Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

RIP Chuck Berry

March 21, 2017

Another year, another rock legend passes away.  While not quite as shocking as some of the losses in 2016, this is a loss of one of true pioneers of what we know today as rock n’ roll. He’s got to be on the Mount Rushmore of Rock.  That doesn’t mean he was a saint. I’ll leave those less savory aspects of his life to the NY Post, though combining those things with his stage theatrics and style contributed to his other enduring legacy, the creation of the rock star.

You know all the hits the man put out so there’s not a lot more I can say about songs like Johnny B. Goode or Roll Over Beethoven.  I was listening to some live albums of his today and what struck me was how easy it is to draw the straight line from him to some of the Sixties’ biggest bands like the Beatles and Beach Boys.  Go listen to early records of those bands, particularly their live sessions and they were jocking Berry hardcore.  Several years ago I even did a post comparing Berry’s Back in the U.S.A. against the Beatles Back in the U.S.S.R.

The other thing that I noticed is how on those live recordings is a rawer and looser approach to both his singing and the music than in his studio recordings.  After hitting his height of fame, he started touring solo and would just pick up backing bands when he rolled into town, famously proclaiming that every band should already know how to play his songs.  Apparently that led to live performances that were a little too loose, but damn if that isn’t rock n’ roll, even punk.

One of my biggest concert regrets is never getting to see him live.  I thought I was going to get my chance in 2008 when he was scheduled to play the Virgin Fest festival in Maryland.  Sadly, he canceled for unknown reasons on the day of the show.  Luckily there’s plenty of live performances to find out there on the web of him to keep you happy.

And god bless him, his only number one song was “My Ding-A-Ling”.

I’ll leave you with a live version from a 1969 concert in Toronto of one of my personal favorites of his, Reelin’ and Rockin’.  There’s a boatload of different versions out there, but I think this one is pretty representative:

 

 

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You Call That A Shuffle

January 9, 2017

First shuffle of 2017:

  1. Pearl Jam, Off He Goes from Rearviewmirror.  Four Stars.  Of the first wave of grunge bands, I’ll say I wasn’t a huge fan of Pearl Jam. Vedder’s vocals were annoying to me as opposed to the pipes of a Chris Cornell.  They didn’t seem to have the same raw energy as Nirvana. Time, though, has been kind to Pearl Jam, at least in my eyes.  This song appeared on their fourth album, No Code.  This is a subdued PJ song with an acoustic guitar anchoring a song about something pretty universal, a friend who comes in and out of your life.  Apparently, Vedder said this song was about himself.  I can see it, but he can be somewhat forgiven because at least he turned that negative trait into a very pretty song.
  2. Toshinori Kondo & DJ Krush, Tobira-3 from Ki-Oku.  Four Stars.  The last track on the album, this is the third of three interlude tracks between longer songs.  At only :44 seconds, usually I wouldn’t give such a short track four stars but damn, this is a good beat.  DJ Krush is a Japanese DJ that has made a series of very good albums that often remind me of DJ Shadow’s early works.  Toshinoro Kondo is an avant garde trumpeter.  The bass in this beat lands with a thud and Kondo’s trumpet notes sound like they being pricked with a pin and the sound is rushing out.  I would have liked to see this extended to a more proper song, but I’ll take it.
  3. Betty Harris, There’s A Break In The Road from Soul Diva Sessions.  Four Stars.  This song was put out as a single in 1969, and while Harris had quite a few soul ballads put out during the early 60s, I’d say this song is more of a funk piece.  Makes sense as this was part of her work produced by Allen Touissant.  This has got a raw drum break, plenty of trumpets, some squealing guitar, a funky bass line and Harris almost fools you into thinking  you’re hearing vintage Aretha belting out the chorus.

