Artist, Album (release date, label) 1-5 stars
Sneaker Pimps: Becoming X (EMI, February 15, 2006) *****
Deep Purple: Collection (BMG International, February 8, 2006) ***
Mountain: Twin Peaks (Repertoire, February 8, 2006) ****
Greg Lake: From The Beginning: Retrospective(Sanctuary, February 15, 2006) ****
Sneaker Pimps: Becoming X
Trip hop‘s peak era was short-lived, and people are divided as to exactly when that era was. There are those who claim popularity ruined the form; others never even heard it until Portishead made it popular in 1994. Sneaker Pimps were a logical extension forward from Portishead and Massive Attack; the Reading based trio specialized in the same languid swaying and swinging chillout rhythms and soulful sexy vocals Portishead made so palatable on Dummy, but with a greater guitar presence and expanded textural vocabulary. The drums kick, the atmospheric are trancey and silky, Kelli Dayton’s vocals a deliliciosly slinky, and the menu is varied and engaging. The most well-known cut on the album is the sensual soulfunk single “6 Underground” which is perfection; a post ecstasy rapture that combines the chill of the melody with the edge of electronica swirlies and disembodied, echoed samples. Their first single, “Tesko Suicide” is all edge, with angular punky phrasing and eerie theremin-like keyboard; Chris Corner’s guitar is abrasive and raw. The rest of Becoming X could be said to fall between those two brackets in atmosphere, although the textures are all over the place. “No Place Like Home” uses heavy metal guitar to drive home its chorus, while the rest of it is a chaotic jungle groove. “Spin Spin Sugar” is a torch song on the rings of Saturn. “Wasted Early Sunday Morning” has a dobro supplying its essential lick; drums and bass are front and center; Dalton’s echoed vocal bounces off the beat. “How Do” is stunning; an old celtic folk song sung by Britt Ekland in a memorable scene in The Wicker Man, its given a multi-tracked fiddle sample as a base, and an airy vocal. Those who find electronica off-putting, or who prefer organic instrumentation, will find enough warmth to the instrumentation to keep them happy. The melodies are here, the beats, the soul, and the playing. Good, tough, smart lyrics, too.
Deep Purple: Collection
I’ve always been fascinated by cheap-o compilations. They seem so depressing; little or no artwork, incomplete hits, haphazardly chosen filler. I always wondered what’s the use of them? Are they for motorists sick of what’s in their CD player? Are they intended as samplers to lure buyers into seeking out the albums? Are they purely cynical rip-offs? I’ve come to the conclusion that they are all three. So what to say about a 9-cut CD with the unimaginitive title of Collection, which contains “Smoke on the Water” plus 8 scattershot album cuts that jump all over the place? Well, “Living Wreck” is still a good blues metal tune, “Never Before” is still a good heavy metal tune, “Mandrake Root” is still a good psychedelic metal number; “Lady Double Dealer” and “Comin’ Home” are still the peaks of David Coverdale’s career. What are they all doing here together? Doing an okay hit-or-miss approach to representing the band. Does anyone need this? Not while the original albums are still in print.
Mountain: Twin Peaks
Mountain was producer Felix Pappalardi’s project after the breakup of Cream. he and guitarist Leslie West met when Pappaladi was hired to produce West’s first solo album after leaving the popular-on-Long-Island-Vagrants. Pappalardi played bass, and Corky Laing replaced N.D. Smart on drums after the band’s live performance, which was at Woodstock. As a power trio (sometimes augmented by keyboards), they naturally were compared to Cream, with whom they shared little in common beyond Pappalardi and volume. West was an excellent guitarist; they band could play, in a boogie hard rock style that produced their biggest hits. They were legends live, both for the energy of their performances, and the length of their songs; these guys could really stretch ‘em out. So “Nantucket Sleighride” is a robust 32 minute heavy metal workout, and while it’s worth sticking with, more than half an hour is an awful long time to keep an ear glued to something. The rest of the program on Twin Peaks, originally a double album when it was first released in 1974 (and recorded in osaka the year before), stays more in the 5-minute range, and there’s plenty of classic hard rock here. The biggest problem lies in the vocal and lyric department, neither of which transcend workmanlike, and sometimes fall short of it. “Mississippi Queen” is here too, as are seven other hard rock crunchers. “Blood of the Sun” is my favorite; at 3:04, it delivers its punch with efficiency. “Silver Paper” has the best guitar and bass, and a nice strutting rhythm. The rest are for power trio/classic metal fans only.
Greg Lake: From The Beginning: Retrospective
If you are enough of a Greg Lake fan to consider buying this, you are probably already an ELP or King Crimson fan. And if that is the case, then you probably have most of this stuff already. However, it is fairly tidy to have the work Lake did with both bands all in one package; it presents an alternate picture of the evolution of those bands. In some ways, this distorts Lake’s own importance; while whe sang for both he was the leader of neither. However, he did write most of the songs, and Lake the songwriter actually looks a lot better here than he does on the original albums. The solo stuff also benefits; surrounded by better company they sound like more than budget-conscious guitar/prog rock. None of this will change anyone’s mind, if they are predisposed towards disliking anyone involved in any of these outfits. But those diehards who really can’t justify cash outlay for the solo stuff are steered here. A couple of live and unreleased cuts sweeten the package, although none are essential.
Also available this week: Somewhere Out There a 1989 album by Deodato, best known for his disco version of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” which isn’t on this one, on Collectables; Raga Electric and Back Porch Hillbilly Blues Vol. 1 by avant garde experimentalist Henry Flynt on Locust; Tales of the Psychic Wars by Blue Oyster Cult, a collection of 1981 and 1983 concerts, on Dynamic Italy; The M’s a 2004 album by indie rock newbies The M’s on Brilliante; and Greatest Hits by Cletic/pop band Clannad on BMG Germany.
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