Music Review: Marcy Playground’s “Leaving Wonderland…in a fit of rage”

Originally posted 2009-07-28 01:39:28. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  3 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

To be honest, Marcy Playground is a band I had forgotten about, leaving them behind in a hazy collection of other nineties modern rock one hit wonders.

Out of sheer curiosity, I felt the urge to hear this most recent album from the “Sex and Candy” singer — it was originally slated as a John Wozniak solo project — that I came across on the Newbury Comics new release rack.  (It certainly didn’t hurt that the disc came with a free download of their previous album, the aptly titled third release from the band: MP3.)

I didn’t expect much, considering that over a decade had passed since I had heard a song from the band.  I always liked “Sex and Candy,” but even in 1997 I knew it was a fairly straightforward track made notable only by its provocative lyrics and Wozniak’s low, unique vocal tones.

What I got was a solid album comprised predominantly of an artist’s exploration of the roots of his music.  Throughout Leaving Wonderland…in a fit of rage, Wozniak’s songwriting is simple and the band’s arrangements are as standard as they come.

When I use the term “solid,” I mean that Marcy Playground’s fourth release is comprised of generally enjoyable songs placed in an effective order to not only keep the listener’s attention, but also to contribute to a largely common set of themes.

And, yes, beyond all these qualifications that I am making, there exists the realization that a “solid” album may be listened to and even appreciated, but it is nothing special.

As with their late nineties single, one of the greatest strengths of the album is Wozniak’s signature vocals.  Throughout the album, he weaves tales of sorrow, loss, and reconsideration.  Whatever “Wonderland” represents for Marcy Playground’s John Wozniak — a relationship or fame to name just a couple possibilities — the exit from said Wonderland is indeed a violent one, soaked in booze and drugs and, at times, literally marked by flames.

“Blackbird,” the opening track and the first US single, sets the tone for what is a heavily acoustic record, a notable departure from their previous release.  “Irene” and “Memphis” are so acoustic and rootsy that they sound as though they were snatched from a decades old country/folk record.

Meanwhile, the album is spiced up by tracks like “Devil Woman” and “Good Times” — the first Canadian single — which are predominantly acoustic, and yet endowed with a heavy beat and a set of catchy vocals.

Of course, the album is not without its electric touches.  “I Must Have Been Dreaming” is a clean and catchy cut, but “I Burned the Bed” and “Emperor” are drenched in distortion and lie at the heart of this album, both thematically and musically.  “Gin and Money” offers the complete package — opening with a nearly tribal beat, subtle but integral piano, and acoustic fingerpicking before kicking into high gear with a little feedback and a lot of spirited vocals and electric guitar.

Overall, I score this album as a “Maybe Not.”  I’m glad I bought it, and I’ve listened to it almost twenty times already.  I truly enjoy many of the tracks, and Wozniak has crafted the order to ebb and flow at just the right times.

However, what doesn’t hit home with me is the simplicity of the lyrics — referring to himself directly in “Good Times,” taking the bright and instantly-stuck-in-your-head “Star Baby” and crippling it with cheesiness, and feeding into some middle school-worthy rhymes in “Thank You,” to name a few instances.  This is my most significant criticism; even the largely predictable arrangements fit within the larger context of the album.

This is an album about coming to terms with the universal thematic subject matter of love and youth lost, of having to grow up after having lost something to the ravages of time.  If you can look past the simplicity of many of the thoughts being conveyed, then this album is worth a listen.

If not, then it might be time for you to go back to the classics — Dylan, Beatles, etc.  Or at least to last year’s Counting Crows album.

“Good Times” (Marcy Playground Cover)

Originally posted 2009-08-05 00:06:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For Marcy Playground chords & lyrics, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

Hello and welcome to the second installment of a double header here at the Laptop Sessions, two sessions in honor of Marcy Playground singles, both past and present. Tonight I’m standing in for Jim, who’s away for one more week on his honeymoon. I can only imagine what kinds of photos and songs he’ll bring back with him from his exotic — yet domestic — locale for next week’s Jim Fusco Tuesday.  Don’t miss it!

My cover song music video tonight is from Marcy Playground’s latest album, Leaving Wonderland… in a fit of rage, just released last month. “Good Times” is a song about accepting whatever difficulty or hardship you may face and moving on from there.  He invokes the classic phrases, “It’s all right” and “This too shall pass,” and although the lyrics are extremely simple, “Good Times” has a Jack Johnson-esque feel-good vibe to it and I enjoyed playing it.

My one hesitation in endorsing this as a great track is that lead singer John Wozniak refers to himself twice in the song.  (I tried inserting my name into my version, but it just didn’t feel right…)  In the first bridge, he refers to himself both as “Woz” and “John.”  Initially, this was distracting for me.  Then I realized, after playing it over and over again before recording my session today, that his personal reference works in the context of the song as a whole.  In the first half of the song, he’s essentially singing a song about and for himself.  By the end of the song, however, he refers much more generally and universally, inviting all people to join him in appreciating the “good times” and dealing positively with the bad.

