Author Archive: Eric Allen

U2’s Secret Album Release

U2

So this happened…U2 surprise released their long-awaited new album, Songs of Innocence to the unsuspecting masses via iTunes, but what about the music itself? First of all, Songs of Innocence sounds like a U2 album, unlike their previous effort, 2009’s quickly forgotten No Line on the Horizon.

Secondly, after hearing about the highly touted “Every Breaking Wave” during the past five years (reportedly conceived during the last album’s recording sessions), it’s nice to hear that track not only lives up to its mythic reputation, but is easily the band’s finest tune in years. It’s also good to know the band can still pack a punch, best evidenced in lead-off single “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” “Volcano” and “Cedarwood Road.”

While I’ll readily admit I’ve been a U2 fan for over 30 years, that doesn’t mean I’ve loved everything they’ve released. I can still be objective about my favorite artists and I’ll simply agree to disagree with David Fricke’s excessive five-star review for Rolling Stone, although he did make some excellent points concerning the album’s subject matter.

Songs of Innocence is indeed a very good U2 album, but I’d hardly call it perfect. To quote Bono: “Very good is the enemy of great,” but with that said, the band’s 13th release is a welcome return to form. Songs of Innocence successfully manages to be reflective, while concurrently demonstrating a positive step forward in the band’s canon, ultimately proving the world did indeed need another U2 record.

Addendum 10-14-2014:

U2’s Songs of Innocence arrived today in its proper physical release form as a 2-LP set on 180-gram white vinyl (with an exclusive 12” mix of “The Crystal Ballroom”), and as a 2-CD deluxe version complete with bonus tracks, acoustic sessions, plus the hidden full-length version of original lead single “Invisible.” The deluxe version adds a new dimension to the overall listening experience, as it highlights the set’s strong points (most notably the stunning acoustic version of “Every Breaking Wave”), adds high caliber bonus tracks (“Lucifer’s Hands” and “The Crystal Ballroom), as well as corrects the previous omission of “Invisible” with its apt inclusion.

Also, I highly recommend the following playlist sequence in order to maximize your ultimate listening experience:

1. The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)

2. Lucifer’s Hands

3. Every Breaking Wave

4. California (There Is No End to Love)

5. Song for Someone

6. Iris (Hold Me Close)

7. Volcano

8. Invisible

9. Raised By Wolves

10. Cedarwood Road

11. Sleep Like A Baby Tonight

12. This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now

13. The Troubles

14. The Crystal Ballroom

15. Ordinary Love

5SOS: 5 Seconds of Summer

5 Seconds of Summer

“Hey, hey simmer down/They say we’re too young to amount to anything else/But look around we work too damn hard for this just to give it up now” declare 5 Seconds of Summer, the latest power pop band to crash onto U.S. airwaves with the breakout hit “She Looks So Perfect.” It may sound a bit daring as a mantra for a new band with members ranging in age from 18-20, but seems aptly worded judging from the young band’s recent accomplishments.

Hailing all the way from Australia, the 4-piece band has been making its presence known in a big way as its self-titled full-length debuted atop the Billboard 200 album chart, after managing to sell over 259k copies upon its first week of release. While proclaiming heavy influences from Blink-182 to Nirvana, 5SOS’ debut album sounds eerily like someone emulsified albums by Green Day, Sum 41, and BBMak in a blender and poured out an irresistibly catchy alt-rock, pop-punk smoothie.

While many may be quick to cast them aside as just another boy band, 5 Seconds of Summer successfully differentiate themselves from the pack by writing their own songs, playing their own instruments, and sharing lead vocal duties. Upon first listen, there’s no denying the band members have obviously paid attention to their musical heroes and learned how to write seductive hooks syncopated with audacious power chords. The bulk of the Aussie band’s debut was produced by writer/producer Steve Robson (known for his work with everyone from Busted to James Blunt) alongside Goldfinger lead singer John Feldman. Ultimately, you won’t find anything here that hasn’t been tried before, but it’s awfully refreshing to hear guitar-driven pop/rock again amongst the heavy beats currently dominating Top 40 radio.

