CrashCarBurn: Gravity Review

Things are starting to take off

Horrendous puns aside, this one is really, really good. I mean really good. So good in fact, that I have never been so pleased to be initially disappointed before.

See, CrashCarBurn are one of the only South African bands I can really listen to. Out of the ones I have heard anyway. More than that, they are the only South African band that I have heard that has genuinely felt like they are international quality.

For example, I’ve never understood why The Parlotones get so much praise from so many countries the world over. With all due respect to them and their fans, they’re just… bland. So very bland. Their production is really tinny and it leeches power out of already vague and meandering songs which are led by some of the most gratingly annoying vocals I’ve ever heard. Then there are bands like Prime Circle, who seem to be incapable of producing above-par lyrics and are stuck in very samey, if somewhat appealing guitar riffs that put me to sleep even when they are cranking out what are barely power chords at full blast.

Both are more renowned than CrashCarBurn, whose 2006 debut, This City Needs a Hero, is difficult to find in any stores locally. This is despite lead single “Serenade” being a gut-bustingly powerful anthem about love being irrevocably destroyed by pride, and driven by some of the most impressive power-guitar work I have heard from anyone in South Africa. The album as a whole was far from perfect, but it was the antithesis of any Parlotones record. It was direct, potent, effective and interesting.

Fortunately, the band did well in London, England, where they first released the debut record. “Serenade” was the hit it deserved to be over there, and they were popular enough to continue their careers, leading to the production of 2010’s Long Live Tonight, a strong sophomore effort that may have lacked some layering and intricacy production-wise but was nonetheless an improved, more polished version of what the band could do, showing promise in the “Piano interlude” especially, which hinted at a more orchestral, dramatic side to the band.

Two years on, and the band has signed on to major label EMI, and produced their third album, Gravity. With this album, they seem to be getting the recognition locally that they should have had all along, and it’s about damn time. The album justifies it as well, being the most consistent and complete work that the band has produced to date.

This Album Sucks… No, wait…

Now to address the initial disappointment I spoke of. It stemmed from the marketing of the album, which consisted of a 52-second teaser trailer featuring a beautiful instrumental backtrack that sounded like a better version of 30 Seconds to Mars’ This Is War. It hyped me up too much, and by the time they released lead single “The Light” (which was an immediate return to CrashCarBurn’s usual style), I thought, “This is it?”

Compare the above two videos. This was the change I was confronted with. It hopefully shows that it was not that “The Light” wasn’t good. It was very good. It was just that I expected something bigger, something that was more transcendental than what I got in the single. Even when the album as a whole was released, I felt like the band had missed a trick by not following the direction that the video took.

Then I noticed something.

I realised that, despite my disappointment, I kept on popping the CD back in and giving it another listen. Somehow, I was compelled by it. I couldn’t put it down and ignore it. There was definitely something good about it. There had to be. So I listened to what was there on the CD instead of what I wanted, and then I started to realise how good the album actually is, and man is it good.

The production is pristine. Of course it would be if you work for a major label, but CrashCarBurn have gotten something right that most bands, even bands I love like Jimmy Eat World, seem to mess up these days. They have managed to balance the production so that the power behind the guitars and drums is very much as pronounced as it always has been, but so that it does not compromise clarity of sound. No exaggeration, this is one of the best-mastered records I have heard for a while. Gone is the over-bearing presence of lead singer Garth Barnes’ vocals, which sometimes sounded way too thick on Long Live Tonight. It has been controlled and fitted near-perfectly into place. What is finally here is sharpness, layering, and richness of sound. Congratulations to the band, who mastered their own work on the album. Top job gents.

The instrumentation on the album is also some of the most varied and best of the band’s career. While the previous album felt like it ran out of ideas, this one has new ones for every song, with the guitars still power-chord driven but more dynamic than before, and the drumming far less heavy-handed, going instead for light touches where before there would be too much double-bass work. The record is a joy to listen to for the instruments alone.

The record is,  as Barnes described it, “the most bi-polar record we’ve ever made.” The high-tempo, more traditional power-heavy style songs on the record zing with energy as they usually do, but they are interspersed at all the right times by slower ballads and even some delightful acoustics, the best of which is the crystal-clean title track, which zooms through its 3-minute, 57 second run time and blends nicely with the “Higher Interlude”, which it turns out is a longer version of the backtrack from the teaser trailer. The interlude actually fits in with the album surprisingly well, and gives the listener a neat half-way break before heading back into the stronger stuff with “The Ride”, a song that is pretty much as energetic as you would expect from the title.

