Music

Everybody Wants – The Struts

 

Release Year: 2014

Rating: 8.5/10

While scrolling through various music sites, I saw The Struts’ name pop up now and then, but I didn’t pay much attention. I got my first taste of them at Lollapalooza 2016 and man, are they amazing. As soon as I got home I grabbed a copy of their album and fell in love. There’s a reason why they’re climbing up the ranks of rock music. Looking like a blast from the past, their music brings the fun and sexy back to rock music. From start to finish the album keeps you moving and singing, making it impossible to feel anything but good.

The Struts get the party started with the energetic “Roll Up.” It has a steady build up making you pumped for what’s about to come. Frontman Luke Spiller starts singing about the day in the life of a rock star. Right away you get a sense of his fun, playful vocal style, very reminiscent of the late Freddie Mercury. Everything explodes when the hyper hook of “Everybody wants/everybody wants/roll up/roll up” hits. Hearing the hook along with the rocking music gets you bouncing from start to finish. At the end of this song you’re rocking out and ready for more. Luckily, the band keeps the hits rolling with the anthemic “Could Have Been Me.”

With its big hook, driving music, and ferocious hand claps “Could Have Been Me” is made for stadiums. It’s a song everyone can get behind not only for its catchy hook but for its overall message. Spiller sings about living life and not wasting time wondering “what if?” It’s about doing what you want and having no regrets. Listening to it, you can picture thousands of people singing along while stomping out the beat. The band’s vintage rock sound comes out on the sexy and fun “Kiss This.” Spiller is playful yet sassy as he talks about getting fed up in a relationship and finally leaving. And it’s impossible not to be infected by the simple refrain of “uh uh uh uh uh kiss this!” It’s the perfect fuck off song to sing at the top of your lungs.

Most of The Struts’ songs on this album seem to represent the 70s glam era of partying and debauchery. There are plenty songs with that sleazy, sexy sound, like “Dirty Sexy Money,” which is all about having a good time and letting loose. The stand out “Put Your Money on Me” has a similar vibe with its irresistible hook, fun vibe, and vintage flavor. Things switch up on the more 80s sounding “My Machine.” The opening has electro synth making it sound like a Devo song and even Spiller sings in a robotic manner. Once it gets to the hook it gets back to hardcore, high energy rocking. Like so many of their other songs, there’s something downright awesome about this one. And like so many classic rock songs, this one uses the car metaphor for a sexy woman. It’s dirty, sexy, and playful.

Though it’s clear The Struts like to party and get wild, there’s a sentimental side. There’s actually a surprising amount of love songs on the album. One of the most energetic and light sounding songs is “She Makes Me Feel.” Unlike the other tracks, the music here is really bright and almost carefree. There’s even upbeat whistling that plays along with the melody. Spiller sings about the shitty things in life not mattering, as long as he can come home to his lady whose his “pick me up.” “Black Swan” and “You + I” follow a similar suit, but focuses on lost love and a love/hate relationship respectively. Though they’re not as party driven as the other songs, they still keep they’re upbeat, rocking nature ensuring there’s never a dull moment.

The album was eventually reissued in the US with five new tracks: “Mary Go Round,” “These Times are Changing,” “Young Stars,” “Only One Call Away,” and “The Ol’ Switcheroo.” In turn, three songs from the original release were dropped. While the new songs are decent and have that same, upbeat fun nature to them, none are as good or better than the tracks on the original. Every song on the 2014 release is engaging, fun, and awesome. The new songs, not so much. They’re not bad; just not all that memorable. If you’re going to grab a copy of this album, I recommend picking up the original.

This is one of the most fun rock albums I’ve heard in a while. The Struts bring mindless fun, partying, and sleaziness to rock and roll. As soon as it starts, the album keeps you moving, singing, and dancing. It’s impossible to feel bad when you listen to this record. The songs are upbeat, carefree, and even sentimental at times. Luke Spiller is charming, playful, and seductive making anyone who hears his voice fall in love with him. The band predicted their own success with the title Everybody Wants. Now, we can’t get enough of The Struts.