Armed with hit singles “Don’t Stop” and the current “Amnesia,” the boys from down under have been busy pressing the flesh since invading American shores. During their current U.S. press junket, the band mates successfully managed to juggle their duties as opening act for One Direction’s Where We Are World Tour, while simultaneously selling out Los Angeles’ famed arena, The Forum, in just 45 minutes. However, stateside 5ers will have to wait until next summer before 5SOS launches its own Rock out with Your Socks out North American headlining tour, which is set to kick off on July 17, 2015 in Las Vegas.

Tori Amos Repents at the Ryman: A Shared Experience

What can be waxed poetic about a live performance by Tori Amos that hasn’t already been covered over the last 25 years? Not much, but her stop in Music City on Monday night at the world famous Ryman Auditorium proved the 50-year-old songstress hasn’t lost any of her magic.

Amos’ latest outing in support of Unrepentant Geraldines (her first proper pop full-length release in five years), finds her touring solo with the bare essentials – her pitch-perfect voice, Bösendorfer, and inimitable charisma. Although I personally prefer when she performs with a band, as playing with others forces Amos out of her comfort zone and the results are usually unforgettably rewarding, over the years I’ve learned to appreciate the nuances of an intimate Amos solo performance. Amos heavily mined her vast canon of baroque compositions stripped to their core, and skillfully delivered each one as a revealingly honest pop song confessional.

The attendance of this particular show marked my 11th Amos concert, and I was accompanied by a friend and fellow music enthusiast, who wasn’t very familiar with her repertoire, and I was curious how he’d react to his first venture into the world of Tori Amos. I’d learned long ago not to expect to convert a novice, as Amos’ set lists have always been cherry-picked like a classic iPod had been shaken and/or shuffled. Quickly my curiosities were vanquished as I watched my crony wriggling impatiently like an unruly child trying to sit still in church and he seemed more interested in the pre-show musical selections of Led Zeppelin’s greatest hits. I, on the other hand, was wanting to jump up and down ecstatically as I reveled in hearing some of my all-time favorite Amos compositions, some of which I’d been waiting to hear performed live for several years. My only consolation was sitting in the midst of two-thousand Toriphiles, among them a twenty-something female who was brimming with enthusiasm as she anticipated the heady experience of her first Amos concert. We discussed our favorite songs before the lights went down (“Blood Roses” and “Sugar”) and we both were delighted when both were unexpectedly performed back to back midway through the show.

As is always the case, Amos was highly aware of her surroundings, and this was by far her first appearance at Music City’s mother church of country music. She shared with us how honored she felt to be playing her songs at the beloved venue and confided an anecdote of how her minister father has always wanted her to write songs about carrying out God’s will, at which she replied, “But dad, I do!” The crowd erupted into thunderous applause and ear-splitting cheers as Amos segued into “Cool on Your Island” from her long out-of-print 1988 album, Y Kant Tori Read. The auditorium again became engulfed in a cloud of euphoric surprise as Amos broke into the chorus of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ classic “Islands in the Stream,” followed by a heart-wrenching cover of Parton’s “Jolene.”

The evening’s significant highlights included a technically enhanced version of “Cornflake Girl,” an endearing version of the Beatles’ “Here, There, and Everywhere,” and a thrilling 4-song encore including a haunting version of Depeche Mode’s “In Your Room.” The 2-hour set concluded with the sold-out crowd on its feet and applauding ferociously as the red-haired siren disappeared into the legendary stage’s wings.

Although I’d hardly converted my buddy into an Amos fan, the audience made up of Ears with Feet members of various ages appeared gratified. As for myself, I couldn’t have asked for a more satiating set list.

Zooropa: Revisited and Re-examined

U2: Zooropa

With U2’s eighth studio album celebrating its 21st anniversary, I still recall getting caught up in the premature foofaraw surrounding Zooropa upon its initial release in 1993. The throngs hungrily tried to over analyze and dissect the latest release from Ireland’s renowned rock band.

Although Zooropa was originally intended to be an EP recorded during a six-month break during the third and fourth legs of the band’s monumental Zoo TV Tour, it eventually morphed into a full-length album. The band immediately hit the recording studio to try and capture the moment fresh from playing sold-out arenas in North America.

Delving even deeper into the alternative rock and electronic sounds hinted at on Achtung Baby, Zooropa may have failed to produce massive radio hits (although I remember the “Lemon” and “Numb” videos being in heavy rotation on MTV), but the Grammy-winning effort is still regarded as a highly creative and experimental entry into U2’s varied discography.

