Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park

kaceymusgraves

Part I: The Background

So apparently Kacey Musgraves has been making music for quite some time. She’s released a number of independent albums over the years, which I’m going to have to see if I can get my hands on at some point since, frankly, I’m a big fan. This is her first album released on a major label, so it’s a debut in some regards. Anyway, Kacey’s a country artist, but she’s known for her very progressive lyrics that have caused a bit of controversy (only because of her genre—her lyrics are actually really tame by normal standards). So I’m going to admit that Kacey was someone I didn’t discover until it was announced that she was going to guest on Brian Wilson’s No Pier Pressure album (this is incidentally also how I became a fan of Lana Del Rey—who didn’t end up making the final cut—and to a lesser extent, She and Him). I expected Kacey to be my least favourite of the three, considering their respective genres and my musical preferences. I was sorely mistaken.

Part II: The Music

Silver Lining: What better way to make a new lifelong fan than to start off right away with something that hits close to home? The brilliance of this song is that it’s not even really about anything specific; the message is that sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. The song has instant appeal to anyone who’s going through… anything, really. Lyrically, the song isn’t all that impressive; Kacey rattles off more clichés than would be stomach-able in a single sitting were it not for the music. I usually let an album run all the way through during the first listen in order to soak it all in. But I wound up repeating this song over and over; just by listening to this song, somehow, everything seemed to start looking a lot brighter. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so moved by such a simple song. It mainly revolves around some acoustic picking backed by this melancholic, spacey note bend that sounds almost reminiscent of Dark Side of the Moon era Pink Floyd. Kacey then starts singing a melody that’s both gloomy and soothing at the same time. And when the chorus kicks in, you don’t just see that silver lining; you’re right up there in the clouds with it. RATING: 10/10

My House: Well, let’s be honest: anything was bound to disappoint after an opener like that. Not that there’s anything wrong with this tune. This ode to mobile homes features lyrics like: “If I can’t bring you to my house, I’ll bring my house to you.” It’s a cute little inoffensive song with a bouncy feel and an accessible melody. The arrangement is a little on the simpler side, but that serves the song well. RATING: 5.5/10

Merry Go Round: Then the album takes a bit of an unexpected turn. Kacey suddenly becomes quite critical. She’s disillusioned with her own way of life here, pointing out all the unpleasantness that lurks beneath the surface in contemporary, rural America: infidelity, drug abuse, and the rigidity of tradition. The heavy subject matter is juxtaposed with the children’s nursery rhyme interpolated during the chorus, only it’s twisted into something much more dark and depressing. Kacey’s at her best lyrically here, with “And just like dust we settle in this town,” being one of the song’s more potent lines. And there’s something sarcastic about the banjo plucking going on in the background. RATING: 10/10

Dandelion: Ah, the descending bass line. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: any song with a chord progression that revolves around a descending bass line is an instant win in my book. But what’s so great about the song writing here is that the song doesn’t just center on that moody musical pattern; it blossoms into something beautiful when we get to the chorus. This is probably one of the best compositions on the album, even if it is just a song about a failed relationship. It’s got this nice ethereal quality to it. RATING: 9/10

Blowin’ Smoke: This one’s got a bit more of a rock edge to it, but it’s the first real miss for me on the album. The music takes a bit of a backseat here as Kacey focuses on her storytelling instead, using a sequence of narratives about individuals who aspire to get themselves out of their respective slumps to call out anyone who has ever declared that they were going to achieve something and then never followed up on it. So while it might be interesting to pay attention to the lyrics here, musically, the song plods along, barely managing to retain interest. RATING: 4/10

I Miss You: The first thing that stood out to me about this song is that it follows a very similar chord progression to Radiohead’s Creep (and by extension, The Hollies’ The Air That I Breathe). And that’s one hell of a chord progression, as far as 4-chord songs go. It’s another heartbreak song, but you might see a trend here of the music overpowering the subject matter. This song would be a pleasure to listen to no matter what it was about. Arrangement-wise, it’s very simple, and very country, but it still manages to have this alternative feel. There’s also a really nice surf-rock-sounding guitar interlude that follows the chorus. RATING: 7.5/10

Step Off: I’ve never really enjoyed these confrontational songs where the singer tries to elevate themselves by touting positivity and all that. Luckily, Kacey doesn’t go too far down the rabbit hole—it’s her scathing wordplay that really makes this one. The titular phrase means something like just back off and leave me alone, that is, until you get to the last line of the chorus and, well, just have a look: “Just keep climbing that mountain of dirty tricks / And when you finally get to the top, step off.” SCORE: 6/10

Back On The Map: So here, Kacey’s looking for a new love to help her get over her past heartbreaks. But the music’s a bit of a drag. The verses build up to the choruses, only for an anti-climax; the choruses are as mellow and laid-back as the verses. That makes the song gloomy and melancholic, when really it should be about hope. Though I guess that does play into the whole idea of being lost and wandering around aimlessly. But basically, it’s a self-pity song, both lyrically and sonically. RATING: 3/10

Keep It To Yourself: All right, this is an interesting take on the same old subject matter. This time, rather than the singer pining over their lost love, the singer is assuming that the lost love still has feelings for them and is advising them not to act on it. Because they’ve already moved on. It’s refreshing in the context of this album. And we also get back on track here musically—the song still floats around the same melancholic bubble, but it’s an aesthetically pleasing bubble. RATING: 6/10

Stupid: Another song with more of a rock vibe too it, only it’s really good this time. Almost anthemic (she’s even got the harmonized “whoa”). It’s also got the stomp-clap rhythm, which it manages to pull off without actually having any stomping or clapping. After reflecting on the pains of love and loss for the majority of the album, Kacey finally comes to the conclusion that love is, well, stupid. But we fall for it every time, because we’re just as stupid. And what did I tell you about descending bass lines? RATING: 7/10

