Saturday, September 24, 2016

Still Talkin' To Myself And Nobody's Home: Use Your Illusion I & II at 25

Fun how ev'rything was Roses
When we held on to the Guns
Just because you're winnin'
Don't mean you're the lucky ones

         ~ Breakdown - Guns N Roses

On September 17, 1991, Guns N Roses released two of the most anticipated albums in music history: Use You Illusions I and II. The albums debuted at number two and one respectively. This was the first album, that if I wasn't 13, I would have sat outside in a line to buy at midnight. So the next best thing was to call and reserve a copy over the phone - at midnight. Tough sell was mom, credit card and parental advisory sticker.

So what was it that made this release so in demand and special? The addition of drummer Matt Sorum? Izzy Stradlin's freedom on the albums? If you look back at Appetite for Destruction, GNR was simply and angry rock and roll band. Drugs, sex, alcohol, sex and a show every now and then. It was brash, in your face, rock and roll. When everyone got a glimpse of You Could Be Mine and Knocking on Heaven's Door, it hinted at a departure away from trying to re-make Appetite.

When I finally got my hands on these two and listened, I had never heard anything like it. It wasn't a Sweet Child O' Mine or a Mr. Brownstone, these songs were melodic, some were heavier, they were rock symphonies if you will. The songs were longer, pushing the envelope with the 2.5 minute radio ready songs. Accompanying these songs were mini films of gorgeous, well crafted videos.

The most well known video from these albums would have to be the November Rain video, inspired by the Del James short story, Without You. This was the first in a series of three that would tell the story of Axl and tragic love (intertwined with really cool concert footage, of course).

Don't Cry followed with just as much confusion instead of answers, Axl in a Revolutionary War outfit, Shannon Hoon hanging out with them on the roof, and the green Axl below the cemetery. 

To round out the trilogy, Estranged is one of my favorite songs on the album. It is in the same soaring solos, chilling piano moments and building crescendos. But the video is just downright odd but sadly symbolic of Axl's life at the moment. Yes, jumping off a tanker after envisioning himself swimming with dolphins, only to be rescued by a USCG rescue swimmer. WHAT? Just watch 

Those songs along with You Could Have Been Mine are the ones that, I would say, most associate with when they hear these albums. But waking up today with these albums in my mind, I went back and listened. I listened with 23 years on my soul. And damn, it was a great album.* The lyrics are phenomenal, the chords are perfect, and the fusion of light and heavy throughout makes Use Your Illusions I and II one of the best double albums of the 90's . Yes, I'm putting that out there.

We'll never have another time like this. The heavy metal era was something special and so very unique to those growing up in it and trying to find an identity. This was a time when we waited for albums to be released. There were no internet leaks or download instantly at home. You had to earn your music.

The album cover was also a bit of a stretch from the cross and skulls of Appetite. This one, designed by Mark Kostabi, redesigns Raphael's painting, School of Athens. If you ask me, the highlighted figure of the unknown philosopher looks like an early Banksy to me.

From all of the songs on these albums, my highlight, lyrically, is Breakdown. It gives such insight into relationships that, at 13, I had no clue what the song was really about. Now, it is simply beautiful and portrays the reality of the ups and downs of many relationships. Musically, the song has it's ups and downs as well, building and falling, breaking and then finishing a calm mix of piano notes and guitar chords.

So if you have some extra time or want to go back through memory lane. I highly recommend taking a listen again to these albums. I can't recommend one over the other. Both have songs that are good for their own reasons.

It's also humbling for me to think that this would really be the last we would have of the Guns N Roses that we grew up with. This was before Axl went off the deep and decided to show up late to all of his shows. I'm happy this was a double album, that we were able to hear all of this wonderful music from the at their peak. Take a listen and let me know if it brings back the same memories - or evokes something the album didn't before.

