Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"Every Picture Tells A Story"

Rod Stewart:  “Every Picture Tells A Story”
Secondhand Vinyl Album  (Received as a gift)
Original Release Date:  1971 Mercury Records

Side 1
Every Picture Tells A Story
Seems Like A Long Time
That’s All Right
Tomorrow Is A Long Time

Side 2
Maggie May
Mandolin Wind
(I Know) I’m Losing You
Reason To Believe

   Never before have I reviewed an album I’ve held so dear to my heart.  Up until this point I’ve been subconsciously pussyfooting around my favorite records.  It’s like I feel unworthy to write about them.  I can’t quite manifest the mystery of their, “greatness,” into words.  Basically, despite my flair for alliteration, I have no right to write about them!  However, finally I feel ready to tackle the albums that make me feel so, "much," I finally have proof I’m not a robot.  In contrast, the music emanating from my turntable this week was so perfect it caused me to suspect that the musicians involved couldn’t possibly be human.  To state it simply, no earthly being could construct sounds this spotless. 
   The album, “Every Picture Tells A Story,” by Rod Stewart kicks off with its rollicking title track.  Instantly, this listener found herself deliriously happy.  Suddenly, the year is 1971 and Rod is lamenting in his trademark rasp, “I was accused!”  In this blogger’s opinion it’s undeniable that certain songs become anthems of their time.  It does not escape this listener’s attention that during the 1970’s there were musicians that undeniably contributed more introspective subject matter than what Rod Stewart provided.  However when I hear a song like, “Every Picture Tells A Story,” smothered in blues and gospel, and served up with Rod’s signature sass I can’t help but smile and think, “Damn, they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”  By the end of this song a listener finds themselves in a near feverish frenzy, praising the chants of Stewart’s soulful backup singers.  “Every picture tells a story, don’t it?” they resound and this listener can’t help but sing along in appreciation of a decade that’s music often defines classic rock.  
   Later in the album, Stewart shows his skill in the realm of ballads.  Both, “Seems Like A Long Time,” and, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time,” display Stewart’s uncanny ability to meld less mainstream genres of music into extremely accessible songs that appeal to a wider audience.  Suddenly, the old time folksy sound that one would think could only appeal to other musicians, the elderly, and elitists becomes interesting to everyone.  It’s this listener’s opinion that other than his unique voice, the knack for creating accessibility is Rod's greatest feature.  OK, and his hair...gotta love his hair. In addition, Stewart achieves universal appeal by using wit and humor in his lyrics.  Basically, even when Stewart’s singing a serious ballad it seems probable that he's got a smirk on his face and a sparkle in his eye.
   This is extremely apparent during the album’s most recognized song, “Maggie May.”  While I find this piece to be heavily pop driven, I notice several instruments being used that I can't identify.  “Is that a ukulele,” I found myself wondering.  Despite my obvious lack of expertise when it comes to identifying string instruments, I am still able to seriously, “get down,” with my folk self.  Rod sings, “All you did was wreck my bed And in the morning kicked me in the head,” and a listener can’t help but smile along in agreement.  “Been there buddy,” this blogger thought while marveling at Stewart’s awesome ability to make unpleasant situations, enjoyable.
   My favorite songs on the album include, “Mandolin Wind,” and, “Reason To Believe.”  Musically, I admit that the folk inspired, “Mandolin Wind,” is far superior to my other choice.  However, “Reason To Believe,” has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid.  Again, I would like to emphasize how accessible this record is to its audience.  I mean come on, Stewart and his band were able to transform the mature sounds of string instruments into something fun for a child to listen to.  In fact, if I were asked today the perfect word to sum up an album like, “Every Picture Tells A Story,” I would say fun.  Actually, fun doesn’t quite do it justice.  I would describe this record as delightful, frivolous, and amusing.  You know, exactly like Rod’s hair.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

"Come On Pilgrim"

Pixies:  “Come On Pilgrim”
New Reissued Vinyl Album  (Purchased at Last Stop CD Shop, SF, SD)
Original Release Date:  1987 4AD
My Rating:  (5 Stars)

