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  • Avril Lavigne - The Best Damn Thing Review

    29 Abr 2007, 15:47

    Dear Avril,

    I’m not sure exactly how to say this, so I’ll just get straight to the point. I think it’s time we break up. It’s not that I never liked you. When we started our “thing,” I was looking for something different. I was tired of all those mid-90’s bands. I did love their angsty lyrics and their searches for meaning and whatnot. But at times they got kinda annoying. I mean, come on, “our love is like water?” What exactly is that about?

    So when I heard your song “Complicated,” I was interested. Your songs were guilty pleasures, but you didn’t seem like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, or any of those other stupid pop singers. You seemed like the anti-Britney with your punkish attitude and rockier sound. So I was okay with it. And I admit, after listening to a few songs, I fell for you. You were a little bratty, but it almost made me like you more. We both knew it wasn’t serious or anything. It was just something fun and non-committal.

    Then came your second album. I was totally surprised. It was dark and had a bit of substance. I loved your song “My Happy Ending,” and I fell for you a little harder. Then I saw your new music videos. I was shocked. All of a sudden it looked like you had grown up. Gone were your weird ties and baggy pants. Instead you looked almost “ladylike” with your new dresses and hairstyles. I couldn’t help think that maybe I was wrong, and this relationship was going to be something more than simple fun.

    But then came your new album, The Best Damn Thing. When I heard your new single, “Girlfriend,” I thought you were making fun of the new power-pop crap from Fergie and Gwen Stefani. But as I watched the music video and listened to it more, I realized it wasn’t a joke. You were serious. When you sing “I think you know I’m damn precious / And hell yeah I’m the motherf-ing princess,” you actually believe it. Sorry, but that’s not attractive. You’re not being bratty; you’re being obnoxious. The sad thing is your album only got worse.

    As the album went on, I couldn’t believe what I was listening to. You giggled on a bunch of tracks and cursed for what seemed like no reason. Your sound was a cheap, stripped-down, pop-ish mush, and your lyrics were truly atrocious. When you told me “I hate it when a guy doesn't understand / Why a certain time of month I don't want to hold his hand,” I just didn’t want to hear it. I don’t think your period belongs in your lyrics. I’m not saying you are a master wordsmith or anything. “He was a boy, she was a girl / Can I make it anymore obvious” isn’t going to win any awards. But it was sure fun. Now your music is painful to listen to.

    What’s even worse is you seem to be going through an identity crisis. Why were you acting like a cheerleader on the track “The Best Damn Thing?” It sounded like a lame rip-off of “Hollaback Girl.” And what’s the deal with “I Don’t Have To Try?” Let’s get past the fact that your lyrics are horrible, you actually rapped “I'm the one I'm the one who knows the dance / I'm the one I'm the one who's got the prance / I'm the one I'm the one who wears the pants / I wear the pants.” No Avril, I wear the pants, and I’m breaking up with you. When half way through the track you screamed like you were in a metal band there was no doubt in my mind that this is the right decision.

    I think it’s best we end things. We’ve obviously grown apart. I do appreciate your older music for how fun it was. But now your music it’s laughable for how painfully bad it is. It’s been fun, but it’s time I move on to better things. Besides, I found this new girl, Anna Nalick, who is an actual female artist with substance that I can respect. No hard feelings, I hope you do well.

    Best of Luck,

    David Najmi

    Grade: D-

    Avril Lavigne’s new album is laughably bad.

    - Originally published in Franklin and Marshall College newspaper, The College Reporter on April 23, 2007, which is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
  • LIVE at The Chameleon Club - April 13, 2007 Review

    22 Abr 2007, 23:36

    Fri 13 Apr – Live

    The Chameleon Club holds a special place in the history of Live. The club was where the band filmed early versions of the music videos for “Operation Spirit (The Tyranny Of Tradition)” and “Pain Lies On The Riverside” from their debut album Mental Jewelry. It was also the place where the band “cut their teeth” and began to develop their onstage chemistry. Anyone who has seen or heard material from these early shows can here the sounds of a band with something to prove. After seven albums and touring all over the world, a confident and experienced Live returned to The Chameleon Club las Friday, April 13. However, confidence and experience doesn’t mean Live has grown boring with age. Live played with a level of energy and excitement that few band are able to match.