The album also features one of the heaviest riffs CrashCarBurn have penned so far, in the form of “Monsters and Angels”, which is a pretty bi-polar song in and of itself, starting out with the aforementioned crashing guitars but softens up by the chorus. It takes getting used to and is not a particularly strong song like the rest, but it adds a nice change of pace and does still work in its own right.

If the album has weaknesses, it’s the lyrics. While not outright bad, they can at times be largely derivative or uninspired. It’s lines like, “I can see the light/forgive me I’ve been blind/can you see the light?” that can be hokey enough to ruin a record, especially when you feel like the band is trying to be incredibly deep but can’t quite produce the nuanced language needed to do so. CrashCarBurn are unfortunately guilty of this from time to time, but luckily these moments are not common enough to spoil the overall feel of the album, which is without doubt CrashCarBurn’s best, and could be considered their flagship album going forward.

This album is without doubt my favourite album by any South African band, and is pushing CrashCarBurn rapidly up the ranks of my favourite bands overall as well. If these lads continue improving at this rate, then Gravity may end up being to them what Bleed American was to Jimmy Eat World. From, here the only direction is – and forgive me for this one, I cannot help myself – up.

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Methinks the music doth protest too much

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Protest music is a really slippery slope. Sure, you’re opening yourself up to bigger, more important messages than the typical re-hashed emotional angst that popular music tends to stick to, but man alive do you sound stupid when you get it wrong.

The song, “We are the World”, originally a Michael Jackson song (cue haters in 3, 2, 1…), was used to raise money for the Haiti disaster. Sadly, it is a good example of how not to write a protest song. I don’t mean to be insensitive, but the song is unfocused, the lyrics are clichéd and horribly simplistic, and the tune is overwrought with self-importance and excessive, forced emotion. Remove yourself from the good intentions of the song, and you can’t deny it. It sacrifices good writing for the sake of a grand message, and that is the wrong way to do it.

Rise Against, a punk band famous for their anti-war writing, do it the way I think it should be done. Their ideas are not ham-handedly thrust upon us with nebulous, over-used lines like, “When the world must come together as one” and “Love is all we need” like the Haiti song does. They write their songs first and weave the messages into it them, accompanying them with a gritty, urgent style of punk rock that uses its roughness to make a point as much as the words. That intelligent kind of musicianship elevates the writing first and the message second, and that therefore makes us listeners take the songs more seriously. It’s not pretty ballad-type stuff with a flimsy message about uniting against something. It’s straight-up telling you, “this is wrong”, but it’s doing it in a way that you can actually appreciate.

Even when analysing one of the songs that I don’t like that much, I find myself praising it for its ideas, even if the execution is not quite there. “Hero of War” is one of Rise Against’s more direct anti-war songs. It follows an army recruit reminiscing about the propaganda that got him to join the army, as well as what he did as a soldier. The song becomes particularly poignant when the recruit talks about shooting what appears to be a charging insurgent, but turns out to be a civilian with a flag of surrender clutched in her hand. As frontman Tim McIlrath belts out “A hero of war. Yeah, that’s what I’ll be!” in the final chorus, every word drips in bitter irony as it becomes clear that he no longer believes in the delusions of grandeur he is singing about.

The song manages to make its point that the lies we are fed about the army life are precisely that: lies. The heavy sarcasm and brutal images of wartime actions both signal to us, without being trite and manipulative, that the band thinks war is a bad, bad thing. Why don’t I like it then? Musically, the acoustic guitar that accompanies the lyrics shows glimpses of the soppiness I dislike so much, and the lyrics themselves are sometimes rudimentary in terms of their depth. Just look at the opening verse:

“He said, ‘Son, have you seen the world?

Well, what would you say if I said that you could?

Just carry this gun, you’ll even get paid’

I said, ‘That sounds pretty good’”.

Really Tim? You couldn’t think of a better line than, “That sounds pretty good”? I don’t care what your cause is, that’s just bloody lazy.

The song that I prefer is “Audience of One”. Taking on a very pop-punk feel and incorporating lyrics that are actually open to interpretation, it is a much better and more interesting song than “Hero of War”. The funny thing is, it doesn’t seem to be about much at first. The song has an incredibly ambiguous writing style to it, and it’s hard to pin down an exact interpretation, but I’d like to attempt one.

McIlrath uses three motifs throughout the song: things that we associate with permanence being in a state of fluidity and uncertainty, things being incomplete, and things reversing roles unnaturally. Things like, “years of wet cement”, days blurring into each other, identities adopting people, and cars running at half speed. These ideas are consistent with an apocalyptic scenario, in my opinion, as once a cataclysm strikes, everything we would have known at that time would instantly be thrown into flux. We wouldn’t know what to do or what to think, and we certainly would not have any concept of time. McIlrath makes further mention of time anomalies when he writes, “synchronising watches to the seconds that we lost”, indicating that something happened that caused the people of the song to actually lose time. This sort of experience is almost always associated with trauma and sudden tragedy.