Follow Your Arrow: This should really be the anthem for the 2010s. It’s all about just doing you, no matter what that means. The song points out the paradoxes of modern society, coming to the conclusion that no matter what you do, somebody is going to take issue with it. So the solution? Do whatever the hell you want. And there’s something awesome about a country song that supports homosexuality (and marijuana!). She’s at her most country here musically, juxtaposing the musical style with her progressive lyrics. And when I say she’s at her most country here, I mean that in the best way possible; this also happens to be one of the most solid pieces of song writing on the album. RATING: 10/10

It Is What It Is: I mean, it’s another song about relationships, but the theme of acceptance can be extrapolated here to just life in general. Things are going to get really dark sometimes. Love isn’t going to last. You might think you can make a change, but it’s all just talk. And people are going to judge you, no matter what you choose to do. So all you can really do is accept it all: the good and the bad. But uh, I think I talked way too much about lyrics for this review. Let’s get back to the music. So the album closes with a slower, downbeat, acoustic number. It kind of comes full circle; we’re back to the tentative optimism of the opening track. The same gentle, dreamy atmosphere pervades this last track, making it a great send-off for the album, even if it’s not one of the stronger tracks. RATING: 5.5/10

Part III: The Album

Aesthetic: The production is actually quite stellar, as are the arrangements; each track gets exactly what it needs to let it shine. The title fits in with Kacey’s whole theme of putting a twist on old clichés. The album cover isn’t very interesting, nor is the booklet that comes with it. Are all the cactuses supposed to be symbolic of her rebelliousness (she’s a thorny plant rather than a flower), or is it just an odd design choice that I’m reading too much into? Seriously, there are even cactuses on the CD label. SCORE: 3/5

Artistic Merit: I won’t say that this album is flawless. As I’ve pointed out, a handful of songs seem to cover the same tired ground and lack a certain level of polish and craft. But the rest of the songs reflect the mind of an incredibly talented songwriter putting self-expression before anything else. This is an artist who isn’t afraid to take risks, and that’s kind of what I tend to look for in an artist. SCORE: 3/5

Flow: I wouldn’t say there’s a singular sound here. The album kind of explores the various ranges of musical expression that are possible while working within the confines of such a traditional genre. But that serves to keep things interesting. And the songs blend together well anyway—the only jarring moment on the album is Blowin’ Smoke. And whoever sequenced this album had the foresight not to bog down the listener with more than one moody heartbreak song in a row. SCORE: 6/10

CLOSING REMARKS: Kacey’s a very promising artist. I was hooked from the very first note of track one. The rest of the album may not have lived up to that, but that’s just because the bar was really set that high. Again, there are earlier albums that I haven’t heard, but for an album that is for all intents and purposes a debut album, this is really good. This album would probably be one of my go-to’s if I had to argue the case that people are still making good music these days.

FINAL SCORE: 68

 

 

Eminem – Encore

original

Part I: The Album

Okay people. I’m going to say this once. Stop hating on Encore. Sure, this album (along with Relapse) sees Eminem at the peak of his drug addiction. But I think we can all agree that when he got clean, he got boring. This album is just downright weird, and that’s what makes it so awesome. It’s also one of his most musical albums—apparently after testing out his chops on Halie’s Song, he decided he could sing after all. The only valid complaint about this album is that it is responsible for the birth of the accent. If you’re an Eminem fan, you know exactly what accent I’m talking about.

Part II: The Music

Curtains Up: So the album’s got a bit of a concept, even if that concept only really figures into a handful of tracks. Supposedly, Eminem is performing a live show. Insert obligatory Sgt. Pepper’s reference here. So we literally begin with Eminem getting ready to walk on stage while the fans are chanting his name. RATING: 1/3

Evil Deeds: Picking up where we left off, the beginning of the song is accompanied by a screaming crowd and squeaking ropes as the curtain is pulled up. Right off the bat, Eminem comes out swinging with his melodic hooks on this Dr. Dre–produced track. We also get a taste of his unorthodox delivery on this album—during his first verse, Eminem repeats the ends of his lines over and over as if there were delay on his vocals. Eminem uses his favourite technique here of singing a melody in two different octaves at once to hide any inadequacies in his vocals, and it works quite well. Had this album come out a few years later, it would’ve been littered with autotune. Then again, maybe not; as far as I know, Eminem has yet to use autotune on any of his songs to date. I’ve also neglected to mention that this is one of the stronger tracks lyrically on the album, with those dark, autobiographical lyrics Eminem is known for best. RATING: 6/10

Never Enough: Another Dre track, and this one’s a bit more of a banger. Here, Eminem opines the fact that no matter how successful he is, he’s never really satisfied. It’s not a self-pitying track though; it’s all about the fact that he keeps on striving to reach new highs. The song’s highlight is the hook, sung by Nate Dogg. I mean, did a Nate Dogg hook ever not make a song awesome? There’s also a pretty decent 50 Cent guest verse. 50’s still in his prime here, so he actual delivers in terms of his lyrics and flow. RATING: 5.5/10

Yellow Brick Road: The first Eminem-produced track (with the help of Luis Resto, as is the case throughout the album) on the album, and it’s… psychedelic? Is that the best way to describe this track? Oddly, Eminem raps rather than sings the hook on this one. This song isn’t as excessively weird as it sounds—once again, the lyrics are autobiographical. Eminem sings about first meeting fellow D-12 member Proof, for example. Anyway, as much of an oddity as this song is, it never really stood out much to me. RATING: 6/10

