Vices & Virtues – Panic! At the Disco

Release year: 2011

Rating: 6.5/10

I’ve always loved Panic! At the Disco’s debut album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. Whenever I’m feeling down or just want something fun to let loose to, it’s one of the albums I put on. I wasn’t necessarily a huge fan of theirs; I just thought their songs were insanely catchy and managed to put me in a good mood. I didn’t like their second album at all and I never bothered to check out anything they’ve released after, especially since Brandon Urie is the remaining original member. Well, I wanted something fun, feel good, and danceable, similar to their first LP. I decided to give their third album a chance knowing the band has changed significantly over the past 10 years. So, did it satisfy my craving?

I never went into the album expecting to find the same vibe and sound as their first album. But I was pleasantly surprised to hear a few songs reminiscent of that sound. The opening track “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” reminds me the most of that era with the creepy, twinkling music and mysterious lyrics. The whole thing manages to be really whimsical and odd and the music actually reminded me of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Though it does get kind of bland during the chorus, the song still has that great upbeat dance vibe that made their old material so much fun. “Let’s Kill Tonight” is another track with that old P!ATD sound. It’s really energetic with an 80s electro synth that’ll get you moving. The synth pop is what lured me to the song; it just puts you in a good mood when you hear it. It’s one of those quirky songs that’s fun to listen to.

I was actually surprised by how many songs I enjoyed from the album. “Sarah Smiles” is a pretty sweet song written about Urie’s wife. It has this old world, carnival feel to it when it starts. Just think of gypsies around a musical cart with someone playing accordion. During the second verse the music shifts to a Latin flavor with blaring horns. It’s a nice song even though it’s a bit cheesy. If it wasn’t for all the shifts and the weird children’s choir “Nearly Witches” would’ve been my favorite song from the album. Finally, here is a song with the weird music and dance vibe that I’ve been craving. I was really into it until the hook. Everything about the song is really upbeat and fast, so it’s confusing why they decide to slow things down during the hook. It’s such a disappointment. Not to mention that it ends with the same children’s choir and kind of kills the song.

While the rest of the album wasn’t bad, it didn’t do much for me. Most of the songs seemed too familiar or generic. “Hurricane” has an interesting shuffling beat that’ll get your hips moving, which makes the lyric of “You’ll dance to anything” kind of ironic. The thing that kills it for me are the lyrics: “Hey! Hey! We are a hurricane!/Drop our anchors in a storm./Hey! They will never be the same/A fire in a flask to keep us warm.” It sounds like he’s trying to be clever, but comes off kind of dumb instead. Another instance of this is on “Trade Mistakes” when he sings “I am an anchor/sinking her.” It’s one of those lines that seems meaningful and smart when you’re in high school, but later realize how cheesy and laughable it sounds. “Memories” tries to be too sentimental and seems like a Vampire Weekend song, while “Ready to Go” feels like standard pop-punk flare. The same goes for the tracks “The Calendar” and “Always.” Again, they’re not terrible, just not that interesting.

I was pretty pleased with the album overall. There was never a point where I wanted to turn it off and throw out the CD like with their second effort. A handful of songs are great and took me back to those good ol’ P!ATD days. Most of the other songs are decent and have a good dancing beat, but they ended up sounding like other pop-punk songs out there. What made P!ATD so much fun was how weird, wonderful, and whimsical their music was. Those elements are missing for a good portion of this album. Even though it wasn’t as bad as I thought, it’s clear the band have moved on from the sound I fell in love with. And that’s just fine. I’ll at least have my copy of their debut.

“Mess Around” – Cage the Elephant

Release Year: 2015

Rating: 7/10

If you guys couldn’t tell by now, Cage the Elephant is one of my favorite bands, so I was surprised when they announced their next album is coming out in December. I sat and eagerly waited for a new single, a snippet, anything to keep me satiated until I could get my hands on the new release. Well, the guys put out their new single “Mess Around” a couple weeks ago. So, how is it?

