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Friday, March 29, 2013


BAD RELIGION - True North (Epitaph)

On album number 16 Bad Religion proves to still be one of the most vital and engaging punk bands making records, with more power and relevance than band's half their age.

True North is the most vital album from Bad Religion in almost 20 years (1994's Stranger than Fiction being the last Bad Religion album I've loved start-to-finish). Everything I love about the band is represented here in force: giant melodies, relentless energy, aggressive guitars, a pummeling rhythm section, hyper-intelligent lyrics, and those well placed backing "oooh-oh" vocals (Bad Religion are second only to Naked Raygun in harnessing the power of "whoah-oh" harmonies).

This is a record that only Bad Religion could make. They don't stray far from the template they've mastered over the years, but this time everything is a bit sharper and more on point. They sound totally recharged and determined to deliver one of the strongest records of their career. Which they succeed at.

They've stripped the arrangements to the essentials and brought the song lengths back down to their more economical punk roots (only one of the 16 songs breaks the 3 minute mark). About the only frill or luxury is the triple guitar assault of Brett Gurewitz, Greg Hetson, and Brian Baker. And that guitar line is about as perfect as punk rock guitar gets. The production is clean and uncluttered, which only highlights even more how incredibly the band really is. Only Bad Religion can get away with their level of vocabulary punk intellectualism and make it sound natural.

This is an exciting and ferocious album from a band that sounds absolutely rejuvenated without stepping outside of their comfort zone.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


JOHNNY MARR - the Messenger (Sire/Ada February 26, 2013)

After more than two decades of side projects and hired gun sessions Johnny Marr finally steps into the frontman role with a diverse collection of songs that showcase his guitar and songwriting chops.

Hearing how effortless Johnny Marr's first official solo album feels it seems odd to that it took him twenty five years after the Smiths break-up to get around to making it. The Messenger is diverse and wide reaching in it's styles, which could make it sound like a compilation rather than an actual album. But the cohesive songwriting and performances along with excellent sequencing make it work as a whole album. A whole album with a lot of potential singles. This isn't one of those record where you can call out the two or three best songs, it's loaded with strong songs.

The record has a youthful energy to it, but is crafted in a way that only a skilled veteran could pull off. Marr touches on points throughout his entire career, offering hints at other songs without ever sounding he's trying replicate a particular reference. Along with the Smiths, Electronic, and the Healers he served briefly in The The, Modest Mouse, and the Cribs. Plus as a session player he's worked with an impressive range of talents, including Talking Heads, Edwyn Collins, Billy Bragg, Tom Jones, Kirsty MacColl, Bryan Ferry, Pretenders, and Pet Shop Boys. Obviously Marr took notes over the years, cherry picking skills and processes to be used at a future date.

No one needs to reminded of what a great guitarist Marr is - he's proven himself many times with both incredibly large riffs as well as a subtly and restraint that many of the guitar heroes lack. As a songwriter he's been properly vetted in the past, but here he really gets to stand on his own and prove once and for all that he has mastered the entire songwriting process. I've seen some disparaging comments about the vocals, which I don't get. The vocals aren't necessarily dynamic, but they're strong enough that I had to check the credits and verify that it was him singing and not a "professional" vocalist.

This is one of my most played albums of the year so far, and as we go into Summer I only see those plays getting more frequent. If you're looking for bright jangly Britpop loaded with infectious melodies the Messenger is the place to start. This is the record that Smiths fans have been waiting for for many years. But it's so much more than that.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


GODFATHERS - Jukebox Fury (Godfathers' Recordings)

The first studio album in 17 years from Godfathers hints at past glories, but unfortunately misses the mark.

Godfathers songs have always sounded huge. Even when the songs themselves aren't quite so grand, they rose above thanks to the passion of the music and the conviction of vocalist Peter Coyne. For a few years in the late 80's they were one of London's most powerful bands, thanks in part to the duel guitar attack of Kris Dollimore and Michael Gibson. By the mid 90's they had lost some of their edge, but still made compelling records that sadly many people never heard (or even knew about). Then they called it quits.

The band reformed in various lineups for some shows before finally settling on a lineup for their return to the studio. The only remaining members of the classic lineup are Peter Coyne on vocals and brother Chris on bass. In an inspired bit of self referential nostalgia, they've brought in the guitarist from their pre-Godfathers band, Sid Presley Experience. The band sounds energized, with Coyne's vocal snarl just as menacing as it was twenty years earlier and the hard edged R&B riffs are solid with some ripping guitar. But despite some promising moments, the album feels hollow. They have all the right ingredients for a great Godfathers record, but despite the best of intentions it didn't quite gel. Rather than a stellar return, they ended up with a record that sounds like a collection of More Songs About Love & Hate and Unreal World b-sides.