Like Toy Soldiers: This is perhaps one of Eminem’s best songs (and one of his best beats!). Marching drums lay the foundation for this sombre reflection on the negative consequences of hip hop beefs (Eminem brings up his feuds with Benzino and his involvement in 50 Cent’s feud with Ja Rule). The song is full of Eminem’s trademark complex rhyme schemes, and his vocal delivery really helps him come across as a war-weary soldier. Sadly, this song will probably be best remembered for its music video, which hauntingly foreshadowed the death of Proof, who was shot and killed two years after the release of the album. RATING: 9/10

Mosh: Ah, this song. This is an anti–George Bush song. But unlike, say, Lily Allen’s Fuck You, this song is very up-front about its subject matter (he literally says “Fuck Bush”). This song also seems to continue the militaristic theme of the previous one, only this song is more geared towards revolution and political upheaval. The beat is one of Dre’s lazier efforts on the album. This was a really odd choice for a song to release as a single, and it really doesn’t work that well outside of its political context. RATING: 2/10

Puke: Eminem first graced us with his pop singing voice on the incredible Hailie’s Song. Here he does it again, only this time it’s a little more tongue-in-cheek. At its core, this is just another Kim (Eminem’s ex-wife, for the uninitiated) diss, isn’t it? But it’s so damn catchy! What I wouldn’t give for Eminem to put out a whole album’s worth of songs like this. I suppose I could do without the vomiting sound-effects that the track starts off with, but it’s worth sitting through it for one of Eminem’s most melodically pleasing tracks. Really fun to sing along to this one as long as the excessive foul language doesn’t put you off (but really, if you’re an Eminem fan, there’s nothing here that should surprise you). RATING: 8.5/10

My 1st Single: This feels like a filler track. The whole idea behind the song is that it was supposed to be the first single off the album, but Eminem’s offensive, inappropriate, and just downright lazy lyrics botched it. But it’s all just a joke—there’s no way a song this inceompetent was ever a contender for a single, let alone the lead single. It’s Encore-era Eminem by the numbers, as much of a contradiction as that seems. RATING: 3/10

Paul: Every Eminem album needs a Paul skit (and a Ken Kaniff skit, which we didn’t get on this album). This time, Paul’s not too happy about the lyrical jabs at the King of Pop. This placement of this skit on the album is pretty strange—it basically requires the listener to have already been familiar with the single Just Lose It, since that song doesn’t appear until after this skit. Also, what happened to the live show? I guess Eminem is taking this call while on an intermission? RATING: 2/3

Rain Man: The hidden gem of the album. Rain Man is a song about nothing, though Eminem touches on a wide number of subjects including Christopher Reeves, homosexuality, and once again, George Bush. It’s a stream-of-consciousness rap from one of hip hop’s most demented minds. What isn’t to love? The highlight of the song comes in verse three, where Eminem starts rapping the first verse over again only to realize he’s reading from the wrong lyric sheet (it’s intentional, of course, but it’s hilarious all the same)! RATING: 10/10

Big Weenie: Now that I’ve taken the time to do this review, I can totally understand why a large number of Eminem fans hate this album. Most of these songs are really, really stupid. But that’s also what makes this album so fun to listen to. That, and Eminem’s sing-song hooks. And Dr. Dre’s catchy beats. Eminem gets meta on this song again (he does that a lot during this album), with lyrics like this: “All right now I / I just flubbed a line / I was going to say something important but I forgot who or what it was.” Psyche! This time he admits that he did it all on purpose, bragging that he could “bust one tape without looking at no paper.” It’s that self-referential sense of humour that makes this album so fun to listen to. RATING: 5/10

Em Calls Paul: A sequel to the last skit. Eminem gives Paul a call back, only he’s got this weird robotic vocoder on his voice. It’s full of Michael Jackson puns, and that alone makes it worthwhile. But there’s also a hilarious twist: Eminem is making this call while on the toilet. Oh, and there’s foreshadowing. Foreshadowing? On an album? Yep. Eminem tells Paul that he has an idea about how he wants to end the show (remember how this album’s supposed to be a live performance?). More on that later. RATING: 2/3

Just Lose It: The actual first single from the album. Eminem has (or at least had before Recovery) a tradition of releasing a comedy song as the lead single off of each album. This song’s known for one of two things: Eminem’s ballistic scream that he performs throughout the track, or the music video, which mocks Michael Jackson and his allegedly fake nose. Apparently this is a Dr. Dre beat—I would’ve thought Eminem self produced this one. Just goes to show that the doc has a sense of humour too. Perhaps his protégé wound up rubbing off on him a little—this beat is silly and infectious in the way that only Eminem can be. RATING: 8.5/10

Ass Like That: This is another one of those really stupid songs that only works because of Eminem’s twisted sense of humour. This song is pretty much Eminem’s whole take on the big booty rap song. Only Em doesn’t just like big butts, he uh, disturbingly, likes all butts. Even Hilary Duff’s, though at least he comments on the fact that she isn’t quite old enough yet (she would’ve been around 16 at the time). And he’s not afraid (pun not intended) to tell you why he likes butts either: they “make [his] pee-pee go da-doing-doing-doing.” Anyway, this song probably gets a lot of ire because it’s the first song where Eminem uses his comedic accent, which is inspired by the puppet Triumph the Insult Dog, who he is impersonating on this track. When I get around to reviewing Relapse, you’ll see why this was the birth of a monster. RATING: 6/10

