Category Archives: Album Reviews

Everything Is – Album Review

nine black alps

Nine Black Alps may sound very grungy, very Seattle, and yet they’re actually a Manchester-based alternative rock band. They were formed back in 2003 and have since released 4 albums.

Their very first one was Everything Is and, although it reached the Top 100 in the UK charts, it didn’t exactly change the world of rock forever. Some of its singles were sort of successful but, again, none of the album’s tracks shook the charts too heavily.

Why review it?

Because I actually think it’s pretty underrated and definitely deserves a listen. Besides, the critics, back when the album was released, were generally favourable so maybe there is something audiences were missing.

The album opens on a decidedly energetic note with “Get Your Guns”, which sounds a bit like if Nirvana and Oasis somehow joined forces. It’s a good, solid start to the album, though the song has better verses than it does a chorus. Next up is “Cosmopolitan”, a yelling, relentless The Hives-esque moshpit-friendly burst of angst which is simply a lot of fun. It was, funnily enough, even used in a couple of sports video games, FIFA 06 and Madden NFL 06. Impressively, we soon get another explosive, very cool Nirvana-style song with “Not Everyone”. It’s a moody, catchy track and certainly feels like a hit all the way.

Among a sea of high-octane, super-powered rock songs are a couple of slower tracks where the band reveals an unexpected versatility, much like Pearl Jam does, actually. “Unsatisfied” isn’t a ballad but it’s a slower-paced, melancholic tune with a really strong chorus and it’s definitely one of the most memorable songs on the album. It was used in an episode of TV series One Tree Hill so you might recognise it from there although I’m not convinced anyone actually watched that show when it was on…

“Behind Your Eyes” is one of those acoustic efforts where the band proudly show off their skills as musicians: it’s a melodic, Oasis-esque, surprisingly beautiful little tune you’d need to be pretty cynical to hate. “Intermission” is another very pretty, sweeter acoustic song which, this time, evokes the likes of Jon Brion and even The Beatles.

The fifth track on the album, “Headlights”, is a vibrant, lighter song which quickly develops into a nice melody and which ends up feeling somewhat nostalgic. “Ironside” is a much less subtle but extremely fun song which opens on a heavy, simple but effective riff and is packed full of attitude and swagger, as is its punkier follow-up “Shot Down”, which remains the band’s most successful single to date. It’s another hit which lures you in instantly with its non-stop energy.

Then there’s the entertaining yet slightly repetitive “Just Friends”, “Everybody Is”, which starts off sounding like a Blur song until it reaches its so-so chorus and, last but not least, “Southern Cross”, which ends the album on a good note despite not being quite as catchy as some of the other songs on Everything Is. It’s still a worthy track, though.

All in all, this is a very good grunge/alt. rock album which really should have done better than it did. There’s not a bad song in the bunch and the band is firing on all cylinders from start to finish offering really fun tracks and even the odd poetic tune.

For a debut album, it’s surprisingly effective and, if you enjoy that type of music, chances are you’ll have a ball listening to it.

Everything Is gets no less than 4 Jolly Cobains out of 5.

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Let Go – Album Review

Let Go

Long before Canada “graced” us with the pop sensation that is Justin Bieber, we got Avril Lavigne and her debut album Let Go, which was a big hit when it was released back in 2002.

Now, whether you like the artist or not, that particular album’s success was unavoidable back in the day. Several singles were released from it and many songs lured their way into many movies which came out around the same time from Wimbledon to The Medallion, Just Married (all timeless classics, I’m sure you’ve noticed) and more than one episode of Smallville, of course.

Having not listened to anything Lavigne has released since this particular album, except for that kinda annoying Alice In Wonderland song of hers, I thought I’d go back and set the record straight about Let Go: was it deserving of its success or just as irritating as many of us remember it to be?

“Losing Grip” is the opening song and, surprisingly, it’s somewhat entertaining and sufficiently rebellious (in a decidedly emo kind of way) to warrant a listen if you’re into that type of thing, though it stagnates a tad. It is followed by popular hit “Complicated” and, indeed, it sounds just as manufactured, whiny and annoyingly catchy as it always did. It’s basic teen pop fare but it does have an adorably naive charm to it. Besides, it prompted one of my favourite Weird Al Yankovic outings! Listening to the song now, what mostly stands out is its rather weird rhyming. Somehow Lavigne manages to rhyme “unannounced” with “somethin’ else” and “back” with “relax”…

I guess that’s an achievement in itself!

