Sunday, November 25, 2007

albums of the day

Era Vulgaris by Queens Of The Stone Age.

I reckon Josh Homme is a pretty smart bloke. In music as in other things, dumb isn't much fun, but knowingly dumb is. And while hard rock is, as a rule, pretty po-faced and self-important, QOTSA clearly have a fairly well-developed sense of their own ludicrousness, something that would have prevented Axl Rose and David Coverdale, to name but two, from being such complete berks.

Having duly bigged QOTSA up I now feel obliged to tell you, to restore the delicate balance of the Force, that this, their most recent album, isn't their best.

Their previous album Lullabies To Paralyze was a stylistic mish-mash, everything from fairly poppy stuff like I Never Came and In My Head to the turbocharged rifferama of The Blood Is Love and Someone's In The Wolf (plus some amusing Blair Witch pagan/Satanic imagery in the artwork just to wind up the nation's moral guardians). This one, by contrast, has a much more heavy, muddy, industrial sound which pretty much doesn't let up for the whole album. When it's used in the service of a decent song, like the opener Turning On The Screw with its relentless two-note fire-engine riff, or the single 3's & 7's it's fine, but there isn't much light and shade, apart from Make It Wit Chu which, slightly bizarrely, sounds a bit like Brass In Pocket by The Pretenders.

In the end, as always, it's down to the quality of the songs, and despite some enjoyably gonzoid moments like Misfit Love and Battery Acid these just aren't quite up to the standard of the three previous QOTSA albums Lullabies To Paralyze, Songs For The Deaf and Rated R. Any of those would probably be a better place for the uninitiated to start. Or have a look at this acoustic yet rockin' performance of Hangin' Tree featuring an authentically terrifying undead vocal performance from the legendary Mark Lanegan.

The Avalanche by Sufjan Stevens.

You've just released one of the most critically-lauded albums of 2005 (Come On Feel The Illinoise!), and you've announced that it and its 2003 predecessor Greetings From Michigan will form the first two parts of a somewhat ambitious scheme to release an album for each of the 50 US states. So what do you do next? If you're sensible, crack on with some haste, as your current every-two-years release schedule will see you complete the set in 2101 at the age of 126.

But no. What Stevens actually did was knock together an album of out-takes, discarded songs and general odds and ends from the recording of Illinois and release it as an album in its own right (this one). Er, and then crack on and pick another state, right? Well, actually, no. What he actually did was release a 5-CD box set of Christmas-related songs. As you do.

Anyway, back to The Avalanche. This could have been horrible: Illinois was finely balanced on the edge of self-indulgent whimsy, and reading the track listing reveals that there are no less than three "alternate" versions of its centrepiece Chicago - a great song, but still, too much of a good thing and all that.

As it happens, though, this is great. There's nothing as brilliant as Decatur or Casimir Pulaski Day here, and the right version of Chicago was undoubtedly picked for the main album, but the standard is remarkably high considering there's a total of 43 songs on the two albums. It's the quieter banjo- and acoustic guitar-based stuff like Saul Bellow, The Pick-Up and Pittsfield that does it for me, but the more baroque stuff like Adlai Stevenson is fine too. A few of the atonal instrumentals can be safely skipped over, though.

Now get on and do another state.


The Black Rabbit said...

Right then sonny jimbo.
Lets get one thing straight:

"David coverdale being a complete berk"
Now then, you know very very well that is nonsense.
I won't have a bad word said against the Snakemeister.

And another thing, whilst I'm here -
"Being dumb isn't much fun"
Whatever happened to "Ignorance is bliss"?

Isn't it?
Isn't it.
Isn't though?

electrichalibut said...

I thought that might rattle your cage. Actually I have a sneaky feeling DC knew what he was up to. Surely no-one could sing Slide It In un-ironically? Could they?

The Jovester, on the other hand....