Bob Mould – “Patch the Sky” (2016)

March 25, 2016 at 9:23 am (Music, Reviews & Articles)

This review comes from Zack Ruskin, Consequence of Sound, dated March 22, 2016. Bob Mould’s excellent new album…

Leave it to former Hüsker Dü rocker Bob Mould to ruin the party. On “The End of Things”, he compares a birthday party to an act of “gradual decay,” a fitting comparison for a musician who has built his sound in the crevices between the bright and the bleak. Patch the Sky is the third part in an unofficial trilogy of albums that began with 2012’s Silver Age and continued with 2014’s Beauty & Ruin. The run has marked a bit of a resurgence for Mould, who in the same time frame has also released a memoir and had his music championed by the likes of Dave Grohl. Still, on Mould’s latest offering, there is more sorrow than joy.

Opening track “Voices in My Head”—which also serves as the album’s lead single—is anthemic and uplifting, pairing rousing guitars with a lyrical tone at contrast with the music. In the notes accompanying the record, Mould explains that Patch the Sky is his darkest album, but also “the catchiest one.” It’s true. Even as Mould sings of hallucinations and final conversations, there is an undeniable sonic exuberance shining through. Mould seems fully aware of the contrast, embracing it with lyrics like “in this sun you cannot breathe” on “Losing Sleep” and “I keep searching, hoping, waiting for the sun that always shines so bright on everyone” on closer “Monument”. Patch the Sky is, in essence, the battles of a dark man born in a bright world, a place where the cobwebs of the past seem to constantly obstruct his passage to the welcoming arms of the future.

Not every song on the album follows this train. “Lucifer and God” is a fairly generic exploration of pining for a “come to Jesus” moment that is destined to never arrive. While the song is hardly cliché, it somehow fails as too universal for an album clearly examining the personal. On “You Say You”, the powerful backbeat tries to maintain the poignancy of frayed relationships, but the generic lyrical content doesn’t ring true like the specifics elsewhere.

Mould is at his best when he goes for the extreme, the macabre in a stranglehold with the melodic. That’s the case with “Hold On,” an existential power ballad about the tried and true punk thematic of surviving. The song embodies angst hitting middle age, built on a bruising guitar line and emphatic percussion from long-time collaborator Jon Wurster (Superchunk, Mountain Goats).

Given Mould’s mastery for ebullient sorrow, it comes as no surprise that the album highlight is “Losing Sleep.” Adopting a slightly more laid-back sound, Mould employs the additional sparkle of chimes laid over fuzzy guitar to perfectly recreate the pensive solitude of a solo drive up California’s Highway 5. Anyone who’s taken the spin from San Francisco to Los Angeles (or vice versa) will know the absence of intriguing scenery and abundance of Arby’s and strip malls leaves one with little more than their thoughts and the undulating heat.

On “Daddy’s Favorite,” Mould touches on themes of loss tied to the death of his father in late 2012. In the time between Beauty & Ruin and Patch the Sky, Mould also lost his mother, an unfortunate reality that has offered him plenty of fodder for his ruminations. “I try to be happy every day, but my black heart it burns,” he sings on “Monuments,” the record’s final track. It’s difficult not to believe him. In this latest chapter of his career, Mould has turned his music into a personal reflecting pool, a watery blank canvas into which he expertly casts the stones of his regrets and longings. Just don’t plan on booking your birthday party there.

Zack Ruskin

Album Review: Bob Mould – Patch the Sky

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The I Don’t Cares – “Wild Stab” (2016)

March 22, 2016 at 8:12 pm (Music, Paul Westerberg, Reviews & Articles)

The new, unexpected album by Paul Westerberg, singing with Juliana Hatfield as the duo The I Don’t Cares. This review comes from Rolling Stone, Jan. 29, 2016 and written by Jonathan Bernstein…

Paul Westerberg, Juliana Hatfield team up for a debut packed with unexpected gems. 

When Nineties alt-rocker Juliana Hatfield started working with Paul Westerberg last year, she soon realized that much of the Replacements singer’s greatest work remained unreleased. “She brought a lot of this to life that otherwise would have just sat down in the basement and sort of rotted,” the notoriously reclusive Westerberg has said.

Enter Wild Stab, Westerberg’s first proper record in a dozen years, and his inaugural collaboration with Hatfield. Recording as the I Don’t Cares, the duo assembled 16 ramshackle tracks: a mix of original material, never-before-heard gems from Westerberg’s basement archive, and re-recorded solo tunes from his back catalog.

Opening tunes “Back” and “Wear Me Out Loud” are old Replacements outtakes that gracefully channel the Minneapolis singer’s Don’t Tell a Soul-era pop craftsmanship. Elsewhere, the duo tackle gentle alt-country (“½ 2 P,” “Sorry for Tomorrow Night”), melodic power-pop (“Need the Guys,” “King of America”), and indignant, rockabilly-tinged punk (“Love Out Loud,” “Done Done Done”). Hatfield is front and center on several tunes, dueting with Westerberg on soft-spoken ballads (“Kissing Break,” “Just a Phase”) and taking the occasional lead. Most often, though, she sticks to the background, providing sweet harmony vocals and lead guitar throughout.

Wild Stab chugs along pleasantly enough until “Hands Together,” the 7-minute, album-closing showstopper that serves as a devastating sequel of sorts to 1985’s “Here Comes a Regular.” “Dreams I had before are now too bored to even show up,” Westerberg sings in his scraggly mumble, proving that he can still pull off weary resignation better than anyone.

