Pink Floyd – The Endless River

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The Endless River – Pink Floyd

 

The Endless River is a very difficult project to pin down. This “final album” from Pink Floyd was made by compiling over 20 hours of unused sessions from the development of their 1994 record, The Division Bell. They’d toyed with the idea of releasing The Division Bell as a double album, one disc of traditional songs and one of ambient instrumentals, but the concept was shelved. Now, 20 years later, several years after the death of keyboardist Richard Wright, they’ve melded those sessions together along with other archived audio and some new takes to create what’s been branded as the band’s swan song. However, the success of The Endless River as an “album” is evasive.The record is largely instrumental and is divided into four distinct (though unlabeled) movements — each occupying an album side on the vinyl release. Of the 18 tracks, only the final song has lyrics. The music is beautiful and distinctly Floydian, but it’s also extremely derivative of many tracks from The Division Bell, as well as earlier Pink Floyd songs. These tracks aren’t just familiar, but contain presumably intentional and very noticeable echoes. For these reasons, The Endless River is a hard sell as a “new album”; instead, it could be called the world’s most lavishly appointed collection of outtakes.As a whole, The Endless River is a very evocative collection of music. Though it aligns itself with the smoother side of Pink Floyd rather than the ferocious snarl of “One of These Days” or anything from Animals, its moods explore a diverse and exciting terrain. But, as part of the greater whole of Floyd records, it’s an oddity, more relevant for its context in the band’s history than the music. The prevalence of cues from Division Bell suggests that The Endless River is made up of improvised work that developed into the previous record’s songs. The nods to earlier records like Meddle and A Saucerful of Secrets could be explained as the band dabbling in older tracks with an inevitable tour on the horizon. Deleted lines from Stephen Hawking’s “Keep Talking” monologue only serve to hammer home that you’re listening to Division Bell‘s cutting room floor.This is an undeniably fantastic presentation for this previously unreleased music: Making it a standalone release rather than a bonus disc for The Division Bell Deluxe Box was the right call. But, as a final offering from one of the greatest rock acts in history, The Endless River serves as a fair basis for the question of what exactly constitutes an “album.”

The simple answer is intent. When Gilmour and Mason went about putting this work together, it was done as a conscious final statement from the players who devised the core sound of Pink Floyd. It’s also to some degree a love letter to their dearly departed friend, whose work was largely underplayed for most of the band’s later records.

Roger Waters’ songwriting and creative direction were essential to Pink Floyd’s identity during the height of their career, but the sound of Pink Floyd was never his alone. Just as Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford are Genesis regardless of who’s fronting the band, or just as David Byrne doesn’t sound exactly like Talking Heads without Weymouth, Frantz, and Harrison, the memorable and defining music of Pink Floyd was always chiefly in the hands of Gilmour, Wright, and Mason. The Endless River sees the band doing what they’ve always done best: making jazzy and contemplative rock music.

It’s an odd thing for this album to come 20 years after most of it was recorded, but that doesn’t seem to be of much consequence to Gilmour and Mason. In recent interviews, the band’s two remaining members speak of the project as if, for the first time in a long time, some tremendous weight has been lifted. In fact, the intent of The Endless River is made plain with their closing manifesto, “Louder Than Words”. The lyrics are without a doubt some of the weakest ever to find their way onto a Pink Floyd album. However, the statement of “Louder Than Words” is a poignant one — about friendship, ego, songwriting, and perhaps even public perception as to “which one’s Pink?”

The redemption of this recycled music is in the hands of the fans. For everyone who looks at post-Waters Floyd as glorified Gilmour solo albums, these instrumentals could be what you’ve been waiting for since 1983. For fans of Division Bell, it’s at the very least a killer bonus disc. In the tapestry of Pink Floyd, The Endless River doesn’t end on as powerful a musical statement as Division Bell‘s “High Hopes”, but it does end on a profoundly more personal note for a band that’s taken us on 50 years of incredible sonic journeys.

