Tuesday, May 15, 2007

In The Changer: C Notes

It's been a while since I've written my semi-regular feature, "In the Changer," in which I assess cd's that have been in heavy rotation. At some point, once I have finished downloading all of my cd's I may forego the seeming anachronism of reviewing whole albums. But for now, I'll proudly remain something of a dinosaur. This edition is brought to you by the letter "C."

Cat Power: The Greatest: Do you remember Mazzy Star? They were a 90s band that relied on slow, lush sonics and a lugubrious lead singer. To most minds, Hope Sandoval was Mazzy Star. Well, my ears tell me that Cat Power is to Mazzy Star as Chan Marshall is to Hope Sandoval. But better. The momentum comes less from what qualifies as uptempo than from the internal impetus that derives from the lead singer. This is mood music for the moody. B+

Ray Charles: The Best of Ray Charles - The Atlantic Years: We all know from the Jamie Fox biopic that Ray Charles was bad motherfucker. Listening to these recordings reminds me of the fluidity of music at a certain point in the last century in which what emerged was not quite rock, though it rocked; not quite blues, but definitely bluesy; not quite soul, though damn, it was soulful; and not really jazz, although without jazz it would not exist. Charles' music represents both an intersection of and in some ways a rejection of the pigionholes of genre. His piano riffs and his voice pour out effortlessly and his lyrics represent a constant come on. Jamie Fox's mimicry, however brilliant, could not quite capture Ray Charles in all of his complexity because Ray Charles was sui generis, and thus fundamentally uncapturable. A-

Coldplay: X&Y: Gather a bunch of rock snobs together and mention Coldplay. Nothing will divide the room more quickly. The hipper the snob the more disdainful they will be about Chris Martin's band. The disdain is more the stuff of reaction than substance, a sort of tautological mishmash that ends up amounting to the fact that they hate Coldplay because they hate Coldplay. Me? I love Coldplay. Not top-five band of all time type-love, but love nonetheless. Maybe it's my sympathy toward Britpop. Maybe it is the fact that I am a sucker for a gripping melody in the midst of rock's sturm and drang. Maybe it's their ability to mix the plaintive with the propulsive. Or maybe I'm just not that hip. (Though I think I'm still sort of cool. Is that a distinction without a difference?) X&Y does not quite hit the highs of its predecessors, which is no insult in light of the transcendant heights those albums attained. I loved 2000's Parachute from the outset, but its place in my musical biography was assured on a long drive from Washington, DC to the Deep South for a research trip during January 2001. The old beater that I rented had only a cassette player, and I copied my cd of Parachutes to go along with a shoebox of tapes. I was in the midst of what would prove to be a tangled break-up with my live-in girlfriend and that tape pretty much carried me to the grimly sublime melancholy state that we all enter when a breakup is pending. 2002's A Rush of Blood to the Head lacks the autobiographical element and had to rely merely on being a nearly perfect pop rock album. X&Y (I'm leaving out a discussion of their 2003 live album) is in its way less showy, quieter, takes longer to absorb. Martin's obscurantist lyrics are front and center with his piano just behind, but as always the guitars cascade and soar and crash, the melodies collide with the bass and drums, and for an hour or so I can forget that CMart and Gwyneth named their kid "Apple." I'm not hip, I guess, but I also do not buy the Coldplay backlash. A-

Jim Croce: Classic Hits: Jim Croce wrote two types of songs. He wrote catchy, white-boy blues numbers redolent of rockabilly about roller derby queens and bad men, the baddest man in the whole damned town-type bad, don't pull on Superman's Cape, don't piss in the wind bad, except they are not that bad once you peel away the layers (or once they hustle people strange to them or mess with the wife of a jealous man). His is a world of lowlifes and hustlers and working class heroes who toil in car washes and race stock cars and shoot pool. Jim Croce also wrote ballads. The sorts of ballads that would make a man like Bad (Bad) Leroy Brown or Jim (with whom you don't mess around) regret their missteps and their lost loves. Some of these ballads are very good -- "Operator (That's Not the Way it Feels)" and "Time in a Bottle" probably have worn the treacle best over time -- and some of them are not so enduring. Realistically, Jim Croce, who died too young in a plane crash, probably did not write twenty great songs, but a man who can teach life lessons this good, and so many of 'em such catchy, entertaining sumbitches, well, I'll cut him some slack. B+