Jonathan Bernstein


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“Democrats vs. Republicans”

March 1, 2016 at 3:07 pm (Life & Politics, Reviews & Articles)

Written March 1, 2016…

Okay, is there any Democratic voters who really, honestly still think that the Democrats are the “good guys” who are going to protect us all from the big bad Republicans??

This election has really opened my eyes more than ever to how corrupt BOTH parties are, and how neither one is looking out for our best interests.

Do you really think Republicans give a shit about repealing Obamacare? My guess is that they don’t give a damn. They just make a spectacle of it in public to make their supporters think they are “fighting the good fight.”

Do you really think Democrats care about poor people, minorities or the middle class? They pass bills that clearly screw ALL OF US over, and they go out in public and make it look like they are actually “fighting the good fight” on our behalf. It’s a total illusion. They are in bed with Wall Street and Big Pharma and anyone else that will make them rich. Any Democrat who is worth hundreds of millions of dollars is NOT looking out for me or you. So get that naive idea out of your head. It’s funny when people think Bernie is living in utopia. I think any person who still thinks the Democratic Party is for the poor and middle class is living in utopia.

There is NO difference left between the Democrats and the Republicans. At least not enough of a difference to be worth a damn. I guarantee you that they are all making shady deals in back rooms together, and saying, “Okay, we will vote your way, but we have to go on TV and pretend that we are against it, so our supporters will think we are standing up against you… but in reality this bill will help line all of our pockets.” Then the other side makes the same kind of compromise.

Only a few are willing to stick their neck out and do what is right. They are usually silenced within their own party, and marginalized, because their convictions will cost everyone a shitload of money. Stop thinking that your party is on your side. They are not! They don’t give a shit about you. They will sell you out for a buck. Politics is totally corrupt. And it’s ALL ABOUT THE MONEY.

That is why I will only vote for people that I think are doing the right thing. I don’t give a damn about the Democratic Party, any more than I do the Republican Party. They can both disappear off the earth, for all I care. They are both corrupt, incompetent, slimy, greedy and totally unscrupulous. And they are both in cahoots. Wake up and smell the coffee!

Jay Mucci


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“Saying No to the Status Quo”

January 21, 2016 at 9:04 pm (Life & Politics, Reviews & Articles)

Written Jan. 21, 2016…

I will not accept the status quo any longer in this country, and neither will millions of other people. Hence, movements like Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street and Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump doing so well in the polls. People who follow Trump are completely misguided and ridiculous, of course, but it shows how disillusioned with the Republican Party conservatives have become. On the Democratic side, Sanders has surged in the polls due to millions of liberals being fed up with the liberal establishment and the DNC.

People say Bernie is “pie in the sky.” I disagree. Bernie has been in politics for over forty years. He is not some wide-eyed kid just starting out. He has been through a lot and fought for a lot, including getting arrested for marching for civil rights in the early ‘60s. That took guts for a white person back then. He has been fighting against the establishment status quo all his life, voting for things that were considered career suicide, but he did it because it was the right thing to do. He didn’t give into cynicism or what was politically expedient at the moment.

There are a lot of people out there who mean well, and probably consider themselves liberal, but who don’t seem to want to see the boat get rocked too much. Maybe they simply like the idea of liberalism more than the actual reality. Or maybe they have too many scars from fighting for what was right over the years and have just become too cynical and disillusioned, and just want a more simple life now and are okay with the status quo… but I’m not. And neither is Bernie. Or millions of others. I’m a cynical person by nature but the passion that he and fellow supporters have shown have me excited again, and believing that something great is actually within grasp… if we allow it to happen and don’t give in to the fear and the cynicism. I want to see the good things that happened under President Obama be taken to a much greater level with the next president.

I have met some Bernie supporters who are about the most passionate people I have ever seen in my life, and it’s been a real eye-opener. It makes me realize we have been swallowing lies and garbage for too long in this country and we need to stop doing that. We were going in the right direction back in the ‘60s and then took some horrible turn along the way, and we’ve never gotten back on track. We have allowed greed and cynicism and money to control us as a nation. We have allowed racism to become perfectly acceptable again. We have allowed sexism to become normal again. And here we are having to re-fight all the same old battles again.

I’m sure there were plenty of black people, not to mention whites, who told Dr. Martin Luther King to just accept what little gains he had made and not try, or even hope, for anything better. That could get you killed. It was hard enough just to get to this point… don’t try to go any further. But he kept fighting for a better life for black people, as well as all people. It cost him his life but he never showed fear. It makes me wonder what more could have been achieved if his life hadn’t been cut short with a bullet. Bernie is one person who is trying to carry on his work and yet some people just think he is delusional, naive, angry, etc. They are perfectly willing to accept what little gains have been made and not hope for anything better. Well, I will gladly follow the candidate who is trying to fight the status quo establishment. I will back the candidate who wants to see super PACs gone from elections. No more big money politics, no more Wall Street ass-kissing, no more taking money from billionaires and Big Pharma and the insurance companies. No more special interests and shady deals in back rooms. No more Wall Street CEOs getting away with murder. If you are a politician you cannot take huge amounts of money from Goldman Sachs and others like them, and then claim you will be tough on them. If you believe that, then that is “pie in the sky” thinking and delusional.

