Music Review: R.E.M.’s “Live at the Olympia in Dublin: 39 Songs”

Originally posted 2009-10-30 17:25:25. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  4.5 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

Sometimes, the big publications just get it all wrong.

In his Rolling Stone review of R.E.M.’s Live at the Olympia in Dublin, Will Hermes writes, “This two-CD/one-DVD document captures intimate, occasionally great performances.”  He goes on to add, “If Michael Stipe sometimes sounds like he’s reading lyrics off his computer, it’s because, well, he actually was.”

If I have to read one more cleverly phrased review bestowing a mediocre rating upon a release I love, I swear I’ll lose it.

Live at the Olympia in Dublin spills over with positive energy, the kind of energy that leaves fans breathless and voiceless after a night of singing, screaming, and giddily laughing.  Stipe’s voice is hardly robotic, as Hermes might have you understand.  His vocals alternate between smooth and clear deliveries at some points, alternately cracking in all the right places at others.

And the computer is hardly a crutch.  It’s more a means of on-stage schtick for Stipe and the band.  It is apparent that he is getting a kick out of reading others’ interpretations of his eighties-era, admittedly very mumbled lyrics.  (He has since come over to the good side, including lyrics in all R.E.M. booklets since Up.)

And it’s genuinely funny to hear him reading them, reflecting on them, and moving on to the present day, namely his evolved sensibilities and more recent material.

What really gets me is that Hermes refers to the tracks I had most looked forward to — the Accelerate outtakes — as “solid.”  This is an overstatement.  I was far from impressed with the outtakes, and although I had so hoped to tout them as the forgotten gems of their 2008 sessions, I simply had to admit to myself, Well, I suppose these guys knew what they were doing when they assembled Accelerate.

And that is precisely what has renewed my interest in R.E.M.  I’ve always liked Stipe’s attitude, and I’m continually drawn to R.E.M.’s unique, raw-but-refined instrumental sound.  And yet I’ve been hard-pressed to find any albums that stand out to me, certainly not enough to stand up to some of the great albums of all time.

Then, along came Accelerate.

R.E.M.'s "Live at the Olympia in Dublin" (2009)

R.E.M.'s "Live at the Olympia in Dublin" (2009)

Their 2008 studio album — their fourteenth at that — is a tremendous record.  There are catchy electric hooks, acoustic underpinnings, great lyrics, and Michael Stipe’s perfectly ragged vocals seasoning and binding it all together.  What truly distinguishes this record is the energy that simply oozes from the seams.  And this doesn’t come across as some aging group of rock and rollers embarking on a pitiful attempt to recapture past heights — after all, R.E.M. never was known for being all that rocking a band.

Watch the music video for “Living Well is the Best Revenge,” and you’ll immediately observe the youthful, creative force of a group of men who love what they do.  The song is performed while driving around in a car, acoustic guitars squeezed into the small vehicle, the steering wheel converted — while driving, mind you — into the percussion instrument of choice.  It looks like they’re having a lot of fun, and that comes through more than anything else on the record.

Rolling Stone reviewer Hermes apparently longs for the days when “Stipe’s vibrato-seizure vocals and Rorschach-blot ‘lyrics’ clung to songs exploding at the seams.”  He comments that, instead, “The stitching is tighter now, and drummer Bill Rieflin often holds things together too neatly.”

Say what you will about Rieflin’s drumming — and it’s not groundbreaking or award winning, but it gets the job done.  I draw the line at his allusion-dropping, not-so-subtle riff on Stipe’s vocals, as if to imply that something has been lost.

If that’s true, then something has been lost on me.

R.E.M., as Live at the Olympia in Dublin continues to suggest, is more alive and well than they have been in a good long time.  If living well is truly the best revenge, then Stipe, Mills, and Buck are bound to have the last laugh.  Their on-stage personas, musical chemistry, and ability to dig deeply into their catalog to populate their shifting set lists — never mind their willingness to exercise their unfinished work during live, recorded performances — continue to breathe new life and vibrancy into all their work, both past and present.