Right Next Door To Hell
Dust N' Bones
Live And Let Die
Don't Cry
Perfect Crime
You Ain't The First
Bad Obsession
Back OFF Bitch
Double Talking Jive
November Rain
The Garden
Garden Of Eden
Don't Damn Me
Bad Apples
Dead Horse

Civil War
14 Years
Knocking On Heaven's Door
Get In The Ring
Shotgun Blues
Pretty Tied Up
So Fine
You Could Be Mine
Don't Cry (Alt)
My World

Here We Are Now Entertain Us: Nevermind at 25

If my eyes could show my soul,everyone would cry when they saw me smile ~ Kurt Cobain

The album that would  revolutionize the grunge movement was released 25 years ago today. Not many of us rushed out to buy it ... until we say THAT video. 

While their first album Bleach was popular in the UK, in the US, the new grunge sound was just beginning to permeate the airwaves already thick with LA's hairbands. The previous week, Guns N Roses double album Use Your Illusion was released to phenomenal sales. Who was Nirvana? Flannel, heavy guitar sounds, and angst was ushered in by Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl: Nirvana. MTV and VH1 played music videos and Smells Like Teen Spirit propelled the band into the mainstream. Ironic when you set out to be against it. 

But why has the album been classified as the one to push grunge across the mainstream boundary? What about Pearl Jam's Ten or the Alice in Chain's Facelift? To most, it sounded like noise. To a music lover, it was filled with layers of varying music styles, perfect pitch, and poetic lyrics. Nirvana's Nevermind was the gateway album to all of grunge and to those bands who inspired the grunge movement as well. (See Mother Love Bone, and Green River)

Aside from the music, this shift from LA glam to Seattle grunge was also how many of our generation felt. GENERATION. This album represents a generation and a shift in music trends.  We were in that middle and high school funk. We didn't want high bangs, we wanted docs and flannel and we were tired of everything having to be perfect. We wanted new music. Nevermind was like nothing we'd heard before. 

Smells Like Teen Spirit
Kurt Cobain's attempt at sounding like the Pixies and making fun of a 90's teen deodorant was the tipping point for grunge's birth into the mainstream. The video alone was novel, gone were the bikini clad models and welcomed were anarchist cheerleaders in black and dancing custodians at a dingy high school band assembly. The song is filled with chord progressions and nods to power chords of the 70's and 80's. Grohl's drumming and Novoselic's steady bass combine with Cobain's unique yet perfectly tuned voice.
 Our little group has always been
And always will until the end

Hello, hello, hello, how low?
In Bloom
If this song didn't convince you of the gifted mind of Kurt Cobain, nothing ever will.  The song is a message to the fans who have no clue what Nirvana were about. This song is driven by the progression of the harder chorus and softer vocals that would be a signature model for many of the band's songs.

The video is the first of many of the 90's to use the old is new again approach, making a parody of 60's music variety shows. 

Come As You Are
An eerie song and music video that drew inspiration from the Nevermind cover.It's lyrics are contradictory (take your time, hurry up, choice is yours, don't be late) and it is more subdued than the first two tracks.
Grohl's machine gun drumming ten second into the song cement a hypnotizing beat along with Krist's bass and Kurt's repetitive lyrics. Repetitive to represent the mundane and ground hog day suburban life.

Subdued and poetic, angry and desperate. The song is a telling look into Kurt's mind. 
I'm so happy 'cause today
I've found my friends ...
They're in my head
I'm so ugly, but that's okay, 'cause so are you ...
We've broken our mirrors [Alt: We broke our mirrors]
Sunday morning is everyday for all I care ...
And I'm not scared
Light my candles in a daze ...
'Cause I've found god

 The thoughts of a suicidal person and finding god to get you through it.

A disturbing song that champions a woman who overcame her captor. Poetic again and not fitting fully into the grunge sound, however the soft and pop sound ironically detailed into the thoughts of the captor himself. 
Territorial Pissings
Talk about the perfect mosh pit song. While the lyrics seem nonsensical there is this...
Never met a wise man, if so it's a woman

Drain You
Again, gifted lyrics even though lyrics were usually second in the production for Nirvana. 

Lounge Act
This song builds: spoken, shouting, yelling. It's also inspired by the bass line, which Kurt felt sounded like something from a cheesy lounge act. The song is also about a messy break up.

