Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wu-Tang Clan - Wu-Tang Forever

Release Date: June 3, 1997

★★★★★ Tracks:


Not much to say here. I didn't think much of Wu-Tang Forever when it first came out, and my feelings haven't changed since. The beats don't compliment the flows as much as they did on 36 Chambers, the lyrics aren't as compelling, and many of the 28 tracks blend together, making the album feel even longer than it's already much too long 112 minute running time. Lastly, with Ol' Dirty Bastard's diminishing role as a primary character, the humor that helped in breaking up the grisly stories of the streets has all but vanished on Forever. His absence wouldn't be a problem on most of the member's solo albums, but a record as long as Forever could definitely use some comic relief. I love the Wu, but this record doesn't meet the standards they set for themselves with their output from '93-'96. There would be better releases to come though.

Although overall disappointing, there are still a few tracks worth keeping: "Reunited" has a great beat (although the "strings" breakdown near the end is a little much), "Triumph" features great flows from a couple of my favorite members, and an awesome video, and "Visionz" is my favorite, with a bad-ass verse from Meth:

"Apocalypse Now.
Mind over matter next batter be Tical.
Put it on a platter how much uncut.
raw shit we dealin wit, murder track what.
Slang killin it, touched.
You feelin it, in your bloodstream.
deadly venemous elixir.
Hammer like Sledge that be Sister.
All and together now, follow me, the Mista.
Meth Candyman, farewell to the flesh.
Death come, in the scripture, two-thousand one.
Bring the rap arma-gedde-on, let it be known.
When you walk up in this Dead Zone.
wit all that wack shit, now you know.
you dead wrong, one thousand lashes."

Here's a great review of Wu's newest release, Wu-Massacre. By M.W. Holden.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Release Date: November 9, 1993

★★★★★ Tracks:

Bring Da Ruckus
Shame on a Nigga
Can It Be All So Simple
Protect Ya Neck

"Bring da mothafuckin' ruckus! Brind da motha, bring da mothafuckin' ruckus!" Damn, that shit is so awesome. From twenty seconds in, all the way until the end, 36 Chambers has me banging my head. My friend and I we're just talking about the Wu the other night, in knowing I was writing about them for my upcoming post I asked him, "How the hell did they come up with this?" We couldn't say for sure, but the genius (not to be confused with the GZA) behind most of 36 Chambers' themes and production is the RZA. By combining his love for kung-fu movies, his influences of soul and hip-hop, and getting "with a sick ass click and goin' all out," the RZA and the Wu-Tang Clan created one of my favorite albums of all time.

36 Chambers was the soundtrack to my sophomore year in high school -- a time when I began to run with the wrong kids, and do some things I could no longer tell my parents about. I'd grow out of it pretty quickly, but this album would always stick with me. Previous to being introduced to the Wu-Tang Clan, all I was listening to was power-chord punk rock; I was immature and wanted nothing to do with any music loved by the masses. But meanwhile, the only records my new buddies would be blasting in their cars, on their porches and in their garages were from the Wu-Tang Clan. Damn was I annoyed hearing this shit over and over and over again. I mean, I didn't even like hip hop. Why couldn't I sneak a NOFX or Screeching Weasel record in to the rotation every once in a while? And what made it all the more irritating is they thought they were living it. Sure, they were dealing and doing some drugs, siphoning gas (they couldn't afford to fill their tanks), tagging buildings...but they weren't initiating drive-bys or stealing wallets!

Still, the more I hung with my pals, the more I was force-fed 36 Chambers, and the more I realized how amazing it was. The first thing I warmed up to were the beats: they're heavy, raw, minimal, and dark, giving the listener a sonic visualization of the New York streets of which most the lyrics revolve around. Mixed with the strange kung fu sound effects, and awesome soul samples, I realized I was listening to something completely unique. With my ears now opened up to the sound, I began nodding my head in unison with my friends, and I began to pay closer attention to the lyrics: often a socio-history to the rough side of New York City in the 80's and 90's.

"I grew up on the crime side, the New York Times side.
Staying alive was no jive.
At second hands, moms bounced on old men.
So then we moved to Shaolin land.
A young youth, yo rockin the gold tooth, 'Lo goose.
Only way, I begin to gee off was drug loot.
And let's start it like this son, rollin with this one.
And that one, pullin out gats for fun.
But it was just a dream for the teen, who was a fiend.
Started smokin woolies at sixteen.
And running up in gates, and doing hits for high stakes.
Making my way on fire escapes.
No question I would speed, for cracks and weed.
The combination made my eyes bleed.
No question I would flow off, and try to get the dough all.
Sticking up white boys in ball courts.
My life got no better, same damn 'Lo sweater.
Times is ruff and tuff like leather.
Figured out I went the wrong route.
So I got with a sick ass click and went all out.
Catchin keys from across seas.
Rollin in MPV's, every week we made forty G's.
Yo nigga respect mine, or anger the tech nine.
Ch-chick-POW! Move from the gate now."

