Friday, November 25, 2016

REVIEW: THE OFFSPRING'S "SMASH"

Smash is the third full-length album from American punk-rockers The Offspring. Though it was released on an independent label, it quickly rose to the fame and prestige of the hottest punk-rock acts and helped to cement the revival of the overall punk-rock industry. What does Smash have, though, that these other punk bands couldn’t replicate?

The Content:

Smash is one of those punk albums that feels right at home.

As someone who’s, admittedly, never listened to The Offspring whilst being a lifelong punk-rock fan, Smash feels like a breath of fresh air as it simultaneously calls back to other punk-rock acts of the era.

Smash begins with spoken-word, smooth jazz-esque narration that ironically segues into the ever-classic power chords that feel synonymous with punk-rock. While this concept separates Smash from its peers of the era, the actual music holds up well against the likes of Green Day and NOFX. Meanwhile, vocals in tracks like Bad Habit feel reminiscent of blink-182, who would explode in popularity five years after Smash’s release. The playful riffs and lyrics from What Happened To You? could’ve come straight from a NOFX album.

Yet with the vocals and instrumentals serving as both a callback and a herald of acts to come, the album still does a sufficient job of standing out on its own. The introduction to Come Out And Play (the album’s leading single) features a smooth drum intro that’s starkly different from other 90s punk anthems.

Perhaps my only gripe with Smash is its lack of…hook, I suppose? Smash doesn’t have that one amazing song that draws me back to the album, nor does it have the cohesiveness of a great, classic storytelling album to really wow me. That’s not to say Smash isn’t a good album – the musicality of it is solid, for sure. But, Smash didn’t necessarily inspire me to check out any more of their work, or dig deeper into the meanings and technicalities of the album.

Despite this, it’s easy to see how Smash rose to popularity. With its similarity to other punk tunes of the day, it fits right in with the revival of the punk-rock scene.

The Impact:
While Smash (and, on a larger stage, The Offspring as a whole) may not be as mainstream as punk-counterparts Green Day, it’s mark on the punk-rock scene of the 1990s is still visible to this day.

Smash would go on to peak at #4 on the Billboard Top 200 and sell over 11 million copies worldwide, making it the highest-selling album of all time on an independent label. The album, along with Green Day’s Dookie, NOFX’s Punk In Drublic, and Rancid’s …And Out Come The Wolves, is credited for having revived the punk industry during the mid-1990s.

The sudden fame that The Offspring saw as a result of Smash was unexpected, to say the least. Guitarist Kevin Wasserman, who goes by the nickname of “Noodles”, still worked at a janitor at his local elementary school months after the album had skyrocketed in sales.

“Up until that moment I didn't really think any of our bands would truly break through,” said Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz. “We had some groups on Epitaph that were bigger than others, but none of them had ever crossed over into mainstream acceptance. Not even close. What the Offspring did was leapfrog over everybody.”

The Future:

The Offspring’s most recent album, Days Go By, was released in 2012. It was the first album from The Offspring to feature drummer Pete Parada, who joined with the band in 2007.

Currently, the band is in the studio working on their tenth full-length studio album, which will be released sometime in 2017.


Next week’s review: Yellowcard’s “Ocean Avenue”

Friday, November 18, 2016

REVIEW: METALLICA'S "ST. ANGER"

St. Anger is Metallica’s eighth studio album, released in 2003 after one of many hiatuses in the thrash-metal band’s career. The album is highly controversial for a number of reasons; while many consider it to be among Metallica’s worst, St. Anger is still widely discussed among the Metallica community in light of its criticisms. But is St. Anger really that bad to warrant such a flaming from critics and fans alike?

The Content:

St. Anger is one of Metallica’s longer albums, standing at seventy-five minutes. And for some, that might be a curse as much as it is a blessing.

That’s because – and for good reason – St. Anger does a lot of things wrong as much as it does right.

Let’s start with the biggest offense: the drums. While previous Metallica albums made good use of heavy-hitting drum sounds, on St. Anger the snare has a distinctly tinny sound that overrides all of the other instrumentals on the album. While a difference in sound may be welcomed by some, for others it turns St. Anger’s eleven tracks into mush, with one track indistinct from the next.

