Album Review

The Head on The Door – The Cure

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Release Year: 1985

It’s easy to label The Cure as a bunch of gloomy Brits, especially when looking at their first three albums. But there’s more to them than their doom laden appearance suggests. There are many sides to The Cure from the dark and terrible to the upbeat and downright silly that fans have come to love over the years. They’ve developed a knack for blending pop sensibilities with dreary topics, which they explored on the psychedelic album, The Top. It wouldn’t be until 1985’s The Head On the Door where they’d perfect their mix pop and gloom.

Inbetween Days” starts things off on a happy note. The music is upbeat, bright, and downright giddy. It makes you want to get up and hop around. It seems like Robert Smith’s in a good mood until he sings “yesterday I got so old/I felt like I could die” expressing his fears of getting older. It may not be as depressing as past albums, but it’s clear that darkness is still there. This song perfectly blends both sides of the band. The pop music makes its catchy and appealing, but the lyrics bring on that gloominess The Cure is often known for.

We dive further into the black with “Kyoto Song.” This enigmatic track could easily fit on Pornography with its bleak lyrics, creepy images, and haunting sound. It’s soft, quiet, and gentle like a lullaby, but the plinking keys and Smith’s morbid lyrics give it a cold feeling. Things get chilling as he sings “A nightmare of you/of death in the pool/wakes me at quarter to three.” Smith continues to describe a horrifying nightmare that gets worse as the song goes on. It’s an oddly beautiful track that captures the disturbing and haunting side of the band.

“The Blood” picks things up again with its flamenco inspired guitar riff and hypnotizing melody. The story goes the song is about the time Smith knocked back a drink called Tears of Christ and got so wasted he mumbled the opening line of the chorus. It’s an underrated track that finds The Cure continuing to explore their sound. The Latin inspired music gives it an exotic and seductive groove. It’s a weird, yet catchy entry in the band’s catalog that doesn’t receive enough appreciation.

Shifting between sounds and moods is a big theme for the album. Surprisingly, it works never sounding disjointed or jarring. The upbeat opener pulls you in with a false sense of happiness, but it quickly moves to dark waters. We move between songs that are light and bubbly, songs that are melancholy and even songs that are sensual. On “Six Different Ways” The Cure is playful with the light, bouncy music sounding like nothing else on the LP. The twirling ocarina, the brighter music, and Smith’s quirky vocals give it a whimsical and childlike quality.

Things shift again when we get to the trippy “Screw.” With the surreal lyrics and odd music, it represents The Cure’s psychedelic side, which was out in full on their previous album. But we get back to melancholy on “A Night Like This,” which is the perfect blend of pop and gloom. Smith broods as he pleads for his lover to stay. The music brightens up a bit during the bridge when the horns come in for an unexpected solo. Smith’s tongue in cheek nature is loud and clear with snarky lines like “you’re just the most gorgeously/stupid thing/I ever caught in the world” making this song bittersweet.

On this album, The Cure craft ten songs of near pop-gloom perfection. Though some of the tracks aren’t as strong or catchy as others, there’s never a dull moment on the record. It’s here you’ll find some of their most endearing singles like “Close to Me,” which is quintessential Cure. It’s airy, upbeat, and catchy with a slight sensual air. It’s even a bit creepy with Smith’s heavy breathing at the start. There’s also gems like “The Baby Screams” another catchy song highlighted by Smith’s beastly guitar riffs and his howling vocals. Though it’s another upbeat track, Smith’s frustration and anger with life ring loud and clear. This feeling returns on the anthemic “Push.” The extended intro, which would return in full on Disintegration, along with Smith’s echoing guitar builds up anticipation that finally breaks with Smith’s demand of “Go! Go! Go!/Push him away!”

The album ends with the melancholy “Sinking.” Starting with clashing piano keys, the music is soft and soothing luring you into this state of calm. Everything sounds peaceful until Smith starts singing and his fears about getting older rear their ugly head: “I am slowing down/As the years go by/I am sinking/So I trick myself/Like everybody else.” Suddenly, the mood shifts from calm to dreary, even anxious. With echoes of Disintegration, it’s a stellar song closing the album on a sad note showing that Smith’s darkness is never far from him.

The Head on the Door is a stellar album that expertly mixes The Cure’s pop sensibilities with their bleak outlook. They took the experimentation they started on The Top and pushed it further, exploring different moods and soundscapes throughout the record. We see many different sides of The Cure here along with sonic staples that would appear on later albums. This album doesn’t get enough credit since it’s overshadowed by the behemoth that is Disintegration. It may not be their greatest album, but it’s one that helped shape The Cure sound we know and love today.

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‘Creeper EP’ – Creeper

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Release Year: 2014

It’s rare that I fall head over heels for a band after hearing one song, but it happened with Creeper. I became obsessed with their debut album, Eternity in Your Arms, and quickly learned everything I could about them. I even started digging through their past releases, which only includes a few EPs. And now that the band is supposedly “over,” I thought it’d be fun to take a look at their very first release, Creeper.

The EP doesn’t pack as much punch as their full-length album, but it’s still pretty good. Everything that makes Creeper stand out, like the melodrama, the intricate stories, Hannah Greenwood’s flourishing piano, the theatrics, are all missing here. Whereas their album flawlessly blended elements of punk, Goth rock, and rockabilly, here they go for a straightforward pop-punk sound.

We Had a Pact,” “Gloom,” and “VCR” all have a similar format: high energy, frantic guitars, melodic harmonies, and catchy hooks. These tracks aren’t bad, but little about them stands out. There are some darker elements lurking, but they don’t explore them like they would later on. Also, we hear Will Gould getting comfortable with his voice. He sounds completely different on most of the songs. Though they may not be as gripping as their later material, they do show Creeper’s talent for writing catchy hooks and irresistible harmonies. I couldn’t remember most of these songs, but I always recognized and sang along with the hook.

Creeper breaks away from the formula with “Into the Black.” It’s still fast paced punk rock, but the music is more intense and heavier than the other tracks. Gould also starts to sound more like himself here, embellished vocals and all. Its hard driving energy and gang vocals give it this great rallying cry feel and helps the song stand out. It’s one of the few on the EP that grips you and lets you know there’s something special about this band.

Elements of where the band would eventually go with their sound can be heard throughout the EP, such as gang vocals and macabre lyrics about love and death. But the song that really captures Creeper’s next chapter is “Novena.” Unlike the other songs, this one is quiet with Gould gently cooing about love while a soft acoustic guitar backs him up. It’s an intimate moment that finds him embellishing his vocals for dramatic flair. Things really come alive at the end when the music kicks up and takes on a rockabilly tone, similar to that heard on “Black Mass.” Hands down, it’s the best song on the EP. Whereas the other tracks felt formulaic, they take a risk here and experiment with their sound. This is the song that sounds the most like Creeper as we know them now.

Looking back, Creeper is a promising EP. I don’t think it’s as fun as the full length album and they haven’t quite found their sound, but it’s still a solid record. Though most of it feels similar, they have great energy and catchy hooks that keep you engaged. And the few stand out songs that find them playing with their sound show a band in the midst of evolving. This was only the beginning before they even knew where to take the band. It wouldn’t be until Creeper’s next release that would take things one step further.

‘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.

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.