Another memorable single from the album is “Sk8er Boi”, which is just as obnoxious as its stupidly spelt title suggests. The song tells a story, a thoroughly petty story about some girl jealously and bitterly boasting about getting together with some guy. It’s completely juvenile and about a thousand times tamer than it thinks it is but hell, it’s catchy so it did ridiculously well at the time. As did ballad “I’m With You”, which may be corny as hell, whiny as hell and repetitive but which still works as a guilty pleasure. It’s got an admittedly nice melody and, although its lyrics come off as needy and weak, it’s cute enough to pull it off.

You’ve got a few acoustic efforts on the album, there to show Lavigne’s versatility and show off her singing chops, of course. One of them is “Mobile”, which opens kinda like “Sweet Home Alabama” and has a similar rhythm to it. Its verses aren’t too bad but that chorus really has no real lead up to it and it feels tacked-on, like it doesn’t belong to that specific song somehow. Another acoustic track is ballad “Tomorrow” which, apart from having pretty enough verses, mostly sounds like a soporific effort from The Corrs but much less vibrant.

“Unwanted” is the sixth song on the album and arguably has the best chorus of the bunch in that it could almost pass for rock. Of course the song needed to be less over-produced, much heavier and needed more anger than angst but, as a whole, it’s not too bad. It’s really in the second half of the album that we get some instantly forgettable tracks and some just plain not-very-good ones. “Things I’ll Never Say” is relatively inoffensive and has a nice enough melody but it’s a light, purely poppy effort. As for its follow-up “My World”, it tells another uninteresting story, this time about growing up in a small town. It’s whiny, juvenile and altogether lacks bite.

But that’s nothing compared to the eleventh track, “Nobody’s Fool”, where Lavigne attempts a rap. The delivery is expectedly clunky, the song’s subject is too tame and the lyrics are frankly awful. An inventive beat just about saves this one from being completely unlistenable. Speaking of tame subjects, the next song, “Too Much To Ask”, is yet another “I’m lonely” song where Lavigne complains that someone didn’t call her when they said they would. Well boo-friggin’-hoo! It’s altogether forgettable.

Finally, we have “Anything But Ordinary” and “Naked”, which closes the album. The former is a solid, if simplistic, pop track with a catchy chorus. It’s, again, emo-friendly, but it works and is, at least, memorable. “Naked” is also a more melancholic, moodier pop tune. It starts off being rather effective but suffers, like many songs on the album, from an anti-climactic chorus.

Let Go is an uneven album to say the least, parts of it are cheesy, blatantly commercial and completely forgettable while other parts of it are devilishly catchy and decent enough, for that genre, of course. It definitely doesn’t deserve all the praise it received, going straight to number 1 in some countries, receiving nominations at the Grammys and even winning several awards.

That said, I don’t… hate it.

Sure it’s irritating and weak here and there but, as a whole, you can kinda tell why it did so well. Lavigne making harmless, easily hummable, mostly fun songs with lyrics teens can relate to. I think the album could have done minus at least three of its songs and would have appealed to more people had its songs told more involving stories and had its lyrics and choruses been less naive but, as it stands, it’s very much of its time and designed for a particular audience.

For what it is, it works and, as far as teen pop is concerned, I’ve heard far, FAR worse.

That’s 3 Sk8er Bois out of 5 for Avril Lavigne’s opus.

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I’m With You – Album Review

No less than 5 years after their last release, The Red Hot Chili Peppers came back with a new album, I’m With You, which helped satisfy hungry fans.

But how did the album fare minus long-time guitarist John Frusciante, who officially left the band back in 2009?

Throughout the years, The Red Hot Chili Peppers have undergone changes and reinventions aplenty whilst always keeping their own brand of funky rock perfectly intact. The biggest switch came in 1999 with the release of hit album Californication which showed the band in a darker, more melancholic light. This meant the usual anarchic fast-paced funkiness increasingly gave way to an altogether more atmospheric and melodic approach. This was clearly the beginning of a new era for the band. The next album, By The Way, really made the most of Frusciante’s creativity and excelled especially with some of the best, most nostalgic ballads the band ever attempted. The album showed real heart and maturity but it was a love it or hate it affair proving too lyrical for some. Generally though, it was another hit.