    The most notable feature about Live’s onstage performance is the level of energy and passion they bring to their shows. Other bands are able to perform their music as well as or better than their studio work. Yet, the excitement of the show comes either from seeing the band in person or hearing your favorite songs preformed. With Live, it’s more than that - the audience it able to feel the passion the band has for their work. When Chad Taylor stomped his way on top of the security barrier to play his guitar solos during the stunning cover of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line” and “Lakini’s Juice” or when Ed Kowalczyk leaned strait into the crowd while singing during the closer, “White, Discussion,” it’s hard not to feel the same level of energy the band has. As the crowd sang along to “The dolphin’s cry” mid-way through the show, it was apparent that Live had succeeded in working crowd up to the same level of excitement they had. Compared to their earlier shows the energy level was a bit subdued by the size of the stage. With little room for Kowalczyk and Taylor to move around, one couldn’t help but get the feeling the show would have been even better with a larger stage. At times it looks as though Kowalczyk was being held back by how little room he had to maneuver.

    It wasn’t just the energy that made the show standout. Along with staples such as “Lightning Crashes” and “I Alone,” the band also took care to change up the arrangement of their songs a bit for fans. They added a longer intro to “Sofia” from Songs from Black Mountain, grafted part of U2’s “Bad” in the middle of “Iris”, and played an extended version of “White, Discussion.” They also changed up their set list by opening with “Operation Spirit,” “Pain Lies on the Riverside” and “The Beauty Of Gray” from Mental Jewelry. These songs used to be an important part of their early concerts but have disappeared from more recent shows. Live has generally played their biggest hits and fan favorites in concert. Over time, early songs get lost in the shuffle, appearing only sporadically. This can make their shows a little less exciting for fans that have seen multiple shows. The opening trio of songs and the different arrangement was a great treat for fans that have been following the band for years.

    The show also had its softer moments. Fans were treated to a trip down memory lane with Taylor as he explained the importance of the club to Live. He reminisced about how the cover art photography from Mental Jewelry were taken next to the stage and how he proposed to his wife in the club. Kowalczyk also added a few stories of his own. After performing the hit “Selling The Drama” from Throwing Copper he said performing on the club’s stage reminded that it was that very spot where they was arranged song years ago. The stories added to the already special feeling of the show.

    Live’s show at The Chameleon Club was an example of a band who’s onstage performance has only gotten better over the years. Live’s success and confidence hasn’t dulled the band’s ability to deliver a quality. Instead of falling into a comfort zone and performing just to perform, Live has become only more passionate on stage over time. If Friday’s show is any indication, Live is an act that genuinely gets better with time.

    Grade: A

    Live proves they are still playing for the fans.

    - Originally published in Franklin and Marshall College newspaper, The College Reporter on April 16, 2007, which is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
  • Retrograde: Live - The Distance To Here Review

    8 Abr 2007, 14:44

    Secret Samadhi has been described as the “sound of full retreat.” The dark, brooding, and outright weird album was a conscious attempt by Live to steer away from the success they had achieved with 1994’s Throwing Copper. Samadhi was at times so ambiguous that lead singer Ed Kowalczyk said to this day he still has no idea what some of the songs are really about. The album’s beauty and failing was the fact that, at its core, it seemed to be about nothing. Live’s 1999 release, The Distance to Here, is direct reaction to the darkness of Secret Samadhi. Gone are the distorted industrial sounds of “Lakini’s Juice,” the anger of “Heropyschodreamer” and the odd lyrics of “Freaks.” In its place are lighter melodic sounds, themes of water, “God, Love and Spirit” and a drive for meaning over emptiness. These changes make The Distance to Here important to understanding Live as a band because it stands as the end point of one journey and the start of another.

