H2O – Hall and Oates

Release Year: 1982

Rating: 7.5/10

Hall and Oates are a musical act I’ve grown to love over the years. I’ve always liked their hit singles, but I’ve grown to respect their contributions to music. And lately, I’ve been in a Hall and Oates mood. In the past two weeks, I watched all their videos online, saw countless interviews, and watched their Behind the Music special. I’ve covered Big Bam Boom, probably their biggest album, already so I wanted to look at another one of their successful records. This time, let’s look at the duo’s eleventh album H2O.

The album opens with one of their best singles “Maneater.” That slick opening beat, hot sax riff, and lyrics about a woman whose dangerous yet tempting, makes this one of their coolest songs. It’s dangerous yet sensual as the music slowly builds up and Hall begins singing about this “maneater.” It’s pop meshed with soul for that “Motown groove” making it so irresistible. Though the song sounds like it’s about a vicious woman, the duo said it was inspired by the greed and lust of New York in the 80’s. Years later, it’s still one of their best songs and a great example of what makes the duo so talented.

The next track “Crime Pays” is kind of weird, but fun to listen to. It’s pretty much their disco song. It has a funky groove, glistening keys, and an upbeat dance vibe that’s meant to get you moving. The music is the most notable thing about the song. It’s not as memorable or as interesting as the other tracks, but it still puts you in a good mood. It’s a quirky moment from the duo before they go back to laying out the catchy, ear worm jams. While “Guessing Games” and “Delayed Reaction” aren’t bad, they’re kind of typical for the band. Both are pretty straightforward pop songs, with the latter having a catchier, if not, simpler hook. The former is kind of dull. These songs don’t cause much of a reaction; maybe just a subtle nod of the head at times.

Daryl Hall constantly talks about growing up in Philadelphia and being influenced by soul and R&B music. These influences come out best on this album, especially on tracks like “Art of Heartbreak.” Though the song is about being a heartbreaker, the song sounds sleek and sexy with the opening dirty blues riff and Hall’s crooning vocals. For an extra air of cool, the hot sax makes a return for a sensuous groove. It’s an underrated Hall and Oates gem that lets them get in touch with the soul sound that launched their career. The R&B sound returns on the lukewarm “Open All Night.” It’s not a terrible song, but compared to the other tracks it doesn’t stand out. It’s a slow song about finding out a lover’s infidelity. It’s not bad, just a bit generic.

The album also includes hits “One on One” and “Family Man.” The former takes a bit to grow on you, but once it does, it never lets go. The soothing opening keys and Hall’s falsetto makes it sound like a lounge song from the 70s. And if you’re not used to Hall hitting those high notes, it comes off a little weird, but soon enough you’ll be singing “Whoooa, one on one/I wanna play that game tonight/One on one I know” with him. It’s a slow jam about getting some face time with your lover. To make sure you get in the mood, the sax comes in during the bridge adding a suave vibe to the song. It’s a Hall and Oates classic that never seems to get much attention.

Family Man” is actually a Mike Oldfield cover about a man being proposition by a prostitute. He resists by screaming “Leave me alone/I’m a family man!” The song has a rock vibe with beefy guitars with some weird muted music making it sound like they’re in the middle of a jungle for a moment of the song. What makes the Hall and Oates version stand out is how Hall’s vocals get more intense near the end, showing how this “family man” is about to lose it. And it has a hook that lodges itself in your head. I woke up one day with the hook repeating in my head. No joke.

Though the album is mostly solid, there are some real stinkers. And unfortunately, they’re both written by John Oates. “Italian Girls” is a throwaway track filled with Italian stereotypes while Oates sings “Where are the Italian girls?” It’s so upbeat and generic it almost plays like a comedy song from the 80s. Instead, it’s stuck on the tail end of the album bringing down the second half. The following track “At Tension” doesn’t sound cheesy, but it’s so unfitting. Oates’ back on vocals singing about war and the military. It’s out of place because most of the songs are about relationships. It’s also drawn out, slow, and boring making it a song you can’t wait to be over. Luckily, the end of the album is saved by the catchy slow jam, “Go Solo,” which finds Hall rightfully back on vocal duty.

H2O is just one of the numerous hit albums for this duo. Though it’s not as upbeat and fun as Big Bam Boom, it’s a solid record. Most of the songs are memorable and have that classic Hall and Oates touch that makes their music so irresistible. What I appreciate about the record is how it shows off more of their soul and R&B influences, which isn’t always easy to hear on tracks like “Out of Touch.” And if you needed proof that Daryl Hall is a stellar vocalist look no further than this album. He has an impressive range and his soulful crooning is like no other. There’s some filler along with flat out bad songs, but the album is enjoyable. If you have a Hall and Oates that needs scratching, this album will be your satisfaction.


