Depeche_Mode_-_Black_CelebrationRelease Year: 1986

Rating: 9/10

Depeche Mode already started experimenting with dark themes on their fourth album, especially as Martin Gore grew into a great songwriter. Though this is far from their darkest release, this is where Gore held nothing back and let his bleakness infiltrate everything. This album also saw them grows as musicians with impressive synth riffs that are eerie, haunting, and on various occasions make you dance.

The opening title track sets up an eerie mood with a distorted voice slowly saying the title of the song that’s matched with unsettling music. This alone lets you know the dark direction they were heading. As the track goes on the synth keeps getting more intense and heavy creating this unnerving mood. Though everything about the track paints a dark picture, the lyric “I want to take you in my arms/forgetting all things I couldn’t do” makes it seem like it’s about the comforting embrace of a lover. No matter how black your days may get, you have someone to brighten your day.

Things get downright creepy on “Fly on the Windscreen – Final.” If the intense heavy breathing didn’t get under your skin, the weird, random sounds at the beginning may do the trick. Though the beat gives you something to dance to you know where it’s going when you hear the opening line: “Death is everywhere/there are flies on the windscreen.” That one lyric is so damning as it makes you aware of your own mortality. What’s interesting about the song is even though the verses paint depressing images, the chorus of “Come here/kiss me/now” gives it this unexpected sensual tone, especially when Gore comes in with “Touch me” the second time it’s sung. It’s a weird mix of the unsettling and the sexual that makes it a stand out track.

It’s no secret that old school Mode fans had a crush on Martin Gore and here he let’s his chops shine as he sings on almost half of the songs. He sounds sweet as his vocals loop over one other on “Sometimes” while he sounds bittersweet on “It Doesn’t Matter Two,” especially when he sings “though it feels good now/I know it’s only for now” pointing out how fleeting pleasure can be. His best vocal take comes in the form of “Question of Lust.” His soft and gentle manner with the lyrics makes him perfect for the track. It’s a sweet song in the middle of this bleak LP that manages to keep the listener going with impressive use of synth.

Another great track that sees Gore in the spotlight is “World Full of Nothing.” It’s a slow track with a muted, quiet vibe allowing you to hear every facet of the music. The lyrics are pretty sad with how they describe a girl who knows her boyfriend doesn’t mean what he says, but she’s so lonely she’ll believe it for one night just to feel someone’s embrace. If you aren’t paying attention to the lyrics it’s easy to mistake the song for something nice since Gore sounds so sweet.

A Question of Time” is one of the best tracks on the album. The music is really catchy with a pulsating synth that will get stuck in your head whether you like it or not. Something about it is really fun, upbeat, and energetic. Like most of the tracks here, this one also has dark connotations. The line “Now you’re only fifteen/you look good” makes it sound like he’s lusting after this young girl, but as the song goes on and Gahan sings about wanting to take the girl “under my wing” makes it seem like he wants to protect her. I guess no matter how you see it, it’s creepy either way; maybe that’s the entire point of the song.

Stripped” is another great track with an industrial feel to it. It begins with one stark isolated chord following by a running motorcycle engine setting up the beat. The hard hitting drums and the main bouncing riff set up the heaviness of the track. Though it seems to be about finding time to spend with your lover, everything about the song is dark, especially in terms of the music. There’s one line that stands out in particular: “You’re breathing in fumes/I taste when we kiss.” It’s one of those lyrics that makes you stop and think what the hell does that mean? It’s a great visual lyric that comes from of their underrated singles.

The guys get political on “New Dress” that finds them describing horrible scenes of war, destruction, and death going on in the world while all Princess Di can do is get a new dress. It’s condemning those in office and might be a jab at the media who are worried about superficial matters, rather than trying to report on real news. It’s a bold statement from the guys, but an interesting way to get their message across. Unfortunately, if you have the US edition of the album, the closing track is “But Not Tonight,” which is one of their cheesiest singles. The synth is horribly dated and the lyrics are pretty cheesy, yet it manages to be catchy. It’s decent, but it doesn’t fit in with the bleak vibe of the LP. If anything it sounds like it comes from one of their first albums. It should’ve been a b-side instead.

Overall, the album gets 9/10. Though Depeche Mode would go on to create better, bleaker, and darker albums along in their career, this is still an impressive album. It shows their further shift into unsettling subject matters along with the growth of Martin Gore as a song writer. There really isn’t a bad track to be found here: some are fast and make you want to move, while others are slow making you mull over the lyrics. While this album has its share fair of notoriety, it constantly gets overshadowed by their later work. While Violator and others are some of their key LPs, this one deserves just as much attention.

MandatoryFunRelease Year: 2014

Rating: 8/10

As a child of the ’90s, I grew up with “Weird Al” Yankovic. I fondly remember his Michael Jackson parodies and often sang the words of his Nirvana cover whenever “Smells Like Teen Spirit” played. Considering the type of music he makes, it would’ve been so easy to only be relevant in the ’80s and stay there. But since he is a master of his craft he has been around for almost two decades if you can believe it. He’s back again with a really strong, really funny album that is sure to have something for everyone.

