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Queen Of The Clouds [Blueprint Edition][Explicit]
Queen Of The Clouds [Blueprint Edition][Explicit]
Price: $12.99
32 used & new from $7.23

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you don't already own "Queen of the Clouds" (or "Truth Serum"), this basically renders the earlier releases obsolete, October 9, 2015
I first took notice of Tove Lo thanks to her guest lead vocal on the magnificent “Heroes (We Could Be)”, a huge hit for EDM artist Alesso (a fellow Swede, and a major talent in his own right, but that’s for another review). The vocal prowess and sheer power of Tove Lo’s delivery struck me as really exceptional, but it was even more intriguing to realize that this person was a bonafide songwriter and artist in her own right.

That said, I approached “Queen of the Clouds” with skepticism. The album title itself struck me as leaning on the side of pretentiousness, as did the noticeable presence of several short link tracks (all less than 10 seconds) announcing “THE SEX”, “THE LOVE”, and “THE PAIN”. I wasn’t familiar with any of the songs from the radio or anything (even though “Habits” had already become a hit), so I had little idea what to expect. I thought this might be an overblown disaster, but for someone like me with an eternally keen interest in pop music, I was more than willing to give it a try. I figured if nothing else, her vocal ability would hopefully make the proceedings at least listenable.

In short, I got a lot more than I bargained for. Tove Lo doesn’t even try to move beyond themes of sex and longing for love and affection, and the general ‘concept’ of the album, tracing a relationship through an intensely exciting beginning, a more stabilized middle, and then a painful break up, isn’t exactly innovative or brilliant on its own. The execution, however, is spellbinding. Clearly existing within the ‘pop world’, Tove Lo transcends it. She does overreach on rare occasion, but just saying that brings to mind the old adage that it takes a true genius to create something truly awful, and the missteps are part of an overall exhilarating package.

With this newly released reissued version of "Queen of the Clouds", you get all the tracks from the album proper, the 'extra' tracks from her slightly earlier "Truth Serum" EP, plus more, all on 1 CD. If you already own "Queen of the Clouds" and "Truth Serum", you may understandably not want to bother with this, but on its own terms, it's logical and convenient to have all this material together one 1 disc, since it fits, and it gives you a great Tove Lo bang for your buck!

Without going any further, “Talking Body”. You think you’ve heard it all, then this comes along. What an unbelievable stroke of brilliance, a track that deserves its place in the upper echelon of all-time classics, although despite the popularity it has attained, I feel like people aren’t getting it. If you were to only be familiar with this song from her woefully subpar performance of it on the Ellen DeGeneres show, its genius may have understandably evaded you. Plus, with the radio version having become very popular and received lots of airplay, the song has sparked significant debate, particularly over the lyrics which have been accused as being cheaply hedonistic, which I think is badly missing the point. The song is truly haunting, and the big comparison here that occurred to me is with the 1983 Genesis classic “Mama”, which details one man’s obsession with a prostitute in a similarly scary, albeit powerful fashion. It may be a nutty coincidence, and perhaps not something Tove Lo would take as a great compliment, but the deep, unfussy synth-bass line of “Talking Body”, as well as its ghostly keyboard chords and ominously sexual lyrics, really bring to mind the aforementioned Genesis song, but as I consider “Mama” one of the absolute best tracks in rock history, that’s incredibly high, HIGH praise--I never thought in all my life that a new song would come along that could scale those heights. But to be clear, in no way am I saying that “Talking Body” is a “Mama” rehash--actually, the comparison only really occurred to me after I’d already listened to “Talking Body” probably about 100 times. The different melodic lines of “Talking Body” work so well that it masks the fact that the whole song rides the same chord progression (other songs here, such as “Got Love” and “Habits”, fascinatingly use the same strategy)--again, it’s only after countless listens that this really sinks in. There’s a magical touch of syncopation to the chord changes, particularly evident on the explosive chorus, with a spellbinding singalong hook that practically redefines “insanely catchy”. The airy bridge section, where Tove Lo’s gently yearning, echo-tinged voice ethereally floats over the mix, is also noteworthy and takes the song to another level still. One other trick that is evident on the final chorus is where Tove Lo sings the words using just the tonic note over the top of the ‘regular’ vocal line (a trick she uses to brilliant effect on “Got Love” as well), which has a menacing effect as the song is winding down. It works as a Rock song, a dance-pop song, a synth-pop song, it’s modern, it’s retro, it’s timeless. In sum, you can hardly praise this “Talking Body” enough--it’s phenomenal.