    Live’s first three albums were categorized by, amongst other things, by an earnest search for God or some form of spirituality. Kowalczyk has sung about the problems of religious tradition and dogma on songs like “Operation Spirit (The Tyranny Of Tradition)” since their debut album, Mental Jewelry. Yet these problems did not lead the band away from spirituality; it caused them to go out and search more passionately. The Distance to Here puts this search in context and moves it towards an end with the songs “The Distance” and “Meltdown.” The songs describe two different way of approaching the search for spirituality. “The Distance” centers on the idea of accepting the struggle for spirituality. When Kowalczyk sings “I've been to pretty buildings, all in search of you / I have lit all the candles, sat in all the pews” he is invoking an feeling of emptiness in the world’s religions as he searches for God; he has looked all over, but the religions he has seen have not provided a suitable answer. Yet he is oddly comfortable in this situation as when he sings, “guess it's natural to feel this way.” The search itself no longer bothers Kowalczyk, understanding that it is normal and necessary. “Meltdown” continues this idea with a different approach. As Kowalczyk sings, “we're in a spiritual winter / And I long for the one who is / Fire amongst the dreamers,” he seems to know there must be some type of God and spirituality out there and is longing for something to give it form and meaning.

    The feeling Live has reached a place of contentment and understanding is also apparent through the rest of the album. The answer to the band’s search is generally categorized by the idea of “love.” Yet “love” is left more abstract and open to interpretation than their later albums. Love does mean romantic love at times, the album’s best-known song and hit single “The dolphin’s cry” focuses on that idea. But other songs such as “Sparkle” and “Run To The Water” use the term differently. In “Sparkle” when Kowalczyk sings “love will overcome / if this love will make us men / love will draw us in/to wipe our tears away” the listener can add any definition of love they want. It could be about romantic love, but it could easily be about love for a child or love for God. And therein lies the album’s greatest strength. It provides the basis for finding answers; a comfort with the search, the need for love, and belief in something larger than humanity but it never forces the listener to accept any particular point of view.

    The album has two main weaknesses. The first is while it tries to be filled with meaning and substance, it occasionally overshoots its goals. Hardcore fans will love songs like “Face And Ghost (The Children’s Song),” and “Where Fishes Go”, but others may see lyrics like, “I couldn't take it anymore / So I went back to the sea / Cuz' that's where fishes go / When fishes get the sense to flee / Breathe,” as the sound of a band trying to hard. The albums second weakness is sound. While the sound is more polished and melodic than the darkness of Secret Samadhi, it is too restrained. Many of the albums songs, especially in the second half, flirt with becoming full bowl rock songs but pull back at the last second. The best example of this is “Sun” that starts off sounding like an upbeat rocker, but when it reaches the chorus does not “explode” like Live’s other songs. The result can be a feeling that the band restrained their sound just a little too much.

    The Distance To Here is one of Live’s best albums. Thematically, it moves the band away from searching for answers to providing them. The ideas of love present in The Distance to Here will be drawn upon and refined from V through Songs from Black Mountain. With the lyrics, “I'm aglow with the taste of the demons driven out / And happily replaced with the presence of real love” on the closer “Dance With You,” Live has brought an end to their early themes and sets the context for their next set of albums. While the album is flawed, it should be part of any Live fan’s collection.

    Grade: A-

    The Distance to Here is an album any Live fan should own.

    - Originally published in Franklin and Marshall College newspaper, The College Reporter on April 2, 2007, which is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
  • Our Lady Peace - A Decade Review

    1 Abr 2007, 16:29

    A couple of years ago, I made a mix of my favorite Our Lady Peace tracks. I took it around everywhere with me, to class, while driving, while studying. After a while my friends began asking me for copies of the disk. I gladly burned them copies and when I updated the mix with tracks from later CDs they quickly demanded I give them updated versions. I had thought the band was an acquired taste, the music was commonly rough, and the lyrics were so ambiguous at times it bordered on nonsense. A lot of America seemed to agree with that assessment; as the band never reached the heights of many of the contemporaries. For some reason, my mix tape seemed to make rabid fans out of whomever I gave it to. Our Lady Peace’s new best of A Decade reminded me of my old mix. A Decade is an album that covers the highlights of Our Lady Peace’s career and is a perfect purchase for someone who has only heard a limited amount of work from the band.

    Our Lady Peace appeared in the post-grunge phase of the ‘90s, so they have all the trademarks of the era: angsty themes, ambiguous lyrics and a soft-to-loud sound progression. However, what set Our Lady Peace apart, at least initially, was lead singer Raine Maida’s voice. Singing on the band’s early tracks is not always pretty. On the song “Superman’s Dead,” Maida’s vocals sound unpolished that when he sings, “doesn’t anybody ever know that the worlds a subway” in the song’s chorus it’s reminiscent of the scratchy vocals of Modest Mouse’s lead singer Issac Brock on their latest single, “Dashboard.” While the early vocals can at times be an acquired taste, much of the early music is defined by a unique sound: the baseline in “Naveed” is both immediately recognizable and memorable; while “One Man Army” stands out because of weird, almost pulsing noise that dominated the background of the song.

