Quick Review (LP): The Unforgettable Fire by U2

U2
The Unforgettable Fire
Island; 1985

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: "A Sort of Homecoming", "Pride", "Wire", "Bad", "The Unforgettable Fire"

No spoken words, just a dream…

NOTES:
– This was their Kid A moment, an attempt to completely re-define themselves in a manner that could potentially alienate their core fanbase. 
– A record that is simulatenously beautiful and bloated, wrought with meaning and somewhat meandering, a blockbuster and a headscratcher.
– No one can front-load a record like U2.
– The great moments (tracks 1,2,3,4,7) are great enough to lift the tide, and all of the non-great moments sort of drift by in a pleasant Eno-ish experimental haze anyhow.
– I like what Bono has to say about the album: "The Unforgettable Fire was a beautifully out-of-focus record, blurred like an impressionist painting, very unlike a billboard or an advertising slogan." I’m not entirely sure that this means they weren’t just lazy and/or indecisive, but after a lot of years of being unsure how I felt about this album, I now really like it. It’s especially fitting for overcast spring days.
– "A Sort of Homecoming" marks a complete change of direction for U2. Mullen and Clayton do great things rhythmically. It’s also one of my all-time favorite U2 songs.
– "Elvis Presley and America" is perhaps the most indicative of where the band was at with this album. They seem to have been willing to follow their muse just about anywhere, and this particular track is an improvisation over the slowed-down backing track of another song.
– I like the fact that these songs are said to be about things that they aren’t really about, ie "The Unforgettable Fire", "Bad".
– I also like the fact that this record was intended to feel unfinished. Additionally, Eno’s made a good call by having Clayton and Mullen dial it back a few notches. That creates the sonic soil for The Edge and Bono to do their thing.
– My estimation of this record keeps improving. It’s pivotal, mysterious, and never completely gives it self away.
From Pitchfork, an excellent review: "The first song on 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire is called "A Sort of Homecoming"– not just "A Homecoming". And that shade of uncertainty– that "sort of"– is key. Compared to U2’s first three albums– and almost everything that has come afterward– The Unforgettable Fire is marked by a sketchy in-between-ness that works as a gracious foil to the the band’s natural audacity. It’s sort of stadium rock, sort of experimental, sort of spiritual, sort of subdued, sort of uncharacteristic, sort of brilliant, sort of a classic." 
DELUXE EDITION FAVES: "A Sort of Homecoming (live)", "Love Comes Tumbling", "The Three Sunrises", "Bass Trap", "Disappearing Act". This is the band’s best b-sides era. The four I’ve listed here are truly excellent, and any serious U2 fan should be familiar with them.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consistency (3.5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

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Quick Review (LP): The King of Limbs by Radiohead

Radiohead
The King of Limbs
2011

My Rating: A (86/100)

Best Tracks: "Bloom", "Lotus Flower", "Codex", "Give Up The Ghost"

It’s a Radiohead LP – Fussy and Brilliant

Well, this one was bound to be a divider, but it has won me over. Yes, I’ll admit it was lost on me after my first few listens, but then again it took me several months to breakthrough with Kid A. Maybe I’m just one of those suckers who will fall for anything, but I really dig the fact that the overriding theme of this record, for all of its electric and industrial sheen, is the natural realm, pure and simple. (I can just see Thommy boy strolling through the post-apocalyptic forest with Mr. Bluebird on his shoulder.) Sonically, Limbs is a fantastic offering. True, it’s only 8-wide, but its octave of tracks forms a delightfully dense and spectral aural mist. Side B really steals the show, kicking off with the truly brilliant "Lotus Flower", followed up by the chillingly gorgeous "Codex," which might just be a better piano ballad than "Videotape." At this point, any one who expects Radiohead to make a predictable record needs to get a clue. While I’d love to get the guitar-heavy follow-up to OK Computer that I’ve been thirsting for since 1997, I’ve also learned to love the fact that Radiohead will never make the same record twice. The King of Limbs’ payoff is anything but immediate, yet for those who are willing to listen closely for the tender, the nuanced, and the elegaic, it is without a doubt one of the most rewarding records in the band’s catalog.