In the chorus, he says that people are running, but does not seem to know what from. He uses the image of vampires running from “a thousand burning suns”, which I am sure was not just something he just thought sounded cool, given that a nuclear bomb was described by its creator, J. Robert Oppenheimer, as having the same amount of energy as “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky”. Hmmm.

So is McIlrath describing a world post-nuclear war? Could be, but the delight of the song is that we cannot know for sure. The song itself is very up-beat, which seems to be contradicting the dark tone of its lyrics, but that might also be deliberate on the band’s part. Your interpretation is as good as mine.

The point that I am making is this: A song of protest does not have to barge into the room with an obscenely large banner reading, “Protest-song and proud.” It should rather file in with everyone else and sit quietly, only divulging its beliefs when someone is curious enough to ask about them. That’s how poetry behaves, and I believe that even the slightest ambiguity in a song can make it a worthwhile experience for anyone. That’s why I like these gruff rockers from Chicago. They don’t make things pretty, but they make them well. Isn’t that what music is all about?

NickelBack: Here and Now – Unrewarded Improvement

Oh, I get it! The title is "Here and Now" and it has a clock in the picture! Do you get it? Cause clocks tell the time and... No? Ok then.

Nickelback fans, I want to put my neck as a wanna-be critic very far out for you in this review. You guys have to put up with far too much criticism  and I want to give you something to cheer about. I hope what I’m about to say does so, and that it changes the minds of some Nickelback-haters too.

Here it is: I think that Nickelback is one of the most unfairly ridiculed bands in the music industry. Why? Because they are criticised for doing something that Grammy Award-winners do all the bloody time.

Critics love to rip up every Nickelback album that is released because they just know that it’s going to be almost exactly the same as the album preceding it. They know that it’s going to open with a pair of heavy, thudding hard-rock songs that pummel the listener into submission before leading into the album’s first single. They know that the songs are going to have similar structures, sounds and lyrical content, and they know that it’s going to close out with a pick-me-up number that may even be another single. They know this, and gleefully anticipate their chance to point it out in excruciating detail… over and over again.

While I am not the world’s leading Nickelback fan, I have a healthy respect for what they do. They play real instruments for a start, which is something that is as dead as the Dinosaurs on modern radio. They play a genre of music that is much maligned by the pop-culture fraternity and loyally stick to their guns year after year regardless of whatever insults are hurled their way. That is something that many modern artists don’t have to put up with these days, and one wonders if some of them would have proven to be as tough as these guys have been had they not been the teacher’s pets of the music industry.

Ranting over, Review begins:

Right, now that I have had ample space for my rant, let me offer my thoughts on Here and Now.

At an initial glance, it’s much the same as the previous Nickelback albums, going all the way back to their most famous album, Silver Side Up, which featured the never-surpassed monster hit of their career, “How You Remind Me”. The album’s sound is instantly recognisable as the same post-grunge, alternative-metal sound that they began with in 1995 and, even if you do equate it to a musical version of the nails-on-chalkboard effect, you cannot deny that Chad Kroeger’s voice is still one of the strongest and most recognisable in the business. The international adulation/bloodlust that he has received from legions of fans and nay-sayers alike is evidence of that.

There is, however, more to this album than its predecessors. It has more colour and complexity in its sound than any Nickelback album to date and as a result it feels like a fuller and therefore more appealing experience than those releases. The production is streets better than that of 2008’s Dark Horse, which was criticised as being dull and murky in that department.

Here and Now feels much brighter. The Heavier songs on Here and Now are tighter and pacier than there predecessors were. This is especially true of album-opener “This Means War”. The lead riff is urgent, fist-pounding and violent. It raises the adrenaline level and is a blast to listen to regardless of its grungy heaviness.

The softer, ballad-type songs sparkle and shimmer, which I hope are not inappropriate adjectives for a Nickelback album. The acoustic guitars therein are crisp and clean, and in the case of lead single “When We Stand Together” (which, sure enough, is the third song on the album,) they bounce joyfully and may even cause unguarded feet to start stomping.

This is the first Nickelback album for some time that has struck a neat balance between maintaining the formula and improving on it, and while Dark Horse and its predecessor All The Right Reasons lost my interest after a few listens, Here and Now has grown on me since I first listened to it. It’s probably down to the better song-writing and increased depth that this album offers. I’m not much of a fan of scoring music, but if a grade is necessary, I’d give it 3.7 out of 5. In all honesty, I’d never recommend it as a musical revelation, but I do believe that it is damn good music when one’s mood is right.