That’s perhaps one of my biggest criticisms of the album; while the front half is absolutely loaded with headbangers not typical from your golden Metallica albums, the back half just feels like one long slosh of drop-tunings and messy drum beats. While tracks like Frantic, St. Anger, and Dirty Window feel worthy of the Metallica name, anything after track 5, Invisible Kid, is nearly devoid of replay value. It’s this issue – not the lack of guitar solos, not the cheesy lyrics (One lyric in particular, “My lifestyle determines my deathstyle,” nearly made me turn off the music and review another album entirely), not the nu-metal sound that’s antithetical to Metallica as a whole – that made listening to this album an overall frustrating experience.

And yet at the end of the day, St. Anger isn’t a total flop. As I mentioned before, the redeeming tracks in the first half of the album are great on their own. But, as an eleven-track collection, it feels creatively misguided in so many aspects that it can’t even come close to Metallica’s best work.

The Impact:

St. Anger is, to this day, seen perhaps as Metallica’s most controversial album.

Releasing on the heels of a near break-up following the departure of longtime bassist Jason Newsted in 2001, the album became a subject of a documentary, Some Kind Of Monster (named after the third track on the album), in which the band’s tribulations before and during the album’s recording were caught on film.

St. Anger, of course, remains a polarizing album for many fans as a result of its nu-metal sound, lack of solos, and a snare drum sound often compared to the sound of drumming on a metal garbage can. As frontman James Hetfield has put it, “It’s one of those albums where you love it or you hate it.”

Despite the mixed opinions, St. Anger still debuted at #1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and has since sold over six million copies worldwide.

The Future:

Metallica’s newest album, Hardwired…to Self-Destruct, releases today. It is the band’s tenth album overall, and their first since 2008’s Death Magnetic. Three tracks from the album – Hardwired, Moth Into Flame, and Atlas, Rise! were released in the lead-up to the album's release.

Drummer Lars Ulrich has confirmed that the band will shoot a video for all twelve songs on Hardwired. “The practicality of shooting 12 music videos is kind of crazy, especially when you’re trying to promote your record,” Ulrich said in an interview with The Straits Times, “And you’re all over the place and trying to make sure it doesn’t leak. It’s crazy but, at the same time, fun.”


Next week’s review: The Offspring’s “Smash”


Friday, November 11, 2016

REVIEW: THE DESCENDENTS' "MILO GOES TO COLLEGE"

Milo Goes to College is the debut album from California punk-rockers The Descendents. Released in 1982 to little fanfare in a budding punk scene, the album would go on to be a founding example of punk-rock music that would forever shake the core of the future punk industry. 

The Content:

Milo Goes to College is very much a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it album.

Clocking in at just twenty-two minutes, Milo manages to cram fifteen songs on the album for a collection of tunes that start and end so fast, you can barely tell one apart from the other (a number of them start and end in less than a minute). That said, it was somewhat difficult for me to absorb the album on a first listen, as I barely had time to focus on one song before it switched so fast.

On another end of the punk spectrum, the overall production on the album, though significantly low-fi, ironically gives Milo a sort of polish, distinct from more modern punk peers. The graininess of the sound still impresses sonically in that there’s a certain depth to the bass, a dimension to the guitars and vocals.

Once Milo really sets in, however, it’s not hard to appreciate it for what it is. Songs like I Wanna Be A Bear, the second track, are quintessential circle-pit material that made me want to mosh just while sitting at my desk. And, in reflection, short songs make for little to prove when it comes to thematics. And, in reality, thematics on Milo takes a back seat to the album’s groove; if it sounds good, it works.

Other album highlights? Jean Is Dead, the closing track, feels a little more whole in comparison to the rest of the album. For a selection of songs that flies one-by-one, Jean at least feels like a proper finish. Suburban Home, opening with a brief spoken-word quip (“I want to be stereotyped/I want to be classified”) is perhaps the most conceptual song on the album, and does give a sense of awareness not found in other songs. That’s not to say the album hinges on its politics; in fact, Milo sells based on its pure no-fucks-given drive, and that’s what makes it so great.

The Impact:

The Descendents, in just twenty-two minutes of rushed punk pageantry, created one of the most significant punk albums of all time with Milo Goes to College.

While the album did not chart and saw little, if any commercial success, it is cited as a major punk influence to this day. Fat Mike of NOFX, for example, has cited Milo as his all-time favorite album.