Then came double-whammy Stadium Arcadium which offered not one but two discs shock full of red hot goodies. But, although the double album was a good enough listen on the whole, it just didn’t seem to add much to the band’s new style and felt perhaps a little too mellow with both discs sounding pretty similar to each other in terms of tone. It was good music but the songs relied too much on their catchy choruses and with discs grandly entitled Mars and Jupiter it all felt a tad underwhelming. Fans knew the band could do better.

So let’s talk about the follow up: I’m With You. The initial disappointment of John Frusciante’s departure aside, this could have potentially been a good thing for the band and given the guys a chance to reinvent themselves once more into something fitting the screeching swagger of new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. Something darker, edgier perhaps? Actually, even the old, iconic Red Hot Chili Peppers logo made an appearance in the run-up to the album’s release.

First single “The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie” showed promising signs of a new, perhaps grungier direction with Klinghoffer’s fresh sound adding welcome attitude to a song which, besides feeling perhaps a tiny bit too long, was good enough to generate a lot of interest and high hopes for the new album.

It is surprising, then, that after all these changes taking place over the course of 5 whole years, that I’m With You doesn’t feel more different and groundbreaking than it does. Listening to it, there’s definitely some great Peppers songs there with the likes of “Monarchy Of Roses” and “Did I Let You Know” proving to be more than worthy additions on a par with some of their best work on By The Way.

There’s also a more experimental feel to the whole thing with a lot more piano (played by both Flea and Klinghoffer), some trumpets, a country-style song (“Happiness Loves Company”) and even a rap. That said, the band never seems ready to take a huge experimental leap and, instead of a complete reboot, we get a mild re-tweaking of their now very familiar style introduced back in 1999.

Klinghoffer does extremely well to fit in but songs like “The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie” or “Police Station” beg for Frusciante’s backing vocals. Aside from being one of the best, most creative guitar players out there, it should be noted that Frusciante is also a great vocalist and his unique voice has elevated numerous songs on By The Way and Stadium Arcadium to above average status.

A song like “Brendan’s Death Song”, for example, lacks some of the emotional punch that Frusciante could have no doubt brought to it. For fans of the man’s solo albums, it’s a given that his voice as well as his music were a key factor of the band’s latest approach. So yes, Klinghoffer is a perfectly fine presence in I’m With You and does a great job but Frusciante is nevertheless missed throughout.

I’m With You could have been so much more fun. Songs like “Look Around” or “Ethiopia” do very well to generate some of the old Peppers “grooves” but the album still has a mellow feel to it which gives it a familiarity we could have probably done without just this once. All that said, no one writes a catchy chorus like these guys and no matter how cryptically the songs begin you can be sure you’ll be mumbling all these choruses to yourself throughout the day regardless of how good the songs actually are.

Barring a couple of non-events, I’m With You is a fine album: a mix of more of the same and some hit-and-miss experiments (“Dance, Dance, Dance”) with a couple of golden nuggets here and there. It’s uneven stuff but fans and non-fans alike should enjoy it regardless.

We’ll have to wait either for John Frusciante’s return or for the band to give Josh Klinghoffer more freedom to bring the edge back, it seems, if we’re going to get the fresh re-invention we were promised. For now though, I’m With You is a fair one to check out, it won’t blow you away but just be happy the band made it through and are back in business.

Besides, 3 Red Hot Chili Fellas out of 5 ain’t half bad.

Autumnal Park – Album Review

Autumnal Park

An Australian New Wave band formed back in 1982, Pseudo Echo certainly fit right in next to the likes of Ultravox, Tears For Fears and Visage.

While they later became known mostly for their fun yet admittedly corny version of Lipps Inc.‘s “Funky Town”, moviegoers probably already knew them for their song “His Eyes” which was used in the film Friday The 13th: A New Beginning.

Autumnal Park is their first album which was released in 1984 and, although it wasn’t exactly a resounding hit and didn’t leap to number 1 worldwide, it’s certainly an underrated effort and deserves to be rediscovered.

For one thing, you’ve got some devilishly catchy songs like “A Beat For You” and the aforementioned “His Eyes” in there, both instantly luring you in with their energetic beats, ultimately building up to effective and memorable tunes altogether. The former is a little more light-hearted and simple than the latter but they’re both just as fun and just as good.

“See Through” has a more Duran Duran-esque feel to it, evoking “Planet Earth” somewhat, while “Stranger In Me” has a little more Oingo Boingo to it. Funnily enough, “Stranger In Me”, which was released as a single, already sounds a tad like “Funky Town”. It’s overall kinda repetitive but upbeat enough to keep it likeable.

