Prince and the Revolution – “Around the World in a Day” (1985)

January 18, 2009 at 10:21 pm (Prince, Reviews & Articles)

This review comes from the New York Times and was written by the late, esteemed music critic Robert Palmer (not to be confused with the late singer of the same name) – April 22, 1985 (the day the album was released)… 


Around the World in a Day, the first album from Prince since his Purple Rain album and film made him pop’s brightest new star, is being released today by Warner Brothers Records. The album follows Prince’s recent announcement, on completion of his long and reportedly grueling Purple Rain tour, that he does not intend to perform live again, though he will continue to make records, videos and films.

Sales of the Purple Rain album, which won an Academy Award, three Grammys and three American Music Awards, are said to be approaching 13 million (Warner Brothers is not releasing official sales figures). The album’s popularity was greatly bolstered by the success of the Purple Rain film and by the release of several songs from the album as singles, including ”When Doves Cry” and three other top 10 hits. There are no plans as yet to release any of the songs from Around the World in a Day as singles, nor is there to be an accompanying film, but the album is strong enough to hold its own. It is ambitious, complex and stylistically diverse but at the same time a unified whole – a ”concept album” in the tradition of such 60’s classics as the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

In fact, Prince’s new album might more accurately have been titled ”Around Great 60’s Rock in a Day.” It is redolent of 60’s rock, or at least of 60’s rock myths, in many ways, from the cover art, which recalls the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine cartoon feature, to the lyrics, the musical stylings and the vocals. Prince sings like a deadpan David Bowie on one song, recalls Little Richard and his 60’s disciples on the next, briefly suggests John Lennon and leads a triumphant gospel singalong before taking the album out in style with a furious electric-guitar solo that positively soars, like the work of a young, brash Jimi Hendrix.

Prince is risking charges of imitation and excessive eclecticism by deliberately invoking so many icons of 60’s rock. He is also asking, perhaps demanding, to be taken seriously. If the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper is the one rock album almost universally revered as a work of art, Prince clearly would like Around the World in a Day to be No. 2, at least.

In fact, an early report from record-business sources that the album would be ”Prince’s Sgt. Pepper” was substantially accurate. It was after making Sgt. Pepper and realizing they would never be able to play music of such richness and complexity on stage that the Beatles formally agreed never to perform live again. Much of the music on Around the World in a Day would be likely to pose similar problems, and the album was already completed and ready for release when Prince announced that he was giving up live performance.

Several of the album’s nine songs summon up and grapple with specific archetypes of 60’s rock. It begins with a bucolic, flutelike twittering and a pre-literate yawp from Prince’s vocal chords. The first words are ”Open your heart/Open your mind,” an invitation to illumination much like the songs that opened Sgt. Pepper and the Rolling Stones’ psychedelic Their Satanic Majesties Request. The next tune, ”Paisley Park,” is Prince’s version of a 60’s ”love in,” and invitation to a (presumably) imaginary place where ”colorful people” have a ”smile on their faces/It speaks of a profound inner peace.”

”America,” the song that begins the album’s second side, is brisk, driving and decidedly urban; like a 60’s protest song, it addresses an idealized spirit of ”America” and demands that it ”keep the children free.” But just as the psychedelic-style songs on side one are notably free of drug references, side two’s ”America” might be termed a patriotic protest song. No draft cards are being burned here. In fact, one of the song’s capsule character sketches seems to suggest that those who reject patriotism and dabble in nihilism may get their just rewards in a nuclear cataclysm:


Jimmy Nothing never went to school

They made him pledge allegiance,

he said it wasn’t cool

Nothing made Jimmy proud

Now Jimmy lives on a mushroom cloud. 


Almost every sound on the record, vocal and instrumental, with the occasional exception of light percussion, saxophone, backing vocals and understated string arrangements, was made by Prince, who proves with this record that he has mastered the pop-rock idiom in the widest sense, from artsy rock to heavy metal, funk to sweet pop balladry. Around the World in a Day may or may not endure as a rock classic; that remains to be seen. But there can be no doubt that Prince has invested a great deal of creative and emotional energy in it. Overall, whether one approaches it as a concept album or simply a collection of superb pop songs, it is an instrumental and stylistic tour de force, Prince’s finest hour – for now.