RANDOM NOTES:

– Perhaps The King of Limbs is the avenging angel of death on the cover, ready to get back at mankind for the mess we’ve made of things?
– Their most mellow record for sure.
– Reminds me of the Amnesiac b-sides, esp. "Kinetic" and "Fog."
– "If you think this is over then you’re wrong…" Please let that mean a follow-up is coming soon!

ATTRIBUTES

Consistency (4.5/5) – second half def. superior to first half
Cohesion (5/5) – frantic blended brilliantly with the slow and ominous
Consequence (4.5/5) – not as big a bang as OKC, Kid A, In Rainbows, but this IS Radiohead
Concept (5/5) – thematically excellent with nature motif
Songs (4.5/5) – too few!

OTHER REVIEWS:

Pitchfork
AMG
Josh Hurst
Metacritic

Suspending Judgment: The King Of Limbs by Radiohead

Radiohead fans have learned to bear patiently with the band over the course of their career. Ever since they trampled all over the “one hit wonder” label with The Bends, they’ve been completely defying the expectations of their audience with each successive album. Their last full-length, 2007’s In Rainbows, went far beyond expectations, proving the band was anything but short on inspiration. And so, at this point, waiting three and a half years for a new collection from the world’s greatest anti-rock band doesn’t seem like much to ask. We are assured that when Radiohead gets around to releasing something new, it will be brilliant, and well worth the wait.

Only I’m not so sure about The King Of Limbs yet…

I will stick with it for a long time before I give up on it, but I’ve listened to it a good seven or eight times since it was released last Friday, and I’m not convinced it measures up. A few thoughts:

  • It sounds more like what I would have expected from Thom Yorke as a second solo record, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that it doesn’t have the “massive” feel of the other Radiohead albums. It’s certainly not a “guitar” record.
  • There isn’t a “fireworks” track on this record. Think of “The National Anthem” or “Pyramid Song” or “There There” or “Reckoner.” There’s no moment of unfathomable greatness that explodes from the speakers, blowing your mind. Perhaps The King Of Limbs is more about restraint than catharsis.
  • Eight tracks? Surely there’s more where this came from?
  • I hate to say it, but many of the tracks seem like they would have been better as b-sides. Of course, Radiohead are a great b-sides band.
  • For crying out loud, will they ever release “Follow Me Around” and “Lift” as studio recordings?

I will say that The King Of Limbs is growing on me though. I don’t think it will ever measure up to In Rainbows or Kid A in my mind, but there’s at least one track that’s undeniably brilliant (“Codex”), and a handful of other lovely moments (“Give Up The Ghost”). I’m going to suspend judgment on this one until I’ve given it the hearing that Radiohead deserve.

Quick Review (LP): Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens
Age of Adz
Asthmatic Kitty; 2010

My Rating: B

Best Tracks: “Too Much”, “I Walked”, “Impossible Soul”

Not so sure about this. All Delighted People was great, but Sufjan’s best quality, his tunefulness, is downplayed here. The “Adz” fella has an interesting backstory, a very eccentric artist and all, but for all of Sufjan’s love of obscure and obtuse hyper-weirdness, it’s always his ability to take that which is obscure and distill into emotional and musical greatness that keeps the kids coming back for more. That being said, I’m not ruling this one out. If KID A can grow on me and become one of my all time favorites, then I suspect that Age of Adz can too. Still, in some ways, this seems more like something Sufjan needed to get out of his system than something he should have unleashed upon the world. “Impossible Soul” is something to behold, but as far as epic goes, Sufjan has done far better in the past (“All Delighted People”, “Djohariah”, “Detroit”, “You Are The Blood”). I’m hoping Sufjan has more up his sleeve in the near future, and I’m hoping it sounds a little more like the All Delighted People EP.

Pitchfork review
Paste review
Metacritic reviews

Suspending Judgment: Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs”

I’m not quite sure what to make of Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. I, like most everyone else, came to love the band for their incredible 2004 debut Funeral, and I stuck with Neon Bible long enough to realize that it’s actually a pretty decent album. But The Suburbs hasn’t been easy for me. I’ve heard it compared to London Calling in scope, but I’m not convinced.