Since that last one is probably the hardest to find, here you go:

2016 Year End Picks

January 1, 2017

okkervil_river_away_cover charles_bradley_changes_cover-jpegthe_impossible_kid_album_cover

A great place to get a pulse on what music critics, websites and blogs are thinking about at the end of the year is Metacritic, which compiles all those year end lists and gives an aggregate “best of” list based on the number of #1, #2 and other votes received by an album.  You can find it here and as of today, the top 10 are:

1 Blackstar by David Bowie
2 Lemonade by Beyoncé
3 Blonde by Frank Ocean
4 A Seat at the Table by Solange
5 A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead
6 Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper
7 The Life of Pablo by Kanye West
8 We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest
9 Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
10 My Woman by Angel Olsen

I wrote about a few of these albums this year (Bowie, Radiohead, ATCQ), and I’ve listened now to all 10.  Life of Pablo and Blonde have some really good moments, but overall as albums I don’t think either deserves to be in a top 10.  Lemonade deserves a spot in a top 10, as the trio of 6 Inch (with it’s great use of an Isaac Hayes sample), Freedom and Formation are some of the best pop R&B of the past few years.

Nick Cave’s album has an unfortunate story to go with his melancholy album, but I thought this album was rather boring.  As I mentioned in my post about the death of Leonard Cohen, I hadn’t really given his music the attention I probably should have.  I listened to his last album he put out months before his death and wow, it’s good.  Appropriately titled You Want It Darker, it’s somber, dark, but really good.  I definitely would put it above the Cave album.  It’s ranked 12 on the Metacritic aggregate list.

As you know from my review of ATCQ’s album, it’s the number 1 hip hop album of the year.  Coloring Book is nice, but ATCQ beats it.  Caveat, I haven’t listened to the new Run The Jewels yet, but I doubt I’ll like it more than the Tribe album.

I was really surprised by the new Angel Olson album.  It was more rock, less folk and there’s hints of some PJ Harvey in there that I really liked.  Check out the Song Exploder podcast where she breaks down the album’s best track (and one of my favorite songs of the year) Shut Up Kiss Me for some insights on where she was coming from in making this new album.

Here’s some other albums and songs I really liked in 2016, including a few you might have missed.

Rock

  1. Andrew Bird, Are You Serious. Normally a Bird album would go under the Folk heading, but here Bird does rock just enough for me to put this in the proper Rock category.  The title track is one of my favorite songs of the year and his duet with Fiona Apple immediately before that is really good too.
  2. Okkervil River, Away.  Another band that sometimes straddles the line between rock, folk and country.  Only 9 songs, but only one clocks in at less than 5 minutes and the 7+ minute opus, Frontman In Heaven, was another favorite of mine this year.
  3. Allah-Las, Calico Review.  Garage rock band from Los Angeles that has a laid back sound but just enough bite to keep you coming back for more.
  4. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, A Man Alive.  This one is in my top 5 for sure this year, can’t understand why it didn’t get love from the critics in year-end lists.  I wrote about it when it came out here.

Folk/Country

  1. Blind Pilot, And Then Like Lions.  A six piece from Portland Oregon, straddles the line between folk and pop.  While no really transcendent songs here, a quality set of songs that reminds me of a less bombastic Local Natives.
  2. Jim James, Eternally Even.  Love James’ voice and so he can usually do no wrong in my book.  A good group of songs that get a little funky in spots with some nice horn/key parts.
  3. El Perro De Mar, Kokoro.  Ever since hearing her cover God Only Knows, always on the lookout for new music by the Swedish singer.  She put out a new album this year, a pleasant series of happy tunes.  My favorite is Hard Soft Hard.
  4. Cass McCombs, Mangy Love.  Packs a lot of different styles into this album, from sweet balladry to blues rock stomp.  Like James, a great voice that I always enjoy.  Rancid Girl is a standout.
  5. Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.  He followed up his excellent 2014 album with another great one.  He throws in elements of psychedelia, folk, rock, and country into his songs and he has a quintessential “country” voice in the mold of Waylon Jennings.  Covering Nirvana’s In Bloom could have been a travesty, but it works, particularly in the context of the songs around it.

R&B/Pop

  1. James Blake, The Colour In Anything.  Wrote about this earlier in the year here.  Surprised this fell out of the top 10 and even top 25 aggregate Metacritic list.  It’s a little long, but some really beautiful songs.
  2. Amber Arcades, Fading Lines.  Lovers of modern Swedish/Norwegian pop will like the vocal styling and melodies of Annelotte de Graaf as Amber Arcades.  This is her debut full length album.
  3. Blood Orange, Freetown Sound.  While I haven’t been as high on some of his previous albums, I liked this one a lot and more than the Frank Ocean album.  This clocked in at 20 on the MetaCritic aggregate list.
  4. Jessy Lanza, Oh No.  Saw her a few years ago at SXSW and enjoyed her brand of synth pop.  This is her second full length.  It’s been nominated for the Polaris prize so it’s getting attention overseas.  An enjoyable album that pairs well with the Junior Boys album I mention below.

