Chris Cornell Through the Years

At the beginning of this week, it wasn’t clear what I was going to write about.  Maybe I’d review Erin McKeown’s album.  Maybe I’d talk about a TV show.  Maybe I’d get in some Trump-bashing.

And then Chris Cornell died.

One of the greatest rock vocalists of all time, Cornell was found unresponsive in his hotel room after a show in Detroit after an apparent suicide by hanging.  Cornell’s wife Vicky is now saying that anxiety medication may be to blame for his suicidal thoughts.  Cornell was most famous as the frontman of Soundgarden, one of the bands that I refer to as the “grunge triangle,” with Pearl Jam and Nirvana, that helped pioneer this era in rock during the 90s.  In my opinion, Cornell was the most talented of the three lead singers, with a titanic vocal range and an ability to wail and emote like few others.

But Soundgarden is not all Cornell was known for, and I felt it appropriate this week to give him the Through the Years treatment in the same way I did for Mark Tremonti, tracking all the different music he’s made over the years in different contexts.

Cornell’s journey started with Soundgarden, where he teamed up with guitarist Kim Thayil and drummer Matt Cameron in Seattle.  Hiro Yamamoto started out as the band’s bassist.  I’ll admit, I’m not familiar with many of their early releases, EPs Screaming Life (1987), Fopp (1988), or albums Ultramega OK (1988) and Louder Than Love (1989), so I’m going to skip over them here.

Soundgarden’s career didn’t really crack the mainstream until their album Badmotorfinger hit in 1991.  This came in the wake of their only major lineup change, with Yamamoto leaving in favor of new bassist Ben Shepherd.  I think part of why I like Soundgarden more than the other “grunge triangle” bands is that they seemed more open to experimentation than most grunge bands, who were more known for simplicity than anything else.  Weird stuff is all over this record, such as in “Jesus Christ Pose.”  But there’s plenty of straightforward rock and roll on there, and that’s where I think they excel the best.  “Outshined” is probably my favorite Soundgarden song, because it’s aggressive, raw, and honest, like I feel rock should always be.  Kim Thayil’s guitar parts are an absolutely perfect complement to Cornell’s wail.  “Rusty Cage” provides a note of determined optimism, with the main character swearing that he’ll “break my rusty cage and run.”

1991 proved a busy year for Cornell, as he brought together the band Temple of the Dog in a tribute to his friend Andrew Wood, lead singer of the bands Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone, who had died of a heroin overdose the previous year.  The band consisted of a mishmash of members of Wood’s bands, Soundgarden, and two future members of Pearl Jam, which was just getting started in 1991.  Despite this somewhat slapdash arrangement, the album is excellent and the chemistry between the members is real.  “Hunger Strike” is probably Temple of the Dog’s most famous song, and features both Cornell and Eddie Vedder at the peak of their vocal powers.   I’m also partial to “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” Cornell’s first song written as a tribute to Wood, and “All Night Thing,” a mellow one-night stand song.  “Call Me a Dog” is another highlight, and Cornell would frequently cover it on his solo tours.  Temple of the Dog disbanded after this album was made, but had several one-off reunions as well as a reunion tour in 2016 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their album.

Soundgarden’s most successful album by far was their next, Superunknown (1993).  This album contains the song the band is most known for, “Black Hole Sun.”  I’ve often wondered why this song became as big of a hit as it did, because while it’s good, it’s probably one of the most generic and least interesting songs on the album.  “My Wave,” with the unconventional 5/4 time signature that creates an erratic but cool sound (not to mention exploring the unorthodox keys of E minor and B Mixolydian) is one of my favorites.  “Spoonman” has a similarly energetic vibe as well, and became a successful single.  Many of Soundgarden’s songs have a weight to their sound, like something is pressing down on them or they’re walking through molasses.  This isn’t a bad thing, mind you, just something that’s characteristic of their style in this era.  “Mailman” shows this off very clearly, as does “Fell On Black Days.”

Soundgarden returned in 1996 with Down on the Upside, an album with which I’m less familiar, but overall it seemed a step back from their previous two releases.  My favorite song on this album is probably “Pretty Noose,” as it has a similar energy and sound to my favorite songs on Superunknown.  Though given that Cornell ended up committing suicide by hanging, the song has taken on a weird new meaning in the wake of that event.  Lyrics like “…and I don’t like what you’ve got me hanging from,” certainly seem to be a weird sort of foreshadowing.  The song “Ty Cobb,” is not about the titular baseball player, but it was titled that because the lyrics reminded Ben Shepherd of him.  Cobb was amazingly talented and broke many records, but was also known for his alcoholism, womanizing, and virulent racism.  Cornell said the lyrics are from the perspective of “some hardcore pissed-off idiot.”  While touring in support of this album, the band’s dissatisfaction with the music industry fostered tension among the members, and led to their breakup in 1997.

Cornell would later go on to form Audioslave, but in the inter-band period, he released his first solo album, Euphoria Morning (1999).  Fun fact: the album’s original title was supposed to be Euphoria Mourning, but a typo changed the name, and it stuck.  Euphoria Morning is much slower and drawn out than anything Soundgarden ever did, and while Cornell sticks with the experimental spirit that characterized that band, he does it in a different way, veering into psychedelia.  This is most apparent in “Wave Goodbye,” which Cornell wrote as another tribute, this time to Jeff Buckley, the acclaimed singer/songwriter who drowned in 1997 at only 30 years old.  With its wah pedal effects and strong bass line, I feel like that song could be equally at home on a Doors record as a Chris Cornell one.  That, combined with the dissonant chords of songs like “Sweet Euphoria,” make this an interesting experiment, even if it doesn’t hit you as hard as a Soundgarden record.  Cornell even skirts the folk line with “Preaching the End of the World,” with its minimalist music that features little more than an acoustic guitar.  Another fun fact: a lyric from that song became the title of a movie starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley.

When Rage Against the Machine’s vocalist, Zack de la Rocha, quit the band in 2000, other members Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, and Tim Commerford were looking to form another band.  Enter Chris Cornell, who was also recently bandless, and the quartet formed the supergroup Audioslave, releasing their self-titled album in 2002.  It was Audioslave where I was first introduced to Cornell’s vocal stylings, so I’m probably a bigger fan of theirs than most who first listened to Soundgarden.  One key difference between the two bands is that each member got to show off their talents by taking prominent roles in different songs.  Tom Morello showed early on in this record that he is a very different guitarist than Kim Thayil, with a more tech-savvy and inventive approach to his craft.  For instance, many of his solos incorporate the use of feedback noise between his guitar and amplifier, something many bands would consider more of an annoyance than an artistic device.  Audioslave exploded onto the scene with their debut single “Cochise,” which characterized a more straight-ahead, alternative style of theirs, in contrast to the rap-rock innovation of RATM or the progressive style of Soundgarden.  “Like a Stone” is one of my other favorites from this album.

