2001 / Music

Review: May’s Record Review Roundup: Veterans Present Latest Efforts

Stevie Nicks, Nick Cave And Others Have New Albums

May’s batch of new releases from veteran artists brings into question the maxim of “respect your elders”.

While several of these albums show that their creators have seen better days, some others prove who’s daddy (or who’s mommy, as the case may be).

Read The Reviews: Stevie Nicks | Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds | The Bicycle Thief | Run DMCMark EitzelThe Band

Stevie Nicks “Trouble In Shangri-La”

For most people, once they feel they’ve developed a look that suits them, they stick with it.

Photo: Reprise Records

Photo: Reprise Records

In both her fashion and songwriting, Stevie Nicks has adhered to her witchy woman persona since the ’70s. If she had her way, we’d all be a whole lot more mystical … and billowy. (Here’s a woman addressing our spirituality back when Oprah was just a local news anchor.)

On her new album, the former and once again current Fleetwood Mac frontwoman is still cool-ly singing her songs with that velvet-rasp voice — songs about priestesses and sorcerers as well as love and enlightenment.

She sounds great, but the album — her first since the early ’90s — is a let down. Couldn’t she conjure up anything else with all that downtime?

There are some highlights where the elegant, swaying melodies transcend the bland lyrics. Even the guest stars that pop up occasionally — Lindsey Buckingham, Sarah McLachlan, a couple of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers and Macy Gray — don’t really help. Their contributions stay mostly un-emphasized.

The shining exception is the pair of tracks produced by Sheryl Crow. “Candlebright” has Nick’s voice richly slithering around the verses between the lofty interplay of piano and mandolin. Nick’s and Crow’s tight vocal harmonies during the chorus are intense words of warning and burning devotion, “I’ve been with you before/I’ll be with you again.”

The plodding guitar at the beginning of “Sorcerer” sets up the chorus’s sweep that features a blend of ornate vocals, pumping drums and a quavering guitar (or is it a keyboard?). An added bonus is the song’s picturesque words (“all around black ink darkness”), which are the album’s lone grasp back into Nick’s more descriptive work from her “Gold Dust Woman” past.

And as the number of female guest stars on this album attests to, they have come to pay homage to a singer-songwriter who can still hit the mark … sometimes.

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Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “No More Shall We Part”

“No More Shall We Part” is not a happy record, but that’s not to say Nick Cave’s noir look at love and the world isn’t a great listen. Prepare yourself for a mope-a-thon with plenty of lyrical flourishes.

This record is dark without stooping to using a howling guitar or having ghouls inhabit its lyrics. Instead, the melancholic feeling comes from the sparse, droning melodies that accompany the strange, frank conversations between the “every man” characters. Who needs the supernatural when dysfunction can be just as terrifying in your own bedroom?

The murmur of a string section and stark piano chords form the basis of most of “No More Shall We Part.” Knit throughout each piece is Cave’s mid-toned voice, which sounds like a desperate plea.

While the music and vocals stress restraint, the lyrics are imaginative but common enough in their imagery to appear ordinary.

The hovering music of “As I Sat Sadly By Her Side” is full of string-laden tension, but is continually interrupted by Cave’s detailed-filled story of a couple who operate with differing conceptions about life.

“Hallelujah” is a verbose incantation mired in a slow-motion, string-filled rhythm and although it goes on forever, that isn’t so bad. Cave’s vivid words capture the story of a lonely invalid rebelling against authority while on the run. (My favorite line: “I’d watch the rain claw at the glass”) With the sparse melody tittering forward, Cave stays a step ahead and strains to fit all the verses in, sometimes spilling over into the next line’s space.

On a rainy day, this record can be your best friend or your tormentor. I trust that you’ll listen to it with the proper respect.

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The Bicycle Thief “You Come And Go Like A Pop Song”

A mainstay of the L.A. rock scene since the early ’80s, singer Bob Forrest saw his friends in the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction hit the big time while his band, Thelonious Monster, wallowed in local cult status and was plagued by drug abuse and incessant breakups.

Two decades later, Forrest has a new band, The Bicycle Thief, a terrific new album, “You Come And Go Like A Pop Song,” and a reject’s critical eye of American society and himself.

Although on first listen, the record owes most of its snarl to garage rock, the music is rife with infectious choruses and clever wordplay.

For most of the album, Forrest aims his wit at us — how we interact, what we crave, our ignorance and self-centeredness. “Trust Fund Girl” centers on consumerism. “Max, Jill Called” delves into superficiality. “LA Country (Hometown Blues)” is a somber stab at the Hollywood star machine (“It might seem pretty from way far away”).

Forrest’s Bon Scott-like voice prances through a haze of crunching guitar melodies, delivering his truth fearlessly, like he’s a sarcastic news anchor.

Of course, with a memorable chorus of “Let’s just get stoned and watch TV,” the fuzz guitar-riddled “Stoned” could’ve become a cross-generational slacker anthem if the narrator didn’t have the initiative to ask why apathy keeps growing, spreading from him to his son.

But just when you’d think this is an outsider’s playful protest album, Forrest unleashes some shots that might stem from his own choices. Amid layers of guitar cross-talk, “Off Street Parking” has him in relationship trouble, bemoaning, “I feel horrible/But I got what I wanted.”

On the slow-burning “Cereal Song,” Forrest takes on his and his friends’ encounters with bad habits. Featuring a frenzied solo from Chili Pepper guitarist John Frusciante, lines like, “Just what has it gotten me?/ Just some teeth that I can’t chew my favorite cereal with” would be amusing if they didn’t hint at the truth. (According to reports, Frusciante’s smack habit in the ’90s resulted in the loss of his teeth.)

