Not Just Messin’ Around… or Cage The Elephant – Tell Me I’m Pretty

cagepic

It’s an interesting time to be Cage The Elephant. They could stick to their tried and true sound that has produced a number of alt-rock staples, or venture out to try something a little different. The risk for every artist is alienating old crowds while searching for new fans and retaining that wonderful feeling of loving what you do.

For inspiration, they have looked to the other side of the Atlantic and picked up influences ranging from the Beatles (“Sweetie Little Jean”) to Super Furry Animals (“Cry Baby”) and the Arctic Monkeys (“Mess Around”). To top that, they’ve got the ear of Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach at the controls, giving them sounds that ride sonic rhythms rather than relying on straight up indie-rock guitar. The result is a weird hybrid that welds together various pieces in some metaphoric ‘found object’ art instillation that is both strange yet incredibly accessible.

The old over-the-top swagger is exchanged for one of emphasis in the right places. It used to be that vocalist Matt Shultz would put out little vocal improvisations at a rate that would put James Brown to shame, but it seems Auerbach may have reined him in, allowing whole songs to catch the imagination. “Cold, Cold, Cold” is a perfect example; it’s a tune that has psychedelic flourishes that would be undermined by such displays. Instead, the fuzzed out guitar, classic 60’s style rhythm and haunting organ are allowed to drive home the mood.

Next you get a story of abuse set to a background of early rock ‘n’ roll sounds. “Punchin’ Bag” at its surface is a tale of someone who has ‘had enough’, but its musical tone conjures images created by the Sonics’ 1965 song “Strychnine” and its aggressive sinister sound.

Tell Me I’m Pretty is not content to be ‘just another’ alt-rock record to be quickly digested and tossed aside in a few months when the next ‘flavour’ arrives on shelves. It seeks to be a record that you keep coming back to; new sounds emerging on every subsequent listen; the kind of album that lives on in your consciousness and becomes a favourite.

Going Through The Motions? or The Arcs – Yours, Dreamily

arcs yours

It’s interesting that two guys who appear to hate each other as much as Jack White and Dan Auerbach should have careers that seem to parallel each other so closely. For whatever reason, they both have tried stepping outside the bands they are known for to create something new and different. However, White wisely chose to bring in other vocalists and songwriters (Brendan Benson with the Raconteurs and Allison Mosshart with Dead Weather) to help change the direction of his sound. The result is a distinct difference between each band.

Auebach hasn’t chosen this route. While the writing credits have been distributed throughout the band, The Arcs debut Yours, Dreamily may as well be a new Black Keys record. His guitar – vocal combo doesn’t explore any new territory that differentiates one band from another.

Of course, that doesn’t mean this is a bad record, on the contrary, it does exactly what you might expect from Auerbach by giving you a collection of songs that work his strengths. You have that blues/soul influence played with his vintage Supro and a couple songs that work as ‘rockin’ singles.’ “Outta My Mind” is a familiar anchor song that serves as a statement of arrival, a wave if you wish, that pushes the album towards the deeper cuts. Auerbach laments “working just to beat the clock / all I need is one more shot” on “The Arc” and while his voice seems rather sleepy in the sentiment, the guitar work is ferocious giving the song an image of someone rising up after a beating down.

The problem with Yours, Dreamily is that familiarity with the Black Keys library has begun to breed the perception of complacency with new band the Arcs. There isn’t anything new to offer, but still, if Auerbach is only going through the motions, he does it far better than most.

Please Billy … or William… Whatever, Just Shut the ^%$& Up! Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

simesedream

A very long time ago I learned that you had to separate the artist from the art. Let’s face it, some of today’s biggest talents are, um, ah… well, afflicted with acute asshole disease. ‘Smack talk’ amongst themselves (other celebrities) is generally the first sign that they need help, but it just doesn’t stop there. Take Jack White; first he starts dissing Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys for “stealing his sound” and then he publically goes after Meg White who is soft spoken, shy, and knows will never say anything back. (He would later apologize for both.) Of course there are dozens of other instances, let’s not forget “rider-gate” a few weeks ago, but let’s get to Billy.

A couple months back mister Corgan was quoted as saying that Kurt Cobain was his only peer, and that everyone else just basically sucked in comparison. Then he anointed himself king by pointing out that his he had a more ‘enduring body of work’ than Pearl Jam. As if that wasn’t enough, he went on a tirade about how much better he was than Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters, this despite the fact that the Pumpkins haven’t released a relevant album since the 1990’s. Then only a week or two ago, an audience broke out into “Happy Birthday” during his show. Instead of simply taking the compliment, he chastised them because he wants to be called “William” now.

Now first off, over the long history of the Pumpkins, I’ve got to give Corgan props. He has always tried to give his fans something to cheer about in terms of releasing B-Sides and collectibles across various formats over the years. Hell, seven years before Radiohead dropped In Rainbows to fans in a “pay what you want” initial campaign, Corgan put out Machina II/The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music over the internet for free. So in terms of fan treatment as a business decision, he mostly gets it. But in actual live situations… where a microphone sits in front of him for the purpose of talking…

machina

Well, William – Dude… of all the 90’s era rock acts I have ever seen, I only walked out on 1 – The Smashing Pumpkins at Lollapalooza. I went expecting a great show by your band. Believe me, L7, The Breeders, George Clinton, and the Beastie Boys brought it that day. However, Billy, you just had to open your mouth to talk. You rambled some shit about the country you were visiting (Canada), and then kept at it. Instead of playing, you kept speaking in a condescending tone to your audience. I knew that day I wouldn’t go to another Pumpkins show, because you just can’t put your ego aside when your outside the studio.

Still, there is no denying the power of the music. You rock… you put out some great records. Furthermore, as artists go, I like what you have done. I may not have followed you on the musical journey past the Machina albums, as it wasn’t really to my taste, but I appreciate your statements about the growth of artists… it’s just that I have a problem with people whose arrogance leads to self proclamation.  “I’m better than – fill in the blank”, just makes you sound like a dink. There is no need to raise yourself on the backs of your peers. You can certainly have an opinion, but remember that sometimes it makes you sound both petty and idiotic.

The result is, now when I put on your records around friends, we don’t discuss how fantastic the music is, we start by rolling our eyes about what obnoxious crap you did recently.

Siamese Dream is a fantastic work, and when it came to a special edition vinyl, I had to grab it. I have no regrets about what music sits in my collection, and I’ll continue to buy your music if I find it interesting. I’m still a fan, but please Bil… William, I’m begging you man – SHUT THE FUCK UP!