When I hear Hillary supporters say that Bernie is “too angry,” all I can think is: Why aren’t you as angry as he is? Why is every person in this country not angry as hell? Are you okay with the 1% getting richer and richer, and the rest of us getting poorer? Are you okay with your rights slowly being taken away, little by little? Are you okay with politicians who make tons of promises and never come through on them? Are you okay with a Congress that gets paid big money to do absolutely nothing? Are you okay with Democrats doing things that you would never tolerate from any Republican? Shouldn’t you be holding your own candidates to a higher standard? If not, then why? Democrats have voted for horrible things like the TPP and the Patriot Act. They have voted in favor of the Iraq War, which was one of the biggest foreign policy blunders and embarrassments in our history. They have voted against gay marriage and gays in the military. They have voted for NAFTA. Well, Bernie Sanders didn’t vote for any of these horrible things. That should count for something. It certainly does for me. It’s not just where you are now on the issues, but where you have been in the past as well. Voting for the right thing is very easy when it’s politically expedient to do so. But where were they when it was not politically expedient? And believe me, if Bernie gets into office and keeps none of his promises, then he will be held accountable just like anyone else. He knows we will not let him off the hook or give him a free pass. But I also hope that Bernie supporters don’t turn on him the first time he has to make a compromise that we don’t agree with. No president is going to do everything that we like. And no president is infallible. I don’t expect him to be the Second Coming. That would be naïve. But obviously he needs better people in positions of power to help him with his plans, or it will be all for nothing. He also needs all of us to get more involved in the political process. As he always says, it’s not “when I become President” but “when WE become President.” We need to start throwing out all these establishment career politicians (regardless of what party they belong to) and start voting in people who actually want to make a real change.

I want a candidate who is looking out for the 99%… not the 1%. Voting for Democrats who are only slightly better than Republicans is not going to do us any good and not change a damn thing for the better. All you are doing is just trying to keep things from getting any worse. Is that really what you want??? Are you okay with settling for so little? Isn’t that what we have already been doing for decades? And how has that worked out for any of us?

We need to stop fooling ourselves and suffering from cognitive dissonance, thinking that the Democrats are all that different than Republicans. They sadly are not much better. The Democratic Party has been moving steadily more to the right over the years, and only seem “progressive” because the Republicans have gone completely batshit crazy into the extreme zone. But we need to start holding the Democrats to higher standards and stop accepting the status quo and mediocrity. We need to stop accepting the “lesser of 2 evils” and start demanding better.

I find it very interesting that establishment Democrats are all of a sudden coming out of the woodwork to go on TV and bash Bernie, in favor of Hillary. It reeks of desperation and pure cynicism, if you ask me. Look at her poll numbers and tell me that she isn’t growing more worried with each passing day. Tell me that some of these politicians aren’t hoping for Hillary to win, because they know it will be good for their own careers. And tell me also that Bernie can’t beat her when the same thing happened in 2008 with an unknown black senator that nobody thought stood a chance. Everyone said he would lose, he couldn’t possibly beat her, he would lose the general election, he couldn’t beat a war hero, etc. We all know how that turned out. And yet here we are, once again, hearing the same exact garbage from the same exact “experts.” But less and less people are swallowing it.

When people say that Bernie can’t win, I say bullshit. He is surging in the polls more and more each day. And now the attacks are starting on him. The man who is about the most respected politician in the country. The man who has never once ran a dirty campaign. But yet they are comparing him to communism and Trump and all kinds of ridiculous nonsense that is total garbage. They also say that he can’t possibly win a general election. They say that he is unelectable. Who says this? The so-called “political experts” who have gotten almost every single prediction wrong so far. Every poll shows Bernie doing better against Trump and other Republicans. Every poll shows him doing better with independents. And he has accomplished this with zero support from the media and the establishment. And yet they still keep pushing the lie that he can never win. Don’t believe it. They said Trump would be gone by now. He isn’t. They said Bernie would never beat Hillary, yet he has overtaken her in the polls in some states. He draws bigger crowds than anyone, and he has the most passionate, loyal supporters.

If you are perfectly okay with the status quo and mediocrity, then keep voting for the same corporate-loving, big money hacks. But not me. I have never voted for the “lesser of 2 evils” and I damn sure am not going to start now. Do I think Hillary would be a better president than Trump or Cruz? Of course I do. But I don’t think we should be voting for someone simply out of pure fear. I want better for America. And so should you. If not now, then when?

Jay Mucci

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David Bowie – “Blackstar” (2016)

January 11, 2016 at 11:40 pm (Life & Politics, Music, Reviews & Articles)

Written Jan. 11, 2016…

Avant-garde provocateur, glam rock messiah, plastic soul man, mainstream pop star, hard rock bandleader, actor, painter, producer. David Bowie was all of these things in his career and yet none of them. He was innovative, groundbreaking, pretentious, inscrutable, chameleonic, strange, mercurial, baffling, brilliant, a wizard and a true star. He was rock’s quick-change artist, unafraid to explore new vistas of sound and style the moment he grew bored with his current surroundings. He was always hard to pin down, always moving forward. The word genius gets thrown around far too often, but in the case of Bowie it was absolutely appropriate. The musical landscape of the past fifty years would have been a far different, far lesser place without the man born David Robert Jones in the south London district of Brixton on January 8, 1947.

I, along with millions of other Bowie fans, woke up this morning, though, with the tragic, shocking news that the Thin White Duke had passed in his sleep, after a long battle with cancer and heart problems. And so here we are, collectively grieving for a man that only a lucky few knew well, but all of us loved deeply. I would have liked to have been able to say that Blackstar (stylized as ), an album he released only 3 short days ago (on his 69th birthday) was an exciting new direction for him instead of a final destination.

I was fortunate enough to listen to it a couple of times over the weekend, before hearing the tragic news, thinking that it was simply his latest album, rather than his last, so I can objectively say that it is a brilliant, forward-looking piece of work. But now I have no choice but to listen to it forevermore from a bittersweet vantage point, knowing there will be no follow-up, no more worlds to conquer – knowing that this was his final statement to the world. But what a statement it is.