Audioslave had a much more cohesive sound on their next album, Out of Exile (2005).  As a result, it’s probably their best album top-to-bottom.  In “Be Yourself,” bassist Tim Commerford got one of many chances to stand out on the intro.  It’s also probably one of the most positive songs Cornell has ever performed on.  “Doesn’t Remind Me” once again shows Cornell’s more contemplative side.  Even the deep cuts of this album have several gems, with “Heaven’s Dead,” reminiscent of more lumbering Soundgarden songs, but with a sound that’s very clearly Audioslave.  A friend once described “Dandelion” to me as one of the most romantic rock songs she’d ever heard (I’m more partial to this one, but whatever), and it has a much softer and caring side to it than most other Audioslave songs.  Cornell also achieved a personal milestone in this record, as it was his first where he didn’t drink or take drugs during the recording process.  Cornell’s substance issues had threatened to tank Audioslave before it even got started, so that was good to see.

Audioslave wasted no time in the interim between albums, releasing Revelations the following year.  Tom Morello described the record in an interview as “Led Zeppelin meets Earth, Wind, and Fire,” and I think that actually describes it perfectly.  There’s a funkiness to this record that wasn’t really present in any of Chris Cornell’s former bands, and I think the songs on it are more interesting as a result.  There’s a sort of bouncy energy in a lot of the songs, like the verses of “One and the Same,” the chorus of “Revelations,” and the main riff of “Original Fire.”  Much of this is powered by Brad Wilk’s relentlessly fast drum line and Tom Morello’s abuse (more than normal, even) of his wah pedal.  “One and the Same” was one of the few times since Soundgarden that Cornell got to show off his wail.  “Wide Awake” was also the band’s first foray into the political commentary that had previously been Rage Against the Machine’s forte.  The song called out then-President George W. Bush for his mishandling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Audioslave abruptly disbanded without even touring in support of Revelations, when Cornell announced he was leaving “due to irreconcilable personality conflicts as well as musical differences.”  According to interviews, he didn’t like the process of “doing Audioslave business,” and said that the band’s chemistry had broken down.  He’d written several songs that didn’t fit in on Audioslave records, and he compiled them into his second solo album, appropriately titled Carry On (2007).  This album, to me, sounds like what would happen if you took Tom Morello out of Audioslave and left most everything else intact.  It’s a pretty straightforward hard rock record, but without Morello’s creative flourishes.  It has a more mature sound than much of Cornell’s previous work.  “No Such Thing” is one of his most underrated songs, with a passionate and driving chorus. “Finally Forever” once again shows off his romantic side.  But probably the most creative song on here is his cover of the Michael Jackson song “Billie Jean.”  It’s always interesting when cover songs cross genres, and that’s definitely true here.  The original is much more bouncy and dance hall-ish, where Cornell’s version has a slow and haunting feel.

Remember Audioslave’s foray into R&B sounds on Revelations?  Cornell took that to a new level in his third studio album, Scream (2009), teaming up with Timbaland to create an interesting experiment in electronic pop.  The result is an album that gave me… mixed feelings.  Timbaland just flat-out overproduces many of the songs, which means we get bizarre creations like “Sweet Revenge” or “Take Me Alive.”  But when he pulls back and lets Cornell sing, the results are much better.  One of my favorite moments of the record is when the end of “Take Me Alive” bleeds into “Long Gone,” which then bleeds into the start of the title track, “Scream.”  This is true of most tracks on Scream, but it works the best here.  “Scream” also has interesting lyrics, talking about how communication can break down in relationships.  “Part of Me” and “Ground Zero” are probably the best pure pop songs on the record, which were remixed into club versions that did fairly well.

After Scream wasn’t especially well-received by critics or fans, Cornell kind of ambled around for awhile, reworking some tracks from that album into rock versions, and generally biding his time until the next thing.  That next thing happened when Soundgarden unexpectedly reunited in 2010.  They started out releasing some compilations and retrospectives, with some new tracks scattered here and there.  They finally put out an album of new material in 2012 with King Animal.  Soundgarden showed that they still had their experimental spirit, but I didn’t gravitate to this album for the same reason I never really made it all the way through Badmotorfinger: it just got too weird for me in places.  I liked the comeback single “Been Away Too Long,” but beyond that, little seemed to stand out for me.  “By Crooked Steps” was decent until the ending got a little odd.  But the album was much better-received by the general public than Scream had been.

Cornell took a break from Soundgarden to release what would be his final album in 2015, Higher Truth.  Cornell recorded every song on this record on acoustic, which made it interesting and was a much more cautious approach that what he did on Scream.  The result is a much more consistent and engaging album, but one that probably doesn’t eclipse a lot of his earlier work.  If you want more detailed thoughts on this one, I reviewed it back when it came out.  This album makes it all the sadder that Cornell died when he did, because it seems to reflect a new maturity and appreciation for what he had learned in life, which one would hope would lead him to a more stable place.  Unfortunately, that was not to be, and we have lost a great artist and talented singer before his time.  Rest in peace, Chris, from all your fans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catching Up With Lostboycrow

You may recall that I did a profile on Lostboycrow (LBC) back in February 2015 as part of my Next One Up series.  Alternative Addiction dropped the ball on their usual Artists to Watch feature, so I didn’t get to do one of those this year.  Instead, I thought I’d do a couple of posts catching up with past winners.  Back when we first took a look at LBC, he only had two songs out, but was showing a lot of potential.  For most of 2015, he kept releasing singles on the music site SoundCloud, and he released what is probably still my favorite one of his, “Say You Want Me.”

This song has a great beat that sounds creative and interesting without being overproduced in a Lady Gaga Artpop sort of way.  It also has a sultriness that is characteristic of the R&B style that LBC identifies with.  Combine that with the “we’ve all been there” lyrical theme of telling someone you want them romantically, and it’s a track that, in my opinion, is criminally underappreciated, perhaps even by LBC himself, as he hasn’t promoted it as much as many of his other tracks.