Robert Palmer

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Guns N’ Roses – “Chinese Democracy” (2008)

January 18, 2009 at 10:27 am (David Fricke, Reviews & Articles)

Not that this album needs one more bit of hype and I’ve never been a fan of Axl Rose (as a person or a singer – though he sounds good here, I have to admit) , but here comes this review from David Fricke – Rolling Stone (issue #1066), Nov. 27, 2008 (hopefully he doesn’t mind me posting this on my site)… 


Let’s get right to it: The first Guns n’ Roses album of new, original songs since the first Bush administration is a great, audacious, unhinged and uncompromising hard-rock record. In other words, it sounds a lot like the Guns n’ Roses you know. At times, it’s the clenched-fist five that made 1987’s perfect storm, Appetite for Destruction; more often, it’s the one sprawled across the maxed-out CDs of 1991’s Use Your Illusion I and II, but here compressed into a convulsive single disc of supershred guitars, orchestral fanfares, hip-hop electronics, metallic tabernacle choirs and Axl Rose’s still-virile, rusted-siren singing.

If Rose ever had a moment’s doubt or repentance over what Chinese Democracy has cost him in time (13 years), money (14 studios are listed in the credits) and body count — including the exit of every other founding member of the band — he left no room for it in these 14 songs. “I bet you think I’m doin’ this all for my health,” Rose cracks through the saturation-bombing guitars in “I.R.S.,” one of several glancing references on the album to what he knows a lot of people think of him: that Rose, now 46, has spent the last third of his life running off the rails, in half-light. But when he snaps, “All things are possible/I am unstoppable,” in the thumper “Scraped,” that’s not loony hubris — just a good old rock & roll “fuck you,” the kind that made him and the old band hot and famous in the first place.

Something else Rose broadcasts over and over on Chinese Democracy: Restraint is for suckers. There is plenty of familiar guitar firepower — the stabbing-dagger lick that opens the first track, “Chinese Democracy,” the sand-devil fuzz in “Riad N’ the Bedouins” and the looping squeals over the grand anguish of “Street of Dreams.” But what Slash and Izzy Stradlin used to do with two guitars now takes a wall of ’em. On some tracks, Rose has up to five guys — Robin Finck, Buckethead, Paul Tobias, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and Richard Fortus — riffing and soloing in broad, saw-toothed blurs. And that’s no drag. I still think the wild, superstuffed “Oh My God” — the early Chinese Democracy track wasted on the 1999 End of Days soundtrack — beats everything on Guns n’ Roses’ 1993 covers album, The Spaghetti Incident?

Most of these songs also go through multiple U-turns in personality, as if Rose kept trying new approaches to a hook or a bridge and then decided, “What the hell, they’re all cool.” “Better” starts with what sounds like hip-hop voicemail — severely pinched guitar, drum machine and a near-falsetto Rose (“No one ever told me when/I was alone/They just thought I’d know better”) — before blowing up into vintage Sunset Strip wallop. “If the World” has Buckethead plucking acoustic Spanish guitar over a blaxploitation-film groove, while Rose shows that he still holds a long-breath vowel — part torture victim, part screaming jet — like no other rock singer.

And there is so much going on in “There Was a Time” — strings and Mellotron, a full-strength choir and Rose’s overdubbed sour-growl harmonies, wah-wah guitar and a false ending (more choir) — that it’s easy to believe Rose spent most of the past decade on that arrangement alone. But it is never a mess, more like a loud mass of bad memories and hard lessons. In the first lines, Rose goes back to a beginning much like his own — “Broken glass and cigarettes/ Writin’ on the wall/It was a bargain for the summer/An’ I thought I had it all” — then piles on the wreckage along with the orchestra and guitars. By the end, it’s one big melt of missing and kiss-off (“If I could go back in time . . . But I don’t want to know it now”). If this is the Guns n’ Roses that Rose kept hearing in his head all this time, it is obvious why two guitars, bass and drums were never going to be enough.

It is plain, too, that he thinks this Guns n’ Roses is a band, as much as the one that recorded “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Used to Love Her” and “Civil War.” The voluminous credits that come with Chinese Democracy certainly give detailed credit where it is due. My favorite: “Initial arrangement suggestions: Youth on ‘Madagascar.” Rose takes the big one — “Lyrics N’ Melodies by Axl Rose” — but shares full-song bylines with other players on all but one track. Bassist Tommy Stinson plays on nearly every song, and keyboardist Dizzy Reed, the only survivor from the Illusion lineup, does the Elton John-style piano honors on “Street of Dreams.”

