|03-02-2012, 07:33 PM||#962 (permalink)|
Nobody likes my music
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: In Cognito
Ever been listening to an album and thinking this is great! And then suddenly, a really BAD track comes along, and you think, oh no that's really spoiled things? No, probably not: one track won't spoil an album, if it's good enough. But there's no doubt that a real turkey can temporarily take you out of the “happy place” you've been in up to then, bring you back to earth with a bump, even if after it's done, skipped over or ignored you go back to enjoying the album.
This section is dedicated to the “bad apples”, the one or two lower quality, or occasionally crappy tracks that make us wonder how the hell did THAT ever get on the album? Obviously, not everyone will agree with my choices, and some may believe the tracks I choose are better than I see them to be, but these are the impressions --- first and lasting --- that the below songs have left on me. These are the songs that are skipped when I play the album, or never added to a playlist.
The diary of Horace Wimp (Electric Light Orchestra) from “Discovery”, 1979
You can say what you like about this track, I bloody hate it! I hate everything about it, right down to the fact that they miss out Saturday on the annoying count of days in the end to fade, the weird and creepy voice that says “Horrrrace” at the end, the teeth-grindingly irritating vocoder effects (which usually I am ok with when it comes to ELO), the trumpet/baseball fanfare, and the whole idea of the thing being so damn simplistic. I also hate the melody. There, I just hate it, is all. And it comes on one of the very first records, never mind ELO albums, but one of the very first ever records I bought, on what I consider to be one of ELO's best albums (though others may dispute that), and in between the lovely ballad “Need her love” and the bouncy, happy “Last train to London”. How, oh how could they?
Patricia the stripper (Chris de Burgh) from “Spanish train”, 1975
I've always hated “Patricia the stripper”. I think it ruins the “Spanish train” album by Chris de Burgh. The whole thing is (as stated in my review of same during last year's “Seventies Week”) based around the ideas of love, fealty and a longing for home, with some great allegorical tales thrown in, most notably “Just another poor boy” and the title track. This, however, is a bawdy, tawdry tale set to a twenties melody and theme which I hate anyway, and seems totally out of place with the almost reverent tone of the album. Say what you like, but I hate it. Boo!
I think I'm going bald (Rush) from “Caress of steel”, 1975
Finally, we have Rush. How can an album that's so well crafted as “Caress of steel”, with its two epics --- “The Fountain of Lamneth” and “The Necromancer”, a heavy rocker like “Bastille Day” and the lovely, laidback “Lakeside Park” have a song about … going bald? Okay, I know they were poking fun at themselves, envisaging old age, and yes, it's not a terrible song, but really, it breaks the spell woven by this excellent album, and while it doesn't ruin it, it certainly sours the mood. With “Lakeside Park” to follow it, and coming after the powerful opener, it's a bit of a “wtf?” moment, and I really think the album could do without it.
Is there anything to be read into the fact that all of the above come from albums released in the seventies? No, I don't think so: poor songwriting and bad tracks respect no such boundaries, and I'm sure I can find plenty from any other decade, once I start looking!
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|03-03-2012, 05:46 PM||#965 (permalink)|
Nobody likes my music
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: In Cognito
As I remarked in the intro to my last post in this section, I've been less than lucky with my reviews of 2012 albums, having only come across one so far that I liked. This I hope, assume, expect, will help to begin turn the tide. It's not like I have any fears about it not living up to my expectations: I mean, come on! It's the Boss!
Wrecking ball --- Bruce Springsteen --- 2012 (Columbia)
The first new album from Bruce since 2010's “The Promise”, the first thing I notice about this album may not be all that significant, but I'd like to mention it anyway. It's the first time I've ever seen his name spelt in two separated words, as if his name were Bruce Spring Steen, and the way the album cover is created makes it look like spraypaint on a wall, which is probably intentional. The stylised wrecking ball behind the words seems to be trying to knock down the name and title: not very likely! This is also the last album to feature the great Clarence Clemmons, Bruce's longtime sax player who has been with him as part of the E Street Band since, well, forever. Clarence sadly passed away last year.
It starts off with heavy drums pounding on a real anthem, “We take care of our own”, which is also the lead single from the album. The whole theme of this album is rage against Wall Street, bankers and the pure greed and shortsightedness that led to us being where we are today. It's a powerful rocker, with Bruce in fine voice as ever, even at the ripe old age of sixty-three: he certainly takes care of himself, whatever about the acid sarcasm of the title of this opener. It's got the power and anger and determination of “The Rising”, but with a real sense of raging disappointment that things have been allowed to get so out of hand.