With a track like “Talking Body” on board, plus the fact that is appears pretty early on in the album, it sets the bar so ridiculously high that it’s destined to make the rest of the album pale by comparison. However, it turns out that most of the rest of the album is great in its own right.I learned that Tove Lo had a major vocal surgery quite soon after this album’s release, and based on subsequent live performances (including the aforementioned appearance on the Ellen show), there does appear to be a difference. Singing live night after night is understandably straining in any case, especially for someone who’s such a power singer, and long term, only time will tell how her voice holds out. But with the powerhouse vocals she delivers throughout “Queen of the Clouds”, I’m grateful she managed to get this done before the operation. Her ravaged, warts-and-all delivery on the cavernous, emotionally supercharged “The Way That I Am” helps spiral the song through the stratosphere, and I can’t imagine you wanting it any other way. “Got Love” is a transcendent uptempo pop-rock tune with a bracing chorus, suitably anthemic lyrics, and masterful production touches all around including a brilliantly-placed swooping orchestral hook, plus great variety in Tove Lo’s vocal delivery (notice how she sings the middle-eight, with a somewhat offbeat melodic line that somehow works perfectly). “Like Em Young” is a lightweight, humorous song that comes across as a 21st century take on early ‘60s girl-group bubblegum pop, and once again shows what a total command of focused, catchy hooks Tove Lo has. Other fantastic songs include “A Thousand Miles”, with its gently-pulsating, tom-laden verses and perfectly-realized vocal melody; and “Not On Drugs”, with memorable interplay between the bass line, the echo-y guitar, and the stuttering hip-hop style rhythm. I think the ballad “This Time Around” is supposed to be the last song of the album proper (bonus tracks notwithstanding), and it brings the album to a tasteful, contemplative conclusion.

As I said before, there are some missteps, particularly the wretched “Timebomb”. Thankfully, “Timebomb” appears just after “Talking Body” as opposed to just before, or else you may be likely to turn the album off prematurely. “Timebomb” features Tove Lo doing this somewhat rapid-fire delivery, and although I suppose the intent was to capture a frenetic mad-rush of sexual excitement, the result is an inane ramblefest. “Moments” is where Tove Lo makes the pompously in-your-face declaration that most of the time she is actually “charming as f*ck”, and although the lyrics are obviously personal and somewhat effective, it’s still an iffy tune that seems more worthy of a third or fourth-rate pop ‘artist’ than someone of Tove Lo’s caliber.

However, I don’t have hard feelings about the three link tracks like I did initially. Tove Lo has explained that she was trying to make it clear to the iTunes/Spotify etc. listening crowd that the album had different chapters, and she felt that this was the best compromise as far as how she could accomplish this given the limitations of how those sites would be presenting the track listing. Learning that, I understood where she was coming from and sympathized with her plight, and what seemed a little dumb at first suddenly seemed astute and smart, plus they’re all so short, it’s probably not worth getting to bent out of shape over them anyway.

Ever prior to the release of this deluxe “Blue Print” edition, it seems there were different versions of the album floating around, but as I said before, this one essentially renders all the earlier ones redundant. “Run On Love” is a great uptempo track which is the closest thing here to her aforementioned collaboration with Alesso. Speaking of which, “Heroes (We Could Be)”, somewhat surprisingly, also gets included on this edition. “Love Ballad” appears to be one of Tove Lo’s early, somewhat embryonic attempts at songwriting, although despite the forced lyrics, the song does come to life with a soaring chorus. “Over” also appears this time, and although it’s a bit distressingly commercial, it’s still memorable, with an unforgettable, urgent chorus. One song though that is somewhat strangely missing is "Scream My Name".

Even without “Talking Body”, “Queen of the Clouds” would be a more-than-worthy debut album, but with it, it becomes essential. All in all, Tove Lo rocks. She’s really an exceptional artist, and despite some understandable obstacles regarding her voice, as an artist she seems to be fully in command and making the most of every opportunity. She’s a rush of inspiration, and I know I’ll be interested to see what comes of her musical career down the road.


Queen Of The Clouds [Explicit]
Queen Of The Clouds [Explicit]
Price: $9.82
91 used & new from $5.17

5.0 out of 5 stars Tove Lo rocks--"Talking Body" is phenomenal, and most of the rest is great as well, October 2, 2015
I first took notice of Tove Lo thanks to her guest lead vocal on the magnificent “Heroes (We Could Be)”, a huge hit for EDM artist Alesso (a fellow Swede, and a major talent in his own right, but that’s for another review). The vocal prowess and sheer power of Tove Lo’s delivery struck me as really exceptional, but it was even more intriguing to realize that this person was a bonafide songwriter and artist in her own right.

That said, I approached “Queen of the Clouds” with skepticism. The album title itself struck me as leaning on the side of pretentiousness, as did the noticeable presence of several short link tracks (all less than 10 seconds) announcing “THE SEX”, “THE LOVE”, and “THE PAIN”. I wasn’t familiar with any of the songs from the radio or anything (even though “Habits” had already become a hit), so I had little idea what to expect. I thought this might be an overblown disaster, but for someone like me with an eternally keen interest in pop music, I was more than willing to give it a try. I figured if nothing else, her vocal ability would hopefully make the proceedings at least listenable.

In short, I got a lot more than I bargained for. Tove Lo doesn’t even try to move beyond themes of sex and longing for love and affection, and the general ‘concept’ of the album, tracing a relationship through an intensely exciting beginning, a more stabilized middle, and then a painful break up, isn’t exactly innovative or brilliant on its own. The execution, however, is spellbinding. Clearly existing within the ‘pop world’, Tove Lo transcends it. She does overreach on rare occasion, but just saying that brings to mind the old adage that it takes a true genius to create something truly awful, and the missteps are part of an overall exhilarating package.