2016 Album that Left Me Conflicted

California – Blink-182

It’s been painful following the Blink-182 debacle. With Tom leaving the band, but not really leaving the band, according to him anyway, it seemed like it was the end. They tried reforming and it clearly didn’t work. Story over, right? Instead, they recruit Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba and drop a new album. And if you thought the Untitled album divided the fanbase, this record destroyed it. Go to any forum or comments section and thoughts range from “This is the best they’ve done in years” to “They’re fucking garbage now!” It feels impossible having a discussion about the album without having the Tom vs Matt argument.

My expectations were pretty low after I heard the first single, but I was still pretty happy to hear new music from them, especially since I didn’t think it was happening. Once I got the album, I could only stomach hearing the entire record about three times. I don’t hate it; there are actually some songs that impressed me. I love the big booming verse of “Los Angeles” and “Cynical” might be the best song on the album. Still, California is nowhere near their best. And don’t get me started about their Grammy nominee. Even though I knew I didn’t really care for the album, I still felt confused about the whole situation.

I’m in the Blink-isn’t-Blink-without-Tom camp. The instant rebuttal for this is how Blink faltered when he was in the band. Personally, I thought Neighborhoods was pretty good and the Dogs Eating Dogs EP made me think even better music was in store. Yes, I do think Tom is a dick for leading on fans when he really didn’t want to be in Blink anymore. But Tom brought a certain sound to Blink that’s missing on California. When I listen to that album, it doesn’t sound like I’m listening to Blink-182. It sounds like I’m listening to some other generic “pop-punk” band. Blink-182 have never been the best pop-punk band around, but they had a style and vibe that was all their own. I hear none of that on their latest album. It might as well be +44’s follow up and even that album is better than California. And it’s funny how many people think Matt is better when half the time it sounds like he’s doing an impression of Tom.

At the same time, I agree with people who say Blink have the right to move on if one member doesn’t want to play anymore. Yes, they certainly do, just like Tom has the right to do other projects. Still, it’s not the same to me. And that’s fine. It still feels weird to see pictures of them or hear their name and see Matt instead of Tom. I’m sure it’s one of those things I’ll get used to, but they might’ve been better off releasing the album under a different name. There are certain expectations that come with the Blink-182 name and for me, California didn’t hit them at all. Maybe things will get better for Blink once Matt’s been in the band for a while and the shock of not seeing Tom washes away. But it will never be the same for me and that’s something I can accept.

Best Album of 2016

Revolution Radio – Green Day

Picking my choice for best album of 2016 was harder than I imagined. In past years it was easy. There was always one record that stood out among the others. But so much of the music I heard this year was so good or at least enjoyable. It was hard to pick out which one rose above the others, but when I thought about which album excited me and kept me listening long after its release, the choice became clear.

Revolution Radio is one of Green Day’s strongest records. Their future seemed spotty after the Trilogy. And though I was one of the few that enjoyed those albums, they didn’t pump me up like their previous efforts. As soon as I heard “Bang Bang,” I knew the album was going to be killer. The last time I was truly excited for Green Day after hearing one song was 21st Century Breakdown. I don’t hate the singles from the Trilogy, but they’re kind of disappointing. RevRad kept me excited even after I heard the entire thing 50 times.  It took me a few listens to actually fall in love with the record, but that’s because I had certain expectations. I thought every song was going to sound like the lead single, so when heard tracks like “Somewhere Now” and “Outlaws” I didn’t know what to think. But after giving them a chance and looking at the lyrics, I found them to be strong, thoughtful songs.

Many felt the Trilogy saw the band take a step backward, trying to hold on to long lost youth. This record is the opposite. Green Day looks forward even if the future doesn’t look so bright. Sometimes they’re reflective, sometimes they’re angry, which is when the band really thrives. They also toss in some political commentary about recent events like the Black Lives Matter movement. It doesn’t permeate the entire record, like American Idiot or 21st Century Breakdown, but it’s just enough. I honestly loved how they mixed in social commentary with songs about looking forward and getting older. The entire thing feels honest. It’s also a very focused record, something that was lacking from the Trilogy. It doesn’t sound like they’re going all over the place never sure which direction to take.