“Easy money” has a very celtic feel about it, hard folk rock with tinges of Texas country, attacking the suits on Wall Street who caused the present crisis which seems like it will be with us forever. There's a great sense of excitement and abandonment in the song, as the suits go in search of profit, believing there will never be an end to the ride. More folk rock in “Shackled and drawn”, and the somewhat simple arrangements on many of the songs echo his acoustic masterpiece, “Nebraska”, but with an electric edge this time. More celtic fusion on this song, with accordion, celesta and violins; there's a huge entourage of musicians helping out on this album, including the New York Chamber Consort and the Victorious Gospel Choir, as well as longtime members of the E Street Band Steve van Zandt, Max Weinberg and Patti Scialfa, though everyone does not play on every track. The fifties-style ballad “Jack of all trades” recalls the real workingclass blues with which Springsteen made his name, the songs of ordinary people struggling through sometimes extraordinary times. It has a very waltz style to it, with some nice but sad horns, particularly trombone from Clark Gayton, clarinet and sax from Stan Harrison as Bruce sings ”You use what you've got/ And you learn to make do/ You take the old/ And you make the new” though almost immediately he betrays simmering anger boiling over as he snarls ”If I had me a gun/ I'd find the bastards and shoot them on sight.” A fine electric guitar solo from Tom Morello sets off the song perfectly at the end, crying out the frustration of a million Americans who are highly skilled but can't find work in the so-called land of opportunity, and echoing that of the rest of us across the world.
Gospel themes merge with celtic for “Death to my hometown” --- perhaps back-referencing the closing track on “Born in the USA” --- a stomping anthem laced with pure rage and frustration, and you could definitely see this being a major part of future concerts as people vent their anger and dissatisfaction --- and let's face it: no matter what country Springsteen plays in, there are going to be people angry at their government. A slow, crunching ballad then in “This depression”, just to underline the point, and where Bruce sounded angry but determined to survive on “The Rising”, here he just sounds angry: livid, in fact, looking at what his home country has been reduced to. Sentiments we all echo, no matter where we are.
Tom Morello again lets loose with some angry, almost feedback guitar through this song, though Bruce himself is not content to just sing and play guitar, adding banjo, organ, piano, drums and even loops to his repertoire. Is there anyone who works harder at his music? The title track is a folky, Guthriesque country rocker with great violin and a fine chorus. Halfway through it kicks totally into life, rocking along like a good thing, and featuring a glorious sax solo from the late Clarence Clemmons, the Big Man giving it all he has. This song was recorded in 2009, two years before the E Street Band legend's death from a stroke.
There's a great sense of defiance about this track as Bruce shouts ”Come on! Let's see what ya got!/ Come on and bring on your wreckin' ball!” Starting off as an acoustic song then, “You've got it” is the closest to a “Nebraska” track, with pedal steel from Marc Mueller and lap steel, banjo and mandolin from Greg Leisz, great horns again from Stan Harrison as the song takes off halfway, ending on a great guitar solo to fade. “Rocky ground” opens with deep, heavy synth and drum loops, a gospel anthem and even features a rap, of all things, courtesy of Michelle Moore. It's a new style for Bruce to try, but then he's never been afraid to branch out and try something different. The Victorious Gospel Choir add a whole new dimension to the song, and indeed apart from having gospel themes, the lyric is actually based in religion, something Springsteen has previously shied from, even on “The Rising”, where you thought if he was ever going to reference Jesus or God that it would be there. Given the desperation and frustration evidenced all through this album though, it really fits into the structure, and doesn't seem out of place or odd.
Written way back in 1998, and featuring the last of Clarence's solos, “Land of hope and dreams” manages to completely encapsulate the feel and aim of this album in one track, a powerful, anthemic, air-punching song of hope and faith that is sure to rock every stadium in Bruce's upcoming tour. Echoing the best of albums like “Born to run” and “Darkness on the edge of town”, with lines taken from Curtis Mayfield's “People get ready”, you can't help but feel uplifted by its power and grace, and the album closes on “We are alive”, a boppy, uptempo folk rocker with great banjo and mandolin from Greg Leisz, a real upper to end the album, with a sharp message in the lyric.
This is one very angry album, which is just as it should be. If there's one man who can claim to speak for the dispossessed, the poor and the disenfranchised, at least in America, it's the Boss, and here he vents the anger and frustration and dismay and disbelief in just about every American heart, at least those of the ninety-nine percent. His land of dreams has become a broken land, and he damn well wants to know why, and what the people in power intend to do about it!