Without going any further, “Talking Body”. You think you’ve heard it all, then this comes along. What an unbelievable stroke of brilliance, a track that deserves its place in the upper echelon of all-time classics, although despite the popularity it has attained, I feel like people aren’t getting it. If you were to only be familiar with this song from her woefully subpar performance of it on the Ellen DeGeneres show, its genius may have understandably evaded you. Plus, with the radio version having become very popular and received lots of airplay, the song has sparked significant debate, particularly over the lyrics which have been accused as being cheaply hedonistic, which I think is badly missing the point. The song is truly haunting, and the big comparison here that occurred to me is with the 1983 Genesis classic “Mama”, which details one man’s obsession with a prostitute in a similarly scary, albeit powerful fashion. It may be a nutty coincidence, and perhaps not something Tove Lo would take as a great compliment, but the deep, unfussy synth-bass line of “Talking Body”, as well as its ghostly keyboard chords and ominously sexual lyrics, really bring to mind the aforementioned Genesis song, but as I consider “Mama” one of the absolute best tracks in rock history, that’s incredibly high, HIGH praise--I never thought in all my life that a new song would come along that could scale those heights. But to be clear, in no way am I saying that “Talking Body” is a “Mama” rehash--actually, the comparison only really occurred to me after I’d already listened to “Talking Body” probably about 100 times. The different melodic lines of “Talking Body” work so well that it masks the fact that the whole song rides the same chord progression (other songs here, such as “Got Love” and “Habits”, fascinatingly use the same strategy)--again, it’s only after countless listens that this really sinks in. There’s a magical touch of syncopation to the chord changes, particularly evident on the explosive chorus, with a spellbinding singalong hook that practically redefines “insanely catchy”. The airy bridge section, where Tove Lo’s gently yearning, echo-tinged voice ethereally floats over the mix, is also noteworthy and takes the song to another level still. One other trick that is evident on the final chorus is where Tove Lo sings the words using just the tonic note over the top of the ‘regular’ vocal line (a trick she uses to brilliant effect on “Got Love” as well), which has a menacing effect as the song is winding down. It works as a Rock song, a dance-pop song, a synth-pop song, it’s modern, it’s retro, it’s timeless. In sum, you can hardly praise this “Talking Body” enough--it’s phenomenal.

With a track like “Talking Body” on board, plus the fact that is appears pretty early on in the album, it sets the bar so ridiculously high that it’s destined to make the rest of the album pale by comparison. However, it turns out that most of the rest of the album is great in its own right.

I learned that Tove Lo had a major vocal surgery quite soon after this album’s release, and based on subsequent live performances (including the aforementioned appearance on the Ellen show), there does appear to be a difference. Singing live night after night is understandably straining in any case, especially for someone who’s such a power singer, and long term, only time will tell how her voice holds out. But with the powerhouse vocals she delivers throughout “Queen of the Clouds”, I’m grateful she managed to get this done before the operation. Her ravaged, warts-and-all delivery on the cavernous, emotionally supercharged “The Way That I Am” helps spiral the song through the stratosphere, and I can’t imagine you wanting it any other way. “Got Love” is a transcendent uptempo pop-rock tune with a bracing chorus, suitably anthemic lyrics, and masterful production touches all around including a brilliantly-placed swooping orchestral hook, plus great variety in Tove Lo’s vocal delivery (notice how she sings the middle-eight, with a somewhat offbeat melodic line that somehow works perfectly). “Like ‘Em Young” is a lightweight, humorous song that comes across as a 21st century take on early ‘60s girl-group bubblegum pop, and once again shows what a total command of focused, catchy hooks Tove Lo has. Other fantastic songs include “A Thousand Miles”, with its gently-pulsating, tom-laden verses and perfectly-realized vocal melody; and “Not On Drugs”, with memorable interplay between the bass line, the echo-y guitar, and the stuttering hip-hop style rhythm. I think the ballad “This Time Around” is supposed to be the last song of the album proper (bonus tracks notwithstanding), and it brings the album to a tasteful, contemplative conclusion.

As I said before, there are some missteps, particularly the wretched “Timebomb”. Thankfully, “Timebomb” appears just after “Talking Body” as opposed to just before, or else you may be likely to turn the album off prematurely. “Timebomb” features Tove Lo doing this somewhat rapid-fire delivery, and although I suppose the intent was to capture a frenetic mad-rush of sexual excitement, the result is an inane ramblefest. “Moments”, where Tove Lo makes the pompously in-your-face declaration that most of the time she is actually “charming as f*ck”, is an iffy tune that seems more worthy of a third or fourth-rate pop ‘artist’ than someone of Tove Lo’s caliber.

However, I don’t have hard feelings about the three link tracks like I did initially. Tove Lo has explained that she was trying to make it clear to the iTunes/Spotify etc. listening crowd that the album had different chapters, and she felt that this was the best compromise as far as how she could accomplish this given the limitations of how those sites would be presenting the track listing. Learning that, I understood where she was coming from and sympathized with her plight, and what seemed a little dumb at first suddenly seemed astute and smart, plus they’re all so short, it’s probably not worth getting to bent out of shape over them anyway.

