Friday, January 27, 2017

REVIEW: BLINK-182'S "ENEMA OF THE STATE"

Enema of the State is the third full-length album from pop-punk pioneers blink-182. Serving as their second major-label effort after 1997’s Dude Ranch, Enema blazed the trail for other pop-punk bands to find their sound, ultimately creating the turn-of-the-century resurgence of the genre’s popularity. The conventions and styles found within Enema truly show how landmark it was in being that spark to the pop-punk explosion.

The content:

One of the things I enjoy most about Enema of the State is its presence of a cohesive team effort. Between Tom DeLonge’s melodic, yet raging guitar plucks, Mark Hoppus’ inventive bass grooves, and Travis Barker’s wildfire drum fills, Enema allows each member of the power trio to play off each other to create something really magical.

From the explosive riff in the opening track, “Dumpweed”, the album immediately sets out on making its bold statement…even if the lyrics get a little crude along the way.

Blink-182 has always been known for their toilet humor both in the studio and on stage, and Enema is no exception (the album’s title itself is a play on the phrase “enemy of the state”). One of the middle tracks, “Dysentery Gary”, refers to its male subject as “a fucking weasel” and “a player, a diarrhea giver”. The album’s closer, “Anthem”, offers some heartfelt insight for the immature, impatient youth: “Good things come to those who wait, ‘cause she laid me.”

A mellow step down from the vulgarity comes the classic, yet fresh angst that comes with being an adolescent. One of the album’s biggest hits, “What’s My Age Again?”, speaks of the narrator’s inability to mature past his childish antics, warning that “Nobody like you when you’re twenty-three”.

But going even deeper than this is the extreme maturity and reflection found in “Adam’s Song”. Labeled as the band’s “anti-suicide” song, “Adam’s Song”, though perhaps the darkest track on the album, is also the brightest. Some lyrics within the album’s seventh track may seem out of place (“Remember the time that I spilled the cup/Of apple juice in the hall?”), but within the larger piece these offhanded memories detailed within the song form what’s easily one of blink-182’s most personal, hard-hitting tracks in which Hoppus laments, “Please tell mom this is not her fault.”

Enema of the State brings a boatload of experience and craft to the table as far as sound, content matter, and sheer re-playability. Which is to say, Enema’s twelve tracks are a drug, a cocaine of sorts; once you hear your first taste of this album, it’ll be near impossible to turn away from its appeal.

The impact:

To this day, Enema of the State is seen as a hallmark album that not only capitalized on the rise of pop-punk’s popularity – it practically created that surge.

Coming off of the success of Dude Ranch (of which the hit single "Dammit" remains perhaps the band’s greatest hit), Enema doubled down on that album’s pop vibes and groovy guitar tracks to ultimately crash into the mainstream at the turn of the century.

From the album’s iconic cover featuring a nurse (portrayed by Janine Lindemulder) and the famous blue glove, to the monster singles that remain some of their most famous works, Enema is referred to by many as the record that allowed other pop-punk bands to find fame. In the few years following Enema’s release, bands like Simple Plan, Sum 41, and New Found Glory became mainstays in the scene thanks to blink-182.

“They’re the godfathers of pop-punk,” said William Beckett, former frontman of The Academy Is… in an interview with Rolling Stone. “When I heard they were reuniting [in 2009], I was losing my mind...”

Ryan Key, guitarist/vocalist for the soon-to-retire Yellowcard, spoke similarly of the band’s personal impact on his career. “I think the songwriting and production on Enema was a game-changer for me. It definitely made me want to be a better songwriter and make bigger-sounding records.” Yellowcard, in 2003, would release Ocean Avenue, a highly successful pop-punk album that launched the band into stardom.

Blink-182 themselves, of course, were floored by Enema’s success.

“This record changed our lives,” said Hoppus on the album’s 14th anniversary in 2013. “It still makes me happy to be onstage and hear Tom start the opening riff of ‘What’s My Age Again?’.”

From a sales standpoint, Enema would go on to sell nearly five million copies in the United States, with worldwide sales of over fifteen million records. To this day, it is the band’s most commercially successful album.


The future:

Blink-182’s most recent album, California, released on July 1st, 2016 – the 182nd day of the year. The album debuted at #1 on the US Billboard 200, and as of January 2017 has sold 408,000 units in the United States since release. California has also been nominated for a Grammy award for Best Rock Album, serving as the first Grammy nomination in the band’s career.