I guess the most frustrating thing for me is that I feel like the band is stagnating in both sound and vision. While The Suburbs most definitely has some killer songs, I guess I was hoping for something more revolutionary and ambitious, something that would threaten to both alienate old fans and gain legions of new ones, a record we could really divide into camps over. Instead of going all Radiohead on us with a Kid A (and setting the tone for the decade to come), the band has delivered what, in my mind, is their X&Y. And by the way, I like Coldplay.

Anyway, here’s what I do like:

  • “The Suburbs” – Great lyrics – “I want to hold her hand and show her some beauty before all this damage is done.”
  • “City With No Children In It” – Nifty sound. This is probably the most unique sounding track on the record, easily my favorite.
  • “Suburban War” – I love the stark, almost apocalyptic sound of this track. Very nice McGuinn-style guitar playing here.
  • “Sprawl II (Mountain Beyond Mountains)” – Makes a strong case that what this band needs more of is Regine on lead vocals. I thought the same thing when I heard Neon Bible‘s “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations.”

All in all, The Suburbs is a good, maybe even great third effort from The Arcade Fire. I just wish it was something I was breaking down doors to tell the uninitiated about.

Tracks of the Decade: “Everything In Its Right Place” by Radiohead

radiohead -eiirp“Everything In Its Right Place”
by Radiohead
from KID A (2000)

No surprises? On January 1, 2000, that’s the way the world felt. Planes didn’t fall out of the sky, nuclear meltdowns didn’t riddle the globe, and the infrastructure didn’t collapse, not even a hair. Nope, no surprises there, but I’d argue that there wasn’t any greater surprise than the opening track to Radiohead’s millenial masterpiece KID A, released later that year. The warm tones of the electric piano seemed more likely to lull us to sleep than crown rock and roll’s next magnum opus, but with Yorke’s distorted vocals fading in the fact that this was Radiohead kept us hanging on. What in tarnation did Yorke mean that he “woke up sucking a lemon?” Speculations abounded, but we all kept thumping along with that bass beat, looking for a pair of headphones so we behold the full glory of the track, howling electronic ghosts and all. Right about when Yorke rambled about “two colors” in his head and “what was it you tried to say” the song attained an apocalyptic urgency, unmatched since. The old had passed, the new had come. With “Everything In Its Right Place”, Radiohead boldly proclaimed: “the new millenium has begun, and lo, it is the same as it ever was.”

Radiohead: Top 12 Non-Album Tracks 3-1

3. “Cuttooth” from the KNIVES OUT singles: Bearing one of the most strangely enticing song titles in the band’s catalog, this one comes straight from the depths of the KID A sessions. It’s a piece of shimmering, propulsive Krautrock that shows Radiohead pretty much mastering the genre overnight. While it’s all for the best that they moved on, and although “Cuttooth” bears the sunny glow that reasonably excluded it from KID A or AMNESIAC, it’s nevertheless one of the coolest things the band has ever recorded. With “Cuttooth”, Radiohead joined the ranks of artists like Springsteen and Pavement, where the myth of lost tracks began to rival the myth of the albums.
2. “Pearly*” from the PARANOID ANDROID singles: Although ultimately it doesn’t feel right at this point to question the band’s judgment on the tracklisting for OK COMPUTER, it still makes me scratch my head that this one was left off that album in favor of “Electioneering.” Featuring similar subject matter and a similar sonic trajectory, “Pearly*” is far more exotic and otherworldly, once again featuring some marvelous instrumentation from both the guitar and the drum sections. “Pearly*” is the “Maquiladora” of OK COMPUTER. Seriously, couldn’t they have made room for just one more?
1. “Talk Show Host (Nellee Hooper mix)” from the ROMEO AND JULIET soundtrack: Some might argue with the fact that I chose a cinematic cut-up of “Talk Show Host” as the band’s number one non-album track, but Nellee Hooper’s remix just gets it right. Go back and listen to the version from the STREET SPIRIT single and see for yourself. The bass and drums are just a little too aggressive, a little too direct. But Hooper expertly brings trip-hop subtleties to bear on the song’s bare bones, exposing the emotional heart of the song, and fleshing out a cinematic and musical masterpiece in the process. Don’t settle for the original in this case; Hooper’s remix is the real deal.