Lostboycrow has started to hit some milestones as an artist as well.  Last year, he released his first EP, Sigh for Me.  The songs on it are all solid, but the one I’d like to highlight here is “Powers.”

In a similar vein to “Say You Want Me,” “Powers” describes a relationship that hasn’t quite become romantic yet, but those feelings are bubbling under the surface.  The main character of the song is clearly infatuated, and wants to do more than talk to the other person, though she keeps pulling away for whatever reason.  The underlying beat is slower than the previous song, but at times he layers a faster beat over it, perhaps conveying the lyrics’ desire to speed things up a bit.

LBC has also worked on many collaborations with other artists during the last couple of years, my favorite of which is with LA-based DJ trio Cheat Codes, on their song “Senses.”

This one is much more overtly sexual than a lot of Lostboycrow’s other work, but again, it’s one of those “we’ve all been there” sort of ideas.  I know I’ve been so attracted to someone it feels like sensory overload in the past.  The beat here is much more straightforward than much of LBC’s stuff.  Hopefully, his career can follow the trajectory of Cheat Codes’s, who lit up the “Bubbling Under Hot 100” charts last year with their single “Sex,” which samples the chorus of the classic Salt-n-Pepa song “Let’s Talk About Sex.”  That single went Gold in the UK and Germany, and Platinum in Australia.  They followed that up with “No Promises” this year with Demi Lovato, which is generating similar buzz.

2017 has seen Lostboycrow hit another milestone, with the release of two more music videos.  The first, for the single “Verona,” features a mash-up of scenes from Franco Zefferelli’s film version of “Romeo and Juliet.”  The song itself conveys similar themes to the play, dealing with the blind intoxication of young love.  However, I’m more intrigued by his video for “Real Name,” which is more of a “proper” music video to me.

“Real Name” is a departure from his usual lyrical themes, instead dealing with how he has tried to move forward in his career while still being true to himself, and remembering where he came from.  The video carries this theme further, with LBC encountering several pictures and words that remind him of his past as he walks through the scene, and near the end, he encounters a large version of the logo he currently uses, as if to symbolize the future.  He also has his hair in braids, perhaps a nod to his growing up around the Crow Indian nation.  There is a boy in the video wearing a jersey that says “Real Name,” and I wonder if he isn’t meant to symbolize LBC’s past self.  At first, he ignores him, but the two end up dancing together at the end of the video, perhaps indicating that LBC intends to go forward while still embracing who he’s always been.  In the description of this video on YouTube, LBC says this song is “off the first Legend,” which had me wondering if he’s about to release a full-length album soon.

So, since I profiled him a couple of years ago, Lostboycrow has continued to release quality songs, but I’m not sure he’s made many mainstream inroads just yet.  That may be just fine with him, as it is frequently easier to maintain artistic integrity as an indie artist.  But I hope he is able to find some higher-profile success, if only so his tours can cover a wider spread (his last major one, opening for indie-pop artist VÉRITÉ, was largely confined to the Northeast and Midwest) and he can come to Atlanta.

A Happy Marriage

As promised, I’m dissecting Art of Anarchy’s first album with new frontman Scott Stapp now that it has dropped.  When I listened to AoA’s original album with Scott Weiland at the helm, I did realize that there were two distinct styles that had to merge in order for this incarnation of the band to work.  The first album was clearly post-grunge, but the vocals and lyrical content were more similar to 80s and 90s bands such as Guns ‘N Roses (which guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal was a member of for eight years) or Stone Temple Pilots (which Weiland fronted for most of its existence).  This style had to fuse easily with Scott Stapp’s vocal style, which is very straightforward and passionate, infused with religious themes, and much more firmly in the post-grunge tradition.

All indications appear that this marriage of styles has worked out happily for all involved.  Hints of each will come out in different songs, but it doesn’t appear that either AoA or Stapp had to give up their identities in order to make The Madness work well.  For instance, “Echo of a Scream” features more ambiguous lyrics than is typical in Stapp-fronted bands, which tend to hit the listener over the head with their respective themes.  But then you get to a song like “Changed Man,” an anthemic ballad that could have easily fit in on his second solo album Proof of Life.  But even in that song, the legato guitar chords that were in the background a lot of Creed songs are replaced by a riff and a solo that play alongside Stapp’s vocals, something that I don’t remember hearing a lot of in his previous work.  I also don’t think this is a song that the Weiland-era AoA would ever have made, either.  This song, as well as the first single, “The Madness,” are probably where the album hits its peak.  The band’s riffs have a ton of energy, and they complement Stapp’s powerful vocals very well.

Another interesting difference between this album and previous Scott Stapp fare is the almost complete absence of the aforementioned religious themes that pervade his work.  Not that Creed was ever really a Christian band, but it was interesting to hear Stapp go through an entire album barely mentioning God.  In fact, he mentions the devil more often, hence the song “Dancing With the Devil.”  But that one doesn’t explore religious themes so much as it explores the question, “What if Art of Anarchy attempted to do a poppy song?”  The end result is sort of weird, but good enough that I can at least compliment them for making the attempt.  Stapp also experiments a little with the timbre of his voice, as it takes a devilish, almost Joker-from-Batman quality in “1,000 Degrees.”

One big improvement from the original album to now as well comes in the solos.  AoA’s first album featured a lot of guitar parts that kind of made it seem like they were just going through the motions, exacerbated by the fact that the music and lyrics were written separately.  But on The Madness, the listener can tell that they put real thought and effort into those parts, and made sure they supported Stapp’s vocals and fit with the rest of the song.  There’s even a few fast-moving ones that, dare I say, remind me of Stapp’s former partner in crime, Mark Tremonti, who I regard as one of the greatest living guitarists.  But they can even vary that up, like in “No Surrender,” a song with a riff that feels reminiscent of the band’s first album, but is a better fit for its song than others on the first album were.

All of this adds up to a record that feels like it was made by a band, rather than stitched together by a bunch of people working on different parts in different rooms.  The sound here is much more energetic and organic, with the drum parts working just as well as the guitars and vocals to bring said energy to bear.  While I may be biased because I’m a big fan of Stapp’s vocal style (my track picks are probably the most Creed/Stapp-like songs on the album), I definitely think this album is much better than the first and merits a buy it.  While it’s not some kind of radical departure for Stapp or the rest of the band, there are enough subtle differences here that the album won’t feel like a complete retread for either entity.  Here are my track picks:

“The Madness”

“No Surrender”

“Changed Man”

Generic Anarchy

Since Art of Anarchy’s first album with newly recruited singer Scott Stapp is dropping next Friday, so I figured that before I reviewed that album, I’d take a listen to their original album as perhaps a preview of what to expect from their sophomore effort.