California was also the first blink-182 album without DeLonge on guitar/vocals; he departed the band in early 2015. Matt Skiba, vocalist and guitarist of Alkaline Trio, replaced him shortly thereafter and became a full-time member of the band during the California recording sessions.

The band has made plans for a deluxe edition of the album, which Hoppus has called “A whole other album.”

“It’s more of an extension of what we did in the studio earlier,” said Hoppus.

Next week’s review: Fall Out Boy’s “From Under The Cork Tree”

Friday, January 20, 2017

REVIEW: THE WHO'S "TOMMY"

Tommy is the fourth studio album from the legendary British rock band The Who. Introducing the concept of the “rock opera” – a rock album that interweaves a conceptual plot -  to the world in 1969, it is hailed as the first “extended work” in the rock industry and has since been critically acclaimed for breaking ground within the genre. What foundations did Tommy lay down that has rendered its artistic relevance nearly half a century after its release?


The content:

Tommy dabbles both in the grandiose and the simplicity of its time. Coming from the tail end of the 1960s, I expected the latter without much deviation from the classic, low-key rock.

I was wrong.

The opening track of Tommy, Overture, incorporates the French horn, of all instruments, into a classic rock song. While the majority of the instrumentals on this album aren’t as in-your-face as rock-n-roll’s later contemporaries, the complexity layered between each track makes up for that to provide for a cohesive, artfully plot-centric album. This to say that there’s subtlety in the music’s genius. Though I wasn’t immediately wowed by the album’s sound, once I saw it through the lens of the arrangement I found new appreciation.

Tommy tells the story of a deaf, blind, and dumb boy named Tommy as he explores his world, meeting characters such as The Hawker and The Acid Queen, before becoming a “pinball wizard” and starting his own religion as he regains his senses. The story’s plot is interwoven through the lyrics as they appear (Tommy features large instrumental breaks throughout tracks). Though the story comes off more blatantly than, say, American Idiot (another famous rock opera by Green Day), casual listeners can still hear any particular song from this album and go, “Oh, I love the chorus to this song!” or, “I really dig the drumbeat here!”

Speaking of drumbeats…

Keith Moon’s expertise at the drum kit proves to be what’s perhaps the most unconventional sound on the album. Throughout fairly standard guitar tracks and instrumentals are the wild, yet sonically deep drumbeats that manage to both provide rhythm and throw variety into the mix. If anything, Moon’s work on the drums in Tommy feel ahead of their time when looking at classic rock from the 1980s and 1990s; fills found in tracks like The Hawker and Christmas nearly verge on punk territory.

On a larger scale, the pacing of this album feels superbly tight-knit. I’ve complained in the past about albums being too blended when tracks sound the same, but in Tommy’s case that sense of unity proves to be more of a blessing than a curse. Keeping the concept of the rock opera in mind, each track hinges on Tommy’s story almost to the extent that the album feels like one seventy-five-minute manifesto as opposed to a collection of tracks. Thus, Tommy should be treated more like a storybook, or a movie, rather than a rock album – though different, Tommy deserves to be heard for its story in addition to its groundbreaking arrangement and interpretation of classic rock.

The impact:

Tommy made waves in 1969 as the world’s first rock opera, ultimately reinventing the band’s sound and bringing them to renewed prominence. The lead single from the album, Pinball Wizard, found success and went on to become one of Tommy’s staple tracks.

The frontman of The Who, Roger Daltrey, spoke of the album’s influence on his voice in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. “Once we got into doing all the songs on Tommy, as a vocalist I realized they really needed a stronger interpretation,” said Daltrey. “It gave me a canvas that was big enough to really, really take some chances. Once we got out on the road and sang it live, it just took off on its own and my voice grew with it.”

The Who would later record Quadrophenia, a 1974 album that also serves as a rock opera in light of their success with Tommy. Fans often consider those two albums to be some of the best in the band’s discography.

Daltery also supports Tommy as the peak in The Who’s musical career. “I just think it's the most complete. It is for me as a singer, anyway.”

To support the album, The Who played several gigs during 1969 and 1970 in which Tommy was played in its entirety, so as to reinforce the idea of the album as a cohesive narrative experience.

The album has since been re-interpreted as stage musicals on Broadway as well as in Seattle and London, in addition to a 1975 film of the same name based on the album.

The future:

Only two of the band’s original members – Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend – are alive today. Currently, The Who plan on touring throughout the United Kingdom in Spring of 2017, with special plans to play Tommy in its entirety for the first time since 1989.