It appears there are different versions of the album floating around. Depending on which you listen to, you may get to hear “Run On Love”, a great uptempo track which is the closest thing here to her aforementioned collaboration with Alesso. “Love Ballad” also may be in tow, which appears to be one of Tove Lo’s early, somewhat embryonic attempts at songwriting, although despite the forced lyrics, the song does come to life with a soaring chorus.

Even without “Talking Body”, “Queen of the Clouds” would be a more-than-worthy debut album, but with it, it becomes essential. All in all, Tove Lo rocks. She’s really an exceptional artist, and despite some understandable obstacles regarding her voice, as an artist she seems to be fully in command and making the most of every opportunity. She’s a rush of inspiration, and I know I’ll be interested to see what comes of her musical career down the road.


Changes
Changes
Offered by HTF CD $4 Discount on every item at checkout
Price: $35.99
21 used & new from $16.58

4.0 out of 5 stars pleasant, if quite generic '80s pop/R&B, spiked with one tremendous classic, June 17, 2014
This review is from: Changes (Audio CD)
"Risin' To The Top" is one of my favorite songs of all time. It's not super complicated, and the instantly familiar minor-keyed two-chord progression that it's based around had been exploited (sometimes to bland effect) by the likes of Barry White, Barry DeVorzon, and probably countless others. But the combination of atmospheric synthesizers, in-the-pocket drums, an irresistibly funky bass line, female backup vocals on the chorus, a masterfully-timed arrangement, and Burke's incredibly soulful delivery of the uplifting lyric, it's a stone classic by any measure. I heard this tune one lone time on the radio many, many years ago, and was baffled and frustrated at not being able to find out who the artist was. By the time I finally, on something of a fluke, did find out who it was, I'd kind of forgotten about it, but was ecstatic at the discovery, and hearing it again, if anything, it's even better than I remembered. Truly an inspirational tune, just wonderful.

You can't really expect anything else on the album to live up to the standard of "Risin' To The Top", but on the other hand, overall, the rest of album holds up remarkably well. In fact, even if "Risin'..." wasn't on here, this would still be quite an enjoyable slice of early '80s, Quincy Jones-styled pop R&B. And actually, the similarly mid-tempo "Hang Tight" gives "Risin'..." a fair run for the money, with an absolutely kickass bass line, and more of those wonderful female backup vocals. He also manages a couple of really good, atmospheric ballads with "Who Do You Love" and "One Minute More". The more uptempo tracks such as "Shakin'" and the title track are where the album noticeably loses a bit of steam, quite formulaic and corny, with lyrics that don't seem particularly thought out, but the energy level on them is high and they manage to be solid 'dumb fun' anyway.

If you grew up on this early '80s R&B sound, this ought to be a really refreshing 'throwback' listen for you. Even if all you know from the album is "Risin' To The Top", don't fear that the rest is total filler--it's a highly worthwhile listen.


Ultraviolence [Explicit]
Ultraviolence [Explicit]
Offered by B68 Solutions Limited
Price: $9.99
150 used & new from $2.34

25 of 67 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The title of track #9 seems to sum it up--she's certainly not on top due to her musical talent, June 17, 2014
Well, well. The title of track #9 on this album seems to speak volumes: "F***ed My Way Up To The Top". Back in 2012, a friend of mine admitted to a sneaking captivation with Lana Del Rey. Me, I was put off instantly by Del Rey's rehashed Lolita presentation, and with this new album now plaguing the musical marketplace, and somewhat unavoidable for a pop music fan, I've lost it.

I don't know where the whole "anti-Gaga" description exactly came from. Frankly, she strikes me as being PAINFULLY SIMILAR to Gaga. Both have some kind of bare bones interest in film noir, which they use as a cheap excuse for unimaginatively vulgar lyrics. Both have some degree of admitted vocal talent (Del Rey less so than Gaga) that just plain goes to waste amidst the dreadful overall packages of their respective music.

I am past the point of no return as far as Lana Del Rey's music being deemed "haunting". Am I the only one who suggests that you need to do a bit more than sing-speak a bunch of mumbo jumbo about how you want to take drugs and be the world's ultimate boy toy? There have been numerous truly haunting gems that have come out within the past couple years, and seemingly fallen on deaf ears. Check out Little Paper Dolls by Michelle Bourque, an ambigious-yet-striking rumination on the potential dangers of obsessive dieting. Or how about David Becvar's Crash and Burn, a cautionary tale about not realizing what you really want to achieve in life until it's too late. Never heard these songs? That's largely because they are real songs from actual artists with an artistic mission and a purpose in their creation, not merely a product of a male-dominated entertainment industry which has become seemingly clueless of how to concoct a female pop star without making her look like she's primarily a PORN star. And as for the whole super-high "airy" vocal style that Del Rey uses on the aforementioned "F***ed My Way Up To The Top", Johanna Warren uses that style to REAL effect on her lovely Both Worlds. But no, instead Lana Del Rey is the one garnering all the attention. Sad, AND PATHETIC. *sigh*