Soul/Funk

  1. Charles Bradley, Changes.  Another very good album from soul revivalist Charles Bradley and a rotation of backing bands. Ain’t It A Sin in the middle of the album is one of my favorite songs of the year and he does his best to keep his title of “closest thing living to James Brown” with Good To Be Back Home.
  2. Dam Funk, DJ Kicks.  If you are a fan of Dam Funk’s new style funk, this is a good way to figure out where he’s coming from and who he is trying to emulate.  A solid collection of funk tracks.
  3. Michael Kiwanuka, Love & Hate.  The stone heart and black background are a good visual representation of this album’s sound.  Kiwanuka’s soulful voice is used to melancholy effect here and Place I Belong is one of my favorite songs of the year.  This album was tied for #24 on Metacritic’s list.

Hip Hop

  1. Aesop Rock, The Impossible Kid.  Veteran MC put out his seventh album.  Still brings his dense lyricism and a good collection of dark beats.  Doesn’t hit the highs of something like Life of Pablo, but a much more consistent album.
  2. BadBadNotGood, IV.  Not a proper hip hop album, but the Canadian jazz group does have several singers and rappers provide vocals over their loping, modern jazz.  The collab here with Colin Stetson, Confessions Part II, is a stand-out.

Electronic

  1. The Orb, Alpine.  A three song EP of takes on alpine morning, evening and dawn, it’s a relaxing but engaging record with definite Eastern influences.  A nice soundtrack for you hikers out there as you drive out to your next trailhead in the early morning.
  2. Junior Boys, Big Black Coat.  Wrote about this one earlier in the year here.  Add track 8, And It’s Forever, to my favorites from this album of house-based dance music.
  3. Aphex Twin, Cheetah EP.  Usually enjoy anything new that Richard James puts out and this EP should have kept his fans happy.  Reminiscent of 2014’s Syro if not a little more straightforward.  CIRKLON 3 is a fun track with a little bit of a funk breakdown thrown in.
  4. DJ Shadow, The Mountain Will Fall.  Surprised this one didn’t get much love either in end of year lists.  No, it’s not Endtroducing, but it’s on par with Private Press and the Run The Jewels collaboration Nobody Speak is everything you’d want out of those three getting together.

Death (of) Stars

November 30, 2016

four_half-stars_0

Twofold purpose to this post.  First, this week there was an article on The Ringer today lamenting the current and pending future state of the star rating system in iTunes.  I join Clair McNear as one of the “dozens” of music nerds that uses iTunes’ five star system to rate each of your songs in your iTunes library.  The entire reason this blog exists is because I decided I wanted to write about songs I had rated 5 stars in my library.

Well, if you hadn’t noticed, in the iOS 10 release you can no longer see or assign stars to songs.  You can like or dislike a song.  This is something I probably should have been seeing and agree with McNear’s thoughts that this is a continuation of efforts to move people to Apple Music.  It’s binary nature makes it nice as a tool to feed more data to music matching algorithms, but it certainly is not useful in any meaningful way to those who want to easily visual their thoughts on particular songs, albums or artists.  I’m not an engineer or software designer, but it seems like Apple certainly could have incorporated the star system into its algorithms.  My only guess is that 2 choices is either to program than 5?

The silver lining in McNear’s article was a comment indicating that the star ratings were coming back to iOS in the next release, though it would be an option that would have to be turned on.  Hope that is the case!

The second reason for this post is that we recently had two more musician deaths.  One, Leonard Cohen died at the age of 82, having put out music as recently as last month and a career spanning six decades.  That’s an impressive career.  I’ll admit I’m not really qualified to say much about his music, he’s just a musician that got missed by me over the years.  To the extent that I have listened to him, I’ve almost always liked it even though it often seems to be more on the melancholy side.