Spend Some Time: Whoa. Am I still listening to the same album? Talk about a major tonal shift. Spend Some Time is another one of this album’s standout tracks. Obie Trice, Eminem, Stat Quo, and 50 Cent all take their turn reminiscing about failed love affairs over one of Eminem’s more haunting beats. Tracks like this really highlight why this album is so great. Both Eminem and Dre bring their A-game to the production. The album is abundant with accessible melodies, and Eminem delivers them in a convincing manner that compensates for his lack of technical ability when it comes to singing (when he gets around to rapping, he of course steals the show with his legendary technique). It’s a lot easier to notice these things when the songs don’t revolve around irreverent humour. When Eminem gets serious, it’s really powerful. RATING: 9/10

Mockingbird: Speaking of which… Mockingbird. I’m not sure I can even put into words how touching this song is. Like Hailie’s Song, this is an ode to his daughter Hailie (and his niece Alaina). Eminem raps about his failures as a father and about how his life as a rap star has prevented him from having a normal family life. He also touches on Kim’s inadequacy as a mother, though he’s actually quite sensitive here, as opposed to his usual scathing criticisms of her. A sensitive, piano melody serves as the backdrop for this sentimental track. It’s hard not to tear up while listening to this one. RATING: 10/10

Crazy In Love: We get not one but TWO tracks on this album where Eminem sings instead of raps. This one isn’t as comical as Puke, because we’ve reached the serious part of the album now. Eminem reflects on his unhealthy relationships to the tune of Heart’s Crazy On You. The song’s major shortcoming is that it essentially covers the same ground as Spend Some Time, only less effectively. It’s a great tune nonetheless, really painting a vivid picture of how self-destructive these on-again, off-again relationships are. RATING: 7/10

One Shot 2 Shot: After the release of D-12 World earlier that year, it wouldn’t have been right for Eminem not to include a D-12 song on the album. This song presents a weird narrative about a gunfight breaking out in a club. We get to see how each of the members reacts to the situation. The highlight is, of course, Bizarre’s verse, where he sacrifices his wife to save his own skin. Again, this song is downright eerie to listen to given the circumstances surrounding Proof’s death (Proof, oddly enough, doesn’t appear on this track). But all that aside, this is a pretty average track as far as D-12 goes. RATING: 4/10

Final Thought: So remember that foreshadowing from earlier? It’s almost time for the payoff. But not quite yet. In this haunting skit, Eminem is completely silent as he approaches the stage for his Encore. His final thought is… absolutely nothing. RATING: 2/3

Encore: I grew up a huge 50 Cent and Eminem fan (and by extension, I had to love Dr. Dre, who supplied all of their hottest beats). So this song was like a dream come true: the Aftermath trio all together on a single track. And damn if it didn’t deliver! This song isn’t just the encore to the album, it’s the encore to the careers of the three men who shaped the sound of hip hop in the early 2000s. They get together and wow us one last time. The song’s even more potent because of how prescient it was. All three of their careers pretty much went downhill after this. Dr. Dre failed to put out his long-awaited Detox, choosing to focus on his Beats headphones instead, and wouldn’t make a musical comeback until 2015’s Compton. Eminem’s drug addiction got out of control, the result of which was the widely-panned Relapse. And then he got clean again, and he’s been incredibly dull ever since. 50 Cent managed to squeeze out one more classic album with The Massacre, but his career took a nosedive after his beef with the Game and after Kanye West basically stole the throne. Anyway, back on topic, the song ends with the long awaited finale to the fictional performance. So, how did Eminem decide to end the show? By shooting everyone in the audience before finally turning the gun on himself, that’s how. The song’s only flaw is that 50 Cent’s verse on this song is absolute trash! But I’m willing to overlook that because of how well his voice blends with Eminem’s on the hook. And of course, Dr. Dre delivers with a banging beat that revolves around some chanting and sparse piano. RATING: 10/10

Part III: The Album

Aesthetic: This album’s aesthetic is the twisted wonderland of a drug-addled madman. And while Eminem doesn’t stick with the live performance concept any longer than The Beatles did with Sgt. Pepper’s, he doesn’t really need to—thanks to the frequent sing-song hooks and the consistent production work by Dr. Dre, Luis Resto, and of course Eminem himself, the album has a very unified feel. The album eerie album cover perfectly matches the tone of the album (although the booklet that comes with the CD has some pictures in it that spoil the ending). Even the art on the CD itself matches the theme of the album (it’s made to look like a suicide note). In many ways, this was Eminem’s encore—he was never the same person after this album. Aesthetic is one of the things that a lot of people unfortunately ignore when it comes to an album, and this is an example of an album that does it all perfectly. SCORE: 4/5

Artistic Merit: Eminem’s always been more about the controversy than the art. But this album is surprisingly artistic. What with its odd production choices, its recurring concept, its humour, and its melodic content, this is actually quite the departure for Eminem. But at the same time, only he could have produced this album. I firmly believe that, if it hasn’t happened already, this album will undergo a reappraisal at some point in the future and be heralded as Eminem’s masterpiece. SCORE: 3/5

Flow: For all of the reasons listed above, this definitely is a consistent listening experience. It’s not perfect though. The album is a little too long, for one. The transition from comedic tracks to serious tracks isn’t all that smooth—it’s kind of jarring to go from Ass Like That to Spend Some Time. And a couple of the tracks (Mosh and One Shot 2 Shot, for example) make for dull moments that slow down the flow of the album. But the everything else makes for a great listening experience. SCORE: 5/10

CLOSING REMARKS: So is it about time this album underwent a re-evaluation? I think so. Eminem has always had a sick, twisted mind. The only thing that makes this album different from his previous ones is that that sickness is no longer confined to the lyrics; it’s in the music too. But if you’re the type of person who can appreciate a bit of artistic weirdness, this album’s got plenty of replay value. It is by no means the abomination that some people make it out to be.

