Funeral For A Friend, Casually Dressed (Ferret)

Funeral For A Friend - Casually Dressed Funeral For A Friend
Casually Dressed
Ferret
By: Eric Greenwood

There are few shticks in rock that I despise more than the oxymoronic sensitive tough guy; it’s just so contrived and played out. (Alex may be on fire and everything, but he’s still a total wuss.) Funeral for a Friend is the Welsh answer to mall-safe, American emo that is sugarcoated for MTV acceptance and practically begging for teenage adoration.

The production on Casually Dressed & Deep in Conversation is sickeningly slick. The guitars are overdubbed so many times that they negate themselves into a wash of the most un-rocking wall of blah imaginable, and the vocals sound like Air Supply in the verses, only to erupt into laughable screaming in the choruses. It’s a terribly embarrassing style and completely schizophrenic. The screaming is so unnecessary and out of place amidst so much lyrical sobbing: “Take a gun called hate up against your heart and pull the trigger.” It’s pure teenage dross.

The fact that the singer is wearing a Black Flag T-shirt inside the booklet is a crime against punk. There is absolutely no way this guy has ever listened to Black Flag because, if he had, he’d be way too embarrassed to be in this band. And the cover art is just abominable. It looks like a sad interpretation of the worst Pink Floyd artwork mixed with ’80s pseudo art-rock like Asia or something.

The worst part is that these songs are hooky enough to lure kids with no reference points as to what is good, but that in no way justifies its inherent scam. Admittedly, hopping on a bandwagon as lame as commercialized emo is a smart strategy for an English band, and Funeral for a Friend is the first notable export to blend right in with ubiquitous mall emo-punk like Saves the Day and Alexisonfire. This is the fake type of band you listen to when you’re 13, clueless and utterly undiscerning.

Talking Heads, The Name Of This Band Is The Talking Heads (Rhino)

Talking Heads - The Name Of This Band Is The Talking Heads Talking Heads
The Name Of This Band Is The Talking Heads
Rhino
By: Eric Greenwood

Despite the accolades for Jonathan Demme’s artsy live document of the Talking Heads’ 1984 tour, Stop Making Sense, this New York quartet has never really been given its due as a live powerhouse. This under-appreciated 1982 live album should rewrite history for those unaware. It’s remained relatively obscure for just over two decades, never having been issued on CD, in large part because of the assumption that since Stop Making Sense was such a commercial hit, it therefore filled the demand for live Talking Heads material.

Rhino Records has released this double-disc set with vastly expanded liner notes and an unbelievable additional 13 tracks. The first disc draws heavily from their first two records, Talking Heads ‘77 and More Songs About Buildings and Food, covering the band’s early years between ‘77 and ‘79, where the original quartet cemented its reputation in New York as the anti-punk’s punk, or, rather, the thinking man’s punk. The versions here destroy all studio recordings. The band is absolutely ferocious live: David Byrne’s anxious vocal ticks and nervous, stream-of-conscious affectations are practically growled here, lending more muscle to Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz’s driving rhythm section.

The second disc’s material was culled from the Remain in Light tour in 1981, where the band more than doubled in size to reproduce the music faithfully in a live setting. Talking Heads were still relatively obscure at this time, but the musical leap forward is astonishing. Famed Frank Zappa and David Bowie guitarist Adrian Belew sets fire to classics like “Life During Wartime” and “Crosseyed and Painless” with his virtuoso guitar work, and Parliament/Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell fortifies the band’s latent proclivity for funk.

The Talking Heads’ ambition and confidence is obvious throughout. No band had ever rocked with so much irony and brains. Byrne’s dryness is even evident in the album’s deadpan title. The band’s multi-dimensional facets captured by this set far better represent the sublime genius of Talking Heads than any of its studio albums alone

Mike Watt, The Secondman’s Middle Stand (Epic)

Mike Watt - The Secondman's Middle Stand Mike Watt
The Secondman's Middle Stand
Epic
By: Eric Greenwood

Whether you agree with his outspoken politics or not, it's hard to begrudge much about anyone as affable as Mike Watt. As the bassist of one of America's most revered punk bands from the early '80s, The Minutemen, Watt will carry the weight of being a legend to his grave. That grave almost came way too early when an abscess in his perineum burst in 2000, causing him such debilitating sickness that he did little but vomit and teeter on the brink of death for months.