Radiohead_knivesout3. “Cuttooth” from the KNIVES OUT singles: Bearing one of the most strangely enticing song titles in the band’s catalog, this one comes straight from the depths of the KID A sessions. It’s a piece of shimmering, propulsive Krautrock that shows Radiohead pretty much mastering the genre overnight. While it’s all for the best that they moved on, and although “Cuttooth” bears the sunny glow that reasonably excluded it from KID A or AMNESIAC, it’s nevertheless one of the coolest things the band has ever recorded. With “Cuttooth”, Radiohead joined the ranks of artists like Springsteen and Pavement, where the myth of lost tracks began to rival the myth of the albums.

Paranoid_Android_CD12. “Pearly*” from the PARANOID ANDROID singles: Although ultimately it doesn’t feel right at this point to question the band’s judgment on the tracklisting for OK COMPUTER, it still makes me scratch my head that this one was left off that album in favor of “Electioneering.” Featuring similar subject matter and a similar sonic trajectory, “Pearly*” is far more exotic and otherworldly, once again featuring some marvelous instrumentation from both the guitar and the drum sections. “Pearly*” is the “Maquiladora” of OK COMPUTER. Seriously, couldn’t they have made room for just one more?

Romeo_+_Juliet_Soundtrack_Vol._11. “Talk Show Host (Nellee Hooper mix)” from the ROMEO AND JULIET soundtrack: Some might argue with the fact that I chose a cinematic cut-up of “Talk Show Host” as the band’s number one non-album track, but Nellee Hooper’s remix just gets it right. Go back and listen to the version from the STREET SPIRIT single and see for yourself. The bass and drums are just a little too aggressive, a little too direct. But Hooper expertly brings trip-hop subtleties to bear on the song’s bare bones, exposing the emotional heart of the song, and fleshing out a cinematic and musical masterpiece in the process. Don’t settle for the original in this case; Hooper’s remix is the real deal.

Radiohead: Top 12 Non-Album Tracks, 12-10

12. “Palo Alto” from AIRBAG/HOW AM I DRIVING? EP: Originally titled “OK Computer”, this track might have birthed the creative concepts behind the homonymous album. Encapsulating many of the same themes, it immediately evokes the false pleasantries of THE TRUMAN SHOW as Yorke greets the listener “I’m OK/How are you/Thanks for asking/Thanks for asking.” Still, underneath it all is Yorke’s old nemesis, the omnipresent fridge buzz. “In the city of the future/It is difficult to concentrate.” It also shines as one of the most chipper mid-tempo rockers in the band’s repertoire, effecting a Beatles-esque glee through Jonny’s noodly leads. Simultaneously a chunky guitar fest and an effects-laden dreamscape, it evokes the best of The Bends AND OK Computer in one little track. Muy bueno.
11. “Last Flowers” from IN RAINBOWS CD2: A mysterious tune that’s been floating around since the days of OK Computer, it didn’t see the light of day for nearly ten years. Through all the changes for the band, this comes across as one of their most sober and lovely little tracks, and proves that when you strip away all the bells and whistles, what you have is a great band of musicians in the most timeless sense. Featuring some of Yorke’s most emotionally potent lyrics (“You can offer me scape…if you take me there you’ll get relief”), its arguably his most disarming performance since another great b-side, “How I Made My Millions.” It can be easy to forget that so many of us fell for Radiohead because of their weepier stuff – “Fake Plastic Trees,” “High and Dry” – but this lost beauty brings it all back home.
10. “Fog” from KNIVES OUT SINGLES: Introducted to the world via concert in 2001 as a “silly little song,” this lullabye about humans as sewer gators is quite simply one of the most obtuse and artful tracks by any band ever, a whimsical ode to lost innocence. Although it seems to come across as a throwaway, it features one of the best melodies in the band’s catalog, and works itself into a great jam at the end, featuring everything but the kitchen sink. Bonus points here for the stark visuals drawn by the music, proving once again that Radiohead is great because they think in like, I don’t know, five or six dimensions.