One thing I noticed right away about the song is it expands on the psychedelic sound they explored on their previous release Melophobia. This isn’t necessarily bad since I really enjoyed the album, but it seems they’re moving away from the hard rock sound that made them so awesome. I would be lying if I said it didn’t disappointment me. I’ve always loved the band for their raw energy, their intense sound, and out of control vibe. While all of this still comes through in their live shows, it’s not in their music as much. With this new song it seems even less likely they’ll revisit that sound and it makes me a little sad.

The song itself is pretty good. It didn’t blow me away or get me really pumped the first time I heard it, but similar to “Come a Little Closer” it grows on you. As usual, I love Matt’s vocals, which are hypnotic and mesmerizing. And while there is no actual chorus, it manages to stay in your head with the simple “ahhh’s” and Matt singing “no she don’t mess around.”

For this album the band teamed up with Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach and you can definitely hear his influence on this song. The weird high pitched squealing guitars will remind you of the Black Keys. The more I heard it, the more it made me think of their song “Fever.” This doesn’t make me like the song anymore or less, but it does make me worry his influence will take over the entire LP.

It may not be a blazing first single, but it still makes me curious as to what Cage the Elephant will do on this album. Seeing their sonic change between Thank You, Happy Birthday and Melophobia, makes me excited to see where they’re taking their sound next.

Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings

Release Year: 2015

Rating: 4/10

One of the biggest events of the year was the premiere of what was to be the essential Kurt Cobain documentary Montage of Heck. As expected, the film was well received, though a few have since come out against it. With daughter Frances Bean Cobain in the producer’s chair, the film provided an intimate, respectful, and deep look into the man that was Kurt Cobain. The companion soundtrack takes everything the movie did so well and shits all over it. There’s no question that Cobain’s life has been exploited and romanticized for years and this so called soundtrack is one of the worst of the bunch.

The album culls 13 (or 31 if you shelled out $127) tracks of demos, sound experiments, and recordings from the former Nirvana frontman. And right from the opening track “The Yodel Song,” which features Cobain wailing over harsh music, you’re not sure where the album is going. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any better from there. When I got to the middle of the record I knew I would never listen to any of this again. Most of the recordings are jarring with distorted samples, screaming, and toilet noises that all seem random to listeners, but clearly meant something to Cobain. And this is where the problem lies.

These are all ideas Cobain had for potential projects at one point in his life, but very few of them are complete. You can hear hints of later Nirvana songs in tracks like “You Can’t Change Me/Burn my Britches/Something in the Way” and “Been a Son” demo, but most of them feel pointless. You’ll ask yourself “Why I’m I listening to this?” before the album is even over. Most of the songs don’t even have lyrics and we get to hear Cobain mumble his way through them. The only worth while track is the Beatles cover “And I Love Her,” which is pretty haunting. To us these snippets don’t mean much as there isn’t much to cull from them, but at one point Cobain saw something from them, but decided to not release them. And that was probably for the better.

Fans aren’t missing out on anything exclusive or rare here. There isn’t a deep cut that should’ve made one of their albums. A lot of it just sounds like unnecessary noise and instrumentals that are interesting for one listen, but wouldn’t survive a second go round. The only track I remember is “Clean Up Before She Comes” and that’s only because he’s interrupted by a quick phone call. What are fans supposed to get from these recordings? His genius? How talented of a musician he was? We already know this via the music he released during his lifetime. And like all rough drafts, these recordings aren’t necessarily Cobain’s finest. There’s a reason writers don’t rely on their first drafts for stories; they often suck and are embarrassing. None of these songs sound that good. It felt like torture getting through the entire LP at times.

This isn’t an album you’ll play repeatedly, once a month, or even once a year. It’s something you put on your shelf with other post-humorous Nirvana releases and endless books. Everything about the album feels random and you’ll begin to question why you’re even listening to it. We all know why Kurt Cobain was such a talented man, we don’t need some slapped together cash cow to try and tell us why we should remember him. If you don’t care about having everything Nirvana has ever released, then it’s best to stick with the movie and pretend like Brett Morgan didn’t rummage through an old box of tapes and put them together for this so called album.