Sure, 36 Chambers has it's fair share of "you can't even touch my skills" moments, which has always been emphasized throughout the genre's history, but the Wu-Tang do it with a style unmatched by others:

"The Wu is comin thru, the outcome is critical.
Fuckin wit my style, is sort of like a Miracle.
on 34th Street, in the Square of Herald.
I gamed Ella, the bitch caught a Fitz like Gerald --
-- ine Ferraro, who's full of sorrow.
Cuz the ho didn't win but the sun will still come out tomorrow.
and shine shine shine like gold mine.
Here comes the drunk monk, with a quart of Ballentine.
Pass the bone, kid pass the bone.
Let's get on this mission like Indiana Jones, the GZA.
One who just represent the Wu-Tang click.
With the game and soul, of an old school flick."

And the humor is something completely unique up to that point, most often delivered in the form of Ol' Dirty Bastard:

I come with that ol' loco.
Style from my vocal.
Couldn't peep it with a pair of bi-focals.
I'm no joker! Play me as a joker.
Be on you like a house on fire, smoke ya!
Crews be actin like they gangs, anyway.
Be like, 'Warriors! Come out and play-yay!'
Burn me, I get into shit, I let it out like diarrhea.
Got burnt once, but that was only gonorrhea.
Dirty, I keep shit stinks in my drawers.
So I can get fzza-funky for yah.
Murder, taste the flame of the Wu-Tang RAHH!
Here comes the Tiger verse Crane!
Ow, be like wild with my style.
Punk! You playing me, chump, you get dumped!
WU! Is comin' through! At a theatre near you!
And get funk like a shoe!

Sometimes an album transcends genre. At a time when I wouldn't even consider anything other than rock'n'roll, Wu-Tang Clan opened my ears to a world of music. Not only did I begin listening to a lot of hip hop, but I began seeking out all that great soul music the Wu, and other rap groups I was listening to, we're sampling. There are a couple of current hip hop artists I like, but nothing compares to the the golden age of the 90's. And for my money, no one compares to the Wu-Tang Clan. Easily my favorite rap group, 36 Chambers just misses first place as my favorite hip hop album of all time, being edged out by one of the member's solo records. It turns out my pot-smoking pals we're on to something, and while most of the punk rock I was listening to from the 90's fell to the wayside, Wu-Tang's 36 Chambers remains timeless.

Here's a great review of Wu's newest release, Wu-Massacre. By M.W. Holden.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wyclef Jean - The Carnival

Release Date: March 24, 1997

★★★★★ Tracks:


To All the Girls

Anything Can Happen

"To all the girls I cheated on before, it's a new year.
I got a new change of gear, I swear.
I can see clear now the clouds disappeared.
You forgive but never forget, so the past reappears, uh huh."

I had no reason to post these lyrics, and I probably look like a moron by quoting them here, but damn was it fun to sing along to back in high school. I hadn't even had a real girlfriend yet (unless you count 7th grade when I asked Robin if she would go out with me via circle "yes" or "no" on a school note. She said yes. Or maybe she asked me?... Regardless, she was hot.), and I guess that's on par for a sixteen year old, geeky white guy, rapping to Wyclef while driving his best buds around in his mom's minivan. But I still felt cool as hell rhyming along with the Carnival, and it ended up being the default party record to my junior year in high school -- the one you put on when your parents left for the weekend, and you invited some close friends over to have a few beers, and that select few quickly escalated in to your entire high school showing up and trashing your place.

I went through college all but forgetting about The Carnival. But when I ripped the disc on to my computer soon after moving to New York, I remembered all those things I loved about it. As Chris Rock said, it really is the best Fugees-related album to own. The Score was our introduction, and The Miseducation is the critics' choice, but the best beats are on the Carnival, produced by Wyclef himself. While he may not be among the upper-echelon of MCs, or even the best in his group, he has a great knack for storytelling and references. Whether realizing he's in love with two women after seeing A Thin Line Between Love and Hate on cable, channeling 007 and pulling a bomb from his shoe, reminiscing Flatbush where his first pair of sneakers got stolen, or telling the semi-autobiographical story of the performer who can't stand the 9-5, but has just as hard of a time saying goodbye to his girl before a tour, the lyrics are easy to get wrapped up in on The Carnival. Yes, the skits get old and the album drags on a little too long, but those are two complaints I have for nearly all rap records.

One of the best tracks is "Guantanamera," a quasi-cover to the popular Cuban classic, it features Celia Cruz singing some of the original version's lyrics, and Lauryn Hill with one of my favorite versus of hers from anything she's recorded. (Note: The music video version of this song indulges in a few embellishments I could do without, and are not contained in the original track. The video is still pretty cool though, especially the homage to El Mariachi. )

Friday, March 12, 2010

XTC - Fossil Fuel (Disc 2)

Release Date: September, 1996

★★★★★ Tracks:

Mayor of Simpleton

Soon after the moderate success XTC experienced with their single from 1982, "Senses Working Overtime," the band was to embark on a major tour, but it was cut short due to Andy Partridge's battle with anxiety issues, which crept up during their very first show in Paris. The band decided to stop touring indefinitely, and would never play a live performance again. But that wouldn't stop XTC from writing and producing more records.