The adventurous Blackstar is an amalgam of jazz, electronica, rock, and even a bit of pop and hip hop thrown in, but yet it’s none of those things. It’s Bowie at his experimental best, but yet it’s accessible enough as not to be off-putting. Working with electronics and a small jazz combo, the album starts off with its most challenging song, the ten-minute, two-part title track (which most resembles “Station to Station,” the title track to his 1976 cocaine psychosis masterwork, in structure if not in sound) and steadily moves closer to more normal song structures. It ends with the song “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” which most resembles something from his 80s pop era – albeit shot through with effects and Donny McCaslin’s excellent sax playing. It ends the album, and his career, on a high note.

Two songs are remakes: “Sue (or in a Season of Crime),” which was released as a single in its previous, jazzier incarnation (taken from his 2014 compilation, Nothing Has Changed) and its B-side, “’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore,” titled after John Ford’s seventeenth-century play that dealt with incest.

There are several references to mortality in the lyrics, but it may be too tempting to scrutinize every word, looking for clues predicting his death. Longtime producer Tony Visconti stated today that this album was David’s way of saying goodbye to his fans. It would be a shame, though, if this album was looked at as nothing more than the last will and testament of a dying man. It has far too much life and forward-looking motion for that. Still, certain lyrics jump out:

“Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried…
I’m a blackstar… I’m a blackstar”


“Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen”

Even if you choose to ignore the lyrics, though, there is much to admire in David’s singing and the music itself. David channels one of his oldest influences on the first half of the title track: Scott Walker, from his influential Nite Flights period, or perhaps even from some of his more recent, dissonant material. It also slightly resembles Elvis Costello’s 2013 album with The Roots (Wise Up Ghost) in its sound and malevolent atmosphere. This is an album for late-night listening, full of darkness, desolation and shadows. But it never gives into despair. At only seven songs, the album might have you wishing for more, but this is a perfect album just the way it is. Blackstar will surely make many “best of 2016” lists come year’s end.

Bowie never really fit into the rock ‘n’ roll world nor the pop world – he just existed in his own beautiful, strange orbit. He could make the weird seem normal and the normal seem weird. He made countless others feel that they could also be weird and it was perfectly okay.

I can’t even begin to state just how much of a loss to the music world Bowie’s passing truly is. But he went out at the top of his game, and how many artists can you say that about? Especially fifty years into their career. He left us with more brilliant music than we had any right to expect. Some artists have one or two great albums in them and then disappear. Bowie had an endless supply of them. He also had a few mediocre ones along the way. It was all part of his restless spirit though. He wasn’t afraid of falling flat on his face. Most of the time he soared high – as high as any artist ever has. It was a fifty year tightrope walk, and he went out in a blaze of glory. He was one of the greatest rock stars this planet has ever known. He will be forever missed, and we shall never see anyone like him again.

Goodbye Major Tom.

Jay Mucci

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David Bowie – “Blackstar” (2016)

January 9, 2016 at 11:48 pm (David Fricke, Music, Reviews & Articles)

David Fricke’s recent Rolling Stone review (from the Jan. 14, 2016 issue) of David Bowie’s brilliant new album, released yesterday…

Bowie Stares Deep Into the Void 

The arty, unsettling Blackstar is Bowie’s best anti-pop masterpiece since the Seventies.

Three years ago, with little warning, David Bowie ended a decade-long break from studio releases with The Next Day. The second album he’s released since that unexpected return to the limelight is an even greater surprise: one of the most aggressively experimental records the singer has ever made. Produced with longtime collaborator Tony Visconti and cut with a small combo of New York-based jazz musicians whose sound is wreathed in arctic electronics, Blackstar () is a ricochet of textural eccentricity and pictorial-shrapnel writing. It’s confounding on first impact: the firm swing and giddy vulgarity of “‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore”; Bowie’s croons and groans, like a doo-wop Kraftwerk, in the sexual dystopia of “Girl Loves Me”; the spare beaten-spirit soul of “Dollar Days.” But the mounting effect is wickedly compelling. This album represents Bowie’s most fulfilling spin away from glam-legend pop charm since 1977’s LowBlackstar is that strange, and that good.

The longest reach is up front, in the episodic, ceremonial noir of the title track. Bowie’s gauzy vocal prayer and wordless spectral harmonies hover over drum seizures; saxophonist Donny McCaslin laces the stutter and chill like Andy Mackay in early-Seventies Roxy Music. The song drops to a blues-ballad stroll, but it is an eerie calm with unsettling allusions to violent sacrifice, especially given recent events. (No who or why is specified, but McCaslin has said the song is “about ISIS.”) “Something happened on the day he died/Spirit rose a meter, then stepped aside,” Bowie sings with what sounds like numbed grace. “Somebody else took his place and bravely cried: I’m a blackstar.” His use of an ideogram for the album’s title makes sense here – there is no light at the end of this tale.

The album includes a dynamic honing of Bowie’s 2014 single “Sue (or in a Season of Crime)” with less brass and more malevolent programming; the title song from his current off-Broadway musical production, Lazarus (that’s Bowie firing those grunting blasts of guitar); and a blunt honesty at the finish. Bowie turns 69 on January 8th, the day Blackstar comes out. In “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” he states his case for the dignity of distance – his refusal to tour (so far) and engage with the media circus – against guitarist Ben Monder’s lacerating soprano-fuzz guitar, a sly evocation of Robert Fripp’s iconic soloing in 1977’s “Heroes.” “This is all I ever meant/That’s the message that I sent,” Bowie sings in a voice largely free of effects – clear, elegant and emphatic. This is a rock star who gives when he’s ready – and still gives to extremes. (RS RS 1252)

David Fricke

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Prince – “Hit N Run Phase Two” (2015)