Right about now, I think all three core members of the Laptop Sessions are enjoying the good times.  After all, Jim is on his honeymoon and Jeff and I are on summer break from school.  Sure, life is always going to be busy for guys like ourselves who are constantly working and writing and playing, but that only makes our leisure time all the more enjoyable and relaxing.

Speaking of free time, I’m off to do laundry and vacuum!

Seriously, though, I hope you’ll come back soon for all-new sessions, starting with Jeff’s “Thumpin’ Thursday.”  As for me, I’m picking up some real creative steam now that the moving process is complete and the summer is in full swing.  I’m working on finishing my third poetry book (FINALLY!), a couple novels (which translates to a lot of writing, jumping back and forth, and thus a very slow process), and songwriting for my next album (I’ve written eight songs in the past three weeks that I’m very proud of — I think some of these are the best songs I’ve ever written, and I’m anxious to find a way to translate them to tape or, in this day and age, to computer).

This all adds up to some great new updates by the fall and some new Original Wednesdays for me in the near future.  For now, though, if you’re interested in hearing what my new material sounds like, you can check out a file that I “tweeted” a few weeks ago: CLICK HERE.  The song is called “Work Time, Get In Line,” and it’s a taste of what it sounds like when I tinker around with GarageBand, my MacBook’s built-in mic, and my Fender acoustic guitar.

See you next session!

“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!

Music Review: The Beatles’ “Let It Be” (2009 Stereo Remaster)

Originally posted 2009-10-26 20:10:01. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

It is truly a testament to the outstanding talent and staying power of the Beatles that Let It Be, their final and perhaps least ambitious — by their own designs, at least — release, is composed of such an impressive assortment of tracks.

For this reason alone, the 2009 remastered version of this classic 1970 album is worth your time and money.

Held up against the previously released audio on the CDs that have been standard issue for over two decades now, this remaster is crisper and cleaner in all the right places.  To be fair, this is probably one of the less drastic remasters, as Let It Be was originally issued in actual stereo.  Still, the seasoned Beatles fan will immediately take note of the subtle improvements, such as the even warmer ambiance of the background vocals in “I Me Mine” and the clearer separation between piano notes and vocals in both “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road.”

It is a joyful experience to hear the individual vocals and instrumentation as clearly as possible.  After all, when the bulk of these tracks were laid down in January 1969 — almost one and a half years before the release of the album — the keyword had been simplicity.  Following the tumultuous White Album sessions, they had decided to adopt a more “live in the studio” feel for their next album.  Paul in particular felt that they had lost the cohesion that could only come from playing live.  Considering the backbreaking schedule of live shows in their early years and the relative happiness of their early period, it is difficult to disagree.

The Beatles' "Let It Be" (1970)

The Beatles’ “Let It Be” (1970)

For this reason, as well as the fact that Let It Be was mixed, remixed, re-arranged, and shuffled around by so many people outside the Fab Four before its initial release in 1970, I think Let It Be…Naked should be and is the first and best way to experience this album.  Purists, traditionalists, and historians may disagree, but any detractors to this theory must first explain why the Beatles’ initial intentions for the concept of this album should be all but ignored in favor of the “actual” release.  Why tracks like “Maggie Mae” and “Dig It” could ever belong on the same vinyl — or silver, for that matter — disc as gems like “Two of Us,” “Across the Universe,” and “Let It Be” is beyond this writer.

Before I trample upon too much musical holy ground, I should reinforce that the 2009 remaster provides a great experience.  Some argued that the tracks should have been stripped down and entirely remixed.  While I wouldn’t have been against that idea if it had been engineered by the right team, there doesn’t seem to be the need for anything quite so drastic here.

Perhaps the focus should instead fall on the pressures within and around this record.  Within, it is interesting to consider how complicated and tense the Beatles’ interpersonal relationships had become, and yet to listen in wonder at the beautiful music they made despite it all.  Outside of the recording process, there was a great deal of expectation when the album was released, especially considering that it wasn’t available for sale until after the Beatles had announced that they were breaking up.  That put a lot of weight on this very final addition to what is arguably the greatest rock ‘n roll catalog of all time.  Even Rolling Stone fluctuated wildly, dismissing the album at its release but soon after adding it as #86 on their list of the best rock albums of all time.

Regardless of your perspective on this album, Let It Be is a strong addition to anyone’s music collection, if only for the outstanding songs it contains — and not only the singles, but many of the deep tracks, as well.

I’ll probably still click one more space lower on my iPod for Let It Be… Naked, but I have enjoyed hearing the original in remastered audio.  And make sure you watch all of our great Beatles cover songs videos here on the music video blog!