    While the band’s earlier work was refreshingly unique, the last two albums have adopted a different style. 2002’s Gravity and 2005’s Healthy In Paranoid Times drop Our Lady Peace’s original sound for a more traditional rock vibe. The new tracks have loud crashing guitars and less ambiguous lyrics. Some fans claimed the band had sold out at by changing their sound. On one level, these critics are right. If you liked Our Lady Peace mainly because of their different sound, later tracks like “Innocent” or “Where Are You” come off sounding like boring cookie-cutter songs. But the critics are only half right. While Our Lady Peace may have adopted a less unique style, they do it very well. Tracks like “Will The Future Blame Us” and “Somewhere Out There” are great rock songs. This change in style also greatly affects who will find the album valuable. A Decade includes two tracks, “Kiss on the Mouth” and “Better Than Here” that were b-sides from the Healthy In Paranoid Times Sessions. Both tracks should have been included on Paranoid Times to even out the second half of the disk. For those who dislike the newer material these tracks won’t do much to change their minds. But for those that love the new material the tracks are excellent additions.

    For those that already own the band’s other albums the decision to purchase the disk comes down to one simple question: do you like or dislike the new material? If you hate it, avoid A Decade, but if you love it, I would consider at least downloading the two new tracks, they’re worth it. However, if you have heard a little Our Lady Peace or simply want to try out the band A Decade is a good place to start. You might even start searching he band’s catalog of less-known but still great tracks to make your own mix CD.

    Grade: A-

    A Decade is a comprehensive collective of Our Lady Peace’s work, including their most recent hits.

    - Originally published in Franklin and Marshall College newspaper, The College Reporter on March 26, 2007, which is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
  • Anna Nalick - Live At The Chameleon Club Concert Review

    30 Mar 2007, 15:51

    Sat 26 Aug – Anna Nalick, Joshua Radin

    I bought Anna Nalick’s debut album, Wreck of the Day, on a whim. There was a deal at Borders and I had to buy another CD to get a 50 percent discount. After listening to Wreck of the Day I was very impressed: instead of having just a few good songs, the entire album worth listening to from start to finish. Needless to say, months later I was still listening to Wreck of the Day while I had largely forgotten the CD I originally went to Borders to buy. So, when Anna Nalick came to The Chameleon Club on August 26, I went to see how her live performance compared to her studio work.
    One of the most important features of any show is the set list. A bad set list can ruin a concert. Fortunately Nalick played all 11 original songs, including the hit single “Breathe (2 AM),” from her debut album in addition to several new songs. Nalick didn’t stick solely to her own material either. She told the audience that despite the fact the crowd the night before “didn’t seem to like it” she’d try a cover anyways. She broke into a truly stunning rendition of Oasis’ “Don’t look back in anger,” which received an enthusiastic reception from the crowd. The songs themselves sounded a significantly different in concert with a more of a rock edge compared to the softer acoustic sound of her studio work. Equally important, Nalick actually sounded better in concert than in the studio, which should come to many as quite a relief since one of the biggest disappointments can be finding out an artist you love used digital editing to make themselves sound better. When the set list ended, there was very little to complain about.
    However, no matter how good a set list is, the true determining factor of any concert experience is always how well the bands are able to present the material. At first, one would assume Nalick and her band, who have only been touring for the past couple of years, might not be able to deliver the some sort of experience as some veteran acts. Yet the most notable feature of the night was the level of confidence and energy Nalick and her band delivered each song. She displayed a true chemistry with her bandmates, Ronny Crawford (drums), Luis Maldonado (guitar), and Tim Hogan (bass) which was apparent from the open cords of “Citadel” to the finishing lyrics of “Satellite.” Nalick herself displayed an acute ability to engage the crowd with stories and humor between songs. At many points during the show Anna told stories and jokes with a playful, slightly sarcastic sense of humor that kept crowd engaged. For example a story about how a someone once mistook her for Avril Lavigne turned into a running joke that turned into impromptu slightly mocking cover of Avril’s “I’m With You,” which, in truth, was better than the original. The result was that Nalick and her band put on a truly outstanding performance.
    From the show that Anna Nalick and her band gave, you wouldn’t be able to guess that they have only been touring together for a few short years. Nalick and her band preformed with a level of confidence, energy, and talent usually reserved only for a small handful of musicians. If Nalick’s performance at The Chameleon Club is any indication, she has a bright future ahead of her.