After clawing his way back to health, Watt decided to put his hellish journey to music. The result is a self-proclaimed punk rock opera called The Second Man's Middle Stand. The album loosely follows Dante's The Divine Comedy with three distinct sections: sickness (Inferno), treatment (Purgatory), and the return to health (Paradise). It's slightly pretentious and a bit of a stretch, but Watt's always been as much an idealist as he is a romantic. And his optimistic, unsophisticated originality sways even in the face of better taste.

Musically, The Second Man's Middle Stand is thunderous and rollicking and even a little hokey with prog-tinged diversions led by an overbearing Hammond organ. It's punk only in the sense that Mike Watt says it is because there sure aren't any guitars to be found. The music ebbs and flows like carnival sounds as Watt exorcises his demons with a weary and weathered yowl. Watt's sincerity is so genuine; it's hard to dismiss some of his open-faced honesty as anything other than true grit.

Lyrically, Watt never minces words and he sure as hell doesn't gloss over the pain of his sickness, as songs like "Puked To High Heaven" and "Burstedman" will attest. It's kind of strange how often he refers to himself in the third person, but it comes across as a means of survival. He literally had to cheer himself along to stay strong. And when he finally regains his health his joy in his bass playing is impossible to stifle.

Mike Watt loves to make music. It might not be as easy on the ears as it is to flow from his fingers, but the man has a quirky charm that defies categorization.

The High Water Marks, Songs About The Ocean (Eenie Meenie)

The High Water Marks - Songs About The Ocean The High Water Marks
Songs About The Ocean
Eenie Meenie
By: Eric Greenwood

Just barely too fuzzy to be called twee, The High Water Marks straddle the line between light Elephant 6 psychedelia and the preciousness of pretty much any band on Darla. With The Apples In Stereo drummer Hilarie Sidney moving from behind the kit onto guitar and vocals, it's a surprisingly aggressive affair, but the sickly sweet boy/girl vocal interplay firmly cements its place in the indie pop domain. The fuzzed-out rocker "Good I Feel Bad" is a misleading opener. Sidney's sugarcoated voice rides the power pop guitars and charging backbeat with hooks aplenty, but, unfortunately, no other song on the album surges with such vigor. Sidney's male foil, vocalist Per Ole (Palermo), bears a striking resemblance to Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, and his deadpan delivery balances out Sidney's little girl lilt, which is the aural equivalent of eating too much cotton candy. The fact that the band calls Kentucky home may be at odds with a name like The High Water Marks (not to mention an album entitled Songs about the Ocean), but the saccharine melodies and jangly grind should divert your attention away from such trivialities. It's harmless, unaffecting pop with reference points ranging from Guided By Voices to The Beach Boys to Superchunk.

Bjork, Medulla (Elektra)

Bjork - Medulla Bjork
Medulla
Elektra
By: Eric Greenwood

Bjork’s phenomenal trajectory has been utterly uncompromising and truly visionary. There's no debating that. On paper, it may look as though Bjork is shunning commerciality and moving forward musically with her gimmicky new album, Medulla, which purports to eschew the use of traditional instrumentation in favor of using the human voice to create all of the sounds and melodies, but by limiting herself and her musical landscape so drastically she ends up compromising her art and the trust of her fans for the very first time.

Medulla is a sub-par Bjork album, despite its ballsy risk-taking; it sounds unfinished and half-baked. It’s the first album in which she has obviously digressed. I understand and respect her need to push new boundaries as her career develops, but stripping her sound of its lifeblood is self-defeating to the point of irrelevance. While the concept of building an entire album around the human voice sounds intriguing, it does not translate well here consistently enough. Bjork’s voice is unparalleled in pop music to be sure, but it is not an instrument of limitless capabilities.

This idea has been executed before- just not in such a commercial arena. But Bjork's commercial arena is sure to shrink as a result of such an experiment (I can only imagine the bewildered suits at Elektra trying to pick out a single). Notable world musicians like Sheila Chandra and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan have both played on similar voice-only themes, but they have stunning, mellifluous voices that work beyond mere human emotion to evoke sounds unfamiliar to Western ideas of music. Bjork's stuttered, guttural cadence is too recognizable to disguise itself as merely an instrument.

