Artist: No Doubt
Example Song: Settle Down
I was a little too young to appreciate No Doubt when they were first active, but several years ago I became familiar with them (although I had been well aware of Gwen Stefani for a while by then). Since then, they’ve grown steadily into one of my favourite bands, and so when in 2012, after a recording hiatus of over ten years, they released their long-awaited sixth studio effort I was very keen to hear their new material. The album had been in the pipeline for a few years before release, after Stefani’s solo albums in 2004 and 2006. The title, Push and Shove, was announced early in 2012 and the first single of the same name in July before the full record the next month.
“Settle Down”, the single preceding the album, is in fact the first song on the record. It’s a powerful song, making it clear that No Doubt are back with a bang. It’s a very strong start to the album, which I always worry about, but the following song (and second single) “Looking Hot” is almost as good. Both songs are very upbeat and rocky pop and remind me more of Gwen’s solo work than early No Doubt, but then “One More Summer” is much slower and “Push and Shove”, featuring Busy Signal and Major Lazer, incorporates heavy reggae influences that are characteristic of the group. “Easy” is laid-back but good, and “Gravity” is a more moving song that sounds full of emotion. “Undercover” and “Undone” are two decent songs although unspectacular, and then “Sparkle” is a poignant, rueful ode to a breakup (not unlike Stefani’s “Cool” from Love.Angel.Music.Baby.). It’s followed by “Heaven”, a much more optimistic track, and the album finishes off with “Dreaming the Same Dream”, which is a good enough song to end the record. There’s quite a lot of bonus material on the deluxe edition, but I want to give a special mention to the rendition of Adam and the Ants’ “Stand and Deliver” (recorded in 2009), which suits the band perfectly.
Push and Shove is a great album, although it took me a while to get accustomed to it (but everything does), and it unfortunately drops off a little towards the end. The sound is also quite different from what No Doubt originally released; it almost leans closer to Gwen Stefani’s solo work stylistically. This might well be deliberate on the band’s part because they’re all significantly older than they were and this seems much more polished and contemplative than their earlier, more youthful and exuberant work. This shouldn’t be taken as a negative, because I don’t think it would be good to see a bunch of musicians in their forties act like young rebels; it’s good to see that No Doubt are above that. They didn’t reunite to recreate the old days – they did it because they’re a bunch of great friends who enjoy making music together, and Push and Shove proves that they’ve still got the magic.
My Rating: 8/10
Artist: The Vines
Example song: Ride
So I’ve come to a realisation in the last couple of days: It’s much easier to review a film than an album. Much easier. My thoughts on a film can be easily bashed out on a cheap plastic keyboard, but my reaction to music is much harder to pry out of my brain and into readable words. I can (and did) watch a film once, and then the next day recall from memory (supplemented by a note or two) exactly what happened in that film. Music? Not so simple. Perhaps it’s because when I’m watching a film I’m giving it my full attention, whereas I listened to the majority of this album on the bus. Maybe it’s because a film has a coherent plot to fix a memory on, but an album is far more abstract and intangible. This means that I’m clearly going to have to listen to an album more than once to review it, which seems to directly contradict my aim of experiencing as much as I can by listening to as much as I can. However, I’m coming to realise that if I want to “experience” a piece of music, one listen ain’t gonna cut it.
Whatever the problem, (18 hours) after my first listen to this album I could only remember one song. That is unsurprisingly Ride, the song in the video above, which I knew before listening to the album and is easily one of the Vines’ most popular tunes. It’s an excellent song at that, very energetic and catchy, and serves as a good opening track to invite further exploration of the album. I often worry about the decision to stick the hit song at the beginning of an album, but the band do a good job of living up to the high standard they’ve shown themselves to be able to hit.
So after another listen, I can give some more critical analysis (wow, I’ve got a high opinion of myself) on the rest of the songs, and the album as a whole. It’s lively and yet it feels a little depressing in a way that reminds me a lot of the Manic Street Preachers; TV Pro is a good example of this. The remainder of the album is upbeat yet peaceful before perking back up with Fuck the World to close. This is (perhaps unsurprisingly) more raucous, although it feels more ironic than seriously angry and finishes off the record on a pleasing note.
Overall, I thought that this was a very good album, and I feel inspired to investigate some more of the band’s work (one album prior, three since). I’m a sucker for a song I recognise from a movie, the TV or the radio, and I sense that I won’t come across too many of those. But I can certainly see the Vines becoming a solid addition to my library and, when I reach that stage somewhere on the other side of the horizon, my ultimate alternative/indie-rock playlist.
My rating: 7.5/10
Example song: For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)
This may seem an odd album to open a blog on, but bear with me.
I’m currently in the middle (hah) of an epic quest to rate every song in my iTunes library, as part of my broader mission to experience as much (different) entertainment as possible. Gone are the days of thousands of songs sitting in my iTunes, never to be played and discovered. This, I have found out, is easier said than done. As I type my library consists of 14916 songs, of which 4141 are yet to be rated. Considering the latest Eminem album was released yesterday (The Marshall Mathers LP 2 – watch this space), this is likely to go up within the hour, and the only reason the number is so low (hah) is that I now only allow myself to add songs (albums) to my library as I rate (my current policy is to rate 2,000 songs before I allow myself to add another 1000). This quest will theoretically end when my iPod is full, but then comes the new task of trimming the fat in order to create the perfect iPod. Anyway, I’ll crawl across that bridge when I get to it.
So the point I guess I’m trying to make here is that more often than not, when I review an album it’s probably the first time I’m hearing it myself. Most of the time I feel unfortunately guilty listening to an album I’ve already rated, like I’m wasting valuable discovery time. So the albums I rate (for now) might seem a bizarre choice, but I do have a system. Kinda. Movies, books and the like follow a similar pattern, although maybe not to such an extreme. Again, I’ll cross that bridge when I reach it. Seems like the Yellow Brick Road goes over a lot of bridges on the way to the Emerald City of popular culture. Or something. Regardless; on with the show.
For Those About To Rock can be largely described as “an AC/DC album”. This isn’t necessarily praise or criticism, just a simple truth. AC/DC are a band I enjoy, and I found the album enjoyable. The lyrics can be clever, but every song sounds sorta the same. This is a general problem with the works of AC/DC. The fact that I can’t actually tell if that was the first time I heard the album or not is hardly surprising. Take out Back in Black, Highway to Hell and TNT and I challenge anyone to tell the difference between the rest of the band’s back catalogue. Again, this isn’t a criticism. If you like AC/DC, then you’ll probably like this album. It is, after all, an AC/DC album.
My Rating: 6.5/10