Handwritten - The Gaslight Anthem
"Pull it out, turn it up, what's your favorite song? / That's mine, I've been crying to it since I was young / I know there's someone out there feeling just like I feel..." Sings Brian Fallon alongside scorching guitars on the title track of the groups 4th studio album and first on a major label. Fallon is as dedicated a songwriter as he is a diesel-powered lead singer, and it's pedal is to the metal while never losing grip on the melancholy and sincerity that makes Fallon's lyrics hit home, the same way they don't lose track of how to produce a pop-hook hidden in a rock song greased in punk. Educated by Springsteen, brought up on the Clash, and molded by the Replacements, that's the Gaslight Anthem in a orgy of music influences type explanation. Not just going off of what they literally say when listing influences, but you hear all those elements in their music, and they don't lose it when getting the chance to put out a record on Mecury. This isn't a sell-out your sound for gold-records indie darling turned major label run ala Arcade Fire, their roots remain in-tact.
Brendan O'Brien is behind the producers table, and with experience working with everyone from Neil Young and Dylan to Paul Westerberg to Korn to Springsteen to Rage Against the Machine. O'Brien lent a 12-string to Fallon for the flip switch on the Pixies "Here Comes my Man," one of the groups most courageous songs yet, a stand-out track from the angle of it's appealing sound and rich vocal harmonies, daring from the angle of some punk rockers singing from the viewpoint of a woman. Jenny Lewis pulled off the vice versa, and they do just fine here. The opening track, the tough but radio friendly "45" and it's witty and clever in the way the lyrics bring together music and memory, "drop the needle again / and I'll dance with your ghost," or the clever chorus refrain of "turn the record over / I'll see you on the flip side." "Keepsake" is something that, from the themes, could be from Everclear with it's father leaves family (Fallon's father left the family when he was at a young age) retrospect, full of lyrics like "It's been thirty-one years since she's been in your arms / But don't worry about Mama, Mama's got a good heart / and I'm not looking for your love," it's the type of stuff that if you listen to closely, can hit deep, no deeper than near the end when he almost gasps "I just want to love someone with the same blood." They turn up the power-ballad dial for "Too Much Blood," a song in which Fallon recognizes the power of lyrics and truth, wondering what will happen if "If I put too much Blood on the Page." Just as they can dial it up, they dial it down for the beautiful but strong "Mae" or the acoustic, slightly-Springsteen-esque "National Anthem" a haunting track of retrospect and melancholy which ends the regular studio-album with thoughts on "living with too many ghosts" and "what's left for God to teach from his thrown? / Who will forgive us when he's gone?" The iTunes bonus "Teenage Rebellion," another acoustic track, is worth seeking out in all it's teenage angst turning you into something you never thought you'd be glory. It's as if the 16-year old Westerberg sings to in "Sixteen Blue" has grown up, and this is what he has to say. The regular deluxe edition (which features liner notes by the great Nick Hornby) is rounded out by solid if a little too safe covers of Nirvana's "Sliver" and Tom Petty's "You Got Lucky." The worst element found here is track listing, which is a little strange at times.
Available On: 180-Gram BLUE Vinyl, CD, Deluxe-CD, Deluxe iTunes MP3 with Bonus Track
Carry me Back - Old Crow Medicine Show
It's been a while since Old Crow has dropped a new record, back in 2008 with Tennessee Pusher. Things have changed a lot since. Shortly after the 2011 Railroad Revival Tour the band went on an indefinite hiatus, they came back soon enough, though without key member Willy Watson but with old member Critter Fuqua back. Though it's almost a year later since then as this album drops, it's obvious chunks of this record have been in the can for a while, as Watson is plays (and sings) on enough of the tracks he's listed as a regular musician while Critter is listed as a special guest musician for two of the albums 12 tracks. In that sense, you could very well look at it as an 'end of an era' type album, as Watson always seems to be co-in-comman with Ketch Secor, and while he didn't write or add lead vocals to as many tracks as Secor did and does, Watson will certainly be missed. The band does sound amped up though, it's opening track, "Carry me Back to Virginia" (from which the album partly takes it's title) might not be as memorable as the "Subterranean Homesick Blues" inspired opener on their last LP, "Alabama High Test," it's a fine song that sees the band delving back into history for the roots of it's songwriting, also evident in "We Don't Grow Tobacco" and "Bootlegger's Boy." If you want romp and stomp Old Crow, it's here in songs like "Mississippi Saturday Night," and Old Crow also shows their modern conscience again with the Iraq war veteran inspired "Levi," one of the album's standout tracks. "Ain't it Enough," though a little hammed up in naivety at times in the same vein as John Lennon's "Imagine," stands alongside "Ways of Man" as more traditional, straight forward tracks (they seem to do one or two of these every album out) that many will find to be album highlights. It doesn't top 2006's Big Iron World, but it's another solid outing from the group.