FINAL SCORE: 66

 

Britney Spears – …Baby One More Time

britney-spears-baby-one-more-time-album-cover-1999-400x400

Part I: The Background

Britney Spears was one of the biggest pop stars of the early 2000s. I wasn’t really old enough to be following pop music religiously when she was at her peak, but nevertheless, I was well aware of her hit singles. Who wasn’t, at the time? Britney got her start on the TV show The Mickey Mouse Club in the early nineties before dropping her debut album right at the tale-end of the decade. Though she rose to popularity at the turn of the century, she didn’t exactly usher in a new age of pop music; much of the same musical ground had already been covered earlier on in the decade by The Spice Girls. Nevertheless, Britney secured her place in the history of pop music with this album (and its follow-up Oops!… I Did It Again). She didn’t have much creative control over the album—actually, her input is quite minimal. But it’s a hell of a record all the same.

Part II: The Music

…Baby One More Time: The hit single that started it all. It hooks you in right from the opening piano riff. This Max Martin–penned track can only be described as a piece of sheer pop brilliance. Everything about this track catches your attention, from the slick guitar licks to the glorious 90s harmonies (why did pop music ever turn its back on harmonies?). The lyrical content paints a picture of Britney as young, naïve, and innocent; but at the same time, she’s confident and not afraid to speak her mind. The track is packed to the brim with hooks, from the verses, to the prechorus, to the chorus. RATING: 10/10

(You Drive Me) Crazy: We get the same, slick 90s production style here—complete with harmonies—only this song is much more… aggressive. I’ll just go ahead and say it: this song rocks. And that’s not something you can say often for modern pop music (does 90s music count as modern anymore though?). There’s even a short but sweet guitar solo! I would’ve been in elementary school (and, as I said, barely paying attention to the pop music world) when this came out, but I still get nostalgic listening to it. But that’s not to say its only strength is in the nostalgia factor; this is a damn good song. RATING: 9/10

Sometimes: To contrast with the high-energy of (You Drive Me) Crazy, here’s a ballad. It’s got a catchy beat, and doesn’t forego melody for sentimentalism. Her ballads would improve with her sophomore outing, but this song isn’t even remotely offensive in a musical sense. Here, Britney displays her vulnerable side, and that’s reflected in the soft and emotional vocal delivery. The song really does a great job of deconstructing the female object of desire as this elevated being raised up on a pedestal; Britney’s just as human as her admirers. RATING: 7/10

Soda Pop: What the hell happened? This is complete and utter garbage, and it damn near ruins the album. Whoever wrote this was taking the phrase “pop song” much too literally. The song features Mikey Bassie, who I will admit I have never heard of outside of the context of this album. It’s not that he doesn’t fit in well with the song; it’s that the song doesn’t fit in well with the album. It’s just a little too bright and cheery… it’s sickening. That’s the word I’m looking for. Have I given away the fact that I don’t like this song? RATING: 1/10

Born To Make You Happy: Thankfully, the next track returns to the trademark Britney Spears sound. Only the floating pads give the song a much dreamier feel. Lyrically, this song covers the same ground as …Baby One More Time, but it’s not as appealing. Why? Because it’s not anywhere near as bold. In the former song, Britney practically demands that her ex-lover take her back. Here, she’s essentially pleading with them, claiming that she basically only exists for the purpose of pleasing him. Musically, this is still a nice bit of ear candy though. RATING: 7.5/10

From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart: Another ballad, and it’s much sappier this time, as it’s a song about heartache. This one lacks the restraint of Sometimes and indulges in all of the nausea-inducing tropes of the modern ballad. But let’s not forget: this is still a carefully crafted pop album. Quality control must’ve been absent when Soda Pop was being recorded, but that’s not the case here. There’s enough melody here to keep you interested for… 5 minutes? Oh come on. For a song that doesn’t really go anywhere, that’s kind of pushing it, don’t you think? RATING: 6.5/10

I Will Be There: Easily my favourite song on the album. Arrangement-wise, this is the perfect blend between rock and pop instrumentation; the rhythm guitar riff that serves as the song’s centerpiece is downright infectious. This is also probably my favourite vocal performance on the album; Britney shows the kind of restraint that a song like this calls for while still subtly working in her little vocal flourishes. Oh, and it’s no surprise that this song’s also got those lovely 90s harmonies to propel it during the chorus. What really bolsters this song though is its positivity—it’s a song about being there for someone. That pronoun is crucial here; it’s what makes the song universal. The song isn’t explicitly romantic. It could just as well be about friendship, and that’s what gives it such a wide appeal. RATING: 10/10

I Will Still Love You: Really? Has it been too long since the last ballad? Did we really need another one? This one’s another duet, this time with a guy named Don Philip, who—once again—I’ve never heard of. And this one just takes a huge nosedive into sappy sentimentality; it’s an ode to eternal love. This one gets a failing grade in my book, despite having a couple decent melodies. Britney’s vocals actually do manage to get a little soulful here, which somewhat redeems this otherwise bland song. RATING: 4/10

Deep In My Heart: This dance-infused track only appears on the international edition of the album. It’s a bit of a departure stylistically, being more keyboard-driven than the rest of the album. Lyrically, it’s another song about the power of true love, but what really makes it is the disco-influenced arrangement and the keen sense of melody. RATING: 9.5/10

Thinkin’ About You: If there’s one song that scream teen-pop on this album, this is it. The chorus is just so cutesy, and not in a good way. The pre-chorus offers some interesting melodic turns, and Britney once again gets a little more soulful with her vocal delivery. Unimpressive album filler. RATING: 6/10

