Author Archive: Eric Allen

Panic! at the Disco: Death of a Bachelor

P!ATD

Panic! at the Disco: Death of a Bachelor

Rating: A+

Panic! at the Disco’s fifth studio album, Death of a Bachelor could be considered frontman Brendon Urie’s tabula rasa, as he is now the only remaining original member and in complete control of the alternative rock band. Currently sitting atop Billboard’s Top 200 Album’s chart, Urie’s latest offering has been described as lyrically and thematically inspired by the singer and multi-instrumentalist’s two-year adjustment period to married life.

Although the 11-track set clocks in at a mere 36 minutes, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to digest here. Death of a Bachelor jump starts with the cheerleader-like recitations of the hyperactive opening track “Victorious,” but quickly switches gears to the sobering lyrics of “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time.” The ode to over indulgence begins with a sample of “Rock Lobster” by The B-52’s, and finds Urie openly confessing: “Don’t think I’ll ever get enough / Champagne, cocaine, gasoline / And most things in between.”

We’re then plunged ears first into the jazzy refrains of the title track, which exudes sentimental reflections of leaving single life behind, then without warning we’re immersed into what sounds like an intimate conversation between Urie and his wife during “Crazy = Genius.” The referential Beach Boys homage allows us to be privy to Urie’s inner dialogue: “She said you’re just like Mike Love, but you’ll never be Brian Wilson / And I said if crazy equals genius then I’m a fucking arsonist / I’m a rocket scientist.”

Omnipresent lyrical avowals coupled with a multitude of contrasting musical styles, Death of a Bachelor ultimately sounds like the aural equivalent of Queen and Sinatra doing a mountain of cocaine-manic, but in an acutely engaging way. The album’s artful combination of youthful confessions and various proclamations of debauchery, all coalesce to make a peculiarly eclectic, yet decidedly gratifying album.

As the last man standing in a band that previously existed as a quartet, Urie ironically manages to create an album that ironically sounds the most like the band’s 2005 debut, almost begging listeners to ponder if perhaps Brendon Urie has been the dominant force of the band all along?

Queen of Pop Plays Music City

Madge live

(Rebel Heart Tour: Bridgestone Arena Nashville 2016)

Pop music icon Madonna played Nashville last night at Bridgestone Arena during a stop on her global Rebel Heart Tour. The two-hour-plus show was the first Music City performance of the superstar’s career, which now spans more than three decades. This egregious fact didn’t go unnoticed by the singer as she jokingly professed to be a “Nashville virgin” when she took the stage.

The concert opened with “Iconic” (featuring a rapping Mike Tyson), as images of the pop music innovator splashed across a colossal video screen as she was eventually lowered from the ceiling in a metal cage. The all but sold-out crowd roared as Madonna emerged from the cage and was delimited by ten male dancers dressed as medieval executioners adorned in gold and black and armed with large metal pikes.

The pop diva’s show was divided into four themes: Samurai, Asian, Latin and Party Celebration. Each segment was individually characterized by distinguishing wardrobe changes, choreography, and song selection. The show’s setlist heavily incorporated material from the singer’s most recent album Rebel Heart, but also contained many fan favorites, some of which she hasn’t performed in years, namely “Dress You Up,” “True Blue,” Deeper and Deeper,” “Who’s That Girl” and an electrified version of her early hit “Burning Up.”

The musical spectacle’s wow moments included Madonna body surfing atop a nun while swinging from a crucifix-shaped stripper pole during the racy “Holy Water,” which segued midway into an updated version of “Vogue.” Also noteworthy was a death-defying routine choreographed to “Illuminati,” which featured several dancers swaying back and forth over the audience while atop twenty foot poles.

But the evening’s most unique moment arrived halfway through the set when Madonna unexpectedly broke into an acapella version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” The impromptu cover was interrupted as the singer explained in a faux southern accent “Okay let’s start this again ‘cuz I fucked it up and I’m not gonna embarrass myself in front of Johnny Cash right now. You have to understand I did not rehearse this, it just came into my head, underneath the stage a couple of minutes ago. Let’s start again okay? So, I’m playing my pussy (the opening notes of the song were synchronized with Madonna’s vaginal hand movements), that’s what I’m doing,” the singer humorously clarified.