Available On: Vinyl, CD, MP3 Download
The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords will Serve you more than Ropes will ever Do - Fiona Apple
Pre-teens and teens alike today get to view videos where Lady Gaga dresses up in meat and Selena Gomez shows why most girls should eat more of it. Me? I was alongside so many boys who decided they wanted to be men when they saw a teenage Fiona Apple in panties and shirt, in some seedy party bedroom, letting us know she had been a "bad, bad girl." We were in love, and those still listening still are, and when she sings "wake me up, gimme gimme gimme what you got / Got in your mind in the middle of the night" it's like she's speaking to 13 year old me all over again. Apple is a weird chip, no more evident than her choice of album title (though she's actually put out longer album titles) and any interview you can see she lives in strangeness, and we love her for it, check out the music video recently released for "Every Single Night" and see exactly what I mean as she woders why "every single nights' a fight with my brain." She started work on this album basically in secret, not even letting her label know she was at work on her first LP in seven years. It's art-pop on the piano, Regina Spektor on steroids, which is why her energy alone get the album through any bumps in the road. She's not for everyone, this is a challenging album and can be hard to swallow if you go in eyes unopened, that's for sure, but those fans who've waited seven years for another record should be enjoying it. My favorite track? Maybe "Every Single Night" or "Hot Knife."
Available On: Vinyl, CD, Deluxe CD with Poster and DVD and Book, MP3 Download
Invisible Stars - Everclear
Let's be honest, in their radio-hit-heyday, most people probably didn't really pay attention to what exactly Art Alexakis was writing about. Sure, "Father of Mine" may have been a little obvious, but have you really paid attention to the lyrics of "Wonderful?" As he creepy crawls into his 50's, Art isn't holding back nor is he trying to find his youth by singing about how great the bar is. No, it's still about failure and the search for those days when you were happy. "We never had a chance / we want what we can't have / be careful what you ask for / I know you get mad at me / I know that you want to leave / I know this isn't what you wanted when you married me" he sings on the albums standout track, "Be Careful what you Ask for," a song about "burnouts in the dark" and how drinking can take the pain away. Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms said it's his favorite son Alexakis has ever written. While that might be a stretch, this is an album for fans, really, the album fans have been waiting for. If you liked "Sparkle and Fade," you'll love this album. The best studio effort from the band in sometime.
Available On: CD, MP3 Download
Overexposed - Maroon 5
I do wonder, did the band title this album after the excess play "Moves like Jagger" had? Speaking of Jagger, it seems the band has been huffing The Rolling Stones disco era from the late 70's and early 80's like high priced cocaine. I'm not one to rip a band for trying to do something different, but the Stones were STILL that blues rock band when they went disco. There was still a "Start me Up" or "Undercover of the Night" for every "Emotional Rescue." The problem here? It doesn't sound like a band doing disco, it sounds like some electronics doing disco with Adam Levine adding in some vocals. This is bad, it's over-produced and there's not even a hint of the band from just under a decade ago living here.
Available on: CD, Deluxe CD, MP3 Download
Living Things - Linkin Park
From one band straying a bit too far from sounding anything like itself, to a band that only knows one sound. Fans, they'll love it, even if they can't tell the difference between any songs. This album could be titled "More of the Same," though it's sure to find a few radio hits. Their almost a parody of themselves by this point, but as I said, you fans will love it. The opener, "Lost in the Echo," sounds like every other radio hit they've had, and it really made me wonder how repetitive their greatest hits album will sound.
Available on: CD, MP3 Download
Days go By - The Offspring
I loved the Offspring once upon a time when I wore a younger mans clothes, but I fear those days are long over. They're still getting by, but they're chugging fumes, sort of Weezer-esque in that they're still releasing average at best albums, that newer fans love not realizing how good the earlier albums were. Upbeat punk rock fans will still enjoy it, because they're not gonna comb over the lyrics like I will and see how unfunny and cliche they are. If you like the Offspring of today or the last few years, you're honestly not seeing that they're a pale shadow of what they once were. I think a lot of fans will be disappointed here as well. "The Future is Now," um no, your future was yesterday.
Available on: CD, MP3 Download