E-Mail My Heart: Oh, how dated this sounds. Hell, it probably sounded cheesy even back when e-mails were still the primary method of online communication. By the way, did you notice that the ballads on this album just get worse and worse as the album goes on? And it’s another one of those pathetic pleading-for-an-ex-lover-to-take-you-back songs. At least there’s a bit of an interesting melodic fluctuation at the end of the chorus, but considering we’re near the end of the album now, which is usually reserved for more evocative, introspective deep cuts, this song inevitably disappoints. RATING: 4/10

The Beat Goes On: Here’s something odd. A sixties cover? What business does that have on a Britney Spears album? I think that just goes to show how manufactured this album is—I’ll bet you she wasn’t the one who decided to do this cover. I guess it’s a serviceable cover, but it’s just not that interesting, unfortunately. And as an album closer, this fails big-time. RATING: 3/10

Bonus Tracks: There are also (at least) four bonus tracks on this album. There are two remixes of …Baby One More Time, which I’ve don’t really care for—they’re lazy dance mixes that have nowhere near the same edge as the original. I’ll include the other two tracks in my review though. We get another ballad: I’ll Never Stop Loving You (RATING: 5.5/10). There’s a bit of an R&B vibe to this song. I actually like it better than some of the ballads on the actual album. Sometimes the decisions about what to include and what not to include just puzzle me. And that’s especially true for the other bonus track: Autumn Goodbye (RATING: 8/10). This should’ve been the album closer—it’s another dance-influenced track, and is right up there with the best this album has to offer.

Part III: The Album

Aesthetic: I don’t think it’s going to come as a shock to you when I say that this album has an excellent aesthetic. It’s perhaps not as polished as some of her later offerings, but this album really does capture that quintessential late 90s/early 2000s sound. The album is named after the smash hit single—go figure. I own both the standard and the international versions of the album, and they’ve got different covers. But both covers depict Britney as this pure, innocent girl next door. I’m not sure which cover I like better—in the standard edition cover (the pink one), the focus is on Britney and her cute little pose. In the international edition cover (the white one pictured below), the focus seems to be on her blonde hair; the colour scheme is very aesthetically pleasing. SCORE: 4/5

376efc9966fb425eb9bf89dd1ca0cd0c

Artistic Merit: Not so much on Britney’s part—she does do a bit of work with her vocals here, but some might argue that her vocals are quite cookie-cutter. I don’t really care to get into any of that. What I will say is that this album boasts excellent craftsmanship and some top-notch pop song writing (even if it does get a little dodgy at times). SCORE: 2/5

Flow: My only complaint here is the oversaturation of ballads. I mean, there aren’t even that many of them, it just feels like it because of the way the album’s sequence and because of how long some of them are. Also, the album kind of tapers off towards the end if you don’t count the bonus tracks. SCORE: 6/10

CLOSING REMARKS: I like this album a lot more than the score I gave it. While the debut isn’t as consistently strong as its follow-up, there is a naive sophistication that some of her later works lack; the fact that it’s not quite as polished as her later efforts is what gives it a lot of its appeal. And for a heavily manufactured album, the songwriting is exceptional.

FINAL SCORE: 64

 

 

Genesis – Trespass

61wtqbzmf2l

Part I: The Background

Here’s one that gets overlooked. So after releasing their debut From Genesis To Revelation, the band sort of called it quits for a year, having been not all too pleased with the creative direction their producer had basically forced upon them. With Trespass, Genesis was reborn as a progressive rock band. Of course, without Steve Hackett and Phil Collins (who would come on board for their next album, Nursery Cryme), some say it lacks that trademark Genesis sound. I’d argue that Tony Banks is actually the one who provides that Genesis sound, but that’s besides the point. This is a remarkable album, but it often gets the short end of the stick, with the exception of the album closer “The Knife,” which became a live-show staple.

Part II: The Music

Looking For Someone: The opening track of the album really captures the album’s essence: Trespass is a compromise between pop sensibilities and progressive song structure. While the track meanders a little, there is a solid melody to sustain it. We’re really witnessing the birth of what I call the Genesis mysticism here—it’s that feeling that you’re on a fantastical, magical, and epic journey that a lot of the early Genesis stuff evokes. The instrumental break is consistently musical—it never really feels indulgent or drawn-out. Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t the most remarkable of opening tracks. But it’s a great start to a solid album. RATING: 7/10

White Mountain: Now this is more like it. Even without the lyrics, the acoustic guitar picking and the arpeggiated organ really give you that crisp winter’s day feeling; this is one of those songs that transports you to a vivid, surreal landscape. Story-wise, the song’s about a wolf named Fang who wants to defeat One-Eye, the pack leader, in order to claim his crown. They engage in a fierce battle and—spoiler alert—Fang dies. Personally, I’ve never really cared much for Peter Gabriel’s storytelling; he can get quite obtuse at times. But the lyrics here are coherent and to-the-point, they neither muddle the song nor call attention away from the actual music—the lyrical and musical elements of the song blend together perfectly, something that can’t really be said for the majority of Gabriel-era Genesis songs. RATING: 8.5/10

Visions of Angels: This is another one of those songs that really paints a vivid picture, not lyrically but musically. This song isn’t actually about angels—if you listen to the lyrics, it’s actually a song about lost love. But the music really does channel the essence of divinity. What I mean is the song starts with a soft, rippling piano melody that reflects the majestic and breathtaking essence of the natural world. But when the drums kick in, the song evokes a sense of awe in a way that’s almost terrifying; it’s that feeling of staring into the face of something that both fills you with a sense of wonder and strikes fear into your heart. RATING: 9/10