A Kiss in the Dreamhouse- Siouxsie and The Banshees

Siouxsie_&_the_Banshees-A_Kiss_in_the_DreamhouseRelease Year: 1982

Rating: 9/10

Siouxsie and the Banshees really found their sound with their 1981 album Juju. Here, everything was improved from the songwriting, to the music, and even the singing. The Banshees continued improving with their 1982 album A Kiss in the Dreamhouse. This is when the band were at their peak and could do no wrong. The Banshees continued to experiment with different sounds as they had on previous albums. It seems that the experimentation wasn’t present on their previous effort, but it makes a return here to make an interesting and exciting album.

Just as with their previous album, every song here is a hit. There isn’t a single track that makes you want to hit the skip button. The album opens with the addictive “Cascade.” Siouxsie sings her best here; she sounds sensual and her voice is really strong. There’s also that great repeating, sinister sounding guitar riff during the intro that continues throughout. Here, the band shows they have not left behind their dark roots thanks to the creepy lyrics. The one line that sticks out in my mind is “My chest was full of eels, pushing through my usual skin.” Just thinking about the image makes you shudder.

Another creepy track is “Obsession.” It’s dark, haunting, and chilling. Dealing with the subject of becoming unhealthily obsessed with someone, Siouxsie sings with little accompaniment, which adds to the creepy feeling. You can hear heavy breathing and tolling church bells as she sings. While the whole song is disturbing, the second verse is the worse: “I broke into your room – I broke down in my room/Touched your belongings there – and left a lock of my hair/Another sign for you.” What makes that line so creepy is it seems like an attempt to normalize the behavior. This is emphasized when the violin comes on during the musical break. The music here sounds somber, as if it’s trying to sympathize with this person. The way the music spirals out of control towards the end could represent the breakdown the person is experiencing.

Songs like “Green Fingers” and “Cocoon” don’t have the Gothic influences or dark overtones like the other tracks on the album. The former tune has a folksy feel to it with its pan flutes playing throughout. Also, the way it talks about a girl who is either in love with nature or some type of forest fairy gives it a 60’s vibe. It’s still enjoyable even though it doesn’t have that dark rock vibe. The latter song sounds like a jazz tune from the 40’s that should be playing in some smokey bar. It has a cool slinky beat, like a cat sneaking up on you and it sounds like you should be constantly snapping your fingers to the beat. This track stands out the most on the album and even alludes to what Siouxsie would later do with her band The Creatures.

One of my favorite songs and one that the Banshees always included in their live set is “Painted Bird.” This track has great energy and also has this jumping rhythm that makes you want to get up and dance. Once again, the guitar work is great here. It’s sad to think that John McGeoh would leave the band shortly after the release of this album. It’s the most upbeat song on the album and probably the catchiest. What’s interesting about the track is during the second verse you can faintly hear birds chirping while Siouxise sings. Also, there are small references to Hitchcock. Unless you are familiar with the book The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinksi, you will have no idea what the track is about. According to the singer, the song is based off of this book.

Another one of my favorite songs here is the odd and trippy “Circle.” It begins with this looping music that sounds like it’s being played backwards. It gives the song a dizzy tone and feel. We find here more gruesome and violent images in the lyrics: “Father inflicts discipline — boy rebels against him/He leaves for the big town — for love and adventure/But the words he first heard — unlike his instincts run deeper/Now boy beats his children — if they disobey him/And the cat riddled with worms — chases his tail round.” The line about the cat always sticks with me long after the song is over. This track seems to be about how our lives are one big cycle and unless we do something to try and change it, we’re going to end up in an unwanted situation. The song is memorable for its strange sound as it is for its weird video, where Robert Smith is obviously high out of his mind.

This album may still have some dark sound in it, but when compared to their last album this is seems to have more pop influences, with the catchy riffs, hooks, and also by adding in different instruments, such as tambourines and chimes. This is most heard in “She’s A Carnival” and “Slowdive.” Both songs have fast beats and rhythms to get you moving. They’re both also really catchy to sing along to. The latter song even sounds like a command to do a dance called “slowdive” when Siouxsie sings “Do the slowdive, when you die slow.” Though they slightly changed their direction when looking at sound, it works for the band. They make their dark subjects and twisted lyrics catchy and fun to sing and dance to.

Overall, this album gets 9/10. It is one of their best albums to date where all the songs are great. They’re catchy, great to sing along with, and great to dance to. The band is really at their peak here. Siouxsie’s voice still sounds great and the magnificent John McGeoh is still laying down the guitar riffs. They go back to their early days when they experimented with their sound more and while some of the songs may seem odd on the first listen they will definitely grown on the listener.

Pornography- The Cure

 The_Cure_-_PornographyRelease Year: 1982

Rating: 10/10

As The Cure moved forward in their career, their songs grew progressively darker. If you thought it couldn’t get darker than Faith, then you haven’t heard this album. This record contains the most disturbing songs and imagery of any Cure release. Though the album is now considered a masterpiece, it’s one of those records you don’t instantly fall in love with. It takes time to really appreciate how amazing this release is. Though each song is bleak and depressing, they’re all great. There isn’t a dull moment to be found here.

