If I were reviewing the character Hurley, this would be an easier job – My Review of Weezer’s “Hurley”

Another year, another Weezer album as it were (these past 3 years they’ve turned into Woody Allen in terms of being prolific and consistency). Unfortunately, it seems the trend from 2008’s Red to 2009’s Raditude to 2010’s Hurley has gone slightly downhill, after coming back up from 2005’s Make Believe. The three-year hiatus did River’s and crew good as they found their Pop Rock roots and returned more to form with Red. Raditude wasn’t as strong an effort, but I for one did enjoy the album as a whole.

With Hurley, while there are some good songs I do enjoy – “Trainwrecks,” “Hang On” and “Brave New World,” I was and still am quite disappointed with the album’s first single “Memories,” as I am with the slower, softer songs on the album; I’ve primarily enjoyed River’s softer forays – from the classic “Butterfly” to Raditude’s “Put Me Back Together” and “I Don’t Want to Let You Go.” Hurley’s “Time Flies,” and “Unspoken,” are a little boring for my taste.

As a whole, I have to say that I am a bit disappointed in Hurley, especially after how excited I was to hear about the album title. There are some good tracks on there, but where Red and Raditude had a more classic Weezer album feel, even if the songs themselves weren’t as good as Blue through Maladroit (yes, I’m including Maladroit). I’ve defended both Red and Raditude by saying that River’s stuck with what he was really good at – writing a perfectly crafted pop rock song, and after trying and failing to step away from that with Make Believe, did a good job returning to form with those two. Hurley almost seems like he coasted through the process, because he was back in his song-writing wheelhouse.

That being said, I do feel obligated to support the band, as they have been among my favorite ever since I got into music. I even got the deluxe edition, with the bonus tracks, including a pretty decent live cover of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” which is a song I (and probably a good deal of America) got tired of when it was a big single, but enjoyed hearing from another big act. Not as cool a cover as their “Kids/Poker Face” from Raditude, but I’ll take it. Also, the short-but-sweet “All My Friends Are Insects,” seems to me, at least on the basis of bugs being in the title, a little tribute or homage, or even just a call back to the aforementioned “Butterfly,” an unappreciated favorite of mine, which starts out with a nice piano introduction – a change of pace to the always guitar-heavy hooks of the previous songs on the album, then tells a little story of a guy who enjoys Earth’s little creatures. I can’t say that I relate – I refuse to befriend insects. Also in the bonus tracks, their Unofficial U.S. World Cup Team Anthem – “Represent,” which didn’t get much notice during the tournament, but I enjoyed nonetheless.

I’m not much for grades or ratings, because if I like something I’ll usually just give it my non-patented Thumb-Up-Of-Approval, but in this case I’m going to stick with a 5 star scale, of which I’ll give Hurley 3 stars. For reference and comparison, Blue and Pinkerton get 5 stars, Maladroit and Green get 4.5 stars, and Red and Raditude get 4. Make Believe gets a 2.

P.S. I give the Album Artwork 5 stars. Hurley’s the Man.

Hurley

He's such a happy guy, how can you not smile when you see this?

Top Albums of 2009

I decided to break up the Best of 2009 list, albums and movies

I also decided not to rank them, as it was a bit of a slower year in music for me, and although there were albums I was more excited about coming out, at the end of the year I can’t pick a single favorite.

Here’s my list –

Weezer – “Raditude”
I reviewed it when it came out, and it was the album I was most excited for when it came out. I love the album, but again, can’t put it above the others on the list. One of my favorite bands, it’s good to see they’re releasing albums on a somewhat regular pace these days. My favorite songs include – “Put Me Back Together,” “Can’t Stop Partying,” “I Don’t Want to Let You Go,” and of course, the band’s bonus track cover of MGMT and Lady Gaga “Kids/Poker Face.”

weezer.com

Muse – “The Resistance”
Another top band of mine, Muse came back from 2006’s “Black Holes and Revelations” with another epic, whirling-synth-filled album. Apart from the single “Uprising,” notable tracks include the title track “Resistance,” and the Queen-esque “United States of Eurasia.” A great band to see live, check them out if they come to your city (and you can afford today’s ticket prices.)