Airbag12. “Palo Alto” from AIRBAG/HOW AM I DRIVING? EP: Originally titled “OK Computer”, this track might have birthed the creative concepts behind the homonymous album. Encapsulating many of the same themes, it immediately evokes the false pleasantries of THE TRUMAN SHOW as Yorke greets the listener “I’m OK/How are you/Thanks for asking/Thanks for asking.” Still, underneath it all is Yorke’s old nemesis, the omnipresent fridge buzz. “In the city of the future/It is difficult to concentrate.” It also shines as one of the most chipper mid-tempo rockers in the band’s repertoire, effecting a Beatles-esque glee through Jonny’s noodly leads. Simultaneously a chunky guitar fest and an effects-laden dreamscape, it evokes the best of The Bends AND OK Computer in one little track. Muy bueno.

17563562-17563565-slarge11. “Last Flowers” from IN RAINBOWS CD2: A mysterious tune that’s been floating around since the OK COMPUTER-era, it didn’t see the light of day for nearly ten years. Through all the changes for the band, this comes across as one of their most sober and lovely little tracks, and proves that when you strip away all the bells and whistles, what you have is a great band of musicians in the most timeless sense. Featuring some of Yorke’s most emotionally potent lyrics (“You can offer me escape…if you take me there you’ll get relief”), its arguably his most disarming performance since another great b-side, “How I Made My Millions.” It can be easy to forget that so many of us fell for Radiohead because of their weepier stuff – “Fake Plastic Trees,” “High and Dry” – but this lost beauty brings it all back home.

Radiohead_knivesout10. “Fog” from KNIVES OUT SINGLES: Introducted to the world via concert in 2001 as a “silly little song,” this lullabye about humans as sewer gators is quite simply one of the most obtuse and artful tracks by any band ever, a whimsical ode to lost innocence. Although it seems to come across as a throwaway, it features one of the best melodies in the band’s catalog, and works itself into a great jam at the end, featuring everything but the kitchen sink. Bonus points here for the stark visuals drawn by the music, proving once again that Radiohead is great because they think in like, I don’t know, five or six dimensions.

August 5th, 2009

Thanks for dropping by! Why not drop a few comments while you’re here…

– New reviews today: Radiohead’s Kid A; Fleet Foxes Sun Giant EP.

– Paste’s The 20 Best U2 Songs of All Time. (Coming tomorrow here – The 20 Best Non-Single U2 Songs of All Time)

Good review of Wilco (the Album) over at Chromewaves; contrast with mine.

– UPDATE: How come this isn’t all over the place: NEW RADIOHEAD DOWNLOAD!

Radiohead: Kid A (2000)

kid_aRadiohead
Kid A; 2000
EMI/Capitol Records

My Rating: 10/10

KID A is the most controversial album in Radiohead’s catalog. After the tremendous commercial and critical success of OK COMPUTER, the band might have easily crafted a cybertronic Brit-Rock re-tread. Instead, they chose to completely turn their songwriting and production process inside out, retreating into the studio for over a year and completely re-learning the art of rock and roll. Lots of people found OK COMPUTER difficult compared to the melodic Brit-rock of THE BENDS, but with this one, the band completely says goodbye to the past and announces to the world, “We are not resting on our laurels.” From the opening cascade of electric piano on track 1, KID A sounds numinous, cold, and chronic, perpetually avoiding the pop-music hook but all the while re-inventing it. The album cover features a digitally rendered mountainous landscape, which suggests that the band intended to make a grand and foreboding album. Well, all I know is that this album is a tough climb at first, but once you’ve struggled to the top, it all starts to make sense. An incredible and unique sonic journey.
TRACKS:

1. Everything In Its Right Place (5/5)
2. Kid A (5/5)
3. The National Anthem (5/5)
4. How to Disappear Completely (5/5)
5. Treefingers (5/5)
6. Optimistic (4/5)
7. In Limbo/Lost at Sea (3.5/5)
8. Idioteque (5/5)
9. Morning Bell (5/5)
10. Motion Picture Soundtrack (4.5/5)