The second recent death is Sharon Jones. This was hits a little harder for me. Since first seeing them in an early afternoon slot on a side stage at VirginFest in 2008(?), I have been telling people to check out both her albums and live shows. After going to enough shows you can usually tell when an act has got that ephemeral “it” and she and her band, the Dap Kings, owned the stage that day and had everyone dancing. I saw her at a NYE concert at the 930 Club which was a blast and once in LA after she had seemingly beaten the cancer she was fighting.

Like her label mate Charles Bradley, she has a irrepressible energy and a genuine appreciation for her fans that you can feel when you saw her live. She had the pipes to go with it, and a tight band that matched her energy.  I have all of her albums except 2005’s Naturally, and here are her songs I rate 5 stars if you want to start to dig into her music or get a nice playlist of some of solid soul/funk songs:

  • I Learned The Hard Way from I Learned The Hard Way
  • Money from I Learned The Hard Way (I’ve written about this song before)
  • I’ll Still be True from I Learned The Hard Way
  • Got A Thing On My Mind from Dap-Dippin’ With…
  • Pick It Up, Lay It In The Cut from Dap-Dippin’ With…
  • Now I See from Give The People What They Want
  • 100 Days, 100 Nights from 100 Days, 100 Nights
  • How Long Do I Have To Wait from Daptone 7 Inch Singles Collection, Vol. 2 (an instrumental but too damn good to ignore)

It will certainly be a bummer not to see “Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings” come up on a list of local shows and get excited.  But, I’ll have a lot of good memories and good music to remember her by.

Quick Hit or Miss – ATCQ’s We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service

November 16, 2016

we_got_it_from_here_thank_you_for_your_serviceI’ll admit I was skeptical when I heard the rave reviews of Tribe’s new album.  When a legendary group puts something out after such a long absence, critics usually take one of two paths:  savaging the new material as not living up to the old stuff or a triumphant return to form.  I became less skeptical when I saw no drop off in the comments from friends.  Now having listened to the album a few times, I’m going to join in and proclaim this one a Hit.

The album starts off on fire with several tracks that could work their way into a top 10-15 ATCQ track list for me and I think this album might possibly move ahead of their debut in my personal rankings of their albums.

I was trying to pinpoint how to describe the difference between the sound of “classic” Tribe and this album.   It boils down to this: the “classic” albums, particularly Low End, have a laser-focused consistency that was comforting. You knew you were getting a fat boom-bap beat coupled with sweet jazz samples.  And all was good.

The new album certainly retains most of the boom-bap anchor and there’s still some jazz style, but it spreads into other areas not really explored before in the classics. Electric guitars (We The People and several Jack White shreds on the latter third of the album ),more collage-style samples (opener Space Program), and  some R&B (Enough!!) to name a few. This could be a disaster, but I think it mostly works and is a more interesting listen than if they just tried to recreate Low End.

Obviously the other element here are the raps. Both Q-Tip and Phife (R.I.P.) still bring it. And to come back after 18 years (which in hip hop years is like 50 I think if my math is right) with the same mix of dexterous wordplay, humor and braggadocio is special. Never one to shy from confrontation with social issues, and they realized in 2015-16 stakes is high, they come right out the gate with some of their most political songs ever.

They bring along more guests than on the classics, though nothing hits Scenario heights. Speaking of, Busta Rhymes is all over this and I have nothing bad to say about that; he can still hype up a track with the best of them. Andre 3000 makes a few appearances and he remains a national treasure when it comes to guest verses. And nodding to the new generation, Anderson .Paak and Kendrick Lamar, fit right in.

There’s not a bad song in the bunch, I think the last track on Disc 1, Enough!!, is probably the weakest and I won’t begrudge them for the obvious Phife tribute Lost Somebody, but I think the album’s last track, The Donald, is a more fitting tribute to him.  He (and Q-Tip) drop their final verse as A Tribe Called Quest and Phife goes down swinging, ready to take on all comers: “No doubt, I’mma set it, dudes best be ready/off top on the spot, no reading from your Blackberry/Leave the iPhones home, skill sets must be shown/i’mma show the real meaning of the danger zone.”

Leave you with a link to a guy who gets it, jamming to album highlight We The People…

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You Call That a Shuffle?