Playlist: On The Flip Side

The b-side can be a wonderful thing. Though some of the results are a little harrowing, often times it’s the flip side is more successful than the single. Something about not having the pressure of making a hit single or pleasing radio stations invites artists to experiment and lets loose, which leaves us with some amazing songs.  There was no way I could cover all of the best or notable b-sides in this playlist, so these are just a handful of tracks from some of my favorite artists. So sit back, push play, and get lost in the whimsical world of the b-side.

“Dangerous” – Depeche Mode

This b-side to the already steamy “Personal Jesus” is one of the band’s sexiest songs. It doesn’t have anything to do with the content, rather it’s all about the sound. The hard electro beat and Dave Gahan’s smooth baritone vocals just makes the whole thing sound sexy as hell. Something about it puts a twist in your spine and gives you goosebumps. It even sounds a bit dangerous, especially with the slinking rhythm. In terms of style, the song has the same dark, cold vibe that took over the Violator album. Most would say “Happiest Girl” is the band’s best b-side and while it is good, it’s this gem that’s always been my favorite.

“10:15 Saturday Night” – The Cure

The Cure is one of those bands with a ton of amazing b-sides. I actually made a list of ten of my favorites a while ago. Since that list has all my favorites, here’s another stellar b-side from the band I didn’t talk about. This song features the unmistakable cry of Robert Smith and the “drip, drip, drip” line that pounds into your head. It was this song that convinced Chris Parry to sign the band to his newly formed label Fiction. And though it was the b-side to “Killing an Arab” you could still find it on their debut album. Still, you gotta give credit to the track that started the long and wonderful history of The Cure.

“Pink Ego Box” – Muse

Muse is another band with an insane amount of great b-sides, which is why I also made a list of favorites. While this b-side to “Muscle Museum” didn’t make the cut, it’s still one of their better tracks. It has a pretty simple beat and guitar riff while a young Matt Bellamy wails on about online relationships. The song doesn’t get intense until the end when the rough guitars start screaming along with Bellamy who yells “You turn me on” repeatedly. There’s actually an earlier version of this song  under the name “Instant Messenger” that had an AOL clip saying “You’ve got post.” It had to be removed for copyright reasons, so the band renamed the song. The second title is way more intriguing anyway.

“Into the Groove” – Madonna

This song was originally the b-side to the Madonna single “Angel.” Only later when it was featured on the soundtrack to her film Desperately Seeking Susan was it released as a stand alone single. Either way this is still one of Madonna’s best songs. It celebrates and emulates the club scene she was so fond of in her early years. With the high energy and the blazing synth, you can’t help but get up and dance whenever it comes on. It’s become a fan favorite over the years and is a track Madonna rarely leaves out of her setlist. The song has been remixed, reworked, and reimagined since it was first released, but nothing beats the original that helped make Madonna a megastar.

“Get Down Make Love” – Nine Inch Nails

There are more remixes than b-sides in the NIN catalog, but during the Pretty Hate Machine era, Trent Reznor and company did an industrial cover of this Queen song for the b-side of “Sin.” Whereas the original tries to be sensual and sexy, this version is nothing but raw, harsh, and creepy. The song has all the pulsing synth and electronic that makes NIN songs distinctive and it opens with a odd sample of a doctor asking about a patient’s sexual history. Moaning can be heard throughout the track and if you listen close enough you can hear the actual Queen version albeit played backwards. The experience is weird and eerie, but when you look at songs like “Closer” did we really expect Reznor to treat love and sex nicely?

“Tonight We Murder” – Ministry

Some of the most terrifying and heaviest music comes from Ministry and this song fits both those labels. Released as the b-side to “Stigmata” this track sounds like pure hell. Al Jourgensen cackles, wails, and screams like he’s being tortured while the intense music thumps and grinds to the beat. Everything keeps getting more brutal as Jourgensen steadily loses control as he’s singing. The best is the hook where he sounds evil when he repeats “tonight we murder/tonight we murder.” It actually sounds very similar to Thrill Kill Kult‘s early material, which is no surprise since the two previously worked together.