It's not like I had high expectations or anything, but this is an offensive album, very hard to stomach, and I hate it similarly to the way I hated Lady Gaga's "Artpop" last November (another album which I similarly had the misfortune of encountering). In closing, I recommend keeping "Ultraviolence" out of your life.
Comment Comments (24) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 17, 2014 8:44 AM PST


Music in Me
Music in Me
Price: $8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best singer-songwriters I've ever heard--absolutely brilliant, December 7, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Music in Me (MP3 Music)
One of the very first things that struck me upon my discovery of Michelle Bourque was the title of her CD: "Music in Me". It's a title that struck me as having a very earnest and yet no-nonsense vibe about it, and it also had a retro element, bringing to mind the title of Kiki Dee's 1974 album "I've Got the Music In Me".

After spending much time listening to the almost puzzlingly addictive songs herein, there could hardly be a more appropriate album title than "Music in Me". Michelle has music in her alright, and yet, where it actually COMES FROM, per se, that seems to be a bit of a mystery. It becomes more than a little evident as the album goes along that her guitar abilities, though perfectly functional, are notably limited, but it hardly hinders the proceedings in the slightest. She has a tremendous sense of composition and phrasing, and the staggering quality and depth of her songwriting and vocals win the proverbial prize over and over again. And even her plunking acoustic strumming becomes almost amusingly distinctive.

To refer to an old saying, Michelle has an ability to come up with songs that are so instantly engaging, it's somehow hard to believe that there was a time when they didn't exist. That's by no means to say that Michelle's songs are rip offs--in fact, I've found myself at an almost near-loss to even find an someone analogous to compare her to. Michelle herself uses Sheryl Crow as a reference point, which, given Crow's penchant for insipidly grating and shallow pop singles like "If It Makes You Happy" and "Soak Up The Sun", initially struck me as way off the mark, although I just recently listened to Crow's latest album "Feels Like Home", and it made me realize that when she isn't pandering slavishly to radio in a lowest-common-denominator fashion, she can achieve some real emotional resonance, so maybe the connection holds some merit. And the Jewel reference point that Michelle also uses makes some sense, particularly in regard to some of the guitar-and-vocal material from Jewel's very first album such as "Little Sister" and "Near You Always".

Still, I don't feel like those comparisons particularly do Michelle Bourque justice. I see her being more in the vein of the supremely-tasteful work of '70s singer-songwriters like Karla Bonoff and the late great, largely-unheralded Laura Allan. But, as fine of songwriters as they were, it was pretty much an endless barrage of `love songs', and Michelle offers so much more lyrical variety than that. Despite the superficially been-there-done-that presentation, Michelle winds up sounding incredibly individualized and unique. She comes across as totally confident and in touch with herself. On the title track which opens the album, she mentions a pledge that she's made with herself to "keep it real"--it would be an understatement to say that she indeed does just that. In fact, given her remarkably unknown status and the notion that she is totally content with that and uninterested in pandering whatsoever, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a more `real' and honest songwriter on the planet, and as an artist, she's all the richer for it, and now I am as well.

That's not to say that any of these songs couldn't make for ravishing pop singles. If you didn't know any better, you'd swear that the mega-catchy "Keep On Loving Anyway", with spot-on two-part harmony, was a hit all the way, and in the best sense of the term. The title track isn't a pompous attempt at defiance like Kiki Dee's "I've Got The Music In Me" title track, but rather an introspective rumination about trying to "find the music" and express one's feelings accurately and effectively, a beautiful sentiment rendered movingly. The dreamy, albeit cautionary "Little Paper Dolls" is maybe the best of the best, with an absolutely immaculate arrangement where even the `open string strums' between chord changes manage to sound brilliantly musical, and the lyrical metaphors and line extensions are pure inspiration. Michelle demonstrates some serious jazz-inflected vocal chops on the wonderfully playful and sensuous "A Show", putting Norah Jones to shame. "Growing Moments" and "So Fine" are what I can envision being called `slice-of-life' songs, with the latter featuring little arpeggiated bass lines on the breaks, another offhand touch of genius and indicative of the seemingly endless ear-catching pleasures found within. The aptly-titled and timely "Consumer Boomer" hits upon a topic well worth revisiting, and "Woman In Control" is a wonderful evocation of defiance and self-respect.

There is some notable variety in the generally consistent instrumentation. Most jarring is the wailing harmonica on the intro of "Temptation" which seems to beam in out of absolute nowhere and literally jolted me the first time I heard it. There's also some creepy accordian and a sizable children's chorus for the album-closing tribute "Shazam!" which alternates somewhat `haunted house'-sounding verses with an upbeat and insanely-catchy chorus (deftly-executed two-part harmony once again).
All in all, you really do start to wonder where this all comes from. Unlike, say, critic's darling Laura Marling, where it's one nearly tuneless, `metaphoric' ode/kiss-off to a former lover after another, the depth that you find on this album is really quite staggering, and a healthy reminder of how much interest, musical AND lyrical, one can pack into 50 minutes. It all seems to flow so naturally, and yet, if you read between the lines of the title track, maybe these songs really did spend years `simmering' and being perfected, a la Leonard Cohen. Either way, Michelle is really one of the best songwriters I've ever heard, and I have huge hopes for most of these songs yet.