muse.mu

Phish – “Joy”
They disbanded in 2004, right before I got into them, but like almost every important music act that’s been together 20+ years and breaks up, there’s an inevitable reunion album and tour. With Phish, they didn’t miss a beat with “Joy,” the band still sounds like they never left each other’s musical company. The album is a good mixture of upbeat and mellow tracks, with a typical short, bluesy and jokey song as well – “I Been Around,” featuring vocal stylings of keyboardist Page McConnell answering a simple question of “where have you been?” Produced by and old friend to the band, Steve Lillywhite, who also has a hand in producing another album on this list. More on that later.

phish.com

Pearl Jam – “Backspacer”
Another band I got into way late in the game (hadn’t really appreciated them until seeing them at Bonnaroo in June of 2008), “Backspacer” was a little unexpected – Apart from the single “The Fixer,” the album as a whole is a bit more mellow than what they’re known for. I’ve likened it in a way to Foo Fighter’s more recent albums, namely “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace” – still has the band’s essential sound, but especially with the end of the album, it’s something you can relax to, not necessarily something you can work out to (like I was expecting upon first gym listen).

pearljam.com

Thirty Seconds to Mars “This is War”
This one comes with a disclaimer – I am not unbiased choosing this as my fourth album of the year. I’ve been working with the band for 7 months and watching them record these songs, so they’ve been with me for longer than the average fan. In fact, before working for them I would not consider myself a fan at all, and had to be reminded that songs like “A Beautiful Lie” and “The Kill” were in fact theirs. Now, after hearing 7 months worth of songs from “This is War,” I can consider myself a fan, and despite having heard the songs numerous times before, still like them when I hear them. If you haven’t heard it, check it out – the band does a great job of stepping forward into a broader world, both lyrically and musically. No longer just a band that can do a heavy, guitar-driven all out rocker and a softer, lighter waving ballad, Thirty Seconds to Mars now can add synth-driven, techno-club rock to their repertoire of songs as well. Songs like “Night of the Hunter,” “Hurricane” and “Stranger in a Strangeland” feature heavy synths, produced with help of legendary British producer Flood, who’s personal synth was used (and donated) to the band on the album. Also lending his producing prowess to the album, specifically with new single “Kings and Queens,” – yup, “Joy” producer Steve Lillywhite.

30secondstomars.com

Best Soundtracks of the year (not named “Glee”)

“500 Days of Summer”
Leading off with the same voiceover that leads off the movie “This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know up front – this is NOT a love story,” the soundtrack for one of the best movies of the year (more on that in a later post) features songs from the film that not only capture the theme of the story, but the emotion of it as well. Most of the songs are prominently featured in the movie, some on multiple occasions throughout. Most notable is Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams,” which accompanies a glorious choreographed number mid-film. Regina Spektor’s “Us” is another track that can be heard throughout the film, and has a strong connection to the story and emotion of the main characters. The Smiths, who play a part in the romantic backstory of Summer and Tom, are featured on a couple tracks in the soundtrack as well.

“Adventureland”
Another soundtrack that captures the mood and theme of the film it’s linked to. The film set in the 1980s, and features popular alternative rock artists from that time period. As the movie itself is somewhat of an alternative coming-of-age 80s story, the soundtrack reflects it. Perhaps its the fact that this 80s movie was made in the late 2000’s and serves as more of a nostalgic look back than a time capsule snapshot like the popular Brat Pack films of the 80’s. Similar to “500 Days,” a band that plays a part in the film is also prominent on the soundtrack – namely Mr. Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love,” as well as the Velvet Underground song “Pale Blue Eyes.” David Bowie, The Cure, New York Dolls and Husker Du also grace the album with their presence.

Click the images to go straight to Amazon.

iTunes links –

“Raditude”

“Joy”

“Backspacer”

“The Resistance”

“This Is War”

“500 Days of Summer” Soundtrack

“Adventureland” Soundtrack

Music Review: Weezer’s “Raditude”

I’m gonna try something a little different on the blog. Here’s a review of the new Weezer album, Raditude, that came out on Tuesday, November 3rd.

I’ll start off with a disclaimer – I’m a huge Weezer fan. I’ve long considered them my favorite band, and I have been following them ever since I got into music. In fact, the first concert I ever went to was Weezer at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell, MA in March of 2001. (Before I was even in High School! Wow!)