August 2, 2016

New day, dif shuffle:

  1. The Exciters, Bring It Home To Me from Bring It Home To Me 7″. Three Stars.  A LatinAmerican soul band’s cover of the 1962 Sam Cooke song.  The keyboards and strings of the original get replaced with horns and the pace is slightly slowed down, but otherwise a pretty faithful cover.  Including the fact that both the original and this version are a B-side.  The problem is the Exciters don’t have Sam Cooke, and they don’t have Lou Rawls singing backup.  Given the song is really about the voices, it’s better to just stick with the original.
  2. Black Star, Respiration from Black Star. Five Stars.  Take two NYC MCs, Mos Def and Talib Kweli, at the top of their game, joining forces to create a hell of a late 90s NY hip hop album that features several great songs, including this one all the way at the back end of the album.  Producer Hi Tek takes a tiny snippet of Don Randi’s “The Fox” and transforms it into a beat that really captures the beautiful quiet melancholy of a late night in NYC as the city takes a short breath to recover from another bustling day.  Both Mos Def and Talib Kweli show their reverence for their city as well as frustration with some of the aspects of the city. The line “the shiny Apple is bruised but sweet” that Mos Def delivers is a good encapsulation of that duality. The two rappers have similar styles though Kweli delivers a faster staccato verse than Def here. Common, not a household name at the time, guests for the third verse and spits similar thoughts on his hometown of Chicago.  As the title implies, the MCs see their cities as a living organism and the poetic chorus nails it: “I can’t take it, y’all, I can feel the city breathing/Chest heaving, against the flesh of the evening/Sigh before we die like the last train leaving.”This is such a better NYC-banner rap song than that trash Empire State of Mind.  The Flying High remix by Pete Rock is almost as good as the original, check it out too.
  3. Can, I Want More, from Flow Motion. Three Stars. Can was always a band I read about as influencing a lot of modern music, but until recently I had not taken the time to listen to them. They are definitely an interesting band and I like a lot of what I’ve heard but this song just doesn’t do much for me. It ditches some of their heavier grooves for a more light synth driven beat. The breakdown that ditches (most of) the synth/piano for a funky guitar and bass redeems the song a little but then we get back to the main theme which veers too close to cheese for my taste.  Maybe due to that sound, it was their highest charting single in the UK.

Breathin’ in deep city breaths, sitting’ on shitty steps:

You Call That A Shuffle?

July 19, 2016

The shuffler was getting a little dusty from neglect and apparently it was also a little rusty as this one is a little lackluster, but you can’t win ’em all:

  1. Pop Will Eat Itself, Shortwave Transmission On “Up To The Minuteman Nine, from This Is The Day…This Is The Hour…This is This! Three stars. A filler track at just over a minute long, there’s not much to this track.  The dubby drum fills are nice, but otherwise this is mainly some sampled voice tracks spliced together over a basic beat.  PWEI hasn’t particularly aged well (this album is from 1989), but I still have a soft spot for them as they were an early introduction to sample-based/industrial electronic music.
  2. Guns N’ Roses, Sympathy For The Devil, from Greatest Hits.  Three stars.  I’m usually a sucker for covers, especially when an artist takes something familiar and puts a twist on the original or takes a song and reconstructs it to make it their own.  This is neither, it’s a by-the-numbers rote recitation.  Compared to the original, it’s flat and boring.  And, it’s over a minute longer!  There’s certainly much more you could do to butcher an original, so it’s not offensive, but based on some other covers they’ve released this is disappointing.
  3. Cults, TV Dream, from Static.  Three stars. Another track at just over a minute long.  For a band that relies somewhat regularly on a slow buildup and/or guitar grooves, a minute long song doesn’t give much time for either of those and this song just meanders for a minute.  It doesn’t act as a great transition piece between the songs before and after it so not sure what the band was thinking what purpose this track would serve.  Singer Madeline Follin has a sweet voice though, so the track is not unlistenably bad.  They, like GNR, are just capable of so much more.