Throughout the night, Madonna seemed surprisingly unguarded and radiated a vivacious spirit and playfulness which was devoured by the enamored audience. We were treated to an engaging mix of high-energy dance numbers such as “Music,” as well as a few stripped-down acoustic numbers including “La Vie en rose.”

Ultimately, the ambitious production concluded with an energetic encore of the singer’s first hit single “Holiday,” which had the late night crowd up on our feet as we clapped, danced, and sang along with the Material Girl, until she eventually disappeared after being hoisted up into the air. At age 57, Madonna convincingly demonstrated she is still a force with which to be reckoned when it comes to the art of live performance. The reigning Queen of Pop delivered an incomparable show, the likes of which Nashville will doubtfully ever see again.

Remembering David Bowie

Bowie final

Where to begin when discussing David Bowie? It’s almost impossible to define one of the most influential artists of all time with a musical legacy of near-mythic importance. Especially considering his career spans from 1962 to 2016 and includes such classics as “Starman,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Heroes,” and “I’m Afraid of Americans.” Not to mention his vast canon of 25 eclectic albums, each one a divergent musical statement contained within an illustrious work of graphic art.

Nearly every Bowie fan has a favorite period or persona with a specific entry point, making it all the more difficult to attempt summing up the gender-bending, sexually ambiguous performer and musician’s life and accomplishments without writing an entire book (of which there are already more than a few of in existence). So instead I’ll try to sum up what impact the icon of music, film, art, and fashion had on my life.

My initial exposure to David Bowie was from top 40 radio and television shows such as The Midnight Special, Soul Train, and Saturday Night Live during the 1970s. As a kid I already liked the songs I’d heard (“Space Oddity,” “Fame,” and “Golden Years” were my favorites), but as a sheltered pre-teen I was jarringly taken aback, even frightened by him when first exposed to his spaced-out androgynous Ziggy Stardust persona. My initial reactions to the glam rocker were fear, confusion, and intrigue as I’d never seen or heard anyone like him, but my initial perceptions morphed into unadulterated admiration in the 80s.

I can remember being completely blown away as I sat transfixed the very first time I saw the “Ashes to Ashes” music video on MTV. This resulted in my newly awakened interest, just in time for Bowie’s latest incarnation, as he dominated the new music video age. Let’s Dance was the first Bowie record I purchased (as I became hypnotized by the infectiousness of “China Girl” and “Modern Love”), which led to my own personal discovery period as I began to delve into and devour each of his past albums from Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, to The Man Who Sold the World, and Space Oddity.

My rekindled interest continued as I greedily consumed all of Bowie’s output from that point forward, especially Labyrinth and Never Let Me Down, which culminated into my all-time favorite Bowie tour and live recording, his epochal Glass Spider Tour (although it’s often maligned and dismissed by critics and fans alike). I would watch my VHS copy with such repeated regularity, it eventually caused lines of distortion to run through the worn video image. Let’s just say I was in desperate need of upgrading my fuzzy video years later when it was re-released as a DVD/CD combo. As the years went by, Bowie grew to be a perpetual constant in my life as one of my favorite artists, as it never ceased to be a major life event for me whenever he’d release a new musical opus.

I’m pleased to say in 2004, I finally had the opportunity to experience one of his electrifying and unequaled live performances during what was sadly to become his final concert tour. The two and a half hour set was truly one of the greatest moments of my life (as well as one of my most cherished ticket stubs) and not a moment too soon either. Just weeks after attending his concert, Bowie underwent an angioplasty procedure for a blocked artery and the remaining dates of his A Reality Tour were cancelled.

Following his heart surgery, Bowie seemed to all but disappear until 2013 when he quietly surprise released The Next Day, his first album of new material in a decade. Well worth the wait, TND debuted at number two on Billboard and received glowing reviews. After a 10-year span of virtual silence, it was a sigh of relief to hear exciting new material. This excitement continued as “Moonage Daydream” was forever immortalized as part of the Marvel Universe while featured in the film and soundtrack of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which was soon followed by news that we could expect another album early in 2016.

