Just a sample of songs I have been listening to the last week. Some light in the dark.
Art Alexakis has made a long career out of writing the same song ad nauseum. Since the success of Sparkle and Fade, he has stuck to the same formula and churned out more and more diluted versions of that record. It was by no means a great record, however much it informed the 15th year of my life, and however much I can still listen to it with fondness. It was empty, post-Nirvana tripe, and I even knew that at the time, but it had a spark that lit something inside of me. Its theme of escape still resonates, regardless of how embarrassing the lyrics…
“We have been sleeping with the lights on
Just about every night
Because we are afraid of what the dark might bring”
“Time stops when we lie so close
In my room where we share
What no one knows”
… and how banal the music.
Now, 20 years later, Everclear appears with an entirely new line-up, aside from Alexakis, and the same homeopathic placebo they’ve been hocking since 95. In truth, I only listened to the first track and a half. I could only take so much of a song called “The Man Who Broke His Own Heart”.
What is really fascinating though, is while listening on my preferred streaming service, I came across a couple of records where the band have re-recorded some of their most well-known songs – “Santa Monica” being the most notable and inexplicable. That was the song with which they made their name and despite being shiny and plastic feeling, Sparkle and Fade is the least produced sounding record they have ever made. By which I mean that it sounds like it was made by humans, not a versificator. This new version, along with some of their other hits, has been smothered in double-tracked guitars and studio fluff. It’s a strange move, but one that, upon reflection, does kind of make sense for such a limp band whose output has slid downhill with every release.
Mac Demarco – Another One – Could have easily been titled More of the Same, this record is a continuation of his previous two records. It doesn’t represent a diminished quality though and he still has a knack of writing ear worm songs that all seemingly sound the same but stick regardless. Despite being a break up record, it retains the laid back vibe, but with a rain cloud hovering over it. B
The Phoenix Foundation – GUYD – Never dull, yet often patchy, this record continues The Phoenix Foundation’s run of creating interesting but flawed records. An enjoyable listen, it doesn’t hit the heights of Happy Ending, although it does contain some great tracks like ‘Bob Lennon John Dylan’ and ‘Celestial Bodies’. B-
Natalie Imbruglia – Male (Track by Track Commentary) – I couldn’t care less that she has released a new record, but this is an amazing insight into the nothingness swirling around inside her head. She waffles about why she chose the songs and what she likes about them. It will come as a surprise to no one that she likes all the songs she chose to sing. Interestingly Spotify doesn’t have the actual record yet, just this. She also loves a band called Death Cab for a Cutie. Above all, she had a great time making this record.
A series exploring first musical experiences…
I was 13 in 1993 when I discovered the Red Hot Chili Peppers. My brother in law lent me a pirated cassette of Blood Sugar Sex Magik and it changed the way I heard music. Until then I had dabbled with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, embracing the grunge movement but not feeling like it really spoke to me. They were gloomy adult bands and the stunted emotional maturity and earnest optimism of Red Hot Chili Peppers was perfect for a teenage boy. Sure, they had their sad songs and they had their drug problems, but they also had a guitarist and a bass player who could create magic.
Tacked onto the end of the C-90 cassette was The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. This discovery led me to their back catalogue and I snapped up Freaky Styley, the self-titled debut, Mother’s Milk and my own copies of Blood Sugar Sex Magik and The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. It was the first time I had truly immersed myself in a band and its history. I read everything I could, learning about their formation, the death of original guitarist Hillel Slovak, the arrival and departure of John Frusciante, and their acquisition of Dave Navarro on guitar. This set up 1995 to be the year that I was a fully paid up fan. I was at the bleeding edge of Chili Pepper fandom and the anticipation of their new record was at fever pitch.
