Go-Go’s: ‘Beauty and the Beat’ (30th Anniversary Edition)

It was during the days of big hair, John Hughes movies, and hanging out at the mall when five feisty beauties called the Go-Go’s became America’s sweethearts. Fronted by lead singer Belinda Carlisle and anchored by key songwriters Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey, their debut album was an important breakthrough for women in music. The multi-platinum Beauty and the Beat was the first number one album written and performed by an all-female group. It’s now been remastered and expanded into a 2-disc set (and pink vinyl) to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

Beauty and the Beat, one of the 1980s cornerstone albums of American new wave, was both groundbreaking and inspired. Yielding the hits “Our Lips Are Sealed’ and “We Got The Beat,” this seminal recording has never sounded better than here on this new remaster, which manages to breathe new life into these songs no matter how many times you’ve listened to them.

“Can you hear them/They talk about us/Telling lies, well that’s no surprise,” sang Carlisle in “Our Lips Are Sealed,” which could be heard blasting from every car stereo during the summer of 1981. That breakthrough hit was soon followed up by “We Got The Beat,” which became the group’s most successful song and spent three weeks at number two on the U.S. hot 100. The classic 80s anthem’s lyrics “See the kids just getting out of school/They can’t wait to hang out and be cool,” left an indelible impression on pop culture.

The Go-Go’s magic relied on the masterful blending of upbeat melodies, catchy hooks, and background harmonies layered upon sad lyrics, while delivered with undeniable attitude. “Get dressed up and messed up/Blow our cares away/We rule the streets tonite/Until the morning light,” declares Carlisle with energetic angst during the frenetic “Tonite.” Carlisle gets right into your face as she sings “Change the lines that were said before/We’re all dreamers, we’re all whores/This town is our town, it is so glamorous/Bet you’d live here if you could and be one of us,” with an undeniable aggressiveness during the Hollywood ode “This Town.”

This newly released 2-disc set gives fans a chance to hear both sides of the group: the raw energy and post-punk edginess of their live performances never captured on their studio recordings, as well as the smoothed out pop-gloss sound most associated with the band. Disc one is comprised of the full remastered album, while the second disc contains a previously unreleased live concert from 1981. The live disc includes songs that have never appeared on any Go-Go’s album, in addition to an early version of the hit single “Vacation,” complete with alternate lyrics that differ greatly from the well-known recorded version.

The anniversary edition of Beauty and the Beat shows this album still holds up surprisingly well thirty years later, which is a testament to the energetic spirit captured in this musical zeitgeist of the 80s. Unfortunately, it also serves as a reminder that the Go-Go’s were never able to equal or surpass the success of this landmark debut with the band’s subsequent releases. Their beauty may have faded over the years, but their beat still sounds almost as timeless today on this seminal 80s album as it did thirty years ago.

© 2011 ForASong Media, LLC

David Cook “The Last Goodbye”

David Cook, winner of American Idol’s season seven, returns to the pop charts with the surprisingly upbeat “The Last Goodbye.” The lead-off single from his major label sophomore effort, This Loud Morning (set to drop on June 28), finds Cook temporarily shedding his serious rocker image on this brief slice of infectious pop, guaranteed to earworm its way into your brain.

Clocking in at just three minutes, this unpretentious ditty doesn’t try to be anything more than a short and bittersweet pop song. Co-written by Cook and One Republic’s pop master Ryan Tedder (known for penning hits for Adele and Leona Lewis), “The Last Goodbye” is certainly nothing ground breaking, but highly irresistible nonetheless. Female fans will find it tantalizing and sentimental, but it rocks enough for guys to like it too.

Its pure pop genius lies in the successful marriage of melancholy lyrics about heartbreak with a particularly ebullient melody. “I didn’t want to lose you/Leave you with a broken heart/But wherever we are, we’re miles apart/I know that we tried, but this is the last goodbye,” sings Cook in the chorus that’s so catchy you will find yourself repeatedly singing it in the shower, whether intentionally or not.

Augustana: ‘Augustana’

After a three-year absence, Dan Layus and company return with their third Epic full-length, simply titled Augustana. The album begins with Layus declaring “I’m gonna steal your heart away,” on lead-off single “Steal Your Heart,” which was co-written and produced by former Phantom Planet member Sam Farrar.

The San Diego rock band broke through in 2005 with their major label debut All the Stars and Boulevards, which was produced by Brendan O’Brien (Stone Temple Pilots, Train), and included the hit “Boston.” After gaining some musical prominence, Augustana seemed to lose their musical identity, but fortunately found it again and triumphantly return with new focus and clarity on this latest offering.

After the slight misstep of their overlooked Can’t Love Can’t Hurt, the band has reclaimed their musical footing and recaptured the spirit evident during their live performances. The majority of Augustana’s production duties were helmed by Jacquire King (Kings of Leon), and the collaboration is obviously the inspiration needed for the band to create this addictive and compelling record.

Layus’ vocal and songwriting skills continue to evolve and grow stronger. In the Tom Petty-esque tale of lost love “Wrong Side of Love,” he manages to rock and rip out your heart synchronously. “I’m hanging on, I’m hurting/I’m backing down, you’re starting over/You and I we’ve had enough,” Layus cries in a highly corybantic vocal performance that drips with heartbreaking emotion.

The moody and dark “On the Other Side,” is not only a highpoint, but could easily be the breakout track. “I don’t know where the ocean meets the sky/I don’t why the world keeps spinning by/Don’t know why the hours move so slow/But when I’m with you, I don’t wanna know,” ponders Layus during this mid-tempo ballad. “Counting Stars” follows up with its infectious piano and string intro and chorus, which will instantly strike a chord with Augustana fans, as it sounds like an amalgamation of previous favorites, “Boston” and “Sweet and Low.” This standout tune has potential hit written all over it when Layus sings, “Like a rolling hurricane/Nothing’s standing in our way/Full of life, full of grace, in a perfect place.”