Bono and company, along with the help of Flood and Brian Eno, managed to explore new musical territory with the six-and-a-half-minute opening title track, the robotic rapping of “Numb,” the falsetto soaked “Lemon,” and the compellingly offbeat “The Wanderer,” with guest vocals by Johnny Cash. Add the more signature stylings of “The First Time” and “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)” to the set’s unusually diverse track list, and the result is an oddly satisfying listening experience that still captivates with its infectious grooves.

Although Zooropa received mixed reviews upon its release, there’s no denying it has made a lasting impact among U2 devotees. I remember my first reaction was a combination of excitement and surprise upon its arrival, but over the years I’ve found myself reveling in its inventiveness with incessant appreciation. As far as its legacy, Zooropa managed to sit atop the charts in 10 countries, sell over seven million copies, and has been touted as one of the all-time best albums of the nineties. Not bad for what started out as just an experimental EP.

Casey Kasem: 1932-2014

Casey-Kasem

As another light dims in the cosmic universe, it is once again cause for contemplation and remembrance. I vividly recall sitting by the radio every weekend with my Realistic cassette recorder from Radio Shack cued and ready to record the weekly American Top 40 countdown. Back in those days I had to wait until I’d saved enough allowance to buy my favorite 45 r.p.m. records.

My pre-teen weekends were consumed with Saturday morning cartoons, roller skating, and Casey Kasem’s American Top 40. AM radio was cool back then and AT40 ruled the airwaves. It was a simpler time – long before Google and Wikipedia had been thought of, and my world revolved around Kasem’s weekly nuggets of pop music wisdom. It seems hard to imagine now, but as a kid, I was completely naive to the fact that two of my favorite things (Scooby Doo and American Top 40) were related, as Kasem’s voice brought to life the character of Shaggy on my most beloved cartoon. I’m not sure how I didn’t realize two of my adolescent predilections were one and the same, but I guess as a kid it was all too easy to get lost within the magic of imagination.

Sadly, it’s time to bid adieu to the illustrious voice that was and will forever remain an important part of my childhood, yet Casey Kasem’s legacy as king of the countdown will forever be indelibly stamped upon my fondest memories.

Top Ten Best U2 B-sides

Top Ten Best U2 B-sides

 

Although music is highly subjective, below is my ranking of the 10 best B-sides by U2. Not only are these tracks some of my personal favorites, but I’d go a step further and say they should’ve been included on the album of their particular era. Agree or disagree?

10. “Salomé” (from “Even Better Than the Real Thing”)

9. “Summer Rain” (from “Beautiful Day”)

8. “Love Comes Tumbling” (from “The Unforgettable Fire”)

7. “Blow Your House Down” (outtake from Achtung Baby)

6. “Dancing Barefoot” (from “When Love Comes to Town”)

5.  “The Sweetest Thing” (from “Where the Streets Have No Name”)

4.  “Winter” (outtake from No Line on the Horizon)

3. “Are You Gonna Wait Forever?” (from “Vertigo”)

2.  “Lady with the Spinning Head” (from “One”)

1. “Spanish Eyes” (from “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”)

From U2TourFans

Dolly Parton: Blue Smoke

Blue Smoke [+digital booklet]

Dolly Parton: Blue Smoke

With an extensive discography that spans six decades, Dolly Parton at age 68 could have easily rested upon her laurels, but instead she chose to deliver her most beguiling work in years with her 42nd studio album, Blue Smoke. While her skills as a musician and multi-instrumentalist may often get overlooked, Parton’s acumen as a Grammy-winning songwriter is firmly intact and amply displayed throughout Blue Smoke’s 12 exquisite tracks…

[Read Full Review]

May Music Madness

Summer is upon us and along with it comes a swarm of noteworthy new releases. Therefore, I’ve compiled a short list of how to get the most musical bang (and bonus tracks) for your bucks.

May 6

Shine On (Deluxe Edition)

Sarah McLachlan: Shine On

The deluxe version includes the bonus tracks “What’s It Gonna Take” and “Little B,” which are available exclusively on CD with Target’s version, as well as Amazon and iTunes’ digital deluxe editions.

May 13

Blue Smoke [+digital booklet]

Dolly Parton: Blue Smoke

The queen of country returns with her 42nd studio album and Walmart is offering a limited edition with the four bonus tracks “Get Up Get On Get Out,” “Olive Branch,” “Early Morning Breeze” and “Angels in the Midst.”