If you’re ready to live in the moment, then you should really give these guys a listen.

Music Review: Weezer’s “Raditude”

Originally posted 2009-11-15 22:22:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  1 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

I was the first to scoff at early negative reviews of the new Weezer album.  It seemed there was an inordinate number of swipes at the admittedly odd title, Raditude.  After all, I reasoned, Rivers Cuomo hasn’t exactly built his career by being serious.

So, it was with high hopes that I started listening to Raditude.  From the opening track — “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” — it became immediately apparent that the lyrics would be juvenile.

And yet this was never a turn-off.

I had heard this song, the first single, about fifteen or twenty times before the album was even released.  It had been leaked on YouTube, then removed, then reposted by another source, and finally released officially as the single.  And, each time I heard it, I liked it more and more.  This is saying a great deal, considering that the song includes references to watching Titanic and eating meat loaf as key plot points.

The way I see it, there are two types of great Weezer songs:  introverted, introspective ballads and catchy, fun rock/pop gems.

Any serious Weezer fan who will disparage the quality of Cuomo’s lyrics in 2009 needs to think back to such earlier tracks as “No One Else” — “My girl’s got a big mouth, with which she blabbers a lot…” — and “Getchoo” — “Sometimes I push too hard; sometimes you fall and skin your knee…”  And can anyone even begin to transcribe the lyrics to “Hash Pipe”?

I didn’t think so.

Weezer's "Raditude" (2009)

Weezer's "Raditude" (2009)

So, the credibility and entertainment value of “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” being established, the other nine songs on Raditude should be addressed.  In a nutshell, the new album is generally a mixed bag — one part catchy guitar hooks, one part derivative stylistic choices, and two parts juvenile and (to be frank) ridiculous lyrics — that all amounts to a mediocre collection of material.

I’ve always been drawn to Rivers Cuomo’s firm embrace on the simple, pure, and raw emotions that we generally attribute to the innocence (and immaturity) of youth, but this time around, there is little for me to relate to or feel moved by.

“I’m Your Daddy” is about as two dimensional a song as you’ll ever find, stripped of Cuomo’s trademark quirky innocence to reveal an inexperienced Romeo.  It is also a bit creepy to listen to after learning that he began writing it while watching his daughter.

“The Girl Got Hot” is driven by catchy, distortion-drenched guitars, but again the lyrics fall short.  I kept waiting for a moral to the story — I would have settled for something as simple as “don’t judge a book by its cover” — but all I ended up with was the singer’s revelation that, when it comes to Kiki Dee’s friends, “She got hot, and they did not.”  Oh, and the phrase “buyer beware” is potentially problematic, but I won’t even go there.

Then comes the piece de la resistance, “Can’t Stop Partying.”  Again, I waited for the subtext that the lyrics must surely contain, considering the minor chords and Cuomo’s diction — “can’t stop” implies addiction.  And again, I was met with lines like “If you was me, honey, you would do it too” and “Screw rehab; I love my addiction.”  Just when I thought it couldn’t get less redeemable, Lil Wayne lays down a chauvinistic, obscenity laden ode to excess.

The remainder of the album is divided between forgettable, inane tracks — like “In the Mall” — and solid, albeit middle-of-the-road songs — like “Put Me Back Together.”  The latter track is one of my favorites from the new album, even though it is difficult to shake the feeling that this would have been a filler track on any earlier Weezer release.

Other tracks like “Let It All Hang Out” and “Love is the Answer” are debatable — on the upside, they do tap into the aforementioned pure, raw emotions that the band’s best material always has, yet there is nothing extraordinary about them.

At the end of the day, I have to reluctantly admit that my opinion is not so divergent from that of Slant reviewer Huw Jones — strictly in his opinion of this album, but NOT his opinion of Weezer’s overall career arc (he’s seriously off there).  Weezer has finally released an album that I can’t endorse — and that I, unfortunately, can’t listen to for very long without feeling disappointed.