Essential Tracks: “Allons-Y (1)”, “Autumn ’68”, and “Eyes to Pearls”

U2 Surprise Album “Songs of Innocence”

U2 - Photo: Paolo Pellegrin.  PUBLICITY 2014

U2 – Photo: Paolo Pellegrin. PUBLICITY 2014

 

U2 invades your iTunes, get the eviction notice ready

 They release new album for free in iTunes

You may or may not like U2 or its frontman, but no other rock band does rebirth like U2.  No other band – certainly of U2’s duration, commercial success and creative achievement – believes it needs rebirth more and so often. But even by the standards of transformation on 1987’s The Joshua Tree and 1991’s Achtung! Baby, Songs of Innocence – U2’s first studio album in five years – is a triumph of dynamic, focused renaissance: 11 tracks of straightforward rapture about the life-saving joys of music, drawing on U2’s long palette of influences and investigations of post-punk rock, industrial electronics and contemporary dance music. “You and I are rock & roll,” Bono shouts in “Volcano,” a song about imminent eruption, through a propulsive delirium of throaty, striding bass, alien-choral effects and the Edge’s rusted-treble jolts of Gang of Four-vintage guitar. Bono also sings this, earlier in a darker, more challenging tone: “Do you live here or is this a vacation?” For U2, rock & roll was always a life’s work – and the work is never done.

Songs of Innocence is aptly named, after William Blake’s 1789 collection of poems about man’s perpetually great age of discovery – childhood. For the first time, after decades of looking abroad for inspiration – to American frontier spirituality, Euro-dance-party irony and historic figures of protest such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela – Bono, the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. have taken the long way ’round to metamorphosis: turning back andinward, for the first time on a whole record, to their lives and learning as boys on the way to uncertain manhood (and their band) in Dublin.

Bono’s lyrics are striking in their specific, personal history. In “Cedarwood Road,” named after a street where he lived, the singer remembers the fear and unrequited anger that drove him to music andto be heard – and which won’t go away. “I’m still standing on that street/Still need an enemy,” he admits against Clayton and Mullen’s strident, brooding rhythm and the enraged stutter of the Edge’s guitar. “Raised by Wolves” isa tension of metronome-like groove and real-life carnage (“There’s a man in a pool of misery . . . a red sea covers the ground”) based on a series of car bombs that bloodied Dublin one night in the Seventies.

In “Iris (Hold Me Close),” Bono sings to his mother, who died when he was 14, through a tangle of fondness and still-desperate yearning, in outbreaks of dreamy neo-operatic ascension over a creamy sea of keyboards and Clayton’s dignified-disco bass figure. “You took me by the hand/I thought I was leading you,” Bono recalls in a kind of embarrassed bliss. “But it was you who made me your man/Machine,” he adds – a playful shotgun reference to his youthful poetic conceit in Boy‘s “Twilight” (“In the shadows boy meets man”) and his wife Ali. The teenage Bono once gave her Kraftwerk’s The Man-Machine as a gift while they were dating.
For U2 – and Bono in particular – the first step on the road out of Dublin was the sound of a voice, and they name it in the opening track, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone).” U2 have always been open in their gratitude to New York punk and the Ramones in particular, and this homage to unlikely heroism – that kid you least expect to take on the world and win – is suitable honor: a great, chunky guitar riff and a beat like a T. Rex stomp, glazed with galactic-Ronettes vocal sugar. “I woke up,” Bono sings, “at the moment when the miracle occurred/Heard a song that made some sense out of the world.” U2 also pay due diligence to the Clash in “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now,” dedicated to Joe Strummer, and there is a strong hint of the Beach Boys’ allure – their standing invitation to a utopia far from the Dublin grit and rain – in the Smile-style flair of the chanting harmonies in “California (There Is No End to Love).” “Blood orange sunset brings you to your knees,” Bono croons in an awed register. “I’ve seen for myself.”These are the oldest stories in rock & roll – adolescent restlessness; traumatic loss; the revelation of rescue hiding in a great chorus or power chord. But Songs of Innocence is the first time U2 have told their own tales so directly, with the strengths and expression they have accumulated as songwriters and record-makers. This album was famous, long before release, for its broken deadlines and the indecision suggested by its multiple producers: Brian Burton a/k/a Danger Mouse, Paul Epworth of Adele fame and Ryan Tedder of the pop band One Republic. Those credits are misleading. Burton, Epworth and Tedder all co-produced “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” and contributed keyboards; that’s Epworth on the additional slide guitar in “Cedarwood Road”; and Burton arranged the chorale in “Volcano.” But the extra hands and textures are thoroughly embedded in the memoir. There is no time when the telling sounds like it was more than the work of the four who lived it.And it is a salvation, U2 believe, that keeps on giving. “Every breaking wave on the shore/Tells the next one that there will be one more,” Bono promises in the tidal sun-kissed electronica of “Every Breaking Wave.” And “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” comes with a pledge to every stranded dreamer who now hears Rocket to Russia, Give ‘Em Enough Rope or someU2 for the first time and is somehow, permanently, changed. “We can hear you,” Bono swears. “Your voices will be heard.”Just find one of your own. Then shout as hard as you can.