Side 1
Isla De Encanta
Ed Is Dead

Side 2
The Holiday Song
Nimrod’s Son
I’ve Been Tired
Levitate Me

   To begin I’d like to ask a question, “Can an albums’ worth be solely based on the scream of one man?”  My first instinct would be to answer, “No, of course not.”  However, its records like, “Come On Pilgrim,” by the Pixies that make me hesitate.  I guess I simply want to take notice of the fact that a lot can be communicated through merely a scream...especially if it’s vocalist, Black Francis, who’s doing it.
   To begin, I consider myself a huge fan of the Pixies.  What can I say, I was an art major in college during the end of the 1990’s.  There was simply no way for me to avoid this bands’ music.  That being said it’s extremely hard for me to listen to a Pixies album and not feel instantly transformed back into the paint covered, chain smoking, flannel wearing delinquent I used to be.  As a result this music always gives me a kind of anxious feeling.  As soon as I hear the first note to one of their songs I start to feel like I’m doing something bad.  This is due to the fact that admittedly I’ve done a lot of, “shady,” things while listening to these tunes.  To clarify, I’ve partied a lot to the Pixies.  For someone who has been proudly sober for five years these parties signify a lot of bad stuff…oh ok, and some serious fun too.  Despite the fact that many of my memories from this time are pretty murky, I clearly recall what was usually playing on the stereo.  I probably should since I was the one demanding to hear it.
   Ironically there’s just something so intoxicating about the music of the Pixies.  Drunk or sober one can’t help but feel slightly out of control while listening to these songs.  An audience is given merely a glimmer of what they’re in for during the album, “Come On Pilgrim,” with the opening track, “Caribou.”  During this song a listener is introduced to vocalist Black Francis’ rather unsettling voice.  Through its’ frequent ragged breaks a tension is clearly evident.   This is despite the fact that lyrically one can’t understand a word this man is singing.  Finally, he hauntingly wails the one word a listener can clearly understand.  “Caribou…” Francis sings, leaving this blogger still mystified by what this song could possibly mean.  
   The theme of ambiguity continues with songs like, “Vamos,” and, “Isla De Encanta,” both of which are recited in what seems like an anarchist’s hybrid of Spanish and English.  If I didn’t know better I’d say the Pixies were actually just screaming nonsense to abstract guitar riffs. However, upon looking up the translation of these songs I learned that, “Isla De Encanta,” means island of enchantment or love.  During this particular song Black Francis gives his signature tortured scream in between verses stating, “Island of Enchantment I’m leaving!”  Despite the fact that this vocalist’s sound always seems so out of control he’s about to physically jump off a ledge, his lyrics indicate that this chaos is actually planned.
   Later this album introduces the song, “Ed Is Dead.”  While I appreciate transcendent guitar playing paired with anthem type background vocals, I have to attribute the success of a song like, “Ed Is Dead,” to the lead vocals.  Here Black Francis musters some seriously unhinged, “AYAYAYAY’S,” that transform his otherwise effeminate voice to something similar to a yipping rabid dog.  Here again, due to ambiguous lyrics, a listener can’t be sure why, “Ed Is Dead.”   However, after hearing Black Francis’ crazed screams, an individual sure as hell believes that, “Ed,” is never coming back. 
   The second side of the album, “Come On Pilgrim,” is a little more accessible to the average listener.  The instrumental arrangements of songs like, “The Holiday Song,” and, “Nimrod’s Son,” are reminiscent of early surf music…with questionable topics of morality…and some foul language.  Just think of it like this….surfing is something that seems out of human control.  The Pixies also seem out of control and their music often makes me feel like I’m drunk.  As a result the album, “Come On Pilgrim,” makes me want to get super trashed and hop on a surf board.  Of course, this would most likely result in my death by drowning.  I have no doubt that Black Francis would pervert the whole incident by shrieking that this was the whole plan from the beginning.
   Lastly, if I were to be ill advised by this deranged music and hit the waves with half my senses I wouldn’t have to worry about death.  As my favorite song on this album states, someone will surely be there to, “Levitate Me.”  During this piece Francis whines, “Come on pilgrim  You know he loves you  Levitate me  Higher Place  Levitate Me.”  It’s hard for this listener not to attach religious connotations to this song.  In fact, this blogger finds it impossible to reach the end of, “Come On Pilgrim,” and not experience something slightly spiritual.  When I listen to this record I can’t help but envision something in between a daydream and a nightmare.  I see myself diving right into this music in pursuit of the Isla De Encanta.  Suddenly I realize I can’t swim!  I end up flailing around in filthy surroundings all the while screaming, choking, and drooling.  I’m physically and emotionally exhausted from trying to save myself and finally when I think I will never regain control again someone is there to, “Levitate Me.”  Huh, when one really considers it listening to the Pixies is exactly like being drunk.  No wonder I crave them so much.