The album opens with the heart racing “One Hundred Years,” which has one of the best riffs from the band. It echoes and reverberates throughout the song, almost as if it was sounding an alarm for the danger to come. The hard hitting drums just adds to this monstrous track. It sets the tone for the album with the opening line “It doesn’t matter if we all die,” letting the listeners know what they have gotten themselves into. The track also has some ominous moments, like when Smith sings “In high building there is so much to do/going home time story on the radio.” I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure he’s referencing a mid-afternoon suicide attempt. Everything from the ringing riff to the unnerving lyrics makes this one of The Cure’s most in your face songs.

The next track “A Short Term Effect” crushes any hopes that things will brighten up. It’s another song that begins with really strong, harsh drums that pull you in. Also, the first verse alone paints the bleakest picture of death: “Movement, no movement/Just a falling bird/Cold as it hits the bleeding ground/He lived and died/Catch sight/Cover me with earth/Draped in black/Static white sound.” It’s lines like this that makes this my favorite Cure album lyrically. When compared to other songs here “Hanging Garden” is the most upbeat. It opens with these racing, tribal like drums that help to create this odd exotic sound. Though the song does mention death, it seems to more focus on the highs and lows of the animal kingdom. Nonetheless, it’s still a great track.

Another great song is “The Figurehead.” It has this marching band like drumbeat that introduces the song, followed by the guttural bass, and finally the foreboding guitars all of which steadily go higher and higher as the song progresses as if to signify some terror that’s finally reached you. Here, the line that really strikes me as creepy is “I laughed in the mirror for the first time in a year.” I guess it seems so creepy because laughing is something that happens on a daily basis; we see anyone who never laughs as deeply disturbed. That line lets the listener into Smith’s mindset during this time. This is just one of the many eerie moments on the record.

Of course all of the songs are great. There’s never a dull moment during the album, even though most of the songs are slow paced. My personal favorite is “Cold,” which is probably the bleakest song on the album if that’s possible. A brooding cello opens the song and the title seems to describe the whole tone of the track. Even though every song features vivid, haunting the lyrics, the ones here take the cake. One of my favorite lines is “Ice in my eyes and eyes like ice don’t move/Screaming at the moon/Another past time.” Something about that line sticks with you after the song is over.

The album is just about perfect, but the only complaint I have is with the final track “Pornography.” It’s a great song, but it begins with backwards voices that go on for a little too long. They are creepy for sure, but this makes the song take too long to start up. Otherwise, this is a powerful closing track. There’s a slow build up to the music that leaves the listener in suspense wondering what’s going to come next. Out of all of the songs here this is the most violent. At the end, Robert screams “One more day like today/and I’ll kill you/I’m gonna watch you drown in the shower/Push my life through your eyes.” It’s even more disturbing at the end when he says “I must fight this sickness, must find a cure.” It’s at this point you begin to wondering if this final message is a reminder for Smith himself. The song ends abruptly cutting out when it’s over. It’s an unexpected and startling way to end the record.

This is another album where it pays to look at the lyrics if you aren’t familiar with them because there is a lot of vivid imagery and detail here. As mentioned before, a lot of the images are disturbing or gruesome. Take this line from “Siamese Twins:” “Dancing in my pocket/Worms eat my skin…” That image in your head is just plain creepy. As I mentioned before, a lot of the songs feature gruesome and brutal details, like “Siamese Twins:” “The walls and the ceiling move in time/Push a blade into my hands/Slowly up the stairs/And into the room/Is it always like this?” And the way Smith repeats that last line at the end is eerie, as if he has no hope left. Whether it’s because of the themes of death and isolation are prevalent in these songs or because of the way they were written, a lot of these lines will pop in your head whether you want them to or not. Everything is mentioned in such detail that you can picture everything Robert is singing and it’s beyond haunting.

There is something about the singing that is different here, but not in a bad way. Robert sounds more tortured, desperate, and frightened on this album. These elements were not present in his singing on the previous releases and it may mark him learning how to use his voice to convey emotion, even if it’s just slightly; it’s not something that’s really noticeable. But when you listen to it, you definitely hear the difference in his singing. It could be due to what he was going through at the time. Here, he always sounds like he’s about to have a nervous breakdown and when you look into the album’s history, you learn that this was pretty much the case.

Overall, this album gets 10/10. It’s a classic and for new Cure fans who may be used to their later material it may take some getting used to, but it’s definitely worth having. The songs are great, the lyrics are phenomenal, and the music is spot on. You can really hear how much work and pain was put into the album. It’s as if Smith wanted the listener to suffer his depression with him. The Cure have had several dark albums before and after this release, but this is definitely the darkest record in their catalog so far.