The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt

The Gaslight Anthem

The Gaslight Anthem

 

Get Hurt is the fifth studio album by American rock band The Gaslight Anthem, released in the UK on August 11, 2014, through Virgin EMI, and in the United States on August 12, 2014, through Island Records. It is the first full-length studio album since the band’s 2012 release, Handwritten, and marks their first album on Island Records, which absorbed the band and its previous label, Mercury Records. Produced by Mike Crossey and inspired by vocalist and guitarist Brian Fallon’s divorce from his wife of ten years, the band was influenced by artists whose albums represented “career shifts”.

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The Gaslight Anthem isn’t a punk band anymore. They’ve gone lengths to shed that label since 2010’s American Slang introduced them to a wider mainstream audience. Frontman Brian Fallon traded screams for croons, and song tempos decelerated as the production got cleaner. The band cited an appetite for new sounds and stylistic experimentation, but hardcore fans felt betrayed. Gaslight, after all, only began distancing themselves from folk punk after corporate behemoth Universal Music Group started writing the checks. Their first release for the conglomerate, 2012’s Handwritten, was steeped in alt rock clichés and neo-Springsteenian tropes, hardly resembling the band that dropped The ’59 Sound.

Musicians can’t be faulted for change. Songwriters mature; people get tired of hearing the same thing over and over again. But, Handwritten sounded like it was puppeteered by producers. The layers of vocal overdubs, the lush keyboard backdrops, the perfect guitar tones: It was as if the Gaslight Anthem were being molded into Universal’s answer to the Foo Fighters, like the bigwigs saw Wasting Light at the top of the charts and said, “Oh, people still like rock music. Let’s do that.” Too often have the majors ensnared beloved indie bands and turned their music into commercial pap. A band might think they have control over the creative process, but do they really? When the money talks, does creativity even matter anymore? Does Stockholm syndrome set in?

In the case of The Gaslight Anthem, the answer is an unfortunate and resounding yes. On their fifth studio LP, Get Hurt, the quartet wander further into the realm of radio rock, evoking all the trite Mutt Lange-isms that come with that territory. Opener “Stay Vicious” actually pulls this off with its pounding metal intro and melodic verses, a total Def Leppard transition in the best way. But, man, are there a lot of overdubs on this album. Every instrument sounds like it was tracked 12 times, including Fallon’s vocals. Somebody (probably producer Mike Crossey) got crazy with the background vocals. Where there should be rests in the melody, spaces for Fallon to take a breath before singing the next line, background vox are stacked to the point of annoyance. The production is excessive but somehow sterile — a dealbreaker for Get Hurt, which already suffers from some loudness compression issues.

That’s all semantics in the face of the songwriting, which isn’t strong enough to overcome the album’s production. When Fallon told Rolling Stone that the album was “completely different than anything we had ever done before,” he was right: Forget what you know about The Gaslight Anthem. Every track here differs from the one before it. The title cut apes The National; “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” is post-grunge (in the worst way); “Red Violins” goes country. The diversity is admirable, but it makes for a disjointed record, and it’s not as if The Gaslight Anthem perform each of these varied styles exceptionally well. Fallon’s lyrics remain poignant and earnest, but it’s hard to concentrate on them with Crossey triggering so many instrumental flourishes.

Change can be good, even necessary. Change can also be awkward, as is the case with Get Hurt. The genre experiments don’t work, and the overblown production presents these efforts poorly, never adapting to whatever stylistic side road the band is going down. Get Hurt sounds like The Gaslight Anthem trying to figure out what kind of band they want to be. One thing is for sure: They don’t want to be the band they were before signing on that dotted line.

Essential Tracks: “Stay Vicious”