I had never before been so in love with a band. I listened to them every day, knew every pornographic lyric Anthony Kiedis had sung in his four-note range, knew every guitar riff, and every bass line. I dreamed of seeing them live and imagined how it would feel to have my life completed in such a way. I lined up and pre-ordered their new record. I had to put a $5 deposit down to secure a copy of the limited edition, individually numbered gold CD. Limited edition took on new meaning when the CD I received was numbered 350 000.
Then the day came. One Hot Minute was released. And it sucked.
There is argument among the faithful over who is the definitive Red Hot Chili Peppers’ guitarist. Some say Frusciante, who presided over their most commercially successful records, while others maintain that Slovak remains the original and the best with Freaky Styley a testament to his funk chops.
All I know for certain is that Navarro is most definitely not it.
The guitars were all wrong, there was no funk, no slink, no sultry, and the lyrics were even more woefully adolescent than usual. Navarro’s style was too traditional and he lacked any kind of chemistry with Flea, the foundation stone of every Chili Peppers’ record.
I really tried my hardest to like One Hot Minute. I listened to it a lot. I watched the videos. Stuck a poster of the band on my wall and as much as I could convince people I liked their latest record in spite of reviews to the contrary, I couldn’t fool myself. The spell had been broken and no amount of wishful thinking could heal the cracks in my heart.
I saw them live the next year and it was underwhelming, partly because they weren’t very good, but mostly because they didn’t feel like the band I had fallen for.
In hindsight, it was almost inevitable that I would be let down. My fandom coincided with their least productive period as a band. Heroin addiction and personality clashes affected their musical output and it would eventually end with Dave Navarro being fired from the band. They have since disowned the record and only play “Pea” in live shows anymore. John Frusciante returned and they made Californication, which was a vast improvement, but listening to that, and By The Way, was fueled more by nostalgia than their renaissance.
This pattern of obsession and disappoint would repeat itself with other bands, notably and embarrassingly with Manic Street Preachers. But as much as I would fall in love with other musicians’ work, and even harder than I had with the Chili Peppers, the first heartbreak still stings 20 years later.
A series exploring first musical experiences…
Senses Fail are one of my all-time favourite punk bands…well, they were. The 2004 album ‘Let it Enfold You’ and 2006 follow up ‘Still Searching’ are two of my favourite albums. Reflecting on why I love these records so much, I realise I have odd emotional connections with music. Rather than just judging something on its technical brilliance or lyrical genius, I like music that seems relevant to me at particular times. However, as much as I love these two records, I can’t bring myself to enjoy their latest efforts.
In 2008 they released ‘Life is Not a Waiting Room’, their sound was still quite enjoyable and similar to previous records, but there was something empty about the lyrics. I still to this day am yet to listen to it in its entirety without getting bored. Much to my delight the 2010 release ‘The Fire’ pulled me back in with heavier music, melodic choruses and mature lyrics that still carried the same weight as their older songs.
Naturally, I was super keen for the release of their next album ‘Renacer’ in 2013. But to put it nicely, it sucked. The pop-punk vibe was gone and there was now a heavy emphasis on a more classic punk sound, fast drums, screeching/talking vocals and hardly a single song that had the catchy vocals and lyrics that Buddy Nielsen is famous for. Gone were the emotive words and personal stories, instead replaced with odd songs with repetitive screams of things like “silver and gold”…what does that even mean?! Are we singing about jewellery? Had they competed in some kind of Olympic event I was unaware of? WHAT?
I chalked up this whole disappointment of a record to being a result of experimentation.
Then it was announced that Senses Fail were releasing a sixth effort. ‘Pull the Thorns from Your Heart’ was released 30th June 2015 — I have never been more disappointed. The singing is minimal, the old-school/classic messy punk sound is all over the record and there is not a single track that I have managed to listen to in its entirety.
I loved this band, their lyrics, melodies and pop-rock sound grew and changed as I needed them to. But these last two albums have put me off completely. If you asked me in 2013 who I would kill to see live, it would’ve been Senses Fail – hands down. Now, I am struggling to care if they stopped playing altogether.