Stay Away
The irony is painful: I'd rather be dead than cool. The stardom that this album propelled them into was the exact opposite of what Kurt wanted. 

On A Plain 
I can totally hear early Foo in the "ohh ohh" ... which is fine since Kurt was okay with Dave's side project. It's a band staple and has every one of their signature sounds. It also offers a great transition into the final song of the album.

Something In The Way
 This song is magic. It is simple. It mellows out the anger and angst. There is nothing but Kurts guitar and voice until the drums, bass, and cello are softly mixed in. 

We may never have a moment like this again in our lives. We witnessed a musical transition in our generation. A musical revolution that happened at the same time when we transitioned from cassettes to CDs. A time when we used to go buy physical copies of music and play it from start to finish. Personally, I can remember who I was with and where I was when we first played this album. It was bold, different, and emotional. Music up to this point had been pop, sap, and a pancake make-up false facade. 

Kurt, Krist, and Dave gave us a platform and a soundtrack for our generation. We could be ourselves, angry, frustrated, and confused. Nevermind gave us an outlet. Nirvana also opened a world of music to many that never would have heard of. Nirvana was put into our lexicon before the word grunge, so the two have become synonymous. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Time Marches On

 Dedicated to Jimmy ... who made me a Metallica fan

Thirty years ago, on September 27th,  a winning draw of the ace of spades won bassist Cliff Burton his bunk choice on the Metallica tour bus. Pointing to guitarist Kirk Hammet, he stated "I want your bunk!" Hours later, a tragic bus accident would take Cliff's life when he was thrown out of that very bunk window. He was 24 years old.

Cliff Burton didn't play the bass. Cliff Burton was an extension of the bass.                          
Cliff's genius was heard in songs such as (Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Orion, and The Call of Ktulu. The bass did not take a back seat with Cliff. He moved right up next to James Hetfield and Kirk and owned it. In 1986, with three albums to their name and growing fame and success, questions arose about how they would go on without Cliff and his monumental sound.

Well, the fact that Metallica just played the Apollo Theater tells you that they've survived the loss of Cliff and seemingly moved on. However, where would they be if Cliff were alive?Jason Newsted and Robert Trujillo have definitely not led the band astray (We'll let Lars take some credit for that). But their style differences are noticed. Come on, haven't you ever wondered what One would have sounded like with Cliff? Would we have gotten albums like the Black album, or would Cliff et al just kept on pumping out eight minute tracks that guaranteed little air play?

Overall, would Cliff be happy? Yes. The band he loved found success through many trials and tribulations, addictions and pyrotechnic accidents and personality conflicts. After his death, they picked up and found a new bassist because they knew that is what he would have wanted. After some wishy washy albums, they're back and have been touring since 2008. And they sound better each time I see them. From the hills of Tennessee to the field of Yankee Stadium, Metallica has survived.

If you had asked me in 1988 when I was first introduced to Metallica, I really didn't think they would named the pioneers  of metal. I think my personal tipping point was the Black album in 1991. Cult status until the first chords of Sad But True were heard - Metallica was here to stay.

But my love of Metallica is also bittersweet and tainted with ironic coincidence. The boy who introduced me to the band was also lost on this same day in 1999. I can't see a cover or a shirt with Lady Justice and not think of those days of our young innocence. I am so thankful for being introduced to the band that still has relevance in my life and reminds me of so many fun times.

Cliff has been gone longer than he roamed the earth, and he still has not been forgotten. If anything, Cliff Burton is larger than his sound. He is remembered for being a pioneer of a bass sound that only rhythm guitars had. His legacy is strong and is a testament to his craft that he not only loved, but lived. Cliff, will be forever remembered as the fist pumping, beer chugging, bass shredding bad ass from Metallica and we would have it no other way.

Remembering Cliff at the Apollo 2013 Show 

To Live is to Die ~ Metallica:
In Memory of Cliff Burton
When a man lies, he murders some part of the world.
These are the pale deaths which men miscall their lives.
All this I cannot bear to witness any longer.
Cannot the Kingdom of Salvation take me home?