sleepwalker).  And both also showcase the ability of the current Megadeth line-up, which in my opinion is probably one of the best, if not the best, in the band's history.  Shawn Drover is an absolute powerhouse and core to the current 'Deth sound, whilst Chris Broderick provides a phenomenal dual guitar attack with Mustaine.  Not to mention that having long-time bassist Dave Ellefson back in the fold is a huge advantage - the man is one of metal's great bassists.

There's one minor factor that holds me back from rating this album in the same league as latter-day gems like Endgame.  The album was put together in a pretty short window between tours and in places it feels a little rushed; it doesn't have quite the same end-to-end consistency as Megadeth's very best work, and loses a little focus towards the end of the album.  It just nags at me a bit that given a little more time, this album could have been genuine 5-star material.

But perhaps that's a small and unfair quibble.  Overall, TH1RT3EN has a lot of very good moments and some genuinely excellent ones. Title track 13 is a gem of a closer - clearly an honest and candid contemplation from a somewhat weary-sounding Mustaine of the band's challenges over 13 albums and almost 30 years, and whether he feels up to continuing given recent label issues with Roadrunner and his own back and neck problems.

Let's hope he does.  TH1RT3EN continues a fantastic run for Megadeth - like the three albums before it, it's easily in the running for most ass-kicking metal album of the year.  It shouldn't take much more than the few opening bars of Sudden Death to convince any listener that there's still plenty of gas in Megadeth's tank.  Long live the 'Deth!