I was elated when Bowie’s Blackstar was released on January 8, the artist’s 69th birthday. I spent that entire weekend enraptured by the eerily dark, but strangely hypnotic new music. I couldn’t help noticing an indescribable undercurrent within the lyrics the more I listened, especially in “Lazarus,” “Dollar Days” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” but I was too elated at having new Bowie music to dwell too deeply. However, this uneasiness became all too clear when I awakened on Monday morning to the shockingly unforeseen news that Bowie had passed away after an 18-month struggle with cancer. My first thought was that it had to be an Internet hoax, but sadly it was confirmed as I watched the plentiful tributes begin to pour in from around the world.

Death is an unfortunate reality for all of us, but it almost seems as if some people are supposed to miraculously beat the cosmic odds and defy death. Somewhere deep down in my subconscious, I think I always believed that if anyone could escape the Grim Reaper’s grasp, it would have been David Bowie.

Thank you Mr. Jones for sharing your talent with us mere mortals and giving the world such a magnanimous and inspiring body of work.

“There’s a starman waiting in the sky/He’d like to come and meet us/But he thinks he’d blow our minds/There’s a starman waiting in the sky…”

David Bowie: 1947-2016

Bowie walk2

I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”  

-David Robert Jones

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

Sunflowers

It’s that time of year again when we find ourselves stretched between the realms of the past, present, and future. But before moving forward, it only seems fitting to consider those brilliantly talented souls we lost in 2015.

Sadly, the music world had to say goodbye to: country singer Lynn Anderson, British pop vocalist Cilla Black, soulful songstress Natalie Cole, gospel singer-songwriter-choir director Andraé Crouch, Grand Ole Opry icon Little Jimmy Dickens, Lesley “It’s My Party” Gore, Motörhead leader Lemmy Kilmister, legendary blues singer/guitarist B.B. King, prominent Nashville producer Billy Sherrill, soul legend Percy Sledge, and the inimitable frontman of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, Scott Weiland, just to name a few. They may be gone, but their momentous musical contributions will be eternal.

Although it’s painful to accept those who are no longer with us, a new year allows us to gleam into the future with great eagerness of what is yet to come. This year promises thrilling new releases from David Bowie (January 8), Panic! at the Disco (January 15), Elton John (February 5), Guns N’ Roses (?), Azealia Banks, The Cult, Green Day, Lady Gaga, Nine Inch Nails, Katy Perry, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gwen Stefani, and Lucinda Williams.

So here’s to a new year, new music, and making new memories in 2016.

Scott Weiland: 1967-2015

Scott Richard Weiland

Scott Richard Weiland

Compiling a list of adjectives to describe Scott Weiland is no easy feat, but in light of his recent passing I feel compelled to do so. The beleaguered soul, forever destined to be remembered as the troubled frontman of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver was many things: vocalist, lyricist, music video chameleon, husband, father, addict, rape victim, but above all else he was a bona fide rock star, gifted with immeasurable talent and unparalleled stage charisma. Unfortunately, there seems to be some sort of cosmic prerequisite of pitfalls and trappings that all too often seem to curse the lifestyle of immensely talented performers.

For a moment, let’s forget all the negative connotations and remember what made Scott Weiland a permanent part of our musical landscape. Not only did he possess one of rock music’s most unique and instantly identifiable voices, he also had an amazing ability to assemble a group of ordinary words into profound poetry. His body of work is both enigmatic and contrasting, including hits “Interstate Love Song,” “Sour Girl,” “Plush,” and “Slither.”

I was lucky enough to witness Scott Weiland’s brilliance twice during his tenure with STP; once in 2002 while standing ankle-deep in mud during the band’s turbulent Shangri-La-Dee-Da era, and again in 2008 during the band’s reunion tour. Both shows are permanently etched in my memory as two of my all-time best concert experiences, showcasing on-point and captivating performances by Weiland, which made all of us in attendance feel lucky to be in the presence of greatness.

In retrospect, it’s almost unfathomable to comprehend all Weiland was able to accomplish despite his obstinate addictions in addition to his all too obvious bi-polar diagnosis; sold-out live performances, multi-platinum albums with both Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, four solo albums, a side project collaboration with Art of Anarchy, and his final incarnation as Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts.

Sadly, some artists are born destined to shine with a white-hot intensity, sustainable only for a brief flicker in time. Scott Weiland, the embodiment of an unadulterated rock star, was one such artist.