But Rose still sings a lot about the power of sheer, solitary will even when he throws himself into a bigger fight, like “Chinese Democracy.” In “Madagascar,” which Rose has played live for several years now, he samples both Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech and dialogue from Cool Hand Luke. And at the end of the album, on the bluntly titled “Prostitute,” Rose veers from an almost conversational tenor, over a ticking-bomb shuffle, to five-guitar barrage, orchestral lightning and righteous howl: “Ask yourself/Why I would choose/To prostitute myself/To live with fortune and shame.” To him, the long march to Chinese Democracy was not about paranoia and control. It was about saying “I won’t” when everyone else insisted, “You must.” You may debate whether any rock record is worth that extreme self-indulgence. Actually, the most rock & roll thing about Chinese Democracy is he doesn’t care if you do.

David Fricke

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Leonard Feather – “Charlie Parker” (1949)

January 18, 2009 at 9:28 am (Reviews & Articles)

Written by esteemed jazz critic Leonard Feather, for Inside Be-Bop (1949)…

Charlie Parker was born in Kansas City, August 29, 1920. As far back as he can remember, he was surrounded by great music in a city that has given jazz so many of its leading stars. A colorful picture of Kansas City night life in the Pendergast era of the 1920’s and the early 30’s can be found in Dave Dexter’s book Jazz Cavalcade (Chapter 6, “Jazz in the West”).
Charlie says that he “spent three years in high school and wound up a freshman.” He played baritone horn in the school band and started seriously on alto sax at the age of fifteen, when his mother bought him a horn.
Charlie first went to work for Jay McShann when the band came to Kansas City in 1937, later leaving and rejoining a couple of times. He gained some of his other early experience locally with the bands of Lawrence Keyes and Harland Leonard.
As early as 1938 Budd Johnson remembers seeing him wander into a Chicago dance hall one night, “looking beat,” and without a horn. He wanted to sit in with King Kolax’s band. The alto man loaned him one, and when he heard the amazing results, told Charlie that since he happened to have an extra horn and Charlie had none, it would be all right for him to keep this one.
Charlie was without a horn again, though, the following year when he visited New York. Although he stayed around town for several months, he did not work as a musician, and it was not until he made another trip East with McShann that Manhattan musicians had their first chance to hear him.