This is where Fossil Fuel's disc 2 begins; when, in 1982, XTC transformed from live performers to strictly studio songwriters. The increased time spent on writing and production might have given their music more complexities, but for me, the songs here are less enjoyable. And less to do with XTC specifically, the overall production trends during the era, quickly becoming overkill, are mostly responsible for my waning interest. With the overuse of synthesizers and silly vocal effects, the trebly, twangy bass guitars, and the manipulation of the snare drum mix to give it an echoed, booming sound; 80's production was taking a lot of those innovative ideas from the New Wave and Punk Rock genres and running them in to the ground. In an attempt in sounding cutting-edge and futuristic, musicians and producers were actually accomplishing the opposite, leaving pop and rock from the era to sounds dated. XTC songs are often no different, and "All You Pretty Girls" is the track that best serve as a testament to this.

Putting aside my dislike for a lot of the trendy studio techniques from the 80's, after repeated listens I found a lot of songs I enjoy on disc 2, but only one I love; "Mayor of Simpleton." A breath of fresh air from the sound that defined them for much of the decade, the song represents a change in direction for XTC. It also reminds me a lot of those Gin Blossoms singles MTV would rotate (to death) a few years later.

Being a bit disappointed with Fossil Fuel's disc 2 after being completely blown away by disc 1, I am still very much looking forward to delving deeper in to XTC's discography. After sampling all the songs from Fossil Fuel many times over, I'm almost certain I will love their first few albums, and maybe as I work my way up the latter half of their catalogue, some of those records will surprise me. I might write more on XTC at another time, but for now it's time to move onwards (or backwards) to artists beginning with the letter "W."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

XTC - Fossil Fuel (Disc 1)

Release Date: September, 1996

★★★★★ Tracks:

Science Friction

Statue of Liberty

Making Plans for Nigel

Love at First Sight

I generally don't like "Greatest Hits" collections. I'm the meticulous type of person who likes to hear an album in order and in its entirety, at least for the first couple of listens. I just don't feel I am properly digesting the material otherwise. A collection of singles not only cuts an artist's work in to bits and pieces, but it's also not often ordered chronologically, and when a band has such an extensive catalogue like that of XTC's, spanning decades, it's nearly impossible to pinpoint what they sounded like during a specific period in time. So when I found out that XTC's Fossil Fuel was in chronological order, covering 31 tracks from 1977-1992, I ignored my disdain for an album's worth of singles and decided it would be the best place to start.

And I wasn't disappointed. I can't believe it took me 29 years to try out any of XTC's music! Not many in the U.S. have, as their success in the UK, Canada, and Australia has not carried over to the States. Other than "Senses Working Overtime" (Mandy Moore's a fan, and covered the track on her 2003 album Coverage) peaking at 10 on the charts, none of their singles cracked the top 10 until 1989, when "Mayor of Simpleton" climbed to #1 on the Rock charts. I'm not sure why, either. Almost every song on Fossil Fuel's first disc is incredibly catchy. The song I most recognize and one of my favorites is "Making Plans for Nigel." It holds up infinitely more than most the singles hitting the charts in 1979, like "My Sharona" and "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy." We also get to see an early music video here, and a very odd one at that. How much fun is it to sing along to this?

The first three tracks on Fossil Fuel are taken from XTC's first LP, White Music, and they're phenomenal. I haven't heard the whole album yet, but these songs sound like the UK's answer to the Talking Heads, and a collection of tracks Hot Hot Heat have been mimicking since their existence. My favorite of the bunch is "Statue of Liberty." It was their first ever single, but banned in the UK soon after its release because of its suggestive lyrics. Or I guess, suggestive in terms of 1978:

"I leaned right over to kiss your stoney book.
A little jealous of the ships with whom you flirt.
A billion lovers with their cameras snap to look.
And in my fantasy I sail beneath your skirt."

The other track I want to mention is "Love at First Sight," which comes from their fourth album Black Sea, released in 1980. It's just such a great single, with great guitar hooks that became so prevalent over the course of my listening to Fossil Fuel. It's a song like this that bands like Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, and the Killers were attempting to recreate during the 80's revival phenomenon a few years ago. None of them could create one quite as good though:

The period covering 1977-1980 has turned out to be one of my favorites for rock'n'roll. And just recently discovering XTC only adds to a collection of artists who were putting out some incredibly innovative music at the time. Not only was punk rock gaining momentum, but it was a time when the seeds for alternative music were planted; when an undercurrent of really creative music was pushing its way to the surface, and when much of mainstream music had become entirely too reliant on marketing -- a theme that we've become all too familiar with.

Disc 2 is up next.