Stagnation: This song lacks the dynamics of the previous ones until the last couple minutes, and Gabriel’s vocals are buried pretty low in the mix, making for a kind of monotonous, aimlessly drifting tune. There is a sense of beauty to it though. It’s a peaceful song, sure but… Well the title says it all. It kind of stagnates. RATING: 4/10

Dusk: This song suffers from the same tediousness as the previous one. In fact, it’s worse. The band manages to meander for a good 4 minutes without once stumbling onto anything that resembles a melody. It’s all about atmosphere, this one. But the atmosphere just doesn’t feel as compelling to me as it did in White Mountain and Visions of Angels. Maybe dusk isn’t the best subject to write a song about. RATING: 3/10

The Knife: Fortunately, things pick back up again with the album closer, which just happens to be one of the best songs in Genesis’ entire output. The Knife is aggressive, epic, and bursting with energy. It’s an anthem about revolution, and damn if it doesn’t make you want to “stand up and fight” as the lyrics say. We also see the band implement the classic instrumental interlude that is so prevalent in progressive rock—a few minutes into the song, pretty much everything drops out except for the bass and organ. Then Gabriel serenades us with a bit of flute playing before the song builds back up to what should have been an explosive guitar solo. But the solo here is a little reined in; it too builds, slowly, until the song finally concludes with an oddly jubilant organ riff that transitions into some fierce vocals and climactic drumming. RATING: 8.5/10

Part III: The Album

Aesthetic: I have no qualms with the production of the album—in fact, I prefer this to a lot of the later stuff. Genesis is a band that got more and more overproduced as they went along. There is a consistent feel to the album—it’s a blend of evocations of nature and mythology. What about the album cover? The story goes that the artist slashed his portrait with a knife to honour the song of the same name when it was added to the tracklist after he’d already finished it. Indeed, the addition of The Knife tips the scales a bit over into the aggressive, violent side, making the cover not as fitting. Trespass is an apt title though; going back to what I said about Visions of Angels, the album almost feels like you’ve trespassed into some sacred, holy realm that you have no business being in and do not completely comprehend. Some of it, anyway. The word “trespass” also evokes “sin”, which hearkens back to White Mountain, where Fang’s sin is trying to usurp One-Eye’s crown. SCORE: 4/5

Artistic Merit: The band is beginning to come into their own here, but it does really feel that they’re mainly experimenting with a cluster of ideas that they would perfect later on. And it does occasionally tread that very thin line between artistry and indulgence, albeit not as much as they would later on. SCORE: 2/5

Flow: This is an album that doesn’t flow well. It’s all over the place. The first three songs form a cohesive whole, before we delve into the tedium that is Stagnation and Dusk. And then we suddenly get the thunderous The Knife, which doesn’t seem to even fit in with the rest of this album. About the disparity between the first three songs and the next two: one might argue that those are divided by a split in album sides. But even if you aim to make each album side a digestible whole, we should still feel like we’re listening to the same album when we get up and flip the record over. Oh, and who thought it would be a good idea to put the two dullest tracks on the album right next to each other? Did they think no one would bother to listen to them? SCORE: 3/10

CLOSING REMARKS: I enjoy four sixths of this album, I really do. But that back-to-back snoozefest of Stagnation and Dusk can be downright torturous (even if the tracks do possess a hidden, tranquil sort of beauty). I still find it remarkable that the band could transition from the baroque pop of their debut to this in only a year. This isn’t by any means a top-tier Genesis album, but it is definitely worth a listen.

FINAL SCORE: 63

The Bonzo Dog Band – Gorilla

Gorilla-bonzo-dog-doo-dah-band-15383680-500-500

Part I: The Background

When you think of the greatest albums released in 1967, you’ll probably think of albums like Sgt. Pepper’s, Are You Experienced, The Doors, or even less-known masterpieces like Forever Changes. Well here’s one that doesn’t get a lot of mention. Gorilla is the debut album by the Bonzo Dog Band, known at the time as The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. For those not in the know, the Bonzos were known for their unquestionably British sense of humour. They also happen to have succeeded more than anyone else at capturing the essence of the “Beatlesque” sound (unless you count The Rutles, of which Bonzo Neil Innes was a key member). But they were so much more than a parody band. Their music is quirky, eccentric, and downright hilarious. And who doesn’t love late-sixties mock music hall?

Part II: The Music

Cool Britannia: We’re going to break out the alternate rating scale here. The album kicks off this odd but irresistibly catchy assertion that Britain is “hip,” set to a jazzy rendition of “Rule, Britannia.” Bonzo Vivian Stanshall puts on his best posh accent here, delivering the lyrics with a healthy dose of smarm. Honestly, what isn’t to love? This is the kind of piece that stands on its own, regardless of its length. RATING: 3/3

The Equestrian Statue: A Beatlesque psychedelic ditty about a statue of a horse. No, really. This is a recurring theme with the Bonzos; their lyrics revolve around the most absurd of ideas, regardless of whether the music is an artful pastiche or a tongue-in-cheek mockery. In this case, we get the former. This song perfectly sums up Neil Innes’ songwriting; he’s a master of disguise, seamlessly adapting whatever musical visage he fancies at the time, leaving his stamp on each piece with his ludicrous lyrics and peculiar sense of humour. RATING: 10/10

Jollity Farm: This one’s a cover, but the music-hall flavoured arrangement is just absolutely captivating. The track is kept fresh with a number of comical animal sound effects, a lot of which are produced by the voices and instruments of the band members. This is a jollity song indeed. RATING: 8/10