Quick Hit or Miss – Catch Up Edition

July 18, 2016

I mentioned in my last post that I had some albums I wanted to write about. Here’s a few newish albums and my hit or miss thoughts:

A_Moon_Shaped_Pool

1. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool. To cut to the chase, this is a Hit. Radiohead seems they can put out a cohesive and musically interesting album in their sleep. This goes in the top half of their canon for me, though it’s not without its small faults. Radiohead could always put out songs that had soaring orchestral feeling while using traditional rock instruments. Here they actually have quite a bit of real orchestration, starting with the strings in opener Burn The Witch and continuing throughout the album. It seems unnecessary in some places. My favorite track is Ful Stop with its menacing bassline and spacey effects. Identikit is also a standout and one of the more “traditional” Radiohead tracks here. And overall, even with those orchestral additions, this group of songs hews closer to earlier records than some of the more knob twiddling of recent efforts.

The_colour_in_anything_blake

2. James Blake, The Colour In Anything. I give Blake and his producers credit for putting himself up front and center in his music and he usually delivers. The skittering, clattering beats and music that back him most often take a back seat to Blake and his nice vocal range. The album has a consistent sound throughout, which works to a point. But at 17 tracks, I feel like it’s a few tracks too long. The funny thing is several of my faves are in the back half; after opener Radio Silence, my two other standouts are  tracks 11 (I Need A Forest Fire with Justin Vernon) and track 15 (Modern Soul).  I’d give it a qualified Hit.

Human_Performance_(Front_Cover)

3. Parquet Courts, Human Performance. They still have a sense of humor; opener Dust becomes the go-to indie rock song to sweep to. They still can tell a good story in the span of a 3-4 minute song. They still hold the stranglehold on being the NYC-est rock band out there. They still throw in a few curveball weirdo songs. They are America’s Kinks. So, yeah, Hit.

Big_black_coat

4. Junior Boys, Big Black Coat. Mostly synth pop harkening back to the 80s with  a few dalliances into house music, this is a fun album. They get a little dark and serious to keep this from getting monotonous. Opener You Say That and album closer Big Black Coat are my two favorite songs, the latter being one of my most played of the year so far.  I give this one a Hit.

A Different Kind of Map (and a Fun Time Waster)

June 27, 2016

Been awhile since I posted. I have a backlog of albums I’ve been listening to that I want to put some words down on, but before I get to those I wanted to let you know about a great little site I recently found out about.  Every Noise at Once has a singular purpose: to map out musical genres to aid your exploration of music.  Currently it stands at 1491 unique genres that map to Spotify genres.  The home page displays the genres as a word map and it certainly seems overwhelming.  You can click on a genre to hear a representative sample of the genre.  Click on the arrow that appears when you hover over a genre and a new page will open with a map of the artists in that genre.

You can also view the genres in a list and sort by a handful of filters.  So, if you wanted to find some super fast music, explore Neurostep and Darkstep.  A Spotify playlist will appear that will allow you to find out what Neurostep and Darkstep are; I had no ideas these were genres.  You can also search by an artist to find out what genres are associated with it.  I put in Portishead and it came up with the following genres: chamber pop, electronic, laboratorio, and trip hop.   Having never heard of laboratorio, I’ll go back to that genre and see what other bands come up.

It definitely seems like an interesting way to explore new music or just a good mind-veg while you’re sitting on your train or bus.  Also, as someone who spends probably way to much time organizing my online musical collection by genre, it will be a nice tool to help with that exercise.

Here is the link to the site: http://everynoise.com/engenremap.html

And here’s a nice little backstory from creator Glenn McDonald on the project: http://blog.echonest.com/post/52385283599/how-we-understand-music-genres

By The Numbers: Purple Rain by Prince

April 26, 2016

I did this a few months ago and it seemed like an appropriate time to take back a look at Prince’s 1984 classic, Purple Rain.  My rankings of the individual songs on this album make it one of the few albums where every song has either a four or five star rating.  Not surprising given the album’s status as Prince’s masterpiece, but it does makes it harder to rank the songs.  Basically, we’re dealing with two tiers and you could ask ten Prince fans to do this and you’d probably get ten different combinations, though I have a feeling the top 3 would be the three I chose in some order.