Last-chance Grievances

The sad thing about this album is that there are already two-star ratings being attached to it. This is puzzling. For this reason, I would like to highlight something that has bugged me personally about modern music charts for a very long time as a final word to whoever has stuck around this long through an admittedly lengthy review.

Lady Gaga, as an example, has won 5 Grammy Awards and 10 MTV Video Music Awards for a 100% synthesised album that contains lyrics like Poker Face’s, “Can’t read my, can’t read my, no you can’t read my poker face” and Bad Romance’s, “Rah, rah, ah-ah-ah, Roma, ro ma-ma, Gaga, Ooh La-la, Want your bad Romance.” Sure, it sounds good when you’re in a club with the speakers cranked up so loud that your chest is vibrating, but on paper it doesn’t really seem that impressive.

Why then, is Nickelback criticised so much when they write, “They tell us everything’s alright, and we just go along; How can we fall asleep at night, when something’s clearly wrong? When we could feed a starving world, with what we throw away, but all we serve are empty words that always taste the same.”? It is not only written in a language that humans can understand, but it might even be insightful and a tad bit witty.

The nutshell that I am hopefully arriving at is that there seems to be a bit of hypocrisy influencing the music industry. Lyrical quality and musicianship are not always being judged fairly, and while some have legitimate complaints about bands like Nickelback, often those exact problems and some worse ones are present in the albums that they recommend. I do hope that this album is recognised a bit more than its predecessors and that the improvement they have managed is acknowledged. It deserves it.

Close Encounters of the Worst Kind

Having just returned from a visit to my home town in Zimbabwe I can report on three things with absolute confidence: 1: Zimbabwe is not the best place to live these days; 2: It is certainly not getting any better; and 3: Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the worst let-down movie-wise that I have experienced for quite some time.

You see, I decided to watch the movie in the hopes that it would provide a pleasant escape from all of the depressing sights around me while sitting in our now-vacated farm house. I was convinced that I couldn’t possibly go wrong with a movie that has accumulated as much praise throughout the critical fraternity as it has. I liked the idea of an alien movie in which for once the aliens are not inexplicably hell-bent on eradicating every last atom of the human race. I liked that Spielberg directed it and I liked that it was successful enough to win somewhere in the region of 12 Oscars. I was ready for a classic cinematic treat.

That, however, was where all the goodness was clubbed over the head, violently stuffed into the trunk of an un-marked vehicle and driven off, never to be seen again.

For those not in the know, the plot tends to centre around one Richard Dreyfuss – played by Roy Neary – who witnesses alien ships flying past his home town and is subsequently driven mad by a psychic message of some kind that draws him and a bunch of other people to a certain place in the United States. There is also a side-plot involving a scientist named Claude Lacome – played by Francois Truffaut – who is trying to work out a way to communicate with said alien ships. Promising enough, and yet that promise wasn’t enough.

Shocking Dialogue Scenes

The movie fell apart after a very promising opening sequence. The problem: The dialogue.

The dialogue in Close Encounters is a mess in terms of its delivery. It almost doesn’t make sense. It’s a Spielberg movie and the problem lies in the directing, of all things.

The thing is, I cannot really tell you how good the script was because – I kid you not – for roughly forty per cent of the film I could not for the life of me work out what anyone was saying. Everyone was talking all at once and the dialogue dissolved into some kind of monotone blur that was as frustrating to listen to as it was incomprehensible. I swear, it’s like Spielberg told the actors, “You know what guys, it really doesn’t matter about your timing. Timing is overrated. You guys just say your lines any which way you like, okay? Seriously, it doesn’t matter whether you understand each other, just talk.”

In many scenes, that is precisely what happens. Characters just dump their dialogue on each other with seemingly no regard for whether they are understood or not. I can understand that in some scenes, like the one where Dreyfuss is muttering to himself and not listening to his wife, that this is necessary. It demonstrates dementia quite effectively. The problem is that, in these scenes, the camera man goes AWOL and forgets to focus on the right places. Sometimes the argument is happening completely off-screen while the camera  focuses on something bland and inconsequential. It’s frustrating when you want to see what is going on and Spielberg has decided that it’s not quite important enough to warrant ignoring his present tangent.

Why the Hell Did He Do That?