This album is for anyone who likes the music of popular songs like “Fancy” or “Royals,” but can’t stand the artists. Yankovic does such a great job of keeping the feel and vibe of the hits and putting his own spin on it. “Handy,” his version of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” is so catchy it’ll get stuck in your head just like the original. His word play and flow is really impressive here; guess he’s not that bad of a rapper. Who knew a song about carpentry could be so catchy. The style of “Lame Claim to Fame” may go over some listener’s heads, but it’s still humorous. Based off of Southern Culture on the Skids, this track mentions several lame and eye-rolling “celebrity encounters,” such as using the same napkin dispenser as Steve Carrell and puking next to Christian Slater in an elevator. What’s sad is we know there are people like this out there who are actually proud of those moments, but it only makes the song funnier.

The best track here has to be “Word Crimes.” This is for anyone who loves the music of “Blurred Lines,” but stand Robin Thicke. This one lays out several grammar rules and pokes fun at those who fail to follow them. When listening to it, you’ll think of those lists of Twitter and Facebook fails that contain atrocious spelling. It’s definitely a criticism on the effect internet and texting has had on our spelling and grammar. Another critical track is “First World Problems.” In the style of the Pixies, “Weird Al” complains about having too many groceries, forgetting his gardener’s name, and missing out on the breakfast special at his favorite restaurant. Again, it’s really funny and makes you realize how we all complain about stuff like this and just how dumb it really is.

While the album is pretty strong it does have some low points. “Sports Song” is the blandest track here. It’s great how it has the sound and feel of a genuine marching band number, but it’s not something you would casually listen to. It’s kind of humorous with its message of we rule, you suck, but it gets dull after a while. “Mission Statement” actually sounds like a Crosby, Stills, and Nash single, but it’s not as entertaining as the other tracks here. Perhaps if you’re a fan of the band you’ll love it, otherwise it’s best if you skip it. The same thing goes for “Jackson Park Express,” which is in the style of Cat Stevens. While there are some giggle worthy moments, the song is too long and easy to tune out.

On each LP, Yankovic does a track containing a medley of hits. It’s no different here. “NOW! That’s What I Call Polka!” features short covers of last year’s biggest hits, such as “Wrecking Ball,” “Timber,” “Somebody that I Used to Know,” “Get Lucky,” and “Gangnam Style” among others. The catch is he puts a polka spin on the tunes. This little collection is enjoyable and makes you wish he would do full covers of some of the songs. And if you were one of the many people who hated Pharrell’s “Happy,” then you may love “Weird Al’s” “Tacky.” Just like most of the other parodies, he keeps the groovy music and the catchy hook all while talking about glitter Uggs and Ed Hardy shirts. What’s great is he keeps mentioning clothing accessories that most agree are just awful. You’ll have a good time dancing while Yankovic sings about those awful croc shoes.

Overall, the album gets 8/10. The album is a lot of fun. Time and time again Yankovic shows off his impressive wordplay and his knack for making the most ordinary things, like foil, sound amazing. Whether you love him or hate him, he knows what he’s doing when it comes to parodies. It’s crazy to think he’s been doing this since the ’80s and making it look easy. Not only is he clever, he’s a smart businessman. He’s strategy of releasing eight videos to promote the new album has been effective since no one can stop talking about the videos he’s been releasing. He’s on his way to a number one album and I can’t complain.

priestess-band

Back in the mid-2000s, I remember searching for new bands to get into by researching some of my favorite magazines. I wasn’t having much luck, but I decided to check out one more up and coming band before giving up. I looked up their single “Lay Down” and was blown away. That’s how I discovered Priestess. At the time they were notable for their classic rock/psychedelic sound reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, The Who, and other great bands from the ’60s. Their debut Hello Master was amazing and I could already pick out my favorite songs. What I liked in particular about the band was vocalist Mikey Heppener. His voice had that classic rock n roll sneer with a hint of soul. It really made them stand out.

In 2009 they finally released their second LP Prior to the Fire after fighting with their record label. While I didn’t love it as much as their first effort, it was still pretty awesome with the music and songwriting being more unique and intricate than before. Then they just disappeared. No more albums, no more new songs, no more tours. They had some shows scheduled in 2011 that were canceled and in 2012 they even teased an upcoming performance that was to be their first in a year. That was also suddenly canceled for reason unknown. Their current record label Tee Pee Records has no new updates on them (I even contacted them for updates and they didn’t know what was going on). Oddly enough, the band’s last post on their Facebook is from last year, but it’s only to convince fans to buy their shirts and their last album. They haven’t provided so much as a clue if they band is still active even though many fans have left comments asking what’s going on as recent as last month. Some have assumed it’s over since the members have gone on to other projects. Heppener has his own band called UBT, while Vince Nudo is currently the drummer for Kurt Ville’s backing band.

