Panic! at the Disco: ‘Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!’

Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!

Panic! at the Disco’s fourth full-length Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! is as eclectic and diverse as anything we could’ve imagined, which was hinted at by the soulful lead single tease of “Miss Jackson.” Of course, by now we’ve learned to expect nothing less than the unexpected out of the quirky alternative band from Las Vegas. The group’s latest effort is noticeably inspired and shaped by Sin City’s gritty darkness as much as its glitz and glamour, hence it seems only fitting the album’s title is taken from Hunter S. Thompson’s novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

While the variety of tracks appear to be an extremely dissimilar assortment at first, lead singer Brendon Urie’s deeply personal and introspective lyrics thematically tie them all together. The album’s shockingly honest and confessional subject matter ranges from recalling tales of youthful promiscuity (“Miss Jackson”) to reflections of late night clubbing (“Vegas Lights”). Then there’s the perplexing “Girl That You Love,” rumored to be about former band member Ryan Ross, in which where Urie declares “Drop every pretense/Drown every sense you own/Insistent pretext/So what does that make God/To the girl that you love.”

Teeming with melodic hooks and reflective lyrics, Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! is both hypnotic (the lingering closer “The End of All Things”) and beguiling (Far Too Young to Die” and second single “This Is Gospel”). Also worth noting are the two extra bonus tracks (“Can’t Fight Against the Youth” and “All the Boys”) featured on Target’s exclusive deluxe disc version, both of which merit foregoing the digital download route.

© 2013 ForASong Media, LLC

Cher: ‘Closer to the Truth’

cher

Closer to the Truth

Cher may be a good candidate for heated water cooler debates, but whether you love, hate, or are simply indifferent to her, she is irrefutably iconic to millions, and has managed against all odds, to pull off an unparalleled and long lasting career. Over the span of six decades, the fashion daring diva has successfully conquered television, film, and music, sold over 100 million records, and amassed a variety of awards including an Oscar, a Grammy, an Emmy, and three Golden Globes.

Cherilyn Sarkisian, who became a household name thanks to the classic pop duet “I Got You Babe” in 1965 with her then husband and partner Sonny Bono, holds the distinct honor of being the only recording artist to have had a number-one single in each of the past six decades.

Now, 12 years since her last full-length recording (2001’s Living Proof), Cher has returned with what she insists will be her last effort. On her twenty-sixth solo album, Closer to the Truth picks up right where Cher’s musical legacy left off, with an auto-tuned anthem (“Woman’s World”) and a sassy club banger with a feminist slant (“Take It Like a Man”). However, those hastily tempted to write off Closer to the Truth as just another dance record may be surprised to find it includes three tracks co-written by Cher herself and offers a multitude of tempos, including a handful of ballads, which clearly demonstrate Cher still has the chops to amply deliver a powerful and emotive lyric in her inimitable style.

With a pair of tracks supplied by P!nk, and production from Timbaland and Paul Oakenfold, Cher shows she’s kept her finger on the pulse of music during her extended absence. Moreover, the woeful 9/11 inspired “Sirens” and the stirring “I Hope You Find It” (thankfully rescued from Miley Cyrus), both easily position themselves among Cher’s strongest material to date. If this is truly Cher’s swan song, then she should be content that Closer to the Truth is nothing less than a fabulous finale to her illustrious career.

Keith Urban: ‘Fuse’

Fuse

If Keith Urban’s idea of breaking out of the box is recording a country pop album that sounds like a carbon copy of many of his Music Row contemporaries, then he was triumphant in fulfilling his goal on Fuse. Acutely mottled with lyrical clichés and bloated, over-cooked production provided by a plethora of producers, Urban’s seventh studio album is all flash with very little substance.

Fuse sounds fairly impressive upon initial listening, but when peeling back its glossy layers you realize it’s merely a labyrinth of country pop fluff. Midway through you begin to notice Urban’s introspective lyrics and scorching guitar solos are conspicuously MIA. Duets with Miranda Lambert (“We Were Us”) and Eric Church (“Raise ‘Em Up”) are both keepers and are the closest hints of Urban at his best here, but unfortunately they get lost in the midst of a track list that’s littered with too much mind numbing filler. The nonsensical throwaways “She’s My 11” and “Red Camaro” are easily Urban’s most pedestrian tunes to date.