January 9, 2016 at 8:49 am (Music, Prince, Reviews & Articles)

Chris Gerard’s recent PopMatters review (dated Dec. 14th) of Prince’s 2nd phase of Hit N Run. This album has not yet been released in physical form, only as a download…

It’s been a mere three months since Prince dropped Hit N Run Phase One first on Jay-Z’s Tidal streaming service, and then a few weeks later via more traditional outlets. Arguably the single worst album of his legendary career, the sterile and soulless Phase One quickly sank like a stone, notable more for being the first product under Prince’s highly publicized deal with Tidal than for its music. At the time there was speculation as to whether a Phase Two would materialize—that speculation can now be put to rest. On Saturday, 12 December, without any warning whatsoever, Prince fans awakened to the news that Hit N Run Phase Two is available via Tidal to either purchase and download or to stream via the subscription service. Happily, even though it relies heavily on previously released material, Phase Two outshines Phase One by a mile—it’s not even close. Phase Two boasts enough classic Prince moments to sufficiently wash the worst memories of its vapid predecessor out of fans’ memory banks permanently. It has a completely different vibe than Phase One, eschewing producer Joshua Welton’s impotent and amateurish digital wreckage for a funky, horn-heavy sound that’s altogether more real.

Hit N Run Phase Two opens with “Baltimore,” which Prince first released back in May 2015 following the riots in Baltimore sparked by the ghastly murder of Freddie Gray while he was in police custody. Featuring prominent vocals by Eryn Allen Kane, “Baltimore” is Prince’s obviously sincere call for peace, love and understanding as the country grapples with ongoing turmoil in the wake of numerous incidences of police brutality caught on video. It’s not hard to figure out which side of the controversy Prince stands on, as he takes up the rallying cry of the protesters, “If there ain’t no justice, then there ain’t no peace!” “Baltimore” is slick and highly polished, lacking the emotional power of Prince’s strongest works about social justice (it ain’t no “Sign o’ the Times”), but it’s still an engaging song that captures for posterity a moment in our history that may turn out to be a tipping point for the better—or so we can hope.

“Rock N Roll Love Affair” is a brisk guitar rocker that first appeared as a standalone single in late 2012. It was barely promoted and disappeared without a trace, but it’s a solid tune worthy of resurrection and it fits right in with this Princely mix. “2Y2D” is a blazing slab of funk with a sizzling horn arrangement. Prince returns to one of his favorite topics—sex—with the main hook, “She’s old enough to do ya, but too young to dare.” His work has been somewhat sanitized in recent years compared with his notoriously raunchy past, and while “2Y2D” is a far cry from Dirty Mind it’s still sexy enough to show that whatever religious leanings Prince may have these days, he hasn’t left his career-long preoccupation with the joys of the flesh behind.

“Look at Me, Look at U” by itself blows anything on Phase One out of the water. A smooth mid-tempo R&B gem with a terrific vocal by Prince, “Look at Me, Look at U” is notable for its shimmering electric piano, flute and the sensual sax solo that closes the song. “Stare” is a slice of “Musicology”-type funk that Prince released as a standalone track via Tidal this past summer. With its wildly popping slap-bass and tightly-wound horn riffs, “Stare” is among the hottest tracks that Prince has released this millennium. It also finds Prince embracing his past as he includes sly sonic references to two classics, “Kiss” and “Sexy Dancer.”

Speaking of classics, “Xtraloveable” is a song that’s been percolating in Prince’s vault since at least early 1982, when he recorded it for potential inclusion on his 1999 album or perhaps for his all-female protégé group Vanity 6’s self-titled album, both of which he was recording simultaneously. Prince’s original recording, a white-hot funk/rock epic with some decidedly racy lyrics and scorching guitar, ended up not making either album but has been widely bootlegged over the years. In 2011 he released a newly recorded version of the song, and then another take featuring a prominent brass section was issued in 2013 via his website. It’s the 2013 version that appears here, and while it isn’t close to being on par with the electrifying 1982 recording, “Xtraloveable” is still an eminently funky tune that deserves to finally land a spot on a proper Prince album.

“Groovy Potential” is another killer track that first appeared on Prince’s website in 2013. It’s a long and sinuous piece with an elaborate arrangement and an outstanding vocal performance by Prince. It begins with delicate piano and guitar over a simple backbeat as if it’s going to be a mellow soul track, but soon builds layer by layer to a thrilling climax with horns, guitar, and thunderous percussion ascending in waves of musical bliss. The sweet soul waltz “When She Comes” sounds like it may have been recorded around the same time as “Groovy Potential”, although with Prince it could just as easily be a nugget he plucked from the vault after leaving it to gather dust for who-knows how many years. Whenever it was recorded, we are fortunate that he decided to unearth it. Prince’s falsetto vocal is gorgeous over an exquisite musical backdrop that includes an accordion humming faintly beneath the glistening brass. “Screwdriver” is a fiery guitar rocker that Prince recorded with his backing band 3rdEyeGirl and first released as a standalone single in February 2013. With the mischievous catchphrase “I’m your driver, you’re my screw”, “Screwdriver” harkens back to Prince’s edgy, more sexually brazen work from his younger years.

The smoldering 7+ minute “Black Muse” dates back to 2010 when it was performed live on Prince’s Welcome 2 America tour and sung by backing vocalists Elisa Fiorillo (now known as Elisa Dease), Shelby J. and Liv Warfield. The version included here has Prince taking the lead, although prominent backing and harmony vocals remain. It’s an ambitious and densely complex track that unfolds a little bit more with each listen. It’s hard not to wonder how Prince could leave a track this fine sitting on a shelf while releasing so much inferior material in the five years that it took “Black Muse” to see the light of day. “Revelation” is another breathtaking reminder of how great Prince can still be. A simmering, sexy ballad with elegant riffs of sax, “Revelation” features Prince delivering a knockout falsetto vocal performance and an absolutely scalding guitar solo. This is Prince operating at his highest level, a song destined to rank with the best work he’s done since his ‘80s creative pinnacle.