Once I Was An Eagle
Once I Was An Eagle
Price: $11.99
55 used & new from $3.80

2 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a smidgen of maturity is detectable, but that's not saying much--listen to Johanna Warren instead, November 28, 2013
This review is from: Once I Was An Eagle (Audio CD)
It never ends. Laura Marling is yet another monumentally overrated singer-songwriter who presumably had the absolute good fortune of knowing someone who knew someone who was able to land one of her amateurish, navel-gazing, near-tuneless compositions into a key scene of "Grey's Anatomy" or maybe "Gossip Girl", and hence her career was launched.

The persistent Joni Mitchell comparisons are inevitable. I find Joni monumentally overrated and guilty of excruciatingly self-indulgent ramblefests in her own right, and considering the high regard in which Joni is held in the rock/folk pantheon, the accolades for Marling become understandable by comparison.

I will grant that Marling's vocals seem to have taken a step forward by this point--kind of amazing to notice a fellow reviewer expressing the exact opposite opinion, claiming that Marling has LOST her voice. She doesn't race through the words as if she's late for her latest dinner date, the way she did on "Ghosts", and she is able to conjure up some resonance, particularly on "Undine" which, with its ear-catching harmonized guitar runs, is one admittedly good track that you'll find on this album.

But for the most part, the song remains the same. Her relentless rat-in-a-cage lyrical preoccupation with dead-end 'romance' is exhausting, including her incessant telling off of former 'lovers' as if she's absolutely the bee's knees. She still doesn't pay much attention to melody either, which just heightens the inherent shallowness of the lyrics. She plays this whole 'you won't get to me' and 'I'm so hard to get' routine on "Master Hunter" (which is on the rock-ish side, a rarity on this album), and yet she still refers to her subject as "babe", as if she's some kind of completely sacred, irresistible temptress, and then uses her 'power' merely to cut every guy in her path right down for her own perverted pleasure--it's a schtick that's been done to death, and it's unimaginative and unimpressive.

Way too big of a deal has been made over the supposed 'unity' of the tracks, where songs run seamlessly into another and melodic themes recur--you know, this is an album where it's hard enough as it is to even remember what song you're listening to after a while, and in this case, a gimmick like that smacks of a severe lack of ideas, if not downright laziness.

I can sense a certain 'background music' appeal here, as the predominately somber, sometimes downright morbid tone, combined with the generally spartan arrangements does generate some kind of meditative vibe and could make for a passable sleeping aid, although even that gets disrupted thanks to Marling's infatuation for occasional pompous dynamic 'explosions', exemplified on the title track, not to mention out-of-place organ that crops up on "Where Can I Go?"

My best advice is, if you seriously think Laura Marling is a wonder to behold, you owe it to yourself to check out Johanna Warren, who has recently put out her debut solo album Fates. In simple terms, she blows away Marling at her own game, doing the exact kinds of things that Marling seemingly tries to accomplish, but Warren does it so very much better, with a truly beautiful voice and a real ear for melody to go with it. At least stream a few of her songs on a legitimate streaming platform, such as Spotify--if I had to cherry pick three, I'd go for Both Worlds, Woods, and Your Glow. Show some support for a compelling new artist who really deserves it, and you'll be glad for my referral, as those three aforementioned songs are terrific. And that's a recommendation also to the reviewer who claims it's "painful" to wait for the next Laura Marling release (come on, seriously?).
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 22, 2015 11:48 PM PDT


Fates
Fates
Price: $8.91

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great voice, captivating sound--an engaging debut, November 14, 2013
This review is from: Fates (MP3 Music)
This is the debut solo album from this artist, who aligns herself with the likes of Joni Mitchell and Laura Marling, two artists that definitely go together. The influence of Marling is very clear from the opening track "Both Words", with its lyrics that unfold in a steady stream, and also how it uses the device that Marling uses on her well known track "Ghosts", methodically repeating certain lyric lines, particularly at the end of a verse, plus the densely-layered vocals that appear as the track goes along.

Having said that, I think Johanna Warren has Marling absolutely beat at her own game. I find Marling appallingly overrated and nearly unlistenable with her croaking paper thin vocals, rambling, self-indulgent navel-gazing lyrics, and her inclination to treat melody like an afterthought, all of which are accusations that can fairly be thrown at much of Joni Mitchell's 'classic' work as well. Warren, however, finds something within their music, filters it through her own sensibilities, and transcends those influences quite profoundly. Very much unlike Marling (to my ears anyway), Warren has a great ear for melody, which she effectively marries to her serene vocal delivery. The core of the sound is based on fingerstyle acoustic guitar, and the sound is fleshed-out with sumptuous, though not intrusive, vocal harmonies, along with other tasteful embellishments such as flute, as well as keyboards that are atmospheric without being bland. The formula works magically on several tracks: the aforementioned "Both Worlds", "Your Glow", and "Woods". I sense a Leonard Cohen influence with her phrasing and guitar stylings on "My Storm", another standout track; "We Fell" also employs the same type of fast-yet-delicate guitar picking. The mood and sound stays very similar throughout the album, but that's not a criticism, as the cohesiveness and sheer quality of her vocals and songwriting establish and maintain a vibe that's downright meditative.