Sounds of the Season

Kylie

Kylie Minogue: Kylie Christmas – After previously teasing us with a few holiday treats in the past, Australian singer, songwriter, and actress Kylie Minogue finally delivers her delightfully eclectic full-length Christmas album. The internationally celebrated pop star’s long-awaited release fulfills its yuletide promise with playful classics and delightfully charming originals. Highlights include the Chris Martin-penned “Every Day’s Like Christmas,” a posthumous duet with Frank Sinatra, a celebratory cover of The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” (featuring Iggy Pop), as well as a surprisingly gorgeous duet version of Yazoo/Yaz’s “Only You” with James Corden.

Brian Setzer

The Brian Setzer Orchestra: Rockin’ Rudolph – Brian Setzer and company return with another snazzy jazzy Christmas offering. This latest holiday set (the band’s first in over a decade) once again finds the former Stray Cats vocalist and guitarist in full tilt yuletide mode. Rockin’ Rudolph‘s sprightly big-band bombast and holiday cheer is guaranteed to have your friends rockin’ around the Christmas tree. Noteworthy moments include “Rockabilly Rudolph” alongside the cleverly arranged “Yabba-Dabba Yuletide,” which puts a refreshingly festive holiday twist on the classic Flintstones theme. The BSO’s latest is a welcome addition to the band’s seasonal canon and is surely destined to be a full-fledged swingin’ hit at any Christmas gathering.

Patty christmas

Patty Smyth: Come on December – Former lead singer of rock group Scandal (and wife to tennis legend John McEnroe) returns to music after a lengthy 16-year absence with eight tasty seasonal melodic morsels. The songstress, best known for 80s hits “The Warrior” and “Goodbye to You,” gifts us with five traditional favorites alongside three originals, all of which are nicely nestled within a warm acoustic timbre. This short but sweet set is the perfect holiday soundtrack companion for Christmas tree gazing and fireplace cuddling. Completists will also want to seek out Smyth’s delicate but dazzling version of “Silent Night,” which is still available as a digital download at PattySmythAndScandal.com.

Train

Train: Christmas in Tahoe – After seven studio albums and selling 10 million records, Train’s latest effort is the band’s first full-length Christmas recording. The celebratory 15-track set features the band’s three original songs intermingled with a mix of holiday classics and cover tunes including: Chrissie Hynde’s “2000 Miles,” Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” Joni Mitchell’s “River,” and John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over).” But don’t waste precious seasonal moments looking in stores for this holiday treat because it is available exclusively at Amazon.

David Cook: The Digital Vein Tour Live in Nashville

IMG_3021

(Photo by: Eric Allen © 2015 Popmartzoo)

David Cook played to a packed house when his Digital Vein Tour made a stop in Nashville on Wednesday night. The 2008 winner of American Idol was in rare form during the 90-minute set, which was filled with fist-pumping rockers and emotional ballads. The left-handed guitarist instantly took control of the room with his commanding, but amiable stage presence.

Cook (a Music City resident since 2012), was both charismatic and comical as he brought the room to its feet during the night’s intimate performance, which included a healthy dose of selections from his latest album, the self-produced Digital Vein, which recently debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Pop Album Chart. The set list contained songs from the platinum-selling artist’s repertoire such as fan favorites (“Paper Heart,” “Heroes” and “Declaration”), radio hits (“Come Back to Me” and “Light On”), and a smoldering cover version of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.”

The “Time of My Life” singer and left-handed guitarist seemed noticeably eager to play a hometown show as he shared a humorous anecdote of being forced to dance on national television during his Idol days, confessed his desire to play 3rd and Lindsley’s stage after catching a recent performance of Los Angeles rock band Failure, and requested score updates of his favorite baseball team, the Kansas City Royals. Midway through the show, Cook noticed a girl in the balcony who was engrossed in her cell phone and shouted “Are you ordering a pizza on that thing? She’s probably thinking, I can’t believe that asshole just called me out,” he humorously remarked. The enthralled crowd, as well as Cook himself, seemed to relish the evening’s numerous candid moments.

By night’s end it was clear Cool held the audience in the palm of his hand, as the multitude of  “Cook-ies” reciprocated the pop star’s personal outpourings with swooning sighs, overexcited yelps, and booming applause throughout the evening. The show ultimately climaxed with a vivacious encore which included current single “Criminals,” resulting in a standing ovation as undeniable proof Cook had skillfully managed to captivate spectators with his uniquely honed musical mix of cock rock and panty pop.