During McShann’s first visit to New York, Charlie met Dizzy Gillespie when Diz sat in with the band one night at the Savoy Ballroom. The Savoy, once regarded as a jazz mecca and nicknamed “the home of happy feet,” was the New York pied-a-terre of such bands as Teddy Hill’s, Benny Carter’s and the late Chick Webb’s great swing group in the late 1930’s. Savoy audiences consisted of local jitterbugs, who wanted music that jumped, and jazz hunters from downtown, who were concerned more with the esthetic qualities of the performances.
McShann’s music, though it had some of the intangible qualities described in “the midwestern beat,” conformed pretty closely with the requirements of the Savoy audiences. It was primarily a blues band, featuring one of the better blues shouters of the day, Walter Brown. The arrangements and the solos were generally based on the traditional blues pattern and other simple forms. Charlie Parker wrote a few numbers in this style and played solos on some of the band’s first recordings, made in 1941 and ’42. His work at that time, as typified by the recordings of Hootie Blues and Sepian Stomp, had certain qualities that lifted it above the level of its surroundings. The phrasing was more involved, the tone a little more strident, and the pulse of each performance had a manner of swing tht seemed to owe nothing to any source. His use of grace notes and certain dynamic inflections were different from anything that had been heard on the alto, or on any other instrument.
“Charlie Parker offers inspired alto solos,” wrote Bob Locke in the July 1, 1942 Down Beat, “using a minimum of notes in a fluid style with a somewhat thin tone but a wealth of pleasing ideas.” Barry Ulanov, giving the McShann band a rave review in Metronome, concurred on Charlie’s tone, but instead of “a minimum of notes” he found that the otherwise “superb” “Bird” had a tendency to play too many! In view of the wide variations in his solos at that time it’s quite possible that both reviewers were right.
The foundations of Bird’s ultimate style were clearly defined before he left Kansas City, but it was in New York that he began experimenting with new harmonic ideas. “I used to hang around with a guitarist named Biddy Fleet,” Charlie recalls. “We used to sit in the back room at Dan Wall’s chili joint and other spots uptown, and Biddy would run new chords. For instance, we’d find that you could play a relative major, using the right inversions, against a seventh chord, and we played around with flatted fifths. After I left McShann in Detroit and came back to New York, I used to sit in at Minton’s with men like Scott [Kermit Scott, tenor sax], John Simmons on bass, Kenny Clarke or Kansas Fields on drums, and Monk. Those were the guys who’d play everything on the right chords — the new chords that we believed were right; and instead of the old tunes we’d play Cherokee and All the Things You Are and Nice Work if You Can Get it”…
Charlie’s evolution as a modern jazzman cannot be ascribed to any one influence. During his first years around jazz, he listened to Herschel Evans and Lester Young, both with Basie; to the late Chu Berry, and to Andy Kirk’s tenor man, the late Dick Wilson. He admired Johnny Hodges, Willie Smith and Benny Carter, and especially an alto player named Buster Smith, who did most of the arranging for Count Basie’s original band in Kansas City. “I used to quit every job to go with Buster,” says Charlie. “But when I came to New York and went to Monroe’s, I began to listen to that real advanced New York style. I think the music of today is a sort of combination of the midwestern beat and the fast New York tempos. At Monroe’s I heard sessions with a pianist named Allen Tinney; I’d listen to trumpet men like Lips Page, Roy, Dizzy and Charlie Shavers outblowing each other all night long. And Don Byas was there, playing everything there was to be played. I heard a trumpet man named Vic Coulsen playing things I’d never heard. Vic had the regular band at Monroe’s, with George Treadwell also on trumpet, and a tenor man named Pritchett. That was the kind of music that caused me to quit McShann and stay in New York.”
Like so many modern jazz musicians, Charlie has listened intently to music outside the world of jazz; he has studied Schoenberg, admired Debussy’s Children’s Corner, Stravinsky and Shostakovitch. He credits Thelonious Monk with many of the harmonic ideas that were incorporated into bebop. But he dislikes having any branch of music branded with a name like “bebop.” “Let’s call it music. People got so used to hearing jazz for so many years; finally somebody said ‘Let’s have something different’ and some new ideas began to evolve. Then people brand it ‘bebop’ and try to crush it. If it should ever become completely accepted, people should remember it’s in just the same position jazz was. It’s just another style. I don’t think any one person invented it. I was playing the same style years before I came to New York. I never consciously changed my style.”
To this it should be added, of course, that Charlie’s style did change and mature, though unconsciously, after he came to New York. Like any great jazz musician, he strives constantly for freshness and originality. Moreover it was not until he started recording with small bands in 1944 that he began to write original compositions in the new style. Even while he was with Hines, he did no writing. According to his recollection, the first arrangers to contribute to the Hines library in the modern style were Dizzy, trombonist Jerry Valentine, and a young trumpeter named Neal Hefti, from Charlie Barnet’s band.
Charlie Parker has brought the art of jazz improvisation to a new peak of maturity. A full appreciation of his genius can only be gained by lengthy study of his work both in person and on records. Because of his personal problems, there have been times when he played without continuity, without inspiration, and even out of tune. Like any other saxophone player, he can be a servant of his horn, and if he has a bad reed, he will squeak like anyone else. These qualifications are not made in an attempt to apologize for Parker’s occasional imperfections; they are simply an explanation to the newcomer, who may be confused into interpreting his mistakes as strokes of genius, as do some of the naive young alto sax tyros who copy every note on his record of Lover Man, which he wishes had never been released.
Bird’s mind and fingers work with incredible speed. He can imply four chord changes in a melodic pattern where another musician would have trouble inserting two. His conception and execution bring to mind Tadd Dameron’s comparison of the new jazz with the old: “It’s as if you had two roads, both going in the same direction, but one of them was straight with no scenery around it, and the other twisted and turned and had a lot of beautiful trees on all sides.”
Charlie Parker takes you along that second road…

Leonard Feather

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