    Review Rating: A
    Nalick played an amazing concert, showing a stage presence worthy of a much more experienced performer.

    - Originally published in Franklin and Marshall College newspaper, The College Reporter on September 5, 2006, which is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
  • Retrograde: U2 - The Unforgettable Fire Review

    11 Mar 2007, 15:22

    At the time of its release The Unforgettable Fire was a confusing disappointment. It has been written that at 1984 U2 stood ready to “fulfill the ambitions” of their earlier work with “an in-your-face American-style album” that would solidify the band’s position in the music world. The Unforgettable Fire could not have been more of a departure from expectation. U2’s previous three albums had been categorized by an earnest directness; the lyrics carried emotion and meaning but in a very clear way. A song like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is not open to much interpretation; the lyrics make it perfectly clear what it’s about. The Unforgettable Fire jettisons the directness for a blurry sense of abstraction that one might find starling at first, but the abstraction of The Unforgettable Fire is perhaps the most important change U2 made to their music in the 1980s.

    The sense of abstraction that permeates The Unforgettable Fire is best captured by the title track “A Sort of Homecoming.” The song takes emotion and sketches it like an abstract painting. When Bono sings “The city walls are all come down/The dust a smoke screen all around/See faces ploughed like fields that once/Gave no resistance,” he’s calling on a sense of displacement and angst, but not in a particular way. The listener is free to add whatever he likes to the song to personalize it.

    The emotion that categorizes The Unforgettable Fire is a sense of angst, which runs through every note of the album. However, it’s the not typical angry lovesick angst that is prevalent in much of the music today. Instead, as Bono sings “Barbed wire fence cut me down/I'd like to be around/In a spiral staircase/To the higher ground” in the song “Promenade,” his words are a plea to escape a troubled relationship to something more. The angst that categorizes the album focuses on that “more.” When the band sings about heroin addiction on “Bad” and the loss of innocence on “Wire” they are tapping a feeling of that something is out of place with the society and the world. The only exception to the abstract nature of the album is, ironically, the hit single “Pride (in the Name of Love).” The song, which is about Martin Luther King, Jr., is a literal song that feels as though it could have been on Boy or War. When taken as a whole, “Pride” almost mars the albums more ambitious goals.

    While, in the end, “Pride” does not hurt the album’s overall goals, The Unforgettable Fire’s weakness is that sometimes the band takes the abstraction to far. On tracks like “Elvis Presley and America” and “MLK” the band’s ambitions lead them to a muddled mess. In these songs the band’s ambitions were set a little to high and the songs push the bounties to far. Oddly though, these tracks don’t destroy the album, they are endearing in a weird way, making The Unforgettable Fire a flawed masterpiece.

    The Unforgettable Fire is an album that is meant to be felt just as much as it is meant to be heard. Each song carries with it an emotion that is meant to be shown rather than told to the listener. The Unforgettable Fire also categorizes an important shift in U2’s style, the sense of abstraction will later be combined with U2’s previous direct earnestness to create, arguably, one of music’s greatest albums, The Joshua Tree. When Bono sings “The city's a flood, and our love turns to rust./We're beaten and blown by the wind/Trampled in dust” in the “Where the Streets Have No Name,” he is drawing on The Unforgettable Fire’s abstraction from “A Sort of Homecoming” to bring out a sketch of an emotion. Likewise songs like “With or Without You,” draw on the literalness of early albums like Boy. In a way, The Unforgettable Fire was an album that was necessary to make The Joshua Tree. It was a testing ground for abstraction. While band missteps at times, The Unforgettable Fire is oddly perfected flawed; almost stronger because of its weaknesses. No U2 fan should be without it.

