By Chris Moore:
II (Bad Books)
Released: October 9, 2012
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Top Two Tracks: “It Never Stops” & “Forest Whitaker”
The second album is always an interesting experiment for any band. In the case of Bad Books’ II, some of the raw energy has been left behind in favor of refinement in both sound and content. The benefit of this shift clearly goes to the continuity of the record, as the tracks feel more united than on their freshman effort. Lyrically, Bad Books is as sharp as ever, and if anything, they have raised the quality. Finally, in terms of the soundscape, II offers up a lush and gorgeous sequence of arrangements, masterfully orchestrating the mood and pacing. Still, something has been lost in favor of refinement, but that may simply be the difference between the average first and second releases in a band’s timeline. Peaking with the gems “It Never Stops” and “Forest Whitaker,” each fronting Bad Books’ signature simple-but-packed-full, low-key-but-rockin’ sound, II has a lot to offer, even if it does lack some of that unmined potential and dynamic appeal of the first record.
Glad All Over (The Wallflowers)
Producer: Jay Joyce
Released: October 9, 2012
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Top Two Tracks: “First One in the Car” & “Constellation Blues”
Perhaps owing something to Jakob Dylan’s folksy hiatus, the Wallflowers have returned on Glad All Over intent on rocking as hard as they have in their career. With the return of Rami Jaffee, the band has their signature keyboard/organ sounds firmly in place, and with the addition of Jack Irons on drums, they have implicitly stated their desire to return to rock ‘n’ roll proper, what with his resume as a founding member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and history of backing such bands as Pearl Jam. After seven years had passed since their last album (2005’s Rebel, Sweetheart), Glad All Over is precisely the type of return effort that will remind fans why the Wallflowers are one of the most underrated bands of the nineties, often written off as one-hit wonders following the chart-topping success of “One Headlight” (which, ironically enough, was only the second single off 1996’s Bringing Down the Horse). What is clear here is that the band has reinvigorated and perhaps even re-envisioned their sound, evidenced by the sharper, harder guitar effects, additional reverb on the keyboard parts, and most notably by the presence of the Clash’s Mick Jones playing guitar and singing on the album’s lead single, as well as another track. Still, after opening with the pulse-pounding, eerily rocking “Hospital for Sinners” and following up with the borderline funky, gloriously electrified “Misfits and Lovers,” they follow up with “First One in the Car,” a track that sounds like it was set aside from the Bringing Down the Horse sessions, only to be revealed now. This has the effect of a nod, or perhaps even a wink, to the sound that earned them their fame, though it admittedly fits fully into the flow of this record. “Reboot the Mission,” the lead single, takes a turn and revs up the band to create a unique sound that pushes the bass to the front of the mix and toys with atmospherics. It serves as a thesis of sorts for Glad All Over, as the refrain features the band chorally singing, “Eyes on the prize, reboot the mission: I lost my sight but not the vision.” “It’s A Dream” continues the rock sound they’ve unveiled on the opening tracks before moving into “Love is a Country,” a gorgeous, rolling track that was handled nicely in the official “lyric video” released by their YouTube channel. The guitars take the fore on the following tracks, in solos on “Have Mercy On Him Now” and in riffs on “The Devil’s Waltz,” flowing back to a track reminiscent of the Rebel, Sweetheart sound on “It Won’t Be Long (Till We’re Not Wrong Anymore)” before hitting the pinnacle of the second half in “Constellation Blues,” a track that is arguably the amalgamation of all that has come before. This may seem counterintuitive at first, as the guitars are lower in the mix, yet they’re more subtle than soft, playing an integral role even as the rhythm section takes the lead and the keyboards add layer upon layer of shimmering atmosphere. True to the mission statement of this album, “One Set of Wings” closes the album on a strong note, offering the full spectrum of instrumentation – distorted guitars riffing and soloing, haunting organ tones, flowing bass lines, and heavy-hitting drums – as well as a vocal delivery of the lyrics that walks the line between gloomy and hopeful. Perhaps the line of most interest here is when Dylan sings, “I have been lost, and I’m ready to be found.” With all that this band has to offer particularly on this most recent release, one would hope that it’s time they be found for what they are: a band of career musicians capable of greatness far beyond a solitary single in the late nineties.
I finally got around to buying this album (on vinyl, of course) and have been listening to it non-stop over the past couple of weeks. While I think it’s a “good” album, the word I keep coming back to is “unremarkable”. Every song is good, but there aren’t any that really stand-out as “great”.
Well, I take that back- the “great” song on the album is “Misfits and Lovers”, which is a great tune. It’s the only song on here that can really match up with the hooks that were on every track on “Red Letter Days”.
Of course, that’s the trade-off, isn’t it? “Red Letter Days” was basically a Jakob Dylan solo album. The songs were polished and every one was meant for radio. Here with “Glad All Over”, the songs are co-written by every member of the band. So, are the songs better? No. But, it’s a full band effort, so that’s pretty great.
It’s kind of like Ringo Starr’s recent albums. Are they nearly as good as “Vertical Man” or “Ringo Rama”? Absolutely not. There’s not one song on a Ringo Starr album since he stopped working with the Roundheads that’s even close to being as good as something he recorded with them. But, Ringo had very little to do with those “great” songs. Now, he’s actually writing the songs himself. So, pick your poison- great song, or mediocre song that’s actually written by the artist? I go back and forth between my preference for each.
I’m glad I got the new Wallflowers album, but “Red Letter Days” it is not- and some may think that’s a good thing!