The album does have some more forgettable songs like “Fast Cars” and “Listening” but even they’re pretty entertaining. “Listening” may have a so-so chorus but its build-up is solid, it just needed a slightly darker delivery. As for “Fast Cars”, it’s quite probably the lesser song of the bunch, despite a nice bridge.

“From The Shore” is the third song of the album and it’s a welcome more chilled-out effort  with a strange James Bond opening title sequence quality, unfortunately its build-up is anti-climactic. “Dancing Until Midnight” is another single from the album which goes in a different, more melodramatic route. It’s got a nice melody and an enjoyably theatrical, grand feel to it, making it one of the most atmospheric songs on the album. That said, it’s surprising that it was picked as a single instead of “Walkaway”, a much more catchy tune altogether. Sure it’s a little moodier and more melancholic but its chorus is very effective.

Finally, we have “Destination Unknown”, which opens with a “Spin Me Round”-style electro beat and develops into a fun song, ending the album on an upbeat note.

Overall, Autumnal Park is definitely a must for New Wave fans, it’s a really fun album with some memorable hits and not one bad song in sight. Try and hunt it down if you can as it’s something of a hidden gem and a nice surprise.

That’s 4, well deserved, Ziggies out of 5.

Ziggy MAskZiggy MAskZiggy MAskZiggy MAsk

MantaRay – Album Review


After years of being frontwoman for Siouxsie And The Banshees and The Creatures, Siouxsie Sioux decided to try something a little different back in 2007 and lead her first solo album which was called MantaRay.

A single was released just prior to that, “Into A Swan”, the explosive opening song to the album. It’s an appropriately rocky, experimental start with heavy guitar riffs merged together with electronic screeches and, more surreally, bongos. It’s an overproduced track but in the best possible way: packed full of energy, memorable verses and a kick-ass chorus, it’s quite probably the best song on the album which is both a good thing as it gets things started with a bang but a bit of a shame because it means that MantaRay peaks about as early as possible.

“About To Happen” follows “Into A Swan” and, although it’s a fun track, it’s also much more upbeat, happy-go-lucky and poppy, which is relatively unusual for Siouxsie but which actually works really well here. It’s a nice surprise. A much “Siouxsier” song comes next, “Here Comes That Day”, a song which starts off like a James Bond-style soul anthem you’d expect from the likes of Tina Turner. It’s a slower, sexier, more mysterious track which shows even more versatility as Siouxsie takes on one of the many musical styles she tackles throughout the album.

Strangely, the album then takes a darker route and brings us a couple of somewhat sinister songs. “Loveless” is very Siouxsie, darker and more melodic, maybe with a little Muse thrown in. As for “If It Doesn’t Kill You”, it’s a slower paced, kinda grim yet poetic, heartfelt song and, although it’s not exactly the most upbeat track of the bunch, it’s still a very solid effort, even if it almost loses itself about halfway through.

Now, this is where MantaRay takes an odd turn…

The second half of the album is so concerned with showing versatility that it ends up being a little hit-and-miss in its experimental attempts. Case and point, “One Mile Below” and “Drone Zone”, two songs clearly there to give Siouxsie a little more room to try different things but which go abstract places, not always to the listener’s benefit. You could see Bjork take on “One Mile Below”, a weird, eclectic country-ish tune, and make it fit with her own style but it doesn’t quite gel here, unfortunately. “Drone Zone” goes even further off-course by essentially being an experimental jazz song. It really lacks a melody, which would have helped make the song somewhat memorable but, as it stands, it’s a confusing listen and a forgettable one.

Things thankfully perk up again with “Sea Of Tranquility”, a mellow track with a slow build-up but which develops into something a bit dancier. It’s a genuinely nice song. The album then ends with “They Follow You” and “Heaven & Alchemy”, the former eventually going off-track but bringing in a promising nostalgic vibe before that, the latter closing the album on a disappointingly somber but beautifully atmospheric note.

Siouxsie Sioux’s MantaRay should have enough good stuff in it to entertain fans of the iconic artist’s work but it might also alienate some as the album’s many experimentations don’t always pay off. That said, you can’t deny how fresh and modern the album feels and fault its creative ambition. You’ve got some cool songs in there and, overall, it’s a worthy solo effort.

That’s 3 Happy Goths out of 5 for this one but I’m sure The Mighty Sioux can beat that with her eyes closed.

Let’s hope we get another solo album some time soon.