While The Who were originally set to retire in 2015 after a set of festival performances, the future of the band after 2017 is now unclear.


Next week’s review: Blink-182’s “Enema Of The State”

Friday, January 13, 2017

REVIEW: NIRVANA'S "NEVERMIND"

Nevermind is the second of three studio albums released by Nirvana. While Nevermind, as well as Nirvana itself, exploded almost immediately upon its release in 1991, more than 25 years later it has since left behind an undeniable legacy that few albums have topped. Its fame and icon status has since made Nevermind arguably one of the greatest albums of all time, in part due to a plethora of factors.

The content:

Listening to Nevermind for the first time, as a twenty-year-old adult, was a tricky experience. There were all sorts of expectations going in – with Nevermind being one of the most iconic albums of all time, going in with a clean slate was tough (I had never heard anything from the band besides Smells Like Teen Spirit before sitting down to write this piece). That said, listening to one of the greatest albums of all time, holding each and every song to that mantle, was tough to steer away from.

But for a band consisting of only three musicians, Nevermind’s sound is absolutely explosive from beginning to end.

There’s a lot of meat in this album that’s a little difficult for me to put into words. While there’s a certain grunge that Nirvana has come to identify with (and is featured prominently on the opening track, Smells Like Teen Spirit), the other side of the coin features some kind of softness under the album’s menace.

One such slower track, Come As You Are, beautifully blends soft, gloomy riffs with a dark, heavy bridge without any forced transition. Come As You Are also precedes Lithium, a song with a similar mesh of the beast and the beauty of Nirvana.

But besides the balance between soft and heavy, or light and dark, Nevermind ushers in lots of distinct musical styles to suit any listener. Territorial Pissings and Stay Away have classic punk roots embedded. In Bloom has a vague stadium-rock feel to it, whereas Lounge Act, in similar punk-fashion, feels distinctly garage-y.

All of these styles would be nothing, however, without the album’s masterful production. With Butch Vig at the helm, Nevermind feels as much a DIY effort as it does a major-label outing. Everything from the bass to the vocals feels just raw enough to dirty up the polish, yet Nirvana is careful to not capitalize off of that essence.

There’s a whole lot more I could say about Nevermind, but to channel the cliché, there’s almost nothing to say that hasn’t already been said. Nevermind is nothing short of a classic album that, in a combination of styles and mixings that work just right, truly stands out as a shining example of rock music.


The impact:

Discussing Nevermind’s legacy in the music world is like discussing the legacy of 12 Angry Men or The Wizard of Oz in the film industry: it is truly a game-changer of an album.

Upon its release in 1991, sales for Nevermind skyrocketed after the success of its lead single, Smells Like Teen Spirit. The album has since been certified diamond by the RIAA for sales of 10 million copies within the United States, with over 30 million sold worldwide since its release.

On a longer-term scale, the album has been ranked #17 on Rolling Stones’ “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” and was featured on similar listings from Time magazine, Guitar World, and Entertainment Weekly. As evidenced by these rankings, Nevermind is considered by many to be one of the greatest albums of all time.

Artists from across the music industry have been outspoken about the impact that Nevermind has had on them:

“You could just listen to that thing on repeat, it never dipped,” said Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. “Just hearing that tape…it had an impact. It felt like a change.”

Flea, of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, spoke of the leading single’s radio success in comparison to his band’s single at the time, Give It Away. “I kept hearing this Nirvana song and was like, "God, that's a great fucking song. But are they going to play 'Give It Away'?" And then they turned out to be the greatest band in the world.”

The successes of Nevermind caught its members by surprise – despite having a platinum album at the time with Nevermind, they still found themselves touring in their van for venues that held less than a thousand people. Drummer Dave Grohl still lived in his friend’s guest room after the album had sold ten million copies: “I think we were all in shock after it happened. I went to Benihana with a credit card like, ‘Oh my God, this thing works!’”

Perhaps the only person not allured with the Nirvana sensation was the frontman himself – the legendary Kurt Cobain.

“I think it's embarrassing to have so many expectations of us,” said Cobain. When asked if his band weren’t prepared to become superstars, he responded affirmatively.

“We're not going to be [superstars]. We're prepared to destroy our career as it happens.”

Nevermind has since left its legacy perhaps as a relic of what once was Nirvana – the band disbanded after Cobain’s 1994 suicide. In light of the band’s sudden end, it’s still imperative to recognize the sheer impact that Nevermind had, from within the music industry, to the punk/grunge scene, to the millions of young-adults finding their place within the 90’s finest piece of musical work.