Another huge gripe that seems to have been glaringly over-looked is how the reactions of many characters are, at times, either quite confounding or badly executed. There is, for example, a scene in which Dreyfuss breaks down because he is ashamed of his worsening mental condition and he and his son share some kind of weird staring match where the son doesn’t seem to know whether he wants to cry or not. I get that he’s upset because daddy is as crackers as the March Hare, but it feels incredibly poorly realised. The actor seems so indecisive that we end up with a half-done emotional scene that just falls flat.

In another scene, a nomad in the Gobi desert sees a whole cohort of vehicles drive and fly past him and he starts cheering for no apparent reason. Does anyone in the world do that? He’s a bloody nomad in the Gobi desert who has arguably never seen a car in his bloody life. He’s not going to cheer. What is he going to cheer for? Come on, Steven, you’ve done better than that.

Bad Explanation

My final big problem is that, for a movie about some pretty complicated stuff, there’s barely any effort to explain things. For example, Lacome gets the idea to communicate with the aliens via a sequence of musical notes that he discovers because a crowd of people in India are chanting it. Okay, fine, so alien ships pass over and suddenly everyone wants to be in the Soweto gospel choir… Does that mean that whatever idiotic nonsense drools out of their mouths is some kind of message to send to the mother-ship? For goodness sake, I’ve suspended my disbelief to allow for a genetically altered super-spider-human before, and even to me that whole situation seems a bit stretched.

Why would Lacome reach that conclusion? What process is there that brings him to this realisation? For a concept that is pretty central to the film, there’s no explanation or demonstration as to how he reaches this revelation at all. The movie cuts away from that moment rather abruptly and when we re-join Lacome he’s already worked it out. Call me a slow-minded buffoon, but I’d like to know how it is that this scientist connected the dots and how his hand-signals that accompany it have anything to do with the sequence of notes. I want to know why it is that the aliens respond to those notes and why it is (spoiler alert) that they seem to be so readily predisposed towards light and music displays. Without the explanation everything just feels random and nonsensical and there’s nothing connecting it all together logically.

I apologise if I am offending any particularly art-minded readers here, but I was hoping for something thought-provoking and instead I got a half-realised, badly-explained mess which raises questions of logic that it never answers. It has no likeable or identifiable characters to drive the plot and it caused me to hurl insults at the screen before it abruptly ended with a frankly underwhelming and near-comical finale that didn’t justify the pain it caused to get there. Spielberg can make and has made a better alien movie than this, and it is called E.T. Watch that instead.

It’s not meant to be epic, folks – Angels and Airwaves: Love, Part II

Looking very... contemplative there, old chap.You know, I’m getting plum sick and tired of people reviewing Angels and Airwaves records like their supposed to be U2. I know that Tom De Longe did over-hype the band to the point of proclaiming them as Jesus’ personal soundtrack to the second coming, but it seems that the same level of expectation has been placed upon every record that they have released since, and its resulted in some very spiteful reviews.

What is it with these critics holding such rotten grudges against a band that is actually a very enjoyable and ambient listen? No, De Longe is not a lyrical prodigy, and no, the band does not produce much in the way of jaw-droppingly profound messages, but I have to ask why it is then that critics keep measuring the band against a bar that it no longer sets itself against.

Love Part II (released earlier this month) is actually a very pretty and catchy album that doesn’t follow the usual Angels and Airwaves formula of trying to be excessively grand in its sound. I think that the band have experimented with a few new sounds (something that no one seems to have touched on so far) which have improved the band’s sonic repertoire somewhat and the new album is fully aware of keeping things tighter and brighter than the previous ones.

If anything, De Longe has started to once again embrace his pop-rock sensibilities and is incorporating it into the band’s music. The old mainstays of Angels records are still there. There are still echoes and delays on the (admittedly) U2-esque chugging guitars and Atom Willard’s thumping percussion continues to provide some solid backbone to music that sometimes does tend to teeter on the verge of meandering aimlessly. The thing that’s new is that there is actually a bit of bite to AVA‘s music now.

First single Anxiety is a perfect example of what I mean. The song starts off innocuously enough, but when it reaches the chorus it launches into driving lead riff that is certainly more up-tempo than most of Love I was.

The new sounds that I mentioned earlier can best be heard on The Revelator, in which there is an interesting effect on the bass guitar, and One Last Thing, where the intro is comprised of a warbling synth line which turns into a distorted guitar in the second verse.

Less Lingering

The album itself doesn’t use interludes at all, unlike its predecessor which seemed to be as hooked on them as a heroin addict. The Intros are shorter and the songs, as a result, are more contained and don’t drag, something that one would think would be praised. It seems though that AVA are going to have to do a lot more work to get more critical approval.