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Neurotic Outsiders – Album Review

Neurotic Outsiders
You ever wonder what would happen if the Guns N’ RosesDuran Duran and The Sex Pistols all got together somehow and made an album?

Well, why wonder when you can HEAR?

Boys and girls, I give you: Neurotic Outsiders. A supergroup formed back in 1995 made up of Steve Jones (Pistols), Matt Sorum (Roses), Duff McKagan (Roses) and John Taylor (Duran Duran).

I’ll let the awesomeness sink in.

The band only really made the one album (with an EP the following year), a self-titled release which I recall owning and listening the f*** out of back in the day. I loved it but, being French, the lyrics were lost on me, which was a bit awkward since songs like the rather self-explanatorily-titled “Nasty Ho” were pretty graphic throughout. And when I say “graphic”, I of course mean dirty as hell and proud of it.

Regardless, it was great. But how does it stand up today?

Well, lets just say it more than lives up to the term “supergroup”.

Vocally, Steve Jones may not be Axl Rose but he fits in perfectly in this punk/grunge/metal hybrid and although the prospect of the band being led by Billy Idol (which it was, early on) is a mind-blowing one, Jones adds a raw Clash-esque quality to the songs that’s very welcome.

There’s a versatility about the album which should please just about everyone. Catchier, more easily accessible tracks like “Angelina” or “Jerk” are just really enjoyable, punkier efforts “Good News” or “Six Feet Under” will grab purists and darker tracks like “Story Of My Life” or “Union” add a third dimension to the whole album. “Union” is particularly a must-hear as it works both as a middle finger to the Pistols themselves and a touching homage to the iconic band’s impact.

It’s just a really fun album: heavy, catchy, trashy, it’s an all-rounder. It’s a bittersweet listen as it only makes you wish the Neurotic Outsiders had gone on to make more stuff together but I guess their original bands’ work is comfort enough.

It’s a lost gem that’s simply a must for fans of punk rock or 80’s metal and it’s very deserving of its 4 Pinheads out of 5.

Not so much a must for Duran Duran fans, though.

Sorry John.


Dead Man’s Party – Album Review

Dead Man's Party

One of my personal favourite THINGS to come out of the 80’s was the band Oingo Boingo, an eclectic mix of pop, rock and… trumpets.

Dead Man’s Party was their fourth album, released in 1985, and boasted some of their greatest hits as well as a few nifty new tracks. The masterful titular song, “Dead Man’s Party”, was to be used one year later in the Rodney Dangerfield film Back To School which also starred the band themselves singing the song in the movie. From then on, this was to become the ultimate Halloween party song. A classic.

Another song from the album which was used in a movie was, of course, “Weird Science” in the John Hughes flick of the same name. The song is an 80’s masterpiece: beautifully layered, put-together insanity. Definitely the work of a musical mad scientist and one of the band’s most recognisable tunes. It certainly ends the album with a bang.

The album opens with “Just Another Day”, one of my personal favourite songs from the band: it’s a dramatic, energetic tune that’s super catchy and just really good all around. It’s a perfect start to a terrific album. Another really good song is “Stay”, which comes in about halfway through the album with a cool, catchy chorus and a chilled, though slightly creepy, build-up. What comes next is “Fool’s Paradise”, one of the many party songs in there and an altogether fun track with a funky beat and, well, trumpets, obviously.

“Help Me” is a darker, moodier song, that is, until the surprising, explosive gospel chorus which will either make or break the song for you. It’s a weird Blues Brothers-style direction to take it but a few, less cynical peeps will be pleasantly surprised, I’m sure.

Another party song is “No One Lives Forever”, and although it’s also darker in tone, it remains a playfully macabre, entertaining song with a truly nutty build-up. That one’s definitely one of the most cartoonish songs on the album, much like “Same Man I Was Before”, a goofy, march-rhythmed track that grows on you and is tons of fun if you let it get in your head. Another song that won’t necessarily grab you straight away but which should definitely grow on you over time is “Heard Somebody Cry”, a more dancey tune which follows “Dead Man’s Party”.

As an album, Dead Man’s Party is short and sweet, bringing in some of the band’s best work without wasting a second, never delivering anything less than the best you’d expect from Oingo Boingo.

One of their best albums, if not their best, and an unavoidable piece of poppy New Wave ska which more than deserves its 5 Ziggies out of 5.

80’s gold.

Ziggy MAskZiggy MAskZiggy MAskZiggy MAskZiggy MAsk