In re-listening to the entire album a bunch of times in the past week, I was struck by the variety of musical styles that the album offers (sometimes within one song), which may explain some of its appeal.  There’s something here for fans of a bunch of different genres, even though it’s often labeled a “pop” album.  He certainly took some chances with this record and the fact that there are no mis-steps or even “average” tunes makes this album even more impressive.  The other thing I noticed was that the sequencing and transitions between songs is marvelous. I certainly think this is an album to be heard in one sitting and I certainly wouldn’t reorder it to match my rankings below.

9. Track 7, I Would Die for U (four stars).  The “worst” song on the album is also its shortest by over a minute. This song is held together by a drum machine beat that holds together the arrangement. Piano, synths, handclaps and snare hits emerge during the chorus, but surrender to the drum machine during Prince’s first two verses. The chorus make it seem like this is Prince singing to a girlfriend/lover and professing that he would die for her. But the rest of the lyrics make it more likely this is God (or Prince on behalf of a higher being) singing to the collective us. “I’m something you’ll never understand”, “if you’re evil I’ll forgive you” and “I’m your messiah” are all not too subtle hints.  Also a little touch that seems odd but works. In the chorus, instead of going right from “darling if you want me to” to “I would die for you” as I’d expect most artists would, he throws in an extra “you” in front of the kicker line that emphasizes that he’s ready to die for YOU. Overall, a very good synth-pop song.

8. Track 2, Take Me With U (four stars).   Was Prince foreseeing Twitter and texting with his insistence on shortening “you” to “U” in his song titles?  Probably.  This tune starts with a slightly ominous synth and tom tom barrage that could have been score music for a dramatic scene in a Miami Vice episode. But instead of a shootout, we get a love scene. A jangly tambourine introduces a song that is a piece of 60s psychedelic guitar rock ala early Beatles. String flourishes and an upbeat, sunny guitar line buoy lyrics about love and wanting to be with be with your lover no matter where they are going.  If he wasn’t such a talent at songwriting,  I could imagine Paul McCartney having given these lyrics to Prince and telling him “I know you can do something better with this than that hack MJ”.  I also love his cadence in the delivery of the chorus, it’s so damn uplifting. Nice touch at end too when he bookends the track with that same ominous intro music and then fades it out on the cheery hook one last time.

7. Track 4, Computer Blue (four stars).  Wendy and Lisa from the Revolution start with a short spoken intro that suggests something kinky is about to happen. Don’t think I’d characterize this song as kinky, but it’s the weirdest song on the album. There’s some screechy sound effects and a little synth line that sounds like it would fit right in on a Todd Terje album. It’s mostly an instrumental track that apparently was part of a larger suite that got pared down for the final album. It still retains that spirit with a middle section that is quite different than the first and last third.  There’s one verse of lyrics, with Prince bemoaning his lack of finding a lover and then cymbals start getting bashed and there’s some guitar wailing that comes to a screeching halt with a snare drum punctuation.  Then a synth brings us down into another groove that’s a little less manic.  Like the last song, he brings back in the heavy drums and guitar for one last reprise, and adds in some Prince yelps worthy of an 80s hair metal leader singer.

6. Track 8, Baby I’m A Star (four stars).  This was the B-side to Take Me With You.  Obviously I like this song better.  This is the closest approximation to some of his earlier hits (say 1999) and the most obvious funk/R&B track on the record and has the feel of a Sly and the Family Stone track.  It’s high tempo throughout, building and building to a horn (which may actually be done with a synth) and synth breakdown and Prince yelping “baby”.  Musically, this sounds like what Mark Ronson was trying to recreate with Uptown Funk.  Lyrically, it’s a pretty straightforward piece about becoming a star, the chorus probably pretty accurately summing up Prince’s prescience  about what was coming with this album, “You might not know it now, baby, but I are, I’m a star/I don’t wanna stop til’ I reach the top.”

5. Track 3, The Beautiful Ones (four stars).  A good example of the genre-blending I mentioned at the top.  This one starts out as the slow jam of the record, with a plinky piano line and velvety synth and some sultry singing from Prince.  Here Prince is playing the one pining for an unrequited love, “don’t my kisses please you right/you were hard to find/the beautiful ones, they hurt you every time”.  Two verses later, he tells her he’s in love with her and asks “if we got married/wouldn’t that be cool?” though the last line he breaks from his falsetto and delivers it in a deadpan, but desperate questioning tone.  Then, the synths start twisting and swirling, giving off an eerie, definitely non-romantic vibe.  Prince is now screaming “do you want him, do you want me, cause I want you” and now there’s a guitar line that’s crept in and the drums are picking up and Prince is now acting as front man for a rock band.  I have to think Axl Rose was taking notes when he heard this.  And then the song dies out into nothingness, as unrequited love is wont to do.