Although not particularly known for being a ground-breaking artist, Urban recently confessed that he “just wanted to see how far I could go before it’s not me,” but in his effort to redefine himself, he seems to have concurrently lost sight of his own identity while becoming a victim of his various co-producers’ sway. Fuse is so over produced with studio gimmicks it would make even Mutt Lange blush. Urban’s latest might be great for keeping your eyes open on a long road trip, but it ultimately ends up sounding like nothing more than a desperate attempt to stay relevant with trendy bro-country.

Luke Bryan: ‘Crash My Party’

Luke Bryan: Crash My Party

After winning the coveted CMA Entertainer of the Year award, with the help of his hugely successful Tailgates & Tanlines, Luke Bryan now finds himself in the unenviable, but inevitable position of having to follow up its chart longevity.

Armed with its hit title track, Bryan’s latest offering, Crash My Party, is fraught with catchy hooks and strong melodies, but it’s often sidetracked by reductive and forgettable lyrics (“Out where the corn rows grow/Row, row my boat/Floatin’ down the Flint River/Catch us up a little catfish dinner”). Ironically, the set’s most disposable track (“I See You”) was co-written by Bryan himself, yet he later manages to redeem his musical faux pas with the reflective life ballad “Dirt Road Diary.”

While you’d have to hunt high and low for any real substance here (“Blood Brothers”), that shouldn’t matter since Bryan’s fourth proper album is exactly the sort of good time romp for which the Georgia native has become famous; country booty shakers (“That’s My Kind of Night” and “Out Like That”) balanced with emotive balladeering (“Goodbye Girl” and “Play It Again”). However, listeners should be forewarned, this album is predictably programmed for obstreperous fist-pumping, beer chugging followers of feel good country pop who don’t want to waste a lot of time contemplating the deeper meaning of life. Ultimately, Crash My Party is melodiously rewarding despite its sporadic lyrical missteps.

© 2013 ForASong Media, LLC

The Killers Bring Sin City to Music City

killersnashville

(Photo by Eric Allen ©2013)

Music City met Sin City when Las Vegas rock band The Killers performed at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville Sunday night. Dressed in black and armed with lasers, a projection screen backdrop, and a keyboard bedecked with an illuminated lightning bolt, lead singer Brandon Flowers was on fire as he tirelessly ripped through the dynamic set like a man determined to leave his perpetual mark upon the world famous venue’s stage.

The band members fed off the sold out crowd’s zealous reaction as they delivered a 21-song set list culled from their four album discography, which included “Mr. Brightside,” and “Human,” stacked against newer hits “Here with Me,” and “Runaways.” During the concert’s progression, the evening was filled with sporadic surprises including the Johnny Cash classic “Ring of Fire,” a guest appearance by Brad Paisley, and a cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which was preceded by Flowers’ proclamation, “Tiffany stole this song from Tommy James and the Shondells, but tonight we’re stealing it back.”

Although it may initially sound odd for a Las Vegas rock band fronted by a Latter-day Saint to play a gig at the Grand Ole Opry, that’s precisely what took place on an electrically charged Sunday evening in the inimitably unequalled whangdoodle that is Nashville’s beloved music scene.

By night’s end, Flowers held the engrossed audience in the palm of his hand, as thousands stood on their feet while cheering, clapping, and singing along at the top of their lungs for the duration of the virtually two-hour performance. Despite a dubiously absent rendering of the band’s revered hit “Bones,” no one exited the show with any criticisms. While the Ryman Auditorium may exclusively own the moniker “The Mother Church of Country Music,” The Killers live at the Grand Ole Opry House was nonetheless a religious experience in its own right.

© 2013 ForASong Media, LLC

Tori Amos: ‘Gold Dust’

Tori gold

Performing since age 13, singer-songwriter-pianist Tori Amos’ prolific recording career bleeds into four decades and includes 13 studio albums, 33 official bootlegs, 40 singles, 65 B-sides, 27 music videos, and a five-disc box set. All of which have served to carve out her own unique musical niche as one of music’s most original and influential sonic architects. On her latest endeavor Gold Dust, Amos again returns to the classical music realm with her follow-up to 2011’s song cycle, Night of Hunters.