    Grade: A-

    - Originally published in Franklin and Marshall College newspaper, The College Reporter on March 5, 2007, which is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
  • Oasis - Stop the Clocks Review

    4 Mar 2007, 15:26

    When I was a junior in high school, two of my best friends got tickets to see Oasis in New York City. My friends told me that as the concert went on the crowd was becoming anxious. The show was coming to a close, and the band hadn’t played some of their best songs including “Live Forever,” Supersonic,” and most importantly “Wonderwall.” Worried they would not get to hear their favorite songs, the crowd started to yell, “Play Wonderwall!” Unfortunately for the crowd that night, Oasis didn’t play “Wonderwall” or “Live Forever” or “Supersonic.” My friends and a legion of fans shuffled out of Radio City Music Hall disappointed. For their two-disk “best of” album, Stop the Clocks, Oasis has decided not to disappoint their fans, including “Live Forever,” “Supersonic,” “Wonderwall,” and a host of other hits from their first two albums. Oasis relied so heavily on their first two albums for material that Stops the Clocks becomes and interesting look at what the band thinks of their entire body of work.

    When a band designs a “best of,” it provides a way of understanding how the band views their musical career. Albums or eras that the band felt that they succeed are usually represented heavily, and times when the band felt they failed are marginalized or ignored all together. After listening to Oasis’ 18 track “best of” it is apparent that Oasis views the mid-90s as the peak of their music careers. Stop the Clocks contains ten songs from the band’s debut Definitely Maybe and their hit album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? The choice makes sense; Oasis’ first two albums catapulted them to fame, and songs like “Champagne Supernova” and “Don’t look back in anger” bring back a rush of nostalgia that makes you wonder why the Brit-pop era ever ended.

    But because almost every music fan owns the band’s first two albums, the value of Stop the Clocks rests on the selection of material from their later works. Songs from later albums make up less than half of the disk. There are a few tracks from 2002’s Heathen Chemistry and 2005’s Don’t Believe the Truth, while the disk totally ignores 1997’s Be Here Now. Oasis also threw in a few songs from the b-sides compilation, The Masterplan. The band seems to view their later years to be akin to U2’s 90s Euro-trash phase; Oasis wants to acknowledge their successes and just pretend everything else didn’t happen.

    As for covering the later material, Stop the Clocks does a great job. Catchy hit songs such as “The Importance of Being Idle” and “Lyla” make the cut as well as, in my opinion, Oasis’ best post-Morning Glory song, “Acquiesce.” However, despite Oasis’ smart track selection the disk’s main fault is that it offers nothing new for fans that have Oasis’ other works. Most “best ofs” offer an unreleased b-side or new recording for collectors, and one would have thought that Stop the Clocks would have at least included the unreleased that bears its name. The fault prevents Oasis from releasing a truly must-buy “best of.” If you own all of Oasis’ work, don’t bother with Stop the Clocks, but if you have missed out on their most recent material the disk is just a step down from must-buy.

    Grade: B+
    Oasis comes out with a good sampling of later works.

    - Originally published in Franklin and Marshall College newspaper, The College Reporter on February 26, 2007, which is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
  • Nine Days, U2, Chris Cornell, Keane Singles and EPs Review

    25 Feb 2007, 17:30

    Nine Days – Slow Motion Life (Part One) EP- Nine Days is best know for their hit single “Absolutely (Story Of A Girl)” from 2000’s The Madding Crowd. Propelled by a string of well-received singles The Madding Crowd was a respectable success. The album was characterized by a sharply polished pop sound and relationship-heavy lyrics. The band’s follow up album, So Happily Unsatisfied, was shelved because of a disagreement with their label, and Nine Days has since disappeared from the music scene. However, Nine Days has finally been able to move past their label dispute and released a five-track EP last month. Slow Motion Life (Part One) is a continuation of the sound and themes of The Madding Crowd. The lyrics still focus on relationships; the catchy “A Girl In California” tells the story of a man who thinks he chose the wrong girl and goes to California to correct his mistake and “Brand new me” centers on the personal flaws that can hurt a relationship. Musically, Nine Days has refined their pop sound to complement their music perfectly so that the music has become both fun and very catchy. After six years away from the music scene Slow Motion Life (Part One) is the perfect way to reestablish their careers. Grade: A-