4. Track 5, Darling Nikki (five stars).  This song rises just above the songs already mentioned, but I don’t think is generally mentioned in the same breadth as the three songs left.  Here, Prince’s desires do not go unrequited.  The song matter-of-factly starts with an introduction to Nikki, “I guess you could say she was a sex fiend” and Prince finds her in a hotel lobby “masturbating with a magazine”.  Next thing you know, Prince is back at her castle and after signing some paperwork “Nikki started to grind”.  The music is sing-songy guitar and mellow drums while he sings, and then erupts with crashing cymbal and guitar riffs between verses.  Soft-loud-soft (Pixies anyone?).  Then the double bass drums kick in, a hard synth rises to the front of the mix and a nasty little guitar solo.  The most overtly metal moment on the album.  Then, a weird little outro with some backwards looped vocals that resemble chanting monks and rain sound effects, perhaps denoting the religious experience of being with Nikki?

3. Track 6, When Doves Cry (five stars).  Here’s where we get into the really tough choices. How could this only be the third best song on an album?  Following up the oozing sexiness of Darling Nikki, he goes right in on a guitar solo and settles into a groove made entirely with synth and drums.  To match the subject matter of the lyrics, the entire vibe of the song has a pall over it even as it tries to make you dance.  For such a popular song, the lyrics are some serious stuff.  Prince laments about repeating the mistakes of his parents with his current mate, too bold and never satisfied, and is left standing alone in the cold world.  The lyrics also conjure some great imagery.  The chorus is obviously one, but the verse “dream if you can a courtyard/an ocean of violets in bloom/animals strike curious poses/ they feel the heat/the heat between me and you” is vivid and tangible. The prolonged outro has Prince lamenting through his guitar and assorted wails and grunts, part Jimi Hendrix, part James Brown.

2. Track 9, Purple Rain (five stars).  This is an epic ballad.  You know the lyrics, you’ve sung the chorus out loud in the shower, with your friends, or at a karaoke bar.  You know the guitar solo.  There’s a deliberate slowness to everything about the song, his vocals have an echo, the guitar and drums don’t ever really gain tempo.  After several other songs have shown, you expect Purple Rain to erupt into something different, whether it’s style or speed.  He stays the course here on both accounts.  Snare hits, cymbal crashes, the guitar riffs, and the vocals feel like they are fighting the reins that Prince is putting on the song, and since they can’t go faster, they all just get more intense.

1. Track 1, Let’s Go Crazy (five stars).  The iconic opening song that dramatically sets the stage for the rest of the album.  Beginning with that organ and Prince preaching to his listeners.  It’s basically an album opening skit, a bold move in that skits, as countless hip hop albums have shown, are almost always annoying and break up the flow of an album.  Here, it fits thematically and musically the transition from that organ line to that drum beat and the song proper is sublime.  When I hear this song, I feel it’s the refinement of Prince’s quest for the ultimate party song (see 1999), though it seems Prince’s ultimate time to party appears to be at the end of the world.  The funkiness of 1999 is replaced with a hard-charging rocker that still gets you dancing with a chorus getting to the crux of having a good time “let’s go crazy, let’s go nuts.”  If you happened onto the song as the guitar solo hits, you might think you’re listening to Eddie Van Halen going to town on a VH tune.  I definitely remember rocking out in my room as a ten year old kid whenever I heard this song on the radio.  Thirty-some years later and it still makes me feel like that ten year old, which I think is what Prince would have wanted.

There you have it.  My take on Prince’s classic.  Given Prince’s vigilant  protection of his copyright rights, this video probably won’t be up for long, but here’s a video apparently from the Purple Rain tour of Let’s Go Crazy.  If it’s gone by the time this post is up, do yourself a favor and listen to the whole album.