It’s true, there are some major flaws, such as Tom yet again recycling the vocal line from We Don’t Need to Whisper’s hit, The Adventure (he has done this in Love I as well). Additionally, in one or two songs he seems to be stuck on the same ideas to the point where there are some riffs that are almost exactly the same as ones from previous songs except for some slight jumbling up of the notes. I can understand that the two Love albums are continuations and so some songs will sound the same, but if this happens on the next record, AVA fans will not be so forgiving as they have been this time. Hopefully there will be more sonic experiments and less of the same old patterns next time around.

Still, the album is very good and worth a listen. The blemishes are noticeable, but only a few. This record is slick, upbeat and enjoyable.

Rating: 3.8/5

Look at all the Pretty Colours! – Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto

Believe it or not, you can see all the colours in this cover when you listen to Coldplay's new CD.

Recently, our Journalism class was asked to produce a series of reviews for a group blog, with wildly mixed results. Some were indistinguishable from professional reviews, others… Well, iff u ryte a reevyoo wit dis speling, (or sore lack thereof) u should b shot, drorn, qwarterd, nd hung owt 2 dry.

While reading the better ones, I discovered some that were written about Coldplay’s new release, Mylo Xyloto. Being sufficiently intrigued about the new sound constantly mentioned, I gave it a listen.

Now, I have never been able to listen to an entire Coldplay album. It always felt like most of the songs just dragged aimlessly and never actually reached any kind of climax. Aside from the two or so songs that actually made an impact on me, I was always very bored.

However, if there was one word word to describe Mylo Xyloto, “boring” would not even be a registered competitor. The slow songs are still there, but they’re fewer in number and nowhere near as dull as their predecessors.

Reaching That High Tempo

As an example, one might take the intro and opening tracks from this album and Viva La Vida. “Life  in Technicolour” was a great instrumental intro. It was a slow-builder that generated expectation for the song to follow, but as it ended and “Cemeteries of London” limped in, the album seemed to fall asleep immediately. That is not the case here.

“Mylo Xyloto” (the intro track) is less than half the length of “Life in Technicolour”, starting up for roughly 40 seconds before blooming into the delightful “Hurts Like Heaven” which immediately demonstrates the motif that will be present for most of the album: Kaleidoscopic synths that flutter around your ears and sparkling guitars that anchor the effects enough so that they don’t run away with the music as an unwanted gimmick. The song is one of three favourites of mine, bopping merrily along in the sort of chipper, care-free way that is never really associated with a Coldplay song.

The other two are the oddly-named “Charlie Brown” and “Every Tear is a Waterfall”.

“Brown” has one of the most joyful, triumphant riffs that Coldplay has ever written and is the sort of song that starts itching those air-guitar impulses that we all love to deny that we have (I may or may not have indulged those impulses at one point, but if I was to admit directly to such blatantly frivolous behaviour, I would have to kill you.)

“Every Tear” is the obvious choice for first single, containing that loathsome radio cliche, “I turn the music up/ I got my records on”, but the musicianship on this song is admirable, combining a fizzing background synth track with a slightly trebled-up drum line and the aforementioned sparkly guitars into a deceptively enjoyable song. It also remedies the hideous radio lyrics with the pearl of a line, “Every siren is a Symphony/ And every tear’s a waterfall”.

Not Quite Perfection

The album does have stumbles though. “Princess of China”, with Rihanna on guest vocals, felt a bit too poppy and her vocals don’t add much, although I must admit that I have always found Rihanna’s voice about as appealing as sticking a drawing-pin into my thumb, so there’s probably significant personal bias there.

“Up With the Birds”, “UFO” and “Major Minus” are also a bit weak. They don’t have the energy of the rest of the album and feel like throw-backs to the droning dullness of old. They’re not unlistenable, they’re just not as appealing as the rest.

Chris Martin’s vocals, while worlds better than on previous albums, do also have lapses where he slips into an awkward whine that can produce cringes if you’re not a fan.

The album’s strong points are enough to balance this out though. Coldplay seem to have arrived at a point in their careers where they are comfortable with experimenting with new elements  to their music, producing a slick and bright album that could be argued as their best, but is probably more comfortably listed as their most accessible to date.

Rating: 4/5

Making Us All Look Religulous

 

Monkey see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil. Wish the same could be said for many religious leaders.

Bill Maher‘s 2008 documentary Religulous has left me (along with his interviewees) grasping desperately for answers that I do not seem to have. The systematic way in which he takes religion apart in this documentary will offend many, but it raises such pertinent questions that I wish that some people would actually sit and listen to him.

This is not really a review so much as a discussion of what this documentary exposes. I can’t really review it, firstly because I am no expert on documentaries, and secondly because the content is not really review material.