    U2- Window In The Skies- U2’s latest single, “Window In The Skies,” comes from their unnecessary “best of” disk, U218 Singles. The song itself is an ode to the transformative power of love and sounds like a b-side from All That You Can’t Leave Behind. The single, comes on two different disks with three different tracks. One version has an extra track, “Tower Song,” with poet and folk singer Leonard Cohen. The song is dominated by Cohen’s deep voice and The Edge’s guitar work; Bono barely makes an appearance. Unfortunately, while the track is an interesting collaboration it is unlikely to be well received by many fans. However, the second version of the single has two live recordings from the Vertigo Tour’s Australian leg. The tracks, “Zoo Station” and “Kite,” sound spectacular and demonstrate a top-notch performance. Both tracks are worthy addition to any U2 fan’s collection. Grade: Single w/ Leonard Cohen B-, Single with Live Tracks A-.

    Chris Cornell- You Know My Name- Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” was the theme song to last year’s outstanding Bond movie Casino Royal. Unfortunately, the single version is not the actual song that accompanies the movie. The Casino Royal version used a full orchestra, which gave the song a Bond-worthy sound. The single stripped-down rock version, that while still a good song is lacking when compared to theatrical version. The single also comes with a live acoustic performance of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.” The track is a nice bonus but ultimately nothing special. Grade: C+

    Keane- Keane Live From London- Keane released a live EP this month exclusively via iTunes. The digital EP can be best described as raw. Unlike the other live tracks Keane has released over the year, Keane Live From London lacks any sense of polish. Lead singer Tim Chaplin’s voice sounds rough, and rest of the band plays a stripped down acoustic set. The EP gives a new take on many of Keane’s new songs from Under the Iron Sea, such as “Is It Any Wonder?,” a sound closer to Hopes and Fears. This alone makes the EP a good pickup for fans disappointed by Under The Iron Sea. The EP also comes with a video of the entire concert. The video is well shot and edited and the quality of the encoding is higher than the usual iTunes fair. For any fan of the band, the EP is definitely worth checking out. Grade: A

    - Originally published in Franklin and Marshall College newspaper, The College Reporter on February 19, 2007, which is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
  • Five For Fighting - Two Lights Review

    18 Feb 2007, 14:59

    John Ondrasik, who goes by the stage name Five for Fighting, made his name on “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” from 2000’s America Town. The song relied on melodic piano work combined with introspective lyrics about the trials and pains of life. On his subsequent work, Five For Fighting has refined his sound, relying more heavily on the piano and increasingly angsty introspective lyrics, most notably on 2004’s “100 Years.” Five For Fighting’s 2006 album, Two Lights, tries to draw heavily on his strengths. Yet the album is never more the sum of its parts. This makes Two Lights a decent album, but one that ultimately fails to stick with the listener for long.
    In a sense, Two Lights is derivative of Five For Fighting’s past work. The best example of this is the album’s first single “The Riddle,” which is reminiscent of “100 Years.” Both songs are piano ballads that focus on the theme of love. The songs sound so similar that it’s hard to see any evolution, lyrically or musically; “The Riddle” sounds like the long lost cousin of “100 Years.” Yet there are subtle differences that set many of Two Lights’ songs apart. At first the listener comes to think that the “The Riddle” is referring to romantic love, yet just as the song seems to lead in that conclusion Ondrasik makes a quick about face when he sings, “Picked up my kid from school today/Did you learn anything cause in the world today/You can't live in a castle far away/Now talk to me, come talk to me”. It turns out the song is about love, but that of a parent/child relationship, a relationship the albums relies on throughout. Intertwined with Ondrasik’s love of his children is, naturally, worry over the state of world. This leads to a number of topical songs where such as “Freedom Never Cries” and “World,” wherein Ondrasik draw on America’s War on Terror and the Iraq War. These two different focus move the Five For Fighting into a new positive thematic territory and give the album a real emotional core.
    The weakness of the album is that it never seems to amount to more than a couple of nice sounding songs. The problem lies not with Ondrasik’s lyrics, which usually are suitable but rather the delivery, which seems to stem from rushed production. Songs that attempt to deal with deeper subjects, like death ballad “Road To Heaven,” fail to achieve their lofty goals. Instead of being a touching ballad, the song feels almost hollow. Unlike America Town and The Battle For Everything, Two Lights is musically out of sync. On “Road to Heaven,” the music is too slow and Ondrasik’s singing seems off, both in his tone and timing. It almost seems as if Ondrasik rushed through the album and didn’t spend the time to refine the songs enough. The rushed feeling is reinforced by the fact that the album is only ten tracks (Best Buy and iTunes each offer two addition exclusive tracks). The end result is a largely forgettable album.
    Two Lights is not a complete disappointment; there are a number of great tracks. “The Riddle,” “World,” “Freedom Never Cries,” and “Two Lights,” live up to Five For Fighting past work. However, the rest of the album is largely forgettable. What seems to be rushed production hampers much of the album. What could have been an album worthy of Five For Fighting’s previous work is, unfortunately, mainly a series of missed opportunities.