Although Augustana may not be the year’s most cutting-edged release, it is full of strong, if not extraordinary material, which is sure to leave an indelible impression on admirers of pop/rock. The album is inundated with enough gorgeous melodies, strong hooks, and infectious choruses to satisfy devoted followers, as well as delight new ones.

© 2011 ForASong Media, LLC

Lady Gaga: Mother Monster Invades Middle Tennessee

Lady Gaga visited Music City on Tuesday, April 19, when her critically acclaimed Monster Ball Tour made its one and only stop in Middle Tennessee at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. The musical temptress delighted all in attendance as she delivered her best known hits (“Poker Face” and “Bad Romance), as well as new numbers from her upcoming album (“Born This Way” and “You and I”). The singer wowed all in attendance with dazzling costumes, ghoulish visuals and remarkable vocal and musical skills while delivering an impressive spectacle of music and theater with the energy of a whirling dervish.

Since announcing her arrival in late 2008, Lady Gaga (born Stefani Germanotta) has exploded into the stratosphere raising eyebrows and causing jaws to drop. It seems futile to try to escape her presence that’s permeated pop culture through her music, fashion and outrageous live performances. The 25-year-old performance artist from Manhattan has the kind of formidable presence that makes fans want to ardently follow her every move.

Her statistics are impressive when realizing what she has accomplished in such a short time. In just over two years, she amassed nine top-ten hit singles, sold millions of albums and became the most downloaded and searched female on the internet in history. She is set to release her sophomore full-length effort, Born This Way, on May 24, which has already been heralded as this decade’s Thriller. The title track became the fastest selling download in the history of iTunes, having sold 1,000,000 copies in just five days, and remained No. 1 atop the Billboard singles chart for six consecutive weeks. Her current hit “Judas” (released four days earlier than originally planned) is closely following its predecessor’s record-breaking footsteps, already becoming the third-highest debuting single of her career.

Gaga has stirred up her own lion’s share of controversy with her live musical theatrics demonstrated on television, such as bleeding to death during her MTV performance, not to mention the fire emitting bra and panties she proudly modeled during her Nashville concert. And let’s not forget the religious connotations in the lyrics of her most recent hits “Born This Way” and “Judas,” as well as her sexually charged music videos, which contain elements of S&M, bestiality and homoeroticism.

During her sold-out Nashville performance, the musical vamp managed to keep the enthralled audience out of their seats and up on their feet for the entire two-hour event. The concert included all of her hits, multiple dancers and various video interludes, which served to divide the show into five separate segments. Gaga spoke to the audience about the trappings of fame and money and how she has been unfairly persecuted by religious groups who continually misunderstand her music. She also broke into an impromptu line from “Judas,” singing from the chorus: “I’m just a holy fool/Oh baby it’s so cruel/But I’m still in love with Judas, baby.” She then commented, “People get their panties all in a bunch over nothing. It’s just a fucking pop song,” to which the audience heartily indicated their approval by responding with deafening applause.

Although some have written her off as a temporary novelty act, it will be interesting and highly entertaining to see if Lady Gaga will be able to sustain her massive success in the long run. Only time will tell for sure if the masses will grow restless and move on to the next big thing, but there is no denying the everlasting impact this provocative and highly successful performer has already had on the ever-changing world of pop music. And judging by the captivated audience’s fanatical response during the enigmatic singer’s Middle Tennessee performance, Lady Gaga doesn’t seem to be showing signs of fading into obscurity anytime soon.

©2011 The Murfreesboro Pulse

The Great Barrier Reefs: ‘Finding Time’

Finding Time

After two years of hard work and dedication, The Great Barrier Reefs releases its first full-length instrumental album Finding Time. The nine laid-back island-jazz-funk originals included in this nearly hour-long recording come just in time to thaw your frozen wintry soul and put you in a summer mood.

The Nashville-based band is led by front man Tony Hartman on steel pan, percussion and keyboards. The five-piece ensemble also features sultry saxophone by Josh Dunlap, guitar by BJ Golden, Taylor Lonardo on bass and Rick Wilkerson rhythmically keeping it all together on drums. Each band member’s individual contribution is an integral ingredient, but the tautness of the group playing together in precise unity is responsible for the musical magic heard in exquisite abundance throughout Finding Time.

This self-released effort is a solid album of funky jazz compositions incorporating Latin, island and world music elements. It was co-produced by band members Hartman, Lonardo and Golden ensuring the group’s unique sound and style was fully captured in explicit musical detail and without compromise.

The upbeat title track starts things off in the right direction and the buoyant mood continues with “To the Bridge Burners,” featuring particularly impressive guitar work. Things slow down a bit on the reeling “Gratitude,” which includes a nice percussive breakdown and a brilliant saxophone solo. The pace quickly picks up again on the funky, reggae-tinged “Pasando Por Las Calles,” the album’s must-hear essential highlight, although you will be hard pressed to find a dud in this bunch.

Finding Time is an excellent and well executed melodic getaway of skilled musicianship guaranteed to make you forget your troubles and drift away to a tropical paradise in your mind. This is an absolute must-have and welcome addition to any diverse music lover’s collection. So grab your flip-flops, fix yourself a pitcher of margaritas and take a mental vacation with the cool, steel drum sounds of The Great Barrier Reefs.

Key tracks include “Pasando Por Las Calles,” “To the Bridge Burners,” “Finding Time” and “Matt’s Birthday.”

For more info on the band, visit TheGreatBarrierReefs.com or check them out live at Bluesboro on May 18.

©2011 The Murfreesboro Pulse