On Medulla's fifth song, "Oll Birtan", Bjork attempts to fulfill the promise of such an unorthodox musical venture. Diverging vocal tracks swarm around Bjork's languid melody in stark, syncopated rhythms, and it lulls you into the dense atmosphere of Bjork's isolated fantasyland. "Who Is It" is the only song with even the remotest potential to be a single. Or maybe it's the fact that it's the first song on Medulla that has a proper beat. Either way, it's classic Bjork: relentless vocal overdubs support an explosive melodic phrase, blurted out with Bjork's strange enunciations.

Medulla is too caught up in its adherence to its theme to be heralded as a success. Some of these songs beg for proper instrumentation. As it is, the songs feel stymied, limbless and muted.

The Cardigans, Long Gone Before Daylight (Stockholm / Koch)

The Cardigans - Long Gone Before Daylight The Cardigans
Long Gone Before Daylight
Stockholm / Koch
By: Eric Greenwood

After the inexplicably lukewarm reception to The Cardigans' 1998 detour into dark, atmospheric trip-hop the band all but disappeared. Vocalist Nina Persson released the country-tinged collaboration with her husband, ex-Shudder To Think guitarist, Nathan Larson, and Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous, entitled, A Camp, while the rest of the band splintered off into various side projects. Six years later, The Cardigans return determined to redefine themselves once again- this time opting to follow Persson's solo tastes very closely. On its fifth album, the band inexplicably sounds like a veteran alt-country act.

The band made its name with sugary, infectious pop led by Persson's crystalline voice and girlish innocence on three albums- each one more successful than the last. It was all very slick and stylish- so much so that you knew there had to be more to The Cardigans than what met your ears. Gran Turismo came as a shock to critics and fans because of its radical departure from the expected formula, exploring the band's latent musical depth and willingness to experiment, but fans rejected the decidedly dark direction in droves. This frustrated the band enough to take a five-year hiatus. With the decision to regroup as The Cardigans came an arduous songwriting process that produced another collection of pop but this time in another unrecognizable context.

Persson's voice is still at the forefront of The Cardigan's sound, but, as opposed to being a candy-coated showpiece, it's become a multidimensional instrument. Her lyrical sketchbook covers the familiar themes of love and heartbreak from a bone-crushingly honest perspective, and her voice matches each mood perfectly. Guitarist Peter Svensson’s songwriting lingers in the traditional pop framework, but he messes with conventions slightly, subtly infusing unexpected twists and turns. The dour mood is less detached and calculated than Gran Turismo's futuristic ennui, but it fails to engage on the same mysterious level.

Fans holding out for another Life or First Band On The Moon or even a Gran Tursimo will be sorely disappointed, but The Cardigans obviously have little interest in repeating themselves. They've played the pop game, apparently thinking they won, and now only seem concerned with being taken seriously. Long Gone Before Daylight trudges along at a limp pace, as each song melds into the next interchangeably. Only after multiple listens do the songs start to form individual characteristics. The plodding tempo put me off at first, but I've started to come around for a few bits here and there. Persson's open-faced expressiveness on the lyrical front can cause a few facial twitches, but her voice is lovely enough to compensate for most of the gaffes.

With Gran Turismo The Cardigans straddled the line of caricature, coming dangerously close to the point of no return. The leather skirts, plastic boots, and heavy black eyeliner didn't really add much credibility to the music. Gimmicky self-indulgence has been replaced with dramatic balladeering. Long Gone Before Daylight could easily blend into the background without stirring anyone in earshot. It's as safe as white bread but manages to dig its nails in, if you let it. When Persson wails, "cuz you're the storm that I believe in" (You're The Storm"), it's difficult to believe that she could be even remotely serious. Do what exactly? Things improve exponentially on "A Good Horse", despite what the title might lead you to believe. It's one of the few rocking moments on the whole record, replete with Kim Wilde-esque "whoa-oh-oh-oh's."

