Album Review

‘Young & Dangerous’ – The Struts

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Release Year: 2018

The Struts live up to their larger than life attitude on their second album, Young & Dangerous. The highly anticipated follow up to their 2014 debut finds them doing what they do best: glam rock songs about having a good time. While you won’t find anything drastically different from their previous output, they do take the time to branch out. They shake up their established sound by experimenting with different styles and genres, yet never stray too far from their glam roots.

The album kicks off with “Body Talks,” which has all the elements of a great Struts song: a catchy hook, Luke Spiller’s sensual vocals, and a playful vibe. The remix with Kesha is decent, but she doesn’t add much aside from some random yelps. “Primadonna Like Me” is another high energy, fun song with Spiller playing the role of a rockstar that knows he’s hot shit. Their glam rock sound is bigger with raucous music and an infectious hook. Songs like these perfectly capture what the band is about and their over the top persona, which feels made for huge crowds.

Listening to tracks like “Bulletproof Baby” and “Tatler Magazine” it’s clear The Struts have their sights set on playing stadiums. The hooks are fun to sing, the songs capture their energetic air, and feel crafted with larger crowds in mind. And their frequent use of gang vocals gives the tracks an anthemic quality. Unlike other bands with similar aspirations, The Struts don’t comprise their established sound for something generic and safe. Instead, they push their feel-good vibe even harder, yet leaves room for some change.

Though they mainly stick with their glam rock vibe, there are a few moments where they get outside their comfort zone. “Who Am I” mixes their glam rock vibes with a healthy dose of disco. Similar to other tracks, the hook is catchy and fun while the music gets you moving. And of course, Spiller’s tongue in cheek wordplay is still intact making it an album highlight. Spiller throws you for a loop on “I Do It So Well” when he opens the song with his spoken word style that’s more like rapping. It’s a bit strange but ultimately works for the track. “Freak Like You” is a mini-musical. Clearly influenced by Queen, the band celebrates the outcasts, misfits, and freaks pulling away from their glam rock sound and playing around with their sound, such as the unexpected sax solo.

We even get to see the more serious side of the band on tracks like “Somebody New” and “Ashes.” The former finds Spiller lamenting the loss of a relationship while admitting he’s not ready for someone else. Rather than being flamboyant, he expresses a quiet sadness. He sounds bittersweet as he sings “It’s not that I don’t feel the feelings you do/It’s just my heart’s not ready yet/For somebody new” giving us a rare side of the singer. “People” is another moment where the band sets aside their wild attitude. Written about overcoming everyday struggles different people face, it’s meant to be an uplifting moment on the album. It definitely sounds like an anthem but isn’t as gripping as the rest of the album.

“Ashes” has a similar moody tone. Serving as the counterpart to the celebratory “Fire,” it’s another somber track about the consequences of living fast and partying hard and how someone’s life was lost in the end. Though it deals with a heavy topic, the band brings back their musical sensibilities with sections that change the style. One part it’s a serious ballad, the next it’s a bouncing cabaret. You definitely get some “Bohemian Rhapsody” vibes from it, yet it doesn’t sound like a Queen rip off. It’s a strangely fitting way to end the album as if to say life isn’t always one huge party.

Young & Dangerous is a blast to listen to. It’s more of the glitzy, glam rock goodness we love from The Struts. However, they do branch out trying different sounds to keep things from getting stale or sounding too much like their debut. Every moment is captivating from the high energy dance anthems to the serious reflective moments. Filled with infectious music, the band’s devil-may-care attitude and hooks made for stadiums, it’s a high-energy, feel-good album we desperately need right now.

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Revisiting Slipknot’s ‘All Hope is Gone’

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Release Year: 2008

Rating: 7.5/10

Ten years ago, Slipknot changed gears and experimented with their sound on their fourth album, All Hope is Gone. Though the record was generally well received and even was their first to debut at number one, it’s not a fan favorite. The record has been dismissed by fans and the band themselves for its standard heavy metal sound an album that divided fans and has been dismissed by the band themselves. Even the band doesn’t remember it too fondly. The shift towards a standard heavy metal sound is jarring, but it’s still an intense record. Yet, something is missing that made their previous efforts brutal, memorable, and exciting. While it’s not a terrible record, it is among their weakest.

Gematria (Killing Name) is an absolute beast and kicks the LP off on a great note. It has a rush of aggression right from the dizzying guitar riff that opens the song. Things get more intense as Corey Taylor sings “What if God doesn’t care?!” as if he’s preparing listeners for a battle. Though it has an awesome energy and drive behind it, at over six minutes long it doesn’t hold your attention. After a while, everything melds together and you’re ready to move on to the next track. It’s not a song that stays with you very long and it’s an issue that permeates the album.