Phase Two closes with “Big City,” a buoyant rocker with big horn riffs and a heavy, infectious groove. “Big City” is another song that’s been stewing for a couple years at least, as it has occasionally appeared in his live performances starting in 2013. It’s an upbeat, raucous jam that closes Phase Two with an exclamation point.

Yeah, Phase Two is a grab-bag of older recycled tracks and a few newer recordings that were obviously not originally intended to be grouped together as an album. That in itself isn’t a problem—some of Prince’s best works have been similar hodgepodge collections of diverse material. After all, over the course of his career he’s often used older material when he felt the time was right for a song to finally emerge (although not necessarily previously released material, as is the case here). Whether the songs were originally intended to be collected on the same album is completely beside the point—Phase Two hangs together remarkably well as a cohesive listening experience that is as exhilarating as it is unexpected. As for its predecessor, the less said about it the better. Phase Two makes it very easy to pretend that Phase One never existed.  Does it stand up to Prince’s very best material? No. But it does stand up to his best work of the 2000s (3121Lotusflow3r, and Art Official Age), and it’s certainly true that even an average album by Prince’s standards is better than just about anything else out there. For those disillusioned by Hit N Run Phase OnePhase Two is good enough to renew faith in the mercurial Minneapolis wunderkind. He may have had to trawl through the vault to make it happen, but who cares… Prince is back with an album worthy of his name.

Chris Gerard

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“Adolf Hitler Is Alive and Well and Living in America”

December 8, 2015 at 10:01 am (Life & Politics, Reviews & Articles)

Written Dec. 8, 2015…

I am watching Chris Matthews’ show and he is playing part of a rally speech that Donald Trump gave on Monday. It’s seriously like listening to a speech by Adolf Hitler. Just take out the word “Muslim” and replace it with “Jew” and we are right back in Nazi Germany. I actually have the chills watching him rant on incoherently, knowing that this madman is actually being taken seriously as a candidate. And his words are echoing around the world.

He has the hate speech and fearmongering ramped up to 15. It’s all about bringing back torture, showing brutal force around the world, building up the military to insane levels, calling President Obama stupid and incompetent, demonizing all Muslims, calling the media “scum” (in otherwords, anyone who dares disagree with Der Führer), constantly bragging about his poll numbers (an obsession with him), and, of course, saying that no Muslims should be allowed into the country. He has made it clear that if a Muslim family, who are already American citizens, went on a vacation overseas, they would not be allowed back in. I’m confused on whether Muslim soldiers would also not be allowed back into the country. I’m also confused on whether all Muslims living here already, would be kicked out. The biggest confusion I have is how he would even accomplish this insane task, being that it’s unconstitutional and would have to first get by Congress and the Supreme Court, who surely would never go along with this madness. But Trump clearly doesn’t care about that. If he said he will do it, then consider it done.

His rambling speeches are all about hatred, division, fearmongering, bigotry, Obama’s failures, blaming everyone and calling them stupid… and, of course, constantly praising himself. A lot of it is just blatant lies and exaggerations. None of it is based on anything concrete. All of it is reprehensible and sickening. Everything he says goes against what America claims to stand for. England has condemned him. Amnesty International has condemned him. He has become a total pariah and made us look bad all around the world. Even Dick Cheney, of all people, has spoken out against him, saying that banning an entire group of people on religious grounds “goes against everything we stand for and believe in.” You know you have reached the Age of Madness when even Dick Cheney speaks the truth.

Trump plays on his followers’ fears about Muslims and terrorists, yet you never hear him talk about how gun violence, committed mostly by white gun-owning Americans – mostly like the ones that support him – are the real danger in this country. The people that go to his rallies are much more likely to be killed with a gun by each other than they are by someone connected with ISIS. But they have been brainwashed into thinking that guns are not the problem – only Mexican immigrants and a billion Muslims.

And his goosestepping followers are going crazy for all of it, chanting “USA! USA!” in the most xenophobic, blindly adherent manner. He has become a cult of personality – a demagogue. It’s disgusting and sickening beyond belief – not to mention extremely dangerous. These are exactly the same type of racist, uneducated, xenophobic, angry, blindly following bigots who gladly lined up behind Hitler to murder 6 million Jews. No, they didn’t do it overnight, but slowly and methodically Hitler pushed their buttons and played on their fears, and got them to go along with his insane ideology – all the way to the depths of hell. The people here are no different. Some that were interviewed said there was nothing that would stop them from voting for Trump. They really and truly believe he is looking out for their interests, and that he is going to save and protect them. They worship a false prophet.

It’s not just that I disagree with everything that this man stands for, as any educated, liberal person would – it’s that his rhetoric is playing right into the hands of ISIS. Demonizing all Muslims is exactly what ISIS wants to hear. Instead of making us safer with this insane talk, it’s putting more people in harm’s way. ISIS will hear his speech, and see his followers agreeing that all Muslims are a danger, and they will think that all Americans feel this way. He is putting Americans in more danger all around the world, including our military and people on vacation. He has everyone convinced that another 9/11 is just around the corner. Yes, ISIS is a real danger, but as I said, the gun problem, which is responsible for hundreds of thousands of lives over the past several years – not to mention mass shootings – is a much bigger problem. But the answer to that, according to people like Trump and Wayne LaPierre, is to simply go buy more guns and prepare for the coming Armageddon.

