By Chris Moore:
The Next Day (David Bowie)
Producer: David Bowie and Tony Visconti
Released: March 8, 2013
Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars
Top Two Tracks: “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” & “The Next Day”
After releasing albums at breakneck speed for over three decades until 2003, David Bowie returns from a ten year studio album silence with The Next Day, a masterful accomplishment that serves to reestablish his place in rock music. Here, Bowie offers up heartfelt vocals across a range of songs from fast-paced to downbeat and heavily produced to minimally rendered. His work continues to demonstrate dominance, particularly in the realm of quirky atmospherics, and the first three tracks quickly suggest the diversity to come across the record. From “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” the most single-worthy standout on the album (despite the fact it was chosen as the second single) to well-paced yet laidback “I’d Rather Be High” to the balladic, smooth, bittersweet tones of “Where Are We Now?”, Bowie’s range is what is perhaps most impressive on The Next Day. This is a project on which all of the songs share a common sound and feel, yet defy any criticism of uniformity. This is not to mention the lyrical content, which is worthy of uninterrupted time spent listening while reading along to a lyrics booklet. With this all established, we can only hope that Bowie won’t wait another decade for a follow-up.
Old Sock (Eric Clapton)
Producer: Eric Clapton, Doyle Bramhall II, Justin Stanley, & Simon Climie
Released: March 12, 2013
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Top Two Tracks: “Every Little Thing” & “Gotta Get Over”
The last truly dominant, dynamic, and original Eric Clapton album was released in 1998. It was titled Pilgrim and featured all Clapton tracks with only a couple exceptions. The ratio of originals-to-covers fell to 2:1 for the still outstanding Reptile in 2001 (an album equal to if not better than Pilgrim) and the uneven Back Home (2005). His 2010 solo release, strapped with the fittingly unoriginal title Clapton, saw him boasting a credit on only one track and a co-writing credit at that. Now, three years later, Old Sock continues the trend as his first solo album to feature no original compositions, blues-cover albums like From the Cradle, Riding with the King, and Me and Mr. Johnson notwithstanding. The most frustrating part of this realization is that Clapton is clearly still deserving of his status as legendary guitarist, teasing licks and riffs here and there that are distinctly a style and delivery all his own. It is difficult to blame him for taking this relaxed route in the latter days of his career, as his recent covers compilations have tended to net reviews equal to or greater than those awarded his recent original efforts. It is also difficult to listen to Old Sock and not feel the nagging desire to switch over to Pilgrim or Reptile sooner rather than later.
Earth Rocker (Clutch)
Released: March 15, 2013
Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars
Top Two Tracks: “Crucial Velocity” & “D.C. Sound Attack!”
After a foray into more blues-based work, Clutch returns with resounding and resonating rock that is not only instantly accessible but also worthy of repeated listens and further study. The pace rarely lets up as, track after track, the band continues to rip into full-throttle rock. Indeed, the first five tracks are among the strongest opening sequences they’ve presented: from the infectiously catchy laugh refrain in “Earth Rocker” to the allusive “Unto the Breach,” the pace doesn’t let up until the well-placed, hauntingly stripped-down “Gone Cold.” Lyrically, Neil Fallon’s words are by turns forceful and poetic, direct and open for interpretation. The commentary is perhaps sharpest on “Mr. Freedom,” the blend of vocal and instrumental energy screams forth from “D.C. Sound Attack!,” and the vocals never seem quite so driven as on “Unto the Breach,” yet it is on “Crucial Velocity” that a near-perfect fusion of all the strengths of this album is achieved. From the dead-on-target guitar work to the razor sharp lyrical commentary, it is difficult to understand why this track was held back as the second single. Regardless, Earth Rocker provides further evidence that Clutch can still render loud, relevant rock on a level beyond most other bands. The first six tracks are essentially perfect, and the second half presents gems – “Book, Saddle, and Go” and “Cyborg Bette” to name a couple – that may be overshadowed initially but will offer up more over time. In short, Earth Rocker is an essential rock album for 2013.