Very few of the songs are terrible, except for “Vendetta,” which seems better suited for Stone Sour. Tracks like “Butcher’s Hook,” “This Cold Black,” and “Sulfur” aren’t bad songs at all. They’re standard Slipknot fair with tons of aggression, violence, and anger dripping throughout every bar. But that’s really all you can say about them save for a killer guitar riff or two. Some of the lyrics are interesting, but something about them doesn’t hit you the same way the band’s other songs do. Many of the tracks found here are some of their most forgettable.

Luckily, there are some great moments. Though “Psychosocial” wasn’t well received on initial release, it’s actually the most memorable song from the album. The spiraling guitar riff, the pounding pulse that opens the song, and the harsh tone gets your adrenaline pumping for what’s about to come. The part with the bridge where the music drops and everyone screams “The limits of the dead!” is so intense it gives you goosebumps. The song also shows what Slipknot have mastered over the years. It’s a great example of the melodic and brutal melding together. It’s still a stellar track ten years later.

“Dead Memories” is another stand out track. There’s a bit of sonic shift where the guys go more for a standard rock sound. The lighter music and cleaner tones make it one of their more accessible singles. Not to mention the hook is memorable with Corey gently singing “Dead memories in my heart.” It’s a great song, but one that can definitely split fans in two.

Slipknot gets a bit experimental on the excellent “Gehenna.” Similar to songs “Purity” and “Prosthetics,” it has an unsettling nature. The distorted music crawls along while eerie sounds and wailing Theremins put you on edge. Taylor sounds broken and on the verge of snapping as he sings “The blood and the body /control the cut so it’s seamless/show me your heart/show me the way to complete this.” Even when he croons “Free my severed heart/give me you” he manages to sound creepy, not mention the maniacal laugh he throws in. It’s a haunting experience and one of the best tracks on the record.

Slipknot has experimented with ballads in the past, but none are as naked and heartbreaking as “Snuff.” Another album highlight, the song is the band’s softest moment with Taylor singing about the pains of betrayal with an acoustic guitar accompanying him. From the downtrodden music to Taylor’s fragile state, the track leaves you saddened and emotionally exhausted. Everything keeps building to a climactic, yet quiet conclusion. Though music gets more intense near the end, it still doesn’t reach the same volume as the previous tracks. It’s a haunting, yet beautiful track that shows Slipknot aren’t just about crushing guitars and screaming their heads off.

Is All Hope is Gone a bad album? No, it’s actually solid. Is it a lackluster Slipknot album? Yes. In some spots, it sounds like Slipknot doing the same ‘ol same ‘ol: being loud, aggressive, and in your face. In other parts, it’s just there. Very few of the songs are bad, but most of them don’t hold your attention for long. Most of them aren’t even memorable. There are some stellar songs, but most of the album is decent at best. It doesn’t leave you bloodied and searing like past releases. It’s not their finest, but it was an album that had to be made in order for Slipknot back on their game.

Revisiting Blink-182’s ‘Neighborhoods’

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The disintegration of Blink-182 was a mess. Tom DeLonge was suddenly out of the band, but he never quit, yet he wasn’t coming back. It can be hard for a band to bounce back after such a public fallout, but Blink survived. No matter how you feel about their current output, you can’t say California isn’t a success. It earned them their first Grammy nod and debuted at number one in the states and in other countries. But the album isn’t anywhere near as ambitious, exciting, or progressive in sound as their comeback record Neighborhoods.

What’s most notable about the album is the continuation of the dark, mature sound found on Untitled. Lyrics tackle heavy topics like death, isolation, and personal demons. Even the upbeat opener, “Ghost on the Dance Floor” is depressing. It’s based on Travis Barker hearing a song that reminded him of the late DJ AM. “Wishing Well” sounds like something to dance to, yet the lyrics paint a bleak picture: “I went to a wishing well, and sank to the ocean floor/Cut on the sharpened rocks, and washed up along the shore/I reached for a shooting star, it burned a hole through my hand/It made its way through my heart, have fun in the promise land.”

They also experiment with their sound, with each member bringing in their own influences. DeLonge’s influence is the strongest with songs like “Ghost on the Dancefloor,” The Cure-esque “This is Home,” and the lackluster “Love is Dangerous.” Each has elements you can trace back to Angels & Airwaves. Whereas the intense “Hearts All Gone” sounds like a b-side from +44. For the most part, these different influences work together well and result in songs that ultimately sound like Blink-182. Though the lackluster “Love is Dangerous” is DeLonge all the way. It’s so bogged down in synth and New Wave sounds it doesn’t fit on the album.