The film is pretty much a series of interviews between Maher and a number of representatives of different religions from around the world. Maher asks them all questions that revolve around one central theme: How can you believe in something that sounds like it was taken from a collection of Fairy Tales?

Here’s the part that floored me. I’m willing to bet any money that there are many who, if you read this, will have prepared a set of answers for Mr Maher. I can promise you that, bar a few, those answers were given to him, and he took each of them to pieces so quickly that I found myself literally staring at the screen with my jaw wide open.  I couldn’t believe the unraveling taking place before my eyes. It was too easy. But why was it?

Was it that Maher picked the wrong people to interview? Did he pick morons to purposefully ridicule religion? I don’t think that he did. Granted, there was a sizeable gaggle of morons featured, but he also managed to find a scientist from the human genome project, and even a Vatican Priest of sorts. No, I think that it was simply because the institutions of religion have not bothered to address the issues that he brings up, and they have been tripped up by by not doing so.

The fact is that when religion is subjected to any amount of logic, it doesn’t seem to hold up. Is that the point? I’m not sure. The one response to the use of logic to analyse religion has been that God operates outside of human understanding, and therefore we aren’t meant to understand how he works. As I said, someone did give Maher this response, but to someone who does not believe in God, it just sounds like a cop-out. We need better answers than that.

Now, I don’t really care whether Maher believes in God or not, but i do care when people try to give him half-assed answers about linking Star Wars together with Christianity (no, your eyes do not deceive you, and yes, this actually happened) on camera, for the rest of the world to watch. That kind of stuff is not just idiocy. It is some new level of ignorance and dim-wittedness that I don’t actually have a word for.

Maher brings up some even touchier subjects. He discusses how there are alarming parallels between the story of Jesus and the stories

In this scene, a man who plays Jesus in re-enactments of the New Testament has a discussion with Bill Maher about the Son himself, although he is far less eloquent than his aforementioned likeness.

of other religious figures like Krishna from Hinduism and Horus from Egyptian mythology, (things like the dates of birth of the characters involved and the circumstances thereof are alarmingly similar.) and even subtly points out how bad the rampant commercialism of televangelism has become. In one clip which I particularly love, an evangelist proclaims loudly to his large following in an equally large and opulent church building that “What I am about to say… is revelation!” before raising a DVD and adding, “And you need to own it!” Forgive me for being a tad cynical here, but this sight has become so common on Christian TV that I don’t ever watch it anymore. Making faith into a business is bad enough, but when juxtaposed with the probing interview footage, it just makes it seem like people are being duped into buying unnecessary hogwash that is going to enrich Pastor Billy’s pocket more than their lives.

The disturbing thing is that so many religious people, from Muslims to Scientologists, when pressed with really controversial questions, have not the slightest idea how to reply outside of the rehearsed answers that we’ve all heard before. It leaves everyone flat-footed, and I wonder why it seems that it has to be this way. There have been no real answers to questions like, “If God is so powerful and can do anything, why does he not just destroy the devil?”  There is a response in the documentary that he will, but the swift counter to that was, “So why the wait? Why not just do it now?” The person answering ended up speechless.

Until we as believers can come up with solutions to these questions, we cannot move forward in the modern age. The point is made in the documentary that we rely upon a book that was written in the Bronze Age to tell us how to live in the Modern Age, and that is startlingly true. The cultural circumstances under which the Bible was initially written are literally archaic now, so is it still a good idea to trust it? I suppose that I’m asking the wrong questions, but it’s becoming difficult to know what to trust these days, especially when one man can make us all look so religulous.

Sunset

“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone”

In those words alone

Lies the legacy of what you have done

Don’t stare at this desert,

because you helped create it,

And this is how you will be remembered.

 

 

We’re all sitting in the dark now

Watching these ebbing embers fade,

Please don’t let the sun set on us tonight

Or we may never see the day again.

 

 

The tree-tops with their scrawling fingers

claw up at the molten sky,

The battle left for those who linger

Will take place with the torches snuffed

And it will never be enough

Because having everything will not satisfy their hunger.

 

 

We’re all sitting in the dark now

Watching these ebbing embers fade,

Please don’t let the sun set on us tonight

Or we may never see the day again.

 

 

Stop staring at this Hell,

You’ve crafted it well

And this is how you will be remembered…

Sunrise

Out of the ashes is born a new dawn

And each step leads somewhere we’ve never been before

See it rising?

On the horizon?

A golden promise that everyone’s slate is clean

Was it honest?

That Promise?

Was it all just to please the crowds?

Where is it now?

Stowed away in your pockets like everything else

 

Everyone, prepare to soar!