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Run-DMC “Crown Royal”

“Crown Royal” should be flushed.

Yes, Run-DMC are living legends and deserve respect — but not for this album.

“Crown Royal” is another attempt by Arista Records to pull artists from a creative no-man’s land by using today’s hottest stars on every track (a la Santana). As you’d expect, this makes for a schizophrenic listen, making yet another problem for a record that lives large on boasts but comes up short on substance.

Although “Crown Royal” begins and ends as a rap album with semi-decent beats, the middle of the record is hijacked in a cliché-filled rock direction by Third Eye Blind’s Stephan Jenkins, Kid Rock and Sugar Ray.

“Take The Money And Run” is the worst. The rapping is oddly reminiscent of Boogie Down Production’s “Love’s Gonna Get You” while the music is liberated from the Steve Miller Band. The special guest is Everlast lamely croaking through the chorus.

Honorable mentions go to Nas and Prodigy of Mobb Deep, who rescue “Queens Day” from being a complete loss.

And where’s DMC? He’s hardly on the album at all. Run’s vocals are the only evidence that this rap/rock “Love Boat” episode is a Run-DMC record.

Most of the rhymes are devoted to arguing that the entire rap world (and even Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock) owe everything to Run-DMC, and in a way they’re right. “I’m the reason you started rhyming,” Run raps.

But after awhile, it gets old. In Run-DMC’s clamoring for all the accolades and kudos they’re due, Run and company make no mention of the unique talents that made their hip-hop progeny successful.

Run-DMC’s stamp on all of hip-hop is unmistakable, but “Crown Royal” only stains their legacy.

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Mark Eitzel “The Invisible Man”

“The Invisible Man” is so subdued that you might miss all the bounties that it could offer.

The voice of the former American Music Club frontman is so static that it becomes a drone, daring you to tune out. And if you do, you’d miss the musical subtleties and narrative lyrics.

Eitzel uses his weapons sparingly and wisely. “The Boy With The Hammer In The Paper Bag” has a heart-beat rhythm that imitates the themes for “Shaft” and “Superfly” without being garish. Next, Eitzel unleashes a flood of lyrical images on “Can You See?” that proves hypnotic. Or there’s the duel vocals over a “Dear Prudence” rhythm on the exquisite “Christian Science Reading Room.”

When the finale comes along, Eitzel gives us a tune that we can all sing along to, the boisterous “Proclaim Your Joy.” It’s a folk hootenanny with dreamy guitars and a keyboard covering the bassline.

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The Band “Rock of Ages,” “Moondog Matinee,” “Northern Lights — Southern Cross,” “Islands”

The history of the Band is a tale with two parts. The first is the Cinderella story of the group’s early years: Their journey from road-hardened bar band to becoming Bob Dylan’s backup group and then the success they achieved on their own as the Band.

However, the second installment was a tragedy that’s a sad rock’n’roll cliché.

 

Last year, Capitol Records sought to set the record straight and revamp the Band’s catalog, re-releasing the outfit’s first four studio albums along with new liner notes and plenty of bonus material. Now that they’ve released the final four albums, they’ve completed their mission.

Although each album has dramatically improved in appearance and sound quality (and then there’s the extra cuts), most of these later records continue to be as lackluster as they were in the ’70s.

The Band in the mid- to late 1970s was an outfit in decline. If the group had once been lauded by Time magazine as “the one group whose sheer fascination and musical skill may match the excellence … of the Beatles,” escalating problems with drugs, booze, road-weariness and songwriting disputes had taken their toll. In these years, their brand of country-soul and rural image became more slick and less soulful.

The real jewel of the final reissues is “Rock of Ages.” Touted as one of the greatest live rock albums, this new version has an extra disc of six new songs missing from the original double album plus the group’s brief set with surprise guest, Dylan.

“Rock of Ages” was culled from several New York concerts around New Year’s Eve 1971-72, in which the group ran through familiar songs augmented by a horn section.

 

Even though the Band played well-worn renditions of these songs, the record does capture some magical performances, like drummer-singer Levon Helm’s pained yelp on the “Don’t Do It” or guitarist Robbie Robertson and singer-pianist Richard Manuel trading licks on “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever.” In fact, although Manuel’s voice is a shadow of its former self on “Rock of Ages,” his manic piano playing never sounded better.

The inclusion of Dylan’s guest appearance rights a longstanding wrong. Although fans knew he played at the concert, he was absent from the record — his picture on the album’s jacket was a tease.

Loose, spirited and forceful, Dylan and the Band try a funky take on “Down In The Flood.” A wobbly “Don’t Ya Tell Henry” features a marvelous duet between Dylan and Helm. This “Like A Rolling Stone” might be the combo’s definitive reading of the song, apart from their performances in 1965-66.

“Moondog Matinee” was collection of R&B and soul covers that steer toward a glossier sound rather than harnessing any sense of passion. The record now features five new covers, including the rocking “Going Back To Memphis,” and a punchy Robertson original, “Endless Highway.”

“Northern Lights – Southern Cross” was proclaimed as a return to the Band’s glory days, but it truly wasn’t. Despite a trio of great songs, the rest sounded like filler. The two bonus tracks, early stabs at “Twilight” and “Christmas Must Be Tonight,” don’t really add anything here.

“Islands,” the group’s final album has endured the reputation as the Band’s most pitiful record and it’s still under-whelming. This album’s try at “Christmas Must Be Tonight” could be the only sparkle. The reissue’s inclusion of the single version of “Twilight” provides new support to this clunker.

Sadly, writer Rob Bowman’s liner notes repeat the mistake of the first four reissues. Although insightful (and missing the typos of the earlier reissues), Bowman sticks to Robertson’s version of events and uses only him for most of his information.

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Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 2001 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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