“Again” – HIM

This melancholy track first appeared as the b-side to “In Joy and Sorrow,” but was later released on a limited edition of Deep Shadows and Brilliant Highlights. The track is pretty standard for the band: dirty guitars, Ville Valo’s soaring sweet vocals, and Gothic inspired lyrics. This is yet another song that seems to explore the realm of love and death like most of their material. It easily would’ve fit on their third album. The song was later featured in the film Haggard, which was directed by Bam Margera (remember him?) This doesn’t come as a surprise since Bam was obssesed with the band and eventually became friends with Valo.

“Carry Me In” – Cage the Elephant

Cage the Elephant is a current band I know of that actively releases b-sides. All of them are pretty solid, but one of the best is this b-side to their 2011 single “Shake Me Down.” Singer Matt Shultz sounds weary and weakened as he sings “Love/carry me in/held down by my words/and weight of my sins.” The music starts out kind of frantic especially the beginning, which kind of has this spaghetti Western vibe. Right when you think the song is over, everything slows down to a lull and Shultz continues to mumble his way through the rest of the song. What started out as kind of bright ends on a melancholy note.

“You’re so Vague” – Queens of the Stone Age

I originally wanted to go with “Born To Hula,” but it’s a re-recording of a Kyuss song, the band Josh Homme used to be in. So, I went with this Rated R b-side instead. Using a play on the Carly Simon single “You’re So Vain,” Homme uses his sweet, soothing vocals to sing cringing lyrics like “Green eyed boys/lick the razor blades/girl I think I love you/and the mess you made” and he sounds hypnotic while doing so. There’s even a cool twist on the hook where he sings “Baby you’re so vague/that you probably think this song ain’t about you.”  As usual with QOTSA songs, the music is fucking awesome with guitars that move at a dragging pace, but still manage to sound sexy as hell. Then again don’t most of their songs sound sultry?

“We Will Rock You” – Queen

Did you know that this massive Queen hit started out as a b-side? What’s now considered an anthem for every sporting event across the world was originally the flip side to the equally popular “We Are the Champions.” Its simple stomp clapping beat, Freddie Mercury’s passionate vocal delivery, and Brain May’s searing guitar solo at the end are what makes the song unforgettable. It’s a timeless track and definitely among the band’s best. Both songs were actually written after one show during their 1977 tour when the band walked off stage and the crowd clapped and sand “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to them. Let’s just try to forget the horrible cover versions.

“Sick of Me” – Green Day

This b-side to “Hitchin’ a Ride” finds the classic snotty Green Day attitude as Billie Joe laments a dying a relationship. Though it’s a good song, it’s pretty similar to their other tracks from this time: simple three chord rock with a catchy hook. Still, there are some great bratty and funny lyrics like “Like a dog/that just pissed in your barbecue/sick of me.” This couple tries to make it work, but by the end Billie admits “I’m sick of you too.” Since it follows the winning Green Day formula, it should appeal to most fans. The track was later released on b-side compilation album Shenanigans.

“Fingers and Toes” – Biffy Clyro

If there’s one current band dedicated to the art of the b-side it’s Biffy Clyro. For just about all of their albums, they’ve released a companion b-side LP. They have so many it was hard to pick just one, so I went with on my favorites from their last release Similarities. What instantly catches your attention is the opening line “ladies ask why I’ve got/no fingers and toes.” From there the music kicks up and gets pretty intense, but what’s great about this is they do it without a mass amount of distortion. And even though the music has amped up singer Simon Neil’s voice remain calm throughout. Biffy is definitely one of those bands where their b-sides are just as good, sometimes even better, than the a-sides.

“Throw Them to the Lions” – Siouxsie and the Banshees

Released on the flip side to “Dazzle,” this b-side is the exact opposite of the single. Whereas the a-side is very upbeat and almost whimsical, this one greets the listener with a minute of noise and distortion before Siouxsie Sioux’s soothing voice comes on. Everything about the track is pretty chaotic and all over the place. The music is really dirty, harsh, and intense making it a stand out track. The song also manages to be catchy with Sioux’s warrior cry of “hey/hey/hey” midway through. Sioux and crew have quite a few good b-sides, but this one has always been my favorite.