    Grade: C+ While Two Lights boasts a few good tracks, the overall work is unimpressive.

    - Originally published in Franklin and Marshall College newspaper, The College Reporter on February 12, 2007, which is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
  • U2- U218 Review

    11 Feb 2007, 14:32

    When I was first getting into U2, my friend Fowler gave me some advice. “The stuff from the ‘80s is some of the greatest music ever written,” he said. “But stay away from the ‘90s, that’s when they got sketchy.” U2 seems to agree with my friend. In their new best of album, U218 Singles, they have chosen the best 18 singles from their career. This choice spans many of their hits, but conspicuously leaves out anything from 1993’s Zooropa and 1997’s Pop (1991’s Achtung Baby represented, but few fans or the band consider it sketchy.) The choice to exclude most of the ‘90s leaves U2 with a “best of” album that is mainly a rehashing of their two previous “best ofs.”
    The song selection for U218 does represent the heights of U2’s career. Anthemic songs such as “New Year’s Day” and the anti-war “Sunday Bloody Sunday” capture the earnest passion of the band’s early years. And the more recent hits such as “Vertigo” and “Beautiful Day” represent the band’s current more confident, refined sound. The problem with the selection is if you take out the two songs from 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, there is only one song, “Elevation,” that hasn’t been included on another “best of,” which is why it’s a shame they didn’t include anything from Pop or Zooropa. While the albums were not U2’s strongest there were some outstanding singles, including “Mofo” and “Last Night on Earth,” that have not been on a previous “best ofs.” If they were given a remixed makeover, like many of Pop’s tracks received for U2’s 90s “best of,” the album would have been significantly more valuable to any U2 fan. Instead, the only reason to buy the disk is for the two new songs, “Window In The Skies” and a cover of The Skids’ “The Saints Are Coming” with Green Day. Both tracks are outstanding works on their own. Unfortunately, it’s not worth buying the album just for two new tracks you can download.
    While the album is mainly rehashed material, the DVD of U218 is a different story. The DVD includes the music videos for 17 of the 18 tracks (Window in the Skies doesn’t have a video) and an insightful set of extras. The video’s range from the abstract “One” where you can watch the band dressed in drag, to the a spectacular live concert video of “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” For fans of the band, the DVD provides a chance to watch the band grow. The band’s early passion for music is perfectly captured on the video for “New Year’s Day” as they ride to war on horses with guitars strapped to their backs and by Bono’s amusing dancing on “Pride (in the Name of Love).” The later videos, such as “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” and the visually captivating “Vertigo,” show the band as seasoned experts (not to mention much higher production values). The extras are hit and miss; there is a very abstract video of “One” with buffalo’s running off a cliff (it has something to do with AIDS) to interesting “making of sections.” Some of the extra material is rehashed from other releases, but since the video’s tend to be harder to find, it doesn’t impact the DVD as much as the album.
    U218, released only fours years after The Best of 1990-2000, is a completely unnecessary disk. In the digital age, where it’s possible to download individual songs, there is little incentive to pick up the album for two new tracks. The DVD of U218 is a different story. The videos from the 80s alone make the DVD worthwhile. If you must have a U2 “best of,” look into either The Best of 1980-1990 or The Best of 1990-2000 first. However, if you are a fan of the band go ahead and pick up the DVD; it’s worth it.

    Grade: C/A- CD Release deserves a C because it was unnecessary. The DVD deserved an A-.

    - Originally published in Franklin and Marshall College newspaper, The College Reporter on February 5, 2007, which is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.