First, some background.  AoA is a supergroup consisting of Jon & Vince Votta on lead guitar and drums, respectively.  The Votta brothers then brought in ex-Guns N’Roses guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and Disturbed bassist Jon Moyer to fill out the rest of the lineup.  There was just one problem: they needed a vocalist.  Enter Scott Weiland, of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver fame (along with the occasional solo album).  This is where the band’s story gets a little weird.  Weiland wrote and recorded vocals for this album after sharing the music files back and forth with Bumblefoot.  For all intents and purposes, he appeared to be a full-on member of the band, at least at first.  But he pretty quickly and aggressively distanced himself from the project, calling it a “scam from the beginning.”  Weiland implies that the band paid him to write and record the vocals for the album and that was it, claiming he “didn’t even know what their names were.”  The weird part is that he participated in promotional photo shoots and music videos for the album, so he pretty clearly had at least met the other members and participated in the band to some degree.  This fissure in the band prevented them from undergoing a proper tour in support of the album, and very likely depressed the album’s sales and visibility.

But there may be other factors.  While the band taps into their hard-rockin’ DNA for some decent riffs and solos, the whole effort just feels sort of… generic.  It’s pretty easy to tell that the members didn’t record their parts together, because the songs don’t seem to have a lot of cohesion.  Or rather, they have cohesion, it just occurs in fits and starts and doesn’t seem to come together for any sustained stretch of the album.  The two biggest examples of this are the two singles, “Time Every Time,” and “’Til the Dust Is Gone.”  The former is my favorite song on the album, with a solid riff that complements Weiland’s vocals well.  It also shows off his belting ability in the chorus.  In somewhat of a rarity for most rock songs, it splices in Weiland’s voice with the guitar solo.  “’Til the Dust Is Gone” has another good riff that builds on itself, and echoes the salsa-like acoustic guitar sound from the album’s instrumental intro, “Black Rain.”

Art of Anarchy lead guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal

This brings me to another point about the album: Scott Weiland is criminally underutilized in it.  He is perhaps the epitome of rock star life, whose talent came in equal measure with his battles with drugs; battles which ultimately killed him in December 2015.  There’s no denying that he was one of the most talented rock vocalists in history, though.  I often refer to him as having a “rubber voice,” that he could bend the timbre and range of in amazing ways.  Stone Temple Pilots’ first album Core provides some of the clearest examples of this.  But there’s precious little of that on Art of Anarchy’s self-titled debut.  It doesn’t help that his vocals are frequently obscured by the other instruments in the band, so the listener can rarely understand what he’s saying.

That’s not to say this album is entirely bad, per se.  There are some cool solos and sounds that will pop up on occasion, such as the shiny-sounding intro to “Superstar,” and the call-and-response in “The Drift.”  The guitar parts on this album are really heavy without sounding sludge-y.  The drum and bass parts also provide solid support and even stand out on some songs, like “Grand Applause,” and the aforementioned “’Til the Dust Is Gone.”  Ironically, it ends up sounding a lot like the proof of concept analogy that I used to describe Scott Stapp’s second solo album.  AoA have proved that they have a fair to good foundation in place.  Now they just need everything to come together as a whole in order to realize their full potential.  I’ll be very interested to see what they come up with on their upcoming second album The Madness, now that they will function much more like a conventional band.  If the lead single is any indication, the heavy guitar sound will combine with Stapp’s hard-hitting and straightforward vocal style to perhaps create a less melodic version of Creed.

As for this album, I’d give it a borrow it rating.  It’s worth listening to once, and the two singles are worth keeping in your collection, if nothing else.  Here are my track picks:

“Time Every Time”

“‘Til the Dust Is Gone”

“The Drift”

Yellowcard Through the Years

yellowcard-4

We’re nearing closer to the official end of Yellowcard, as their last world tour concludes in one short month.  I’ve wanted to do this piece for awhile, but I figured doing it right after I reviewed their final album might be a bit of overkill, so I think now is as good a time as any to give them the Through the Years treatment.

Yellowcard went through some lineup instability in its early years after forming at the Douglas Anderson School for the Arts in 1997 in Jacksonville.  Their first two albums, Midget Tossing (1997) and Where We Stand (1999) were recorded with Ben Dobson as the lead singer and were somewhat different musically than what would come after.  I’m not overly familiar with these albums, so I’m not going to delve into them here.  Once Dobson left and Ryan Key took over as lead singer, Yellowcard forged their unique brand of punk rock that would become their signature.  The band’s lineup that would later go on to stardom consisted of Key, Sean Mackin (violin), Ben Harper (guitar), Longineu Parsons III (drums), and Pete Mosley (bass).

yellowcard-one_for_the_kids

Yellowcard’s first album with Key as the full-time lead singer was One for the Kids (2001).  They had done an EP the year before with Key at the helm, and two of those songs were re-recorded for the full-length.  Most bands need an album or two to really gel as performers and figure out their identity.  This is definitely true on One for the Kids.  One can tell that Yellowcard hasn’t quite figured out the right balance between a more metal-ish punk style (complete with rapid-fire “headache drums”) and the more melodic and earnest sound that would come to define them when they cracked the mainstream.  Sean Mackin’s violin isn’t as prominent here either.  His prominence in the music would ebb and flow during their career.

yellowcard-the_underdog_ep

The band wasted no time, releasing The Underdog EP the very next year. Here, the band’s musical style is much clearer, and they’ve more clearly focused on their lyrics and songwriting.  Key’s vocals are also much cleaner and his delivery is better.  “Rocket” is probably the song that best foreshadows their future success.  Many of Yellowcard’s hallmarks- solid melodies, great vocal delivery, lyrics that are emotional but still sincere- are all over this track.  Others such as “Avondale” show that they’ve found a good way to seamlessly integrate Mackin’s violin into their songs to set themselves apart from other bands on the punk rock scene.  Interestingly, two of the songs, “Avondale,” and “Finish Line” are about the band’s relationship with other bands that were coming up around the same time they were.  “Avondale” is about a feud that Ryan Key had with Inspection 12 singer Dan McLintock, who had gone after Key in one of his songs as well.  “Finish Line” talks about the band’s friendship with fellow punk rockers The Starting Line.