“Aneurysm” – Nirvana

Though the song did eventually see a wider release both on Incesticide and From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, this Nirvana track was originally released as the b-side to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” From Kurt Cobain growling “Come on over/and do the twist” to the whirring guitar riff that opens the song, it has become one of the best tracks in the band’s entire catalog. The song has several references to Cobain’s ex-girlfriend Tobi Vail of Bikini Kill along with poking fun at pop music conventions and even his own drug use, which was nothing but a rumor at the time. The best part comes when Cobain lets loose a ragged and weary howl right before the end. It shows how Cobain knew how to transfer a lot his pain into kick ass songs.

There are a ton of b-sides I missed, so let me know which one is your favorite in the comments!

Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? – Megadeth

Release Year: 1986

Rating: 9/10

When they first started, Dave Mustaine wanted to make a band that was bigger and badder than Metallica. They got a hell of a good start with their fiery debut, but for their second effort they came out swinging. Everything sounds more sinister, more rotten, and more bad ass than before. This release is also responsible for one of their biggest hits that got them noticed by mainstream media. It’s still considered one of their best albums for good reason: it kicks so much ass.

When reviewing their debut, I noted how the band can take topics like love and turn them into something gruesome and heavy. They return to this topic on the opening track “Wake Up Dead.” The song doesn’t even give you time to get settled as the music comes rushing at you and Mustaine begins singing about not wanting to wake up his lover; he knows he’ll wake up dead. From there a blazing guitar solo takes over while Mustaine continues to sound sinister as he confesses to an affair. Then comes the shuffling beat during the bridge, but by the end things shift gears with the music being heavier and harsher than before. It’s a great track that takes a topic like cheating and shows how it can be deadly.

The Conjuring” launches straight into the supernatural side the LP with a riff that sounds like it’s bewitching the listener. There are several references to the occult, the devil, and black magic, but would you expect anything else when a song is about selling your soul to Lucifer and his advocate? This is another track with kick ass music that keeps building and eventually spirals out of control. No doubt about it “Peace Sells” is a stellar track from the album. The intense bass line pulls you in while the guitar riff flailing down the neck leaves you in awe. Even the chugging rhythm during the verses is enough to get your devil horns in the air. Meanwhile, Mustaine snarls and growls about his disapproval of the “American way” and is ready for a new type of society. By the end, the riff goes ballistic and starts bouncing all over the place until Mustaine lets out one final growl. It’s the band’s first foray into political themes, something they would continue well into their career.

Good Morning/Black Friday” opens with a somber instrumental making you feel like all hope is gone. After toying with your emotions, the music grows more intense and aggressive with guitar solos flying everywhere. As it keeps going the music and the energy speeds up and gets your heart racing to get your fists pumping in the air. The lyrics themselves are insane and violent with gruesome images of a mad man going on a killing spree, which actually reminds me of comic book character Evil Ernie. It’s another awesome song that shows the sheer power of Dave Mustaine.

The entire album sounds nearly flawless with every song bringing something else to the table. All the songs have kick ass music, the type that gets you head banging no matter where you are and the lyrics, along with Mustaine’s delivery, makes everything they talk about, whether it’s a trapped prisoner on “Devil’s Island” or exploring occult life like on “Bad Omen,” sound so deliciously evil. They even make covers sound good. Similar to their debut, the band presents their rendition of “I Ain’t Superstitious,” which fits in nicely with the other themes found on the album. While you can still hear the foundations of the original, the band really add their own thrash metal style to it, especially at the end when the music loses control.

Just as with their blazing debut, this album is kick ass. Not only is the music intense, aggressive, and what fans have come to know as classic Megadeth all the way, but it’s an important album for the thrash metal genre. It’s one of the best and most important albums in heavy metal in general. They not only set themselves from other thrash bands of the time, Mustaine proved they weren’t just another Metallica rip off.