There’ll be no hardship anymore!

Cry out like the eagles in the sky,

Send your cheers up high,

Celebrate the nation’s sunrise!

Celebrate the nation’s sunrise!

 

Invite us all with arms wide open

Welcoming as vulture’s wings

Can you see it?

I can feel it,

This is not how it’s meant to be.

It’s not your smile

Or your self-denial

It’s the way your hands are behind your back

Like you need to cross your fingers

Like you need to break the deal.

 

Everyone, prepare to soar!

There’ll be no hardship anymore!

Cry out like the eagles in the sky,

Send your cheers up high,

Celebrate the nation’s sunrise!

Celebrate the nation’s sunrise!

“Dirty Work” Is Pop, But Great Pop

Before you think this album is all getting drunk and no... erm... substance, note the skull-and-crossbones in the band's name...

I should not have liked this album.

Like many fans of All Time Low, the four-piece pop punk band from Baltimore, USA, I was ready to hate Dirty Work – their most mainstream release to date – upon its release. When I eventually heard it though, I did not feel the need to personally level lead singer Alex Gaskarth’s house to the ground. Instead, I was begrudgingly impressed.

For those who do not know, All Time Low began in 2003 while the members were still in High School and were known for performing covers of songs by famous pop punk bands like Blink 182. They secured a record deal and released three full-length albums (The Party Scene in 2005, So Wrong, It’s Right in 2008 and Nothing Personal in 2009) as well as two EP’s (The Three Words to Remember in Dealing with The End in 2004 and Put Up or Shut Up in 2006).

They have been rather successful on the pop punk scene but have not achieved much radio play, something that has bothered them for a long time. “Nothing Personal” was an attempt to garner more appeal on the pop scene but it did not have the desired effect. Enter Dirty Work, the most concerted attempt by the band to reach the radio. It worked (they debuted at #6 on charts) but it has caused much angst among their fanbase, who braced for an apocalyptically bad album.

The thing is, these guys have not turned into a Simple Plan knock-off. They have actually demonstrated, tongue in cheek, just what is wrong with pop “artists” these days, by making the first truly superior pop rock album that has hit the shelves in a very long time.

Initiative Instead of Gimmicks

Allow me to elaborate. The album’s content is pretty similar in many regards to what you would expect from a modern pop album (“I Feel Like Dancin’ ” is a prime example, even with the title alone) but it doesn’t fall into all of the cliches that many similar albums do. All Time Low have done a really good job of actually putting some thought into their lyrics and instrumentation. They do some pretty inventive things when you listen carefully, and where many would settle into the same beat for the remainder of the song (read: Usher and co.) these guys throw in flourishes and changes of tempo that shake up the monotony and actually maintain your interest.

The album has a very up-beat feel to it which is chracterised by the opening duo of “Do You Want Me (Dead)?” and “I Feel like Dancin’ ” which are surprisingly infectious and well crafted, and they leave you indeed wanting to dance around your room in embarrassing fashion (having first confirmed your privacy, of course).  It never takes itself too seriously, which is the right attitude to have on such an album. There’s never any doubt that the band is having a great time making this record and most of the tracks glow with a kind of childish energy that does not over-stay its welcome.

Highlights of the album include the songs “Guts” and “Just the Way I’m Not”. “Guts” is simply the best track on the album. The very first note of the hook sucks you in and it rips into a big chorus that has more potency than anything on the rest of the album. The harder edge means that it feels weightier and stronger, and it is the closest that fans will get to the older All Time Low. “Just the Way I’m Not” returns to the fun feel of the album but the word-play in the song is very clever and I feel this elevates it above its peers.

Low points are present too, however. “Return the Favour”, “No Idea” and “A Daydream away” all feel decidedly rudderless and lacking drive, but they are momentary distractions and the majority of the album is very solid work.

Verdict

Dirty Work is not a typical pop album. It is a very, very good one. All Time Low have drawn on their past experience and have developed an album with nuance and quality that is missing from a lot of the ring tones calling us to party in a club that we call music these days. It has its flaws, but as a rock enthusiast, I would shamelessly listen to this album as an example of how good pop rock can sound. There is even an element of satire in lead single “I Feel Like Dancin’ ” which becomes clearer with each listen, and for those who enjoy tongue-in-cheek humour, it is great to know better than those who honestly believe that All Time Low are indeed obsessing over nightclubs and boozing. It puts a smug grin on your face, and who doesn’t enjoy those? If you like pop rock, buy it. It’s better than most pop rock out there. If you are sceptical of it, give it a shot. You may feel like dancin’ soon enough.

Rating: 3.5/5