If I were them, I'd come up with an answer pretty damn quick!
1. We take care of our own
2. Easy money
3. Shackled and drawn
4. Jack of all trades
5. Death to my hometown
6. This depression
7. Wrecking ball
8. You've got it
9. Rocky ground
10. Land of hope and dreams
11. We are alive
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|03-04-2012, 07:45 AM||#966 (permalink)|
Nobody likes my music
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: In Cognito
Could there be stranger bedfellows? Meat Loaf and Barry Manilow? Couldn't exactly see ol' Baz singing “Bat out of Hell” now, could you? Well, of course that never happened, but the sultan of smooth did cover a Meat Loaf track, although in fairness it was --- like most of Meat's best work --- written by his old pal, Jim Steinman.
The song in question appeared on the album “Dead ringer”, the last to feature Meat Loaf and Steinman working together before their highly-publicised split and lawsuits, though they did sort it out and get back together thirteen years later for the release of one of Meat's most popular albums, the sequel to “Bat out of Hell”.
The song concerned here is a ballad, one of Steinman's many excellent ones, but ironically it wasn't a hit for Meat and didn't grace the charts until Barry Manilow covered it in 1983, two years after it had been released from the “Dead ringer” album. He makes a decent job of it (when does he not pour his heart and soul into anything he does?) but I still prefer Meat Loaf's original; I find there's just more emotion and passion in it.
As usual, here are the two versions for you to decide and make up your own mind as to which you prefer.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|03-04-2012, 05:31 PM||#967 (permalink)|
Nobody likes my music
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: In Cognito
Part Two: "Gonna write a classic. Probably."
The voyage has been long and troubling, more for the fear of what lies at its destination than due to any maritime adventures along the way, of which there have been precious few. It's been almost four months since we left the faintly shimmering coastline of Early Boybandland behind, and as is my task I've spent the time reading up on and --- say it without fear --- listening to the music of what I will term the “classic boybands”, although that's something of an oxymoron: there's nothing classic about any of these bands, nor will there ever be. But on a scale of let's say importance to the genre, these bands would be best known and rank the highest. New Kids on the Block and New Edition may have started the craze back in the early eighties, but it's really the nineties that this whole thing got totally out of hand, and boybands started springing up everywhere, like branches of Ikea or Starbucks.
All of the bands (I know, I know, but what else can I call them? Know what I'd like to call them … keep it friendly, keep it friendly...) I'll be looking at here started their careers in, and enjoyed their biggest successes throughout the 90s, so qualify as “classic” boybands, purely for that reason: they're seen as the “big guns” of the boyband movement, the ones people remember or revile when they talk about this genre. These are the ones who decided to start butchering some classic songs along the way, as if spinning out their own puerile pap (isn't this article nicely balanced and unbiased?) wasn't enough of an insult to music. These are the ones who most contributed to, even helped create, the cult of the personality, or indeed, the celeb, the ones whose image, love life, actions and fashion mattered a whole lot more to their fans, in general, than their music.
Of course, I don't know too many boyband fans --- at least, none that will admit it! Anyone reading this who is one, I welcome your discourse on the subject, as I am quite figuratively taking your heroes apart here (I say figuratively, as were I to say literally I would be liable to be jailed for murder) and they don't seem to have anyone to defend them. But to be totally fair, I'm not just writing about how bad they are. To be completely frank, I know very little of boyband music, and one of the aims of this feature is to try to understand, if I can, more about what drives these bands and their fans, why they are or were so popular, and where, if anywhere, they deserve a place among music's rich history.
So this time out I have four boybands to concentrate on. I know last time I only did two, but that was the early boybands and there really weren't (mercifully) too many of them at that time. By the nineties they were rampant across the face of the Earth like some incurable disease (sorry!) and therefore there are many more to cover for this period, and were I to decide to do so, I could probably write about nine or ten. But I want to restrict it to four, which is about all I think the universe will stand for at this moment, so these are the ones I'm going to be investigating on the second leg of my voyage to Boybandland.
To be completely fair and impartial, nationality-wise, I'm choosing two American, one British and one Irish --- God how I hate to admit we had boybands, but we did, and two of the bigger ones too! --- and they are Nsync, Backstreet Boys, Take That and Boyzone. I know Westlife probably fit this category too, but as they only recently broke up (who cheered? Oh, it was me!) I plan to hold them back for the third and final part of this treatise. Hell, they're pretty much carbon copies of each other anyway! Now, now, no pre-judging... what am I saying? I've already prejudged all these bands, and rightly so. They've made my life hell, polluting the airwaves for nigh-on thirty years now. But the idea is to see if I can scrape off the gloss and the surface paint, peel back the layers (if there are any) and look beneath the surface to see what's underneath, if indeed anything is, or if these bands are all as empty, vacuous and pointless as I believe they are.