Each track of this majestic, career spanning collection (from the cryptic “Cloud on My Tongue” to the soul-baring “Maybe California”) was chosen by Amos herself and has been reinterpreted and framed anew within a classical setting. Accompanied by the Metropole Orchestra (conducted by Jules Buckley with new string arrangements by long-time Amos collaborator John Philip Shenale), the inimitable songstress breathes new life into each song as she dusts off the cobwebs of some of her most treasured tunes. Attempting to meld the past with the present, more times than not, Amos successfully improves upon many of the original versions (“Flavor” and “Flying Dutchman”), while simultaneously maintaining their true essence.

Titled after the closing track of Scarlet’s Walk, Gold Dust commemorates the 20-year anniversary of her solo debut breakthrough Little Earthquakes, and collects material from Amos’ earliest hits (“Silent All These Years”) and newer pieces of work (“Star of Wonder”). Offering up musical morsels for Amos fans of every era, Gold Dustserves as a musical memory box as opposed to merely a best of compilation.

Produced by Amos, this lushly orchestrated set is at times equally compelling and dynamic, plus effectively demonstrates Amos’ acumen as a musician, vocalist, and tunesmith (a scarce commodity these days). The album also underscores the classical methodologies often hinted at in her previous works. Gold Dust doesn’t merely look into the past of Amos’ musical legacy; it also displays flickering glimpses of what lies ahead, while reminding us Tori Amos has been anything but silent all these years.

© 2012 ForASong Media, LLC

Kenny Chesney: ‘Welcome to the Fishbowl’

Welcome To The Fishbowl

Kenny Chesney: Welcome to the Fishbowl

Kenny Chesney’s fifteenth studio album (and 11th number one), Welcome to the Fishbowl, finds him continuing to explore his more mature side which was hinted at on 2010’s Hemingway’s WhiskeyFishbowl displays a serious yearning to stretch and dig a little deeper into life’s foibles, as if Chesney is trying to figure them out himself, but in a good way.

The album’s name is taken from the bouncy title track, which finds Chesney pondering the consequences of celebrity for himself and for those who obtain notoriety through social media (“You don’t have to be famous now to be a star/Just get caught on video and there you are”). While Chesney has always pushed the limits of contemporary country, he seems to be slowly gravitating away from the good time drinking fare (a couple of those can be found here too) and choosing to tackle headier subject matter.

Although only three of the album’s songs were co-written by Chesney himself, Welcome to the Fishbowl still manages to sound highly personal and introspective. Chesney has an uncanny knack for finding top-shelf material which sounds autobiographical and mixing it with his own to craft a uniquely distinguishable musical statement.

© 2012 ForASong Media, LLC

 

Jack’s Mannequin: ‘People and Things’

After surviving the breakup of his teen band Something Corporate and a life threatening battle with leukemia, Jack’s Mannequin frontman Andrew McMahon is once again focusing his attention on what he does best, which is making poignant, piano-based alt-rock. On JM’s third album People and Things, McMahon and company (Bobby Anderson, Jay McMillan, with guest appearances by current Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney and Soul Coughing’s Sebastian Steinberg) tackle themes concerning everyday struggles of life and immortality.

Kicking off the set is first single “My Racing Thoughts,” which is a superb piece of piano rock that rivals some of Elton John’s best ’70s hits. Noticeably absent this time around are the usual teen angst lyrical confessions, which have been replaced here with grown-up introspection. This change is most evident in the tracks “Restless Dream,” which is a stripped down slice of musical melancholia, as well as in the surprisingly upbeat doomsday ode “Hey Hey Hey (We’re All Gonna Die).”

The bulk of McMahon’s lyrics on People and Things mostly dive into familiar, yet highly relatable topics of affairs of the heart, but are delivered with staunch veracity that makes the subject matter seem transcendent. No earth shattering revelations are to be found on this disc, but this latest musical opus is full of catchy hooks and strong melodies galore, which are easily among McMahon’s best offerings to date.