The thought of this vile fascist becoming President is a truly frightening thought. I fear what happens when he loses, which I’m sure he actually will. All these followers of his are going to be still out there. He has unleashed a monster, the genie in the bottle. And I don’t imagine that they will just go away quietly. I also don’t believe he will either. This country is heading in a very, very dangerous direction.

Remember one thing though: Nobody thought Hitler could ever rise to power. People underestimated him and we all know how that turned out. Let’s hope we don’t make the same mistake here. That is why I will vote for Bernie Sanders, a man who is the complete polar opposite of this evil demagogue, and who actually wants to make America better for all people.

But I just want it known to the world that Donald Trump does not speak for me. He will never speak for me. I will never call him my President, and I seriously don’t think I would be able to continue living in a country who could vote someone like that into office, if, God forbid, we should be so stupid.

But for now, we are stuck with this guy on the news every night, where he has a forum to espouse his racist, vile rhetoric. And he doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. I don’t know what can finally stop him but, for the time being at least, Adolf Hitler is alive and well and living in America. And we all have to suffer because of it.

Jay Mucci

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Duran Duran – “Paper Gods” (2015)

October 5, 2015 at 1:10 am (Music, Reviews & Articles)

This review comes from PopMatters, written by Chris Gerard, Sept. 14, 2015…

Duran Duran’s Legacy Grows Stronger with Paper Gods

Every time a new Duran Duran album is released, there seems to be an almost irresistible compulsion for some writers to herald the “comeback” of the “‘80s pop heroes” or some such nonsense. Quite simply, anybody who says that hasn’t been paying attention—Duran Duran never left. They’ve been releasing albums, most of them quite excellent, on a regular basis since their self-titled debut hit shelves 34 years ago. And are they really an “‘80s band” when they released five albums in the ‘80s and nine albums from 1990 through today? Sure, their biggest commercial success by far came during the MTV era when videos like “Rio,” “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Save a Prayer” and “Union of the Snake” drove a manic hysteria that recalled Beatlemania. They did have a spike of popularity with their dual classics “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone” from 1993’s Wedding Album, but since then they haven’t made much headway in the Top 40.

But as we all should know, just because a band’s sales figures no longer measure up doesn’t mean they’ve stopped making great music. Limiting them to the old “‘80s band” label does them an injustice, and overlooks all the great music they’ve put out in the last 25 years. It’s time for a serious reassessment of Duran Duran and their place in music history. As they prove yet again with their latest triumph, Paper Gods, Duran Duran is one of the most consistently entertaining bands of our generation. Most of their peers from the gloriously decadent ‘80s are either long gone, or are riding the oldies nostalgia circuit, playing their old hits in small venues. Not so Duran Duran. They’ve remained fresh and inventive, never content to repeat themselves, always with new tricks up their stylish sleeves.

Although Duran Duran has endured some lineup shifts, as do most bands with over 30 years of history, the core of Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes, Roger Taylor and John Taylor has remained remarkably solid. Mark Ronson, one of the top producers in the business and the band’s collaborator on their fantastic 2010 album All You Need Is Now, is once again behind the controls. He’s joined by co-producers Mr. Hudson, Josh Blair, and one of pop music’s ultimate hitmakers, Nile Rodgers. Rodgers has a deep history with Duran Duran, having worked with them on some of their most memorable hits. His remix of “The Reflex” became their first ever #1 single in America. He also produced the smash “Wild Boys” and their fantastic 1986 album Notorious. When news hit that Duran Duran was working with both Mark Ronson and Nile Rodgers on their new album, anticipation amongst fans understandably soared.

Happily, while the album is not quite on par with All You Need Is Now, the collaboration is as successful as anybody could have hoped. Paper Gods is more pop and dance oriented than its guitar-heavy predecessor, but by no means does it sound like a desperate attempt to appeal to a generation who makes fun of their parents for singing “Please please tell me now! Is there something I should know?” at the top of their lungs in the mini-van. Paper Gods is just a great pop album—mature, sophisticated, and intoxicating. Sure, there are nods to their ‘80s heyday in the music and in the sly visual allusions on the cover art. But even with those coy winks to the past, Paper Gods is firmly planted in the present and future. It’s a thrill hearing Simon LeBon’s voice, sounding as good as ever, over the sinuous, spacey electronica of the seven-minute title track which opens the album. It’s followed by “Last Night in the City,” an electrifying rocker featuring guest vocals by the talented Canadian singer Kiesza. It has one of the strongest melodic hooks on the album with its soaring chorus, and should be a serious contender for next single. The dramatic “You Kill Me with Silence” is a moody, wounded reflection on a fading relationship, with slinky synths and searing, distorted guitar near the end that bubbles to the surface like molten steel.

The album’s first single, “Pressure Off,” is a spirited slice of funk-pop featuring guest vocals by the versatile R&B sensation Janelle Monáe. It’s as tight a pop anthem as any in Duran Duran’s career, and stands tall alongside their legendary hits of the past. “Face for Today” is a stuttery new wave revival with an emphatic groove and booming bass. As with much of the album, flashes of retro synths jolt out from the sleek, modern pop vibe. “Danceophobia” is a hard-charging dancefloor epic with a pulsating rhythm and bright flares of shimmering keyboards. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the Timbaland-produced tracks on Duran Duran’s 2007 release Red Carpet Massacre. There’s even an appearance by Lindsay Lohan in a brief spoken-word section with her voice computerized (yeah, the idea sounds cringeworthy, but it actually works). If this track isn’t a single with multiple remixes, it will be a shock and a missed opportunity. “Danceophobia” should have club DJs salivating.