ocean_avenue_-_yellowcard

The Underdog EP rightfully caught the attention of major label Capitol Records, who threw their full weight behind Ocean Avenue in 2003.  Yellowcard is at the peak of their powers in this album, with their fast-paced, yet melodic style reaching full maturity.  The title track is their biggest commercial hit as a band, and it’s easy to see why.  The guitar part’s crunchy sound is just unconventional enough to draw the listener in, but doesn’t distract from the rest of the song. Key’s honest vocal delivery benefits from having the machinery of a major label behind them.  Longineu Parsons’s drums and Sean Mackin’s violin are great supporting players too.  But Ocean Avenue is so much more than its titular song.  “Life of a Salesman,” with that neat little Arthur Miller reference thrown in there, incorporates the violin as part of the main riff along with the guitar, giving their sound even more uniqueness.  “View From Heaven” features what is probably one of Mackin’s best violin solos (and even has a sort of country-like sound).  “Back Home” shows a reflective side to the band that would come to define later records.

yellowcardlightsandsoundsYellowcard took a bit of a risk with its next album Lights and Sounds two years later. Critics and fans were divided on what was perceived as a fairly big shift from the band’s previous work.  I tend not to agree with that; there’s less emphasis on catchy hooks, but I think there are a lot of songs in here that would fit right in with much of their earlier work (“Holly Wood Died,” the title track, “Rough Landing, Holly”).  Where the band diverges the most is in their lyrical content.  I doubt many punk bands have tried to pull off a concept album, but Yellowcard did here.  The entire album deals with the struggles and pressures that their sudden fame had brought them, which is most clear in the title track.  The band relocated to Los Angeles in the inter-album period, and developed a love/hate relationship with the city. This was personified in the character of Holly Wood, who appears throughout the record.  One can easily see how the band grew and matured during their sudden brush with fame when digging into the lyrics.

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Yellowcard continued to release albums at a rapid pace, following up Lights and Sounds with Paper Walls in 2007, meaning they had released four albums and an EP in seven years.  I divert again with conventional wisdom that considers this Yellowcard’s best album.  Lights and Sounds kind of meandered in a lot of directions, as opposed to the tighter and more defined sound of Ocean AvenuePaper Walls kind of does the same thing as Lights and Sounds, only more so.  That said, it does return more clearly to the pop-punk sound of Ocean Avenue, and isn’t nearly as dark as Lights and Sounds, so it has that going for it.  “Shrink the World” is probably my favorite song on the album, because it resonated with me when I was in a long-distance relationship.  “Keeper” is another highlight, returning to the slower, reflective style that I talked about with “Back Home.”  “Five Becomes Four” is thought to be about guitarist Ben Harper, who left the band while they were promoting Lights and Sounds and was replaced by Ryan Mendez.  Further contributing to this idea is the fact that it hearkens back to the sound of their earlier indie records.  “Shadows and Regrets” is the first of two songs about Scott Shad, the Inspection 12 drummer and lifelong friend of Ryan Key’s that died when he went into diabetic shock while driving.

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Perhaps feeling the pressure from the constant album release and touring cycle, Yellowcard departed their label and went on an extended hiatus, with Ryan Key pursuing a side project with Sean O’Donnell, the bassist for the band Reeve Oliver.  O’Donnell would later be recruited to replace Pete Mosley, who left the band permanently during the hiatus.  The albums released during the second half of the band’s career are criminally overlooked, in my opinion.  Their songwriting is at its best, while still maintaining their characteristic sound. While When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes (2011) may not be their best album musically, it’s always been the one that’s stuck with me the most, mainly because three of the first four tracks on the album have intensely personal meanings to me.  “For You, and Your Denial,” describes a struggle I was going through with a friend to an astonishingly accurate degree.  “Hang You Up” reminds me a lot of another friend where I had to maintain the friendship while dealing with unrequited romantic feelings.  “With You Around” was “our song” between me and an ex-girlfriend.  “See Me Smiling” is the second song Key wrote about Scott Shad.  “Sing for Me” also deals with death, as it was written from the perspective of Key’s aunt on her deathbed, speaking to her son.  Once again, he is able to convey sincere emotion without wallowing in it, as many punk & emo bands do.southern_air_cover_by_yellowcard

In case anyone was wondering if the band would slow down a bit in the second half of their career, they pretty quickly dispelled that notion, releasing Southern Air one year after When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes.  The band finally relocated back to the South from Los Angeles, which probably had something to do with the fact that this is arguably their most uplifting album.  “Always Summer,” along with the title track, are the kind of songs you can run a marathon to.  “Here I Am Alive,” conveys the importance of never giving up and following one’s dreams.  Even “Awakening,” a breakup song, has a sort of determined energy that makes it feel much more inspirational than sad.  To be sure, there are still some wistful moments on this record, such as “Ten,” which describes regret that followed years later when a young couple decided to terminate a pregnancy.  “Telescope” deals with death again, and “Sleep in the Snow” describes a feeling of being left behind.  Josh Portman became the bassist for the rest of their run during the making of this record.

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Another characteristic of the band’s later years is a love of the acoustic format.  They remade entire albums in acoustic, starting with When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes in 2011, the same year the original album came out.  Ocean Avenue received the same treatment in 2013, the tenth anniversary of its original release.  Both albums offer another interesting perspective on the songs.  For instance, it’s interesting how much more peaceful and placid the song “Ocean Avenue” is when the crunchy electric guitar riff is absent.  The band also recruited Cassadee Pope before she became famous as a country singer on The Voice to lend her vocals to the acoustic version of “Hang You Up.”

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Just when it seemed like it would be smooth sailing (no pun intended) for the band, tragedy struck again in between albums.  Violinist Sean Mackin was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, longtime drummer Longineu Parsons III left the band, and Ryan Key’s fiancé was in a snowboarding accident that was so bad they were forced to have their wedding vows in the hospital.  The trauma of these events can be heard on Lift a Sail (2014), which probably is their biggest stylistic shift from anything that came before. There aren’t really any fast songs on this record, which is quite unusual.  Many of the songs also have a sort of “distant” sound to them, as if the band is playing from afar.  “Transmission Home” and “Crash the Gates” are probably the biggest examples of that.  While Mackin’s violin isn’t as prominent on this record, he has a prominent role in the instrumental opener “Convocation.”  The band had done a similar opening to a record before in Lights and Sounds, but this one is absolutely beautiful, and sets the tone of working their way through difficult times that pervade the album.  “Make Me So” is probably the closest they come to a classic Yellowcard song.