The record also seems like a mesh of what Green Day has done before. There’s the maturity of Warning, anger of American Idiot, and even some party vibes from the Trilogy. Even if the record isn’t perfect and still can’t top their best albums, it shows different sides to the band we love. They’re wild, and having fun at times. Others they’re serious and show they’re afraid for the future, something many are feeling right now. RevRad didn’t meet my initial exceptions, but that unpredictability is part of the reason I love it so much. Sure, they may be playing with the same formula, but they gave it to us in a way that made us excited, made us feel a way the Trilogy didn’t. Yes, Green Day are getting older as they show on this record, but they also show they still know how to make some noise.

Worst Album of 2016

This is What the Truth Feels Like – Gwen Stefani

I was never a huge No Doubt fan growing, but I’ve come to like them more over time along with Gwen Stefani. There was a point when she was the epitome of cool in alt rock. Her solo music is vastly different from what she did with No Doubt, but it’s still catchy, enjoyable, and fun. When she dropped two singles in 2015, I was pretty excited to hear what her next album was going to sound like. I actually dug Love.Angel.Music.Baby, but didn’t care for The Sweet Escape. Turns out, I hated  even more.

It feels kind of harsh calling this the worst of the year, but out of everything I sought out and listened to, this is the album I hated the most. I’ll admit, most of the songs are unoffending. Some are even pretty good, like the hypnotic “You’re My Favorite,” but once I got to songs like “Naughty” and “Red Flag” I couldn’t take anymore. I thought she was joking. The horrible rap segments, the sad attempt at trying to keep up with the trends, and the ridiculous lyrics made the rest of the record laughable. She tries to hang with Fetty Wop on “Asking 4 It” and comes off awkward while her other attempts at rapping are just sad.

What’s most annoying is her pretending she’s still this rebellious, bad ass we came to love in the 90s. It’s fine if Stefani has grown up and is more comfortable following the herd now. But it feels like she’s pretending she’s still alternative like she was back in the day. With tracks like “Asking 4 It” and “Rare” it seems like she’s trying to hold on to her edgy title, when that’s not who she is anymore. And that’s fine.

When the album isn’t delving into horrible rap, it’s just bland and dull making you think “meh” as you listen to it. Very few of the songs are interesting. The rest follow the same pop music trends as everyone else. There’s even a few songs you’d think were outtakes from Madonna’s Rebel Heart. This is What the Truth Feels Like was hardly worth the 10 year wait. Hopefully, her next effort will be interesting and bring back some weirdness to pop music. But considering her last few releases, it doesn’t look too promising.

Love Gloom – Night Riots

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8/10

Night Riots stole my heart when I saw them live with Blaqk Audio earlier this year. Their fusion of synth pop, rock, and electronic made their music irresistible. I picked up their 2015 EP Howl right away and impatiently waited for their debut album, Love Gloom. I was a bit surprised when I finally got my hands on it; it has a different vibe, mood, and feel than their previous release. It’s not drastically different, but there are some changes.

For one thing, Howl is upbeat, fun, and danceable the whole way through. But Love Gloom allows the band to explore other sounds and avenues. There are still insanely catchy jams like the popular “Contagious” and “Work It.” The latter isn’t Travis Hawley’s best singing effort, he sounds a bit too stained, but the song is still bouncy and fun. “Nothing Personal” is another catchy track blistering with lust and desire. Hawley has a vampiric presence and this comes out best on this song when he sings lines like “Numb yourself and think of me” or “I’ll be the king, you’ll be the filth/I’ll wash away.” It sounds like he’s trying to hypnotize us. It’s one of the most gripping and catchy songs on the album.