Crooked Fingers: Dignity and Shame: Eric Bachmann is nearly a decade into his career with Crooked Fingers, which is, for all intents and purposes, his solo project with side players. The former frontman for the late, great Archers of Loaf has parlayed his raspy voice and jangly guitar into quite a second act, F. Scott Fitzgerald notwithstanding. He has a capacious gift for melody, and as close readers have probably gleaned, I am a sucker for melody amidst the maelstrom, but maelstrom there must be. This might be the most complete Crooked Fingers album, which is more of a compliment than it probably seems, possibly because Bachmann gives himself over to his collaborators more than ever before and he embraces an abundance of styles that might seem dilettantish in less capable hands, but that instead show an artist increasingly comfortable in his skin. A beautiful indie-pop duet with Lara Meyerratken on "Call to Love" is one of many highlights on the album that shows a wizened indie-rock veteran spreading his wings. A-

The Cure: Acoustic Hits: OK. I'll admit it -- when it comes to the Cure I am one of those guys who draws the line in the sand and says that they were better back when. I'd say that you can use Disintegration as a pretty good demarcation point. After that I'm not sure if I think Robert Smith and company lost it a bit or I simply stopped paying attention or perhaps those two concepts are inextricably bound to one another. Whatever it is, the 80s were the Cure's golden era, and this remarkably lively acoustic overview (At the risk of record company wrath, a friend of dcat made this for me, and I believe it is one disc of two, with the other disc being the regular versions of these songs, so don't go to Amazon and try to find an album by this title) of their career shows why their old stuff is so remarkably good, and why Smith's angstful lyrics cauterized a generation of wounded proto-goths who probably got lots of wholly unironic nookie listening to "Let's Go to Bed." But the acoustic treatment also shows that maybe there is more to the new stuff than I thought. Nah. On second thought, go get their back catalogue, and feel free to stop with Disintegration. B+


Thunderstick said...

I love the Cure. Absolutely love them. It seems like most people that like them stopped listening at Disintegration and don't know why. Disintegration came out in 89 I think and until a recent release when the band reunited a couple years ago, they only came out with two more studio albums, "Wish" which would be around 92-93 and "Wild Mood Swings" in 96. Everything else released since then was either live albums or greatest hits compilations with a new track or two. While WMS is very uneven, it still has a special place in my heart as it came out a week or two before I graduated from college and being a huge Cure fan I bought it the day it came out and listened to "The 13th" over and over as I put on my shirt, tie, cap and gown that day. But if you are a fan of the Cure, it's worth it to listen to "Wish". There are 3-4 clunkers on there which keep it from greatness (I always thought the best way to listen to Cure albums, more than any other group I knew, was to go from the first song to the last song straight through--I abhor Lovesong when it comes on the radio, but listening to Disintegration straight through, I think it plays perfectly into the flow of the whole album). You don't get that with Wish, but there are some fantastic Cure songs on there such as High and A Letter to Elise.

Rich said...

Please explain your omission of C+C Music Factory. We all know its in there.

GingerM said...

Cat Power in my opinion can do no wrong. I also have The Greatest and am completely in love with Chan's amazing vocals. But my favorite album of her's is probably Moon Pix, I love Metal Heart. But when it comes to Cat Power I usually listen to her when Im in an odd mood. Usually late nights when Im home alone. Not really in the same genre as Cat Power, but you might like Jolie Holland....oh and did you ever listen to Beirut?