As the wind sighs in the sails of our ship and the ancient timbers creak in protest (hey, I could only afford passage on an old tub! I'm not made of money, you know: who do you think is paying for this expedition? Yeah, you're talkin' to him!) I can begin to make out the misty coastline of my new destination, Terra Permusica Major, which roughly translates to “Greater Boybandland”.
As the old schooner begins the slow approach into the harbour, I consult my travel guide and learn that Greater Boybandland --- usually referred to as GBBL --- is basically broken into four main areas, regions or countries: no-one is quite sure what category they fall into, and the governmental structure around these parts is, shall we say, fluid and changeable. But for my purposes I'll refer to them as kingdoms --- which I don't think they are, but it suits my narrative, and as the whole ethos of the boyband genre is making everything suit your particular plan, that seems appropriate.
The first is the one we head towards, and it's called Chicotania. It is here that the main archive concerning the first successful boyband since New Kids on the Block (and indeed, the most successful in terms of sales of all time, with over 130 million records sold), the Backstreet Boys, is located, and here where I will learn what I need to know for my article. In Chicotania I will sample (shudder!) the music of these young guns of their time, and examine their phenomenon, try to work out what it was about them that made them so successful, almost ridiculously so. They still exist today.
Later I will head east, to the kingdom of New Southland, where I will research the other big American boyband of the time, the weirdly-named Nsync, then it's a three-day train journey to the very southernmost tip of this country to Tha'Takken, to read about and listen to the first big example of this genre to pop up outside the US. Finally, I will take a relatively short busride back north to Boyzeire, a much smaller realm which houses the Early Irish Boyband Archive.
As I disembark from the ship and head through Customs, I'm almost immediately surrounded by people. These guys are not well-dressed, and seem very much down on their luck. One offers to sell me a “genuine” Fender Strat for the price of a cup of tea. I politely refuse, but give him some money. BIG mistake! Like sharks sensing blood in the water, the others crowd in and press upon me as if I were the Messiah and they all looking for miracles. Some wave guitars, some thrust ratty pieces of paper purposefully in my face, with comments like “Look man, I just need someone to record this song, yeah?” or “If you see Timberlake tell him I wrote this for him”, and other such requests, demands, even threats.
A sudden shout of “Mr. Cowell! Simon Cowell!" rescues me as the wretches all turn their eyes to the left, beginning to move off in the direction indicated, shuffling with the half-desperate, half-hopeful gait of a auditionee for the “X-Factor”, and I turn to behold my saviour. A small, swarthy man with a large heavy moustache and deep, dark eyes, Max will be my guide for the first few weeks of my visit to GBBL, and will ferry me to my first two destinations. I'm eternally grateful to him for rescuing me, though as we stow the bags in the boot and I climb in the passenger seat, I confess I am somewhat bemused as to who the people who had been accosting me are.
“Ah yes, session men.” Max shakes his head gravely. “You have to feel for them. They do all the work, backing the band and playing the music, but they never get any recognition. They're the lowest class around here,” he confides to me, a slight tremor in his voice betraying his contempt for the situation. “Everyone loves The Kids, of course: the boyband members, not to mention their managers and producers. They get all the plaudits. But these guys: you can't not have sympathy for them.” I resist the urge to correct Max in his use of a double-negative, and hold my tongue as he expounds further, the tan-coloured Vauxhall Viva clanking and creaking almost as much as the boat that brought me here, as we pull into traffic.
“Time was,” he reminisces, “this country was full of guitarists, drummers, keysmen. They made an honest living, forming bands, gigging, recording. Life was good. Then the boybands came, and they were relegated to the status of second-class citizens. Terrible.” He shakes his head sadly, and for a moment I feel a little selfish as I find myself less concerned with the plight of these out-of-work musicians as I am with Max keeping his eyes on the road ahead. But his grip on the steering wheel is firm, and his eyes scan the twin lanes ahead as he pulls out and passes a large green bus, whose driver, a woman of African origin, flips him the finger as he passes, her pearl-white teeth glinting like jewels in her mouth.