“Who Says” (John Mayer Cover music video)

Originally posted 2009-11-16 22:16:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For John Mayer chords & lyrics, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

Hello and welcome to a very special Monday edition of the Laptop Sessions! What makes tonight so special, you might ask? Well, for the first time in months, I’m bringing you a cover song music video of a song that has yet to be released.  No worries, though — if you like this song, then you’ll be able to buy it in stores tomorrow. 

The song I’m bringing you tonight is “Who Says,” the first single from the forthcoming 2009 John Mayer studio album Battle Studies.  There’s a little bit of a story behind this one, so here goes…

I first learned about this album when I happened upon Mayer’s video blog established to document the recording sessions.  The first video was a tour of his newly designed and built home recording studio.  Do I even need to describe it?  Believe me, it’s drool-inducing.  Although a couple of the entries were only jams or just a bit weird, I ended up searching YouTube for some of the new songs.  As I expected, most were available as live concert performances that someone videotaped and uploaded.  I listened to a couple, including “Who Says,” and I started to get excited about this release. 

I have a general rule against hearing too much of an album before it comes out.  After all, it’s more than half the fun of buying a new album to be able to get in the car, put it on the CD player, and discover the music for the first time.  Sometimes this is an exciting, expectation-defying journey (a la last week’s Echo & the Bunnymen album The Fountain).  Other times, it can be just as disappointing an experience as one can have (i.e. U2’s No Line on the Horizon deluxe edition CD). 

I should also comment on my recent opinion of Mayer. 

As I wrote in my review of Where the Light Is, I am a big fan of Mayer’s first three releases — the independently released EP Inside Wants Out, his debut Room For Squares, and his follow-up Heavier Things.  And yet, just as he gained “credibility,” I lost interest.  Yes, his third album Continuum offers some interesting guitar parts and melodies, but I resented the idea that he needed to become a blues afficionado in order to be accepted by those outside his stereotypical audience of young girls.  In my mind, this was a step backward in his songwriting.  Did no one notice or appreciate the effort he put into the album design for the first two albums, or the backing vocals in “Your Body is a Wonderland” that echo the chorus lyrics of “My Stupid Mouth”?  There was so much care taken with those releases that the minimalism of his last release was disappointing.  From the title of Heavier Things alone, one could imply that Mayer was interested in tackling more “important issues” and being taken more seriously. 

But, even in Heavier Things, he retained his sense of what was important — interpersonal relations, perspective, ambition, etc.  On Continuum, political and social issues apppeared as the subjects for his songs, which always seemed out of place to me. 

Anyone who knows me knows that I have an intense sense of loyalty, sometimes to my own detriment. But I had told myself I wouldn’t buy future Mayer releases to spare myself further disappointment, as I did with Where the Light Is.  That being said, I can’t deny that this single “Who Says” sounds more to me like the John Mayer that I enjoyed listening to on earlier works.  It’s simple, catchy, and tackles the same desires that my favorite John Mayer songs always did — namely, the desire for freedom from personal and social expectations (think: “No Such Thing,” “Not Myself,” “Bigger Than My Body,” and others). I don’t read the reference to marijuana as a literal desire to get high, but rather as a symbol for what society or one’s friends and family members think you shouldn’t do because “it’s not like you.”

So, I’ll give the album a try. 

And you better believe there will be a review forthcoming.

Until then, I hope you enjoy my video tonight.  I’m not sure what came over me, but I made this one a real production.  I tacked on a purposely goofy intro and follow-up documentary that I hope you laugh at — either because it’s funny or because you’re laughing AT me, as long as the result is the same!

And I know that I have other news and ideas on my mind that I wanted to share tonight, but I can’t remember what they are.  So, for now, I hope you enjoy this video and hurry back tomorrow for an all-new Jim Fusco Tuesday, then later this week when I post another music review. 