(I Left My Heart) In San Francisco: A comedy piece. The joke here is that the audience applauds after every single mockingly-sung line of this classic tune. It doesn’t last long enough to overstay its welcome, and the humour is quite effective, but it’s a bit of a curio that doesn’t really work without the context of the album. RATING: 2/3

Look Out, There’s A Monster Coming: I absolutely love this one. From what I can gather, it’s a song about a man placing an ad in the personals, although the song gets more and more surreal as it progresses. By the end of the song, he’s become this Frankenstein’s monster–like abomination. The song even quotes Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor! RATING: 9.5/10

Jazz (Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold): I’m not really sure what to make of this one. It’s a musical joke that drags on for a little too long. The joke is that the Bonzos (who were actually a jazz band prior to trying their handy at comedy) couldn’t carry a jazz tune if their lives depended on it. Their playing is awful (on purpose, of course), and it’s hilarious. At first. With repeat listens, the song, which lasts for over 3 minutes, becomes a little tedious. I’m being quite generous with my scores because of how much I love this album, so to balance things out we’re going to stick with the standard rating scale for this song. RATING: 5.5/10

Death Cab for Cutie: You either know this as the song played during the strip club sequence in The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour or as the song the band Death Cab for Cutie named themselves after. What you should know it for is the fact that it’s a spot-on Elvis parody that manages to be an excellent song in its own right. As for what it’s about, well it’s kind of all there in the title. You’ll just have to give this one a listen. RATING: 9/10

Narcissus: The Bonzos interrupt the album to let us know that a lot of it’s rubbish. This very brief interlude doesn’t really add anything to the album. It’s a relic of the vinyl record age, since it serves as an outro for the first side of the album. But it’s really nothing more than that. RATING: 1/3

The Intro And The Outro: The other song they’re known for. I’m not even sure I want to spoil this one for people who haven’t heard it already. You know how during a concert bands will vamp while somebody introduces each member by name? And each member will join in the playing once they’ve been introduced? Well that’s what this is, only the song takes a rather unexpected dive into ridiculousness after the actual band members are introduces. I will say no more—go and give this a listen if you haven’t already. RATING: 8.5/10

Mickey’s Son And Daughter: We’ve got another cover song here, and you could pretty much copy-paste my review of Jollity Farm here. I’m not going to do that, but I will copy-paste the score. RATING: 8/10

Big Shot: The Bonzos’ take on film noir. I could listen to the evocative narration over that smooth, jazzy beat all day. There are even little instrumental breaks after some of the stronger punch lines to accentuate the humour. This song has so much… attitude. Not just in the vocals, but in the playing as well. How could you not love it? RATING: 9/10

Music For The Head Ballet: Time for some bias. But this is my site, and these are my personal reviews after all, so that’s kind of the whole point. This is an energetic, psychedelic, and simultaneously cheery and disturbing harpsichord piece, with some of the neatest sounding chords I’ve ever heard in my life (perhaps because the instrument is slightly out of tune). The carnivalesque melody is absolutely mesmerizing. By the way, if you’re confused about the name, try and look up a video of the Bonzos performing the titular Ballet. I promise you, even if you’re a terrible dancer, you’ll be able to pull it off. RATING: 10/10

Piggy Bank Love: Perhaps the best song on the album? This bubblegum pop piece has all the making of a smash hit: an abundance of hooks, sappy lyrics, a bouncy rhythm, and… okay I guess the falsetto vocals won’t appeal to everyone. But the melodies here are just infectious. I don’t really have any music-critic buzzwords for you this time. It’s just damn good. RATING: 10/10

I’m Bored: The lyrics revolve around an individual who really just can’t be bothered with modern life; he finds just about everything in existence to be insufferably boring. Once again, Stanshall’s accent is what makes this track. We also get hit with a barrage of bored-related puns (including A-bore-iginals and mortar bored), and there’s even an interpolation of Frère Jacques sung in a round (though the lyrics, of course, have been changed to “I Am Bored”). The lyrics also set us up for the next song by referencing The Sound of Music—that’s just about the only time there’s really any sense of cohesion on this album. RATING: 8.5/10

The Sound of Music: The album concludes with another joke track. Only it’s a joke we’ve already heard before; the highlight of this song is the same blatant disregard for musicality featured on Jazz (Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold). Only, somehow, it’s funnier this time. RATING: 2/3

Part III: The Album

Aesthetic: The production is spot on—as I said, this album rivals the best of what was coming out in the late sixties in terms of its sound. The album is full of vibrant instrumentation and top-notch sound effects. The album cover is a little bizarre, and I’m not really sure why the album is titled Gorilla anyway. After all, a true Bonzo Dog Band fan knows that the Bonzos were all about rhinos. But bizarre is what the Bonzos do best. SCORE: 4/5

Artistic Merit: I mean, this isn’t an album that pushed the boundaries of recorded music—at least I don’t think so. But it’s an album that used all those cutting-edge techniques to make something that managed to be both derivative and unique at the same time. I guess that’s what the Bonzos are: a paradox. And the songwriting, particularly Neil Innes’ contributions, is top-notch. SCORE: 3.5/5

Flow: There is none, really. It’s a chaotic collection of comic cacophony. It’s cohesive in the way that The White Album is cohesive: it isn’t. But the Bonzos’ trademark humour shines throughout. And the songs really do reflect everything that was going on in pop music at the time. It’s definitely a satisfying listen start to finish, so that has to count for something. SCORE: 6.5/10

 CLOSING REMARKS: Gorilla is a strong debut, and I’d place it right up there with some of the best albums to come out in 1967. While the Bonzos would go on to release 4 more equally charming albums, there’s something magical about this one that they were never really quite able to recapture. Anyway, come for the humour, stay for the music.

FINAL SCORE: 82