The future:

Given that Nirvana disbanded after Cobain’s 1994 suicide, it’s hard to determine what the future has in store for Nirvana’s legacy. That said, there’s no denying that the legacy still present isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Drummer Dave Grohl, after Cobain’s death, went on to form his own band, Foo Fighters, which have also seen international success in the music industry. Their latest album, Sonic Highways, released in 2014.

While Foo Fighters has been on indefinite hiatus since 2015, Grohl has assured that the band is remaining intact, having scheduled the band to perform sporadically in 2017.


Next week’s review: The Who’s “Tommy”

Friday, January 6, 2017

REVIEW: ALKALINE TRIO'S "MAYBE I'LL CATCH FIRE"

Maybe I’ll Catch Fire is the second full-length album from Chicago rock group Alkaline Trio. Releasing in 2000, the album saw little success…but has since blossomed into a shining example of Alkaline Trio’s ascent into punk stardom.

The content:

Maybe I’ll Catch Fire, speaking strictly on the basis of its production, feels like a microcosm of the entire pop-punk genre.

From the omnipresent bass, to the raw, biting guitars, to the often-humble drum, Maybe I’ll Catch Fire quite literally exudes that low-fi punk sound that has come to define some of the punk genre as a whole. Particularly in the album’s opening track, Keep Em Coming, the garage rock vibes hit like a truck, and it proves effective with the album’s sound. Other tracks, like Sleepyhead, provide a darker, deeper grunge to spice in some variety.

The lyrics within Maybe I’ll Catch Fire, much like the album itself, sound typical of the genre as a whole: retrospective, often angsty, but throaty and raw where it counts. Tracks like Madam Me and Radio feel bratty enough to make an impact (“Warmer than piss, have you ever felt like this?” and “Shaking like a dog shitting razorblades” are two particular lyrics that come to mind), yet at the same time carry a certain intelligence that not every punk song can.

Structurally, some songs feel blander than others. You’ve Got So Far To Go, which starts on a mellow enough scale for listeners to find their groove, feels too simplistic compared to harder tracks on the album. Similarly, 5-3-10-4, a later track on the album, doesn’t feel landmark compared to the dynamic riffs found during some of the album’s front-half highlights.

But then there’s the closer: Radio.

Starting off with a chillingly morose riff leading into a smooth drumbeat, Radio proves to be the album’s highlight as the narrator, during the heaviest chorus on the album, sings of his resentment for a girl. The hatred toward the subject reaches its climax with the titular lyric: “I wish you/Would take my radio to bathe with you/Plugged in and ready to fall.” Radio lulls its listeners to the album’s close, but not before one last bout of scratchy, angry vocals.

Though it might not be absolutely dynamic or groundbreaking, Maybe I’ll Catch Fire proves to be a fine example of some of the better works that came about during the pop-punk surge in the late 90s/early 2000s.

The impact:

While Maybe I’ll Catch Fire wasn’t favorably reviewed upon its release (some reviewers saw the band’s debut, 1998’s Goddamnit, in a superior light), it still paved the way for the band’s current success, particularly before their breakthrough album, From Here To Infirmary, released in 2001.

Though Alkaline Trio would claim success with their third album, its 2000 predecessor would still come to define the sound that not only made the Trio successful. Songs on Maybe I’ll Catch Fire, like Keep Em Coming, set forth the band’s sound that would carry over into Infirmary.

Matt Skiba, frontman for Alkaline Trio, has come to credit their musical sound and tone to his Chicago upbringing, despite his longtime residency in Los Angeles. “When people ask me where I'm from or where the band is from, I say Chicago without a doubt,” said Skiba. “I was born and bred…and it's like any city: It is what you make it and there's assholes and beautiful people everywhere, just don't run with douchebags and you're good.


The future:

Alkaline Trio’s latest album, My Shame Is True, released in April of 2013.

More recently, Skiba has been busy serving as the guitarist and vocalist for blink-182. Filling in for, and eventually replacing Tom DeLonge in early 2015, Skiba has since toured with blink-182 in support of their 2016 album, California.

Skiba, however, is adamant that his involvement with blink-182 doesn’t spell the end for Alkaline Trio. “Once things with Blink cool down a bit, the Trio can go in and make a new record and start touring gain while Blink is on break,” Skiba said in an interview with Daily Record. “It’s such a unique and wonderful position to be in, having two full time bands that people (myself included) are big fans of.”

Next week’s review: Nirvana’s “Nevermind”