“Terrible”. The last word comes almost four minutes after Max last spoke, and takes me by surprise, but I suppose he has been thinking about the situation of the unemployed musos as he drives. I feel compelled to ask why they don't just move on, and he shakes his head again. “None of them have the sort of funds that would allow them to do that,” he tells me. “Most spent all their money on their instruments, and what they occasionally pick up as session musicians for these upstarts wouldn't come close to what they need for the fare out of here. And even then, where would they go? You came here by sea,” he turns to me, precipitating another flutter of my heart as two motorcyclists zoom by, one on either side, and a police siren (or maybe an ambulance or fire engine) sounds in the distance. Is it getting closer?
“You've seen how far this boyband nonsense stretches. Why, you have to go thousands of miles before you leave the influence behind. I heard you say you have been to Terra Permusica Minor already?”
“What?” I'm a little thrown, as I haven't heard the name before. He sighs.
“No-one uses the old names anymore.” Another disapproving shake of the head. “These days it's called Lesser Boybandland,” he clarifies, “or Early Boybandland, something like that. I prefer the old names. Still, they mean the same thing. But you have been there, yes?”
“Early Boybandland?” I understand now. “Yes, I have. In fact, I came direct from there. Almost four months the crossing took.”
“So. And even that relatively slow and not exactly glamourous form of travel cost you, I have no doubt. And beyond here lies an even worse place, which they now call Future Boybandland, though most of its residents have taken to calling it New Boybandland. The old name,” he confides to me, “is Terra Permusica Ultima --- some fools think it means “ultimate Boybandland”, but it does not. It literally translates as “The last Boybandland”. So there is a very long way to go if you wish to escape the insidious clutches of life in Boybandland”, he concludes, “and going a long way means paying a lot of money. So most of the musos just hang around here, drifting from city to city, realm to realm, staying not too long in one place or the other, always on the lookout for work but seldom finding it. Ah, Scherzattach!” he snaps, and I assume this is some ancient expression of distaste. “Tis a bad hand they've been dealt, and no mistake.”
We continue on in silence for some time, each of us wrapped in our own thoughts, as the highway begins to thin out and more fields and hills become evident, as we obviously move away from the city and towards the outlying country. As my attention begins to drift and my eyes start to close, I suddenly see a huge structure passing by on the right, almost gone before my eyes and brain can properly register its presence. Quickly, I fumble out my camera and snap a picture, looking back as it recedes in the back window, its rapidly diminishing bulk evidence that we are travelling at some speed.
I look at the picture I have taken, having not had enough time to properly take in the huge statue --- for such it seems to have been --- in any detail before we are past it and it's behind us, vanishing rapidly, its configuration becoming less and less visible and discernible as the Viva speeds along, out into the countryside. What I can make out, now that I look at the picture, seems to be the figure of a huge man or manlike form, must be well over twenty feet tall, probably closer to thirty. The man --- if indeed it is a man --- seems to be large and fat, with a sloping, balding forehead and small square spectacles that cover small, squinty eyes. He appears to be dressed in an orange jumpsuit and is standing on something, though I can't quite make out what it is: the speed at which we passed the icon has blurred all but the largest aspect of the form.
I turn to my guide, asking what was that? He shrugs. “Ah yes,” he intones. “Pearlman, one of the most hated figures in Boyband history. A real pariah.” My blank look leads him to explain: I have never heard of this Pearlman of whom he speaks. He goes on. “The statue is one of several, hundreds even. One such stands at the entrance and exit to each major city here in GBBL. It represents the figure of Louis Jay “Lou” Pearlman, who was the creator, if you like, of both Nsync and the Backstreet Boys, and indeed also formed and mentored other boybands and young artistes. The statue depicts him standing in a prison jumpsuit, as you have probably worked out, as he was eventually jailed for mutiple fraud, embezzlement, conspiracy and money laundering offences.”
I have my recording ipod out now and I'm listening eagerly, and taping it all for later transcription and inclusion in my article. “The statue further shows him standing on the prone bodies of five young men, meant to represent neither Nsync nor BSB, but more a symbol of the many artists he cheated and lied to during his career. He swindled both the two big ones, and others, out of hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars, and had so many legal cases against him it just wasn't funny. Most got settled out of court, but eventually the weight of his crimes was so unsupportable that he was indicted on federal charges and he's now serving twenty-five to life.”
Max lapses back into silence then, and I ruminate upon the, as I saw it at the time, nefarious Maurice Starr, who also cheated his charges, infamously paying New Edition the princely sum of one dollar thirty-seven cents each for their first world tour! I thought that guy was a scumbag, but my god, Pearlman makes him seem like a saint! Seems no matter where boybands went, sneaky, greedy and crooked managers and promoters followed, like bodylice or bands of marauding lawyers. They were everywhere!