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I am generally of the opinion that the personal drama the band went through during the Lift a Sail sessions contributed to their desire to bring the band to a close.  I don’t think that there were any hard feelings between the members, but sometimes events like that can put a strain on a band, and can prevent them from continuing.  As stated above, I already reviewed Yellowcard (2016) a few months ago, and my general thoughts on this album remain the same.  It takes a hard right turn back to their classic sound, perhaps more so than any album since Ocean Avenue.  Everything that’s good about the band is shown off one last time on this record, and it serves as the perfect goodbye letter to the fans after fifteen years.  I dare any true Yellowcard fan to listen to “Fields and Fences” without tearing up.  “Got Yours” is another one that took on a personal meaning to me.

So there’s the story.  The cool thing about this band is that most of the members have many good music-making years ahead of them.  Ryan Key, Sean Mackin, and Josh Portman are only 37, so I’d be interested to see what they do post-Yellowcard.  I’m afraid that now that he’s built his own recording studio, Key may fade into the background of producing and such, and not make as much himself.  For the good of all music, I hope all the members keep making it for as long as they can.

Make Gaga Great Again

rs_600x600-160920145729-600-joanne-cm-92016One of the wonderful things about having your own blog, as opposed to writing for a publication, is that you get to pick what you write about.  Not being a fan of listening to terrible albums, I generally try to pick ones from artists that I like, so the chances of my enjoying the album (and thus giving a good review) are increased.  On occasion, I’m disappointed, thinking that the artists could do better.  But in The Jam’s four (!) years of existence, there’s only one album that I’ve ripped apart, and that’s Lady Gaga’s Artpop.  So disappointed was I in that effort that I didn’t even bother to listen to her collaboration with Tony Bennett.  Adding to that was the fact that, like many “Great American Songbook” type albums, it consists of selections from the same catalog of about 30 songs or so, that have been covered so many times that it almost makes me instantly fall asleep when I hear another one.  But when Gaga came out with her latest proper album, I figured I owed it at least a listen.  After all, she had two good albums, one great one, and one bad one, so the odds were at least in her favor.

Right from the first note of Joanne, it was like Gaga read my review and adjusted her recording because of it.  Artpop’s biggest Achilles heel was that it was overproduced, and the weird sounds and beats crowded out Gaga’s vocals and made the songs incoherent.  “Diamond Heart” opens with a restrained synth and a basic beat, with Gaga’s singing once again taking center stage.  The thing people miss in between all her cool sounds, political statements, and relatable lyrics is that Gaga is actually a really good singer.  While she doesn’t have a titanic, Mariah Carey-style vocal range, she can belt and emote with the absolute best of them.  Many of the songs on Joanne enable her to show this off, such as the title track, “Million Reasons,” “Sinner’s Prayer,” and “Angel Down.”

The album alternates between these sorts of tracks and more upbeat, dance-style tracks like “A-Yo,” “Dancin’ In Circles,” and the first single, “Perfect Illusion.”  The latter track is probably the best on the album, because it brings these two distinct styles into a nice fusion.  It’s upbeat and danceable, sure, but it also has the raw and authentic vocal style as well.  So authentic, in fact, that Gaga didn’t use Autotune on her voice at all in the track.  The other songs in this category have interesting sounds in them like before, but the producers and Gaga are particularly careful not to go overboard with it.

Gaga also continues her tradition of interesting and relevant lyrics in her songs, that she sort of lost her way with in Artpop.  The song “Joanne” shows once again that she’s able to deal with death in a dignified way in her songs.  The song is about her aunt’s death, and rather than being overemotional and melodramatic, she sings about how she isn’t ready for her to die in what comes off as a sweet and sincere sentiment.  For “Hey Girl” she recruits Florence + the Machine’s Florence Welch as a second vocalist, and their voices complement each other well.  The song is about encouraging women to lift each other up rather than tear each other down.  Such a concept has been explored before, but having the second vocalist reinforces the message and makes it more relatable, I think.  Finally, “Angel Down” is a song that Gaga said is her response to Trayvon Martin’s 2012 shooting death.  Though I think the song’s theme can be extended to apply to the recent rash of police shootings of African-American suspects.  Musically, my only gripe with it is the weirdly abrupt ending, which wouldn’t be as bad if it weren’t also the ending of the album.

For once, it's nice to hear Florence Welch not sing like she's in a tunnel.

For once, it’s nice to hear Florence Welch not sing like she’s in a tunnel.

All of this adds up to an album that is light years better than Artpop, and stands among her earlier work.  At times, I think, the album goes too far the other way, and isn’t adventurous enough.  There were times when I was listening to it that I missed the magical mystery tour that songs like “Judas” or “Alejandro” would take me on.  Maybe for her next effort, she can land somewhere in between the restrained dignity of Joanne and the ghastly excess of Artpop.  Such an album would probably be even better than this one, though I’m still going to give this one a buy it rating.  Here are my track picks:

“Perfect Illusion”

“Angel Down”

“Sinner’s Prayer”

Outside the Box(es)

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I’m sure most of you came to my blog today expecting a Rogue One review.  Don’t worry, it’s in the works… I’m not seeing the movie till tomorrow, so I’ll have it up later this week.  In the meantime, I’m getting to an album review that is long overdue.  The Goo Goo Dolls have had a long, rich career full of ups and downs, and Boxes marks their eleventh full-length album.  It is their first since 1998’s Dizzy Up the Girl not to feature Mike Malinin on drums, as he left the band somewhat acrimoniously in 2013.

The funny thing is, despite the “drummer by committee” approach they took on this record, the drums stand out fairly frequently.  Their strong beats are what most frequently drive the songs forward, with the most prominent examples being on “Souls in the Machine,” “The Pin,” and “Over & Over.”  I suppose that’s always the job of the drummer, but rarely is it as noticeable as it is at times on Boxes.

Boxes also shows the band experimenting with different rhythms and sounds much more than they ever have.  Sometimes it works, like the stop-start feel of the chorus of “The Pin,” and sometimes it doesn’t, such as when the same sort of technique is used to create a staccato feel in “Flood,” that feels out of place.  Despite that, Echosmith singer Sydney Sierota’s vocal stylings complement lead singer John Rzeznik’s quite well.