The Cardigans won't secure its pop dominion with Long Gone Before Daylight, but that's obviously not the point. Only open-minded, die-hard fans will suspend enough disbelief to buy The Cardigans as a Swedish band with a country soul, as the general public has already pretty much forgotten about the makers of "Lovefool" (six years between albums will do that to you). I doubt landing a spot on the "Chicks with Attitude" tour, opening for Liz Phair's commercial suicide did much to help the cause, either. The band's trajectory has been erratic to say the least, but Long Gone Before Daylight proves that The Cardigans care more about the music than anything else.

The Cardigans, Long Gone Before Daylight (Stockholm/Koch)

The Cardigans - Long Gone Before Daylight The Cardigans
Long Gone Before Daylight
Stockholm/Koch
By: Eric Greenwood

After the inexplicably lukewarm reception to The Cardigans' 1998 detour into dark, atmospheric trip-hop the band all but disappeared. Vocalist Nina Persson released the country-tinged collaboration with her husband, ex-Shudder To Think guitarist, Nathan Larson, and Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous, entitled, A Camp, while the rest of the band splintered off into various side projects. Six years later, The Cardigans return determined to redefine themselves once again- this time opting to follow Persson's solo tastes very closely. On its fifth album, the band inexplicably sounds like a veteran alt-country act.

The band made its name with sugary, infectious pop led by Persson's crystalline voice and girlish innocence on three albums- each one more successful than the last. It was all very slick and stylish- so much so that you knew there had to be more to The Cardigans than what met your ears. Gran Turismo came as a shock to critics and fans because of its radical departure from the expected formula, exploring the band's latent musical depth and willingness to experiment, but fans rejected the decidedly dark direction in droves. This frustrated the band enough to take a five-year hiatus. With the decision to regroup as The Cardigans came an arduous songwriting process that produced another collection of pop but this time in another unrecognizable context.

Persson's voice is still at the forefront of The Cardigan's sound, but, as opposed to being a candy-coated showpiece, it's become a multidimensional instrument. Her lyrical sketchbook covers the familiar themes of love and heartbreak from a bone-crushingly honest perspective, and her voice matches each mood perfectly. Guitarist Peter Svensson’s songwriting lingers in the traditional pop framework, but he messes with conventions slightly, subtly infusing unexpected twists and turns. The dour mood is less detached and calculated than Gran Turismo's futuristic ennui, but it fails to engage on the same mysterious level.

Fans holding out for another Life or First Band On The Moon or even a Gran Tursimo will be sorely disappointed, but The Cardigans obviously have little interest in repeating themselves. They've played the pop game, apparently thinking they won, and now only seem concerned with being taken seriously. Long Gone Before Daylight trudges along at a limp pace, as each song melds into the next interchangeably. Only after multiple listens do the songs start to form individual characteristics. The plodding tempo put me off at first, but I've started to come around for a few bits here and there. Persson's open-faced expressiveness on the lyrical front can cause a few facial twitches, but her voice is lovely enough to compensate for most of the gaffes.

With Gran Turismo The Cardigans straddled the line of caricature, coming dangerously close to the point of no return. The leather skirts, plastic boots, and heavy black eyeliner didn't really add much credibility to the music. Gimmicky self-indulgence has been replaced with dramatic balladeering. Long Gone Before Daylight could easily blend into the background without stirring anyone in earshot. It's as safe as white bread but manages to dig its nails in, if you let it. When Persson wails, "cuz you're the storm that I believe in" (You're The Storm"), it's difficult to believe that she could be even remotely serious. Do what exactly? Things improve exponentially on "A Good Horse", despite what the title might lead you to believe. It's one of the few rocking moments on the whole record, replete with Kim Wilde-esque "whoa-oh-oh-oh's."

The Cardigans won't secure its pop dominion with Long Gone Before Daylight, but that's obviously not the point. Only open-minded, die-hard fans will suspend enough disbelief to buy The Cardigans as a Swedish band with a country soul, as the general public has already pretty much forgotten about the makers of "Lovefool" (six years between albums will do that to you). I doubt landing a spot on the "Chicks with Attitude" tour, opening for Liz Phair's commercial suicide did much to help the cause, either. The band's trajectory has been erratic to say the least, but Long Gone Before Daylight proves that The Cardigans care more about the music than anything else.