See you next session!

“Cornerstone” (Arctic Monkeys Cover)

Originally posted 2009-10-12 21:17:38. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For Arctic Monkeys chords & lyrics, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

It is my pleasure to welcome you once again to a brand-new week of all-new acoustic cover song music videos here at the Laptop Sessions.  Following up my version of “Just Breathe” from Pearl Jam’s new 2009 album, I’m happy to present to you a new band to the blog and a new 2009 single.

If you’ve visited our site before, then you know that “New Music” is my niche here at the blog.  I get a great deal of direction in terms of what to learn, record, or write about from the new music that I’m listening to, week by week.  Up until last week, it had been a while since I delved into the new release racks for a session, so I’m attempting to make up for that tonight and later this week.

My video tonight is the mid-album cut “Cornerstone” from the Arctic Monkeys’ 2009 release Humbug.  Previous to hearing this record, I didn’t know all that much about the Monkeys, and frankly, there wasn’t much that I found appealing.  Since their rise to fame via the Internet in 2006, their work has been praised by some — Rolling Stone, for one — as outstanding, and it has also been disparaged as overrated.  In addition, they received a backlash of criticism upon releasing their Who the Fuck are Arctic Monkeys EP merely three months after their debut album.  Some called it a greedy move, while the band maintained that they wanted to release new material that they would be adding to their live shows.  Now, I’ve certainly never been one to defend EP’s (Ben Folds and the Supersunnyspeedgraphic nonsense, anyone?), and I don’t plan to start here.  Still, one should keep in mind that an album is typically recorded a significant time before its actual release — in this case, the EP was released seven months after the band finished recording their debut album.

Anyway, this album was recommended to me by a former student and friend who has tuned me in to some great material from Beck, Cold War Kids, and Harvey Danger — in other words, bands that I wouldn’t have listened to on my own.  He described it as being more “slow and contemplative instead of just in your face punk music” which, for anyone who knows me, immediately got my attention!

While I rated this album as a “Maybe So,” it really is one of my favorites this year.  It’s the type of album you can listen to again and again without it getting old.  I love their style here: the songs are unique, and yet reminiscent of some of the greatest rock of the sixties, and their lyrics really make the music stand out to me.

Which brings me to “Cornerstone.”

I will never forget driving to school, listening to this song for the first time.  I had been enjoying the album, but this song really made me stop and take notice.  There is this devious tone in Alex Turner’s voice as he sings the story of a man searching for a girl who has left him.  Did she break up with him?  Has she died?  Regardless, he is prowling the dirtiest-sounding dives, flirting and engaging with women of whom he soon makes an odd request.

He asks if it would be acceptable for him to refer to them by the name of his ex-lover.

No big deal.  It doesn’t hurt to ask, right?  Well, that’s not the case for most of the song.  But you’ll have to listen until the end to find out how he fares.

In other new music news, I’m excited about picking up Bob Dylan’s first ever Christmas album, Christmas in the Heart.  Of course, this is a mixed bag.  After all, contrary to the fact that several holiday albums are coming out tomorrow, I think that it’s far too soon to start listening to Christmas music.  I’ll probably end up listening to it once before I tuck it away for the day after Thanksgiving…  The other question in my mind is whether or not the deluxe edition is worth the extra money.  From what I can tell from the limited descriptions I’ve been able to find online, there are some greeting cards attached in the special edition.  Well, how many?  Do you save them or do you send them?  How many people would truly appreciate a Bob Dylan Christmas card?  Is his face on the cards?  Could be scary to small children or residents of small New Jersey towns…

Well, that’s enough for tonight.  I hope you enjoy my video.  If you like it, you should mark your calendars for October 15th when the official music video for “Cornerstone” is set to be released.  It has also been scheduled to be released as the second single from Humbug about a month after that.

See you next session!