I think the closing track "Have To Lose" is a bit of a misfire--despite the inviting musical backing with its double-tracked acoustic guitars, her voice sounds too airy and thin with her dwelling on her higher register, and melodically it comes up short as well.

All in all though, this is quite a find. I'm not entirely sure what the target audience for someone like Johanna Warren might be--as I said before, I hear the Laura Marling influence, but based on what I've heard of Marling, I think Warren is far, far superior. This is definitely an artist to add to your playlist and keep in the back of your mind!


Feels Like Home
Feels Like Home
Offered by insomniacsonline
Price: $9.49
148 used & new from $1.74

3.0 out of 5 stars some fine songs here, but uneven, and saddled with a characteristically disposable hit song, November 13, 2013
This review is from: Feels Like Home (Audio CD)
Based on the single "Easy", you can easily be forgiven for wondering what the hype is about regarding Sheryl Crow's supposed 'reinvention' as a country artist. Crow is a maddening artist, because despite her obvious talent and ability to make fine music, she's racked up a pile of some of the most irritating and insipid pop singles of the past 20 years, including "If It Makes You Happy", "Soak Up The Sun", and now the laughably banal and tossed-off "Easy" among them, songs that make it hard to even take her halfway seriously as an artist.

I had read beforehand that "Easy" was essentially a deliberately dumbed-down cheap shot to get radio play and that it isn't an accurate representation of the album overall, and it turns out there is a certain truth in that. "Easy" sounds pretty much exactly like what I'd expect from Crow, and doesn't give the slightest indicator of her having 'gone country'. But after actually giving the entirety of "Feels Like Home", I'm now less cynical about the whole 'country' reinvention, because the country vibe is indeed felt, and quite credibly at that.

There are some fine songs here. When the energy level gets kicked up on the riffy opening track "Shotgun" and the swinging, harmonica-laced blues-rocker "Best Of Times", the record is downright enjoyable. The album closer "Stay At Home Mother" is a standout track, a highly tuneful and surprisingly moving ballad. "We Ought To Be Drinkin'", with a scaled-back arrangement that gets nicely embellished, is also well worth the effort.

Still though, there are numerous forgettable tunes including the formulaic country weepfest "Waterproof Mascara", the run-of-the-mill adult contemporary ballad "Homesick", the totally phoned in 'heart-it-a-zillion-times-before' "Callin' You When I'm Lonely", and the rote shuffle "Nobody's Business".

It's kind of a shame the record doesn't consistently live up to the standard of its best tracks, but it's a lot better than "Easy" would lead you to believe, and if you enjoy staying on top of things in the country-pop world, there's definitely a clutch of tracks from "Feels Like Home" worth adding to your playlist.


Artpop
Artpop
Offered by QualityCD&DVD
Price: $6.65
237 used & new from $0.01

59 of 93 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars exactly what you'd expect--unoriginal, nauseating, and pompous beyond words, November 12, 2013
This review is from: Artpop (Audio CD)
Get over it, folks. It's impossible to adequately express how unbelievably overhyped this 'artist' and album are. Based on the media frenzy she creates, Gaga's appeal presumably lies so much in her shock value, but when you divorce yourself from her ludicrous and exhaustingly tiresome image, the lyrics here are thoroughly BORING and uninspired, with run of the mill sexual crudities and vulgar imagery that add up to absolutely nothing. Asking if she wants to be seen naked, tossing in formulaic come-ons and interchanging the ideas of 'love' and 'sex' in such a catastrophically muddled way as if there's just plain no difference between the two, anyone who thinks there's any depth here needs to go back to Robert K. Merton. The disjointed free association nonsense of the cut-and-paste opening track "Aura" is absolutely pathetic. The title track finds her seemingly suggesting that her music (which she laughably and pretentiously refers to as "artpop") could mean "anything"--a more accurate assessment would be to say that it means NOTHING.

With attention deficit disorder running so rampant these days, I'm amazed at how anyone could stand to actually listen to this seemingly ENDLESS album from start to finish, as it takes the idea of tepid monotony to an extreme, and you're hard-pressed to even remember what song you're listening to after a while. Musically, Gaga has seemingly pounded it into the public's mind that her cacophonous, clattery sound is hyper-modern and totally on the cutting edge--people need to go back and listen to Giorgio Moroder's From Here To Eternity, which came out in freakin' 1977 people, and STILL sounds otherworldly today, not to mention that Moroder understood how to work up an arresting, hypnotizing atmosphere, and didn't have to beam in the proverbial kitchen sink and flagrantly stupid, in-your-face lyrics in a desperate and vain attempt to hold the listener's attention.