 

Don Henley Returns with Cass County

Henley

Don Henley: Cass County

Rating: A-

Don Henley has returned with Cass County, his first album in 15 years. The legendary founding member of the Eagles recently delivered his fifth studio effort after a lengthy absence from his solo career. Titled after the Linden, Texas county of his childhood homestead, the revered country-rock icon charmingly duets with Dolly Parton (“When I Stop Dreaming”), Merle Haggard (“The Cost of Living”), and Martina McBride (“That Old Flame”), without sounding forced or contrived. Predominantly recorded in Nashville and Dallas over a 7-year span, Cass County leans decidedly more towards country than rock while featuring stellar guest appearances by Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, and Jamey Johnson, as well as recurrent collaborators Trisha Yearwood and Stevie Nicks.

“The majority [of the album] was done right here in Nashville and I can truthfully say that I enjoyed making this record more than any record I’ve made in my career,” Henley recently boasted.

An exquisite cover of Tift Merritt’s “Bramble Rose,” featuring the unlikely pairing of Miranda Lambert and Mick Jagger, sets the tone for this country-pop flavored collection. Henley’s instantly recognizable voice is a bit more seasoned, but the 68-year-old rock star sounds as if he was born to perform this new material. After all, Cass County isn’t too far a leap from his tenure with the Eagles nor his own solo work, wherein Henley has recurrently and effectively blurred the lines of pop, rock, and country throughout his five decade career.

Other album highlights include the sardonic “No Thank You,” the woeful “Waiting Tables,” and the alluring “Take a Picture of This,” all of which are greatly stamped with Henley’s distinctive vocal style and songwriting acumen. However, it can’t go without pointing out the atrocity of relegating “It Doesn’t Matter To The Sun” (featuring Stevie Nicks) to bonus track status (available exclusively on Target’s deluxe edition), as this poignant duet definitely deserves its place among the album’s proper track list. This glaringly obvious oversight, plus Henley’s cover of Jackson Browne’s “Here Come Those Tears Again,” make it all the more prudent to obtain a physical copy of the aforementioned 18 track disc.

Despite the lengthy time period since Henley’s previous solo set, 2000’s Inside Job, Cass County managed to sell an impressive 87,000 copies in its first week of release, as well as landing atop Billboard‘s Top Country Albums chart, making this his first number one solo LP.

Rob Thomas: The Great Unknown

Rob Thomas

Rob Thomas: The Great Unknown

Rating: C+

After waiting patiently for Rob Thomas to redeem himself following two lackluster efforts in a row (the easily forgettable North with Matchbox Twenty as well as his less than stellar second solo collection Cradlesong), alas he returns with The Great Unknown. Unfortunately, this is not Thomas’ musical apex we’ve been anticipating. Instead, what we get on his third solo outing is further proof the once “Smooth” hit maker seems to be all too comfortable toiling away within the fertile field of mediocrity.

Upon first listen, it’s easy to zone out while becoming bogged down in state-of-the-moment production tricks (once again Matt Serletic mans the board on most of the tracks) and lyrical clichés. Perhaps collaborating with the likes of hits-by-numbers tunesmith Ryan Tedder wasn’t exactly the best of ideas? However, if you’re willing to look past these palpable annoyances and mire through the fluff, there are some brilliant moments to be found. For instance,  on the mellifluous title track, Thomas confesses “People are talking, what you can’t unknow/That what you wanted wasn’t real at all.” This is one of the set’s few occasions that remind us what the Grammy-winning songwriter is capable of when he digs down deep and manages to resist his twitterpated instincts to ride current radio trends.

Other engaging highlights are the upbeat “Heaven Help Me” (“A shot of whiskey and we’re young again”), as well as the lachrymose closer “Pieces,” the latter of which includes the prophetic sentiment “Didn’t I tell you, you were gonna break down/Didn’t I warn you, you better take it easy/Try to find a way out/Better start believing in yourself.” These all-too-brief flashes of ardor justify holding out hope that Thomas may someday deliver a solo effort worthy of his still promising, but unfulfilled potential.

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