Some interesting sounds can be found on “Reverse,” which features an electronica beat that could fit comfortably in a Lady Gaga song if sped up.  This builds on the electronica hints in the previous song, “Free of Me.”  There are lots of little common threads like that that tie certain songs to each other.  I wouldn’t call Boxes a concept album by any stretch, but little hints like that help make the album more unified.  “Reverse” and “Lucky One” can be seen as inverses of each other, and “So Alive,” and “Long Way Home” discuss a lot of the same subjects.

John Rzeznik and Robby Takac are the last two "official" members of the Goo Goo Dolls left.

John Rzeznik (left) and Robby Takac are the last two “official” members of the Goo Goo Dolls left.

But let’s face it, instrumentation was never this band’s calling card.  It was the lyrics and vocal delivery of Rzeznik.  The Goo Goo Dolls’ recent albums have never really captured the songwriting brilliance of songs like “Iris,” “Name,” or “Here Is Gone,” but they get closer than they have in awhile on Boxes with the second single “Over & Over,” which in my opinion is the best song on the album, and possibly their best single since 2006, when Let Love In became probably their best overall album.  It has a decent amount of energy, and the lyrics are relevant and interesting, talking about how to pick up the pieces after repeated failures or rejections.  The guitar parts are simplistic, but not in a bad way, like many of their previous hits.  It also flows well without feeling like the band tried to shoehorn it into the single box, so to speak.  The first single off the record, “So Alive,” feels more deliberately radio-friendly.  The start of “The Pin” screams 90s, like they’re trying to recapture something, with the acoustic opening that recalled the song “Run,” which Collective Soul lit up the airwaves with back then.  Rzeznik’s lyrics throughout the album are interesting, but don’t quite resonate in the same way as before.

Robby Takac also gets his usual turn at lead singer duties, and does a good job on “Free of Me,” and “Prayer in My Pocket.”  His role as a singer has diminished in recent albums, and I think it has to do with deterioration of his voice.  He struggled a lot in the last live show of theirs I attended in 2013.

Overall, Boxes doesn’t mark a return to the Dolls’ glory days of 1995-2006, but they’re closer to that standard on this record than they have been recently.  I’d give it a borrow it rating.  The track picks below are the biggest reasons to give this album a go, and the experimental sounds will sustain listeners’ interest, even if there are fewer standout songs on this album than fans remember from the past.

“Over & Over”

“The Pin”

“Prayer in My Pocket”

We Need a Hero

alter_bridge_-_the_last_hero_album_coverSo I’m a little late to this party, but the Orange Man’s election and my emotional goodbye to Yellowcard put me a little behind schedule.   Sorry, Alter Bridge.  Forgive me.

Alter Bridge sought to rebrand themselves a bit with their fifth album The Last Hero.  In the run-up to the album, they told fans that the songs on it would be more topical than in the past, addressing current events.  Lead singer Myles Kennedy said that the 2016 election inspired at least some of the songs.  In addition, when the album art came out, fans noticed that the design was much different than before.  Rather than the arty, rough edges that defined previous albums, this one was much more sleek and modern, as smooth as a razor blade and with an entirely different script for the band name.

On their previous two albums, AB III and Fortress, Alter Bridge placed a lot of emphasis on musical experimentation.  One of the reasons I liked Fortress as much as I did was that the constantly shifting sonic layers kept listeners’ interest all the way through.  This time, though, there’s little of that, with some songs even sliding towards the dreaded “generic” label.  There’s no real standout moments for drummer Scott Phillips or bassist Brian Marshall like before, and even some of guitarist Mark Tremonti’s solos are cut shorter than normal.  That’s not to say they’re bad, per se, but there’s no epic, “Blackbird”- style epic of flying fingers.  Some of his best solos on this record are the ones that are more nuanced, such as on “Cradle to the Grave,” and “Twilight.”

Where this album stands out musically is not so much how it finishes songs as how it starts them.  “The Other Side,” has a cool intro that almost sounds like a chant.  “This Side of Fate” features Kennedy’s and Tremonti’s guitar parts layering over each other, with a faster part full of sixteenth notes blending with a more legato layer.  The start of “Cradle to the Grave” could almost be its own instrumental song.

But the band was right when it said that the lyrics would be the most interesting part of the album.  Their lyrics are typically pretty abstract, and aside from a few songs, it’s not readily apparent where the band got their inspiration.  But with songs like “Show Me a Leader,” the band makes it clear what message they’re trying to get across.  They lament political polarization (“…we’re too numb and divided…”) and call for the world to “show me a leader who knows what is right.”  The only lyric that bugs me on that song is “Show me a leader that won’t compromise,” because I think leaders who won’t compromise are what got us into the current mess of polarization that we’re in.  Though later on in the album, they talk about how dangerous being uncompromising is, so maybe they meant something like “a leader who won’t compromise on what is right” or something.  Kennedy’s vocals on the “Noooooooo” part are one of many standout moments he has on the album.  He really shows off his range and ability to hold notes on this album more than any recent ones.

Myles Kennedy's vocal performances are extra good on this album.

Myles Kennedy’s vocal performances are extra good on this album.

Other interesting lyrical moments include on “The Writing on the Wall,” which Kennedy has said is about those who deny the reality of man-made climate change, and it’s easy to see, with words like “Refusing every warning/deny the rate of change,” and “And the writing’s on the wall/that the end will begin/Still you do nothing at all/Throwing lies to the wind.”  The band also explores the nature of heroism in “Crows on a Wire,” which conjures an image of someone who has attained power and influence but is beholden to others who will tear them down if they don’t do what they want.  I’m sure he had a few Congressmen in mind when he wrote that.  Finally, “You Will Be Remembered” honors those who have made sacrifices, and I interpreted it as being a thank-you to veterans.  “The Last Hero” serves as a summary of sorts, a way of tying together all the themes the band discusses on earlier songs.  My friend Aaron suggested that it could be in part about President Obama, and there’s evidence for that, such as with the lyrics, “Words and accusations/History revised/But time is gonna tell that you were right.”

The album’s weakness lyrically is that it can sometimes get a bit repetitive.  “My Champion” and “Poison in Your Veins” are back-to-back tracks that are rather similar.  “Twilight” talks about some of the same subjects as “Show Me a Leader.”  “This Side of Fate” and “Island of Fools” are fairly similar too.  Longtime Alter Bridge fans will hear some themes from previous albums repeated as well.  I feel like one or two tracks could have been deleted from this album without really having much effect on its impact.