I didn't pay anything for this album, nor have I ever been a fan of Gaga's, and admittedly, I really never planned to review this, but I AM a fan of pop music in general, and I happened to hear this record and felt that writing this review was important, as I had some things to get off my chest about the Gaga phenomenon. To be perfectly honest and fair, I can't deny that Lady Gaga does have very considerable talent. She's no less than credible on the piano, and she's clearly a trained vocalist with a tremendous ear for vocal layering--these abilities do provide some ammunition for apologist fans trying to defend Gaga against her army of detractors. "Venus" puts her vocal layering talent on full display and provides an undeniably ear-catching moment on the album, but naturally, even this gets ruined with the cliched sleazeball lyrics.

I'm not as up to date with the pop music happenings of 2013 as I'd like to be. However, I feel like I've discovered records that run the gamut. On the great/really good side there has been David Becvar's remarkably inspired Obsolete, Paul McCartney's better-than-expected New [Deluxe Edition], and Johanna Warren's captivating Fates. On the average side we've gotten Elton John's par-for-the-course "The Diving Board" and Sheryl Crow's uneven "Feels Like Home". Below average, there's been Laura Marling's tedious "Once I Was An Eagle". With "ARTPOP", I found an album to add firmly into the "dreadful" category. This is a royal disaster of an album that sounds about as calculated and factory-made as it can get, aiming squarely at her already massive fan-base, and cashing in big time. In a somehow predictable twist, Lady Gaga commented fairly recently that she doesn't care about money--you know, I kind of wish she DID, because then maybe she would just wander off, enjoy her $100+ million, and I wouldn't be stuck hearing about her in the news all the time.

I'm inclined to say the whole album is wasted talent, but then again, considering the mass hysteria and money the album is generating, I suppose it's doing what it sets out to do. But I recommend avoiding this record at all costs--it's the kind of album where you can feel your brain cells dying as you listen to it, and the annoyance factor is through the roof. "ARTPOP" is probably one of these records too that helps give America such a terrible reputation to foreign countries. Why DOES Lady Gaga have so many fans? I only WISH I could give a rational explanation.
Comment Comments (16) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 11, 2014 3:10 PM PST


Long Wave
Long Wave
Price: $12.99
33 used & new from $7.97

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a trifle, November 10, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Long Wave (Audio CD)
It's become an almost painful trend for veteran rock and pop stars to devote entire albums to their 'roots', which is basically what Jeff Lynne is doing on his 2012 all-covers album "Long Wave".

I find that "Long Wave" fares particularly poorly on various counts, partly in the sense that, Lynne hasn't exactly been musically prolific over the course of the past 20 years, and "Long Wave" adds considerable proof to the idea that Lynne is washed up in terms of writing new songs. I'd heard rumblings about how Lynne had a new solo album in the works long before it finally came out, and what he actually gives us on "Long Wave" is underwhelming to say the least. Yes, he did do the 2001 Electric Light Orchestra album "Zoom" (yielding the soaring single Alright), which probably would have been more accurately labelled as a Lynne solo album, although a fair case could be made that ELO was, first album aside, purely a Lynne vehicle anyway. I also acknowledge that Lynne has done production work, including George Harrison's posthumous 2002 album "Brainwashed" and Tom Petty's 2006 disc "Highway Companion". But as far as bonafide new material, he's had remarkably little to offer, with 'new' songs typically being in the form of old/ unfinished tracks that were gussied up and tacked on to archive releases/ reissues.

We get 11 songs here. The entire running time clocks in at under 28 minutes. That said, I'm certainly not saying this album would be any better if it were longer. All covers, and hardly a brilliant song selection, as he opens the set with the interminable "She" (made famous through Charles Aznavour's version), and I hardly needed to hear him do the often-covered "Mercy Mercy" or Roy Orbison's pompous melodrama "Running Scared" either. Basically everything is either an 'early rock & roll' tune, or something from what is known as the 'Great American Songbook', and all Lynne really does is apply his now-customary "Cloud Nine"/Traveling Wilburys sound to every single track, which might sound enticing for diehard Lynne fans, and admittedly, the characteristic massed vocal textures and occasional slide guitars do offer some 'ear candy' value, but really, this is damning with faint praise and the record just doesn't work. The whole record strikes me as a trifle, and a royal waste of effort, at least artistically (not sure about financially). Take his cover of Chuck Berry's "Let It Rock", for instance--it's basically a note for note copy, yet without the raw, kinetic rock & roll energy of Berry's classic hit version, and the extra layers of sound and Lynne's mannered vocal add precisely nothing. Meanwhile, "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing" (with its out-of-place synth washes that sound like they came straight off the "Secret Messages" album) and the sickeningly sappy "Smile" get eaten alive by the slick production.

When you additionally consider that Lynne did a less-than-steller job with his production work on Joe Walsh's "Analog Man", also released in 2012, it becomes highly suspect that Lynne is almost completely washed up. Granted, he's got so much classic material already behind him that his status as a pop music icon is secure, but "Long Wave" is an incredibly forgettable listen from an artist who seems to have run out of things to say.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 6, 2013 7:59 AM PST


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