After a while I begin to nod off, as the sun starts to slip behind the darkening hills and the night air turns cold. The ancient Vauxhall is not air-conditioned, but then, I come from Ireland, where most of the cars are not, and anyway it's seldom warm enough to merit such technology. I am, however, glad when Max turns on the heater: it seems nights in GBBL can be damn cold!
I listen to the steady click of the car's engine as we travel along the country roads into what is fast becoming night, and I allow my eyes to slide shut, as I contemplate the work that awaits me in the morning.
It's well past two in the morning when the car finally bumps to a halt, and Max shakes me awake, advising me we have arrived. The hotel is not the most glamorous, but it's not a fleapit either: I had and have limited funds, but I refuse to stay anywhere that inserts an extra letter into hotel, making it a hostel. Hostage, more like! So it's a two-star at best, but at least I can be reasonably confident that breakfast at the “Millennium” --- named, I'm informed, for Backstreet Boys' third and most successful album --- won't have to be shared with any bedbugs or cockroaches. I hope.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|03-04-2012, 06:06 PM||#970 (permalink)|
Nobody likes my music
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: In Cognito
I awake in the morning, refreshed and with a new sense of purpose. I take a little time to look around and note that my surroundings are very New York skyline-like. Despite the two boybands who will form the first part of my research here in the north of the country being from Florida, I see little evidence of blue seas and condos. Instead there are skyscrapers reaching up into smog-choked skies, fleets of yellow taxicabs haring along the roads in tightly-knit packs like metal wolves, and the sounds of traffic, police sirens and alarms fills the air. When this place was built, they obviously had a very stylised idea of America in general, and this is the impression they have left here.
I leave the hotel and head down towards the library, where I'm about to begin my investigation into the multi-million-selling phenomenon that is one of the first truly “great” (I use the word advisedly) boybands, America's own Backstreet Boys.
As we've already learned, boybands are not formed, they're created. In the eighties it was Maurice Starr who was the Godfather, with the likes of New Edition and later New Kids on the Block on his resume. Going towards the nineties this position of power was taken over by one Lou Pearlman, who we have met in statue form on the way here. A man who began his career in aviation (and made a mess of that, going bankrupt) he would finish it in pokey, having cheated successive boybands and other artistes he managed out of millions of dollars, perpetuating one of the world's largest ponzi schemes, and falling foul of everyone from the Better Business Bureau to the federal government.
But back in 1992 he had placed an ad for a new band to take up the reins dropped by the aforementioned two bands from Starr's stable, and fancying himself as the new Starr, wanted to manage and produce boybands that would make him rich and powerful. Unlike Starr, he never seemed to have any real interest in the music, beyond what it would bring in in terms of cold hard cash. He was not a musician, and did not come from a musical background, despite having Art Garfunkel as a cousin. Pearlman's talent, it would become clear, lay not in music but in cheating people out of their hard-earned, setting up phantom companies and selling stock in them, and doing anything he could to make a dishonest buck.
Having already decided to form a group, Howie Dorough, A.J. McLean and Nick Carter had hooked up with cousins Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell. Seeing Pearlman's ad they auditioned for him and won the contest, releasing their first single the next year. Despite the tough, street-sounding name of the band, it was in fact chosen by Pearlman, who decided to name the band after a market in Orlando, the Backstreet flea market. How's that for shattering your illusions? Just as well they weren't from Ireland, or they might have been called Moore Street or The Liberties! Anyhow, their first single was not exactly a resounding success, but moreso in Europe, where they were to have their biggest initial successes, leading to their touring schedule being mostly concentrated on the likes of Germany, Holland, France and Switzerland. Their first album, imaginatively self-titled, followed in 1996.
Backstreet Boys --- Backstreet Boys --- 1996 (Jive)
Originally released only in Europe and a few other territories, due to the less than meteoric initial rise of the band in their native USA --- that would follow later --- their debut album was later released, under the same name but bearing tracks from this plus some from their followup, in the US. For handiness' sake though, for the purposes of this article we're considering the release of this album as their official first, with “Backstreet's back” their second, and then on to the third in “Millennium”, and so on.
Not that surprisingly for a boyband album, it opens with close-harmony singing, which in itself is not too bad, then the handclap beats and funky guitars and keys cut in, and a disco/dance beat unleashes “We've got it goin' on”, which incidentally was also their first single, released before the album came out. There are some pretty cool trumpets too, though as is usual with boyband albums all attention is focussed on the singers, and the musicians --- without whom these guys would be little more than acapella singers : G4, anyone? --- get little or no recognition. But whoever they are they're good at what they do.