But the record isn’t without its flaws. The band recorded most it separately and it shows. It feels disjointed and clunky in places. It just doesn’t recapture the spark they were aiming for. It’s more of a growing pains record. It seemed they still had some things to work out before heading back in the studio. But considering the record we got, it could’ve been worse. Also, some songs are forgettable like the terribly named “MH 4.18.2011.” It has the same high energy and quick pace of “Here’s Your Letter,” but otherwise it doesn’t manage to be that memorable. The song is okay, but it’s not as strong as the others.

Fortunately, the album is solid. The excellent “Natives” has a frenetic guitar riff and pounding drums that grabs your attention since it has more of a punk rock vibe. It sounds the most like a classic Blink-182 song and feels like something from their self-titled record. “Up All Night” is another satisfying track reminiscent of their older stuff. The music is hard-hitting and punches you in the gut. It’s an intense ride that gets into their dark side with the mention of demons and dying alone. “Snake Charmer” is another highlight with its slinky rhythm and pummeling riff. It has a hypnotic vibe that’s hard to resist. And the catchy “Kaleidoscope” blends dirty riffs with an upbeat, bright riff.

Similar to their previous output, the album divided fans. While some championed the mature sound, others balked at the lack of catchy pop-punk jams that made them famous. Rather than revisiting the past, Blink looked to the future and continued the mature sound they explored on their 2003 output. Did it work? Sort of. While there are several standout songs, it sounds disjointed and lacks some of the fun that made their other albums great.  Still, the experimentation and their continued mature sound showed they were at least trying to progress whereas California feels like a step backward. It’s generic and bland. At least Neighborhoods sounds like a band trying to make things work. It showed promise for a new chapter of Blink-182 that, sadly, we never got around to seeing.  We have a subpar version of them instead.

Mixed Up Deluxe – The Cure

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Release Year: 2018

Rating: 7.5/10

In 1990, The Cure wanted to take a break from the bleak nature of Disintegration. To shake off the melancholy, Robert Smith launched a new project: a remix album. Mixed Up not only featured club mixes of Cure songs, it was also a way for fans to get their hands extended mixes without hunting down pricy singles. This year, Smith finally relaunched The Cure’s remaster series and compiled a deluxe edition of this remix album. Surprisingly, I was excited to get my hands on the release despite not being a fan of the original. I wasn’t expecting much, but I actually enjoyed the release more than I expected, but it’s not perfect.

The first disc is a remaster of the 1990 original featuring extended singles and remixes of the band’s biggest hits. There are some solid mixes here like the airy and mellow version of “The Caterpillar” and the jazzy version of “Close To Me,” but most of the songs don’t hold your attention for long. It’s made with a specific audience in mind. If you’re not a fan of lengthy club mixes, like me, the album won’t do much for you. I found songs like “The Walk,” “Lovesong,” and “A Forest” to be too long. They got repetitive after the first four minutes. The drawn out songs make sense in a club setting, but they don’t really translate outside of that if remixes aren’t your thing. Most of the mixes are decent, aside from the generic “In Between Days (Shiver Mix),” but little about them leaves a lasting impact. I found myself getting bored with them and started tuning them out. The updated versions of “Lullaby” and “Fascination Street” are highlights, but the rest of the album is decent at best.

I was looking forward to the second disc featuring rare remixes from 1982- 1990, but these tracks are forgettable. Some of the mixes are random, disjointed, or all over the place. The vocal on “Let’s Go To Bed (Extended Mix 1982)” sounds like it was chopped up and sprinkled randomly throughout the song. It’s annoying to hear Smith’s vocals start and stop abruptly. “Why Can’t I Be You” feels endless with bits of the song stretched out and played on a loop, while Primary (Red Mix 1990)” attempts to turn it into a high energy rock song with bits of weird buzzing noises, but it just doesn’t work. Mixes of “Pictures of You,” “Just One Kiss” and “Just Like Heaven” do nothing interesting expect make the intro and outro longer. Even though I’m not a fan of the original, the mixes on that album are at least decent and has its great moments. Here, all the remixes are uninteresting. They just don’t hit you the way some of the mixes on the previous and the last disc do.