The question remains: Where the fuck is Priestess?! It’s fine if the band have called it quits or are on an “hiatus,” but they need to come forward and set the record straight for the number of fans asking about their status. It’s not fair to leave fans wondering what’s going on when they could easily make a post saying the band has ended. Until then we are left wondering.

Millennium_coverRelease Year: 1999

Rating: 7/10

I was recently reading a Buzzfeed list about how 1999 was the best year for music. Of course they mentioned Backstreet Boys’ second album, which I haven’t listened to in years. I decided to blow the dust off the disc (yes, I still have it) and try to figure out what I liked so much about it. This LP shows a maturity in the songs and the guys’ singing: they sound better than before and the tracks don’t sound as corny. But just like their previous effort, the amount of slow tracks brings down the pace and leaves you wondering when the last song will play.

This album sold 1,134,000 copies in its first week and it might have something to do with the amazing singles. Things start off with “Larger than Life.” This ode to BSB fans is a bit edgier than their previous songs with the blazing guitar solos and pulsing music. Of course the track is catchy as hell; who knew a thank you song could sound so good? Though it is thanking their fans for years of support, the first verse makes it sound like they’re a little frightened of them: “I may run and hide/when you’re screaming my name, alright/but let me tell you know there are prices to fame, alright.” I could be reading it wrong, but that’s how it comes off sometimes. Either way, it’s still a great song.

I Want It That Way” is not only the best track on this album, it’s probably the band’s best song period. Whenever it comes on the radio, it instantly makes your day better and you know you have to sing along. It has the best hook and is one of those songs where you drill the lyrics in your head until you can sing them backwards and forwards. The music is pretty simple, light and upbeat. It just makes you feel good when you listen to it. The boys get heavy on “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely,” which is also their best slow track. It’s here where we see how the guys have matured. Their voices sound better and the subject is deeper. Though it deals with the struggles of a long distance relationship, the music is so intense and a bit dark. Definitely unexpected for fans at the time. It remains one of their most memorable singles.

They keep the momentum strong with “It’s Gotta Be You.” This is one of their forgotten catchy hits. This is another track with heavier music to it, especially with the throbbing percussion and beat. The music here will get you moving before you know it. Something about their matching harmonies during the chorus is so satisfying; they just sound so good! During the bridge they start going “ooo ooo” and it sounds really cheesy, like they’re a mom trying to be cool at a kid’s party, but it’s forgivable. Brain shows off his vocal skill during the breakdown when he holds his note during “Yeah.” He sounds really great allowing the listener to hear his improved vocals. It’s a song you may have forgotten about, but remember how good it is when you hear it.

Don’t Want You Back” is another great song with a strong force behind it. It has this pounding rhythm that instantly catches your ear and makes you pay attention. As a kid, I always thought this was a response to Nsync’s “I Want You Back.” Now, I know that makes no sense. Also, there’s one part where Nick sings “another victim of your sexuality.” At the time it made me blush; Nick was being a bad boy! Fond memories aside, it’s still a great song that’s fun to sing. While the album starts off really strong, it falls flat during the second half due to the excessive amount of ballads. Most of them aren’t bad, but they are tiring.

I Need You Tonight” is Nick’s chance to shine as he does all the vocals. The sappy piano, the constant yearning, and the choir that joins Nick all make for a cheesy love ballad. To be fair it is better than the ones found on their debut, but it’s not that interesting. “Back to Your Heart” suffers the same issues, but since there’s some R&B influence found here, it manages to sound like a Boyz II Men song. “No One Else Comes Close” and “Don’t Wanna Lose You Now” again aren’t terrible and are both better than the Carter led one, but personally they’re a little too slow. After a while you want them all to end. Maybe if the record had a better balance of slow and fast songs it wouldn’t be so bad. As it is, it makes the latter half of the album boring, which is a shame because it started off so well.

Overall, the album gets 7/10. This is a great improvement from their first album. They sound better and the songs deal with more mature issues. The amount of amazing singles that have stood the test of time is a huge reason why this album was a big seller. While there are some tracks that are memorable and catchy, there are a lot of slow ones that drag the pace of the album, leaving you bored and wondering when it will end. The songs don’t sound as cheesy as before, but they really affect the entire record. Either way, the album still holds up pretty well and if anything will bring up fond memories for any BSB fan.

Hey guys,

I just wanted to take a minute to say thanks for all the new followers and those who have been following for the longest time. I’m always happy to see new people interested in what I have to say about music. I hope I helped you discover some music or helped you reminiscence about an awesome album. This is still a really small blog compared to the heavy hitters out there, but I’m thankful for every person that visits. I never started the site for fame or anything like that. I just wanted to talk about music with people who were actually interested (my friends were getting tired of my blabbing). Thank you for your comments, views, likes, and follows. You guys are the best and your interest helps me keep the site going.