It's not long before we hear the familiar mainstay of the boyband, the digital piano, as “Anywhere for you” becomes the first ballad, though without question not the last. As it goes, it has to be said it's not a bad song, though it would become subsumed among the generic lovesongs that BSB would shovel out by the double fistful as they tightened their stranglehold on the charts, and pried open more teenage girls' --- purses! I was going to say purses, you dirty --- on their rapid climb to the top. It's pointless trying to discover who is singing any one song (and anyway I don't care) as they all pretty much sound the same to me, and I also don't think it's important or germane to the issue, so I won't be giving you that information, as I don't have it, nor do I intend to look for it.
Back to the dance numbers then, with another close-harmony acapella intro as “Get down (You're the one for me)” assaults the aural senses. Even more handclap beats, stabbing synth chords and warbly keyboards, and a song that no doubt featured one of their many clever dance routines. With lyrics like ”You're so fine/ Gonna make you mine” you know what to expect, but it's still a little of a nasty shock when they start rapping! Oh no! Just when I thought I could stand no more! There is, however, to be completely fair to them, a nice slow bit in the middle, but it's nowhere near enough to save this piece of garbage.
Much better is the soul/gospel oriented ballad “I'll never break your heart”, sounding a little too close to Boys II Men's “I'll make love to you” for me, but then, most of these songs sound the same --- stop it! Be professional! Make an effort! Okay then, I will, but the comparison stands. Whose was first? Let's see... Boys II Men's effort was 1993, so these guys could be accused of copying, or at least taking elements of the melody from “I'll make love to you”. Hmm. Yeah, it's really not that bad a song, and best of all there's no rap in it! Nice strings arrangement on the song too.
Next up is “Quit playing games with my heart”, a slower, less dancy number but still with those ubiquitous handclaps and some nice laidback keyboards. It's slow enough to qualify as a ballad, so let's call it the first ballad on the album. Another thing that leaves my eyebrows completely unraised is that not one song on this album is written by, or has any input from, any of the boys, and with a very few exceptions, that's the pattern throughout their career. I can't claim to know any of the many writers they employ on the album (or rather, that Pearlman presumably uses), but they may be well-known in pop circles. One thing is clear though: of the five producers of the album, four of them are involved in at least some of the songs.
More dance nonsense with “Boys will be boys”, which (and again, sorry for the silly comparisons but) sounds similar to Sabrina's “Boys boys boys”, and that's going all the way back to 1987, so there's no place to hide with that one, guys! Mind you, that's about the only thing of note on this generic dance tune. Next! Well, "Just to be close to you" is a sort of half-ballad, half-rap, not a bad song with some nice vocal harmonies, heavier drumming that almost seems to avoid the everpresent handclaps, then “I wanna be with you” ramps up the tempo with a curiously ABBA-style opening and then some pretty solid horns, a dance beat but ultimately I'd classify this as another mostly empty song.
Some serious digital piano heralds the return of the handclaps for “Every time I close my eyes”, and really the best thing I can say about this is that it comes in as one of the shorter tracks on the album. Not so “Darlin'”, which runs for an agonising five and a half minutes, a really twee ballad with a totally annoying spoken opening in which one of the guys “talks to his lady”. Oh pass the sickbag! These guys must have been laughing all the way to … Pearlman's bank account. Yeah, sorry, forgot that. They got ripped off bigstyle didn't they? Well, I'm not unsympathetic, but I reckon they made up for it in later years. Not exactly on the breadline now, are they?
Still, terrible as that song was, the worryingly-titled “Let's have a party” doesn't hold any big surprises, specially with its opening line ”All I wanna know/ Is where the party at?” Has no-one heard of apostrophes anymore? Couldn't last through this one, sorry, and then we're onto “Roll with it” --- no, not the Oasis song. Another semi-ballad/dance/pop tune, ah hell, these all sound the same to me. Nothing special about this. And the album finishes on another generic, annoying dance number, “Nobody but you”, leaving me to wonder how I'm going to make it through, what, four of their seven (to date, with a new one due this year, Lord help us!) albums? Maybe if I call in sick...?
Then I remember: there's nowhere to call in sick to. This is my project, my decision, and come hell or high water, I have to see it through to the end. But it's going to take a hell of a lot of courage and self-discipline, and I may even take up smoking before it's done...
