Tuesday September 14, 2004 3:14 pm
Gear Live Playlist: Libertines, Dizzee Rascal, Muse, The Streets, Johnny Cash
Apparently we are flying the Union Jack in this edition of Gear Live Playlist. Four of the five artists are UK acts, including a few rock bands and a couple of British rappers. Yes, I said British rappers, no longer an oxymoron. Both Dizzee Rascal and The Streets are considered rappers, but both artists bend the definition of that word to its limits. The Libertines and Muse both have released solid efforts, and finally, Johnny Cash's "At San Quentin" is a record that everyone needs to own. So, enjoy our trip that begins in the British Isles and ends in maximum security prison, here's Playlist.
The Libertines - The Libertines
GQ UK calls The Libertines "The most important rock band in Britain since The Clash", I call that a pretty damn clueless statement. Although their 2003 release "Up The Bracket" received great critical applause, "The Libertines" is definitely a disappointment. A band that must be struggling to keep up with expectations, The Libertines seemed to rush this album to market, giving this disc an unfinished feel. Somewhere between punk and pop, this album falls somewhere between good and mediocre. "Last Post On The Bugle" is a drunken romp of a song, with slurred words which ends up inconsistent musically. "Don't Be Shy" is an extremely bad sketch of a song with repetitive lyrics and redundant instrumentation. But there are also some very bright spots such as "The Man Who Would Be King" which is a great song with great tempo changes and clear vocalization. Another bright spot is "Narcissist", which has an almost rockabilly feel, and ends up being just a great, fun song. But the problem ends up being a lot of the songs sounding the same, which is disappointing, so overall "The Libertines" gets a 7/10.
Dizzee Rascal - Showtime
Dizzee Rascal blast onto the scene with the 2003 Mercury Prize winning "Boy In Da Corner", which received critical success in the U.S., but did not fare very well commercially. On "Showtime", Rascal's UK Garage style is back, complete with bizarre electronic beats and rapid fire delivery. UK Garage can be described as rap, electronic, reggae and drum n bass put into a blender. Rascal's second album shows maturity, with much tighter production, and clearer lyrics. Highlights on this album include the hyper "Stand Up Tall", the world music style of "Learn" and the manic "Hype Talk". There isn't really a weak track on the album, but Dizzee Rascal is going to be a love-hate relationship in the US, either you are a rabid fan, or you can't really stand him. This album is definitely the stronger of the two, so if you want to give UK Garage a shot, this album is a 8/10.
BEST RECENT RELEASES
Muse - Absolution
Like fellow rockers Jet, Muse gets a lot of guff for sounding derivative, in Muse's case the comparison is to art-rock masters Radiohead. But also like Jet, Muse manages to still rock well enough that you don't really care, because lets face it, all pop music is derivative. "Absolution" is full of lead singer Matt Bellamy's falsetto, coupled with piano slamming, synth riffs and crashing guitar and drums. The highlight on this album is the track "Time Is Running Out" that has gotten some radio and video play. This chugging, hard rock song is definitely one of my favorites right now. "Stockholm Syndrome" is balls to the wall rock, leaving Bellamy screaming over angry guitars and drums. "Hysteria" is exactly that, "Blackout" slows things down for a minute, and the beautiful "Ruled By Secrecy" finishes the album off. So even if Muse sounds like Radiohead, who cares, this is a good disc.
The Streets - A Grand Don't Come For Free
The follow-up to a critically lauded debut, "Original Pirate Material", "A Grand Don't Come For Free" is a concept album that tells the tale of love gone wrong and the theft of a thousand pounds by a friend. To call the music of The Street's Mike Skinner rap is a misgiving, it is more like spoken word over rap beats, sometimes keeping with the beat, sometimes going astray. When listening to The Streets for the first time, it might take a little while to get accustomed to his style, but when you do, you will be caught up in his story, easily the most cinematic rap album I have ever heard. Although each song does advance the story, many songs can be taken out of context and still enjoyed on their own, such as "Could Well Be In", "Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way" and the British radio hit "Fit But You Know It". The strongest songs on the album are easily the incredible "Blinded By The Lights", a song that captures the club feeling perfectly, and the best breakup song I have ever heard, "Dry Your Eyes". Overall, this album is amazing, a concept album that actually works. You get caught up in the story, the first time I heard this album I had to listen to it straight through, I needed to know how the story ended. If you are sick of the same old cars, jewelry and girls that American rap can't get past, grab this album.
Johnny Cash - At San Quentin
Late in the 1960's, Johnny Cash apparently felt that his place was in jail, but not as an inmate, but instead performing live for the convicts. In 1968 Cash released the classic "At Folsom Prison" which was quickly followed by 1969's "At San Quentin". Although both albums deserve a place in your collection (and can be purchased in a two disc set), "At San Quentin" is the stronger performance. This remastered version, released in 2000, features audio restoration to all tracks, but more importantly restores the conversation between Cash and his audience. This banter quickly reveals that Cash didn't view his audience as convicts, but as men who had made mistakes and deserved some entertainment. "Folsom Prison Blues" makes a very appropriate appearance at this show, as does the premiere of the track "San Quentin". Shel Silverstein's "A Boy Named Sue", which gets riotous laughter by the audience, is presented for the first time without censorship. The classics "I Still Miss Someone" and "I Walk The Line" get an incredible treatment by Cash and his backing band, The Tennessee Three. There are plenty of spirituals on this disc, which definitely espouse Cash's religious side, but the songs do not come off as preachy, but instead as very powerful explanations of "The Man in Black's" faith. The conclusion of "At San Quentin" is also the highpoint, a medley of "I Walk The Line", "Ring Of Fire" and "Folsom Prison Blues" as well as others. I am sad to say I never got to see Johnny Cash live, but with the prison albums as close as I will ever get, I can't be that disappointed.
- Greg Norton
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