The emotional closer “Casting Lines” provides the perfect ending to this impressive musical jaunt about pondering where we belong and coming to terms with our own fates, as its final refrain states: “You learn to run, you learn to race through life/This unforgiving pace, these lines we’re chasing to the truth.”

Although Jack’s Mannequin hasn’t been able to match the balls to the wall gusto of Everything in Transit, its 2005 critically acclaimed debut, People and Things is easily the most musically cohesive album in the band’s catalog thus far. There is no vexing filler to be found anywhere on this disc, which these days is an unusually rare thing. Dedicated fans will want to download the hauntingly ethereal iTunes bonus track “Broken Bird,” which was questionably omitted on the physical copy of the record and manages to encapsulate all of JM’s best qualities in one song.

© 2011 ForASong Media, LLC

Lenny Kravitz: ‘Black and White America’

There’s no secret or mysterious concept hidden beneath the surface of Lenny Kravitz’s ninth studio album, Black and White America. His latest effort tackles issues associated with racism, reflecting upon how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go when it comes to society’s ongoing struggles with racial relations. Kravitz’s latest self-produced collection offers immense, sexy riffs aplenty, while frequently shifting moods and tempos. Throughout, the “Let Love Rule” singer waxes poetically about a future utopia when America will finally be free of racial tensions.

Kravitz effectively manages to create a multi-tempo  musical ebb and flow, efficaciously commanding your attention throughout the album’s lengthy 16-song track list. This is an arduous coup few artists are rarely capable of accomplishing. The 1970s-sounding title track includes an infectious groove, supplemented by strings, brass, and lots of funky bass riffs. “There is no division don’t you understand/The future looks as though it has come around/And maybe we are fighting for our common ground/We’ve waited so long,” Kravitz sings on repeat. Of course previous singles “Stand” and “Come On Get It” are included here, alongside the album’s most incongruent track “Boongie Drop,” which features DJ Military and rapping by Jay-Z. Although the latter starts off full of potential, the tune ultimately misses the mark of achieving true greatness.

Black and White America is a laudable musical statement, and a much needed reminder of how prodigious Kravitz is at melding together rock and funk.  Also worth mentioning is the bonus track “War,” which not only works well within the album’s concept, but is also one of Kravitz’s strongest performances in years.

© 2011 ForASong Media, LLC

Various Artists: ‘Reggae’s Gone Country’

Reggae's Gone Country

What happens when two very distinctive musical worlds collide? The answer is Reggae’s Gone Country. Imagine classic country songs such as Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have to Go,” Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” and George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” performed reggae style by some of Jamaica’s best vocalists and musicians. No, this isn’t Kenny Chesney’s latest album of Jimmy Buffet-like island music, but instead it’s a new collection of country standards delivered in a captivating and authentic reggae tribute.

Although the concept may initially sound like a musical recipe for things to go horribly awry, it actually works quite well. After all, commonalities of lost love and spirituality link reggae and country together lyrically. And believe it or not, country music is very popular in Jamaica, which is how and why this album’s concept came to fruition. Reggae’s Gone Country is a labor of love for Grammy nominated producer, VP Records executive, and country music buff Cristy Barber, best known for producing 2003’s successful Def Jamaica, a collection of assorted reggae flavored hip hop tunes.

The bulk of the album was recorded in Kingston, Jamaica’s Grafton and Tuff Gong recording studios by reggae producer Dean Fraser. The tracks were then sent to Nashville, where John Rich supervised flourishes of pedal steel and fiddle which were added into the final mix. The compilation includes standout performances by notable island vocalists Tarrus Riley, Tessanne Chin, Beres Hammond, Etana, and Romain Virgo, among several others.

While traditional country purists will most likely be unimpressed, open-minded, genre leaping music aficionados will be pleasantly surprised. Even if the thought of beloved country hits re-worked into reggae versions may seem absurd to some, the end result is an unexpected and highly satiating combination. Frankly, Reggae’s Gone Country’s reimagined Jamaican versions of George Strait’s “The Chair,” Alabama’s “Feels So Right,” and Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler,” make any locale feel like paradise.

© 2011 ForASong Media, LLC