Despite this, though, The Last Hero is essential listening for modern rock fans, so I’m giving it a buy it rating.  It may not be quite as polished as Fortress or Blackbird, but the lyrical themes alone make it worthy of multiple listens.  Here are my track picks:

“Show Me a Leader”

I couldn’t find video links for “You Will Be Remembered” and “The Writing’s on the Wall,” my other picks, so you’ll need to take my word for it :).

One Last Ride

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Since I just saw my last-ever Yellowcard concert last night, I figured today would be as good a time as any to review their tenth and final album.  The band decided about a year and a half ago that they would disband after the release of this album.  While many fans are understandably devastated at the news, it wasn’t entirely surprising to me.  The band had gone through a lot of personal trauma during the sessions for their previous record, Lift a Sail.  One could theorize that these difficulties necessitated the band’s split.

Yellowcard has always first and foremost been about three things, at least for me: riffs, violins, and lyrics.  Their riff game is on point on their final album, with “Got Yours” and “A Place We Set Afire,” being my personal favorites.  Sean Mackin’s violin, sadly, is deemphasized somewhat here, lingering in the background of most of the songs.  Its most prominent appearances are on the outros of “The Hurt Is Gone,” and “Fields and Fences.”  Like in Lift a Sail, Mackin’s appearances are more classical-style rather than the rocking vibe he brought on the band’s most prominent records, like Ocean Avenue.

Yellowcard’s lyrics have always been one of my favorite parts of the band, because unlike most pop-punk bands, whose lyrics are either about gettin’ drunk and doin’ it, or have all the maturity of a 9th grade school dance (I’m looking at you, Blink 182), Yellowcard’s lyrics have always been deeper and more sincere.  This is especially true in their post-hiatus records, such as my favorite, 2011’s When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes.  “Got Yours,” for instance, talks about the death of a relationship, but is a little more nuanced than the typical song of that nature, talking about “what I couldn’t say to you for fear of telling true,” because sometimes, telling someone the truth is worse than saying nothing at all.  “The Hurt Is Gone” talks about the dangers of hiding from life… it goes on even if you try to stop it.

Sean Mackin (left) and Ryan Key are two major reasons why I love this band.

Sean Mackin (left) and Ryan Key are two major reasons why I love this band.

Relatedly, one of the hallmarks of the post-2011 incarnation of the band is their versatility.  Lift a Sail showed that they didn’t have to be aggressively pulse-pounding on every song, and that legacy is continued on Yellowcard.  “I’m a Wrecking Ball,” which one might think is an aggressive song from the title, is actually one of the tamest on the album, with acoustic guitar and violin.  “Leave a Light On” is similar, but with a piano instead, recalling “California,” from the previous album.  There’s even some sonic experiments on this album, with some weird guitar distortion in “What Appears,” that almost makes it sound like they’re playing a turntable.

It’s also easy to see from the lyrical themes on the album that the band knew this was going to be the end.  Many of the songs can be interpreted as a goodbye to the fans, such as “Rest In Peace,” which is framed as a personal interaction, but discusses the theme of letting things lay and reflecting on the past.  “Empty Street,” while ostensibly about two people who aren’t able to start a relationship because they never want the same thing at the same time, also includes lines like, “I won’t be with you but I won’t be far away.”  The album ends with “Fields and Fences,” with a poignant outro that will have most Yellowcard fans near tears.

All of this adds up to a fitting goodbye for one of my all-time favorite artists.  It might not be my favorite Yellowcard record, but it’s probably in the upper half, and any fan who’s enjoying their second-half renaissance should buy it.  Hell, you should buy it if you’re a fan of good rock, for crying out loud.  Here are my track picks:

“Got Yours”

“A Place We Set Afire”

“Fields & Fences”

The Junior Leagues

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More and more Americans are starting to become aware of the Eurovision Song Contest, the annual competition in which each participating country sends an artist to perform an original song at the most-watched TV event in the world.  I covered last year’s Eurovision on this blog.  What many people don’t realize is that there has been a Junior Eurovision competition every year since 2003, and while I forgot to cover last year’s, I’m making up for it this year.

This year’s field doesn’t have as many clear standout performers as in previous years, like Laura Omloop’s infectious yodeling from 2009, Elias Elffors Elfström’s poised performance from 2013, or  Julia Van Bergen’s incredibly repetitive but incredibly catchy song from 2014.  This made my favorites picks a little harder to make than usual.  Last time I made my picks for Eurovision, one of my five won the contest, so I’m proud to confer The Stroman Bump on the following three entries:

Anahit & Mary: Tarber (Armenia)

This song doesn’t bother building to a climax to show off the belting ability of its dynamic duo, immediately starting the song off with the two of them holding high notes.  It then immediately morphs into the dance pop standard of this year’s contest, with an infectious beat that should get the audience moving at the live show.  It also has a message (“love can overcome any difference”) that many right here in the good ol’ US of A would do well to take to heart.

Martija Stanojković: Love Will Lead Our Way (Macedonia)

While Stanojković’s song also falls into the category of dance pop, this one has just enough indie sensibility sprinkled in that it could stand out from the crowd.  While it is in common 4/4 time, the synth-y sounds almost make it seem like it is in a different time signature.  They also recall 80s synthpop, almost as if she is putting a modern sheen on a classic sound.  This sonic texture is atypical for a Eurovision entry, which is the main reason I like it.  Stanojković also shows off the power of her voice in a more subtle way, letting it speak for itself rather than belting high notes to smack the listener over the head with it.

Alexa Curtis: We Are (Australia)

 

Am I potentially biased in favor of this entry because I recently visited Sydney and absolutely loved it?  Maybe.  But there’s no denying this song is quality.  Curtis shows off her vocal power in a similar way to Stanojković, but with extra poise and maturity beyond her twelve years.  Her voice also has an extra shine and polish to it, more so than the other two entries.  The “we are the world” subject matter also carries on in the tradition of relentlessly optimistic Junior Eurovision offerings (except for the occasional breakup song).

I’d highly recommend checking out the other entries, as most of them are solid songs.  And if the contest captures your imagination as it has mine, check out the documentary Sounds Like Teen Spirit, which follows three kids as they attempt to represent their countries at the 2007 contest, and offers an inside look into the ups and downs of competing.