The gorgeous ballad “What Are the Chances?” swoons and sways majestically in the tradition of classics like “Save a Prayer,” “My Antarctica” and “Ordinary World.” The former Red Hot Chili Peppers’ virtuoso John Frusciante weaves his guitar through the melancholy grandeur like a hot razor slicing through the dreamy, cinematic waves of keyboard. Another standout is “Change the Skyline,” an edgy dance-rocker with kinetic synths bouncing over a fiery groove. It features Jonas Bjerre, vocalist for the outstanding Danish band Mew, whose beautifully airy vocals blend seamlessly with LeBon’s. Backing vocalist Anna Ross shines on “Butterfly Girl,” a soulful rocker with an absolutely blistering guitar solo by Frusciante.

The album closes with back-to-back six-minute epics. “Only in Dreams” boasts one of the more ambitious arrangements on the album, with graceful harmonies floating delicately over the wickedly tight and funky instrumentation. The slow-burning “The Universe Alone” ends the album with simmering drama. “I’ll see you in some other lifetime/on the other side of what we’ll never know/together we have walked a fine line / now we go to face the universe alone,” LeBon sings in perhaps his finest vocal performance on Paper Gods. Frusciante again adds an elastic guitar part that coils around and through the deft electronic beats and keyboards before the whole thing descends into apocalyptic static and distortion, with an angelic chorus rising at the very last moment as it fades to silence.

Paper Gods is a sonic marvel, beautifully produced by an ace team of collaborators. The sounds pop out of the speakers from every direction— it’s an exciting feast for the ears, with always something new, unexpected and alive. Listen to it in the car on full blast, but then try it on headphones to experience all the careful attention to detail and nifty sounds that emerge with repeated listens. Almost every track could be a single, and there was plenty of strong material left over judging by the excellent bonus tracks hiding on the album’s deluxe edition. Hearing Duran Duran sounding as good as they ever have with an exhilarating collection of expertly crafted pop is a pure joy.

For those fans who only know Duran Duran’s mega ‘80s hits, do yourself a favor and check out Paper Gods immediately. And while you’re at it, seek out some of the lesser-known gems in their catalog like Medazzaland and Pop Trash. Most definitely take the time to absorb their superb 2010 release All You Need Is Now. The ‘80s hits are great and it was an amazing era for them and many other artists, but it’s time for Duran Duran to be recognized for what they are: one of the most consistently innovative and electrifying pop/rock bands of the last 35 years. Nostalgia is all well and good, but Duran Duran is every bit as vital in 2015 as they were in 1983, and whether it’s reflected on the pop charts or not is wholly irrelevant. In a statement on the Duran Duran website marking the release of Paper Gods, Simon LeBon says, “Please spare us the 50 or so minutes that it takes and listen to Paper Gods from its opening note to its closing echo. I promise that you will not be disappointed.” The man knows what he’s talking about.

Chris Gerard

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Keith Richards – “Crosseyed Heart” (2015)

October 3, 2015 at 1:54 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles, The Rolling Stones)

This review of Keef’s first new solo album in 23 years comes from Paste, written by Holly Gleason, Sept. 15, 2015…

As rock’s enduring pirate, Keith Richards embodies swagger, sangfroid and a certain delicious naughtiness. More than the Stones themselves, the guitarist exudes a dirt ’n’ salt earthiness that’s equal parts Rastafarian, broke-down cowboy and seen-it-all gypsy globetrotter.

On “Trouble,” the most post-modern Stones-evoking track on Crosseyed Heart, his voice is all worn rope and spark. The guitars tumble and swoop as co-producer/drummer Steve Jordan presses the beat with an urgency, Richards laughingly croaking “Maybe trouble is your middle name…”

For surface fans, the check is covered.

But the more eclectic material is where Richards’ wit and grit emerge. With the unfinished acoustic “Crosseyed Heart,” about loving two women, disintegrating into the frank admission, “That’s all I got,” Richards lets it all hang out.

There’s “Nothing on Me,” the low-slung blues shuffle of getting busted and getting out of it; a horn-flecked reggae undulation, “Love Overdue”; and the “Wild Horses”-evoking “Robbed Blind” basted in steel guitar—a tale of misadventure, a dusty half-spoken vocal, a plucked gut string guitar and an evocation of Gram Parsons’ finest hardcore country.

After random spoken riffing, “Amnesia” finds Richards sinking into the pulsing groove of the corner-of-mouth muttered mid-tempo. Fallout from being conked on the head (coconut tree, anyone?), its snarl suggests far darker pursuits. That misdirection to danger fuels his song and feeds his hungers.

“She’s a vegetarian, and me, I like my meat,” Richards enthuses in the “opposites attract” rocker d’amour “Heartstopper.” Waddy Wachtel’s electric guitar sweeps down, strangles the frenzy and drives it higher—like the great late mid-career Stones moments—but Richards’ snaggle-toothed confession of lust-fueled magnetism brings it home.

If “Something for Nothing” seems expected, the halting “Just a Gift,” all midnight and gravelly offer, has that gentleman rogue tinge that’s made Richards the most alluring of all rock stars. The smoldering, world-weary knowledge and always tender soul beneath the leathery exterior beckon.

Followed by a drawn-out “Good Night Irene,” delivered like the dissolute’s “Amazing Grace,” Crosseyed Heart is a hymnal for rascals, reprobates and ne’er-do-wells with hearts of gold—or at least kindness. Honor among thieves, love amongst scoundrels… Keith Richards has carved an encompassing survey of his own spirit and set it to a vast set of influences for all to see.

Holly Gleason

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