Unrepentant Geraldines (Bonus Track Version) [+digital booklet]

Tori Amos: Unrepentant Geraldines

The high priestess of baroque pop returns with her first proper studio album since 2009’s Abnormally Attracted to Sin. Described as a true return to form in the vein of Boys for Pele, Amos’ 14th studio album will be released on 180 gram vinyl LP, as well as a deluxe casebook edition, which includes a DVD of behind the scenes footage and the bonus track “Forest of Glass.” The iTunes version also includes the bonus track “White Telephone to God,” and Amazon’s digital version includes the additional bonus track “Dixie.”

Turn Blue

The Black Keys: Turn Blue

The highly anticipated follow-up to the alluring indie rockers’ El Camino was co-produced by Danger Mouse and has been described as moody and emotional, but highly melodic. The 11-track set includes the title track and “Fever,” which are available now on iTunes.

May 19

Ghost Stories [+digital booklet]

Coldplay: Ghost Stories

Coldplay returns with their experimental project, which is reported to precede another full-length set to be released in 2015. Target has scored an exclusive of the band’s sixth studio album, which includes the bonus tracks “All Your Friends,” “Ghost Story,” and “O (Part 2/Reprise).”

May 27

Me. I Am Mariah?The Elusive Chanteuse [Explicit] [+digital booklet]

Mariah Carey: Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse 

The emancipated diva returns with her first and fiercest studio album since 2009, which includes the hits “Beautiful,” “The Art of Letting Go,” and her stunning version of George Michael’s “One More Try.”

Four Decades of U2: The Soundtrack of My Life

(Photo by: Eric Allen ©2011 Popmartzoo)

With so much speculation and innuendo swirling around U2 at the moment regarding the new album, tour, and rumored breakup, now seemed the perfect time to reflect on the band’s body of work and lasting legacy. I’ve read statements made by Bono himself regarding the band’s relevance and if the world needs another U2 album. As a self-professed fanboy of Bono, Edge, Adam, and Larry, I know for certain there is no other rock band more relevant than U2 to myself and millions of others around the globe.

With a musical canon which has inspired millions, I consider U2 to be my generation’s Rolling Stones and Beatles. I know that’s a bold statement to make, but I stand by it as no other band has come close to having the impact nor maintaining the longevity as Dublin’s fab four. Now before you begin to throw virtual stones at me, let’s examine U2 from my perspective.

It all started in the early 80s when U2 began to slowly stream into my subconscious with their first music video on MTV, “I Will Follow.” I remember wondering what a U2 was, but the song and passion in Bono’s voice struck a chord within me, forcing me to seek out their music at my local record store…

[Read Full Feature at U2TourFans.com]

Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition

Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition

You know that rare moment when an album makes an impact so great, not only do you never forget it, but manage to remember every word to every song throughout the remainder of your life? Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is that album for me.

Although it’s been 41 years since Elton John released his seminal double LP, this classic album has been revisited and reissued as a super deluxe, 5-disc ultimate edition to commemorate its 40th anniversary. I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical about another remaster (as this is not the first time GYBR has been cleaned up), but this is truly the best this album has ever sounded. I’ve probably listened to this record hundreds of times, and I can honestly say this new remaster brings out new details and a clarity like I’ve never before heard. If this is one of your favorite Elton albums, you owe it to yourself to own this, as it is without a doubt the definitive version.

With its iconic cover and sales of over 31 million copies to date, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is Elton John’s best-selling studio album and considered by many to be his landmark, career-defining masterpiece. The 17-track set includes many of John’s most famous songs, including: “Bennie and the Jets,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” “Candle in the Wind,” and the hit title track.

This lavishly produced package includes an all new remastered version of the original album, B-sides, demos, the complete Live at Hammersmith concert from 1973, a DVD of Bryan Forbes’ film Elton John and Bernie Taupin Say Goodbye to Norma Jean and Other Things, a 100-page illustrated hardcover book, as well as newly recorded cover versions by Ed Sheeran, Hunter Hayes, Miguel, Emili Sande, John Grant, The Band Perry, Imelda May, Fall Out Boy, and Zac Brown Band.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 40th Anniversary Edition also available on HD pure audio Blu-ray, and 2-LP limited edition heavyweight 180-gram yellow vinyl.

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