Unfortunately, because of my age, I was not old enough to witness and appreciate the early, glory days of Weezer – Blue and Pinkerton remain their best albums to date. But the good thing about music is that it’s timeless (although try telling that to some people in the older generation who believe my generation hasn’t ever heard of The Beatles – it’s happened). Anyway, the show helped bring me into the world of Weezer, and I promptly bought their 3 albums in response.

It’s common knowledge at this point that their next three albums were not as well received as the previous three. Especially not #4 Maladroit, and #5 Make Believe. Maladroit was fine, it showcased the band’s desires to play heavier rock, but lacked the success with singles their previous albums had. Make Believe was worse – definitely their poorest effort. It was a relatively ambitious album where they tried reaching in a bunch of different directions; each song sounded like it could fit in another album, but as a whole didn’t fit in together well. There were a couple good songs, but overall a disappointment. When Red came out last year, the band moved in a positive direction. I was a big fan of the album, although singles-wise they had the same issues as previous songs – “Pork and Beans” was musically similar to “Beverly Hills,” but a little better. “Troublemaker,” on the other hand,  is a more traditionally Weezer song, and one of my favorites on that album.

Raditude has a comparable feel to Red, but it’s a little more pop-rock, which is really where Rivers Cuomo is at his best. It’s a fun, catchy album along the lines of Green; there’s maturity but still hints of their older, simpler love songs. Their first single, “If You’re Wondering If I Want You To (I Want You To)” is a perfect example of this. It’s in the tone of their newer sound, but the song is about the awkward time in a relationship before it blooms into something more. It’s upbeat, has a catchy hook, and has almost everything a Green era Weezer song would have, except for a guitar solo that mimicks the main melody of the song. In fact, the whole of Raditude lacks the presence of guitar solos, or really much advanced guitar work at all. The only song with much of a solo section is “The Story Of My Life,” which appears on the iTunes bonus tracks version of the album. This song is a bit further from traditional, as it is a completely acoustic and raw song, not included on the proper album.

“If You’re Wondering If I Want You To” featuring Sara Bareilles from AOL Sessions:

Speaking of the end of the album and bonus tracks, the band did something they started with Red, offering a bonus track version of the album. This time, they released a few different versions of the extended editions – an iTunes version which features “The Story of My Life ” and their cover/mash up of MGMT’s “Kids” and Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” The cover is a great song, and the mashup is seamless – the band uses the two songs identical chord progressions to their advantage, and Weezer does his best Gaga impression during the one verse of the song they include. It’s one of the longer songs on the album, and the synth rhythm acts as the backbone to the whole track.

My favorite track is “Can’t Stop Partying,” which is originally an old demo of Rivers’ he released on the second volume of his Home Recordings album, from last year. For “Raditude, he includes the whole band, some synths and the help of Rapper Lil’ Wayne to sing the second verse. Included in that second verse, a lyric that couldn’t happen in any other musical situation – “…it’s Weezer and it’s Weezy, upside down MTV…” The song has the same tongue-in-cheek tone as Make Believe’s “We Are All On Drugs,” but insists on itself less. Rivers also sticks to more of his melodic vocals, which is always a welcome decision over his previous obsession with  talk-rapping (see Maladroit’s “American Gigolo.”) It’s interesting as a contrast to his acoustic demo, but doesn’t lose anything as a polished, genre-mixing song.

Here’s “Can’t Stop Partying” from the AOL Sessions –  instead of Lil Wayne on they got Chamillionaire:

As a whole, I really enjoy the new album. It’s definitely no Blue, but as is the case with any other band that peaks early, I’m not sure they’ll ever make anything as good as their first one. As I hinted earlier, Rivers has made a career of attempting to create the perfect pop rock song, and is one of the more prolific writers of his generation. (In 2000-2001 the band released 30-40 demos on their website – I filled 2 CDs of most of them). Where he faltered a bit with attempting to be more than a pop-writer on Make Believe, he comes back with near full force on this one. One thing about Weezer that I’ve always loved is their ability to grow on me per each listen…so if you’re looking for a good pop rock album with some catchy, uncomplicated riffs and lyrics, look no further than Raditude. I give it my Josh Glass Thumb Up of Approval.