Aside from this, the rest of the album is kind of slow and melancholic. Previously, the band described their music as “pop gloom” and that’s exactly what it is. “Fangs” is pretty upbeat, but steeped in darkness and the macabre. The hook pleads “So stick your fangs, fangs, fangs/into me” bringing up images of vampires, albeit sexy ones. Similar to their other songs, this one also drips with lust and desire – it’s something Night Riots effortlessly convey in a good chunk of their songs. It’s a sort of dark romanticism they explore on this track.

The excellent “Don’t Kill the Messenger” might as well be their love letter to Depeche Mode. The shuddering bass, booming drums, and somber guitars makes it sound like it was written for the iconic band. It also has a brooding nature that plays into their melancholic side. The track stands out for its more aggressive tone and heavy hitting nature. Everything gets more intense as the track continues. It has a big sound making it one of the most satisfying songs on the record. Plus, it’s pretty catchy. After one listen, the song will burrow itself in your head.

Breaking Free” is where we start to hear the band’s softer side on the album. It’s another stellar track filled with lush tones and atmospheric music that makes it feel like you’re under water. The rolling drums that occasionally pop up give it some extra flair. It’s another brooding track talking about breaking out of a relationship. Something about it is warm and relaxing even though the lyrics aren’t exactly the most uplifting: It’s beautiful, yet haunting quality makes it one of the highlights of the album.

As previous songs have shown, Night Riots take great inspiration from 80s music. It was all over their EP and it’s all over this album, but they use the New Wave influences in a subtle way. The ballad “All for You” has this big, 80s anthem vibe to it. The dreamy guitars, far away sound, and relaxing melody makes you think of Tears for Fears, who they’ve covered in concert. To keep the song from getting too dull, the bridge comes alive, bursting with guitar and drums. It’s a soft, sweet song about being there for one another. “Tear Me Apart” starts with a weird, stuttering synth that instantly grabs your attention. This song feels directly tied to the title: the mood is somber and gloomy as Hawley laments the end of a relationship. Some of it is cliché, like the lyric “Where does it start/where does it end/I’m losing my best friend/tear me apart,” but it’s pretty forgivable. The track also has this ghostly vibe to it with ethereal singing, other world music, and a cold vibe infiltrating the entire song.

This slow, doom-laden mood continues on tracks “Pull Me Down,” which has a Gothic quality to the lyrics and “Everything Will be Alright,” which is haunting and a little eerie as Hawley sings “lately I feel undone.” Though the songs are slower, the 80s synth elements aren’t abandoned. Rather they play smaller roles in the music popping in the background or playing softly to make the song come alive. Instead of being the focal point, they’re used to add to the song’s flavor and sound. Listeners get a break from the constant wave of gloom with the upbeat “End of the World,” which starts with more attention-grabbing synth that’ll get stuck in your head.

The closing track, “As You Are,” has elements that are likable along with some questionable bits. The opening is too slow and sappy for my tastes. Lines like “Don’t change for me/you got nothing to fix/you’re not broken” end up sounding a bit corny. But what saves the song is the beautiful, symphonic quality to it. As Hawley sings, strings swell up around him making the song pretty and heartbreaking. This paired with the way he croons “Meet me as you are” is enough to give you chills. It’s a somber song; Hawley sounds like he’s at the end of his rope, which makes the final line “I let you down/ betrayed you” hit even harder. It’s not the best track on the album, but it’s a fitting close.

Love Gloom wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. There weren’t as many upbeat, catchy, danceable songs as on their previous release. Yet, it remains a strong, thoughtful debut. The upbeat songs are still there, showing Night Riots know how to make you dance. But the slower tracks laden with darkness and of course, gloom, show another side of the band. The album is a melancholic affair; something you put on when the sky is grey and leaves start to fall. Some of it is brooding, some of it is fun, but the whole thing is honest. That’s part of what makes it so appealing. Many of the songs may not grip you right away, but if you give it a chance, you’ll find a great debut that’s not afraid of the darkness, which we all need to embrace from time to time.