The third disc, Torn Down, is full of new mixes by Smith and is the highlight of this collection. He takes a song from every Cure album and tweaks it just enough to give it a different flavor. “The Drowning Man” is bleaker and darker, “A Strange Day” is more intense with its tribal beats, “A Night Like This” is jazzy and upbeat, and “Three Imaginary Boys” is downright eerie. These mixes feel more focused and concise. They don’t keep going well after you’re bored. And in most cases not much changes. Smith admits he didn’t mess with the songs too much and kept the general feeling of the song. “Shake Dog Shake” sounds more aggressive and angry and “Never Enough” sounds like a clean mix, but otherwise they don’t stray far from the originals. Others may balk at the lack of change, but I found them to be perfect. It puts a different spin on the song and doesn’t feel needlessly long. Smith also goes beyond the singles and mixes tracks like “Cut Here,” “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea,” and “The Last Day of Summer” for a more diverse listening experience. It’s great to hear new versions of tracks like “Want” and “Like Cockatoos.” It’s a chance to highlight The Cure’s material outside of their singles. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much out of this disc, yet it’s my favorite out of the three.

Mixed Up Deluxe isn’t for everyone. It’s for a niche crowd that can appreciate a good club mix or for those into the club scene. If you don’t care for remixes or don’t like dance music, then you won’t find most of the collection appealing. Still, it’s a solid release. You have all of The Cure’s once rare mixes on one disc with extras and a disc full of new remixes. It’s worth it for the third disc alone. It doesn’t feel like it was put together to make a quick buck. Rather, you can tell it was crafted with some thought and it invigorated Smith to try some new versions. Also, there’s so much material to listen to, there’s bound to be one or two tracks you find yourself nodding along to. It’s not for all Cure fans, but it’s still a great addition to your collection. 

Young Lore – Night Riots

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Release Year: 2013

Rating: 7.5/10

Night Riots’ music is so irresistible, catchy, and charming. Listening to their songs, you can’t help get in a good mood while singing along. Though they gained notoriety with their 2016 EP Howl, they reinvented themselves with 2014’s Young Lore EP. While it isn’t a drastic departure from their current sound, it has a different mood. One that’s slow, somber, and not as fun. It definitely shows a band finding their style.

The best track here is “Back to Your Love.” Sounding similar to the direction they would move in later on, the song is upbeat, bouncy and bright with Travis Hawley sounding lovelorn as he sings. Since the music is so catchy, it’s easy to miss how bleak the song is. The lyrics talk about a couple who know things aren’t what they used to be and wonder if they can ever get it back. It’s their strongest track from their early days and perfectly shows off their catchy sound.

Remedy” is another upbeat track that gets you on your feet, though it sounds generic. Even with the splash of synth that pops up during the second verse, the song is formulaic. It could be from any alt-rock band and it gets boring after a while. “Loyal Blood” has the same issue. The music is fun and energetic with a good pop/punk vibe to it. But again, it sounds like alt-rock tunes you’ve heard a million times. Funnily enough, this track sounds like something that could’ve appeared on their first album as PK.

Most of the EP is made up of slow tracks that mean well, but don’t hold your attention for very long. “Spiders” catches you off guard with its muted pulsating beats and haunting vocals that open the song. It sets up this chilling feeling you can’t shake. Though it has a melancholic air, the lyrics are quite empowering with a message of stay strong and keep pushing forward in the face of adversary. It’s not a bad track, but the slow music and sleepy vocals become boring after a while.

Masks” begins ominously with buzzing music that grows more intense every minute. Tension thickens when Hawley starts singing making you question where the song is going next. The mood breaks during the hook when the music kicks up switching to an uptempo mood. It’s a slow-burning track that would’ve fit comfortably on their debut LP. Similar to “Spiders” it’s not very engaging. There’s nothing about it that grabs your attention. Soon, you’re ready to move on to the next song.

Closing track “Young Lore” is another highlight of the EP. Opening with a stark, somber piano, choir-like vocals fill the air as the music constantly builds. Hawley starts humming as if he’s singing a church hymn. The mood doesn’t stay somber for long as the bouncy music makes a return and gets you moving. It also has a positive message of living life now and doing what you want because our time on earth is short. Similar to their best songs, this one makes you dance and has a memorable hook you’ll struggle to get out of your head for days.

While Young Lore isn’t Night Riots’ strongest release, it does lay the groundwork for where they would go next. It marks a young band finding their sound. Some of it is generic, while other spots hint to what would come later. There are some dance-worthy tracks, but a lot of it is slow and mellow with nods to electronic elements they would add later on. A good chunk of it sounds like your average alt-rock band. It’s just a shame it isn’t as fun, catchy, or charming as Howl or Love Gloom.