1. We've got it goin' on
2. Anywhere for you
3. Get down (You're the one for me)
4. I'll never break your heart
5. Quit playing games with my heart
6. Boys will be boys
7. Just to be close to you
8. I wanna be with you
9. Every time I close my eyes
11. Let's have a party
12. Roll with it
13. Nobody but you
As if I wasn't already annoyed enough with the whole boyband thing, Backstreet Boys are giving me a headache, not surprisingly with their music (though that's bad too) but with the insane double-releases and half-releases of their first two albums, to suit the almighty American market! I've already discovered that I accidentally downloaded the American release of their debut, which is essentially half the tracks that were on the European one AND half from the proper version of this album, which was a pain and necessitated much You-Tubing. Now I find the same holds true for my version of this, ostensibly their second album but in the USA their first, as above. So now I have an album with tracks on it I don't need, and without ones I do.
So off to bloody YouTube I go! Again! Not to mention that some of them seem to be Windows Protected files which won't bloody play unless I download a licence! GAAAH! WHY am I doing this??? And can someone please explain to me how one song on an album can be protected content, while the rest is not? RRAAWWWGGH! HULK... SMASH! Or something....
Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean...
Backstreet's Back --- Backstreet Boys --- 1997 (Jive)
Okay, now I've had a cup of tea and a lie down, let's start the review. Taking, as I intend, the European, or “proper” release of “Backstreet's back”, the second album from the Backstreet Boys, it opens with the title track, which everyone knows: loud, dancy, pounding rhythms and a rather annoyingly catchy tune that ended up being their first big hit, at least in the US. Subtitled (or indeed prefixed) “Everybody”, it's well known and became their signature song, unsurprisingly. It's followed by another big hit, “As long as you love me”, a sort of semi-ballad, and it's not puke-inducing, though I've heard a lot better. More handclaps, some okay piano --- well, come on, be fair: some pretty good piano --- and a relatively decent lyric, if a little simplistic and vacuous, but let's be honest here: we're not expecting any deep themes or subject matter from these guys are we? Songs about dancing, love, girls, nights out: these are going to be the main fodder for their music, and I guess that's fair enough. Play to your strengths is, after all, good advice in just about any situation.
Nice bit of guitar in “All I have to give”, which seems to be yet another ballad, and again, this is no surprise. BSB would carve out a career based around a mixture of slushy love songs and dance routines. This song, as it turns out, was written by Full Force, the first time the boys would turn to an established band to write a song for them. Serious dance beats and Art-of-Noise-style synth on “That's the way I like it”, with some half-decent keyboard melodies, then we're back to ballads for “10,000 promises”, which I grudgingly admit is not too bad. To be fair, when BSB do ballads they generally do them well, and they became one of the cornerstones, not only of their success, but that of every boyband that followed. Think about it: if you're a fan, how many of your favourite songs by your favourite boyband can you name that aren't ballads? There's another one on the way in “Like a child”, and yeah, again, it's quite nice, digital piano and guitar meshing nicely with some understated percussion, and the voices are almost soothing. Oh my God! Am I becoming a fan? Am I … am I.... CHANGING?
No, let there be no panic! Normal service is restored with “Hey Mr. DJ (Keep playing that song)”, another sub-dance filler with really (and I mean really) annoying synth-pops running through it. Get me out of here, now! Their first cover song comes with PM Dawn's rather nice “Set adrift on memory bliss”, which, even with the annoying raps I can quite enjoy. To a point. Another first, the first song written by a member of the band, “That's what she said” is not a bad effort from Brian Littrell, who writes the song solo. Another ballad, yes, but then what do you expect? Gotta give the guy credit: none of the others put themselves out on a limb creatively like this, and he does quite well. Nice arrangement too, with some violin and cello, soft percussion and acoustic guitar.
Of course it can't last, and “If you want it to be good girl (Get yourself a bad boy)”, possibly the longest title for a track I've seen since Meat Loaf's “Good girls go to Heaven (Bad girls go everywhere)” lives up to the limited, banal promise of its title, another dancy, peurile, macho piece of nonsense. It's left to the rather lovely “If I don't have you” to end things in style, with a slow, soul ballad that recalls their “I'll never break your heart” from the debut album, but is a very decent closer.
The whole US/European thing has bugged the hell out of me, but I think after this they kissed and made up, and all the albums from here on in were released in the same format with basically the same track listing. I certainly hope so, as I can't go through this again!
1. Everybody (Backstreet's back)
2. As long as you love me
3. All I have to give
4. That's the way I like it
5. 10,000 promises
6. Like a child
7. Hey Mr. DJ (Keep playin' this song)
8. Set adrift on memory bliss
9. That's what she said
10. If you want it to be good girl (Get yourself a bad boy)
11. If I don't have you
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