The album came at a time in which the West Coast punk scene was still blossoming. Released in 1982, Milo would pave the way for even bigger punk acts to take over and find success throughout the rest of the 20th century. Bands like Green Day, NOFX, and blink-182 would take the reins going into the turn of the century, in turn cementing the California punk scene founded in part by The Descendents.

The album is also noteworthy for having inspired so many other punk-rock acts that would follow. Tom DeLonge, the former guitarist of blink-182, has also credited this influence, saying that his band was “absolutely a product of The Descendents.”

The Future:

Hypercaffium Spazzinate, the band’s first album since 2004, released in 2016. Lead singer Milo Aukerman, a doctor in biochemistry by trade, only recently gave up his profession to give his full attention to The Descendents; Aukerman’s career made for long hiatuses within The Descendents, as they've only released three albums in the past twenty years.
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Next week’s review: Metallica’s “St. Anger”

Friday, November 4, 2016

REVIEW - THIRTY SECONDS TO MARS' "A BEAUTIFUL LIE"

A Beautiful Lie is Thirty Seconds To Mars’ second effort, released in 2005 after their eponymous debut in 2002. While their first album only saw limited success, A Beautiful Lie catapulted them into the mainstream airwaves and brought newfound recognition upon the band. What’s inside this iconic album that made it a widespread success?

The Content:

Listening to A Beautiful Lie for the first time both fascinated and confused me at the same time. While I had heard the album’s singles before, and have always been fond of Attack and The Kill, the style of the rest of the album felt so broadly inspired by so many other bands that I couldn’t pinpoint one specific influence for the band’s sophomore release. And yet it’s the broadness of progressive sound on the album that left the biggest impression for me.

While the introductory riff from Was It A Dream? could’ve come straight from a Metallica ballad (Sanitarium specifically comes to mind), the rest of the song fits right in with the 2000s punk-pop-emo scene. The preceding track, The Kill, is heavy on the My Chemical Romance sound with its aggressive screaming vocals. Each track has a different vibe from the rest, putting its listeners in a different mood to make for a roller coaster of a musical experience. It is for this reason that, as a short-term impression, I wouldn’t hesitate to rank A Beautiful Lie among some of my favorite albums.

The back half of the album, meanwhile, takes on a similar blend of musical influences. While some songs take pages from the musical styles of Linkin Park and Blink-182, songs such as The Battle of One adopt the theatrics of Green Day. As I write this and currently listen to the album’s closing track, Hunter, I come to realize that the album’s varied influences are what make 30STM’s sound so unique; if you were to ask me which band 30STM reminds me of, I would likely fail to give you a singular answer.

I truly don’t believe that there’s a bad song on the album. I wouldn’t even claim to say that some songs are weaker than others. Each song on A Beautiful Lie both blends with the next while standing out uniquely on its own, be it differences in vocal styles, instrumentals, or even in the electro-vibes heard in Attack and Hunter. A Beautiful Lie feels like a rare album that perfectly summarizes the progressive rock scene of the 2000s and deserves your utmost attention.

The Impact:

A Beautiful Lie marked a departure from the band’s self-titled debut, but this evolution in sound would help to contribute to the album’s success. A Beautiful Lie debuted at #36 on the Billboard 200 in its first week of release for sales of 21,000 copies.

Frontman Jared Leto, before his involvement with the band, made fame as an actor, starring in films such as Fight Club (1999) and American Psycho (2000) during the band’s early days. As a result of Leto’s filming schedule, A Beautiful Lie was recorded in five different countries on four different continents.

The album would bring the band to worldwide fame, particularly with singles The Kill and From Yesterday. A Beautiful Lie has since sold 1.2 million copies in the United States alone, and would lead to the band’s first performances at international festivals such as Rock am Ring and Roskilde.
In 2009, Kerrang! Magazine ranked A Beautiful Lie #4 on their 50-album list of decade-best albums.

The Future:

Thirty Seconds to Mars’ latest album, Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams, was released in 2013. As of late, Leto has refocused on his acting career, which included supporting roles in Dallas Buyers Club (2013) and Suicide Squad (2016). Despite his filming schedule, Leto’s touring requirement have been seemingly unfazed, as the band has played festivals and tours throughout 2015 and 2016.

Currently, the band is at work recording their fifth studio album. It was confirmed in 2016 that the band had signed with Interscope Records, with an album releasing sometime in 2017.

Next week’s review: The Descendents’ “Milo Goes To College”